Friday, April 29, 2011

Heart-Sick Groans – Look!!! These Three Painters of Hits Have Done It Again 7.7

                   Sweden exports a great deal of cheerful bands. Perhaps there’s a certain struggle with the dark cold place to bring happy joyful music. If that’s the case, then Heart-Sick Groans work tirelessly to make the environment a little warmer, a little happier. With only 15 minutes, they make you wish they had written a few more songs. 

                No worries though. Their music is as casual as casual can be. All the arrangements are ideal, perfect. Right from the beginning “Ballajero Beach” you’re brought into the beginning of summer. Every promise that beginning offers is displayed on this collection of six songs. It breezes by with a smile.

                My favorite song on here would have to be “Last Night Out with the Gang”. Yeah, don’t worry. The song titles give you a pretty good idea of the hanging out vibe existing all over the place. Vocals match the mood set by the instruments themselves. As a personal preference, I enjoy the more low-key, slower tempo songs. 

                The whole thing is great. Reading that they’ve been around since 2007, I hope they continue to keep putting out sweet little gems. For while I would enjoy every group releasing albums, I understand that may not work out the best for all bands. Heart-Sick Groans do this music out of a sense of love for the sound, and you can really hear it.

The Zen of Boredom

                “The Pale King” David Foster Wallace’s last book came out right in time for tax day. I’ve never read any of his work before but I have started my ritual stalking of the author’s life details, focus, writing style, etc. Usually when I decide whether or not to read an author’s work, I do some preliminary research on whether or not I can relate to the work at hand. Thomas Pynchon went through this phase before I got “Gravity’s Rainbow” and James Joyce went through this before I got “Finnegans Wake” (though in hindsight probably should have started with “Ulysses”). For “The Pale King” I feel the subject matter may appeal to me.

                According to the little I’ve gleaned from reading about it, it focuses on the idea of boredom as a form of Zen. Characters have to figure out exactly how to handle the often tedious nature of their work. I first put my hands on this book in perhaps the best place for tedium, the Port Authority, a place completely devoted to transit and devoid of any meaningful kind of entertainment, interest, or much of a purpose besides housing countless bus lines going to places of dubious interest. New Paltz, I love you but you’re really quite small in the grand scheme of things. 

                I’ve been thinking about that one central idea, the ability to find enlightenment in the most boring places imaginable. Over five years have passed since I began my training under the best dull had to offer. Working in an office sort of prepares you for near-useless, archaic knowledge that may or may not be transferable anywhere else. But while some of that knowledge may not have value, it does teach you the importance of killing time and learning how to appreciate others. How do you manage your time to make sure you accomplish whatever has been set in front of you while still creating a small amount of time for human interaction. Any office job virtually guarantees you’ll learn this skill or go hopelessly insane. 

                Balance is the best word I’d have for this, but it is somewhat incomplete. Sometimes you need to do both work and focus on people at the same time. Zen might be the phrase for this, where you focus on your work peripherally while you are emotionally attached to what is going on around you. Concentration is needed for this skill and you do need a certain amount of knowledge in order to pull this off, but the rewards are amazing. Essentially you are able to do two things at once. While computer screens whiz by as you have the hot-keys memorized, you’re able to avoid being deadened by the sheer tedious nature of the data, of the information. You are aware it is there and what you need to do to interact with it, but you shouldn’t try engaging with it on a heavier level. 

Focusing too intensely on work can often lead to feelings of sourness, of questioning other people’s contributions. This is what I would call the ‘sour’ phase of work, one you really ought to avoid. Questioning what others do or how valuable they are isn’t something that you, as a mere peon (I doubt I have many managers reading this) should be doing in the first place. You’ll begin to put a value on everything everyone does, giving a monetary rather than a more human response. Eventually you may become more emotionally distant from your coworkers and you’ll notice a certain tension growing between you and them. Sure, there will always be egregious examples of the ‘useless’ coworker and that will happen. But try to limit the amount of these negative thoughts. Instead, try to focus on similarities or what you enjoy about the person, that way if criticism ever comes up you can offer ‘constructive’ criticism rather than something bitter.

Waiting forms another large chunk of time we have to spend. New York is a prime example. The city never sleeps since there are so many things to wait for, from buses, trains, lines, tickets, money, food and etc. That’s why I thrive in a city environment. I never understood why people say “in a New York minute”. Nothing I consider worth doing takes a minute or less. Connections mess up. You forget what line to take. Food preparation takes a long time. If anything, I feel by having a giant metropolis you have to accept the idea things will move slowly and ‘all representatives are currently assisting others. The next available representative will be on the line to assist you shortly.’ 

That’s why I can be a sloth in the city. I know how to wait. I know how to be bored. I know I may not always make everything, every train or meeting at a precise time that I want. Automatically I build this into everything I do. Occasionally I’m even given little electronic boards which tell me when the next train is coming, but I can’t really do anything to make things move faster. My expectation remains I may or may not get lucky or my own intuition may improve. Keeping this in mind I have a few different scenarios play out in my head as I’m on my way somewhere, each serving as a back for any given situation.  

David Foster Wallace brought me to think about this expectation we create. I’m not sure whether or not his deliberate goal was to make us think about how we use time or how we interact with others, but I’m glad he decided to focus on such a massive part of our lives. A part of our lives edited out of books, writing and so forth rather than celebrated in its own right. So much writing edits out the gritty little details leaving us with a glossy sheen which is why his posthumous novel excites me. Does a broken escalator force people to move faster since they have the idea it should be moving faster, or do people enjoy running up stairs to see if they can beat that languid machine? I see this all the time, of the little kid outrunning his parents by taking the stairs. Then he stands up on top, thinks, and waits for them to realize the folly of their ways. He’s not even thinking about the extra time he’ll be up there, waiting for them. For the child, he has focus and understands the importance of waiting, of boredom. 

Boredom can be a relieving factor. It can drive people crazy. For literally the least interesting thing in the world, it is a surprisingly divisive issue. Maybe I should get “The Pale King”. What do you think?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Catwalk – (Please) Don’t Break Me 7.0

               Catwalk prove the 80s phenomena has moved towards the mid to late 80s.The singer’s voice brings up images of  Morrissey, with a bit of haze thrown in for good measure. With only two songs, it is a little difficult to judge exactly how they plan on moving forward with the sounds, but it sounds like promising work.

                “(Please) Don’t Break Me” has just the right amount of jangly guitar and percussion. The drums are mixed rather low, almost at a distance. However, the tambourine feels like it is right there and figures prominently in the mix. I enjoy the far away vocals, and the song itself has a pleasant, spring-time vibe to it. Now that spring has begun I can better appreciate this kind of music.

                Meanwhile, “No Room for Love” takes a more low-key approach, befitting of a B-side. It possesses lower energy. The quiet works well for it. Listening, I hear the late 80s filtered into my head. Personally, I sort of miss that kind of music so I have a bit of a bias on this sound.

                These are both solid, enjoyable songs. I want more from this California-raised band. Hopefully they'll finish up their EP releasing streak and get on top of getting us a full-length.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Movie Review: Fast Five

                ‘Fast five’ has accomplished something no other movie has: summer has moved forward to this Friday, April 26th. Usually summer begins on June 21st but due to the extreme hotness and anticipation of the fifth installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, well; let’s just say that groundhog didn’t see this coming. How could he? It was moving too quickly for him, leaving him in the dust. That groundhog didn’t even see the shadow coming. 

                The movie starts with a bang. Kid Charlemagne (Vin Diesel) is busy crafting legislation to increase the tax on ethanol in Brazil. Brazil is facing a serious budgetary gap, and may otherwise have to cut social programs to the poor. On television Kid Charlemagne tries to explain to the nation how everyone will need to sacrifice for the betterment of society. Halfway through his speech of eliminating poverty, he says “Fuck it” and chooses to steal money using really fast cars. 

                Everyone is shocked in Brazil at how the dedicated civil servant fell so far from grace. He establishes himself as the major player in an international drug cartel. Financing the underground musical movement called ‘chillwave’ he increases drug consumption in the United States by over 350% during the summer of 2009. Kid is considered a god among men, and his revolutionary spirit of financing music to take drugs to have countless impersonators. Only Kid has a leg up on them as he worked at his university as a radio DJ during the pivotal hours of 11:00pm to 1:00am on Thursday nights. No one realizes this except for a lone US Federal Agent.

                A US Federal Agent named Steely Dan (played by Dwayne Johnson) remembers those sweet jams Kid used to play. Memories flood Steely’s mind, of him and his Cousin Dupree, of his good friend Dr. Wu who wrote him prescriptions to painkillers he’s now addicted to, and of his orgies with the Babylon sisters. Knowing how tough it is to kick the habit, he hopes to at least help Kid turn back to his old ways, of helping others. Plus, he worries about stronger strains of music being unleashed, requiring even heavier drugs. 

                Driving furiously after Kid listening to jazz-rock fusion from the 70s, he fails to stop Kid’s most recent contribution to the popular music blog “The Hype Machine”. After Salem’s newest album hits the site, the site becomes nearly overwhelmed. Heavier drugs become an in-thing among the cool kids in such hip, relevant places such as Austin, New York, Portland, Chicago and Minneapolis. Tears roll down Steely’s face as he sees how absolutely strung out of his mind the lead singer of Salem is, like he doesn’t even know what’s going on or why people invited him to play at South By Southwest.

                Steely Dan is perplexed. In this role, Dwayne lived with Bill Murray for six months to get down pat the goal of being a hip older man. Then he read various hip blogs for an entire year to hone the exact language his character would use as a cool dad. Putting this together took time, and there’s a lot of screen time dedicated to Steely Dan g-chatting with his teenage son in the US, telling him to avoid purchasing wrap-around headphones. By avoiding that kind of purchase, Steely hopes his son will continue listening to music on those shitty waxy IPOD headphones and avoid the hypnotic grooves of Dubstep and Chillwave.

                Years go by as Steely Dan plans his next move. He’s trailing Kid, who grows stronger by the day. An entire team is assembled by Steely, set on destroying Kid’s influence on the young people of Brazil and the United States. This 80s throwback nostalgia stuff only makes kids want drugs even more, reminding Steely of the botched efforts he undertook in the late 80s working with the Reagan administration. 

                Finally, Steely’s team goes into action. Driving cars so insanely fast they have been banned from Germany’s famous Autobahn, they spring into action. This is the most intense chase of the movie and the longest, lasting for nearly 30 whole minutes. While we watch them drive at unreasonable speeds in the Bugatti Veyron, we get the most character development and dialogue in the entire movie. Apparently Kid had developed impotence, making him rely on ever-increasing amounts of Viagra to please his hipster wife Sue (played by Zooey Deschanel). Combining their musical taste made them an unstoppable force.

                Kid is used to being the best driver. But Steely’s excellent handling and reckless driving has him worried. Having to choose between escape or releasing the latest music fad (Post-Chillstep, a mixture of Post Rock, Chillwave and Dubstep which instantly makes the brain crave unconscionable amounts of dopamine) he chooses to live another day. While frustrated, Steely is happy to have somewhat defeated him. The movie ends with Steely abusing prescription drugs listening to Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer” wondering where he goes from here. Steely looks down at his feet, mumbling ‘Bad Sneakers’ before passing out. 

                Masterfully directed by Vin Diesel, Fast Five is easily the best of the “Fast and Furious” series. The exploration of good and bad, alongside the latest musical trends, makes it a movie capturing the moment. I’d strongly urge everyone to see this, for Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnston give the performance of a lifetime.

Pink Flamingos – We Never Close 8.5

FYI: This cover has never been accused of coming from any other decade but the 80s.

                Consider this akin to finding an ancient artifact. I’m so positively thrilled about this album. Each song reeks of the 80s in the best way possible. You want to see pure, uncut 80s nostalgia without all the lenses, distortion and irony installed by chillwave, hypnagogic pop, and so on? Go no further than Pink Flamingos, who make AM hits so good they put my previous favorite (The Doobie Brothers) to absolute shame. Of course your ability to enjoy this will depend very heavily on how much irony you function off of on a regular day. Suffice it to say I’m more than happy about my discovery.

                Every bit of the early 80s is well covered. There are those piano ballads like “Just like in the Movies”. Heavier, more strung out songs are here as well. “Voodoo” sounds better after you’ve listened to homage Ariel Pink has written. In case the rhythm doesn’t get you, maybe the vocal spasm (you’ll see what I mean) about halfway through or perhaps the synthesizer at the end. I’m glad to see these guys (headed by Dave McArtney, a New Zealander) saw so much success in the early 80s. 

                What is the true hit on here though? “Hungry Night” might be the anthem I never knew dedicated to an unproduced 80s comedy. It would introduce the film with stock footage of 80s New York, complete with hard-working construction workers and waiting for trains. Oh man, this might be one of the best, most unintentionally ironic things I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Don’t worry, just because that movie never got produced doesn’t mean you can’t watch their infinitely excellent music video. 

                Slower songs work wonders too. “Anne was Hard” and “Prosperpine” conjure up images of the best of the early 80s. You want to know where the current 80s fetish gets its traction, I can tell. Listen to this, it’ll give you all the information you’ll ever need to know in some of the best pop morsels. Plus, did I mention the singer Dave McArtney has a BA in English and Renaissance poetry. That habit of his weaves its way into lyrics. 

                Man, mere words can’t describe this feat. Hear the history of so many AM-radio worshippers condensed into a simple, highly enjoyable album. It is just amazing the level of 80s AM-pop contained within here. “We Never Close” is such a fun listen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beach Sloth Doesn’t Suffer for Fashion

Every day I'm hustling.
                I don’t suffer for fashion. It suffers for me. Fashion remains one of the few things I haven’t discussed here at length. Perhaps it is because I’m a sloth and hang upside down most of the day. Sleeping doesn’t require really fancy clothes. Clothes are expensive. Money is better used for cushy headphones. No one needs to worry what I look like, as I have taken the ‘disheveled’ style and mastered the art form. 

        offered a way of receiving feedback on my sweet style. As I perused the many people who had joined the online fashion diary, I thought “Seems chic”. Immediately I joined. Now I was part of something greater than myself. Now I could be surrounded by stylish people who didn’t look down on me. Perhaps I might learn something about this elusive group of people whose motivations and desires escape me. They might even help me out. 

                Last Saturday I hung out with fashion types. I wanted to understand what exactly made them tick. Apparently they had founded a boutique clothing line based out of New Jersey. Though I consider myself somewhat successful in my endeavors, I haven’t started a clothing line or even a company. A mere blogger, I don’t have a company to back me up.  Even more amazingly, they managed to get some coverage from a blog, NBC’s blog. Part of my brain thought about teaming up with some obscure direct TV channel to increase our popularity together.  

                All of them were better dressed than I was. Usually this happens to me. I tend to wear clothing I know I’ll be comfortable in when it rains. By telling me about this, I tried to ‘step up my game’ conversation wise. We discussed those things endemic among twenty-somethings: money, bands, vague goals for the future, a slight feeling of disappointment in everything, etc. That worked out.

                Now I am trying to learn their habits. I have a few head starts. Someone gave me this thing called a ‘comb’ I plan on using later on this year. More exotic gifts came including this strange thing you rub against your feet. That way, your feet are smooth. People have commented on my feet. Perhaps I missed my calling as a foot model, earning that sweet money cake. 

                Besides the joy of learning how to dress (a skill I think I will never quite ‘get’) I learn a more important skill: the ability to talk about it. This ability will allow me to look like I’m about to get all fashionable. People will look at me and say “That sloth knows what he’s talking about” as I speak to them with unkempt hair, a slight mumble and stubble which hides from my razor. Standing there as this delightfully honest mess who at least has finally cracked their secret code of language, if not exactly their sense of style. 

                I want to hug all the fashionistas out there, virtually. Let me know what a good look for a sloth is. Should I wear a suit and tie, or should I wear something more casual, more befitting of my species. Let me know, I want to make Lookbook proud. Send any full-length body pictures of sloths to: Thank you. 

The Skull Defekts – Peer Amid 6.8

               The Skull Defekts will remind you of a hypnotic version of Shellac. Steve Albini’s cranky vision is put into full force on this album. A certain level of aggression exists throughout the whole album, as does an extreme use of repetition. 

                Repetition is both the album’s greatest strength and weakness. On “Peer Amid” the bombastic nature of the repetition, coupled with the loud volume, makes it wonderful. “Join the True” does a fairly decent job of this, with the singer’s voice doing a perfect job of matching up with the instrumentation.

                On other songs, the effort falls flat. “In Majestic Drag” it starts out promising but outstays its welcome. A few other songs do the same thing. I’m a fan of extreme repetition, but somehow a lot of these songs grow stale, even a bit annoying. That bothers me as I hear a lot on the album I’d like a bit more with perhaps slightly tweaked. 

                For the most part, these Swedes have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing. Even though I can’t connect with it in the way I’d like, I still think it’s a fairly decent effort. Had the lengths been changed a slight amount, with perhaps a greater use of distortion (like I heard in the opener) I’d have warmer feelings towards it. As it stands, they nonetheless manage to create some interesting tracks which will get stuck in your head.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Neon Indian returns!

                2010 must have been the year chillwave hibernated. Neon Indian toured, didn’t release very many (if any new songs). Instead, he just put out videos for pre-existing songs. People felt a certain amount of teasing, as he was just solidifying his position as one of the two highly respected chillwavers (the other being ‘Washed Out’). “Psychic Chasms” got instant ‘Best New Music’ on Pitchfork. No other chillwave artist managed to pull that off in their first go, even Washed Out got only an 8.0 on his first EP.

                Things have changed since the halcyon days of 2009. Since that time, a great deal of sub-par chillwave has entered the music stream, tainting its good, nostalgic name. Other chillwave bands have evolved, moved past the original sound. For Toro Y Moi, that meant a longer, better received second album. Ducktails had a second, less well-received album, getting only a 6.7, meaning Pitchfork was ‘hedging its bets’ on it still remaining a band which could obtain buzz. 

                What could Neon Indian do with his time, as he worked diligently on his second album? Alan Palomo lost a guitarist and gained “Flaming Lips” collaboration. By working with Wayne, he proved he will be the most profitable chillwave entity. Losing a guitarist didn’t hurt too much as Neon Indian has been mostly a singular affair. Guitarists are everywhere; though that guitarist’s funky outfits will be missed at live shows. I know I’ll miss them. 

                Finland proved to be the place where he re-discovered his chill. Since it is in Scandinavia, it embodies the essence of chill. The welfare state the Finns have created, along with being the only country to repay all of its World War II debt to the US makes it a pretty chill place, perfect for Neon Indian.  He needed to see how to make his second album even better than the first, as his popularity had only increased since his first album. Some magazines even called his 2009 released album “the album of 2010” which felt other-worldly to him. 

                Now he’s come out with some teaser trailer for “Heart Attack” part of a 3-part instrumental trilogy on his new album. That means the new album will be longer than the first, as previous outings have shown us, longer album means ‘maturing’ and shorter albums mean ‘running on empty’. So he has that part of the system down pat. Listening to the first track from it, it sounds fantastic, exactly what you’d expect from Neon Indian, completely amazing synthesizer and great beats. Hopefully he’ll keep that up for most of the album. 

                 I’ve seen him live a couple of times. Not once have I been upset or disappointed. By now, he’s gotten down the live show, a difficult thing for his kind of music. He’s also stated the new album will drop in early fall. Since his last album leaked so early, I’m assuming we’ll get it by around July/August area. Perhaps we’ll also get some sort of EP like we did for the last one, so people can get used to the major points of the album before he goes out with the whole thing. This last part I’m not so certain about, he’s maintained twitter silence for great periods of time, perhaps he wants to ‘shock and awe’ the audience. 

                Actually, when I heard the first song off of his early EP “Deadbeat Summer” I remember sending to virtually everyone I knew who was interested in music. Each one loved it. I kept those sent Facebook messages for a long time, to remind me that sometimes hype rewards a band deserving of the attention. Of course, I kept those messages out of the music nerd habit of saying “I called it” when you learned of a band way before everyone else. As most people aren’t music nerds, when you meet a real music nerd, it is the equivalent of a secret handshake. 

                Neon Indian appear to be a more responsible affair, at least avoiding some of the negative aspects of celebrity, public break-downs and drug abuse being the most common problems. Though apparently the Antlers tweeted their rehearsal with him was a nightmare and they should not have taken acid with him. Considering the bleak nature of the Antlers music, it might have to do more with their perception than Alan’s behavior.

                Honestly, I haven’t been this excited for a release in a while. Most of 2011 has gone by with a few decent albums. I want something beautiful. Neon Indian might have that album.

Evil Madness – Super Great Love 7.5

                 Evil Madness is a super-group of Scandinavian bands you’ve never heard of: Stilluppsteypa, BJ Nilsen, and Johann Johannsson. Despite most of these performers’ positions in the extreme avant-garde (even by their own label’s standards, Emego, they are obscure) this is a fun record with a good sense of humor. Those familiar with the tongue-in-cheek irony of Trans Am will need that attitude to get through these songs.

                 This music is extremely playful. Arpeggios are literally strewn all over the place. A more than passing resemblance to an updated Kraftwerk is unavoidable: Evil Madness holds an affinity for old equipment and certain skewed pop sensibilities.

                A surprisingly large of electronic genres gets close scrutiny. Trance is here in tracks like “Divine Sensual Love Fantasy” (yes, the song’s title is part of the joke). Some of the songs seem to share a lot in common with Soft Pink Truth’s approach to dance music, just enough kitschy humor to make it enjoyable. 

                Other songs appear to draw strength from hyper-active pop music. “Café Eindhoven” would be the smash hit if Evil Madness was interested in hits, which it clearly isn’t. It stomps, raves up, and generally goes insane. But the longest song “Maxim’s Goldfinger” which includes distorted vocals is the most fun on here. Towards the end it completely gets cut up mere inches away from death. 

                Basically, this is a group of normally experimental musicians having some fun within the confines of trashy pop techno. Due to their training and practice, it is a surprisingly enjoyable affair.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lee Patterson

               Lee Patterson is one of the first poets I’m reviewing from my neck of the woods, the tri-state metropolitan area. While he does live in Madison, NJ I won’t hold his NJ roots against him, as some of my favorite people are from New Jersey. In fact, there’s a certain weird charm I feel every time I take NJ transit on one of my many trips to that exotic land.

                What Lee does is quite clear: he delves into regular poetry on his more traditional poetry blog and engages with Flarf poetry (poetry derived partly or entirely from the internet on his larger, more updated blog). I find it interesting how he felt the need to divide the two into two separate blogs as I feel internet writing can often be just as good, if not better, than what counts as ‘officially published’ writing. Besides maintaining these two blogs, he has been published in “The Columbia Review” and “West 10th”. Having become aware of him through Steve Roggenbuck’s #poetrybyemilydickinson project, something tailor-made for his interests, most of my focus will center on his No Name Key blog which gives me more information.

                Beginning with the “Independence Day Rain” he shows a certain flair for the readymade nature of Flarf poetry. Managing to avoid sounding forced or unnecessarily pointing attention to their origins, he creates the illusion of a relationship between the two characters in the poem. It’s sort of unusual, but I enjoy seeing the language used outside of context to create something more substantial.

                   One of my favorites has to be his only December poem called “Amazing Bundler Opiating”. In this he shows off one of the results of too much Google information. Cobbled together is information about an amazing Christian rock band, dissatisfaction on Obama’s healthcare plan, Opium, and the Taliban. None of that should make sense together, but a reader’s external information about any of those events or ideas is virtually unavoidable. A reader can manage to make sense out of it; much in the same way our brains are wired to understand words without vowels or with slight misspellings. 

                “I can smell your Heirlooms from here” is great for other reasons. He takes all these internet phenomena and creates a situation, a story. Originally starting with a de-friended friend on Facebook, the narrator tells us about how this awful Facebook friend once slipped acid in his beer. As he begins freaking out he thinks of ‘you’, a person never defined. Smelling heirlooms and the description of synesthesia gives it a surreal quality. 

                For his less-internet based poetry, I’d say the title poem of “Anonimo Key” is the best of the bunch. I’ve never been to the Florida Keys but I enjoyed the feel of the words and confusion chosen. Now that I haven’t been on a road trip for such a long time I kind of miss the bizarre nature of getting lost in new places, rather than getting lost in vaguely familiar places, which is far more common with me. 

                Strangely, I like both forms. Obviously I have a focus on here of internet based poetry, but I appreciated the fact he tried to differentiate between the two forms. That way I get a better idea of what the process must be. Having read both, I’d be interested in how one is decided for one or the other blog, what the criteria is for an ‘internet based’ versus ‘writing based’ poem, since so much of what I read and process is mostly through the internet at this point. I guess not knowing makes it more interesting. 

Xander Harris – Urban Gothic 6.1

               First things first, I think the name is excellent. Anyone who uses a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” character as a band name at least has a good sense of humor. It makes sense too once you consider the dark kind of music contained on “Urban Gothic”. Not Not Fun Records released this album, and it makes sense considering the heavy synth nature of the album.

                Urban Gothic is dark, but in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. The way a lot of horror movies include humor at strange moments to lighten the mood. Xander Harris has the good fortunate of opening for some particular favorites of mine, Shit and Shine being one, Expo 70 being another. But while those bands are pretty readily established, Xander appears to be a work in process.

                Some of the songs on here are fairly decent but nothing really comes out at me. Longer tracks such as “Tanned Skin Dress” and “The House” fare well. The shorter tracks come across less distinctly. Most of the album tries for an electro-industrial vibe, and some of the songs do meet that requirement. Electro-industrial can be somewhat tricky, as the wrong mix can result in it sounding a bit cheesy. Unfortunately a few of the songs fall victim to sounding not kitsch, but just plain generic. 

                There is enough here to give me hope about future Xander Harris outings. For every song that doesn’t exactly meet its mark “When the Hammer starts to Swing” there is one that does “End Credits”. It is a bit of a mixed bag of quality, but next time around Xander will have a better feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The High Llamas – Talahomi Way 7.2

                  Sean O’Hagan’s project is one of those things I always enjoy. There are a number of reasons for this, the clean execution, mellow vibe, or the extreme Anglophile nature of the project itself. When I hear them, I think of what Brian Wilson might have written about had he been British.

                “Talahomi Way” continues with the more acoustic nature they’ve started since “Beet Maize & Corn” and followed through on “Can Cladders”. Basically, this is the logical progression of both of those two albums. Songs on here are memorable while providing enough space to focus on some of the gorgeous melodies Sean so effortlessly creates.

                What makes Talahomi Way so enjoyable is how easy it feels. Each one of these songs is carefully crafted, the horns put in the right moment. Had Stereolab decided to follow up on an acoustic version of their sound it would probably sound like this album.

                From the opener “Berry Adams” it gives off the right mood of lounge and dreaminess. The vocals are positively sweet and the bass surprisingly playful. “Talahomi Way” goes over their favorite subject of travel. Most of their songs focus on the idea of going or being elsewhere and this album is no exception.

                Plenty of bands change their direction countless times, constantly redefining their focus. The High Llamas are not one of those bands. Instead, they constantly focus on honing out a very specific niche of sound. And they continuously do it well, this just happens to be one of their better albums.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Love Storming Bebe Zeva

Courtesy of Steve Roggenbuck

              Love Storming is when you care about someone very much. Telling them “I care about you” doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes it takes a village. A village can be hard to assemble in real life, so you have to go to the internet. What you then do is tag a picture with roughly 50 or more people. Once this is done, you feel the love of roughly 10,000 or so comments existing as a broken up narrative. But this number only increases, if slower than before, never stopping to think why it exists, but simply being a part of the Facebook experience. It is in fact a living breathing internet organism, feeding off the participants’ wit and verve. 

                Steve Roggenbuck may be the genius of our interconnected generation. Without any sort of external help, he’s managed to become a force to be reckoned with on and offline. Twitter feeds, Facebook, Blogging, Chapbooks, he does it all with an enthusiasm which is contagious. I don’t know how he does it, but unlike many other writers, he invites participation. Most of his work and projects function only with outside participation. Plus, he adds a sense of humor and mischief that so many other writers lack. In case that wasn’t enough, he has confidence like you wouldn’t believe. Follow me on Twitter; Follow me on Facebook takes on a new importance with his work. 

                Bebe Zeva ended up being the love stormed person this week. Using a single photo of her, Steve then proceeded to tag about 35 people. Of course, this being Facebook, there’s really no limit to how many people can continuously post on the same picture, over and over again. Choosing Bebe was a wise decision as it is impossible to dislike her. If you don’t like her, it may be a problem you have, not a problem she has. There’s a reason Tao Lin and Megan Boyle made a documentary about her that I covered in extensive detail on this very site, or why they opened up a Kombucha bottle before giving it to her. MDMA Films might consider her documentary to be their ‘crown jewel’ of their ever-increasing collection of DVD releases. 

                The picture was simple. A screenshot, literally the most basic of internet skills was employed of Steve adding Bebe as a friend on Facebook. This was nothing too unusual for either participant, as they are both online personalities. Next came the tricky part. How can you tag the kind of people who will take an idea and run with it especially an idea as absurd as constantly commenting on a Facebook picture and transforming it into a full-fledged conversation, if not actual chat room? Can those people do online improvisation if required? 

Walt Whitman once said “For great poetry, there must be great audiences.” Picking your audience is probably one of the most important things you can do once you try to create such an epic experience. Not like this was the first time such a thing had been done, apparently there had been tens of thousands of comments on pictures and statuses before. Steve’s goal differed in that he consciously want this to be a memorable, enjoyable experience that could have participants leave and enter while keeping up the velocity of the comments. Getting a group of people diverse enough to comment during the Earth’s full rotation meant people outside of the US, in the UK, in New Zealand, and countless other countries in other time zones.

                “Feel the Inspiration” is the name of Steve’s Tumblr, but the chat felt more like “Feel the Love” as the project progressed. A natural flow of a chat room emerged, with Bebe even joining the conversation time to time. In fact, Bebe said she’ll be posting up an article on “Thought Catalog” about the entire enjoyable experience. Hover around Thought Catalog for when her version of the events comes out.  Megan Boyle stopped by to say hi as well, along with the older Rachel Zeva. While a few characters came and went, a hardcore group of people emerged to keep things going. Steve served as a director of the event, calling it an “anti-shitstorm” and “meta-chat thread”. 

                How did the love exactly spread? Over the course of the chat, everyone made new friends, thus continuing the original intention of Steve adding Bebe as a friend. I met new people, added 17 friends on Facebook as the love storm progressed. People swam in and out of different ideas. Sometimes it would be about finding a new soundtrack by putting up a youtube clip. Having music play in the background makes staring at a computer screen with a near-religious devotion that much easier. 

Focus turned to the giant thread itself, with people excited about who got which thousandth post (I was lucky enough to get four thousand, Louise Joy got the pivotal number of ten thousand, allegedly the cut-off point, but it continued after that with toe holes, a topic introduced by one half of the blogging crew “Philolzophy”). People even created youtube clips based on the excitement created by such a small articulate part of the internet, this moving clip being just one of many examples (thank you Jim Rowley!). One happy marriage came out of this intense experience. We wondered whether the thread could get a MacArthur genius grant, end world hunger, usher in an era of peace, win a Nobel Prize for Literature (beating Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’), or get some sweet blog coverage. At least the last topic was almost guaranteed. In case the thread wins a MacArthur genius grant, the thread will be able to focus on that novel it’s always wanted to write. 

                Summarizing such an epic thread is impossible. Can I summarize a living, breathing thread? Figuring that out is like summarizing someone’s future. I will avoid making light of this important event on the internet, in the confines of internet poetry. Internet poetry has never seen anything so great; I’m moved to tears by this event. Visit it here, keep it going strong, and see the genius behind such an event which comes along as often as Hayley’s Comet. Think of it as the Woodstock of Flarf, the Boykittens Family, or, how I put it:

Courtesy of Je Sk
“This is the most important comment thread I’ve ever participated in.”

Bikeuala – Brand New Pants 8.0

             Bikeuala may be considered ‘pure sonic fun’. I can literally hear the fun they had recording this collection of 18 songs. Each one has its own personality. A few themes and sounds are present in most of the songs giving it a near-theme. But really, the best way of enjoying these 28 minutes of packed-tight fun is to lose your mind among the sounds. 

                Whoever is on that drum does a fantastic job. On nearly every track, the drummer makes his presence felt on the dance track “Mis Lady DJ” or in a more frenzied way “Bugs”. At no point does the drummer appear to get much of a break on the album. Even at the quieter moments, there might be a gentle brushing, but he’s always there, waiting to explode into torrential downpour of rhythm and noise. 

                A few times I’m reminded of “Home Movies” the show while I hear this album. Part of that reason might have to do with the pure joy contained, in fact overflowing from each track. The sheer amount of energy and sincerity, however silly, has a similar feel to that show. While it may appear on the surface to be a bunch of guys (Tom Filardo, Edward Chrichton, and Gregory Campanile, to be specific) goofing around, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. 

I find the positivity to be a very good thing. Experimentation can be a warm, emotional positive thing. Bikeuala proves this in spades. While they experiment with the idea of what a pop song is, they give off a vibe similar to Canada’s “The Unicorns” but with less singing. The few times you do hear singing is usually to emphasize the mood.

Sometimes through the course of the album you get the feeling several bands are within this one bands. There’s the mellow indie band, there’s the frantic stomping goodness one, and there’s the ambient, reflective one. Considering they only have 28 minutes, that’s no mean feat. Best part of this album is it is all for free right here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cassandra Nguyen

                 Cassandra Nguyen describes her blog as ‘a collection of random prose and bullshit’. I think that description kind of shows the attitude she has towards her poems. Most of them show certain forcefulness or genuine ‘fuck it attitude which I enjoy, with one of her poems being literally a photo with the words “Caution Fuck It”. Some of my closest friends employ this kind of attitude in their work, so I’m glad to see others following in the proud tradition. Even her twitter notices this, as the emotional style of her tweets tends to be “Angry” and “Depressed” in that order. 

                What’s the work like then? Well, going through her blog, she has a definite affinity for beat writers and poets. Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs (a personal favorite of mine), Jack Kerouac appear with surprising frequency. Non-writers are shown off as well, to give an idea of what her other interests are. David Lynch shows up, which makes sense considering her photos.

                The photos she does tend to be lost in a haze. Part of this is obviously due to what she uses, which tends to be film. Some of the pictures have real warmth to them, and remind me of one of the joys of film, something I’ve yet to see accurately captured by digital. Having an app which pretends to capture the feeling of film isn’t the same, I’m sorry Apple but you failed.    

                Her poems appear either on her blog or, more conveniently, on the LETPEOPLEPOEMS project I’ve been following. Actually, they are pretty heavy. They mess with your head, at least “‘Suffer Baby’ – Friday Night Metal Black” does. If you want to read a ‘metal’ poem, this would more than satisfy that need. Keep in mind the theme of this month for LETPEOPLEPOEMS is ‘caution’. Keep in mind as well her picture is an adorable picture of her in the center of a hex with the number “666” on it, written in internet blood. “Jonestown” a longer length indicates a healthily deranged sense of humor. Either that or a more blunt answer: You don’t fuck with Cassandra Nguyen ever. 

                “Stomach is not invisible” is dark yet again. Here it focuses on death but in a more indifferent way. A boathouse is the solution. Every extremity isn’t doing so hot. When the poem focuses away from the subject, its bleak attitude and hopes to start a punk band, it congratulates the winner of “Top Chef”. The different focuses help lighten the otherwise brooding nature of the poem. 

                Despite being her shortest one, “Bong Life” might be my favorite one. It doesn’t have very many words in it. With so little, it manages to create a certain mood of defiance. As one person stated “this is badass”. I’d have to agree with them. 

                Unicorns seem to be a thing with her as well. In her poem “Re Clinically Depressed Unicorns” she has fun in hell. She meets famous evil people. While in hell, she’s relatively prolific with her poetry output. The unicorn and her become friends. Life becomes good while in the literal embodiment of misery, pain, and suffering. But then, Cassandra is pretty metal. 

                I feel her poetry helps me out when I’m feeling upset or pissed off. Sometimes I’m not very good at articulating this emotion, since I try to be a generally happy sloth. Cassandra’s work is weird, confrontational, depressed and a bit angry. That’s what I like about it. It does it well. I hope she continues to do this, since she appears to have just gotten started. Who knows where she’ll be, though she will not be the 2011 Poet Laureate, I think 2016 Poet Laureate is a goal within her reach.

Washed Out is Not Washed Up

               Ernest Greene (better known as the first chillwaver) decided the waves needed to get a bit chiller: he’s announced the release of his first album. As his music is so heavily focused on the summer, the July 12th release date on Sub Pop makes sense. Hopefully, just as the summer begins to drag on, we’ll have his sweet “With and Without” album to give lazy afternoons a better soundtrack.

                I can’t express the joy I have at reporting such good news. Forever has gone by since chillwave began with Ernest, a mild-mannered librarian from Perry, Georgia. He seduced us with spaced-out vocals and reverb, so much reverb. Reverb got reverbed, up to the point where you wondered the origin of such dreamy sounds. 

                Singles have been Washed Out’s stock and trade. Thankfully most of the album’s track list appears to be brand-new material. Having an album consist of nothing but a collection of EPs always feels lazy to me, Panda Bear, Uffie, and Real Estate fell into that trap. Obviously I feel dramatically different emotions regarding those three albums, but I do admit to enjoying a surprise.

                Washed Out doesn’t exactly seem terribly interested in surprises. In fact, the biggest surprise I could hear from Washed Out would be a continuation of his old sound, the sound that introduced “Portlandia” on IFC (It’s All Around You). Lately a great deal of chillwave bands have shunned that moniker, with Toro Y Moi going towards a full band sound, Ducktails taking a more tangible approach, and I’m not sure what Neon Indian will do, but I’m assuming he too will try to move behind his old sound. 

                Right now only one of the nine songs is out (You and I), the Adult Swim single with Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, is the one people have already heard. Everything else will be brand new. I hope the rest of the songs are as good as these five minutes. With further ado, I present to you the song “You and I” available for download. See the below for the rest of the track list:

Washed Out, Within and Without:
1. Eyes Be Closed
2. Echoes
3. Amor Fati
4. Soft
5. Far Away
6. Before
7. You and I
8. Within and Without
9. A Dedication

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ustream: Stephen Tully Dierks and Steve Roggenbuck

                 Ustream is a place where you can do lifecasting, or, as Steve Roggenbuck say “Live your Life” but this time on the internet with people watching. Some political events on Ustream get a lot of attention. It is those smaller events that really change the world. Remember the first Velvet Underground concert? You probably don’t, since you’re reading my blog. But you probably are aware that in the first Velvet Underground concert only about 100 people were there, and they all either became musicians, rock critics, or some other part of the great rock n’ roll machine. 

                Sunday, April 17th at 8:00 CST could be easily compared to that first Velvet Underground concert. Everyone in the chat either was a poet a writer or a critic (Am I a critic? I feel I may be considered one). All of us are going onto bigger and better things, but this might be the first time we truly interacted in a meaningful, semi-anonymous way. Keep in mind the cooler things are the ones that don’t always get the most attention. Though small in number, we are strong in spirit. We are boykittens, hear us meow. 

                You could taste the anticipation. Part of the anticipation came from the Ustream’s various technical difficulties. It was interesting staring at Stephen and Steve’s faces showing expressions of disappointment. As Dierks went off in search of a more cooperative computer, I learned a lot about Roggenbuck’s face. Staring at it, the calm polite Midwest accurately depicted in Steve’s eyes, I felt reassured. Everything was going to be okay. This wasn’t going to be an ordinary poetry reading. When Dierks busted back into the room, I knew things were about to get real. 

                Things got very real. I’ve never heard Dierks voice before, but it was a powerful reading voice. A voice like that used to do the morning announcements in High School. You pay attention when that voice reads an excerpt from “Naked Lunch” even if the material strikes you as a bit unsettling. Suck it up. William S Burroughs would’ve messed you up if he had the chance and needed the money. Burroughs was addicted to heroin, so that may have been a common occurrence. 

                Inside their apartment felt strange. MTV, if you’re reading this, perhaps you could do a “Cribs” about the sort of bling online poets have. You can look through their fridge and freezer, gasping at the multitude of vegetarian eating options. As was their wont, they decided to list off all the food they had, as if to show off their ability to cook, a skill I lack completely (excluding microwaving). 

                Roggenbuck did not disappoint with his physicality. I feel Steve is an extremely active person, twisting this way and that. Whenever I see Steve perform a poem, I think of James Chance’s song “Contort Yourself”. Unlike lazy people staring blankly at their computer screens, Steve probably engages in some sort of physical activity while he’s flarfing. See his YouTube videos which teach us the importance of poetry, micro-flarf, gaining twitter followers, and so on.

                Many important questions were asked but not answered in the chat. Questions about David Foster Wallace, popping popcorn (which was shown in vivid detail), Omar De Col, LetPeoplePoems (a poetry site I’m very fond of), Zen Buddhism, writing, ‘A Walk to Remember’, problems with being a teenager in love, Pauly Shore, Live Tweeting of “The Notebook” and others. They were perhaps too numerous to even mention, you had to be there. I was there.

                Allegedly I was “dominating” the chat. I’m not entirely certain if this was true. The poems might have moved me, such as the visceral reading of “So Hawny” which makes you think: if given the chance, would you fuck a jar of peanut butter? Or is such an action kind of nuts? Beauty doesn’t have to be based on physical attraction, it could be textural.

                Watching them, I wanted Cassandra Nguyen to join them. I thought it would be funny to urge both sides to have Cassandra join the reading, despite the fact neither party showed a remote interest in letting that happen. Thankfully they both found it a humorous, bizarre proposition.  Apparently my lewd comments were considered the most successful but they were so of the moment that to republish them would lose the context. Suffice it to say someone mentioned the act of “spooning” with questions arising. 

                Together Stephen and Steve worked together to interact with the chat audience. Usually this is done to a large degree on Ustream. Somehow the couple managed to make it work when conventionally it shouldn’t have worked. Running in and out of the closet, removing footwear, it was a true rush to be there, if only electronically. 

                Pop Serial is a literary magazine run by Stephen Tully Dierks. Steve Roggenbuck is such a multi-faceted creature I’m at a loss of how to describe him, other than awesomeness personified and unleashed onto the internet, creating joyful abandon. I was there to see it all.

Zomes – Earth Grid 7.3

                 Asa Osburne continues to carve out a niche for himself with Earth Grid. When I first heard this, I had a hard time thinking why exactly I liked it. Perhaps it had to do with the unabashedly lo-fi blunt style of the recording. Or could it be he takes an extremely slow, deliberate approach to his music. However you want to interpret this, it is a real grower. 

                Using the most basic elements (drone, extremely dusty drum machine) he manages to create a warm, almost optimistic sound. Walking with this on, I felt the music began to make me feel better, it calmed me down. At no point does Zomes try to shock you with any loud sounds or a tempo which would indicate consciousness.  Instead, he decides to let you focus on the drone melodies with extremely simple drum beats (in this recording they function more as a metronome than as a real beat per se).

                I enjoy how he uses extremely dated equipment for this album. He doesn’t feel the need to really expand the palette beyond the most basic of melody and progression. While this might annoy some listeners, it comes across as unusually soothing music. Pieces of rock, krautrock, and drone can be found within these 41 odd minutes.

                For me, the longer songs work better as they show off the fruits of this dedication. By far the best track on this short album is “Alec’s Anthem” where the long length reveals a real knack for writing slowly shifting songs. Generally speaking, the longer track lengths do a better job of exploring the many variations of a single loop. 

                Consider this lo-fi meditative music. Zomes manages to make something apparently so simple into something with a great deal of heart and soul.