Monday, October 31, 2005

I remember Halloween (part deux)

Halloween was a great time for me when I was growing up. I don't think I ever had a bad Halloween (no egging, no stolen candy, nothing too scary). I always enjoyed dressing up and going trick-or-treating with either my parents or my friends. I still think highly of this time of year but my take on this day is more as an (gasp!) adult with plenty of room for spooky fun. But the extent of that kind of fun has been with me playing my Misfits mix CD between parties and get-togethers. No chasing small children with rubber knives or decorating our house as a mausoleum for me.

I don't remember exactly when I stopped trick-or-treating but sometime in high school, I grew out of it and just gave candy out to whoever stopped by. All my years throughout college (and the four years following it) were spent watching some slasher movie (usually Psycho, Halloween or Student Bodies) while I hoped some trick-or-treaters would stop by. I never got a single one but then again, trick-or-treating in an apartment complex just isn't the same as going house to house. I guess last year's surprise of the Mardi Gras-like size crowd on our street compensated for all the years I was out of the game.

Technically, I live in a suburb but not the kind of relatively new suburb that is 20+ minutes from downtown that has a name with 'wood' in its name. Urban renewal is all over my neighborhood (case in point, one side of the street has a rundown pawn shop, an old parking lot and tall grass while a posh apartment complex sits right across the street) as many homes have been here since the early 1900s. This definitely isn't the kind of neighborhood I grew up in, but I love this area, especially on Halloween, mass crowds/insanity et al.

I'll have to walk Juliet a little earlier than I usually do, but that will give me plenty of time to pass candy out. We have 11 bags ready for passing out with the possibility of a few more bags to be bought later in the day. Yes folks, it gets that nuts on my street so I hope we have enough for whoever comes by. Maybe I could find a Michael Myers mask sometime between now and tonight.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Sleepaway Camp

Last night at Fallout Lounge, I thought they put on the first Friday the 13th movie on the TV. There were shots of a camp and people boating in a lake and I was waiting for the two camp counselors to go off and do the unthinkable (have sex) while Jason Voorhees drowned. Well, turns out the movie wasn't Friday the 13th - it was a film I had never heard of called Sleepaway Camp. Folks, even with the sound turned off, I was cringing at how bad this flick looked and how much of a knockoff it was. However, I was compelled to see who the killer was (like how I'm curious to see who the villain is at the end of Scooby Doo episodes). I'm not giving away the ending, but the true craziness is that there are four sequels to Sleepaway Camp.

OK, I have understood all along that the movie business is a business, but what kind of industry (other than the mainstream music industry) truly believes that making god-awful knock-offs of bad knock-offs is a good thing? If the first Halloween film took cues from Psycho but made a truly scary and fresh interpretation of the horror genre, then Friday the 13th took cues from Halloween's "knock one or two off at a time" body count and essentially photocopied major cues from Psycho, then how can Sleepaway Camp take so much from Friday the 13th and claim any relevance? I know this isn't Shakespeare here, but as a fan of a good scare flick, I wonder how many splatter flicks were actually made in the early 1980s. I get the feeling there are more out there that I don't know about and they're even worse than Sleepaway Camp.

I used to think that being number one at the box office was a measure of the quality of the movie. If Doom was number one last week, then it's a good flick, right? Not a chance. However, I can already imagine the green lights being lit on other flicks based on video games (which now includes Halo and Postal, among others) and potential sequels. Why is such done? Because there is a belief that there is a marketplace worth shopping in or a mine worth mining to replicate the initial one's success. Don't movie studios learn anything by knock-offs, sequels and remakes? Sure, some money may be made upfront, but in the longterm (ie, when it goes to rental) what makes people think that a large viewing audience will want to watch these over and over again?

A lot of these knock-off flicks trickle down to newer audiences over the years. Some may never see the light of day of DVD but the one found on DVD like Sleepaway Camp is a grim reminder to me as to how low studios will go to earn a buck. The parallels to how low the mainstream music industry goes is even scarier.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hell House

While I was in Chicago, Nick told me about a film called Hell House, a documentary spotlighting the annual haunted house called Hell House, which is hosted by a church in Cedar Hill (a town just a little southwest of Dallas). I watched the film on Wednesday and I can’t stop thinking about it. Instead of the usual goblins, ghosts and witches jumping out of dark places, Hell House has reenactments of suicides, date rapes, abortions, drunk driving fatalities, family violence and homosexuals dying of AIDS as its scare tactics. The point is to shock the audience that comes out to Hell House and the shock of Hell House the film is that it is surprisingly unbiased and well-done.

Before I go any further, I must say this: I find this kind of haunted house as incredibly tasteless, one-sided and very slippery scale-like. For example, thinking that a person would go from reading Harry Potter as a child to playing Magic:The Gathering in the teen years to becoming a suicidal Goth is incredibly stereotypical and just downright misinformed. The other reenactments follow this steep slope, thus removing any sort of believability on my end.

As far as the documentary itself, I felt that filmmaker George Ratliff did a fantastic job in going behind-the-scenes with the organizers of Hell House. The film shows these people as relatively sane but passionately self-righteous people putting on a morality play, complete with cheesy effects and heavy-handed preaching. Plus, these people are not presented as total loonies – they’re normal human beings thinking they’re doing the right thing by presenting a fantasy-like version of Scared Straight.

I have a problem with people who view their goal in life is to convert the misguided into the “right.” As someone who used to think that I could steer people in the “right” direction, I learned the hard way that I cannot steer, change or sculpt anyone else other than myself. Seeing these people be so motivated to change people is a grim reminder of my past mindset.

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips says in The Fearless Freaks is we should have fun with the things that scare us in the movies because what really happens in real life is far scarier. I totally agree and after watching Hell House, knowing that the original Hell House is about 30 minutes from my house is more frightening than a vampire coming back to life to reek havoc on its ancestors.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Halloween III

A few years ago, Matt and I decided to watch the non-critically-acclaimed third installment in the Halloween series, Halloween III:Season of the Witch. I'll allow Matt to tell his side of the story as to why we watched this, but as I recall, we were both bored one night and were really curious to see how bad this movie was. We knew that it wasn't the least bit as good as the first one and this one didn't feature Michael Myers, the villain in the other seven (yes, seven) movies. Where it went from there was something that could only be described by using lots of colorful adjectives and insults.

At least the premise of Halloween III is different and unique compared to the never-ending Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. There is no Michael Myers, Haddonfield, Laurie Strode or Tommy Doyle found in this film. It's a clean slate with Dr. Dan Chalis coming across an evil toymaker who plans mass carnage on Halloween with masks bought from Silver Shamrock. Yes, that's the plot, but hey, it's at least a better diversion from the "dead guy keeps coming back from the dead to kill more" plot device.

As ludicrous as the plot sounds, watch out for the hammy acting. Tom Atkins does a decent job as a B-movie hero, but with the love interest, the villain and the innocent (which a few have to die in any splatter flick) making the material even cheesier, it really goes downhill. Stilted lines, forced reaction shots and cornball special effects are just some of the problems.

The true litmus test for this movie is to watch it dubbed in another language. Since you can't understand what they're saying, you're forced to endure the ham-fisted action scenes, the choppy editing and the super-silly score. Even in a different language Halloween III sucks the life out of you. By the cliffhanger ending, do you really care if broadcast signal goes out? No this isn't the kind of cliffhanger you have at the end of Lost. Think of it as the tap-out courtesy of the filmmakers with the viewer (if they're still watching it by then).

As much as I rail against Halloween III, please understand that I don't think of this as one of the worst movies I've ever seen. That crown belongs to this flick. With Halloween arriving soon, I may very well pull out my copy of the first Halloween movie and enjoy it as it is and not think about any of the eight (apparently Halloween 8 is in the works) sequels.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What's going on in my home at 75 cents an hour?

Keeping with yesterday’s post on MySpace, I bring up the site once again. This time, it’s about the personal quote that appears on most people’s profiles. Some may have a line like “Carpe Diem,” some famous movie line or some inside joke, but I chose a slightly different kind of quote. The line, “What’s going on in my home at 75 cents an hour?” comes from the cherished splatter flick spoof, Student Bodies, and I have a somewhat legit reason as to why I have it up on my page.

To give a little background, the scene where the line is said is early into the movie. A babysitter foolishly decides that she wants to have sex with her boyfriend while a mysterious killer named the Breather is on the loose. Well, if you know your splatter flick genre rules, premarital sex equals grisly death so Julie and her boyfriend get snuffed by paper clips and garbage bags. When the parents come home (and before they find the dead bodies in their bedroom), the mother is freaking out about how Julie didn’t wash the dishes and left the TV on all while being paid a handsome hourly wage of 75 cents an hour. Mid-freakout, the mother yells, “What’s going on in my home at 75 cents an hour?” It’s kind of a throwaway line but I love it because of how it’s said. Since so much of comedy is timing and timbre, the actress’s whining voice and freaked-out nature gets me going every time I hear it.

I don’t completely know why I love this line, but I think I just enjoy hearing a mother freaking out about what wasn’t done at such a paltry wage. I don’t know what the minimum wage was back in 1980 (when the movie was made) but I doubt it was as low as 75 cents.

As I’ve professed my love for this movie on this blog and on DoomedMoviethon before, I find the acting (albeit like the acting you’d find in an after-school special) and the humor of Student Bodies so unique but in a good way. This isn’t Oscar material but this isn’t ironic, so-bad-it’s-good humor either. Lines like, “Julie, you’re not responding to my maleness” and “Please, don’t be so formal. Call me ‘Daddy’” crack me up big time. Quotes like these work so well in the context of the film but what often occurs when something is taken out of its context, meaning/understanding is lost or hard to translate. Maybe this is all just for personal reasons that the ones that "get" it will enjoy and relate to it. For the same reasons that people laugh at the gross-out humor of There’s Something About Mary (which I never found funny), there is something indefinable in words as to why I really like something like Student Bodies.

For me, I can’t say, “I dunno – I just like it,” too often. When people try to convince me that some movie, music or book is worth seeing, hearing or reading, I want to know something more than just a “you have to” recommendation. I don’t mean to be a hard-ass with this stuff, but I want to know why I should take some time to enjoy something that someone else has enjoyed. I always welcome recommendations from people that know my tastes but whenever I feel like I’m being pushed towards something I don’t want to be pushed towards (like a cheese rock band on MySpace looking for me to be their 1,289th friend), I resist. Maybe that’s why I’m so guarded when I go out because I don’t want to be sold a widget or a lie.

And all this at 75 cents an hour.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Monsters of MySpace

My friend Geoff has a little blog that he updates from time to time called, Monsters of MySpace. Essentially sticking small needles in the balloon of faux-popularity, MOMS really gets to the bottom of what's going haywire on this site. Before I go any further, I, like Geoff states at the top of his blog, have found some pretty cool bands on MySpace. However, the place is overcrowded with acts that are (to put it politely) worse than mediocre.

The way you join MySpace in the first place is you must have an e-mail address and a password. Yes, that's it and it's free. In other words, almost anyone can join and so many people have joined MySpace (34 million and counting). While I think the site is great for getting in touch with people that I know or know of through friends, trying to gain "fans" on MySpace is a big illusion.

These "fans" doubling as "friends" may have some interest in your music, but there's a catch. People may have heard of your band around the world, but are they really fans that you can count on? I believe that an act like the All-American Rejects or Gavin DeGraw really has fans they can count on their respective MySpace pages because they gained popularity with other channels (like TV, radio, video games, etc.). For acts that aren't really well known outside of their homebase (or actual fanbase), I don't believe it when I see a list of friends ranging from the 1,000 and up. The line in that Dashboard Confessional song, "You can list your friends/but you can't count on them," rings true in this case.

Not to toot our horn, but look at Ashburne Glen's page. Those 313 friends are comprised mostly of people that we know and/or people that like our music. I think that's cool because it's a more honest representation of who actually cares about our music. If we had 1,506 friends from all over the world, I would be skeptical of such a high number if we didn't do any other forms of promotion. I know a lot of people just add anyone to his/her list so the list of friends keeps building. I don't subscribe to such because I would have a hard time finding my real 281 friends in a pile of 1,506.

In some ways, the DIY ethic of recording your own music and promoting it yourself is pretty cool. There is no middleman from your soundfile to your uplink site. However, like I said a few days before, the problem isn't the machine, it's the man (or woman). Putting out your own music is an awesome feeling. Trying to push it onto people you don't know is another animal.

Friday, October 21, 2005

An Intervention

I had always heard of interventions involving people with drinking problems and drug abuse but never like the one that happened to me less than two years ago. Yes, I had one of those classic, gather round the table and tear a person's problems apart deals, but it wasn't for drinking or drug abuse - it was for my current and future mental stability. Here's the backstory:

Given my gig at the time, I didn't have many days off during the holidays. Because of this scheduling, my parents and I ironed out some time together around them (either before or after). In the case of Christmas day, Thanksgiving day and New Year's Day, I spent some time at a relative's house and/or at the house of my boss at the time, Chuck. One of Chuck's daughter's, Christine, was a nice but tough-as-nails non-conformist rockabilly punk who lived nearby. Any holiday I was over at their house, she would be there and we would talk punk rock with her and her husband.

On one particular holiday, I found myself sitting around the living room table with Christine, Christine's mother and my co-worker John. The conversation started off with John, a 50-year-old bachelor, as to why he was still single. He listed off his reasons and I, a 24-year-old at the time, found myself agreeing with his reasons and stood up for him. Well, after speaking up, the center of the conversation shifted onto me, a "kid" with a very harsh and jaded view of relationships. Thus the intervention began . . .

By the end of it, Christine told me, "You need to embrace your weirdness." She had an excellent point but how exactly I was to do this was up to me. She saw me as a repressed person who hides his desires and personality traits in various ways. Whether it's in the clothes that I wear or the feelings I express, she felt that I should embrace the fact that I'm not like anyone else. Sure, I have aspects of other stereotypes, but she suggested that I shouldn't run away from the things that make me happy. In the weeks, months and years that followed, I realized how completely right she was. While I didn't agree with everything she suggested, her "embrace your weirdness" line really stuck.

Now I understand why it's important for me to enjoy who I am and not beat myself up because of it. I realize that I should not fear mental abuse over things that I don't have control over. There is very little that I can control so why I was I being angry at myself so much? The deal was, for the longest time, I thought that every source of tension (past and present) was my fault because I was "involved" to an extent. I didn't even think about other factors involved (mostly personal with the others involved) and once I realized that, certain blades were dulled.

I haven't seen Christine in a few years. I hope someday to thank her in person.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

American Wasteland

For the past seven years, a new skateboarding game in the Tony Hawk series has been released. This week is no different as the seventh (yes, seventh) installment, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, comes out. As a big fan of the series, I dust off my Playstation 2 and give the new game a whirl. I give it high marks but then again, each new game improves upon the last one. No Law of Diminishing Returns here.

A new addition to the series is a portion of the game's soundtrack featuring old school punk songs covered by modern punk and hardcore bands. Yes, that's My Chemical Romance doing the Misfits' "Astro Zombies," Thrice doing Minor Threat's "Screaming at a Wall/Seein' Red," Emanuel doing the Stooges' "Search and Destroy" and Taking Back Sunday doing the Descendents' "Suburban Home/I Like Food" to name a few. Hearing these covers makes me think about how the sound of punk rock has slowly become over-polished over the years.

Now I'm not someone who enjoys out-of-tune drivel but I like to hear a relatively human aspect in recordings, especially in punk rock. When I hear Black Flag, I hear grit and beauty. When I hear Taking Back Sunday, I only hear safe, glossy wimpiness. Maybe it's the kind of technology that's available now to make records sound the way they sound (ProTools is a popular one) but I believe this lack of humaness is not because of the machine that records it; it's the humans playing the songs.

In the case of Emanuel's version of "Search and Destroy," I wonder where the overmodulated drums, off-key vocal wails and raunchy guitar bends went. Those characteristics are only there in small doses but I want more. What I get is more or less a straightforward cover with no teeth. Not surprisingly, I want to get out my copy of Raw Power so I can blow this out of the water.

Has modern punk rock become so safe that something like Raw Power would be considered arcane? Most definitely, but that's what happens when a certain kind of music sticks around for years and years. It keeps getting reintroduced to younger people whether the old fogies like it or not. Maybe the whole point of these bands covering old bands is to show those old bands in a newer light. I think we all come back to music that makes us feel alive and not like a cold computer. Speaking of that, now I really want to grab Raw Power and air-drum and air-guitar along.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I remember Halloween

As I take Juliet out on our nightly walks, I look at the houses on our street slowly preparing for Halloween. Tonight, I noticed a few more houses have lights up while some have cobwebs up and some have kid-friendly ghouls and skeletons on display. We won't be dressing up our house this year, but I'll definitely pass out a lot of candy. One thing is certain - I'll be better prepared more than last year. Why do I say this? Here's a recap:

We had no idea that people from all over the city flocked to our street on Halloween. Yes, there are some rather large and expensive houses further down our street, but our street is definitely not loaded with people who give away debit cards, watches and make-up packets instead of candy. As far as I know, candy is the only thing that is given out on our street and that's all I'll be giving away this year.

Jason will not be around for this year's Halloween due to the fact that he'll be out of town for work. So, I'm hoping to form a united front with our neighbors, Susan, Katie, Matt and Ally to give out candy together. I think I'll have plenty of candy as I hope to buy 16 bags (yes, 16) of it and hope I make it through the night. We went through 7 bags in a little over an hour last year so I think I'll have enough this year. If we have a lot of leftover candy we could always throw a party to get rid of them all.

This weekend, we are having a Be Your Fantasy theme party. Technically, this is not a Halloween party but it's close. I've kicked around a few ideas about what I'll dress as (Ricardo Montalbon from Fantasy Island, Jimmy Olsen from Superman, Jim from 28 Days Later) but I think I'll dress up as a leaner version of this guy. Now to figure out where I can get some glasses and a beard . . .

Halloween is a great time. It's a time when ghoulish behavior is tolerated as long as it doesn't get out of hand. I usually pull out my Misfits boxset so I can sing along to such classics as "Last Caress" and "Demonomania". The weather always cooperates as it will be warm but not steaming hot. In all, it's a great time but once it's over, people focus on Christmas, almost completely passing up Thanksgiving (well, I began typing up my Christmas list last night for various reasons).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I can't stop dancin'

There are a variety of reasons as to why I've really gotten into dancing in the last few months. I can't think of all of them now but I'd say the biggest one involves me being in the company of friends and enjoying the music. If I'm diggin' the music and I'm having fun, I just let loose on the dancefloor. All the years of watching Michael Jackson videos (especially "Beat It" and "Bad") and James Brown live footage come out much to some people's surprise.

For a while I didn't know if I made a complete fool of myself at Matt's wedding by clearing the dancefloor when Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" came on. Matt, Chris, Tim and Marshall have all assured me that they enjoyed it in a fun way by cheering me on instead of laughing at me. When I have that kind of support from my friends, I let the arms and legs do the talking.

A few weeks ago, while I was bopping my head to the sound of Northern Soul and other Mod-related music at the Smoke, I couldn't help but let go. The friends I was with did some dancing but I just couldn't stop when they stopped dancing. I had really nothing to lose in an art space filled with people dressed up in Mod clothing and Mod films (ie, Blow-Up, Quadrophenia) screening in the back. I let my bird legs and floppy ears move to the pulsating beat.

Saturday night, I went with Nick to a live art show with a DJ spinning. The music was thankfully not mindless techno music; rather it was a lot of uptempo 80s Top 40, old school funk and old school rap (like Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks"). I, along with Nick and his friends, couldn't help ourselves and danced on a small section in front the DJ's set-up. White boys are often lampooned for not understanding rhythm but I think we did a pretty good job of blending in.

There is something freeing about letting go through something like dancing. I get the same feeling when I run: time is only based on how fast I run or how long the song is and not according to a clock. I'm not someone who wishes I could live in that world all the time but it's fun to take a short trip into it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Freaks and Geeks

Now that I'm back in Dallas, I'm glad to be back. It's not like I was itching to get the hell out of Chicago, but I was just homesick for the last few days. While I was in Chicago for these last few days, I watched quite a few episodes of Freaks and Geeks. I had seen some of the show courtesy of Matt but this was back before all 18 episodes were available on DVD. With some time on my hands, I believe I watched a total of seven episodes and found myself enjoying all of them for various reasons.

The backstory on Freaks and Geeks is that it follows a group of high school "freaks" (aka, burnouts, ugly losers) and "geeks" (aka, nerds, ugly losers) circa 1981. With elements of serious drama and laugh-out-loud comedy, the show was incredibly unique in the fact that nothing was ever wrapped up in a neat bow by the end of each episode. NBC gave the show a lot of chances to find an audience, but they pulled the plug after 18 episodes were filmed. I'm not someone that will protest and say that NBC was stupid by pulling the show. As I said, NBC gave the show a variety of chances by placing it on various nights of the week but alas, it never really found a large viewing audience week in and week out. It's not like it was pulled after two shows like a certain other show was by another network. Though the show was cancelled, the show lives on DVD.

Watching Freaks and Geeks, I couldn't help but think back to my high school days. I identified with the geek mentality portrayed on the show but I wasn't steeped in it like the characters. I was more invisible more than anything else. I was very much involved with music (either playing it or listening to it) and stayed well inside the band bubble. I liked all kinds of rock music, playing video games and hanging out and wasn't into smoking out, causing trouble or trying to be popular. I'm still very much into the things I was into but it wasn't until I got out of high school I realized how much more was out there.

As far as why a show like this didn't last more than one season on TV, I have a theory: a mass viewing audience prefers to see better, prettier versions of themselves reflected on the small screen rather than similar, dorkier or uglier versions of themselves. The same theory could very well be applied to movies and magazines, but keeping a large audience keep coming back to the same show week after week is a different beast. I won't lie; there were quite a few moments on the show where plots and themes hit so close to home that it was hard to watch. However, I'm glad I did watch because I could understand that others went through what I went through or even worse.

There is something to be said about a show that still resonates regardless of when it was made. Of course some of things may look dated (ie, clothes), but there is something to be said about focusing on universal growing pains and not tying up all the loose strands by the 50-minute mark.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Beat Kitchen Redux

Here's a recap of last night's show at the Beat Kitchen, warts and all:

An outsider looking in at two details would say the show was a disaster. "Only" 65-75 people showed up and we didn't add any money to the book printing fund. As far as an insider's perspective (aka, mine), the show was an overwhelming success.

From a fan's perspective, I thought all of the acts really stepped up last night. You could say that Nick's music under the Dogme 95 moniker is more performance art than traditional musical performance, but I think the guy has quite a few sweet tunes with all the smoke, beats, loops and percussion. Plus, he really sang his head off. With Hirudin, Kyle told me how the band seemed to have more crappy shows than good shows as of late, but I think he would say that last night's set was pretty on-the-mark great. They were tight as hell and they rolled through an inspired mix of mid-'90s-styled post-hardcore and driving punk. Kyle came across as a likable but slightly intimidating frontman with how he held himself together (part charming, part devilish). With the Firebird Band, this was my first chance to see them with their new line-up and a live drummer. As somebody who had only seen them before with iPods, keyboards and guitars, last night was a really charged set with more of the live elements involved. Chris always has a kind of wild intensity with performing but now with a second guitarist/keyboardist, a new bassist and a live drummer in the band, they were ten times better than when I had seen them before. Finally with the City on Film, they finished the show on a grand note. Bob played with a violin player and this made his already intimate songs even more engaging. Playing a lushly quiet rendition of "For Holly," I stood there in amazement as he just knocked every song after that out of the park. Playing covers by Lifter Puller, Tom Waits and Dexy's Midnight Runners along with tracks from his new record and a slowed-down version of Braid's "A Dozen Roses," this was the kind of set that Bob usually plays but there was a special feeling to it (considering the fact that he was running a fever but played so well in spite of it). As he finished up with Dexy's "Come On Eileen," I felt that the whole show had started strong and continued strong through the whole night. This was the kind of show I would've paid good money to see, so getting the chance to see it was massive.

If I was in the mindset of immediacy, the lack of whatever that didn't go as "planned" would be offsetting. However, I felt so happy to be doing things like loading in with Nick, having dinner with Hirudin, watching baseball with Kyle, sitting with Bob and Chris as they wrapped about what was going on in their lives, talking to Sally about photography, talking with Adam about how musical perspective changes with age, seeing Chris's grin as Bob finished up "A Dozen Roses" and other little moments like these will stay with me longer than business logistics.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Onion Write-Up

Here's a little write-up in the Onion's Chicago edition:

The City On Film w/ The Firebird Band, Hirudin & Dogme 95
Beat Kitchen, 9 p.m., $8, 18+
After Andy Greenwald’s 2003 book, Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, And Emo, infuriated him, Eric Grubbs decided to try and do the ’90s post-punk scene justice with his own history. Post is a work in progress, but publisher Mission Label will host this benefit so that Grubbs’ book can hit the streets sooner rather than later. Two bands whose leaders—former Braid members Bob Nanna and Chris Broach—figure prominently in Post will head the bill. When Braid broke up in 1999, the body was barely cold before Broach formed The Firebird Band anid the remaining three-fourths started Hey Mercedes, whose troubled run ended earlier this year. Nanna has since shifted focus to his former side-project, The City On Film, where he delves into understated pop instead of Hey Mercedes’ full-bore guitar rock. TCOF’s debut, In Formal Introduction, came out earlier this year. In The Firebird Band, Broach ditches guitars in favor of keyboards and drum machines, but the group’s sprawling, inconsistent album, The City At Night, suffers a bit from its own ambition.
-Kyle Ryan

Today is the day (one of many days)

Tonight is the big show at Beat Kitchen and I'm excited. Four acts + good venue + good friends = good time and experience. Full details tomorrow, but for now, I wonder what in the world I'll be doing until tonight. The sun is out so I think I may take some photos of places that have captured my eyes in the last few days.

It's official: I'm a Lost fan. I don't understand everything about the plot (I was a latecomer last season) but I find the acting, the writing and the never-ending cliff hangers as reasons to keep watching and fill in the blanks. I haven't intently set time aside to watch a show in years, but this show is better than most of the stuff on TV (and in a lot of cases, better than what's showing at the local movie theater). I set time aside last night to watch and I'll do the same next week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Happy Birthday

Light one candle because this blog is a year old today. Chicago isn't losing its flavor with me (now the parking situation is a different story) and I'm seeing plenty. The Art Institute and Punk Planet visits went very well yesterday and now I'm wondering what exactly I'll be doing today. I can tell you this, we're all excited about the show at Beat Kitchen tomorrow night and hope that we all have a good time. I'm not placing any bets on how the show may or may not go. I focus on the fact that I'll be seeing four acts that I want to see and hang out with. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I'm walkin'

Yesterday I was a walking fool. I walked all the way to Millennium Park to the Virgin Megastore looped around and went to the Sears Tower area and looped back to the loft. In total, four hours walking on the hard pavement and my feet are still paying for it. My remedy for it? More walking this morning and a car ride this afternoon. I want to hit up a museum called the Art Institute and then visit Punk Planet's office this afternoon. Yes, these are all places that I want to go to and yes, I consider this a vacation.

In vacations past I would have grumbled about so much walking. I believe a certain family trip to Williamsburg consisted of a never-ending stream of tours (read, never-ending walks all day) so that was probably the craziest it ever got. Now I enjoy walking around, but not all day. Walking around a city like Chicago with its calm winds and cloudy skies is rather picturesque. Plus, I'm going to places that I want to go to, whether it's a record store, a park or an office.

Off to more traveling . . .

Monday, October 10, 2005


I'm here in Chicago and already having a really good time. Nick and I watched Micheal Mann's Collateral last night. As a fan of Tom Cruise (just as long as I keep the TV off and don't click on all those video interviews on the 'net) and Jamie Foxx (just as long as I avoid Stealth), I thought they were perfect in a film that didn't bow to cliches or routine black-and-white crime noir.

Prior to seeing this, the only Mann film I had seen was Manhunter. Yes, the first film adaptation of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon was called that and it feels more like a Miami Vice episode (Mann was one of the men behind that show by the way) than anything else. Collateral makes me want to see Mann's other work like Heat and the Insider. Yes, it's that good.

A few years ago, I had a spell where I enjoyed rather over-the-top action crime flicks starring the likes of Bruce Willis. Those were cool but other than big shootouts after one-liners and more shootouts, I slowly realized that these kinds of movies are best in the popcorn variety. Sure, they're fun but after you watch them you aren't talking about how amazing the script is or the direction. You marvel at how much of a bad-ass such and such was and how cool the action scenes were. Never would I think that I would watch a noir flick waxing philosophy between the bullets.

There are quite a few movies lying around Nick, Aaron and John's loft that I haven't seen. I hope I have some time to watch them all.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Blog Tag

Tagged by Can You See the Sunset from the Southside?

1. If money were no object, what would you be doing with your life?
Being creative and happy.

2. Money is just that - an object, so why aren't you doing it?
Who said I wasn't?

3. What's better: horses or cows?
Cows because Greg Brady sang, "Cows never laughed before/beanstocks never grow." Wait, that was "Clouds never laughed before." Seriously, you can do more with a cow than you can with a horse (insert your own twisted humor/logic here).

4. What do you think the secret to happiness is?
Understanding one's weaknesses and gifts and everything in between. Understanding there is very little we can control in our lives. Finally, knowing that no one else will ever be on the same exact page with you on everything.

5. When was the last time you had a dream that you either remember well or did not want to awake from? Can you share a bit?
I dreamed I met Jeremy London (Mallrats, 7th Heaven) in a bookstore. I was cool to him and he was cool to me. A brief encounter but a good one.

6. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Fighter pilot (because of Top Gun) or a rock star (because of Steve Perry and Neil Diamond)

7. Complete this statement: Love is......
. . . something that exists in our minds and in our hearts and it knows no boundaries.

8. Can you tell a good story? (write one!)
I remember when I first saw Better Than Ezra's "Good" on MTV. Simple video for a decent song with a cool bassline, rather sloppy drumming and a memorable chorus. I still like the song and I put it on a mix CD a few months ago. How's that for a "good" story?

9. Can you remember your last daydream? What was it about?
Yes, it was about how sick I was when I picked up Jason at the hospital after his finger surgery. I nearly hurled because of the sterile environment (doctors offices and cheesmo rock band videos induce it). When the nurse fussed at me for not pulling up my car in a timely fashion, I wasn't happy. I didn't understand what the hurry was.

10. If you were to thank someone today, who would you thank?
Petula Clark - because of her dense pop songs are still ringing my head.

Who's next for blog tag?

That's My Philosophy

I never took a philosophy class in college (I took three sociology classes). I've never read a classic philosophy book, though I have attempted to read Irwin's The Simpsons and Philosophy and Seinfeld and Philosophy books. So why do I wax philosophical all the time on this blog? Well, there are a few reasons why.

For starters, I enjoy talking about certain things (ie, music, movies, books) that traditionally are thought of as throwaway accessories by others that I think are deep and full of meaning. This explains posts on Scooby-Doo, The Warriors, and various bands/artists. Film school warped my sense of seeing things in the sense that there is more to the experience than just what is in front of the recording device. I spent too many hours dissecting what Hitchcock was trying to say with Psycho that I went a tad overboard (and have since retracted a little bit). Films say a lot, even a movie like Student Bodies (as I've blogged on before).

A few years ago, I started realizing that metaphors for life were all over my favorite films. From the Lord of the Rings movies to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope to The Muppet Movie, I got very wrapped up in the fact that a lot of the attitudes I have on life are reflected in these films' themes (in my head at least). To me, The Muppet Movie is about doing what you want to do, finding friends that agree with you and support you, not give into greedy business practices and understand that things that appear to be obstacles at first are really keys to understanding life even better. Yes, the Muppets are puppets, but the kind of human emotions put on the screen are incredibly relatable to me.

I stayed away from philosophy classes in college becuase I only heard bad things about the tests, the lectures and the rough teachers. Anytime I tried to read something by Plato or Socrates, my mind would unravel when I felt like the language they were using was too broad. When I was left to my devices into understanding what life is and how it works, I translated what I've learned into my own language.

Yes, my mother teaches philosophy on a collegiate level and she is a big fan of this blog. Me being so philosophical on this was by pure accident. I've always used this blog to say something that is on my mind without talking about sports or politics or ultra-private stuff. So any deep reasoning is by pure accident.

This blog is nearing the one year mark, so I figured now would be a good time to explain some of my thought process. More explaining is to come as I'll be in Chicago all next week. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hair Metal = Emo Cheese?

Yet another excerpt from Post, this time from the epilogue chapter entitled "Pause":

The kind of excitement around these young bands is different than the way it used to be. “I think it’s more akin to the hair metal scene of the late ‘80s,” Scott Schoenbeck says. “People were excited about that too. I mean come on, bands nowadays do autograph sessions and synchronize their ‘rock moves.’”

Schoenbeck brings up an excellent point: a lot of these cheesy emo bands are very much like the hair metal bands in the 1980s. I'm talking the same tackiness that can be seen in almost any mass-marketed genre, but with many similarities between these two. Cheesmo (emo + cheese, get it?) bands have messy hair, wear tight vintage clothing and play wimpy pop songs while hair metal had big hair, wore tight leather outfits, ripped jeans and shirts and performed overblown pop songs with guitar solos. Just like it happened with hair metal, cheesmo is becoming more of a joke that is due to even more mocking in the next few years.

It's hard for me to avoid the garbage that is peddled to "kids" who don't know any better. I see these bands in some of the magazines I read, the featured profiles on MySpace's frontpage and plastered all over a music channel like Fuse. We're having a sensory overload meltdown of bands all looking the same and sounding the same, thus creating a (gasp!) vacuum. Just what is the appeal of wearing tight clothing, singing through your nose and serving up watered-down, noodly pop songs? Don't even tell me that "this is what the kids are into!" People once labeled as "the kids" were into stuff like ska and neo-swing a few years ago, but where are those "kids" now? Probably not listening to that at all but if they are, it's in small doses.

Oftentimes I think of hair metal as a great big party that everybody attended one night and swore that they didn't attend the following morning. A lot of the attraction to hair metal, cheesmo and other forms of music is that of spectacle. These band members are people that you look at in awe. These are not the kind of people you would think of as regular human beings with everyday wants and needs. People used to think that CC Deville, Stephen Percy and Jani Lane were gods; now those same fans try and pretend like such connotations never truly existed. If this kind of fandom is only on a surface level then what makes me think these cheeseball emo bands are here for the long haul?

The simple answer is that no, they ain't gonna be around for a string of solid albums in the next few years. "The kids" will eventually grow up and find other forms of music to dig and enjoy. I think it will be very interesting to see who blows these pop bands in vintage outfits out of the water. As a friend told me a few months ago, "The next Nirvana or next At the Drive-In is playing in some garage somewhere; not on some stage."

I wonder how much people would pay to see a nostalgia act comprised of these bands. While you can go see hair metal bands on the cheap, drink heavily and have a good time, I doubt today's 16-year-olds will do the same when the Hawthorne Heights/Fall Out Boy/Taking Back Sunday nostalgia package tour rolls in through town in 2015.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Haven't Got Time for the Pain

Call it a blogger's curse: you can add my name to the list of bloggers like Frank and Torr that are between paying gigs. Yes, I was let go from my producer/reporter gig on Monday soley because of budget reasons. There was no ugliness to it; there was no shouting, no name-calling and no storming out of a room. I had suspicions that it was going to happen to me and well, it happened. However, I didn't combust, lose all my friends and family or be chased by a swinging baseball bat because of this. This was just like being in a car accident, getting cancer or getting excessive junk mail - this can happen to anyone. Of course it's not fair, but then again, life doesn't bend for us - we bend for it. I had no control on whether or not I could keep my job; I just was let go and that was that.

I have no ill feelings about my former employer. However, the feeling I've had since Monday morning is the feeling of being dumped. I've felt this feeling before but then again, I was swimming backstrokes in a pool of despair back then.

From being kicked out of my apartment by my roommate (and best friend) of three years to being let go from a band that I went out of my way for, I felt unceremoniously dumped. There were thoughts of "Now what?" but I eventually found a new apartment and a new band. I wasn't happy about my dismissals but since I'm someone who usually gets let go more than someone who quits, it's old hat.

There is definitely a fear of facing the boogeymen in the worst of our imaginations. Well, I realized a few years ago that the chances of something worse happening is equal to the chances of something better happening. The point that I keep coming back to is to do stuff (from writing, watching movies, networking, talking with friends, listening to records, reading) instead of sitting around and having never-ending inner monologues. I used to think "What did I do?" about things not working out but then I realized that I didn't do anything "wrong." Because of living with those ill feelings for so long, I decided that I didn't want to mentally self-abuse myself with shame and guilt anymore. Just like Carly Simon said years ago in "Haven't Got Time for the Pain": "Suffering was the only thing made me feel I was alive/Thought that's just how much it costs to survive in this world." I'm not setting pain aside here. I acknowledge that pain is in the same room that houses other thoughts but I choose to not make it become a leach.

I will tell you this, my friends, family and fellow co-workers have really come up to the plate for me emotionally because of this layoff. Talking about it with a wide variety of people has been a very comforting experience. On top of that, my now former employer has helped me with leads with different places. Yes folks, the same respect, help and encouragement I got out of hardcore back in the day really does exist in the workplace.

What I'll exactly do next is very up in the air. There was a reason for this separation but what exactly that reason is can only be decided via hindsight. For now it's an obstacle. Later, it won't be. Despair and speculation may sell, but hope and understanding stick around longer.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Things end but new things begin too

In light of recent events, I feel it's only fitting to post a few excerpts from Post on things ending and dealing with moving on:

from The Get Up Kids:

“I remember we were flying to Australia, we flew through Hong Kong and I sat Matt down and was like, ‘Dude, this isn’t fair to the band. You need to tell everyone what’s on your mind. You need to get it out. We need to call a meeting right when we land in Sydney and sort this shit out,’” Ryan Pope says. “So, we did that. We met up in my hotel room and Matt pretty much just said without even saying, ‘I want to tour less,’ it sounded like, ‘I don’t really think I want to do this anymore.’ He said that while he said, ‘I don’t want to tour at all’ – it wasn’t like, ‘I don’t want to tour as often,’ it was like, ‘I don’t want to tour.’ And with that, we were like, ‘Well, this is over.’”
There were definitely mixed feelings between band members, but they all realized that they needed to split. “I remember I was like, ‘Well great, now what? Now what am I supposed to do?’” Ryan Pope says. “‘Cause I became so used to this band being such a huge part of my life that it was like, ‘Well shit, time to figure something else out and move on.’ But that was just kind of a transitional phase that I think was good for me but was kind of awkward.” “I was pretty fine with it because things had been going so rough,” Rob Pope says. “I didn’t feel like we were a good band. It felt like people were giving up around me, especially Matt.”

from Jawbreaker:

“I think we kept avoiding practice for about a month and then when we did get together at Adam’s house Blake’s first words were, ‘I think we should break up’ and I agreed - it was pretty amicable,” Bauermeister says. “Adam was resistant, but we just decided it wasn’t working out.” They gave their shot with a major label and they stayed true to their word if things didn’t work out.
Metaphorically, the ex-members of Jawbreaker had to find separate houses to live in after their old house – the one they built together – collapsed from erosion. They didn’t know what to do. “After the band broke up I slept for a month,” Pfahler told Punk Planet. “There was never a day where I woke up and thought, ‘OK, I’m warm with this, now.’ I felt horrible. There were a lot of questions. I think we all wondered, ‘What happens next?’” In the years that followed, they began constructing new lives while also reconnecting with another. Relations between the three would be easier, but with each one having separate lives.

from At the Drive-In:

Regardless of categorization of sound, there still was a perception that Relationship of Command was going to be the Nevermind of the new century. “One Armed Scissor” and “Invalid Litter Dept.” received steady airplay on major radio stations, MTV and M2, but they didn’t completely take off into heavy rotation. Sales of the album were more in the thousands (and later, into the hundreds of thousands), but those numbers were nowhere near the million-selling mark. Pundits who saw music’s validity measured by how many copies of the record were sold in a business quarter were disappointed. However, the record was a slow-burning, steady seller for many weeks to come. "I think sometimes people take this industry a little too seriously,” Ward said in an interview with “They put a little too much stock into how many records you’re selling and how much money you’re making. Like, we have a deal in our band that the day one of us is tired of doing this, that’s it. If it’s in the middle of this interview or in the middle of a tour, that’s it. We’re done.”

from The Promise Ring:

Following the end of their US tour in October, the Promise Ring announced they were calling it quits. However, the band’s break-up wasn’t necessarily a sad ordeal. “The break-up was my favorite part of the band in the last two years [of the band’s life],” von Bohlen says. There was speculation that the band broke up because of von Bohlen’s health, Gnewikow’s busy schedule with graphic design and the rather lukewarm response to the band’s new direction. These factors weren’t the only reasons. “There were many factors,” Didier explains. “However, I think the design stuff Jason was doing outside the band and Davey’s health problems were far lesser factors. At least to me, it was how the three of us started to interact with one another at the end that ended it. We stopped talking. We stopped having fun. [Worst] of all, we became indifferent. Once that sort of thing happens to you the relationships you hold are all over. The best thing you can do is to eliminate the source of the problem (i.e. the business relationship). You have to decide whether it is more important to remain friendly or forge ahead and let things get out of hand. We chose to remain friends. I think it all boils down to how I felt the popularity of our band fall sometime between Very Emergency and the lack of financial success that Wood/Water had. I put everything I had into that last record, we all did, so when people seemed to not care it formed a black cloud over me. I tried to shrug it off, but I couldn’t help becoming bitter. When everything is going well everything is fine, but once something goes wrong trouble emerges. That trouble was our indifference.”
“The band started out as four people who wanted very much the same thing,” Gnewikow says. “It ended up being three people not wanting the same thing at all and maybe not even knowing what we wanted.” Taking the business relationship out of the equation between Gnewikow, Didier and von Bohlen, they had a much easier time being friends again. Now just wanting to talk to each other and not having a business to run together, they realized how much they had grown up. Gnewikow continued to do graphic design while Didier and von Bohlen started up a new project called, In English. Along with Eric Axelson of the Dismemberment Plan on bass, the band eventually changed their name to Maritime.

I don't know where tomorrow leads but I'll be around to see. Stay tuned folks . . .

Monday, October 03, 2005

Warriors, Mods and a Music Nerd

Two recent films that have spent some time in my DVD player were The Warriors and Quadrophenia. Both came out in 1979 and both cover youthful rebellion but in very different ways.

I was never someone who roamed around town looking for trouble. I was someone that stayed in, listened to records, read magazines, watched TV and played video games for many of my high school weekends in the spring and summer. I was too busy with marching band stuff during fall and winter to really get out much, so I made the most out of my time there. So whenever I see movies about violence and youths, I can't say that I really experienced that kind of stuff. Jocks and cheerleaders mingled with student council and other fellow preppies while everyone else was in their own little bubble. I don't remember much tension between cliques; I remember mostly general misunderstanding and ignorance. There were no gangs or turfs; just some name-calling between the students with separate interests at Kingwood High School.

The Warriors is set in New York and follows the Warriors gang (complete with musclebound guys in brown leather vests) as they try to escape home after they are wrongly accused of murder. Yes, it's a rather gritty film in the vein of other '70s blaxploitation films but it's a tad on the "What in the world am I watching?" vibe. Rival gangs and their outrageous uniforms (most notably, the Baseball Furies with their baseball uniforms, bats and facepaint) don't want the Warriors on their turf and they unsuccesfully try to get them off their turf. It's an angry film filled with a lot of one-note characters (the bad-ass, the badder-ass, the stoic leader, the kid, the prostitute with some heart, the villain with no real motive) but this doesn't take away from the film. The Warriors is so over-the-top that I couldn't fathom it being any less.

Quadrophenia is set in the heyday of Mod, 1965, and follows a teen named Jimmy and his withdrawal from the movement. Mods were working class, dressed classy, rode Vespas around town, took a lot of pills and fought any Rocker (also working class, rode motorcycles and wore leather jackets) that crossed their path. When everything crumbles in Jimmy's life, he feels it's time to move on. Without going into all the details of it, it's a great picture with a killer soundtrack from the Who.

Why I bring up these movies is that despite the violence and my very different teen life from the Mods and the Warriors, these movies really struck a chord with me. Seeing the Warriors stick to their principles while everyone else thinks they're something else and seeing Jimmy give up his life as a Mod all make this parallel for me: they spolight outsiders in a group of outsiders.

Yes, it is very possible to be an outsider in a world clumped together as outsiders. I think it's important to "embrace your weirdness" (as it was put to me via an intervention a few years ago). What exactly that means is up to the individual and it takes a long time to realize it. It's easy to fall in line and not even know it. I may seem to fall in line with others, but I do what's best for me in being honest, fair and patient with others. Wherever that leads me is a great reason to live.

While The Warriors and Quadrophenia may seem like they're films all about youthful angst, I can't simply tag them as such. I'm not a kid anymore and technically, I'm an adult, but I can relate to these films now. There is something about being an outsider in a group of outsiders that holds no boundary to just youth. It's all in thinking for one's self.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Punk Planet reviews

Here are some of my reviews found in Punk Planet. With each new issue there will be more reviews posted, so check back with this page.

Issue #72
Reviewer Spotlight: Red Animal War, Breaking in an Angel
I always hear stories about how people feel drawn to go out of their way to help a band out because of a certain record or show. For me, that draw came from seeing Red Animal War play live in a renovated car garage in 1999. Seeing them play a powerful blend of post-hardcore and punk so convincingly inspired me to go out of my way to help them out in any way that I could. I had a radio show where I could have bands as guests on the air so I asked them to come by a few weeks later. It was something to at least to get their name out there. Luckily, Deep Elm signed them a short while later and released Breaking In An Angel in 2001. While the band went on to make strong efforts with Ed Rose and J. Robbins, I keep coming back to their first, self-produced album. I don’t think it’s because of nostalgia – it’s because these songs are still really fuckin’ good. While there are traces of Jawbox and Hot Water Music in their sound, the important distinction is that Breaking In An Angel isn’t stereotypical emo or post-hardcore of the day. Sure, there are jumbled rhythms, half-shouted vocals and non-traditional chords, but there is a vast amount of smooth, effortless approach in the delivery. This stuff isn’t too primal for post-hardcore categorization but it definitely isn’t disposable emo cheese.

Against Me! – Searching for a Former Clarity, CD
Seems with everything Against Me! does, certain people get all up in arms and make a big stink about it. I understand music is a deeply personal thing and it’s uncomfortable when a band’s appeal broadens to an impersonal level, but I can’t stop that from happening. As much as people want to talk about what Against Me! is doing what now compared to what they were doing a few years ago, all I can do is marvel at Searching for a Former Clarity in the now, broader appeal be damned. An unapologetic, defiant, but accessible record, Searching covers a lot of lyrical and musical terrain. Lyrics about fan backlash, the war in Iraq and the insides of the music industry don’t come off as misinformed, preachy tirades. Instead, riding in a vehicle built by a strong set of tunes, AM! get their point across. Plus, they have a lot of nice touches to warrant repeated listens. From the dirty brass sounds on the marching stomp of “Miami” to the charging “Justin” to bluesy country of “How Low” all the way to the sparse, requiem-like title track, there is plenty going on here without jumping all over the place. J. Robbins’ production continues to show he is a producer that can do no wrong with the bands he works with regardless of style. Nothing sounds too polished or glossed up to the point where it’s squeaky clean nor does anything sound incredibly rough or dirty. This is definitely Against Me!’s best sounding record to date and thankfully it is nowhere near the kind of pristine/neutered sounds that is presented under the modern day pop-punk banner. I’m not going to claim Against Me! is as important as a band like the Clash, but I will say this: I’m glad a band like AM! can find a broad audience with a record like this and not just an audience oversaturated with pop bands disguised under mainstream pop-punk mechanics. (EG)
Fat Wreck Chords, P.O. Box 193690 San Francisco, CA 94199-3690,

Pathways, The – Boat of Confidence, CD
The Pathways thankfully deliver the goods with Boat of Confidence after the release of their fantastic 7”, Productivity. There is more arty pop with a heavy emphasis on pop, but in an expanded format. The songs are longer and go places (hear the second half of “Just Like a River” for proof). Singers David Yourdon and Evan Kindley aren’t going to win over your average music fan with their rather limited vocal ranges, but they make an incredible amount out of their limits. The Pathways walk a very fine line between sounding like a smart pop band and some art school students getting together and jamming. I’m not comparing them to Pavement here, but if you miss the kind of carefree-sounding (but still serious) pop that Pavement exuded, check out the Pathways. (EG)
Recommended If You Like Records, P.O. Box 2318 Times Square Station, New York, New York, 10108,

Issue #71
Reviewer Spotlight - Kara’s Flowers, The Fourth World
You know the four ex-members of Kara’s Flowers as 4/5s of Maroon 5 these days, but before you groan about Maroon 5’s white-boy pop-funk, give this record a chance. Released well after the post-Weezer major label signing binge, Reprise unleashed this well-polished record that evokes the tuneful pop of Weezer and Superdrag. They say overproduction kills records but in this case, Rob Cavallo’s production raises the quality of these already snappy songs. Organs and strings augment the bright guitars, drums and vocals all for the better. The band did some touring and made an eye-catching video for their first (and only) single “Soap Disco” but then they disappeared. Though Kara’s Flowers were set to record a follow-up to The Fourth World, they found themselves label-less and decided to finish college. Apparently they fell in love with funk, soul and R&B in college and thus became Maroon 5, a band that my friend Nick once perfectly described as, “a boy band with instruments.” Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane is soulless funky pop right up the alley for those that think that music is a throwaway commodity. For me, The Fourth World is a great non-commodity in the world of alterna-pop rock. Hearing the same band that went from The Fourth World into Songs About Jane reminds me of a quote by Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall: “Everything our parents said was good is bad: sun, milk, red meat . . . college.”

Fizzle Like a Flood – Golden Sand and the Grandstand, CD
Falling somewhere between the fun pop of the Flaming Lips and the utter ridiculousness of the Danielson Famile, Fizzle Like a Flood is parts joy and parts pain. Hearing Golden Sand and the Grandstand reminds me of the first few times I heard Space (best known for “Female of the Species”), as in, goofy sounding songs that have some really memorable melodies. The production sounds incredibly thin here as there’s barely any low-end. The lack of low-end isn’t the litmus test for how good an album is (anyone heard The Clash or Four Minute Mile?) but with all the programmed drumbeats, keyboards and guitars, there’s very little in the way of density to the scope of the recording. This doesn’t help the case for seriousness but maybe that helps the fun factor. I would recommend this for people that enjoy the music of Ween and Wally Pleasant but I definitely wouldn’t compare this to the caliber of those artists. (EG)
Ernest Jenning Record Co., 68 Cheever Place #2, Brooklyn, NY 11231

Jet By Day – The Vulture, CD
For some reason, I keep hearing the ghost of Samiam’s Jason Beebout in Jet By Day’s David Matysiak’s voice on The Vulture. I say this only as a reference point because guitarist/vocalist Matysiak has a good voice and the band he fronts is really good. Jet By Day sounds atmospheric on The Vulture but they aren’t drowning in reverb. The songs go places with various changes while being straightforward at first listen. Touches of pianos and electronic programming bode well for the softer interludes as they don’t come off as cheeseball gimmicks. Jet By Day sound like a relatively darker straight-ahead rock band with some traces of poppy post-hardcore/emo more than anything else. Yes, there are some bendy guitar leads but there are plenty of good tunes overshadowing them. This kind of band is a welcome change from the soulless, fleeting junk that is peddled to “the kids” these days. (EG)
Future Farmer Recordings, PO Box 225128, San Francisco, CA 94122,

Issue #70

Reviewer Spotlight - Errortype:11, Amplified to Rock
Errortype:11 was only around for a few years in the late-‘90s/early-‘00s, but their second record is still a pearl. The funny thing is, I discovered this band purely by a mix-up of names: I thought they were Isotope 217. When I saw ET:11’s Crank EP in my college radio station’s “crap” box, I picked it up thinking I would hear some wild electronica. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by this rockin’ kind of hardcore. Amplified to Rock showed up at the station a few months later and I was even more impressed. The band delivered on the title track by avoiding rock and hardcore boundaries. (Yes, those are acoustic guitars, effects-laden guitar solos and gang handclaps that you’re hearing.) At only nine songs, most on-lookers could cry about sense of being short-changed. Well, when all nine songs slay, would you really want a couple extra songs that don’t? Vocalist/guitarist Arthur Shepherd’s strained voice perfectly fits in with the music: it’s not very abrasive nor is it very clear. John Agnello’s pristine sound quality gets high regards too: it’s glossier than the average hardcore record but it’s not glossy by major label standards. Amplified to Rock would be ET:11’s final album before the band essentially morphed into Instruction (who released their debut, God Doesn’t Care, in 2004). Compared to ET:11, Instruction is a cockier and angrier version of their former selves that is, unfortunately, less than desirable. Regardless, if you want to hear some great rock anthems, check out Amplified to Rock.

Pathways, The, - Productivity, 7”
Arty pop with a heavy emphasis on pop. The a-side is the jewel as it beautifully ties twinkling piano lines with jazzy-but-jangly guitar lines together. The only problem is that these three songs are short. More songs please!

Vibration White Finger – 5 Minutes to Live, CDEP
Believe it or not, but VWF is able to incorporate keyboards and horns to guitars-bass-drums set-up and not sound like a ska band or Chicago. This is some pretty grooving rock n’ roll that doesn’t wuss out in the delivery. Flamboyant vocals owe some debt to glam-era Bowie and Terry Hall’s stuff with the Specials, but this works incredibly well with their style of rock.

Issue #69

Reviewer Spotlight - Centro-matic, Redo the Stacks
Already a legend of sorts in the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton area, Centro-matic’s debut album demands more attention outside of the area. Boasting 22 tracks with songwriter Will Johnson playing almost all of the instruments himself, this is statement in lo-fi indie rock. The songs were recorded on a variety of things (from small tape recorders to multi-track machines) in a lot of different places (from a home studio to a small bedroom). You could complain about the crusty sound quality of some songs, but just like how people praise Guided by Voices’ lo-fi material, sound quality is second to song quality. A song like “Cannot Compete” offers a very intimate feel with just a ragged voice and acoustic guitar, drowned in tape hiss. Then there are full-on barnburners like “Parade of Choosers,” “Tied to the Trailer,” “Am I the Manager or Am I Not?” and “Hoist Up the Popular Ones” that recall the wild and fuzzy days of the Flaming Lips. Everything in between these extremes is represented on this disc and it laid the blueprint for Centro-matic’s music. While the band and its side-projects have released a number of solid releases, Redo the Stacks is the one that got the ball rolling.

Capes, The – Taste, CDEP
One of my biggest complaints about bands that utilize keyboards in a rock setting is that they don’t really rock. The Capes, with keyboard in tow, are an exception. They definitely rock but they know how to write infectious, catchy pop songs too. While they could be grouped in the same genre with a lot of these 80s-post-punk-styled bands being sold at wholesale by England’s hype-driven press, the Capes aren’t clones of clones. Combining the energy of post-punk with the sunny pop like bands like Super Furry Animals and Travis, the Capes have a lot room to expand.

Millencolin – Kingwood, CD
I find it very interesting that I’m reviewing a record whose title is also the name of my old hometown. I can’t escape the place, no matter how far away I live from it. Just like anyone’s old hometown, you can’t escape pop-punk when it was the doorway to the music fan you are now. Call it yesterday’s news, but you can’t forget where you came from. With Millencolin’s latest outing, this is more of the same stuff, but it is an improvement from their earlier material. Sure, it’s still standard issue Epitaph pop-punk, but this shouldn’t be filed under the “Mall Punk Only” file. The songs blast off thanks to strong production and catchy song hooks. Maybe this will restore your faith in pop-punk.

Picastro – Metal Cares, CD
Downbeat, but not down and experimental but not so experimental that it’s unlistenable, Metal Cares is another great release from Polyvinyl. Featuring soft female vocals, gentle acoustic guitars, old pianos, moody string arrangements and minimalist drums, these combined ingredients are very interesting (in a good way). While a collection of spare, folkish tunes filled with a dark atmosphere may not make people jump out of their seats and dance, you must sit and soak this stuff in to enjoy it.

Starflyer 59 – Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice, CD
It’s another year and like so many years before, there is another new release from Starflyer 59 out on the streets. Jason Martin and company create yet another spacious record built on the foundation of echoey guitars, straightforward drumming and Martin’s breathy voice. The strings, pianos and horns give the album a classic feel in the right spots while synthesizers give certain songs a very ‘80s feel (think New Order). More immediate than previous efforts like Leave Here a Stranger and the Fashion Focus, these songs get to the point. What’s even more welcome is this time out, Martin’s voice is more prominent in the mix. Still a strong vocalist with a melodic conversational voice, you clearly hear what he’s saying. At nine tracks total, the album leaves you wanting more. Knowing Starflyer’s release schedule, you won’t have to wait very long.

Issue #68

Reviewer Spolight - Ash, Nu-Clear Sounds
The Fair Warning/Ignorance is Bliss of their career, Ash’s Nu-Clear Sounds stands apart from their other records. The band’s pop-punk-by-way-of-grunge-upbringing took on a dirty lo-fi sound for their third LP, but Nu-Clear Sounds is still very worthwhile. Rockers (“Jesus Says,” “Wild Surf,” “Projects,” “Fortune Teller”) give way to pretty ballads (“Folk Song,” “I’m Gonna Fall”) while also boasting pure raunch (“Numbskull,” “Death Trip 21”), but it works. When the record was released stateside on DreamWorks (while the label also had Elliott Smith, Creeper Lagoon and Rollins Band on its roster), Ash fans I knew didn’t like it. Nevermind the fact that the sublime “A Life Less Ordinary” is a bonus track on the US edition, people told me that this wasn’t the Ash they loved. I’m not sure if my friends gave the record any more plays but I think they should (especially since Nu-Clear’s follow-up, Free All Angels, is very similar but with a more polished gloss). Ash continues to elude the masses in the US and their records get US distribution well after their UK release dates, but they are definitely worth hunting down. Highly recommended for people annoyed by kiddie-centric pop-punk.

Hanna Hirsch – Fireworks in Daylight, 7”
This five-piece from Sweden says they listen to a lot of Blondie and Discharge. Upon listening to this 7”, put Blondie way ahead of Discharge. With Dan Panic-styled drumming, head-bopping rhythms and tasty melodies, these two songs kick major ass. They remind me of why I got into pop-punk in the first place: hummable tunes rooted in Top 40 hooks played at a faster-than-average speed. Singer Siri has a very accessible voice that is not abrasive or wimpy. Coupled with the tuneful guitar melodies, probably the nicest addition is the presence of keyboard. Using a subtle Hammond organ line as a background melody really works in the songs’ favor. With all the distilled pop-punk we’ve been drowning in the last few years, early-‘90s-Lookout! pop-punk hasn’t sounded this welcome in a long time.