Strand of Oaks: Let The Healing Begin

strand-of-oaks-healI’m not sure what more I can add to the Greek chorus of praise Strand of Oaks’ has been receiving regarding their new album HEAL. In fact, I might make things worse throwing in my two cents. But hey, that’s what I do.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Strand of Oaks before I heard the blazing track “Goshen ’97″. It’s not that I didn’t like Tim Showalter’s music. Not at all. It’s just that it’s hard for me to really fall for singer/songwriter stuff that is mainly a guy or gal and an acoustic guitar. I get so distracted listening to the simplicity. I always find myself wishing there was some piano, or an interesting drum part thrown in. Analog synth hovering above the mix? Yes please. But still, I had a friend tell me I should check out Strand of Oaks; in particular the album Pope Killdragon. I did listen to it and I quite liked it. But something happened(I walked away from my computer; I slept; I drank one too many Old Styles;) and I’d forgotten about Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks.

One thing, however, had stayed with me during that one listen; and that was that Tim Showalter was from Goshen, IN. That’s only about 25 miles north of my stomping grounds. I was born at Goshen Hospital. I used to go to the Concord Mall when I was a teenager and buy cassettes at Super Sounds. We’d occasionally chow down at MCL Cafeteria. I used to go to Ox Bow Park with my grandparents on Sundays for picnic lunches. I knew this place very well and this guy I was listening to online grew up there. There was this weird Midwest/Michiana connection. Well fast forward to a couple months ago when I heard “Goshen ’97″ online and was blown away. Holy shit, that sounds like J. Mascis shredding over my new favorite summer jam! Then you listen to the lyrics and it’s this guy talking about growing up f’d up and loving music. It’s an anthem for the disgruntled and disenfranchised youth of America. “Singing Pumpkins in the mirror/porn and menthols under my bed”, “I was lonely, but I was having fun” he sings triumphantly before pleading in the chorus “I don’t wanna start all over again.” It wasn’t just a song about misspent youth, listening to 90s alternative music, smoking, and getting f’d up. It was a song about the adult version of that Midwest kid looking back with nostalgia because he’s emotionally in a place where anything is better than where’ he’s at. This song was the most honest, sadsack anthem I’d ever heard.

I immediately preordered Strand of Oaks HEAL(it was preordained by the Gods.) To my surprise “Goshen ’97″ wasn’t a fluke. Every song is this massive load of emotional vitriol; a guy consumed by his wrongs and wrongs done to him but not inclined to be destroyed by them. In my eyes the very essence of great art is the ability of the artist to take the shit life serves up on a lousy platter and turn it into something beautiful. Jarring sometimes, but beautiful nonetheless. Tim Showalter has done that with HEAL. The rocker that opens this album is followed up by some heavy synth-filled songs that make me think of one of my other favorite albums of the year, The War on Drugs’ Lost In The Dream. Big, overblown electronic drums blare through the speakers as Juno synths pulsate clearing the way for Showalter to open his chest and bleed. “HEAL”, “Same Emotions”, and “Shut In”, well pretty much all of side A pulsate like a mix of New Order, Depeche Mode, and The Sisters of Mercy all the while baring his soul, regardless of how painful it may be. “JM” is an ode to Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and The Magnola Electric Co. Molina is an artist I never particularly got into, although I know he was a favorite of many, including Showalter. His song channels Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the overblown, fuzzed-out guitar and even channels a bit of Molina’s own “Farewell Transmission”. It’s a fitting tribute and a hell of a damn song. “Plymouth” also brings Adam Granduciel’s The War on Drugs to mind, but with Showalter’s knack for nuanced storytelling. “Mirage Year”, well, it’s a gut-wrenching personal account of Showalter’s personal struggles. Much has been said of Tim Showalter and his wife and the struggles they’ve gone through. Where one artist may have been rather ugly in recounting the painful transgressions of a hurting relationship, Strand of Oaks is brutally honest but never ugly. Singing like the song’s a therapy session with the universe. Never hurtful, just hurt. I’m sure he’s still hurt and will hurt for a long time.

I don’t know. This is a lot of what many have written about HEAL, but I felt I wanted to say my peace. This is an exquisite record. A truly honest, rocking, and emotional rock and roll record. You need to hear it. Now.

And Tim, if you ever visit your old stomping grounds, maybe we could go digging for vinyl at Ignition Music, drink a 12 pack, and go shoot some pool up in Elkhart. Just throwing it out there.

 

 

White Fence :: For The Recently Found Innocent

140428-White-Fence-Ty-Segall-New-AlbumI’ll start off by saying I’m not the diehard fan of this garage rock revival that so many others are. I recognize the greatness guys like Ty Segall, John Dwyer, and White Fence’s Tim Presley possess. Their musical output is quite staggering, and to the newbie it can be rather intimidating. Much like someone walking into the Guided By Voices vault and wondering where to start, these guys tend to put out two or three albums a year making finding a proper jumping off point rather difficult. Tim Presley seems to be the less prolific(though four albums as White Fence since 2010, as well as a collab record with Segall called Hair is nothing to stick your nose up at.) For The Recently Found Innocent is his first release since 2012s Family Perfume Vol. 2 and last year’s leftovers-turned-full-on-album Cyclops Reap. It’s a tight 40 minutes of paisley-tinted psych, late-60s British invasion pop, and good old rock n’ roll.

“The Recently Found” opens up the album strangely, with noises and echoing in the background before “Anger! Who Keeps You Under?” comes rolling in like splash of mid-60s Stones. Presley seems to have a more madcap lean to his work. Something like a less freaked out Syd Barrett, or a more in-the-clouds version of Ray Davies. The Kinks are mined quite frequently on this album and that’s a good thing. “Like That” is a bouncy track that would’ve been comfortable sitting along side “David Watts” or “Harry Rag”. Sonically the song has the sound of an old basement jam session; dehumidifier humming in the background as a lava lamp glows in the distance and light from the afternoon barely makes its way through the dingy basement window. “Sandra(When The Earth Dies)” sounds like a Donovan b-side, with a hint of Jim Noir’s Tower Of Love thrown in for good measure. “Wolf Gets Red Faced” has a sound that brings to mind early Kinks singles with the breezy California jangle of The Byrds, then “Goodbye Law” comes out from nowhere and knocks it out of the park. Leaving the echo box in another room it’s a sparse acoustic-strummed track that doesn’t sound distant but close and personal. “Arrow Man” is a hell of a rock n’ roll song that owes more to The Stranglers than the British Invasion. “Hard Water” has more of that sleepy acoustic vibe, much like buddy(and Found Innocent’s producer) Ty Segall’s 2013 album Sleeper with some great slide guitar and pedal steel to give it breezy late-60s California vibe. “Afraid Of What It’s Worth” sounds more early 80s Liverpool than mid-60s Liverpool, owing more to Echo and the Bunnymen than any mop tops.

Throughout For The Recently Found Innocent Tim Presley makes great psych and garage-tinted pop and rock. He hits all the staples; The Kinks, The Stones, The Beatles, plus some other surprises. This is White Fence’s most straightforward rock album and accessible record to date.

Plenty of reverb? Check. Fuzzy riffs? Check. Psychedelic imagery? Check. Breezy, stoned pop? Check. Drop the needle and enjoy.

7.6 out of 10

 

 

Corrosion of Conformity :: IX

cocI didn’t start listening to Corrosion of Conformity till 1994. It was the next phase in their sound. Before the album Deliverance they were a hardcore punk band. They had street cred and lots of hardcore punk fans. But Deliverance saw the band head in more of a dirge-filled, Sabbath-oozing direction. Pepper Keenan as lead vocalist the band embarked on a journey to take over alternative music one song at a time. Wiseblood was just as good as Deliverance, if not better, and they continued to mix and match doom and gloom metal with a punk attitude until 2001s America’s Volume Dealer. That album bordered on southern rock and made me want to forget the name Corrosion of Conformity. They attempted to redeem themselves with In The Arms of God before taking a hiatus till 2010. Their self-titled was a return to their hardcore days with the original trio finding that Animosity-era magic. With IX they continue the streak and add in some of that doom and gloom magic along with some classic thrash. This is Corrosion of Conformity in classic form. Look out, you little whippersnappers.

“Brand New Sleep” is a sludge-filled dirge, with a penchant for Sleep-filled doom and a dusting of 70s dizziness in those phaser pedals. It’s a classic, bluesy doom song that opens the album on the right note. “Elphyn” brings Sabbath into the fold opening with the distant sound of thunder before blasting into a “Children of the Grave” hustle in the rhythm. Woody Weatherman’s guitar tone is a calling card, with it’s overpowered Gibson howl and this song howls all over the place. “Denmark Vesey” is a straight-up thrash song, sounding like a cross between classic Venom and Overkill. As much as I love their albums with Pepper Keenan at the helm, they just weren’t hitting these thrash and speed metal tunes with Keenan. A song like “The Nectar”, with it’s breakneck rhythm and classic speed metal vocals, just wasn’t an option on an album like Deliverance or Wiseblood. A little over a minute into this song we shift down to first gear and trudge along like some post-apolcalyptic war machine destroying everything in its path. This is southern metal sludge, something Mastodon and Kylesa used to do really well. Corrosion of Conformity are showing these younger bands up on IX.  Neither one of those bands have recorded a song like “On Your Way” in years. A meaty riff that could feed a village and metal drums that sound like a beast running through the wilds. “Tarquinius Superbus” sounds like a Helloween and Bad Brains mash-up. It’s pure adrenaline and has a chorus that sticks in your head all day. “Who You Need To Blame” has a groove that brings to mind some of those classic earworm riffs from Deliverance. For the all-around metal fan or for someone like me who grew up in the 80s listening to bands on Metal Blade Records and lots of thrash this album is a smorgasbord of metal goodness.

If you lost interest in CoC after America’s Volume Dealer like I did, you should revisit them. IX is a new metal classic. Hardcore, thrash, speed, and sludge-y doom are awaiting to destroy your hearing and give your whiplash.

7.8 out of 10

 

 

‘Forever Into Space’: Greg Locke’s Cinema Dreams

Still - Greg W. Locke - 2 (Photo by Kelly Sebastian)

 

by E.A. Poorman

Greg W. Locke is the kind of guy you want to know. Someone you could spend hours getting drunk with and espousing about art. He’s the kind of creative and artistic soul that has long suffered the pain of the dreamer. No matter how impossible something may seem he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t stop struggling and scratching until he attains the dream or falls flat on his face. In the case of falling on his face he gets back up and starts at it again. If you know Greg at all you’ll know that he loves music. He’s written about music for years. In publications, on blogs, on his own website, and I’m sure just for the hell of it when someone would randomly ask him a question about Pavement. Besides being the musicphile’s musicphile he’s a lover of cinema. Not just a passing fan, but the real deal cinephile. Goddard, Truffaut, Kubrick, Ashby, Cassavettes,…you know, the good stuff. Hell, he’s even an extremely talented painter. I’ve seen his stuff, it’s damn good.

But back to the cinema. Locke has made music videos in the past, and even made a music documentary called ‘Holler and the Moan’ about Fort Wayne musician and songwriter Lee Miles. Fort Wayne was a good starting point for Greg Locke’s cinema dreams. In order to see these dreams become a reality he packed up his belongings and made his way east to Brooklyn, New York. He is now readying his first feature called ‘Forever Into Space’. Written, directed, edited, produced, by Locke it’s a hell of a jump into the New York film scene. I was able to talk to him about the film recently and pick his brain about the process.

Still - Greg W. Locke and Jaz Valentino (Photo by Kelly Sebastian)“Forever Into Space is about a group of stunted 20-somethings attempting to start lives in New York City” says Locke when I ask him to give me an idea of what the movie is about. “It’s more about a time and a place than it is about characters or jokes or tits. There’s purposefully no tightly executed story arc to speak of. Because, ya know, that’s the path to success – inaccessibility. But jokes aside, I think it’s very watchable.”

Okay, stunted 20-somethings attempting to start lives in New York City. Why New York? Why not Chicago? Or Denver? Or Fort Wayne for that matter? “I’d been dreaming of living in New York City since I first started watching movies. It’s my favorite place, both on screen and off. That said, it’s not quite the place I expected it to be. No amount of reading and researching and movie watching and visiting can give you an accurate idea of what it’s like living and working here. It’s every bit as tough and fast and unforgiving as you’ve heard. Probably more so. As per the rumors, you will meet amazing people regularly and you will always be exhausted and bruised. So the idea was to play around with those perceptions of this place. In the film we follow around this group of people who are attempting to make lives here in New York – four people who are forever learning that the city isn’t what they thought it was, no matter how hard they try to will it to be. This place is, for better or worse, constantly changing; and right now it’s not exactly the best place in the world for young, non-wealthy people.

As with everything I make, I can’t help but play to my influences and follow whatever weird ideas I have down into their dirty rabbit holes. I love black and white photography and cinematography, so the movie is in high contrast black and white. I think it’s beautiful to look at. Some of the editing is really strange, I think. And the music is undeniably gorgeous. Even if I’m not the kind of person who makes easily digestible content, I really think we have a lot going for us.”

Still - Julianna PittGiven Greg’s penchant for having a constant flow of ideas for films -and I’m sure a box full of screenplays in his closet- I’d wondered why he settled on Forever Into Space as his New York City film debut. “I’ve been trying to write screenplays for 13 years. I tend to be something of a passionate dilettante, so I had no interest in learning how to write screenplays the “proper” way. This approach resulted in a whole lot of very forgettable screenplays, one of which may or may not have been about a person who looked like a 1960s Catherine Deneuve from the waist up and John Holmes from the waist down. Screenwriting only really started to click for me three years ago. I wrote a feature called He Hop Wave soon after I moved to New York that I believe to be at least marginally decent. Better than Tyler Perry but not exactly Ernest Lehman. That script gave me the confidence to start planning a film project around my resources. I wrote a project proposal and started taking inventory of the tools I had available to me for free. My goal, which was simple on paper and nearly impossible in reality, was to make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money. The proposal I wrote articulated the plan fairly well.

Forever Into Space isn’t the film I want to make. Nowhere close to the dream. That film involves Joaquin Phoenix and a cinematographer who actually knows how to shoot a film. This movie represents me doing the best I can with what I’ve got. Writing and producing around my strengths and my assets. Taking the very limited resources I have and building around them in a way that creates an end product that’s bigger than the means in which we worked.”

Still - Greg W. Locke and Cast (Photo by Kelly Sebastian)If you haven’t watched the trailer for Forever Into Space you should. It looks fantastic. It’s like if ‘Manhatten’ were directed by Jim Jarmusch, but I digress. I wanted to know being a schmuck in the Midwest how a guy goes about casting a movie like Forever Into Space. “I cast the four principle roles myself, mostly using an online casting service. For weeks I met with several people a day at a Whole Foods in the Lower East Side – just a couple of blocks from where CBGBs was. I would explain the weird manner in which I was planning to make the movie (no money, big ideas), as well as the weird goals I had for the film. If an actor didn’t seem to “get” those explanations, then that was it for that sucker. Next. There were a lot of quick interviews because I knew that I needed not just the right people for the roles, but hungry people who were willing to work in a different way than they had previously. The character that the film is sort of based around is a 20-something struggling writer named Audrey. It was a gritty, emotional, funny character that I was having a lot of trouble casting. Just as I was trying to convince myself that one of the actresses I had been talking to – a girl who was in the last Vince Vaughn movie – could work for the role I met Kelly Sebastian. Kelly has been making a living as an actor and model in New York for 10 or more years, but she’s also a writer, director and producer. She’s brilliant and works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. After that first meeting with Kelly I knew I could make the movie. As long as I had the right person in that role, I knew I could make everything else work. Kelly ended up being not only the right person to base the movie around, but the best collaborator I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. We’ve already taken on another feature film project together that I think is even better.

Still - Ollie - MaAfter Kelly came onboard I started inviting other actors over to my apartment to improv with Kelly. I’d throw a scenario at them, hit record and see what happened. I started that process by focusing on casting the secondary lead, an important character named Ollie who used to be a drummer in a semi-successful band. He’s this sweet, lovable man child who befriends Audrey and is sensitive to her iffy plight. He’s the only character in the film that you’re supposed to like. I cast a guy named Oliver Fetter who not only goes by Ollie, but is a drummer in a New York City band called The Harmonica Lewinskies. He had the look and was hungry to work on the film. Julianna Pitt, who is one of the busier Brooklyn-based actresses I know of, signed on next for the role of Lauren “LaLa” Auster. It was a tough role but Juli gave a great audition and really wanted to do the part. Finally came the role of Aaron. I needed someone who had a wildcard factor for the role. Someone who brought some sort of X factor to the table that I could build the character around. Originally it was supposed to be a rich, bi-sexual, cocky black kid, but after I met Tyler Evan Rowe, who ended up taking the role, I rewrote the character around the impression I had of Tyler. To this day he remains something of a mystery to me.”

For the film score, Greg turned to friend and fellow Fort Wayne native Jon Keller(now living in Nashville) to score Forever Into Space. Keller is an incredible songwriter who’s released two amazing records, Down In A Mirror and Deceiver, independently. His work in the film is quite beautiful. “I was fascinated with Jon long before I spoke a word to him. I knew of him as Lee Miles’ super young, peddle-loving guitarist for a couple of years before we ever spoke. He’s a big film buff too, so we’d see each other on Friday nights whenever a great new movie would come out. We’d nod at each other and that was it. Eventually I wrote a story about him for Whatzup and reviewed his album. Then, while filming my first film, Holler and the Moan, I got to know him better. Any time he was on camera I had to do everything I could to not laugh. He’s such a pleasantly strange dude. But under all those dildo stories he tells is a guy who is incredibly talented and hardworking. Eventually I asked him to be a subject for my Fort Wayne Rock Doc project. This led to us spending time together regularly. I was able to see his ability and drive first hand and got the impression that all he needed for greatness was a prompt. Leave him to his own devices and he’ll get drunk with his wife and make weird videos; give him something to do and he’ll blow away any expectations you may have had. I knew that after filming him for three months that he was the person I’d contact if and when I needed a score.”

kellerI asked Jon Keller about his experience working on the film as well. “It was actually really natural”, says Keller. “After I moved to Nashville and Greg moved to New York we would talk regularly about how we were both doing in our new cities. I really didn’t have much going on at the time and Greg was starting to get this script together. He basically just asked me if I was interested in doing the music for it.” Besides scoring films, I asked Jon about Nashville and what he’d been up to. “I work at a non-profit independent movie theater in Nashville called The Belcourt Theatre. We have a tremendous amount of outreach into the community, whether its going into schools and teaching kids how to appreciate movies as Art, hosting free outdoor movies or teaming up with businesses like Jack White’s Third Man Records for special screening. it’s a really beautiful place and I feel really fortunate to work there.  Other than that, I’ve been playing in various bands and projects. I will definitely have more music coming out soon. I’ve been working on another solo album for the past few years that is finally starting to shape up. I’m also writing and recording an album with a few friends that is going to be very interesting and weird. I can’t wait to show people what I’ve been working on.

Besides Jon Keller, Greg also had another Fort Wayne expatriot on the crew, Andrew Litton. I asked Andrew how he got involved in the project as well. “I was the entire sound department on Forever Into Space, which is very unconventional. I would definitely want an extra hand for whatever we do next(laughs). While we were shooting I was responsible for all of the sound gear and all of the day to day operations of multiple sound people. I was responsible for hiding microphones on the talent, booming the talent with a shotgun microphone, making sure all of the channels are being recorded separately and also script management and take labeling. I had to make sure that what it said on the slate is the same thing it said on as my file name on my mixer. That way there was no confusion when we were trying to sync everything in post production. I also had to be really careful about sound continuity between takes, as there is almost always outside noise in New York City – airplanes, helicopters, trucks and people. There’s so much noise at all times in New York City. My location duties however, were only half of the battle. The second half was post production. After Greg had edited the film I was in charge of making sure everything sounded okay – that there were no holes in the sound, and that everything flowed smoothly from scene to scene. IStill - Andrew Litton (Photo by Kelly Sebastian) was also in charge of editing out random noises that were in the production track for some reason and adding sound fx where they were needed. All of these hats are equally important but perhaps balancing all of the levels to make sure every element sits right in the mix is the most important.” I wondered what history was between Greg and Andrew. “I have known Greg for many many years, as we both attended the same high school in Fort Wayne. He was a few years older than me but was good friends with my older brother. So I would see him around the house quite often, or I would hop in the back seat with them to go get some food. So I guess it’s been almost 20 years of knowing him. I came to work with Greg on Forever Into Space simply based on the fact that I knew him. I knew he was in New York, as we had both moved here around the same time. It was about six months later that he called me and asked if I wanted to do sound for his next project. At first the thought of working on a feature film with no pay and many hours was unattractive. As I gave it deeper thought I realized a few things. One, Greg had always put me on to cool music and had never steered me in the wrong direction with things from the art world. I knew he always had a great demeanor and was interesting to talk to. So I thought if anything this would be a great opportunity to reconnect with someone from my past who was a pretty cool guy. Two, I could gain a world of positive experience through the long process of figuring things out and trying different things out in terms of being a sound mixer – things you can’t learn until you go through them. So that was crucial to my survival as a sound mixer in this industry. Three, getting to meet new and interesting people from different backgrounds with the same goal, and four to make a feature film.” So what’s Andrew’s take on the film? Has he watched it yet? “Yes, as a sound man I have seen the film a few dozen times now. That’s part of the job – watching the movie very closely. The photography is really cool and it really just isn’t your average film. I think Greg’s vision was to make something different but still extremely relevant, and I think collectively we did that. The actors were all amazing and really thought outside the box. The score is also a really amazing piece of art. I was pretty amazed at how well everything came together.”

Still - Jaz ValentinoBack to Greg, I’d asked him what the advantages were to shooting in New York as opposed to the Midwest. And I wondered what were some of the disadvantages as well. “New York City and the Midwest are obviously very different places. For starters, New York is loud and busy and, of course, incredibly urban and congested. There’s always a whole lot of noise to compete with, which can very easily compromise your sound. You can’t just quickly drive somewhere and set up and shoot – everything feels like a big ordeal in one way or another. And there are people everywhere, looking at your cameras and your boom. Checking out your actresses, trying to figure out if Kelly is Radha Mitchell or not. Thinking Ollie is Ethan Hawke. That said, it’s such a beautiful, interesting place. There’s a reason many of the best films ever made were shot here. Using no studios or sound stages kept things interesting and exhausting.”

Before we end our conversation I wondered where Forever Into Space was at production-wise. “I’m happy to say that the production of the film itself is completely done, 18 months or so after we started. Making movies is no joke. It means long days. Long months. Long years. And nothing ever feels good enough. At some point you just have to decide that you’re done. That it can get no better. So we finally got to that point. It’s done. Relief. Now bring on the billions.”

There may not be billions on the way, but Greg Locke can be proud of himself. While most folks talk the talk, he decided to walk to walk. He made the film he set out to make. As Greg put it, and rather eloquently, “My idea was simple on paper and difficult in reality: I simply wanted to make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money. A big, beautiful New York City movie made not with money or connections, but with sweat, dedication and ideas. I wrote up a proposal – some called it a manifesto – based on some of the principles of both the Mumblecore Movement and Dogme 95. I came up with my own updated version of those concepts. Eighteen months after daydreaming about such a project I have a movie that’s certainly big and, I think, beautiful. For the first time ever I’m genuinely proud of myself. Proud that I was able to see through this major project with very little support.”

Keep your eyes and ears open for Forever Into Space. I’m looking at you, Criterion Collection. Keep up on all the news here and here.

 

Still - Ollie - MaStill - Oliver and Kelly - Boat 1Still - Oliver and Kelly - StoopStill - Tyler Poos

 

Forever Into Space - Poster

 

Underrated : The Flaming Lips’ 7 Skies H3

Photo Jul 06, 10 59 19 AMI’ve been listening to The Flaming Lips 7 Skies H3 a lot since RSD and I have to say that it’s probably my favorite Lips release since Embryonic. I think I’m pretty accurate in saying that I’m speaking to a room of about 10 people that even give a s**t, but I’m going to keep talking regardless.

There was a time about two years ago where I felt the Lips had worn out their “freak out” welcome, driving the psych and sex train into the ground. Uncle Wayne’s schtick was getting kinda lame and all the talk of acid and drugs seemed to be in poor taste given that the Lips secret weapon, Steve Drozd, was a recovering heroin addict. It’s safe to say without Drozd, Coyne would be mowing lawns in Norman, OK for a living right now and not reigning as the King of Freakdom like he is today. The Heady Fwends album from 2012, while fun and interesting at the time hasn’t really held up except for a couple standout tracks. The Terror was a heavy and intense record that felt like something real, but it also felt like its blood was pumped with a robotic heart and not one of real flesh. It was heady, heavy, and cold. The Peace Sword ep was a step into the light a bit….a welcome sound. But now we have 7 Skies H3, the best record The Flaming Lips have released in 5 years.

Let me step back a bit. This 50 minute RSD 2014 release is just a nearly one hour chunk of the 24 hour song the Lips recorded back when gummy vaginas and gummy skulls containing flash drives were all the rage. One freakout gimmick after another was falling out of Wayne Coyne’s gummy head, and on a daily basis it seemed. When the 24 hour song thing came up I just sighed and thought “Sure. Whatever.” Well I think the Lips thought the same thing and came to the conclusion that they should whittle this music adventure down into non-gargantuan portions. The result was 7 Skies H3. It’s this cohesive musical exploration of, in my opinion, someone losing their mind. It’s at times melancholy, strange, brash, and downright noisy. I feel it’s a continuation of The Terror, but a human one. An earthbound interpretation of doom and gloom. It has the vibe of a Giallo soundtrack. Part Walter Rizzati, part Goblin. “7 Skies H3(Can’t Shut Off My Head)” is mournful with it’s synths and Wayne Coyne’s voice hovering. It’s over 8 minutes of sadness and beauty. The Lips haven’t sounded this real in a long time. “Meepy Morp” sounds like a dream sequence into another realm. The beauty of this record is that everything flows effortlessly into one another…that is if you have the vinyl version. This opinion is solely based on the vinyl copy. The digital, while you still get the gist, isn’t the same experience. “Riot In My Brain!!” is just that. It’s an explosion of meters running red, much like some of Embryonic’s noisier moments. This is probably the noisiest moment of the album. The “7 Skies” returns toward the end and finishes out on the quite lovely “Can’t Let It Go”, with that beginning musical idea still running deep throughout.

If this album was truly created out of 24 hours of musical craziness my hat is off to the band for giving us something so cohesive, insightful, and emotional even. I know the band seems to be back on the freaky thing, with the Electric Wurms project, as well as the Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album coming up. Hopefully they return to some more earnest and honest music after all that. 7 Skies H3 to me is a light at the end of the tunnel. A glimpse at the band I fell hard for on The Soft Bulletin.

It’s a shame then that such an amazing album was wasted on the whimsy of a RSD release. I think that hanging over 7 Skies H3 has sort of downplayed the magnificence of this record.  Sadly, many RSD releases have the aura of “novelty” and “gimmick” hanging over them. The Lips have helped in creating that aura, too. But they’ve also been champions of the annual music store holiday as well. They’ve unfortunately been swallowed by their own hullabaloo. In my opinion they should’ve just gone more global with the Tame Impala split and made 7 Skies H3 an official Lips release. Why? Well for one when you go to a record store a week after RSD and there’s still copies of 7 Skies H3 lying around the magic of the RSD release seems to shrink and shrivel. It also makes those fans that snagged a copy on RSD feel like that catch wasn’t as special. Also, and this is my personal opinion, RSD releases should remain physical copies and physical copies alone. Again, when those guys and gals that hung out in front of a record store on RSD for hours to get a limited edition RSD release see that same album they waited so long for on a streaming site or on Amazon, it tends to take away from that special feeling. I searched all over the city to find a copy of Heady Fwends. When I finally found it at the last record store before I left town in April of 2012 I was thrilled. It was like finding the golden ticket. Then when I saw it on sale on Amazon, and streaming on Spotify and Rdio, well it lost a bit of its luster for me. I even felt a little bit betrayed even. The limited edition, the rarity of those releases, that’s what makes them so special.

But the main reason this album should’ve been an actual and official Flaming Lips release is because it’s too damn good to be lost in hullabaloo. If you’re a Lips fan and you spin records but you haven’t bought this album yet, do yourself a favor and snag a copy. There’s still plenty out there to be had. In years to come when people look back at the Flaming Lips’ career in awe, disgust, and disbelief, this will be the album they will talk about as being a lost gem. I guarantee.

Photo Jul 06, 10 59 42 AM

There Are Teens In My Living Room….Help!

photo (29)Hello folks.

It’s Friday night. There are four 14 year old girls giggling uncontrollably in the living room and I’m delegated to my bedroom to type this. Why can’t I go out there and take my seat back? Am I afraid of their laughing and somewhat distressing way of communication(quiet, loud, quiet…they’re like the Pixies.) I guess there’s no shame in admitting I don’t understand them. I’m just the guy that puts the frozen pizzas in the oven and appears when they’re done to clean up after them.

Such is life.

I’ve got some Sam Adams Cream Stout and some Olivia Tremor Control on the turntable. Well, it’s waiting for me to spin it anyways. They’re out there in my vinyl spinning area talking about “Steven Donley” and someone named “Sam”. It’s hard to here what they’re really talking about between the shrill cackling. There was also talk of Christian rap and, “Chase”? I don’t know.

Oh, it’s like The Pixies again. Quiet….quiet….quiet….quiet….LOUD!

I think I’ll get used to insignificance. Eventually. Oh s**t, they’re talking about boobs. Where the hell are my headphones. Kraftwerk, take me away! I don’t even think those German weirdos could drown out the talking and munching and teenage pomposity that’s going on out there right now….

You know, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Our oldest was supposed to go over to HER girlfriend’s house. The two youngest already had plans to ditch us. It was going to be a nice quiet evening with the wife and I. Some spirits, some grub, and some Roku entertainment. Well, that quickly backfired when my oldest asked my wife if she could have a couple friends over to OUR house, as the plans to go to her pal’s place fell through.

So much for a quiet evening.

They’re eating. The hullabaloo has quieted down for the mom….no wait. They can be loud eating, too.

I’ll send the dog to the kitchen for more beer since my son is gone. Come here, boy! Come here! Daddy needs another brew….

A room with a view

A room with a view

“D” Is For Denver….”H” Is For Home

photo (20)Despite the fact that as I sit and type this my house is filled with a hazy smoke emanating from my oven, I’m very happy to be here. Yes, last night’s dinner dripped onto the bottom of the oven and as this morning’s cinnamon rolls cook, those drippings burn into a black sludge and fill our home with a haze of smoke you’d a seen at an Iron Maiden show circa 1983. Still, I’m okay with that. I should’ve cleaned the oven before getting those A.M. confections a baking, but I was just excited to be making rolls in MY oven, in MY kitchen.

Since last Wednesday we’ve been slumming it in the Denver Rock City. Denver, Colorado for you folks not familiar with the inside of my head. The family headed to Colorado for the wedding of my wife’s cousin. We’ll call him Josh, since that’s his name. Very nice guy and his blushing bride is a great gal as well. It was a lovely wedding that took place in Castlewood Canyon State Park. A beautiful service with the maid of honor being their dog(the rings were even tied to the pooches collar.) Knowing we were going to be sitting out in the elements we all coated ourselves with sunscreen. Well, it seems my thinning hair doesn’t protect my noggin at a 7,000 ft elevation like it does at -500 ft elevation in the crevice I live in. I got one hell of a sunburn on the top of my head. It looks like a red halo that starts just above my forehead and goes across. It’s not like I don’t know what the sun does to my pale, Eastern European-rooted complexion. I’ve just never been that f*****g close to the f*****g sun. Hopefully I’m not scarred for life. If I am, I’m going to have to come up with some great story about it. Face transplant thanks to the witness protection program? Like Kid Icarus, I flew too close to the sun? Grilling accident? Well, I’ll go on the assumption I’ll just peel and everything will go back to normal.

This trip was the first flight for our kids. They had no problems with the plane ride. My son was a little nervous at first, but once we got on the jet and it took off he was good. Since we were going to be out there for four days we rented a house instead of staying in a hotel and driving each other insane. The house didn’t look like much on the outside, but the inside was remodeled and was rather cozy. My wife only heard fighting and bottles crashing on the last night we were there, so that was a plus. First day we were there we found a Wal-mart so we could stock up on some food(and beer) for the week. As we made it to the cash register we were all corralled back to the rear restrooms as a tornado was spotted just down the road. The girls were scared, and despite my calm outward appearance I was a little worried myself. It sounded like the place was being torn apart outside as we huddled in the Walmart bathroom. After 45 minutes we were finally on our way out. There was an employee shoveling piles of hail out of the way of the doors. Interesting. That was day one.

Day two we headed out to Red Rocks. Well, we started off by just heading into the hills with no particular place in mind. We stopped at DW’s 285 for lunch and were quite delighted by the grub. Great grub, for sure. After lunch we headed out to Red Rocks. Luckily it wasn’t too far from where we ate. It was a cool thing to see, despite allergies making the whole breathing thing a chore at times. I think we were at 6,500 or 7,000 ft elevation. It’s easier to breathe in 100% humidity. Anyways, we made it up a flight of stairs and onto a walkway that went around one of the many red rocks when my wife’s iPhone shot out a weather warning. Oh, another tornado warning. The color on the kids’ faces went to a whiter shade of pale instantly. Time to head down the mountain again. Despite some rain, the weather didn’t get too shady. On our way back we hit a great little hole-in-the-wall record shop called Wax Trax Records. Creaky wood floors, dingy wall, and a bathroom that would make CBGB’s blush, it was the perfect record shop for diggers. I snagged Tom Verlaine’s first two solo albums, Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, J. Geils Band’s Love Stinks; as well as new copies of Yo La Tengo’s Painful, Merchandise’s Desire, and Blonde Redhead’s 23.

Friday was the wedding. A small ceremony and a very laid back one as well. A handful of friends and family were in attendance(and a couple dogs as well.) We did a little sight-seeing at the canyon before heading to the bride and grooms’s house for barbecue. By the time we left I was good and burnt and ready to soak my head in a bucket of ice water. We stopped at Twist & Shout Records for the hell of it and found what seemed to be the biggest “small” record shop I’ve ever seen. It was huge. The front was filled with all kinds of toys, games, and novelty stuff, while the back was this massive collection of vinyl. Really, the amount of vinyl was unreal. A lot can be said for the hole-in-the-wall vinyl shops that you have to dig through piles of vinyl to find that gem. But, I can also appreciate a clean, well-maintained building with tons of records in an order someone not high or mildly insane can understand as well. I snagged Wooden Shjips’ self-titled and West on original purple vinyl that you could only get from the Thrill Jockey pre-order. Word. My wife picked out a couple hats for us(I desperately needed one to cover my first degree burns.) On a whim we went to Tattered Cover bookstore next door and were floored at this place as well. Love independent book stores. LOVE them. Especially when they have incredible iced coffee. Oh, and great books, too. We snagged a t-shirt while my oldest bought $60 worth of books. A stop to get some Aloe Vera for the burn and we were home.

On Saturday we went to the Garden of the Gods. This is essentially a place that has some of the most amazing rock formations you’ll ever see. This was the highlight of the sight-seeing for sure(next to the record shops of course.) We climbed and explored and shot lots of pics. By 4pm I was spent, so we headed back to the house to do laundry and get ready to get the hell back home on Sunday.

After one flight and one connecting flight we were back in South Bend at 3:30pm and on our way back to what we call “home”. I realized that we can do that whole major travel thing. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be. But I also realized that I truly am a homebody and a creature of habit. Spontaneity is something better left for music in my world. I enjoy the trip on the beaten path every once in a while, but I prefer structure any day. And I much prefer my own kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom, bed, and television. Having said that, I’m glad the family had this little adventure.

Gotta go, the smoke alarm just went off.

photo (13)photo (14)photo (11)photo (16)photo (27)photo (22)photo (19)photo (18)photo (25)photo (26)photo (23)photo (15)photo (12)photo (21)

Von Strantz :: Narrative Chapter I: Troubled Souls

von strantzVon Strantz is, according to the words on an internet page, “a community of storytellers, an ebb and flow of different musicians, exploring the intricacies of relationship, reliance on each other, and being human.” Listening to Von Strantz and their music you do get a feeling of community. A feeling of like-minded souls coming together to present to the world their take on the human condition. That take is given to us by way of folksy and roots-y songs, rustic and gothic simultaneously. Never once do their songs come off as kitschy, or like some great musical novelty project. Von Strantz makes honest, heartfelt, and at times beautifully mournful music that while elicits a certain pained expression of remorse it also is a celebration of life. Narrative Chapter I: Troubled Souls is part one of three mini-albums the band will be releasing in 2014. They’re off to a great start.

There’s so much musical goodness happening in the Von Strantz musical collective, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that Jess Strantz -lead singer, guitarist, and namesake- has one hell of a voice. If you’re lucky enough to have already been privy to Von Strantz and heard their 2013 self-titled EP you would already be aware of this fact. But in one year Jess Strantz has gone from more of an indie croon to something more resembling a soulful Americana belter. Lead track “Troubled Souls” starts this collection off with strummed acoustic and Strantz’ amazing pipes. The song’s  chorus brings to mind KD Lang’s “Constant Craving”, with Strantz matching Lang in intensity and emotional conviction. It’s a wonderful song that shows Von Strantz means business from the get-go. “Nothing Good In Me” sounds like a old time minstrel with some amazing fiddle, guitar pickin’, and Jess testifying to the world at large. “Since I Met You” is a beautiful acoustic-picked ballad that showcases the personal and intimate side of Von Strantz that should be experienced at a Von Strantz show in order to truly be appreciated. “All I Need” sounds like a distant confession that turns into a wooded waltz near a dying campfire, all curtsy and longing looks.

Now when I mention words like “Americana” and “roots-y” you get a certain idea in your head. This isn’t Avett Brothers, or God forbid Mumford and Sons. This is folk music that spans genres. This is solid songwriting, musicianship, and honest emotions put to melody. Von Strantz can create their tales plugged in on a stage, sitting on a stool in a coffeehouse, or strumming in the brisk air by a campfire. Narrative Chapter I: Troubled Souls is an emotional testament to a band’s musical commitment to living, loving, breathing, and experiencing life.

8.2 out of 10

 

 

Disposable Dixie Cup Drinker

DSC04684May is a month of birthdays and madness. It’s a month where each week brings some new wonderful disaster to plan and execute. May is a month to second guess everything I do as a parent and wonder if it’s “good enough”. Two birthdays and expectations sky high. April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring a wife freaking out about if we’ve done enough for our girls and their birthdays. I attempt the calm, cool exterior and do the majority of the logistical planning and follow-through. It’s better that way. Not as many psychological breakdowns and blasts of angst. Today is May 18th, 2014. We are celebrating the final birthday of May today. The middle child(which we affectionately call her…she loves it) will turn 11 on May 20th, but as it stands we leave very early Wednesday morning for Colorado on a trip to see my wife’s cousin get married. There was no way in Hell I was going to have people over Tuesday night when I’ll be too busy yelling at kids to pack an extra pair of underwear and socks “just in case”. So today the family is coming over for brauts and hot dogs on the grill, homemade potato salad, and chips. Of course there will be red velvet cake and ice cream, but first real food(how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?).

So before they arrive I’ve sat down to indulge in easily one of the most important albums of my generation. It’s certainly one of the most important records of my music-listening history. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of those albums that I loved through sheer osmosis. The anticipation of hearing it, especially since it was finished a whole year before it came out, was palpable in 2001. Having seen them in 1999 when they opened for REM on the Summerteeth tour I had been a fan since 1996 when Being There won me over with the line “Back in your old neighborhood, cigarettes taste so good.” Not sure what it was about that statement, but it made an impression. People and places make certain things better that may not be as good elsewhere or in different company. Bad habits become nostalgic. Anyways, so 2002. My wife and I drove four hours to Columbus, OH to see Wilco play at a small indoor venue. It was a lean version of what we saw in 1999. Jeff Tweedy, Leroy Back, John Stirratt, and Glenn Kotche donned the stage and proceeded to play a tense, stripped-down, and mind-blowing set of old songs and of course tunes from YHF which was a week from being released. Many in the crowd knew these new songs and sang along since Wilco had streamed the album on their website(unheard of back in 2002.) I attempted to stream it and after 25 minutes had only gotten through the first 30 seconds of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heard”(thanks, dial up.) So these songs were new to me and I felt lost and awestruck all at once. A week later the CD arrived in the mail and I got lost in it for the majority of the summer.

To me this album was and is perfect in every way. It melded the old and new and they haven’t made an album this perfect since. A lot of its mess and beauty were thanks to Jay Bennett. The mad wizard in the studio that would put anything on a track if he thought it sounded good. His madness was infectious and addicting. Sadly it was his undoing in the band as well. But without him Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would not exist, so there’s that. YHF is the perfect melding of pop and art. Musically it was this landscape of buzzing and noise, interspersed with amazing hooks and some of the best lyrcis Jeff Tweedy had penned(that’s saying a lot as Summerteeth was poetry put to music.)

I am an American aquarium drinker, I assassin down the avenue, I’m hiding out in the big city blinking, what was I thinking when I let go of you

To me these are iconic lyrics that open an iconic song that opens an iconic album. So many great songs. If I was forced at gunpoint to tell you my favorites, I’d probably say “Pot Kettle Black” and “Poor Places” remain to of my favorite songs from anyone ever(that even includes those Fab Four guys.) They’re perfect in every way.

It’s my father’s voice dreaming of
Sailors sailing off in the morning
For the air-conditioned rooms
At the top of the stairs

His jaw’s been broken
His bandage is wrapped too tight
His fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

There’s Bourbon on the breath
Of the singer you love so much
He takes all his words from the books
That you don’t read anyway

His jaw’s been broken
His bandage is wrapped too tight
My fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

Someone ties a bow
In my backyard to show me love
My voice is climbing walls
Smoking and I want love

My jaw’s been broken
My heart is wrapped in ice
My fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

And it makes no difference to me
How they cried all over overseas
It’s hot in the poor places tonight
I’m not going outside

They cried all over overseas
It makes no difference to me
It’s hot in the poor places tonight
I’m not going outside

This song just moves me every time I hear it. It reminds me of Randy Newman for some reason. Don’t know why. It’s just this shining example of what neurosis, exhaustion, drug abuse, and artistic beauty will get you sometimes.

When I first started re-collecting vinyl, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Summerteeth, and A Ghost Is Born were the first few records I bought. They still remain some of my most cherished vinyl. YHF especially sounds ’3-D’ in its clarity on vinyl. So many details I’d never heard before just seem to pop out when listening. “Pot Kettle Black” ends differently than on the digital and CD versions. “Ashes Of American Flags” you can almost smell the cigarette smoke and see the tar stains of Tweedy’s fingers. Both sentimental and claustrophobic. Simply stunning.

Okay, I’m going to go flip the record and get that charcoal lit. Happy Sunday.

DSC04707DSC04693DSC04702DSC04703

Friday In The Land of Plenty

DSC04675No vegemite sandwiches tonight. Just some New Belgium Trippel and some Boards of Canada.

So, how’s everybody’s week been? I have to say that this week was a hell of a week. Every night I’ve come home I’ve felt beaten up. Work was crazy, so Friday is a welcomed thing for me. It always is, but especially this week. It’s a good thing I have plenty of new music to ease me out of the 9 to 5 hustle.

I’m still reeling from Record Store Day and the great albums I was able to get. Last weekend the wife and I headed over to Fort Wayne and I grabbed the LCD Soundsystem box set. It’s the unabridged 5LP box set of their entire Madison Square Garden final gig. Let me just say that James Murphy did an amazing job mixing it. It is probably one of the most stunning sounding records I now own. It’s 3+ hours of music is something to behold. I thank my lovely wife for allowing me to indulge in something so pricey. But really, for the green they wanted for this set it was a damn good deal. Then on Monday I went to my local brick n’ mortar and picked up two more aural nuggets.

First was the Of Montreal RSD release, their reissue of Satanic Panic In The Attic on double blue and yellow vinyl. A band I’ve loved ever since buying Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer in 2007. A great album filled with Kevin Barnes doing his version of acid-tinged bubble gum dance pop. Album one is the original release, while album two is seven tracks recorded at the same time the original record was recorded but were never used. A great addition to my Of Monteal collection, which includes three of their later albums(I’m one of just a couple people that LOVED Paralytic Stalks.)

And last but not least Causa Sui’s Summer Sessions finally came in after being backordered. If you’re not familiar with Causa Sui and you love psych rock, Can, and Bitches Brew-era Miles then you need to get familiar with them. A four-piece out of Denmark these guys are the real deal. Summer Sessions consists of three LPs filled with some amazing, introspective jams. They find a groove in “Visions Of Summer” and don’t let it go for nearly 21 minutes. One whole album side. It’s something to get lost in. All three albums are very distinctive, but you know who you’re hearing from the get go. I have their Live At Freak Valley waiting for me as well. I’ll get that tomorrow hopefully.

So yes it’s been a rough week work-wise, but thanks to the power of music, vinyl, New Belgium Brewing Company, and my cool dog Otto, I’m gonna get through it just fine.

Happy Friday.

DSC04672DSC04671DSC04670DSC04674