Saturday, November 29, 2008

A post-Thanksgiving of thanks

In addition to my family and friends, I'd like to thank the following:

--People having a genuine interest in reading Post. It's very nice to just tell somebody about a book and he or she is interested just because of the pitch. No DVD players, concert tickets, or vacations are necessary to bargain.
--Quarterly royalty statements from the book publisher. One of the bigger reasons I went with the publisher I went with.
--The breakfast taco place down my street. Amazing what happens when a place offers great food and the owners truly appreciate your business. What a novel concept.
--My dog for not peeing on my bed, so far, this year.
--Working a job where random strangers are not allowed in so they ask you tons of questions while you're trying to work.
--A nice, long street to run and walk on.
--LOST Season 4 for being awesome.
--The DVD selection at Movie Trading Company and Borders. All hail DVD prices $8-$12!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A year in music

So, here's my attempt to summarize my year in listening to albums. Once again, I don't see any harm in talking about records that weren't released in 2008. If they were records that rocked my world more than in previous years, they get listed. Also once again, no clear-cut ranking here, just a listing, save for the last few.

British Sea Power, Do You Like Rock Music?
Knowing someone who's a big BSP fan and knowing that another person had a copy of this record, I decided to take a listen to "Waving Flags" on the A.V. Club's "The best tracks of 2008 so far" feature. Sounding like the Doves covering the Flaming Lips' "Race for the Prize" (in a good way), I had to hear this record. I'm quite a fan of the drumming and the lead guitar playing in this band because of this record. I haven't really checked out their previous work, so I'm a latecomer. This record definitely reminds me of great U.K. rock bands from earlier in the decade that weren't trying to sound like a garage band.

Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us
Full credit goes to Eric for introducing me to this record. If you loved Mates of State before, you probably will dig this record. If you hated Mates of State before, here's more avoid. I've dug this band for a while, but have never gotten around to hearing a full-length. Re-Arrange Us broke that trend. Very pleasing piano/keyboard rock from this two-piece, with songs that can be hard to get out of my head.

Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
When this record was released, I wrote the following on Frank's blog: "Death Cab is one of those bands that I have to listen to their latest record many times before I can come up with an opinion. I really didn't care for them until Transatlanticism, but upon the first couple listens to Plans, I wasn't that impressed. Well, did a few more listens and then really dug that record. So, I'm listening to Narrow Stairs a few more times before I come up with my opinion."

That was in May, and I proceeded to listen to Narrow Stairs more than a few more times after that. Once again, Death Cab's records since The Photo Album have been growers for me. Parts of the record sound like older, pre-Atlantic Death Cab while others sound nothing like what they've done before, but it's never to a point where it sounds like they have an identity crisis. Maybe that's why I like this band so much.

Abe Vigoda, Skeleton
Pundits can say this band plays the same song over and over, but in this band's case, I don't mind. The drums and melodies are what really grab me with Skeleton. As a matter of fact, not since I heard the Appleseed Cast's Mare Vitalis have I heard a band whose sound has been so critically tied to the drumming. The drumming is busy, busy, busy, and disjointed, but it all complements the guitars and vocals very well.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
I don't really understand why this band wasn't massacred by a lot of critics (as in, the ones who get paid to write about music) for sounding a lot like older My Morning Jacket. Maybe it's because My Morning Jacket released an album this year that was massacred by critics (more on that later). That said, I find this debut album to be a wonderful late-night or early-morning drive record. There are gorgeous melodies here; in some spots they remind me of My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves. Once again, I reiterate my tongue-in-cheek theory that Fleet Foxes is actually My Morning Jacket, and Fleet Foxes is a record My Morning Jacket abandoned to create Evil Urges.

Torche, Meanderthal
This record was featured on a "Buried Treasures" episode of Sound Opinions back in September. I liked what I heard, but wasn't drawn to immediately listen to Meanderthal. Hearing the band was coming through town last Friday, I decided to go. Man, I'm so glad I went because I had a great time watching this band play a satisfying mix of sludgy metal mixed with friendly melodies and hot licks. Here's some live footage from the show for proof (I was standing right next to the cameraman, by the way). I was very happy to find out that the band's live sound translates to record, and Meanderthal is highly recommended by me.

At the Gates, Slaughter of the Soul
I have heard great, life-altering praises of this record since it was released back in 1996. Plenty of metal bands I like have name-checked this band and album. I finally got around to hearing Slaughter of the Soul this year, and now I understand why this record was so ahead of its time in 1996. Definitely something to speed-headbang your head to, and something to marvel at even though so many bands have copied their sound.

Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
Chris suggested I check out this record after he read my 2007 list. I must say I like this record more than their debut. There's something so incredible about this band: their songs are very simple and easy to play, but they have so much conviction and passion in them. "Is There a Ghost?" is one of those songs I love to air-drum to, at any time of day or night.

The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works
I loved this record when it came out last year. For some reason, I couldn't stop listening to it this year. Seeing them put on one of the best shows I saw this year only made me listen to the record even more.

Metallica, Death Magnetic
I can't help but get defensive when I see people write about how Metallica's previous album, St. Anger, was a "failure." My argument is, if the band had not made St. Anger, they wouldn't have made Death Magnetic. Moreover, to me, if the band had put out Death Magnetic in 1991 instead of the Black Album, they would have become a band not too far removed from Slayer or Pennywise. Meaning, a band who doesn't want to take any risks with their sound after finding their sound, thus making records that are only for the converted, hardcore fans. Metallica has taken plenty of risks throughout their career (before and after Master of Puppets, mind you), and Death Magnetic is an insanely awesome record.

Certain people have moaned about the sound quality of this record, saying it's distorted and poorly mixed. Well, as someone who has blasted this record out of his car since it came out in September (and still has his hearing), there's nothing wrong with the sound of this record. Now, if you try to listen to this on your iPod, there's plenty of distortion. But I argue this is not a record to listen to on an iPod. It deserves to be heard loud on CD or vinyl.

Journey, Revelation
I'm firmly aware that there are people (mostly men, aged ten to fifteen years older than me, who hated Journey with a passion back in 70s and 80s, and still hate Journey to this day) that will find my credibility as a rock music fan in doubt with this choice. Moreover, naming it one of my absolute favorites of the year may make people my age wonder if I'm making some sort of funny, ironic statement about a band who doesn't have the same singer from when they were massively popular. Plus, this band is clearly treading old waters again. Well, this ain't no joke: Journey's Revelation is something I've listened to over and over this year, and have enjoyed it without any shame or guilt.

For those still reading, I think the band was becoming too much of an adult contemporary act with Steve Perry in the band. As great as his voice and songwriting was, the band was becoming less of a rock band and more of, something not as rocking. Having Steve Augeri in the band, their records got a nice kick. With Arnel Pineda now fronting the band, Journey has reaped the rewards.

For those still reading, hearing songs like "Never Walk Away," "Faith in the Heartland," "Wildest Dream" remind me of why I like the band in the first place: songs that are melodic and strong and they make me feel uplifted. With a nice mix of slower ballads and a couple of so-so songs, Revelation isn't too long or too short. It's just right for me as a life-long Journey fan.

Lastly, here are some records that I refuse to call disappointments or failures, but records that left a lot to be desired.

My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges
I'm very, very hesitant to group this record here instead of elsewhere, but I'm still going to say this. Evil Urges is not -- I repeat, not -- a bad record. Save for the second and third tracks, this record is the logical follow-up to Z. Pretty much all of the other songs are special, but the dry production kind of takes their magic away. They sounded great live and fit in very well with the band's older material.

Ben Folds, Way to Normal
I am not one of those people who completely abandons an artist I've loved for years because they made an album I didn't embrace and enjoy as much as their older records. That said, Way to Normal is not essential Ben Folds. There are some decent, enjoyable songs, but the prevailing bitterness and anger dressed up in Ben's style of tuneful piano rock bogs this record down.

The Secret Machines, The Secret Machines
I really, really enjoyed the band's previous album, Ten Silver Drops. I think the only thing that holds this record back from being on par with their older material is the absence of guitarist/singer Ben Curtis. It's just not the same band without him, even though they come close.

Parts and Labor, Receivers
The first two songs on here are great. After that, the shift in the band's lineup is what I blame for why I couldn't get into this record. The absence of powerhouse drummer Christopher Weingarten is very obvious. He was such a major part of the band's sound and style, and while I commend the band for branching out as a four-piece with a different drummer, it's not as grabbing to me. I don't know how long the band could have gone in the vein of Stay Afraid and Mapmaker without things getting stale, but still.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Core Principle of Our Metareality, and/or Pat Riley's Head

Donna recently had the pleasure of Chuck Klosterman visiting her university for an appearance. Yesterday she wrote a few things about Klosterman and I was reminded of why I like his writing. (I know I've written about him before, but I simply wanted to reiterate a few things.)

I blame my slow reading habits as to why my copies of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Killing Yourself to Live, and IV have sat on my "to-read" shelf for months. I will get to them eventually, but for now, all I really know of Klosterman's work are his articles in Spin and Esquire, and especially his first nonfiction book, Fargo Rock City. Fargo Rock City really inspired me in tackling a subject matter in a serious manner, knowing full well that it is often ridiculed by a lot of people. His personal take on hair metal goes beyond the surface of hair metal itself. In short, his experience as a hair metal fan was the gateway to deeper things.

In reading his stuff, I realized how I can use what I like in life to try and reach a deeper level thought of life itself. If DVD commentary tracks, books on rock bands, and playing in rock bands point me towards something that a book of Socrates's philosophy can't, so be it. I don't listen to commentary tracks to hear how genius and brilliant a director of photography or set designer is. I don't read books on rock bands to get dirt on a band. And I don't play drums to look cool. These are simply some of the things I like and see no reason to jettison them because someone else disapproves.

So if you're looking for a source in what inspires me, a lot of it goes back to Klosterman, among many others, and they are not all writers. I'm talking directors like Jim Henson, Kevin Smith, Peter Jackson, and Mary Harron. And that's something I have no apologies with.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's not a habit, it's cool, I feel alive.

I think I spend too much time on the Internet. I think most of us spend too much time on the Internet. But I wonder if this is an addiction or just a necessary way of modern life. Furthermore, can something like this be considered an addiction?

I believe I spend roughly seventy hours a week online. It's a staggering amount of hours, and it doesn't seem like such a big deal. I like checking my e-mail regularly and surfing the web, and a portion of my job requires being on the Internet. Is it a crime to be up to date on everything sent to me virtually? I don't think so. So, what gives?

Maybe addiction is really only a problem until it starts to affect how you interact (or don't interact) with people. For example, there have been a few Dr. Phil segments on married men addicted to watching Internet porn, treating the topic as a problem. Men choosing to look at naked women online more than their wives naked? Then that's a problem. Men checking the score of a college football game every two minutes on their BlackBerry? Not seen as a problem.

Maybe addiction is really only a problem when there are physical side effects, like with drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or taking hard drugs. I don't know, but I know there's plenty of life out there and life's too short to spend it all surfing the web.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Goodbye 20th Century

I recently finished David Browne's superb biography of Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century, and was quite amazed by how many people Browne interviewed for it. To me, it's a matter of the people he didn't get to interview for it (which, I gathered, was a really short list). In other words, he interviewed pretty much everybody who's still alive first-hand, including ex-members, friends, record label people, and roadies, as well as the band members themselves. As a result, I found the book to be a really well-rounded view of a band I've always wanted to know more about.

Throughout reading it, I was reminded of how hard it can be to interview that many people. I'm not talking just about the interviews themselves. Getting somebody on the phone or e-mail was quite a chore in quite a few cases while I was researching Post. I made every effort to interview everybody I wanted to, but I didn't get everybody, unfortunately.

I'm proud to say I did interview at least one band member from every band I featured in a chapter. In some cases, with Jawbox, Braid, and Hot Water Music, I interviewed all of the members. It felt good to have access to all of these guys' thoughts and opinions, allowing me to draw from my own interviews and less from other people's interviews.

I was only turned down by a couple of people. One of the many ex-members of At the Drive-In politely turned down an interview with me. Guy Picciotto politely declined as well. Then there were the unreturned messages, where I put two and two together after a while that I should stop trying to reach them. My attempts to reach Cedric and Omar from At the Drive-In resulted in unreturned e-mails from their publicist and manager. Numerous attempts to get James Dewees on the phone did not follow through. And lastly, my e-mails to Blake Schwarzenbach were not responded to.

In the case of Blake, when I read this lengthy interview with him in 2005, he seemed to spell everything out:
NR- You have obviously dropped off the scene for a while, are the militant fans trying to get to the bottom of things via correspondence?
BS- Periodically someone will write to ask me something.

NR- And can they count on you to respond?
BS- No. Where I feel like I can help I do, where I can’t, often I don’t because I’ve kind of parted myself from the indie scene.

NR- Oh wow, why did you do that?
BS- I’ve found we have divergent ideologies.

Maybe I mis-read this, but I thought I had received my answer to why he wouldn't respond to me. So, I did the best I could tying together my interviews with Chris and Adam for the Jawbreaker chapter, coupled with the many, many interviews with Blake I found online. Part of the whole thing about the book was restoring the context of the day, and part of that had to include quotes from interviews.

I'm happy to see Blake is in a new band, the Thorns of Life, and am quite impressed by what I've seen from their show last week. Plus, I'm glad that Blake was interviewed for this long in-development documentary on Jawbreaker. So hopefully those will fill in gaps that wasn't able to cover in my book.

All I'm saying, not every book can cover everything about a band, even the ones with multiple years of research into them. While I was quite satisfied with Goodbye 20th Century, there's probably somebody out there complaining that there isn't enough of this or that. Whatever, I say. No book can really be the end-all, be-all, final word. That's why it's great there are books out there, and people want to write them, and others want to read them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The calls are coming inside the house

In an effort to have better ammunition for an argument, I decided to do some research into the world of modern horror movie remakes. After recently watching Zack Snyder's decent take on Dawn of the Dead, I decided to check out Glen Morgan's take on Black Christmas. All I can do is groan and roll my eyes after seeing this flick. But I'm glad I watched it for several reasons.

Bob Clark's 1974 original has become one of my favorite horror flicks, right up there with the original Halloween. My review basically states all the things I dig about the film, but I'd also add that the scares, pacing, and (especially) the visual style are what make this a great film. In regards to the 2006 remake, the visual style is quite good (especially with all the Christmas lights), but that's about all I can praise about this film.

I have a long list of complaints about the remake, but I'll just share a few for right now. My big complaint is with the "protagonists" (aka, the women being stalked by Billy). Making most of the women bratty, cardboard sorority girls loses my sympathy vote. Unlike the well-rounded, non-stereotypical women in the original, seeing these women get offed one by one was like watching a skilled marksmen at a carnival shooting booth. I knew all the targets would be hit, it was just a matter of when and how.

Also, after watching the original only a couple of days before watching the remake, I found the abundance of backstory a problem in the remake. To me, all the backstory you really need is mentioned in the obscene phonecalls in the original. But no, we have to be told everything in the remake in hopes we understand why Billy is the way he is. Is it such a crime to have enough information to where we can come to our own conclusions?

The point is, I'm glad I watched the remake. I think you can learn a lot from a great movie about how to make something effective. But I also think you can learn a lot from a bad movie about what not to do. It's not like I intentionally watch bad movies. It's not like I'm forced to watch bad movies. If there's enough of a curiosity factor, even if the film has received mostly bad reviews and bad word of mouth, I'll get around to seeing it. Now I'm not one to dance on the failures of others so I don't feel so bad about my own. I just want a better understanding of what I want and what I don't want.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is There a Way Out

In Post, there's a good reason why I excluded quotes about bands never getting back together. Those quotes never look good when a band does get back together. It's one thing for band members to say in articles that the band will never reunite. It's another thing when a statement of that magnitude is said in something like a book or documentary.

There was only one band member I interviewed who said his old band will never get back together. I'm not saying who it was or which band it was, but I will say this, it wasn't a member of the Get Up Kids. With their reunion show on Sunday, I'm very thankful none of them said a reunion would never happen.

Maybe I'm comparing apples to grapes here, but I came of age when super-popular bands, who swore off all possible reunions for years, reunited. I remember the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over concert, album, and tour all very well. I remember the Pixies and Pink Floyd (with Roger Waters) reunions. Basically, all those ugly statements made in the press became null and void (or just made light of) when the reunion occurred.

If anything, I've learned that almost any band can reunite. And it doesn't matter if all of the members are still alive or not. The nature of reunions is still a mystery to me. All I can say is, you can never really say never to almost anything.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

For Me This is Heaven

Reading over Scott's post on Jimmy Eat World's upcoming live performances of Clarity, I got to thinking. First of all, this is a great idea for the band. When I saw them open for the Foo Fighters earlier this year, I was surprised they played "Blister." Since they have done three albums since Clarity, I figured set lists were becoming less on material from their second and third albums. (As an amusing side note, I'm curious if they'd ever try to play their first album, a turbo-charged pop-punk collection, front to back live.)

As somebody who was very much a Jimmy Eat World fan back when Clarity came out, I'm very happy that these shows are happening. If they came anywhere close to where I live, I'd try to see the show. The response to Clarity was not like Jawbreaker's Dear You was received. It was not almost-universally-hated when it came out in early 1999. Quite different. There was something very special about this record that, aside from a few tracks, sounded quite different from their previous record, Static Prevails. Clarity is still my favorite Jimmy Eat World record, closely followed by Static Prevails. Heck, there was a time when that record was my favorite record of all time. That has since changed, but not drastically.

I'm not making light of the band's popularity with 2001's Bleed American. It's just Clarity hit me at the right time and right place in my life, and simply, that time has passed. I wanted to honor that time in the Jimmy Eat World chapter in POST. Rather than dance around why the band was so hot in 2002, I chose to spotlight how their levelheaded, humble nature kept them from becoming another rock 'n' roll casualty.

So, major kudos to the band for this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


For some reason, whenever we hear stories of people's lives drastically changing once their first book, film, or record is released, we think everybody's life drastically changes when that happens. Well, for most of us, there are plenty of moments of pure joy mixed in with the day-to-day activities of life that were there before the release date. And that's perfectly fine by me.

Maybe it's reading a book like Rebel Without a Crew (especially the part where Robert is in the middle of a bidding war between large studios) or hearing how Kevin Smith's life changed after Clerks, there's this sense that the proverbial snowball effect either happens completely or not at all. Well, the maybe not-as-entertaining story involves a lot of downtime with some great highs and great lows. I know this all too well.

In my case with Post, the phone hasn't been constantly ringing. Editors at large publishing houses haven't been chasing me or my agent down with offers for a re-release. I still have a regular day job that I enjoy. I'm not living the high life, partying every night with all sorts of new "friends." Basically, it's like how my life has been for the past year. I still have plenty of free time and spend most of it online, reading books, hanging out with friends, working out, and watching DVDs. That said, I am very happy with how the book has come out, how people have responded to it, and how new people hear about it every week. So coupled with all those things that I was already doing, there's a sense of relief that the book's out there.

Make no mistake, on the day my copies of Post arrived, I got to live my own George McFly moment at the end of Back to the Future when his first novel came in the mail. It felt great and euphoric, to say the least. Since then, I've received some nice feedback from people who have read the book or who are just excited about the concept of the book. Recognition here and there is a very motivating factor to keep promoting.

Maybe the way I tell my story doesn't make for a compelling underdog, David-and-Goliath kind of story. That's OK by me. I find happiness in just doing something creative with my free time instead of squandering it and wondering where all the time went.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Clocked In

Another crazy thought that enters my head after hours upon hours of thinking: what if all books were intended to be read, start to finish, in the same amount of time most movies run? Meaning, what if you had only ninety minutes or two or three hours to read an entire book?

If that were to be the case, I would read way more books in my lifetime. But it's not how it is. It takes me at least two weeks to read an entire book, averaging four to ten pages on a regular day, twenty to thirty on a not-so regular day. And this is with plenty of free time on my hands. So I'm amazed when I read friends' blogs about reading entire books in under a week. How is this possible, and I am a super-slow reader?

I've touched on this subject before, but what takes so long for me is reading every single sentence. What I read has to resonate with me. It's hard to understand what's going on without knowing that.

So I wonder: how can I spend one ninety-minute sitting watching a documentary while it can take weeks to read a book on the same subject? I fully understand there's different action with watching a movie and reading a book, but I would find things tragic if all books were meant to be consumed like a complete film.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Plug time

-Here's a little plug for my author page on GoodReads. I must applaud the site for allowing the actual authors to maintain their own pages. Why? A certain, widely-read site thinks it's a conflict of interest for this kind of ownership, and bans anyone who tries to maintain their own page. Don't you just love the game of Telephone the Internet can be?

-Looks like Brian's book will be coming out next spring on Revelation, with a really big release show planned in Chicago.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Be Your Own Publicist

Time for some more advice to those thinking about writing a book, inspired by Robert Rodriguez's "ten minute film school" featurettes.

Yesterday I found out that I saved quite a bit of money by not hiring a publicist to promote Post. How much? Well, based on what my publisher quoted, it would have been equivalent of buying two 42-inch flat-screen TVs or a quarter of the price to buy a brand new car. Now, I'm well aware that many other publicists charge far, far less, but a general rule of thumb became abundantly clear: use your own contacts and go from there.

Long before the book came out, I envisioned giving the book out to people who would want to read it right away. I knew I couldn't afford to give away a lot of copies, so I had to really narrow my list down. I was fortunate enough (and quite flattered) to have a number of people buy a copy right as it came out, so that helped narrow the list down even more.

My prevailing hope with sending out these copies was that, above all else, the people would read the book. Make no mistake, press is nice, but it sure means a hell of a lot more to me when somebody actually reads my book and responds to it (good, bad, and everything in between). If people tell more people about the book because they genuinely like the book, I believe you're doing just fine. The reason why? Nothing kills something crappy faster than great advertising.

Also, when you're sending out notifications, keep in mind who you're sending these out to. If you can personalize your messages, even better. Why I say this is because I'm someone who receives e-mails almost everyday from publicists, band members, and record label owners. Because I do a blog, I'm in a position where I can give some attention to something. Not a huge amount of attention, but some. But, given the nature of what I choose to cover on this blog, I often wonder if these people actually read my blog. I rarely talk about new bands, post MP3s, or video clips. So why are they sending me poop about some new remix or a band doing an East Coast tour? Because I blog, that's the small price I pay. But it's not a horrible thing because I usually just delete those e-mails.

Maybe this whole attitude comes from being in a band that worked tirelessly to promote themselves, I don't really know. All I know is, if you take your work seriously and don't treat your potential audience as a herd of wandering sheep, you can find success in promoting yourself by yourself.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Big Takeover

The commentary track is done, and hopefully will be online soon. Until then, I thought I'd share this nice review that will appear in the next issue of The Big Takeover.

Eric Grubbs

James Mann

In tracing the evolution of the “post-hardcore” scene, Eric Grubbs has done a vital and laudable job at shining a light on the leaders of a genre that hasn’t seen a lot of critical inspection, despite its growing influence. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” acts as ground zero for the bands depicted here- from Hot Water Music to Jawbox, Fugazi and Dischord Records, but where they went from there is an arresting tale, well told. Grubbs discovers the personalities behind the faces, such as his compelling look at Sunny Day Real Estate, or the Promise Ring. While stylistically divergent, all the bands spotlighted here share the same sense of experimentation within musical forms, and a dedication to the emotional honesty that true creation demands of an artist. So does Eric Grubbs- and it shows. Recommended.

Also, there's a nice little plug for the book on Decider, along with some very cool news about Brian's book release show next spring.