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Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Last Word is Rejoice


New year, new stories to tell.

I've been sitting on this story for a while, but I'm now clear to share it. Mineral is one of the most important bands in the evolution of post-hardcore/emo. Without them, the Promise Ring, Sense Field, Jimmy Eat World, Texas is the Reason, and Braid, you'd probably not know what emo is today.

I decided to not flesh out the band's story in chapter form in Post. There was no doubt this band was influential, but their story arc was a little too similar to Texas is the Reason's and the Promise Ring's. I didn't want to wear my readers down with story after story with the exact same arc: Band gets buzzed about, tours a lot, puts out a great record, and breaks up before they sign with a major label.

Getting the chance to interview Chris Simpson about the Mineral reunion, I wanted to talk about how the tour has gone, instead of what led to it. That story has already been told many times, so I did the post-script, Now What? story.

Since the band is playing Houston and Dallas on this (possibly final) run of dates, I gave the story to the Observer and sister paper, the Houston Press. There are some subtle differences between the two and you can read the Observer article here and you can read the Houston Press article here.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Turns We Took



There's a reason why the ending of The Muppet Movie always tugs at my heart. Doesn't matter if I'm depressed or happy when I watch one of my favorite movies. The lump in my throat or the tears that come out of my eyes are from this reminder about life: When things fall apart after you think you're finally on track with your life, you find beauty and answers you've longed for over the years.

I've often come back to this final movie sequence in my adult life. This year, it resonates more than ever.

In 2014, I said goodbye to Juliet, the dog that cemented my love of dogs for the rest of my life. I also said goodbye to Sunny, a dog who lived a very long life that let me be in her life despite being frail, hard of hearing and seeing. As a result, every single day I get to spend with the dogs I have is a gift. They are there for me on the best days and the worst days, which I've had many of both this year.

I was heartbroken when word passed along that my friend Laura died after a very long fight with cancer. She never stopped being positive about her life, even when things seemed the most grim. A few weeks later, my friend and mentor Dwight had a heart attack during a routine procedure. I saw him on life support with his wife by his side, and I went to his standing-room-only funeral the following week. The man impacted that many people in his 82 years on this planet.

And then there was my friend Evan, who died unexpectedly during the final week of October. Writing about him was helpful in the days immediately following his death, but the acceptance of his death is only beginning to settle in.

I had to come to terms with a two-year relationship coming to an end. As painful as it was to see her go from my everyday life, I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am that we remain friends. She let me adopt her dog Truvy, paying me one of the nicest compliments I've ever heard: "There's no one else I would even consider having her."

Add in the wild ride of my job situation. As tough as it was to see a promising new direction in my career end so quickly, I thank a higher power for me landing a new full-time job only a few hours later. Couple that with another year with the Observer and more opportunities to write in the content marketing field, I'm over-joyed to say for the first time in my life that I'm happy with my job situation.

I finally put out When We Were the Kids. Much of that came from seeing Video Games: The Movie at the Texas Theatre. The guy who made it is from Dallas and made something for the world to enjoy. Since I need a constant reminder of that idea, that's why I have a signed poster from the director hanging in my bedroom. It's a reminder of following through on what I want to do, even if I have to wait and deal with hang-ups along the way. 

Dealing with the abrupt changes and turns came in the form of traveling and taking many walks with my dogs. I drove to Round Rock and saw a friend from college get ready to become a first-time father. Helping him and his wife set up the baby's room allowed me to get out of my head and do something positive. I flew to Los Angeles just to do a podcast. I drove to St. Louis hoping to see a show that wound up getting cancelled. I made the most of my time there, seeing touristy things, and was lucky to have lunch my friend Donna in Conway, Arkansas on the way back.

Donna is a very spiritual woman. As she gave me a big hug during our parting, she said, "Hopefully the heavens will open up and bring joy into your life." I'm happy to say they did.

Having my friend Joel move into the spare bedroom in my house has been wonderful. The guy's a voice of reason and great person to have around. On weekends, we watch Manchester City play football and dig through various record store shelves for white whales in our respective vinyl collections. And the dogs love him, too.

Also, some people I haven't seen in years are a welcome sight. I might not see them everyday, but when I do, I love catching up with them. 

Despite some down days during the holiday season, I'm ending the year feeling optimistic. Not just about the immediate future, but the future down the line. I really don't have any reason to think overly-pessimistic thoughts, but sometimes I do. I've learned a lot from the turns in life this year, and the effects of them don't necessarily dissipate at midnight tonight. Here's to a happy new year and a desire to keep moving forward even with the knocks and turns that come out of the blue.

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.