Marching On

photo 3 (2)The weekend brought us to our first Marching Band competition for our oldest daughter. Yes, yesterday was a preview of what the next three years have to bring; overzealous band directors living their long lost dreams of drum core fame through high school underlings, concession stand crowds that would give the Soldier Field pee troughs a run for their money, and back pain of various proportions thanks to the cold, hard comfort of aluminum bleachers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll support my daughter any way that I can. If this is something she decides she really likes at the end of the season and wants to continue on with it then I will certainly do whatever I can to support her. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t aspects of Marching Band I absolutely love.

The music, skill, and “show” aspect of it I quite enjoy. The pomp and circumstance is an aspect of the arts I’ve never dealt with and I find it quite fascinating. I love watching the band tell a story in 10 minutes on the field. In the midst of a bunch of meatheads on the field trying to run a ball down a field there’s this tiny moment of entertainment brought to you through choreographed steps, instruments being played, and a story being revealed. To the kids out there sweating through their band uniforms it’s a series of memorized steps and notes being played. Coordination and concentration that I can imagine allows for little time to truly enjoy what they’re doing. But for us folks with numb butt cheeks sitting on those bleachers watching, it’s a beautiful thing.

Another thing that completely blew me away yesterday was seeing each band come out onto the field to set up. This wasn’t fifty kids with horns and percussion instruments coming out to whip a crowd into a frenzy with their renditions of fighting songs and “Back Home Again In Indiana”. No. These were ambitious pieces of music and shows these high school kids and their band directors were giving us. One school based their show around Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine”, while another was this futuristic piece about robots. Intricate set pieces, costumes, and colored flags were used to take us audience members to another place and time for their ten minute allotted time. You should’ve seen some of these set ups. It was like a convoy of Gator carts pulling out trailers full of high tech sound systems; sound boards, power amps, Mac Books, and PA speakers were the norm for most of these schools. One school had a section of marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels, and vibraphones with kids using four mallets in each hand. I wasn’t sure if I was at a Marching Band competition or if I’d been transported back 40 years to an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer gig. It was impressive. Not every school was awe-inspiring. One ‘Looney Toons’-themed show was a little on the mediocre side for me, complete with kids dressed as rabbits and Elmer Fudd, but for the most part these schools came to wow. My daughter’s school, despite being one of the smallest schools in their Class A division, came across professional and sounded pretty damn good. They only won a “Participation” award, which is the equivalent of a freebie award so they didn’t feel completely emasculated. Personally I thought they should’ve gotten third in their division, but what do I know? It seemed to me that a lot of the bigger schools hid behind numbers and not necessarily execution and talent. Again, who the hell am I to judge?

Okay, so there were things I loved and then things I didn’t. Mostly, the things I didn’t love were things I loathe about going to the fair, mall, grocery store, and company picnics: crowds. Of course my two youngest came along, so in order to keep the peace with them a trip to the concession stand was promised, so during the break before my daughter’s band was going on my son and I headed to the concessions to get treats. He also had to use the bathroom so it seemed to be an opportune time to hit the head. After the bathroom we got in line for carnival-like treats. The line for the funnel cakes wasn’t terrible, but some of the people surrounding us were. And let me add that as my son and I made our way through the crowd towards the salvation of fair food and communal urinating the sun was setting in the west, directly in our faces. I couldn’t make out anyone meandering towards me. I could barely make out one step to the next. Ghostly figures appearing in the peripheral but all I could do was keep on walking hoping the person in front of me wouldn’t stop. So yeah, we got our funnel cakes and my son REALLY wanted popcorn so we found our way to yet another line(this one longer and less defined.) After ten minutes of waiting and several “Excuse me” and “Pardon Me, sir”, I turned around to see our band loading the field. I told my son we HAD to go and began booking it back to our seats through a sea of old people, large families, and generally blank-faced idiots moseying along like they were at the mall shopping for slippers.

We stayed at our seats for the remainder of the evening. Our daughter wanted us to take her home instead of riding the bus home with her bandmates. Sure, why not? This saves us from having to drive to the school at 10:30pm to pick her up. Well, there was no real communication on how this would work. There was just a crowd of parents and onlookers ambling along like cattle heading to slaughter in the light of streetlamps. We finally made it to a clearing and found two different parking lots with school buses in them. My wife asked if I wanted to split up and each of us check a parking lot. No way. If we do that someone is bound to get sidetracked or lost or something and we wouldn’t get out till God knows when. I said no and so we headed to the closest parking lot. Success! We found our daughter on the first try. After being asphyxiated by school buses we made our way back to the van, four hours after we parked it and made our way home.

Was it all as bad as I made it sound? No, not really. Well, maybe a little. No, it definitely was bad. But I loved the music and I loved the pomp and circumstance. I love seeing kids coming into their own. I love seeing how it all comes together, music-wise. When they clicked they really clicked. Seeing the show last night made me want to see some drum corp competitions in the future. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like fair food, but I’ll put up with both to support my daughter. I’ll put up with just about anything in order to help my daughter achieve what she wants to achieve.

But next time she’s taking the damn bus home.

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My daughter and her friend back row center and right of center.

My daughter and her friend back row center and right of center.

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Sinoia Caves : Beyond The Black Rainbow Soundtrack

btbr.lpjacketOUTstoughtonI love whims. They seem to reciprocate some of the best finds. On a whim, I picked up Breakfast of Champions at 15 years old and discovered one of the greatest writers in my time or any other time. On a whim I went on a blind date when I was 17 and found the girl I’d end up marrying and making cute kids with. On a whim I mixed chocolate and peanut butter and created one of the most revered confections in the history of confections. Wait a minute. That last one wasn’t my whim. It was H. B. Reese’s whim. But still, you get what I’m saying. Whims are what make life so much fun.

Awhile back, on a whim I clicked on an interesting picture that popped up in my social network feed. It was a movie poster for a film called Beyond The Black Rainbow. It was this strange little Canadian sci fi flick that came out back in 2010 about some institute that helped promote enlightenment through natural pharmaceuticals and other means that would ultimately turn out horribly. It was made to look like one of those classic, colorful b-movies you’d find on the back wall of your local video store back in 1983. This intrigued me. Once I saw that the soundtrack was being issued on vinyl by Death Waltz Recording Company(UK) and Jagjaguwar(US) my interest peaked further. The soundtrack was done by a band called Sinoia Caves, which is really just one guy named Jeremy Schmidt. He’s in the Canadian prog band Black Mountain and is their keyboardist. His work as Sinoia Caves is heavy synth workouts that are about creating dark moods and atmosphere. When I listened to the first song from his soundtrack, “Forever Dilating Eye”, I was floored. Heavily influenced by Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and John Carpenter’s synth scores, this music grabbed me by the lapels and shook the crap out of me. Well the soundtrack arrived last Saturday and it’s barely left my turntable.

I’m not sure how to properly describe this album. It is the perfect score for a film like Beyond The Black Rainbow. BTBR isn’t a movie that runs on plot, dialogue, romance, and action sequences. It’s the kind of movie that gives you as little as it can, story-wise. It throws you in the midst of this existential madness. Best intentions turned to black sludge. What it doesn’t reveal in words it makes up for it in visuals. The film has a grainy quality to it, giving it the feel of an aged b-movie classic. Something you’d often see sitting on the shelf at Video World, Video Plus, or Broadway Video back in the early 80s. You’d walk by it with its colorful and strange cover. A girl sitting limp in a white plastic chair, her hair covering her face so as not to reveal what she is. Is she alive or dead? The colors invite you to grab the box, but you don’t. Sinoia Caves recreate beautifully the visuals that overwhelm you as you watch the film. His analog synths create a feeling dread, yet also a distant pulse. Underneath the decay of a man’s once good intentions there lies the heartbeat of this girl. A girl forced to succumb to the will of another through narcotics and mind games. And as Schmidt’s synths create these walls of sonic doom there is still a humanity in there. Songs like the aforementioned “Forever Dilating Eye”, “Elena’s Sound World”, and “Run Program: Sentionauts” work as aural set pieces. They’re not just mood music. They truly help carry the film into the visual high points it reaches many times. “1966: Let The New Age Of Enlightenment Begin” is 16-minutes of bubbling dread and synth-y goodness. It’s truly a mesmerizing piece of music.

As a soundtrack this album helps to establish the cold, neo-futuristic vision the filmmaker was going for, and then some. As a standalone album it’s a masterpiece in analog synth-driven music. Sinoia Caves’ Beyond The Black Rainbow Soundtrack stands up to the best: Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and the film scores of Walter Rizzati, Vangelis, Wendy Carlos, and Cliff Martinez. It also elicits those warm fuzzy feelings that Boards of Canada like to make us 80s latchkey kids feel. This is an album dreams(and nightmares) are made of.

9.2 out of 10

Blonde Redhead : Barragán

BREver since I first listened to Blonde Redhead nearly seven years ago there seems to be a dedicated group of hardcore fans that’s equally matched with ardent naysayers that compare this New York trio with a plethora of classic “artsy” bands and musicians of yesteryear. I don’t hear it, to be honest. I don’t think the naysayers have a leg(wooden or otherwise) to stand on. 23 was the album that made me a fan and led me to Misery Is A Butterfly and Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. Blonde Redhead do this cool thing where they make melancholy and bittersweet music that doesn’t make you melancholy or bittersweet. Theirs is a spacey, dreamy kind of shoegaze that is just as baroque and classicist as it is ragged and modern. 2010s Penny Sparkle was a pretty downbeat affair, leaning as close to easy listening as Kazu Makino and brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace have ever come, but it still contained some amazing moments of dark pop and mournful sway. Barragán in some ways is even quieter than Penny Sparkle, but it’s also one of their strangest and boldest records in ten years.

Barragán is a late night record. It aches and yearns to be played after dusk. Makino sounds as great as ever and the production is dark and breathy with the idiosyncrasies pulled down to just a subtle nuance. “Lady M” springs and bounces like a clock not quite telling time, while “Dripping” is sleek and sexy and has a great dance floor vibe. “Cat On Tin Roof” is slinky and playful. Simone Pace’s vocals have come a long way since the Misery Is A Butterfly days, moving from a slightly awkward stance to sounding really comfortable on the excellent “Mind To Be Had”. With a krautrock vibe, the song almost becomes transcendent in its nearly 9 minute length. “Defeatist Anthem(Harry and I)” is sad and absolutely beautiful. Naysayers or not, no one makes beautiful songs quite like Blonde Redhead can. Part alien, part naivety, and utter brilliance. “Penultimo” is nearly as beautiful, with Makino’s lovelorn delivery and the simple drum beat. “Seven Two” is awash in echos and reverbed guitar, as if sung from another dimension.

Naysayers will be naysayers, that’s their job. “Halfhearted”, “a cold fish of a record”, “dead-eyed and clammy”; these are just a few things said to describe Barragán(in one review no less.) This album is anything but halfhearted. It’s subtle, moving, and quite beautiful. But what do I know?

7.8 out of 10

 

 

 

Fifteen Years Gainfully Employed

2014-07-02 15.55.25Yep, this is my anniversary month at my place of work. I’ve been working in shipping/receiving/inventory management at (insert orthopedic company name here) for fifteen years now. Before that I was at (insert another orthopedic company name here) for six years. Prior to that I worked for two months in the newspaper industry, a year renting porn and video games to troglodytes(one of my favorite jobs), prior to that I was stock boy and ponytail-wearing grocery bagger, and there were even a few stints in the food industry. Granted, I was 19 when I started my six year stint at my first orthopedic company, so everything prior to that was high school-age craziness.

So yeah, I’m celebrating being at the same employer for 15 years. I can tell you it’s been a bumpy 15 years to say the least. Within two weeks of starting there I was wondering what in the hell I’d done leaving my cozy auditing job, with my own cubicle, voicemail, pager, and frequent flyer miles(I traveled all over the U.S. checking inventories of my employer’s products at hospitals, offices, basements, and trunks of cars.) Well, I know WHY I left that job. My wife was pregnant and I knew I didn’t want to be in Tuscon, AZ loading inventories into a laptop while she was having an ultrasound. My current manager was a turd of a human being and I knew he wouldn’t give two shits about my situation so I started looking for something else on the sly while I took flights to Lubbock, Billings, and Miami Lakes. Turns out this other orthopedic company liked the cut of my jib(at least according to my resume) and called me in for an interview. One morning while I slept off a late flight and an even later arrival home I was woke up on the couch by a phone call. This orthopedic company wanted me to come in for an interview. Of course I said yes and headed in. After a rather strange interview with the flightiest Human Resources woman I’d ever met I met with who would become my supervisor. Her name was Judy and she was the size of a Volkswagon Bug. To most I’m sure she was quite intimidating. To me she seemed like a cartoon character come to life. Or someone I would make up and tell stories about to my friends and family. Well, after a series of questions about stressfull situations and what I felt were my strengths and weaknesses I said goodbye and was on my way. Within a week I’d gotten a call from the weird Human Resources lady telling me she needed some of my urine. I’d gotten the job and they needed a drug test.

After countless battles of wills, idiot supervisors, managers, General Managers, and former fellow employees I’ve made it through with very few scars. I was lucky because they hired another guy for the same department. We hired in the same day, started the same day, went through orientation together, and are still working together to this day. We’re ten years apart(him being the older one) but you’d think we’d grown up together since kiddos. Two smart ass peas in a pod. We basically got each other through those first rough couple years.

Dream job? Not on your life. But it is a job that’s allowed me to fulfill dreams for my kids, wife, and yes even me. It’s allowed me to put a roof over our heads. It allowed my wife to quit her job so she could stay home with our kiddos so they never had to know that word “daycare”. It’s affored us vacations, affordable healthcare, sick pay, holiday pay, and general peace of mind. So while I’m not making a living playing music or writing about music, I’m happy, content, and my family is happy and content.

Plus, as a gift the company gave me a bunch of “recognize points” that can be spent at an online store. Know what I got? A turntable and noise-cancelling headphones. With those Bose speakers downstairs it looks like I have my basement listening nook complete. That’s an anniversary gift that keeps on giving.

Peace out.

Ty Segall :: Manipulator

segallI have to be completely honest here, okay? I’ve never been much of a fan of this guy called Ty Segall. Yeah, I know this is a shocking revelation to the world at large, but I felt I needed to get that out in the open before I went any further with this review. I will say that I’ve always admired the guy and his rather prolific output. If he’s not putting out something under his own name then he’s putting something out with one of his West Coast garage/psych brethren. While everyone around me hailed Segall as the second coming of rock n’ roll, I responded with a less than enthusiastic “meh.” I bought last year’s Sleeper and found it to be an earnest little record that didn’t feel the need to hide behind piles of hiss and feedback(not that I have anything against hiss and feedback.) I think with me it’s always been this feeling that Segall was hiding behind the noise instead of wielding it as one of his many weapons in his rock n’ roll arsenal. Well, I am here to admit dear readers that I was dead wrong about the 26 year-old wunderkind from Orange County and his newest masterpiece, the double album Manipulator, is proof of just how wrong I was.

Listening to albums like Melted, Goodbye Bread, and Twins you get the feeling Ty has listened to his fair share of late-60s psych, garage, and a healthy dose of Blue Cheer, Stooges, and Black Sabbath, so when you throw on Manipulator for the first time you’re instantly thrown off by the cleaned up production and locked-in grooves. The needle in the red levels of ear bleeding volume are replaced with Hunky Dory-era Bowie glam. The acoustic guitar almost seems attached to the drums as each strum accents the snare on “Tall Man Skinny Lady”. It has a “Queen Bitch” vibe with Segall sporting a hell of a falsetto. I have to say right here that the drums on this album sound incredible. The extra time Segall took to make this record shows wonderfully in the engineering. The drums and bass work together on this album like they never have previously. Manipulator doesn’t lose any of Ty Segall’s DIY-approach to album making, but there’s a clarity here that’s never been present before. At times it comes off as the Stooges making The White Album. “The Singer” starts out like an acoustic ballad and then morphs into a T. Rex strut. “Mister Main” and “Green Belly” sport some great rhythm as the drums and bass lock in together and never let up. There’s still plenty of face-melting guitar, like on the blistering “The Connection Man” and the opening build-up of “The Faker” before it rolls through the speakers with a rock n’ roll chug. And I dare you not to pump your fists to “The Crawler”. It’s like an unholy union of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath run through the Bay area speed metal scene. Face melting, man. Manipulator takes everything Segall has dabbled in previously and churns it out into this proto glam/psych/metal sound that’s just about perfect.

If Ty Segall hasn’t already released his breakthrough album, I believe he just has with Manipulator. And as someone who never bought into the hype of Mr. Segall before, I’m here to say I’m buying now. I’m a believer in this Orange County wunderkind.

8.6 out of 10

Labor Daze: Part Deux

photo (40)So despite my bemoaning of the corporate tax laws on my “gifted” day off by my employer, I did have a pretty decent three-day weekend. Friday all of the kids were off doing their own things so the wife and I got to hang out, eat pizza, spin records, and drink. I enjoyed a New Holland Brewery’s Dragon’s Milk(Bourbon Barrel Stout), along with a couple Bell’s Brewery Kalamazoo Stouts. The wife had a strawberry daiquiri and a couple fruity rum drinks I threw together. I’d picked up Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping on vinyl the day before but hadn’t been able to spin it yet so Friday was my chance. Also, my pal John at Karma Records asked me if I’d take home a pristine-looking copy of Beastie Boys’ License To Ill to spin on my turntable as he was having problems with side two skipping for some reason.

It played great on my turntable, and after a few beers I realized I needed to own it.

Saturday was a lot of running around in the morning; including a stop at Karma Records for their anniversary sale. I snagged Wayne Shorter’s Juju and Fuzz’ self-titled. In the afternoon I took my two youngest to see Guardians of the Galaxy. What a great flick that was. Watching that reminded me of the wonder of cinema, at least through the eyes of being a kid. It had everything one needs to be completely entertained while also being moved. I look forward to what comes next for Starlord and Co. My oldest had some friends come over and stay Saturday night, so I grilled some chicken and we had chicken burritos with fresh salsa. It was pretty tasty. Honestly, I don’t even think I made it to 9:30pm before I was asleep in my chair.

Sunday I cleaned up a pair of Bose 501 speakers I snagged from a guy at work(they sound fantastic, btw.) After that I sanded and stained some cabinets for my daughter’s soon-to-be closet space. In the afternoon we headed to my parent’s house for a barbecue, along with my brother and his family. It was good getting together and hanging out. Last night my wife and daughters headed into town to her aunt’s to see a cousin that was in town visiting. The boy and I opted out, instead staying home to watch UHF. It was a wise decision I think.

Today? Well, I’m not sure what’s in store for today. Probably finish those cabinets, and maybe hook up mom and dad’s new DVD w/progressive scan I bought dad for his birthday. Eat something possibly. Write a review or two. I don’t know. There’s a chuck roast in the crock pot for beef and noodles tonight, so dinner is currently cooking.

There was lots of labor this weekend, but at least it was the good kind.

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Labor Daze

photo (39)As a kid Labor Day was this great holiday. It was a gift from the holiday Gods(and calendar makers) that gave us school-age punks a blessed three-day weekend not long after we’d started back up with school. Hell, when I was still in my Osh Kosh B’Gosh we didn’t even go back to school till AFTER Labor Day. Somewhere along the way some a**holes infiltrated the ranks of the local school administration and changed all that. They made Labor Day weekend something for kiddos to look forward to after three weeks of getting up early and bumpy school bus rides.

As you got older and out of school Labor Day became(if you’re lucky) a paid holiday off from the sludge of 9 to 5 territory. It essentially gave the working stiffs two Fridays(actual Friday being Friday while Saturday being Friday Part Deux.) Sunday then becomes your Saturday, while Monday, Labor Day, becomes this twisted mix of Sunday AND Monday: Sumonday. Or Munday. It was great for the young and childless as you had the once a year opportunity to “act a fool”, as it were, on Sunday night with none of the Monday work day consequences. Barbecues, beers, mischief, and you still had all day Monday(or Munday…or Sumonday) to recover from those headaches in a can. Life was good.

Right?

Ehh, I think it’s a joke. One of those jokes that’s really not that funny that’s told by some loud, overweight lout in a bar that you laugh at just so he’ll shut his face and go away. It’s a holiday that at it’s inception held some clout and meant something(sorta like most holidays nowadays), but it’s become a reminder of just how lacking we are in this country when it comes to showing it’s labor force some respect. Labor Day is the paltry tip left on the nightstand by that fat John known as “corporation” for the bruised and battered “lady of the night” known as the “labor force”. More and more, we’re seeing these big corporations buying smaller companies based in other countries and then moving the former US-based headquarters to said small company’s headquarters in(insert European, Middle Eastern, Asian country or Caribbean island here) so that they can lower their tax rate. Meanwhile, the employees of said companies continue to pay their taxes and have their taxes increased to cover the lack of tax money that’s not coming in because companies like their employees are saying “sayonara” to the US and it’s tax system.

Listen, this is a legal business tactic. I get that. It’s within these companies rights to do this legal headquarters overseas swap. Is it ethical? Well, are they sharing that tax savings with the workers that got them where they are? I can say from personal experience that they in fact are not. And we as shareholders of our company we are paying a nice chunk of taxes on our company’s shares, as part of the new deal is that we have to cash in our old stock for stock in the “new” company. Depending on how much of the stock you have you could be paying a hefty chunk in taxes. Most of my retirement investments are in other stocks and shares and not my own company’s shares, but I do have some. I’ll be interested to see how this thing plays out. The current administration says this is bad and thinks current tax laws should be re-written so billion dollar corporations can pay their fair share, yet they’re not doing much to change it. Just a lot of jaw-jacking. Democrat or Republican sitting in the Oval office, it doesn’t matter; big business is the real boss here. All the huffing and puffing is for show. We(the workers) pay the price for any medial success we achieve in life, while ones that do nothing will reign supreme.

Welcome to the American Dream.

Sorry for all this today. Despite this tax craziness, I can’t complain about where I am in life. I do have a good job and I get paid well for what I do. It allows me to live comfortably(with lots of frugality involved), take care of my family and indulge in my musical eccentricities. We can do fun things and still have a few shillings left in the bank afterwards. But corporate shystery tends to bug me. Especially on Labor Day. The one day gifted to the employee from their employer.

Happy Munday, or Sumonday…or Mundaneday.