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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Bomb Factory

I was asked to pen a few words about the return of Deep Ellum's Bomb Factory for the Observer. I never went to it when it was originally open. I was living in Houston at the time and it had been closed for a few years when I moved to the DFW area. I went to Deep Ellum Live, which was next door, plenty of times and saw many great shows, from Spiritualized to MxPx.

Now it looks like the Bomb Factory will bring in a lot of great bands, filling a void that's been in the area for many years. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Art is Hard

A few new stories to share that I have recently written. I followed up with Dallas-based filmmaker Jeremy Snead, who made an excellent documentary called Video Games: The Movie. From talking about the kinds of reactions to his film to his upcoming series on video games, we had a great talk.

Over the weekend, I had to be in Houston for my father's 70th birthday party. People I had not seen since 2002 would be there, and I really wanted to go. Luckily I escaped Dallas before the snow and ice shut down the city.

While I was down there, I decided to review the Cursive/Beach Slang/Megafauna show at Fitzgerald's for the Houston Press. I had a great time watching Cursive for the sixth time and the openers for the first time. Beach Slang is all kinds of incredible, and I was happy to see them as they are on the rise.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Already Gone

There are times when reading about music bums me out. Bummed to the point where I think the writers only want to hear free jazz while being stoned and/or drunk, huddled alone, spacing out in a dilapidated home.

I enjoy reading perspectives from people who take the time and effort to investigate why a certain record or an entire catalog connects with people. (When I mean "people," I mean people who actually identify with the music and they carry that connection for the rest of their lives.)

But if someone is going to continually bad-mouth a popular act, I have to wonder why this person is going on and on about it. "Okay, it's not for you," I think to myself. (I say this knowing full well of how much I despised a popular form of emo ten years ago and wrote a lot about it on this here blog.)

If I were to only abide by music critics, especially those from the 70s and 80s, and fear verbal stoning for disagreeing with them, I should not speak up. Especially when it comes to writing about the Eagles. I'm supposed to hate that band for life. Liking them is conforming to the Establishment and I'm just a cog in a machine that spits out mediocrity.

There's a Salon article that echoes (and quotes) Robert Christgau's hatred of the Eagles, while linking pieces by Chuck Klosterman and Jason Heller that defend the band. It should come as no surprise that I identify more with Klosterman and Heller (and have for years, actually) than I ever have with Christgau. I don't think of music writers being in the wrong when I disagree with them. Rather, I try to acknowledge their opinion while not being ashamed of having a different opinion.

Let me break down why I should hate the Eagles, according to those who hate them:
 
-They're frauds who took country rock and turned it into Top 40 mush.
-All of their singles have been overplayed on the radio. 
-Glenn Frey is an asshole.
-Don Henley isn't a very good drummer.
-They say they are on a farewell tour, but they keep touring with no end in sight.
-Don Felder got the shaft and was fired unjustly.

None of these reasons reflect anything to me about their actual songs, mainly their melodies. These reasons are more about the personalities behind the band and the band's business, and how they affected people who don't spend hours poring through music, hoping to find something connects with them.

Somehow, after years of listening to them (including a five-year run where I heard an Eagles song every day between Monday and Friday), I have found I like them now more than ever. Like them in the way that I want to dig deep into their back catalog and read books on them.

This renewed interest came from watching a lengthy documentary on the band called History of the Eagles. Frey comes across as a pompous jerk, but the guy wrote some wonderful songs. I wouldn't want to work with him or someone like him, but a good song is a good song. Their story is an interesting one, filled with drama and ups and downs, making for an enjoyable watch.

One of the first things I never really noticed until I saw the documentary was how well the band (in its various incarnations) harmonize together. Randy Meisner's high register was especially the secret jewel of the band's sound, from "Take It Easy" to their version of Tom Waits' "Ol' 55."

A song like "Lyin' Eyes" and their version of "Ol' 55" warrant repeat listens from me. I can't really get enough of them. Songs like these are perfect for driving around, whether it's short distances or long ones. And somehow, I'm less prone to drive angry when I have their songs on.

Have I bent over backward to the Establishment out by admitting I love the Eagles? It doesn't matter to me, because I've never really identified myself as being a complete outcast. I'm too weird for the mainstream and I'm too mainstream for the weird. If liking the Eagles means that I have no credibility in discerning what's good and bad, then that's someone else's projections. I like what I like, and I'm not pretending to be anything more than what I am.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Do You Know Who You Are?

Hosting a podcast has been something I've thought about for years. My uncle Keith suggested it about seven or eight years ago, but I didn't really know where to start or how I could maintain one.

As the years passed, I kept finding new podcasts. When friends of mine started doing their own shows, the thought of doing one kept coming up in my head.

Only in the past couple of years, I've recognized what I want to hear in a podcast and what I don't want to hear. I want to hear an engaging conversation between two people in the same room, not on a cell phone connection. I want the people to be in a quiet room, not frequently interrupted by dogs barking. And, I want to hear something that isn't too inside baseball, meaning too niche-oriented that you can't understand what the hell the people are talking about.

With Santa Claus bringing me a laptop, two microphones, a quad box, and ProTools, I decided 2015 would be the year I did my own show.

Two episodes into Do You Know Who You Are?, things have come together quite well. My first guest was my housemate Joel, and we talked about growing up in a small town, getting into British music, and what led him to doing a DJ night on the first episode.

For the second episode, I interviewed Michael "Grubes" Gruber, someone I've recently befriended, but it seems like we've known each other for years. We had a great conversation over the weekend, discussing his time at the radio station 1310AM The Ticket, his current gig with the Dallas Stars, and his love of music and Chili's restaurants. We might be cousins, so we had to touch on that, too.

Right now, I don't have plans to put out a new episode every single week. I'd prefer to take the time and find people I know that could share unique perspectives and stories. Since I've met a lot of people through my work in radio, writing, and the music scene, there's no shortage of people to interview.


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.