11.30.2011

Space Out

Man. Crazy day.


Busy stuff. One of those days that sees you just trying to keep up with whatever comes down the pike, not just trying to knock things off your list but more along the lines of juggling while someone keeps throwing in fresh elements for you to keep aloft. I got through, though, without any of my weary remembrances of the dark days of my youth. Nah, sometimes you gotta take a bad day and just flip it over on itself. So instead of the slice and dice dangers of adolescent angst, how about we go full on Glam Rock? 'In The Meantime' by Spacehog. That's how you can turn it over.
 Not to pigeonhole the band, but these guys were a one hit wonder, right? I mean, think of another significant song of theirs - nothing else they did even comes close to the iconic riffage of 'In The Meantime'. It came out in 1996, at the heyday of, or maybe the downward slope of MTV's alternative love-fest. This song, and the strange video, got a lot of airplay on the old standby 120 Minutes. Too bad it was the only thing on the album Resident Alien that got any airplay despite the fact it went gold.
It has that kind of recognizable riff that immediately cuts through the white noise of our modern world. You hear the guitar lick the song is built around, and the high pitched backing vocals and BAM - there you have a song that gets you to cock your head and say "Yeah, okay. I got this." The whole song is good, with the little telephone signal intro and the strutting bassline under the verses. The vocals are pure Glam-era Bowie, over-sung and over emoted in the most goofy, sincere way. That chorus, though. It's total Glam cheese, but it's so insanely great that you can't be in a foul, stressed mood when you hear it. One spin around and you probably have a growing grin on your face.
See how that works? You can have me getting all existential and reflective one day, extolling the virtues of the Deftones and their alt metal gestalt, only to see the mood totally flip after a hectic day by listening to a single, bizarre song. Listen to it and try to place all the idiosyncratic times it's popped up in your life. 

11.29.2011

Fur Is Murder

Evening, all. 

These cold, dreary days that linger between the fall and winter, but existing completely in neither, get me to thinking about what I was listening to when dealing with some of the worst I can recall. There was a particular time frame spanning a late fall/winter/early spring that was brutal. It was really hard for me to persevere. The strange thing was that it didn't really stem from any particular factors - instead it sprang seemingly from the depths of my mind, some horrible monster clawing its way up the walls of my head and having reign of the place while I waited it out. I think in hindsight I was just terribly unhappy with who I was. It seems (from the comfort of a distant mindset) that I just wasn't realized as the person I suspected I could be or was going to be. Even in my darkest days now, I can acknowledge that not only am I kind of really awesome, but that in general I am happy with the person I've turned out to be. Similar to what I'm experiencing now, being in an office during all daylight hours and almost never seeing the sun, I vividly recall what little social activity I partook in to involve a great deal of darkness, both real and imagined. My mind was a reeling, loopy thing that was reaching out for any kind of cathartic comfort, something to exorcise the demon from inside. In my darkest hours I reached out to a band I didn't understand - the Deftones. 

Sporting what is possibly my favorite band name ever, the Deftones were (and still sort of are) an alt-metal band that flourished right around the time of the dreaded Nu-Metal that brought us all sorts of terrible music I shamefully enjoyed. The Deftones always seemed a bit removed from that unfortunate label, though. They had an unusual (forgive the word choice, please) deftness about their musicianship and presentation that gave off a slightly more nuanced air. Sure, it was still scream-till-your-throat-is-raw metal at times, but there were also moments lighter, more subdued sounds that suggested a more artistic flair. As I said, their cathartic music was a release for my frustrated adolescent mind. A large portion of that unhappy time was spent driving around listening to their end of the millennium album 'Around the Fur'. 
'Around the Fur' is an album that is both sharp and slick, a sonic blade delivered from the CA-born band. Vocalist Chino Moreno vacillates between tense, anguished whispering to open-throated howling, never quite technically singing yet creating oddly unique melodies nonetheless. The first track, the blistering single 'My Own Summer (Shove It)' uses a twisting, descending riff coupled with a driving bassline to make one hammer of a track, especially when the chorus blasts out and Moreno's screaming takes center stage. The title track thumps away with heavy, propelling kick drums and guitars that grind and slice your ears. 'Headup' still makes appearances in my workout mixes due to its sheer frenzy and near-indecipherable rapping, but to be honest most of this album appears in workout and running mixes. If you want to read a longer breakdown of my love for the spacey metal of 'Be Quiet and Drive', follow the link to an older post. 
I leaned heavily on this album when in a bad space, which I suppose is odd, considering the abrasive and unsettling sounds it contains. What does that say about me? I don't know, maybe I was just a cliched angst-ridden teenager venting through alt-metal that my own band at the time couldn't produce. Whatever the case is, I still get a lot of sneaking satisfaction out of listening to this album on a cold, dark day like this, knowing that everything seems to have turned out alright. I like me, and I like the me that can listen to this and shake my head at the distant memory of the troubled teenager. 

11.28.2011

Jar Head

It's oh so quiet.

I'm writing this from the new digs. What strikes me most, aside from the obvious, hit you on the head nature of moving, is the quiet. In the last five years I became quite accustomed to the sound of drunken howling, passing ambulances and car horns. The general ambiance of Uptown, in short. Escaping to the farther rings of the city offers something that I used to associate with living in my parent's house as a teenager - total silence. A quiet night like this one, totally bereft of noise, sneaking into the kitchen so as not to wake anyone sleeping with my footsteps and opening of cupboard doors...suddenly I"m 17 again, living in my parent's basement
Not all was silent, though. Through out the winter I spent my share of quiet, late nights playing PS2 games with the volume at the audible threshold. Between GTA3, Silent Hill 2 and Tony Hawk 3 I was a content Midwestern recluse. No matter the depths of a blizzard or quiet solitude of a Sunday night, I was happy to sit in the quiet and vid out. A night like this makes me think of a favorite lost song I should be hearing. If I still had my PS2 still hooked up (somewhere, packed away in a box with our shared systems - Atari, Nes, Snes, Sega, N64, PS2, Xbox, GameCube and a Wii) I would get all nostalgic and play Tony Hawk 3 with 'Not The Same' by Bodyjar on a loop.
The Tony Hawk video games weren't just frenetic, addictive fun. They had killer soundtracks, too. As a Midwestern recluse I heard a fair amount of good, fresh music from these games. I can attest that among my friends more than a share of us had memorized lyrics due to marathon gaming sessions. We all had our favorites. Mine was the melodic punk offering of the (now defunct) Australian band Bodyjar. Countless sessions of fevered two-minute rounds were played to the strains of blasting guitars and snide, rounded vocals only half discerned. The only thing missing from tonight that would complete the recollection is a PS2 controller and about three feet of snow, which, being the end of November, should be here by now. 
Hearing the song now, I still dig it, even if my tastes have slowed down slightly. While I listen to more down-tempo instrumental and ambient music, I still have an affinity for the unresolved tension of the main riff to 'Not The Same'. The pre-chorus, with its not-quite-out-of-key chord progression, still sounds great. If you're at all near my age bracket (which you can figure out via context clues) you might be familiar with this song. Give it a spin or hey - bust out the PS2. It's about 10 years on from that sweet spot with all those great games. On a quiet night like this, I'm quite tempted, myself.

11.27.2011

Down And Out

...and just like that, I don't live in Uptown anymore.

The big move happened over the course of the last two days. It was a suspiciously smooth process, thanks in no small part to extensive pre-planning and several extremely helpful friends. I find myself typing this on a laptop in bed, my back full of knots and my mind completely shot. We're sort of settled but there are still a multitude of packages to be sorted and put away. As soon as I'm done with this post I'm shutting off the laptop and turning on Netflix. To shut my mind down, I'm going to indulge in the underrated, defunct series Party Down.
Originally broadcast on Starz back in 2009 and 2010, Party Down starred Adam Scott, Ken Marino and Lizzy Caplan as under-achieving caterers in Hollywood. It was a show that, while never killing the competition in the ratings, has garnered a devoted audience that followed along into the second and final season. The show, featuring a who's who of character and comedy actors, followed wash-up actor Henry, played by Scott, as he sorted his life out while slumming it in the catering business run by and old drinking buddy. He hits it off with a coworker and romantic entanglements ensue. His lack of motivation, along with his constant "Don't I know you?" troubles, make for an engaging and human series that was just strange and funny and fresh. It was a bona fide creative TV series amid a sea of banality. 
There are tons of reasons to watch this show. Scott is perfectly suited to play the surly, adorable Henry as he sorts out his life. Marino is an almost too-painful-to-watch natural as the perpetual sad sack boss of the Party Down catering crew. Lizzy Caplan, channeling the misery of Hollywood in her Casey character, is believable and well written. The rest of the cast is just as strong, with Martin Star, Jane Lynch and Megan Mullaly all bolstering the little series that could. Alumni from The State all make appearances, as do a cavalcade of wonderful headscratchers like Steve Guttenberg, J. K. Simmons, Kristen Bell and Ken Jeong. The writing is natural and flows freely, having an improvised air while being meticulously scripted. The plots and events are hysterical and rarely if ever contrived for a TV comedy. Also, who can't relate to taking a job when you need to, instead of when you want to? The underdog nature of the show is totally relatable and a genius creative choice.
It bums me out that this amazing, quality show got the ax after only two seasons, but then again I feel glad just to know it made it this far. 20 episodes is quite the run for a show this smart and funny. Usually we get stuck with dreck that lasts forever and barely a season of anything smart. Party Down shown bright and briefly. Take a look online or on DVD to see what you missed. I'm putting on an episode and tuning out as soon as I can.

11.26.2011

Vagrants Beware


Word. 

Alright, so I am a bit sheepish about the interference the other night. We're all human. To offer a make-up post on something awesome, may I suggest some light-hearted unwinding from the insanity that is the post-Black Friday shopping season? How about some intelligent and rewarding humor in the form of an online comic? Sound good? Yeah, you deserve a laugh. You deserve a look at Hark! A Vagrant! 

Drawn by Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant is an online comic that plays to the high minded but never becomes as obtuse or inscrutable as, say, the New Yorker. Regular subjects include historical figures and classical literature, as well as the histories of Beaton's homeland, the fabled Canadas. It's hard to pin down exactly what she calls her sense of humor. Subjects and punch lines vary from strip to strip, but they cover everything from Nikola Tesla's frustrations with adoring female fans to Benjamin Franklin flying kites instead of signing the Declaration to Dude Watchin' with the Brontes. No matter the subject, though,Beaton approaches the comic with a human sensibility and down-to-earth language the is absurdly contradictory to the stuffy jumping off point. It's not crass (often) but more silly and sweet and irreverent. She takes unwieldy historical figures and makes them asinine buffoons or takes the stuffing out of our assumptions of antiquity. The idea for establishing time zones, for example, seems impossible to craft a joke from, yet Beaton does it with swift inanity that makes me smirk. Jane Austen's true motivations? Adorable. 
Not all is history-lesson fodder, though. Pop culture seeps through, as well. Her take on a crass and surly Wonder Woman are hilarious, as is her neurotic and concerned interpretation of Aquaman. Also hysterical and adorable - her drawings of a feral Wolverine and a look at how life is different with Brown Recluse Spider Man. My particular favorites of Beaton, though, are her interpretations of Nancy Drew cover illustrations. The expressionist humanism style on the books is distinctly post-WW II insanity, with clear artistic intentions despite the sub-par design. Using the illustrations as a jumping off point, Beaton takes inspired turns into the bizarre and disjointed world Nancy Drew must have been investigating. Her own artistic style is incredibly unique and charming, yet it almost makes the covers seem like a natural fit for inspiration. She gives similar irreverent treatment to old-timey book covers by Gorey, as well. 
Other notable comics on Hark! A Vagrant include her real-world take on Mystery Solving Teens, who, instead of solving the mystery at hand, just sulk and act like normal teenagers. It's a sublime dissection of ideal vs. reality. Also of note is her collection of strips about The Great Gatsby, which are not only incredibly funny but also nuanced and insightful views I hadn't necessarily been able to articulate about the famous story. 
I really can't say enough good things about Kate Beaton and her amazing writing and illustrations. It's intelligent. It's adorable. It's well drawn. It's a funny, fresh voice that hits a part of my funny bone that is rarely touched on. I think you should unwind and spend some time clicking through her site, or if you want to please the bookworm in your life - head over to her online store and pickup prints, shirts, mugs or collected strips. Online shopping is less stressful than any mall, we all know. Get a laugh and ditch the rat race. Read up! 

11.25.2011

Fantastic Crimes

What's up, gang?


So tomorrow is the big day. We move out after four years in the same condo in Uptown. As crazy excited as I am for this new adventure to start, I'm also feeling the natural amount of saudade over closing this amazing chapter. As we've finished the packing process and started processing the emotions, something has become apparent - I listen to a lot of down beat or melancholic music. Anything I played while packing the last of our boxes mad me too sad to press on. Instead of some contemplative trip hop or ambient mood music I had to resort to some more energetic music. Not wanting to go full-on optimist (given the situation) I ended up stumbling over a phenomenal song that still sounds great - 'Criminal' by Fiona Apple.
I wrote about Apple and her sophomore album a while back. I stand by my assertions about taking her at face value and embracing her passion. None of that would have been asserted without her amazing, passionate debut album Tidal. Jumping right onto the charts with 'Shadowboxer', Apple was a firebrand at a young age. When her video for 'Criminal' came out though, more attention was paid to the scandalous video than the superb song. Too bad, cause the song was tops. The video was part of a weird wave that was occurring in the mid 90s that seemed to anchor around the suggested exploitation of young women. Seedy settings and trappings. Scantily clad, scrawny young women with sunken cheek bones. It was a weird kind of bummer, seeing it so embraced by the media and pop culture. Thank goodness that's all changed, right? Well, it certainly is understandable then, why Fiona Apple got so pissed at the VMAs that year. What I'm saying is forget the video, just listen to the song.
'Criminal' is a dangerous, malicious and self-loathing burner of a pop song. Apple had channeled something fierce inside of her when she wrote this song. Opening with the unnerving adult confession "I've been a bad, bad girl, I've been careless with a delicate man," Apple goes on to exorcise her emotional demons in the most satisfying way. She unleashes her guilt and anguish in a sublime, slinking piano piece. Her low, angry voice is strong and firm even when she floats into a gorgeous higher register she rarely taps into. It's a song with some verve and menace, a little swing to the punch. Basically she was as dangerous as we thought she was safe. We had her all wrong with that vapid video.
Forget the exploitative white noise of the video. I don't even like linking to it, save the fact that it hosts the actual tune. Apple is still a bad ass, she's just not as out in the fore-front of the noise brigade. She's still making her music, you just don't see weird videos without the medium of MTV to facilitate the bad mojo. Give an ear to her tunes and see how you can feel the passion coming through. It shot me out of the saudade of moving out. Lord knows what I'll have to listen to when I drive away for the last time.

11.24.2011

Glandular Problem


I keep trying to run but the tiles are tricky.

No Exterminator


The pneumatic doors at the back of the bus clicked and opened slowly, as if they didn’t want to release me into the humid summer day. It was before eight, still, but it was already warm and muggy. As I stepped down off the last step of the bus I straightened my shoulder bag around my frame and trudged off to my office.

Hard At Work

Heeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy kids!


I am a little low on fuel right now, despite the feast that occurred earlier today. I made a fairly sizable road trip out to my family in Wisconsin and back, followed by an additional round of gear to the new homestead. As such, I have had little to no time to write to an emphatic recommendation of pop miscellany.


So here's what I'm proposing - I'm going to post some short fiction, at which I've been poking away. They are a pair of unrelated, but similar in tone, pieces that stem from nightmares I've had. Maybe you're reading this on a slow Friday morning. Word on the street is if you have to be in the office on Friday you don't have to actually work, you just have to do compliance training. So you're all caught up? Good. Read these fictions and tell me what you think on the ol' twitter 


No Exterminator


Glandular Problems


I'll get back to my usual routines as of the weekend, despite the big day for moving. Zero hour, man. It's gonna be a trip. I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck and read up!

11.23.2011

Posed

Are you stressed?


I hope not. Turkey day can take a lot out of a person. Travel. Traffic Jams. Family. Complex interpersonal dynamics. Cooking. A lack of preparation in the kitchen. Man, there are way too many things that can go wrong in the next 48 hours. I'm not trying to jinx you. Quite the opposite, in fact. What I'm trying to do is find that little steam valve on the back of your head and turn it, ever so slightly, to vent a little pressure. As much as the next couple days may take a toll on you, you deserve a break. So how about a private dance party? Something that seems personal and small, but funky and fun? How about you listen to 'Cameras' by Matt & Kim when you feel uptight. I think it will help.
Matt & Kim are a band most people have heard, whether or not they're aware of it. The de-facto named group, Matt Johnson on keys and Kim Schifino on drums, share vocal duties while making a series of wide-ranging tunes. Most famously the duo hit the Alt/Indie charts with the thumping, melodic and above all sparse 'Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare'. It was everywhere for a while, including the pilot of our modern Arrested Development, Community. Sidewalks, last year's follow up to the cross-over Grand, has a great single in 'Cameras' that I still love to shimmy to. It always come on shuffle when I'm cleaning on Saturday mornings. My better half has more than occasionally caught me dancing around with a broom, shaking my shoulders with the beat.
Starting with a series of synth tones that evoke early-era Sega, 'Cameras' bounces right into the pocket with some fake horns and a heavy drum beat. A swirl of looping xylophone notes and Matt's vocals craft a verse that's as hook-laden as the chorus. In a way the laid-back shuffle reminds me of 'Nothing to Worry About' by Peter, Bjorn & John. The chorus breaks the song into a sailing half-time that feels like it spreads the tune over a piece of bread like butter. It's a slice of solid gold, in short.
'Cameras' may not be cutting-edge new, but man if it isn't some funky fun. When you're feeling the pressure of the big day getting to you, either blast this for everyone in the room or go find a private spot and jam out on your own. It's a personal, cathartic secret that lets you burn off a little steam. You'll feel better with your three minute dance party tucked under your cap. Do yourself a favor and cut loose when cutting the bird.

11.22.2011

All Right, Place

I'm facing the end of an era and I'm okay with it. 

It's a personal era, I should clarify. For the last five years I've called Uptown my home. I've had fantastic times here - amazing memories with my better half. Crazy nights out. Adventures with friends. I've seen shows that were to die for. Block parties that enveloped the entire neighborhood. I got engaged here. We got married here. I've seen landmarks come and go. I still miss the Uptown Bar. It's not a bad thing, this change. It's a necessary one. As I've grown older, the world has changed around me. Most of my friends have moved away or moved to the suburbs. I don't go out as much, these days. While I love the accessibility and convenience of the stores and night-life, I'm tired of dudes on motorcycles roaring past my place all night during the summer. Makes it hard to have a conversation some times. I'm ready to go, but that doesn't mean I'm not feeling a little sad about leaving a place I've called home for the better part of a decade. 

I'm using music to cope with this change. A lot of days, we've been putting on tunes that relax us and make us happier while we pack boxes and break down our place into smaller pieces. Sometimes the more cathartic music makes more sense to me, but I don't always want to share that with her. As I've been walking to the bus in the morning, each time savoring what would normally be a cold walk through Uptown to the Transit Station, I've been listening to Manchester Orchestra's 2009 single 'I've Got Friends'. It's a song that hits the sweet spot between comfort and upheaval, a perfect compliment to the back and forth states of mind I've been experiencing.
Starting with only a sparse guitar line and a simple but evocative chord change, 'I've Got Friends' is a song that builds over its five intense minutes. Singer and guitarist Andy Mull's voice is high and clear, a warbling thing that trills the melody as a descent over the hypnotic verse. On a dime, the band switches gears and jumps into the refrain, Mull singing over and over "I've got friends in all the right places. I know what they want and I know they don't want me to stay." Every repetition of the refrain sees his voice growing more and more raspy and broken; by the end of the song he's created a wall of his pained wailing, the high harmonies being just as powerful as the inflection in the lyrics. From the ambiguity of the lyrics and the mixture of joy and sorrow in Mull's it's  not immediately clear whether or not he's happy about his predicament, but I hardly care at this point. I'm completely hooked on this anguished ouroboros of an indie rock song. 
Pained or anxious, joyful or eager, I find my pulse rising for no discernible reason these last few weeks. I think it's from the knowledge a major change is going to take place. I feel great about it, I just wish I didn't have to close a chapter in my life along with it. Songs like this, with the simultaneous suggestions of having kin but not feeling wanted, make the self-removal process easier. Most of my friends are out of the area now, so who do I feel I'm leaving behind? My younger self? I don't know. I just want to go home to my better half and get started on our new adventure together. I'll just turn up my music as I'm walking home to ease me through the transition. 

11.21.2011

Cut Loose

What. The Hell. Was That.


Doomtree have lost their minds.


You think you know an artist, having listened to them for years. You get a sense of communicated identity. You learn their inflection and tendencies, even more so when they're a local legend. Hell, in some cases, I've even kicked back and shared drinks with the odd member of the crew. You make assumptions, you feel safe, if not confident in their choices. The last crew release was a killer, a massive album that served as a landmark in the divergent Doomtree canon. When word of the available-any-second No Kings, I made the mistake of thinking "Oh sure, more of the same, but better and harder, right?"
Remember what I said about assumptions and sanity?


The leaked tracks should have been an indication. 'The Grand Experiment' and 'Beacon' signaled a darker, more nuanced tone from an already complex and dexterous crew. The video for the album cut 'Bolt Cutter' though...it's dark and disturbing. Not in the gory, over the top schlock Hollywood tries to force feed us. No, this is the kind of strangely unnerving imagery that one would think impossible to pair up with hip hop, let alone such phenomenally talented artists as these. Stalking the gritty, grimy corridors of abandoned buildings. Climbing over the walls. Dodging spotlights while looking like their minds are unhinging before your eyes. Doomtree have lost their damn minds.


It couldn't be better art.
The song itself, a multi-segmented beast of a track, is just as sinister. P.O.S. brings you into his world over frantic, broken beats. Sims lurches through ever more violent wordplay, brandishing a verbal knife in the shadows as speakers bust and distortion flairs up. Suddenly the song breaks and becomes a slinking little thing that Dessa bats around like a cat with a mouse. She owns it and dares you to take her toy away. When you think it's safe, the track breaks wide open and Mike Mictlan screams in your face over crazed dance beats, rapping face down on a dirty floor in the video. As the crew stalk the empty corridors, P.O.S. ascends a ladder into the night time city and the song continues shifting. All of this is horrifyingly cohesive.
By the time you read this, No Kings will be available. Go get it. Once you've listened to it, call the men with the nets and white coats. These rappers are a danger to society, in the best possible way.

11.20.2011

Subterranean Dwellings

Yo.


So it's another late Sunday night as I write this. It's been another fun and productive, but ultimately busy weekend. Moving is a real thing now. Packing boxes and making trips with a stuff-to-the-gills car is a non-stop duty. The amount of thought-out, pre-planned elaborate meals has gone down significantly, so now the better half and I regularly resort to quick fixes and simple foods like oatmeal, rice and eggs. Not all at once. Although, maybe that could...nah, never mind. Anyway, point is...while stopping in at our preferred grocer's  on the way home from another round of life assessment and storage evaluation I heard a song on the honest to goodness FM radio that brought me back. It wasn't some massively famous, touchstone thing like Nirvana or the Stones or anything like that. Just a song that made me instantly relax as I thought about how I used to listen to it quite frequently. 
Like anyone, I was stressed out about going off to college. My youthful indiscretions had resulted in me spending the lead-up to my collegiate endeavors out in Seattle, living and working in the suburbs with my uncle. I loved the Northwest but the absence of a normal social routine threw me for a loop, especially when considering I was about to embark on a huge new chapter in my life. The dorms were frequently trouble - both mine and other students. Communal living is fun for only a microscopic handful of people, I think. I made my way, though. I found friends and enjoyed my classes. Going home for Thanksgiving, though, brought back a fair amount of stress. I hadn't been the best graduate - I put my parents through a lot. My friends and antagonists hadn't seen me for a very long time (more so than they'd seen each other, anyway). I wondered what had become of them.
So while all this was going on, I had a fresh musical Linus blanket I turned to, to sooth the mental inflammation, so to speak. I used to play No Doubt's 'Underneath It All' really, really loudly in the car when I went anywhere in those days. Say what you will about the emergent fashion focus and impending end of the ska/punk SoCal band during the dawn of the millennium - I still love this overlooked single. It has this smooth, rounded pillowing affect on my mind when I listen to it. All the stress I was dealing with melted away when I heard the humming and throbbing bass of the reggae posturing the band adopted. Gwen Stefani's poppy, crystal clear voice layered over the booming bass and ultra slow dub tune just turned my anxieties to molasses, an effect usually accomplished with a case of beer and a bad movie. Instead of that, I would play this song really loudly as I went somewhere anxiety-inducing and try to slow down my worries. It usually worked.
I guess it says something positive about my life that I never have to resort to blasting this song to crumble away my anxious nature. I feel better about who I am. My friends and family love me for who I am, and are always happy to see me when I come home for the holidays. When Thanksgiving comes this year, instead of sweating the possible outcomes of strange social situations, I'll gladly embrace my family for a big meal and tons of laughs, no audio pacifiers needed. I just need to finish packing boxes, first.

11.18.2011

Maximize

Look, I'm not even going to beat around the bush on this one.


You need to listen to Tricky's first release, Maxinquaye. It not only is a sublime standard among the field of trip hop and a defining album of the Bristol sound, it's simply fantastic and still holds up just as well today as it did when it was released a decade and a half ago.
Tricky was one of those musical acts I would always see photos of in the copies of SPIN and Rolling Stone back in the 90s, when I had no access to anything beyond terrestrial radio and MTV. I was always intrigued by what I saw and read, but I had no context. The curse of being born just a decade too early, right? What misery! Spoiled self-pity aside, I picked up his first release after falling in love with trip hop through fellow Brits, Portishead. It was one of those moments where you realize you had been missing out on something very kindred and relevant for years, only to kick yourself when you finally catch up. 
Maxinquaye, named for his late mother Maxine Quaye, was released in 1995. Featuring light and vaporous vocals from a then-young Martin Topley-Bird, the album is a work that sneaks in like a cat. You barely register the sounds as they creep into your ears, but within minutes it calls your head its home. The little moments and hidden corners absolutely make this album as amazing as it is commonly held to be. It's the kind of music that seems to grow before your ears, the sounds rising like tendrils from cracks in the floors and walls. Burbling notes in the refrain of 'Overcome' create a soft, murky world to get lost in. 'Ponderosa' is a slinky, weird little bit of music that makes you twitch and bob subconsciously. Uptempo numbers like 'Black Steel' maintain this same mysterious quality despite the pace and added distroted guitars. Tricky's smirking vocals on 'Hell Is Around The Corner' codify what we're getting here - it's a touch ominous, a bit playful, yet deadly serious in delivery.
Maxinquaye is one of those timeless albums, a touchstone that everyone should be able to pinpoint where it puts them in their life. It has a feel to it that is so alluring and dangerous that its appeal persists through modernity. You want some sexy music for a private get together? Done. You want a slinking soundtrack to secretive errands at night? Done. You name it, this album fits the bill. Listen to it now, for the first time or the hundredth time. See if I'm wrong.



Orchestrations

Sometimes a song just grabs you and holds you.


It's Friday, the end of a long November week. I'm spent from packing boxes and moving furniture, a task that will only become more involving as the next week tears on. Yet as I write this, I find myself unable to turn my tunes off. There's a song that's been haunting me for a while now, and I think you need to hear it.
See, I first heard this song over the satellite airwaves a few weeks back. Initially I thought it might have been some descendant form of a Modest Mouse mutation, given the voice of the lead singer and the general feel of the track. Upon further research I found that it was actually a song by Georgia indie-rockers Manchester Orchestra off of their latest concept album Simple Math. While the eponymous single is more heartbreaking and contemplative, the single 'Virgin' has been stalking me at every turn, invading my dreams and haunting my waking hours as of late. It's the kind of ominous, foreboding heavy rocking tracks that evokes the best elements of the sturm and drang of grunge while tapping into our modern sensibilities of nuanced niche music that speaks to the cerebral listener. 
Thrumming away with lurching, swaying guitars and eerie choirs of children singing "We built this house with our hands and our time and our blood", 'Virgin' gets under your skin as it unfolds. Lead singer Andy Hull moans about our modern state and the heartbreak of a world crumbling around him while the song washes like waves, only to break into its dinosaur-stomp of a refrain. Coupled with an unsettling, iconic video, it's the kind of single that you listen to over and over to in the fear that you've done something terribly wrong. Only repeated listenings will tell you whether or not that's true.
I love this song. During the lead up to Halloween I made sure to crank it as loud as I could to wring every creepy, weepy bit of angst out of it as a form of musical penance. Check out the video and see if you don't pick up on what I mean from the imagery. It's a great single from a band that absolutely deserves a much, much wider audience.

11.17.2011

Sick With Regret

Oh, White Stripes. How I miss thee.


What band in modernity have had an impact like that of Jack and Meg White, and with so few members to boot? It would be an easy conclusion to see that their raw, distilled power stems from the simplicity and lack of sleight of hand - this is the quintessential band for the notion of "what you see is what you get". It's always been tightly crafted, furious rocknroll pieces that get right to your primal core. That's why I, like everyone else who ever heard them, was crushed to learn that Icky Thump was to be their final album. The only consolation prize was that they went out with a bang.
As amazing as the entire album was, nothing defined the band for me like the eponymous single. Debuting in 2007, 'Icky Thump' was everything the White Stripes had become known for - relentless energy, massive guitars, bleating vocals and straight forward, bash-you-in-the-face drums. Basically, a knock out. By leading with this mastodon-like track, the two-piece proved they hadn't lost their edge as their careers reached new heights. While the world was quickly moving past the garage rock aesthetics the band had brought to the forefront less than a decade earlier, they were proving their style still had vitality in their last throes.
'Icky Thump' is Frankenstein monster of a single. By all common understanding the song shouldn't work in our over-produced, slick and glossy world of modern media. By cobbling together all these disparate elements, Jack and Meg created a song that felt just broken and dangerous enough to stand out. There's the menacing relentless thump of the verses, layered up with squirrely clavioline lines and Jack's exquisite piss-take rapping. His voice adds the perfect level of vitriolic distaste on the matter of illegal immigration as an added bonus. The single swings into a distinctively White Stripes-esque breakdown of sliding guitar riffs and slamming percussion. A series of broken and dying solos round out the song, as if to say "Solo for attention? How about I destroy my gear instead?" Despite the audacity of individuality and flaunting of convention, it works. Or maybe because of it.
I miss The White Stripes like no other. They were a rare beacon of genuine rocknroll in a homogenized, safe-for-corporations musical world. Still, as much as it pains me to say they;re no more, I can at least enjoy what they left as legacy. It blows me away to know they did tracks like this right up to the finish line.

11.16.2011

Rain Delay

I probably should have had this ready to go on Halloween night.


Can you blame me though? I was all about celebrating my favorite holiday. I had to watch scary movies and fill up on candy corn and chocolate. The only other thing I was looking forward to as much was the latest release from my favorite Twin Cities rapper Homeless. Recorded live at the 7th Street Entry earlier in the year, this free (FREE I SAY!) LP features the rapper cutting up verses and hooks over sick samples and trading lines with another good friend of mine, the multi-talented Just Riley. Having been all over the duo's mixtape (Patience Makes Lighter/Kids Eat Free) after seeing countless shows of theirs and even roping them into performing at my own wedding, I was beyond excited to hear that after relocating to California, Homeless was still putting out this fantastic and tightly paced show for free online. My expectations were exceeded in every way.
Where as seemingly every other live show I've heard on record has suffered from bad mixes or a lack of passion, Homeless did the deft mix here of coupling a fantastic mix with a relentless lyrical fire. The MC is just as vibrant and alive on this LP as he is at any show. Best of all, thanks to a well-orchestrated production the vocals are crystal clear over the beat, sounding almost like an incredibly dynamic radio performance more than a bootleg recording. Jumping right into the madness after an intro from another local upstart, Toussaint Morrison, Homeless shows his growth and burgeoning swagger by spitting apocalypse fostering verses over a crazy beat by R Productions. 'Craze(y)' shows him running a manic foot race against a beat by Alchemist that was originally put to use by Mobb Deep. The minute long 'For The Record' ends with Homeless clarifying his stance on half and half in his coffee. 
Just Riley joins the fray for 'The Weather', making his presence known by screaming about "Humpty Dumpty tendencies". From here on out the pair, known together as Mnemosyne, volley tracks and lines back and forth. 'Familiar Strangers' is an ultra catchy live staple and inspires little shimmies as the two spit miles of lyrics together. 'Somniphobia' will break your heart as Just Riley incites the crowd to sing along with his fear of sleeping alone. On 'Kids Eat Free', the title track from his mixtape, Just Riley takes lead vocals to examine our mental starvation as he wraps his linguistics in circles around his own ideas. Rapping over a beat provided by Cecil Otter of Doomtree, Homeless and Riley paint a grim picture of life inside asylum walls on 'Welcome to Bedlam'. Homeless makes a case for making the most of your life on 'In The Air' from his release Patience Makes Lighter before closing the show with the pop insanity of 'Magic Man', as crafted by Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss Homeless, here in the Twin Cities. Truth be told, I hardly go to shows now that these two have headed west to CA. Sure, Doomtree have a stint of Blowout shows coming up, but they're shoe-ins - some of the joy in watching Homeless making a release like Right As Rain happen is seeing an artist cut his teeth and hone his craft. The man has genuine talent that grows every day. I just wish he didn't have to head out to bigger and better things to spread the good word. You look him up - I'll make him do a hometown show as soon as possible.

11.15.2011

Fakeout

I suppose this could have been written a decade ago.

Previous posts have explored the idea of the futility of discovering music in a society that lacked omnipresent web access and hyperactive culture. Trying to catch the name of a band or song on the radio or MTV was hard enough. Deciding to waste the money on an album (or even a CD single) was even more frustrating. As I've previously written about my internet endeavors, I spent a fair amount of time in college searching for long-forgotten songs and things tucked in the farthest corners of my mind. One such song, 'Pure Morning' by Placebo, was a fantastic find. It could just as easily be a modern release, to boot.
'Pure Morning' was released in 1998. Originally a B-side from a more popular single, Placebo found themselves too enamored with the song to relegate it to the reject pile. It was not only included on the album but became one of the band's most popular singles to date, along with their earlier effort, 'Nancy Boy'. They've enjoyed enduring success in their native UK and abroad, but this track was the start of their slow descent from the top - the band peaked in the late 90s, essentially. This is not a bad thing - they're still doing just fine and selling millions of albums. It just takes a little longer with our fractured media landscape. Regardless, they endure and continue to have successful tours and releases. 
So why the big fuss? I guess I just dig the song. I feel like it could have been just as popular today as it was when it was released. Were one to slip the song into a playlist on, say, AltNation on satellite radio the audience would most likely not skip a beat. Maybe that's what makes the strange track so appealing in the long run. It's a great song but perhaps it was ahead of its time. Brian Molko's voice is peculiar but memorable, both indicative of the indulgent 90s music scene and our modern quirky-for-quirk's sake hipster ideals. The bass and guitar are spacey and fuzzed out in an obtuse but catchy sound that would fit either decade. The drums bang and wallop in this wide open loop that feels like it both belongs in the era of The Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony' and would fit on any spotlight collection in the iTunes store. The only thing out of place about the song is the video, solely for the long, slow shots of police men interrupting a suicide attempt by Molko as he steps off a ledge. It's to calm and measured for our ADD minds. Bleak and strange, absolutely. Just too calm to fit in now.
Take a listen and see if I'm nuts. Even if you disagree with my assertion that 'Pure Morning' still feels modern you'll rediscover a great, overlooked song from the end of the last decade. It was a hard time to find music in the Midwestern town I called home - forgive me for indulging my nostalgiac embrace.