Pages

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Year in Music, 2014 Edition

As a long 2014 draws to a close, I'm sharing my musical favorites of the year. From albums that came out this year to albums that came out twelve years ago, there's a lot to talk about, so without further ado . . .






Favorite Albums Released in 2014

Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
A brutally-honest punk rock record with instantly-likeable melodies. Laura Jane Grace doesn't hold anything back about being transgender in her lyrics, and this is AM! at its most immediate. And thanks to Adam "Atom" Willard, this has the best drumming AM! has ever committed to record. I think it's safe to call it a classic AM! record.(Stream the whole thing)

J. Robbins, Abandoned Mansions
I've admired J's work with all of his bands, which have been loud, twisted rock. This EP was a complete revelation to me. Reduced to an acoustic guitar with piano and strings, these reworked versions of Jawbox, Burning Airlines, and Office of Future Plans songs work incredibly well in a completely different light. And the new song (the title track) is one of the catchiest songs he's ever recorded. (Stream the whole thing)

Spoon, They Want My Soul
Spoon put out another killer record this year. This record is much more driven by pianos and synthesizers, and at times really trips out. Yet Britt Daniel's songwriting is still at the top of his game (Watch "Do You")

Tiny Moving Parts, Pleasant Living
In only a year and a half, I have seen this Minnesota trio four times. These days, I don't see local bands that many times. Taking cues from the Fall of Troy, in terms of songwriting, Pleasant Living is much more accessible than the band's previous work. Features one of my favorite lines I've heard in a song this year: "I love you/at least I used to." (Stream the whole thing)

Somos, Temple of Plenty
This Boston-based band came from a recommendation from Tom Mullen, the proprietor of the Washed Up Emo podcast. He doesn't often heap a lot of praise on young bands, which is fine, so that means when he does, I'm inclined to check it out. This is one of the few emo revival bands I know of that doesn't sound like they're aping a pioneering band, like Cap'n Jazz or American Football. They loosely sound like Braid, but not by much, which is fine by me. These nine songs are killer. (Stream the whole thing)

Braid, No Coast
A surprisingly poppy record, by Braid's standards. The band's previous record, Frame & Canvas, came out in 1997 with all kinds of moods and melodies. That's a classic for me, but No Coast is definitely a worthy follow-up. (Watch "Bang")

Moose Blood, I'll Keep You in Mind, From Time to Time
Like Crash of Rhinos last year, this English band has a silly name, but an incredible sound. Remember what Vagrant Records sounded like between 2000 to 2004? This record made me think of that time, but in the best possible way. I'm talking Saves the Day and Hey Mercedes, especially. (Stream "Anyway")

Things of Earth, Dangers
One of my favorite Dallas-based bands put out a heavier, nastier EP this year. More Deftones and Pelican this time out, mixed with Failure and Hum. (Stream the whole thing

United Nations, The Next Four Years
Featuring members of Thursday and Pianos Become the Teeth, this is more like Converge and Deafheaven than their other bands. Probably the most vicious and unrelenting thing I've heard this year. (Stream "Serious Business")

Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways
Once you get past the first track, which sounds like a toss-off from In Your Honor, this is another very good Foo Fighters record. From the Naked Raygun-esque "The Feast and the Famine" to the power ballad "I Am A River," I have no major complaints. (Stream the whole thing)

Slipknot, .5: The Gray Chapter
To be honest, I had lost track of Slipknot's material in the past few years. Iowa is still a crazy and sick record, but I hadn't spent any time digging into the two records they did after that. With the departure of founding drummer Joey Jordison and the death of bassist Paul Gray, The Gray Chapter is mostly about coming to grips with loss. especially the anger and sadness stages. With Jay Weinberg on drums, the band sounds as strong as ever. And the intro riff to "The Devil In I" is the best metal riff I heard this year. (Watch "The Devil In I")

Favorite Songs Released in 2014

The Hold Steady, "Spinners" (Stream) 
Teeth Dreams was a comeback of sorts from the polished, gentler, Heaven is Whenever. "Spinners" is one of the best Hold Steady songs to date. 

Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off" (Watch)
Though it always makes me think of OutKast's "Hey Ya!", this is one catchy tune. It's the exact opposite of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," one of the worst songs I have ever heard in my life.

Gates, "Not My Blood" (Watch)
I have to admit, while this band is incredible live, their debut Bloom and Breathe is a little too samey to my ears. This tune, though, is ace. Take the rising power of Thursday's best material, mix it with Explosions in the Sky, and you have this.

Henrietta, "2,000 Miles" (Stream)
What if you played Pedro the Lion at a faster speed on vinyl and it was really good? It would probably sounds like this song.

Mastodon, "The High Road" (Watch)
Mastodon remains a major favorite of mine, but Once More 'Round the Sun sounds like a band going in circles. Not much a different record than their previous record, they sound fine staying this route, but selfishly, I wish they would take risks again. "The High Road" is one of the highlights. 

Sloan, "You've Got A lot on Your Mind" (Stream)
Sloan doesn't put out bad albums. This year's Commonwealth sounds more like Fleetwood Mac and Badfinger, along with their usual Kiss and Cheap Trick vibe. "You've Got A lot on Your Mind" is one of the best tunes on here.  

Sturgill Simpson, "The Promise" (Watch)
Frankly, this guy came out of nowhere, sold out Dada so much that he ended up playing two shows in one night. He's much more traditional country than Florida Georgia Line will ever be, but he's not afraid to be more than a throwback. His reworking of When in Rome's classic sounds great with strings.

Rediscovered

Buffalo Tom
This Boston trio had been on my radar for many years. Very much the "If you like these power pop bands, you should listen to Buffalo Tom, too." Even though I've had a compilation of their singles for years, I didn't really jump into them until I found four of their CDs for dirt cheap around town. "Summer" helped me get through the summer months this year, especially. (Watch "Summer"

Chavez
I have loved Chavez's Ride the Fader since its release, but their debut, Gone Glimmering, seemed to elude me. Giving that record another chance, I realize now that the debut excels -- in some ways -- over the second record. Dissonant pop with a kick to it. Still sounds modern to me. (Watch "Break Up Your Band"

The Dismemberment Plan, Uncanny Valley 
If it weren't for an episode of Sound Opinions with the D Plan, I probably would have skipped their reunion record. I think a friend on Facebook openly expressed his tremendous disappointment with this when it came out and I never got around to hearing it. I finally gave it a listen and was really impressed by it. (Watch "Daddy Was A Real Good a Dancer")

Discovered

Kenny Howes
Kenny makes a kind of power pop that is pissed-off and lovely at the same time. After many years in the underground circuit, he's still underground, but his music cooks. Certainly check out a record he did in 2002 with The Yeah! called Until Dawn. To hear some of his recent work, it's up on his Bandcamp page.

Modern Baseball
What if you took the smarts of the Weakerthans, the nerdiness of Weezer and the pop-punk of blink-182 and put them into a promising band? You'd have Modern Baseball. Their second record, 2013's You're Gonna Miss It All, is a gem. (Stream You're Gonna Miss It All)

McCoy Tyner
A legendary jazz pianist who played with John Coltrane, I heard his hurricane called Fly Like the Wind in a record store. It's traditional 70s jazz fusion but with flamenco rhythms, strings, and a flute. Absolutely enjoyable craziness. (Stream "Salvadore De Samba")

Best Shows I Saw This Year

The Winery Dogs, Granada Theater, May 24th
A trio with only one record out, headlining the Granada? You bet. Playing for almost two hours, this supergroup amazed me with their chops and ability to have enjoyable songs. I've seen many shows at the Granada, and I've never seen a crowd be so into a band before.

The Jayhawks, Granada Theater, October 14th
A little looser than the previous time I saw them, the Jayhawks covered much more familiar ground for me this time. Without Mark Olson, they did a whole lot of Sound of Lies, Smile, and Rainy Day Music, which are as worthy as Tomorrow the Green Grass, in my book.

Deafheaven, Club Dada, March 16th
The highlight of the Spillover Festival for me. They just played a truncated version of Sunbather live, but it was spectacular. Bathed in red, the five-piece played furiously and frontman George Clarke had the crowd feed off his energy over and over again.

Jeff Tweedy, Majestic Theatre, June 22nd (My original review)
I came into this show with some hesitation, given what I've seen of Jeff's solo shows on DVD. Too many random non-sequiturs with songs stripped of their bombast, right? Well, not this show. Jeff played almost 30 songs either with his backing band or solo, and it was a very positive experience. 

Failure, House of Blues, June 10th (My original review)
Never did I think Failure would reunite, let alone come to Texas to play shows. Seeing them play, I was incredibly impressed by what they had in them, even as a trio.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Pieces of Me

As 2014 wraps up, I'm cleaning up and gathering together the loose ends. Here are the pieces I've done for the Observer in the last few months. 

An interview with Travis Stever of Coheed and Cambria. Just like my interviews with his bandmates Josh and Claudio, Trav was super-nice and friendly.

An interview  with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks. Coupled with my first piece for the Observer, which was a review of a Louris/Mark Olson show, and my interview with Mark Olson, this was a full-circle kind of experience.

A feature on Dead Flowers. My third time to spotlight these guys, and they are such a worthy band.

Lastly, a memorial to Evan Chronister, written for people that didn't know him.

One other thing: I went to Los Angeles in November to be a guest on a podcast called This Is Rad! Co-hosted by Kyle Clark (who has been on many Nerdist podcasts). We talked about post-hardcore/emo and had a great time. You can download it on iTunes, but you can also stream it here on Stitcher.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Groovy Times

The Dallas music scene lost one of its most vocal, opinionated, and well-spoken music ethusiasts last night. Evan Chronister was in his early fifties and passed away from injuries sustained in an accident with his scooter. I, along with many other people in the scene who see music as a never-ending rabbit hole, lost a good friend.

Evan was from Houston, but spent most of his life in Dallas. He lived for music as he bought records constantly and often went to shows. The stories he would share about seeing the original version of the Misfits and Echo and the Bunnymen were some of the ones that stuck out to me. He painted vivid pictures of these shows with his words, as well as when and where he bought a certain record.

Yet the guy wasn't one who lived off the memories of the distant past. He actively searched for new music every single day. He loved searching online for records and give you what you wanted and even more. He would even admit to spending more time downloading music than actually listening to it. That was the thrill of the hunt, especially as evidenced by postings on his blog.

In my time with him, he hooked me up with records from artists as diverse as Genesis, Richard Hawley, Tindersticks, and Killswitch Engage. He never gave me grief for liking bands that were off the "cool" radar. He saw music as music, and he thought people should like what they like regardless of what's cool or hip in the moment.

Under the alias of Captain Groovy, he could share with you about Japanese noise rock, but he could also share about sixties pop and arena rock from the seventies. There weren't any limits to his palate and he was always searching for more.

Only a few years ago, I discovered he loved Rush. I had no idea he was a fan since he never talked about them around me. Turns out he was a diehard fan. I sat down with him and interviewed him about seeing Rush in advance of their show at the AAC. What he shared blew my mind and very little was edited out of the interview for the article.

Going beyond music appreciation, the guy had a lot to say about life. Whether it was relationship issues, friend issues or work issues, he wouldn't hold back on what he thought. He'd tell it to you straight and directly, sometimes to point of submission, but he wasn't trying to wear you out. That was his way of sharing.

Sure, people could say he was arrogant, but he wasn't insufferable to me. He struck me as someone who was content with his life. He never married or had children -- things a lot of people find as keys to happiness -- but he was happy, effectively balancing work and play. 

When Joel got the news about Evan's accident and eventual passing, I asked if he wanted to grab a drink. We met up with friends at a couple of bars and shared stories. (I don't think I've hugged as many people in one place since my cousin's wedding last year.) Despite the solemn tone, we did have some laughs between the expressions of anger and shock. Evan brought a lot of people together and it was fitting to do such in his memory.

In moving forward in life as well as dealing with grief, I look back at some of the last conversations I had with him. Whether it was about record labels ripping off customers with vinyl remasters or places to go in the Los Angeles area, what was said is even more clear to me now. He loved life and wanted people to love it, too.

Looking at a full couple of weeks ahead of the holiday season, I want to do even more with the time I have. Sadly, it sometimes takes a death to realize that, but it's a reminder about the fragility of life and what we should do with the time we have.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago, after thinking about it for a few months, I finally pulled the trigger and started a blog. Taking a line from Swingers that I loved, I dubbed the blog, Theme Park Experience.

Originally, I wanted to document the experience of writing my first book. Then it morphed into an outlet for rants about music, movies, TV shows, and books. Along the way, it became very philosophical by way of writers like Chuck Klosterman, Michael Azerrad, and Greg Kot. (I didn't realize how philosophical it became until my mother, a former philosophy professor, pointed it out to me.)

During the first few years, I saw the rise of blogs having an influence on breaking new artists. I tried to play along, but I really felt more comfortable writing about other things. Instead of posting (and raving about) an MP3 from some duo from New York that released an EP only months after forming, I was more interested in talking about the futility of remaking a TV show or movie for a modern American audience.

MySpace was in full force with social media, yet I kept spending hours writing blog posts. By the time of Facebook and Twitter, the desire to write lengthy posts diminished. There is a lot of convenience in writing about daily life when it's only a few sentences long or under 140 characters. Hence why I went from writing a blog post everyday to every couple of months.

I don't blame social media for this -- it's more of a relief for me.

When there's a topic that I can't fully explain in a concise status update or tweet, I resort to the blog. I like having the blog around even though there are plenty of older posts that are somewhat embarrassing to read now. I've tried to not let the writing become too personal, like a diary. (A diary is supposed to be private, not something for the world to see. Right?)

Over the course of these years, I've corresponded with many fellow bloggers, a healthy number of them I still interact with. They're good people, and if it weren't for blogs, I probably would have never met them.

For the past few years, this blog has been a hub for my writing for other outlets and as an "official website." Putting themeparkexperience.com on a resume or business card might sound like I'm a theme park reviewer, but when you start a blog around the time of Gorilla Vs. Bear and Can You See the Sunset from the Southside?, you know you're not alone in naming your site something more creative than your own name. 

With the immediate future, I see no reason to stop blogging. There's no shortage of things to say or share, but I prefer to write posts when they're appropriate. New posts could be a couple of days apart or months apart. There's no timetable, which is why having a blog is a wonderful outlet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Go Where You Wanna Go

It's been a year since I moved away from Lakewood, and even though I could relocate to a new place as a newly-single guy, I've chosen to stay where I am.

I enjoy living in North Dallas/Richardson given its central location, being not too far away from places I have enjoyed going to in my fourteen-plus years living in Dallas County. Living in Lakewood for nine years was critical for me, but I am glad I don't have homeless people going through my garbage, my street getting shut down like it's Mardi Gras on Halloween night, and I don't have to answer to the not-so-friendly landlords who bought my old place.

I have a new housemate moving in at the end of the month and I have many reasons to be excited as he's been a friend for many years. Couple that with a humongous new record store opening in nearby Farmers Branch, shows to see, and a quick trip to Los Angeles for something very cool (for which I reveal at a later date) and I'm happy to say fall is shaping up to be a great time.

I am in zero rush to get back into dating anyone, but if there's an open door, I'd be a fool to not to at least walk up and check it out. Yet a townie mindset keeps popping up in trying to meet new people: those who wish to stay in a bubble of an area, with some flexibility of venturing out ten minutes away, tops, from that bubble. I'm talking those who want to stay primarily in Oak Cliff, Lakewood, Deep Ellum, and East Dallas, with some flexibility in going outside of those places, but not too far. If it's more than a twenty-minute drive, you might as well be going to Oklahoma.

At an engagement party I went to years ago, I overheard a friendly woman declare, "I would never date anyone who lived north of 635." (Coupled with her declaration of, "I don't understand why anyone would watch a horror movie," I never spoke to her again that night.) I understand there is a distance factor if you make a-longer-than-twenty-minute trip on a regular basis, given traffic concerns, but I've often found that distance isn't truly a dealbreaker if it involves the right person for you.

Distance didn't keep my parents apart for too long between them meeting and marrying, and the same happened with my sister and brother-in-law. And they all were based out of different parts of the state when they met. I've known of other couples who didn't let distance keep them away for too long. The desire to be together led them to eventually be physically close, no matter what. So why should I ever believe that people living above a dividing line to be a major dealbreaker?

I don't buy into the mindset where everything fun needs to be a short drive or bike ride away. But I can't just get up and go to places all over the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton area.

I don't often go to Fort Worth, Denton, or the suburbs in Collin or Tarrant counties. When I do, it's a special trip that I'm happy to do. When a friend that I haven't seen in years is playing a free show on a Friday night in Fort Worth, I'm there. When it's a beautiful Saturday and I have no plans and haven't been to Mad World Records in a few months, I'll go to Denton.

With the places I frequent, I prefer to stay somewhat close. Where I'm located, I'm close to my full-time job, thankfully a fifteen-minute-drive via sidestreets. But if I'm invited to something that I know is rare, like a Halloween party hosted by friends I rarely see, distance -- within reason -- doesn't hold me back. Strangely, I have met people who wouldn't dare to do that for friends they hardly see anymore. It's about the bubble, you know?

I never experienced this kind of bubble mentality when I lived in New Orleans or Houston. Shudder to Think is playing Fitzgerald's in the Heights? I'm going. We have relatives in Galveston that we never see during the year? We'd be happy to visit them on Christmas day.

I go where I want to go. If the amount of time I spent getting there (and the enjoyment of being there) trumps the distance it took to get there, then I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your Nobody Called Today

Last night, though tired and sleepy from a long day of working, I decided to stay up a little later when I saw my PBS affiliate airing an encore presentation of When Dallas Rocked, a recently-made documentary. Focusing on the 70s and early 80s of blues and rock musicians, as well as the radio personalities and journalists, everything seemed like a nice overview. That is, until I got to a section towards the end. When I heard what was being said, I rolled my eyes and proclaimed, "Bullshit!" (I did a similar thing as I watched the end of Downloaded, a documentary on the rise, fall, and impact of Napster.)


I take a lot of umbrage with people who make generalized statements like, "Nobody buys records anymore" and "There aren't any record stores anymore." Couple that with a comment about how barely anyone goes to local shows now and there are barely any venues to play.

Why I take umbrage is because this is not entirely true. People buy less records today, but people still buy downloads, vinyl and CDs. Chain stores like Tower Records and the Virgin Megastore did close, but locally-owned stores like Good Records and Mad World Records are doing better business than ever these days. And there is no shortage of places to play in the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth area, from a garage to a theater. (I know since I've covered shows in all kinds of places and I've played in all kinds of places.)

I've slowly accepted that people think something completely disappears when it doesn't generate revenue in the millions anymore. It's why people claim things like disco is making a comeback, or metal or punk or emo. But I cannot tell someone that sort of partial truth/partial lie, given my uptight, purist, semantic-stickler view of things. As a historian that tries to be as impeccable with his word with documentation, blanket statements like these don't usually come out of me. (If they do, I surely regret making them.)

A few months ago, a journalist I admire (and he usually has his facts straight), said something very off-base in a podcast interview. Claiming off the cuff that "nobody" bought Jimmy Eat World's Clarity when it originally came out, I felt like sending him an angry note. As someone who bought Clarity the day it came out and someone who knows plenty of people who did the same (and saw the band on that tour, with hundreds of other people in the venues), I begged to differ. But what was said was said.

Just because something isn't sold en masse doesn't mean it stopped existing and being relevant. It may be irrelevant to you, but chances are good is relevant to someone younger than you. The younger person will have his or her own way of getting into something. And just because it's different than the way you did doesn't make the experience less valid.

I've been very careful with wording with the conclusions of both of my books. When I was writing Post, I held out hope that younger people would see through the rock star posing of popular emo bands that didn't want to be called emo bands. A younger generation did, and they're currently making great and influential music. With When We Were the Kids, I wrote a passing mention of where the scene went after all of its pioneers moved away for college. One of the characters remarks, "Ask somebody else" in terms of what happened in the following years. Because these kinds of matters thrive.

As I continue to work on documenting things that matter to me and many other people, I choose to stick by these ideas. I can't let lazy generalizations comparing the present to the past fall into black and white simplification. Because they do exist, I choose to keep working on what I do.

Friday, August 15, 2014

8 Mile Road

I set out on the healing road to think about the past and focus on the future. This summer, I've been to Round Rock twice and Houston once. This past weekend, I went to St. Louis, planning on seeing a show and making up my plans before and after the show.

The day before I left Dallas, I received a text from my friend who plays in the band I wanted to see. He said the show might be cancelled and he didn't want me to waste a nine-hour drive. I told him that I needed a road trip and that I would understand if the show ended up getting cancelled. The venue they were originally scheduled to play in was shut down and they had tentative plans to play the venue next door.

Starting early Sunday morning, I drove through Oklahoma to get to Springfield and then St. Louis. The drive was long, but it wasn't too short or too long for me. I enjoyed the sights of mountains with the cooler (for summer) temperatures. I listened to a variety of tunes on the multiple CD mixes I made. (One was filled with Beatles songs, inspired by a road trip my friend David Hopkins did once.)  Once I checked in my hotel, I had a large calzone at an Italian place I found online. The sun was setting as a Pandora played soft rock hits from my childhood, like James Taylor and Boz Scaggs.

The following morning, I hit up the City Park Museum, a place that came highly recommended by friends of mine. This was the only museum I've been to where I slid down slides, saw cases of doorknobs, crawled through old planes, and walked through a bank vault. More of a David Lynch set than a museum, I had a great time.

I walked down to the famed archway that looks out the Mississippi and took pictures. As I walked back to my car, I received a text from my friend that the show was cancelled and that I should be safe. I was completely unaware of what was happening nearby in the town of Ferguson at that moment. When I found out later in the day, I completely understood why the band decided to cancel.

To make the most of my final 24 hours in town, I went record shopping, ate a local pub/grill and got frozen yogurt. I was up early and hit the road, this time driving through Arkansas. I stopped for lunch in Conway and met up with my friend Donna. I had a wonderful talk with her and ate some fantastic barbeque pork tacos. When I came back to Dallas, the sun was setting and rush hour had passed.

Coming away from the experience, I felt happiness of making plans when original plans fell through. I didn't have the desire to be mad about people who acted or talked about things differently than me. I could exist and take care of myself.

With more days to take off this year, I'm plotting more brief and inexpensive trips. I hope to meet up with my friends in Round Rock again after their child is born. And I plan on doing a quick trip to Los Angeles to be a guest on a podcast.

These kinds of adventures are the kind that I've been wanting to do for the past few years. But factors partially in my control and mostly out of my control prevented me from doing such. It's nice to have that freedom again.