Poetry In Motion : Slow Dakota’s Musical Odyssey

Photos by Nick Vorderman

 

PJ Sauerteig makes music under the name Slow Dakota. The music is a mixture of chamber pop and idyllic folk. You get a feeling of tranquility come over you as you listen to the newest album titled The Ascension of Slow Dakota. It’s a literary journey scored with a bevy of instruments, both acoustic and electric(and electronic.) Sauerteig writes songs with a poet’s heart. He paints characters and stories like a cross between Sherwood Anderson and Sufjan Stevens. A recent nomination for the Pushcart Prize for some of his writing is further proof of his adoration for the written word.

Sauerteig was born and raised in Fort Wayne. A recent graduate of Columbia University, Sauerteig is going back and attending NYU Law School. On a recent trip back to the fort I sat down and talked to the Slow Dakota mastermind about his poetry and music.

J. Hubner: So how was your childhood? Were you a curious child?

PJ Sauerteig: I had a really idyllic childhood in the suburbs of Ft Wayne. I was lucky that our house was filled with art and incredible music: Peter Gabriel, African music, a little Bjork, Janet Jackson, YES, U2, Vangelis. I was an outgoing kid, polite, with a strange fixation on drawing monsters, wars, dragons, sieges.

16128206_1462719183752968_2006823160_nJ. Hubner: When did music become something more than just noise coming out of the radio? What was the first album you bought? What albums had the biggest impact on you?

PJ Sauerteig: Britney Spears was the first album I ever asked my parents to buy me. NSYSC, too. Years later, it was The Killers’ Hot Fuss. Vampire Weekend’s first album had a huge impact on me as a high-schooler: a big reason I ended up going to Columbia. Then I found In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which grabbed me and never let go. Still my favorite album, and some of the best lyrics ever written.

J. Hubner: Has writing and literature always been a big part of your life? 

PJ Sauerteig: Ironically, I’m a super slow reader – when I was a kid, my parents had to read books to me aloud because I could never finish them myself. I wasn’t a bookworm at all. But in high school I got turned onto TS Eliot, who took my literary virginity, and helped me to love words. Today I’m still a slow reader, so I listen to audiobooks.

J. Hubner: You seem to be adept at quite a few instruments. Did you take lessons when you were younger?

PJ Sauerteig:  I took piano lessons from a young age, and got pretty good at it. But when I showed up at college, I quickly realized piano wasn’t enough; all the musicians around me could hop from bass to drums to piano, and sing better than I could. I felt like a dunce, so I bought a ukulele and taught myself. Then a mandolin (I still suck). Then a dulcimer. I can fake it on drums and guitar, and I’m getting more comfortable with my voice – I hated my voice for the longest time.

J. Hubner: How did Slow Dakota come about?

PJ Sauerteig: I first started writing as Slow Dakota when I came back from a failed volunteering trip to India – the first album, “Our Indian Boy” bloomed from the diary I kept in India. I was in another New York band at the time – Jeffers Win – but this new material felt somehow different, and far more personal. I bowed out of Jeffers Win, and it’s been Slow Dakota ever since.

16128808_1462718077086412_1654568790_nJ. Hubner: Let’s talk about your album ‘The Ascension of Slow Dakota’. Is this a concept album? Listening to it the record feels like stories being told, especially with the mix of both traditional song structure and spoken word pieces.

PJ Sauerteig:  I love concept albums – the first two Slow Dakota records were very strict concept albums – but The Ascension is a little looser. Instead of telling one story, The Ascension tells a bunch of interconnected stories – with lots of overlapping themes, reappearing characters (like the white dove), and images that keep popping up (suicide, people walking into water, lilac flowers). If the album has a single overarching question, it’s this: is there a grey area between music and literature?

J. Hubner: Can you tell me a little more about those spoken word pieces. Who did you get to help out with the readings?

PJ Sauerteig: I wrote all the different pieces, but I wanted other people to bring them to life. I recruited three readers – each of them has had a profound impact on my education, and on the ideas swirling around The Ascension. The old British man is Philip Kitcher – a fabulous scholar and philosopher. The female reader is Margaret Vandenburg – the author and librettist to whom the album is dedicated. And the last piece is read by a mentor of mine – the American poet and professor, Joseph Fasano. They’re each like gods to me.

J. Hubner: Who or what are some influences on the overall work?

PJ Sauerteig: A huge influence was Sun Kil Moon’s Benji and Universal Themes: sprawling, poetic musings on his Midwestern roots, with really thoughtful, witty spoken word sections. Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender, too: she buries brilliant riddles in her lyrics. I also spent some time farming in Austria while writing the record.

J. Hubner: How quickly did the album come together?

PJ Sauerteig: The songs came together slowly, piece by piece, in different countries, over a year and a half.

J. Hubner: Have you ever taken these songs out into a live setting?

PJ Sauerteig:  I’ve only tried to perform stuff from The Ascension once, actually! Last summer, at Matt Kelley’s B-Side in Ft Wayne. I brought in a female vocalist and a trumpet player, but it was still nearly impossible to recreate any of the songs as they appear on the album. That’s a big reason I rarely play live. Another reason is that I’m terribly nervous and hard on myself.

J. Hubner: Do you see yourself as more of a poet the writes songs or a songwriter that writes poetry? Are they one in the same? Is it right to even draw a distinction? Art is art and creativity is creativity, right? 

PJ Sauerteig: That’s a great question, and one The Ascension tries to grapple with! I think it’s very strange that we keep poetry and songwriting in separate camps, although 2016 felt like progress: many great albums this year incorporated spoken word (Beyonce, Solange, Frank Ocean), Dylan got the Nobel for Literature, and we were reminded of Leonard Cohen’s legacy – a poet/author before he was a songwriter. Think farther back to Homer – before The Odyssey was written down, it was performed / sung by bards.

J. Hubner: You’re currently in New York going to NYU Law School. How does music and Slow Dakota play into your future?

PJ Sauerteig: NYU Law is keeping me crazy humble; everyone there is smarter than me, and one of my buddies just had a film accepted into Sundance. Sometimes after a night of studying, I’ll tinker around on the piano, and record it on my phone. I’ve got ideas for a new album – and after the melodies and lyrics marinate for a while, I’ll start reaching out to people about mixing, recording, playing instruments. It’d be a dream to work with Garrison Keillor one day. Or Louise Gluck, swoon.

 


What are you waiting for? Step into the beautiful world of Slow Dakota. Head over to https://slowdakota.bandcamp.com/ and give it a listen. Keep up with PJ and Slow Dakota at http://www.slowdakota.com/.

Hot Thoughts In My Mind

So Spoon is dropping a new album called Hot Thoughts in March. Whenever there’s a new Spoon album I always get a little geared up, know what I mean? There’s just something about this Austin band that exudes cool and slickness. Now normally that would keep me away from a band, cause who needs all that coolness and slickness. Sounds dangerous, like unsalted sidewalks in winter. But Spoon, they’re different. As monstrously cool and debonair as Britt Daniel comes across, at his core he’s just a nerdy dude that loves good music. A hopeless romantic that’s gotten that muscle in his chest broke a few times in his life. Probably picked on by the jocks in high school because he dug that sad-faced melancholy clown Robert Smith and got overly excited when he heard the Kinks’ “David Watts”. Daniel is my kind of people. So he gets a pass for being the James Bond of indie rock.

The lead single, title track “Hot Thoughts” seems to be riding the ever beautiful sheen of 2014s They Want My Soul. It’s a dance-y, rump-shaking number that once it kicks in kind of has this Stones-y “Monkey Man” vibe before getting all hand clap-y and dramatic with some great synth swaths and Daniel’s simple but eloquent guitar work. The album is produced by Spoon with Dave Fridmann, who worked with them on a few tracks on Soul. This time he stuck around for the long haul and his bombastic approach is present, but things aren’t quite in the red. No crackling drums or over pushed faders. It’s a crisp and tight sound. Really, the evolution of Spoon’s sound.

This band is destined to be one of the greats. With the last record, and now Hot Thoughts, I think Spoon are on a collision course with greatness. I think they’re in a position where they can pretty much do whatever they want at this point. Much like Fridmann’s fearless freak pals The Flaming Lips. The Lips have been with Warner Bros Records since 1992. They seem to be able to put out whatever they want, make gummy skulls with flash drives in them, experiment as much as they want on a major label’s dime, and just keep going. If The Lips can make a 24-hour song, I think Spoon can achieve some serious historical music cred. I mean, they already have pretty much. From hear on out everything else is icing on the cake.

Hot Thoughts is out March 17th via Matador Records.

That Last Hangover

people often change, but, memories of people can remain – Ray Davies

 

The last time I woke up with a hangover was going to be the last time for good. It’s a headspace I can’t take anymore. I’m too old to be feeling like I’m dying from the inside out; heart pounding, head pounding, stomach folding into itself. Each day is too valuable to waste even one of them sitting around with a headache, sour gut, and general chemical malaise. That last hangover was back in September of 2016.

It was a Saturday night putting down lagers with one of my oldest friends. It was a scene that’s transpired many, many times over the last nearly 20 years. We’d get together, drink, have dinner, watch a movie, and listen to music on Youtube till one of us said “uncle”. Just harmless fun. The next morning was usually a bear, but we had a hell of a time. Laughs were had and spirits were enjoyed(maybe even exorcised.) We’d get together at least once a month, if not more in our 20s. Once kids came into the picture for me the drinking evenings became more scarce, but when we’d find the time we’d make the most of it. But that Sunday morning in September I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I was done tempting fate.

Over the last few years our get togethers were getting less and less. Kids get older, things come up, and that’s just how it is. But even over the last few years I’ve found myself not really enjoying that next day. It took longer and longer to completely recuperate from a night of “beering” it with the pal. Then early last year I had back surgery. I didn’t drink from February till the end of April as I was on pain meds, and since I’m not cool I didn’t mix booze with pills. I found once I’d healed up that I just didn’t have the stomach for drinking like I’d had in the past. I started wondering “Did I have a drinking problem and not know it?” “Was I relying on alcohol too much?” No, that wasn’t the case. It was that I’m middle-aged and I can’t take that sort of Olympic drinking anymore. I love a pint or two on a Friday night with some records spinning. I adore having a drink with the Mrs when we’re out to dinner. I just can’t sit and make 6 or 7 hours dedicated to downing beer after beer. The sloppiness of the whole thing just really bothers me nowadays. Binge drinking in your 40s isn’t smart(well, duh).

I’ve never liked going out to just specifically drink. Even when I’d turned 21 the whole bar scene bugged the hell out of me. People for the most part are absolute shits when they’re drunk. The myth of the happy drunk was created by other drunks. Drunks are plain obnoxious for the most part. The idea of the local pub and friends gathering is all great and good until you go one pint over, then shit gets ugly. What’s one pint over? You don’t know till you’re already there(or the next morning when you can’t recall how you got home or why you’re wearing underwear that doesn’t belong to you or why your car is parked at the neighbor’s house.) In 1998 I was in a rock band that played local bars. In that year alone I was sicker than I’d ever been in the last 6 years prior. Respiratory illnesses, ear infections, asthma,….in my opinion the cause of hanging out in dank, smokey bars till 2 am playing Doors covers and lousy original songs. I just always felt like I wasn’t quite sad enough to be sitting in a booth at a local bar drinking a Coors Light and listening to some guy sing Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” at Karaoke. I had a home. I had a life. I didn’t need to be there. But I was young and figured that’s what I was supposed to do.

I’m older now. I’m at the age where I like being home. I’m at the age where I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. Saying no when I really mean it, and not saying yes when I don’t. My guilty pleasures are lawyer shows and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, not a long line of rum and cokes. If I’m going to have a drink on the weekend it’ll be sitting in my chair with my wife. Watching a movie, or making a pizza. Spinning records, or playing video games with my son. That’s where I need to be. That’s where I want to be. If I’m going to feel like shit it’s going to be because I’m feverish or I’ve got a chest cold or I put in a good workout the day before. I want my Sunday mornings to be me worshiping at the alter of dark roast and Miles Davis with a side of hotcakes. Not having that burning sensation in my lower intestines and belching up hops. The last hangover I’ll ever have was in September of 2016.

This past Saturday I got together with my old pal. We had a couple beers, watched a couple movies, and had hamburgers on the grill. It was a pleasant evening. Dare I say, a mature display of grown men enjoying each others company?(nah, don’t say that.) By 9:30 pm I was home, Ben and Jerry’s in hand, watching a movie with my family. Sunday morning the dark roast was perfect, as was the french toast. No headaches, no gurgling bowels, and no regrets. I’m changing. I’ve been changing for the past 7 years. It’s not always easy, but for the most part the evolution of me has been enlightening. When you get to the point in your life when you’re ready to move on and leave bad habits in the rearview mirror, it’s a pretty amazing thing. Life feels more vital, and the idea of drinking to the point of blotto isn’t even the remotest options.

My name is J, and I’m an adult. Finally.

Editors Note:

Writing this, I was reminded of the Kinks’ song “Do You Remember Walter”. When I first heard it, back when I was 19, I always identified with the Ray Davies character. He’s talking to his friend Walter. He says “Walter, remember when the world was young/And all the girls knew Walter’s name?/Walter, isn’t it a shame the way our little world has changed?”, as if Walter can’t or won’t remember the old days. Later Davies laments “And if I talked about the old times you’d get bored/And you’ll have nothing more to say”. Nowadays though, I seem to identify with Walter more and more. “Do you remember, Walter, how we said we’d fight the world so we’d be free/We’d save up all our money and we’d buy a boat and sail away to sea/But it was not to be, I knew you then but do I know you now?”

“I knew you then but do I know you now?” Hell, I barely knew myself. 

 

 

 

Run The Jewels : RTJ3

I’m not sure how to go about writing a review for Run The Jewels 3. Powerful? In your face? Urgent? Yeah, all of those things. I don’t8153716c802c4bcf1cd9378b33b12a6f-1000x1000x1 have the history and hours clocked in with many hip hop albums to compare it to other records. I’ve only recently found my in with the world of hip hop. One of the albums that opened my eyes a bit to how good hip hop can be was Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music back in 2012. There was a power behind his delivery that grabbed me. He seemed to rap with purpose. He was real, as opposed to so much mainstream hip hop that just sounds like processed digital cha-chings in the pockets of record executives. With El-P, I was familiar more with his production work than I was with his albums. When I first heard “Banana Clipper” off Run The Jewels 1 I was hooked. It was the sound of a band stalking. It was the sound of two guys that completely get each other and clicking on a level like Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, and with the visceral wit of a Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor. They’re musical, but they’re funny, too. Like a foul-mouthed Greek chorus. Funny in a way where after you laugh you have to think a bit. Run The Jewels 2 was the crazy, everything goes record that proved Killer Mike and El-P were the best at doing what they do. It was this Caligula-like party where everything was up for grabs. It was as smart as it was perverse(and it was at times pretty perverse.)

So now we have Run The Jewels 3. It’s coming off of a year where Killer Mike was a very vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders. It was a year of political strife, social, racial, and personal divides, and a general feeling of things getting bad. Run The Jewels 3 feels like a call to arms. It’s a stripped down, visceral laser shot into the heart of the Death Star that was 2016.

I’ve heard the phrase “post-apocalyptic” mentioned when describing Killer Mike and El-Ps RTJ3 and I can definitely hear that. Gone are the brag fests of “36” Chain” and “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1”, and in their place are tracks like album opener “Down”, where Killer Mike talks about hoping he never has to go back to “my days of dealing with dope”. El-P says “gonna need a little hope, boys, on the double.” There’s still big songs, like “Legend Has It”, “Call Ticketron”, and “Panther Like A Panther(Miracle Mix)” where these two get to drop expert rhymes and sound like they’re having a great time doing it. But this record is more than over-the-top rhymes and killer production. 2016 is in these songs, haunting it and informing it. Songs like “Don’t Get Captured”, “Thursday In The Danger Room”, “Oh Mama”, and “A Report To The Shareholders/Kill Your Masters” are direct hits to the mess we’re in now. “Thursday In The Danger Room” is on a whole other level with Kamasi Washington adding some incredible horns.

RTJ3 is a mission statement. It’s a fearless and gut-level reaction to where we’re at at the beginning of 2017. Killer Mike and El-P have done it once again. This is the soundtrack to the great unknown we call the future.

 

King’s Filth and Other Love Songs

Le Matos.

A French Canadian synth band from Montreal. I’m not sure how to describe their music other than to say it’s a boisterously uplifting kind of electronic. It’s techno, heavy synth, house, and just plain hard-driving music. It’s what you’d have playing as you’re cruising the digital world in your Tron light cycle. It’s 100 mph music as you cruise along the Autobahn. I see lots of neon, flashing lights, and people wearing chrome suits touching inappropriately in the back of gravity-free interstellar night clubs. That’s the vibe I get when I listen to Le Matos.

fullsizerenderI first became aware of Le Matos when I picked up their soundtrack to the great little indie sci-fi throwback film Turbo Kid early last year. I ended up watching the movie with my son and we were instantly fans(and yes, I may have had a crush on the wonderful Apple.) That movie made me feel like a kid all over again, bringing to mind so many movies from the 80s I loved and watched over and over(Explorers, Goonies, The Last Starfighter, Karate Kid, Krull, etc, etc.) Though many of those films weren’t similar in story line, they all were about outcasts that stand up for themselves against bullies, aliens, monsters, and just plain bad dudes. There was also the endearing love story between Turbo Kid and Apple that made me think of, oddly, Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend. For a film that was so severely panned the love story in that movie really struck a chord with me(I’d love to see Craven’s original edit of the film, before WB executives had him destroy it.)

fullsizerender-2Anyways, the soundtrack for Turbo Kid by Le Matos was amazing. Such a great 80s synth-inspired musical work. It totally captured that 80s synth sound. That brazen and vast sound that brings to mind post-apocalyptic expanse and a sort of broken world wildness. Dark grey horizons and scorched earth hopelessness that the music works to build some kind of drive for the characters to survive despite the world seemingly coming to an end. Around a month ago I grabbed their debut record, Join Us, courtesy of the fine folks at Death Waltz/Mondo. It’s yet another brash and exemplary musical statement by the Montreal band that makes you want to groove and lose your mind in their beats and synth explorations.

I think what I love so much about Le Matos’ songs are that they’re long. Really long. They’re long so you have time to get sucked into their musical worlds. “King’s Filth” and “Interceptor” take up the whole of side A and they’re absolutely stunning. I imagine traveling at the speed of light through space as these tracks play. Produced exquisitely by the band which is composed of Jean-Nicolas Leupi, Jean-Philippe Bernier, and Maxime Dumesnil, the drums and synths pop and crackle with life throughout. You could be just as enthralled listening to this on the dance floor or riding through the bitter wasteland of a crumbling planet. “Overdog” and “58 Minutes Pour Vivre” fill out side b, and it almost sounds like there’s a sample from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys in “58 Minutes Pour Vivre”, but I could be mistaken. Whether it is or not, it’s a hell of a track. Side C has a great collaboration with Electric Youth on the song “Light Again”. Le Matos worked with Pawws on the Turbo Kid S/T with the track “No Tomorrow”, giving us a wonderful slice of 80s synth pop. With Electric Youth they do the same, as “Light Again” is a hell of a track(check out Electric Youth’s track on the Drive S/T, “A Real Hero”…it’s a keeper.) Side D closes the album out with the tracks “Sarah”, “The Stuff”, and “La Mer Des Possibilities” and they’re standouts, all of them.

I can’t recommend Le Matos enough. Unlike a lot of electronic music, there’s a definitive beating heart in the center of all the analog commotion. These guys drop names like Vangelis, John Carpenter, Goblin, and Tangerine Dream as influences and drives for them to make music. Those names and echoes of their art certainly haunt Join Us, but in more of a Casper The Friendly Ghost sort of way, or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir sort of way. Not like an Insidious or The Conjuring kind of way. They seem to be an integral seasoning in the Le Matos stew, but not enough to make you think there’s too much.

Join Us is an outstanding album that will make your groovy side very happy, as well as your nerdy sci-fi side equally thrilled.

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Nuts & Bolts & God Complexes

As I’ve gotten older I’m finding myself more drawn to the world of science fiction as opposed to the world of horror. As a kid I was all about horror films. That’s where it was at for me. I liked science fiction, as long as it was based in jump scares and gore. Yeah, I wasn’t much of a scholar. I wanted some visceral experiences while I enjoyed VCR time. I didn’t want to have to think about this stuff. Existential dilemma? Morality? The battle between what we CAN do and SHOULD do? Pfft. I want half naked chicks being chased by a chainsaw/electric drill/machete/razor glove-wielding psychopath. And a frozen pepperoni pizza. And a two-liter of Mountain Dew. That’s entertainment, dude. Not morality plays and technical jargon about man’s ego getting the better of him and making contact with lifeforms from deep space. Some intellectual sci fi/horror did make its way into my brain as a kid, but those movies were few and far between.

Then my junior year of high school a few friends and I went to see Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. It was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who up to this point had made a name for himself by writing the screenplay for the Patrick Swayzee goo-fest Ghost. While that film wasn’t a horror or sci fi necessarily, it completely blew my mind(Jacob’s Ladder, not Ghost.) The idea of redemption, the pain of letting go, and the struggle of figuring out reality from fantasy. It was a stunning work and still is to this day. It was also a movie that opened my mind to other possibilities in film. The “psychological drama”, as they say.

Now that I’m in my 40s I’ve completely made a turn in my cinematic proclivities. I seek out the intellectual story. A film where stunning visuals collide beautifully with thought-provoking storytelling and mind-altering ideas. 2015s Ex_Machina was one of my favorite films in 2015, and one of my favorite films in general in recent years. Alex Garland, who’s collaborations with Danny Boyle have been some of my favorite movies in the last decade, made a science fiction classic with Ex_Machina. Beautifully shot, written, and acted it pulls you into the world of a madman with delusions of grandeur.

The story, in case you haven’t seen it, is about a brilliant and enigmatic CEO of a software company who invites one of his employees to stay with him for a week at his isolated mansion/bunker in the woods to help him on a project. The project is a female humanoid robot named Ava that the CEO, named Nathan Bateman(played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac), is working on. He wants the employee named Caleb Smith(played by Domhnall Gleeson) to talk with Ava and figure out if she has developed her own conscience and free thoughts. Of course, there’s much more going on and Nathan Bateman is far more than just eccentric.

As far as maniacal evil scientists go, Bateman is one of the more interesting. He drinks too much, punishes himself for it by excessively working out and drinking protein shakes to cleanse his system. He’s incredibly smart and equally full of himself. His gestures of friendship towards the mildly skeptical Caleb feel anything but earnest. He’s one of the more endearing genius creeps I’ve seen in film for quite a long time.

Caleb Smith is the patsy in this. He won a drawing at work that allowed him access to his bosses stunning and luxurious bunker in the middle of nowhere(you can only get to this place by helicopter.) He’s thrilled to be a part of whatever is going on, but soon enough paranoia and skepticism seep into his brain when he realizes that Nathan Bateman is equal parts Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.

Ava, the humanoid robot of which the story and experiment evolves is so convincing it’s not hard to understand how the lonely Caleb would fall for her. Played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander as both a robotic babe lost in the woods and a sly machine pulling one over on the naive and lovestruck Caleb.

Kyoko is a Japanese assistant/lover of Nathan Bateman that we later realize there’s more to her than meets the eyes.

What’s amazing about this film is how we start out with a sense of awe with Caleb as he first arrives at Nathan’s fortress of solitude in the woods. The excitement for Caleb at being involved in such a forward-thinking and pivotal experiment, and the feeling that this brilliant and successful guy wants lowly office worker Caleb to assist in such an important scientific endeavor. But that excitement quickly turns to tension as we figure out CEO Nathan Bateman is suffering from a serious God complex. His drive to create life through his brains and circuits overpowers what humanity the guy may have started out with in life. The effects are stunning and realistic as Ava sits and talks with Caleb. You see the mesh body she sits in with the face of a beautiful woman. A scene in the film where she slips on skin and picks out a pretty dress to wear in order to impress is just incredible. What Alicia Vikander can do with just facial expressions is unbelievable.

The score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is a less-is-more affair and that works perfectly for this film. It’s quiet interludes are occasionally interrupted by blasts of noise and heavy synth. For the most part it’s subtle enough that you don’t notice what’s really happening until it creeps up on you. Having recently picked this score up and I can say it works beautifully as a standalone. Much like Cliff Martinez’ Solaris S/T and Ben Lovett’s Synchronicity score, Salisbury and Barrow keep things at low boil for the most part, which allows the story to pull you in. On its own it’s an incredible mix of ambient tones and slow-churning tension.

When I look back on all the film’s I watched in my teen years that I thought were great horror films there were a few that were also great science fiction. Movies like Hardware, The Hidden, Altered States, Scanners, Phantasm, and Alien were great science fiction disguised as horror. More recently films like Beyond The Black Rainbow, Synchronicity, and both of Shane Carruth’s films Primer and Upstream Color are fine examples of great modern science fiction.

And of course, Ex_Machina.

Bullies, Bruises, and Other Things That Keep Me Up At Night

I suppose I consider myself pretty lucky never having to deal with a school bully. Sure, there were the macho jocks, greasy punks, and wannabe gangstas that took runs at me over the years. Those were mostly isolated incidences(kid screams in my face in the hallway in middle school and laughs it up with his slime ball friends; another kid, stoned, thinks he may want to fight me at the arcade one night after we got out of the movies…turns out I wasn’t who he thought I was; another kid whacks me in the head with a kickball from 50 feet away, yucking it up.) There was one kid in the 2nd or 3rd grade that kept pushing me on the playground and I’d just had enough and I went at him. We rolled on the ground in the most underwhelming display of brute force ever. We both got in trouble even though he started it. Joe Grapf was his name. There were troubles with the law later in life. Rumors of him torturing kittens flew around the playground after he left the school for good one day. Supposedly he ran away from home, lived in the woods, and was raised by raccoons.

Well, maybe not raccoons.

Point is, in my 43 years years I’ve been pretty lucky when it came to bullies. Maybe it was my ability to blend into the scenery. I don’t come off so much a vulnerable human as I do an inanimate object. I was like a lamp that seems to have faint facial features; a boy in Husky jeans that seems to have no personality or spirit to crush. Maybe it was because I could get along with mostly anyone. I wasn’t one to start up conversations, but I could give the impression that I belonged even though I didn’t.

I was the child equivalent of a Replicant.

It seemed as if I was supposed to be there, which threw attention onto the smaller classmates(poor, poor, Charles Gigous. I’m sorry, guy.) I was also what they called “big-boned”. I think only your mom calls you big-boned, while the rest of the world just says you’re fat. I wasn’t a fat kid, otherwise I’m sure I’d a fallen prey to the bullies. I was just big enough to keep the predators away. My quiet disposition, along with being “big-boned” made me seem like more of a threat than I really was. My Husky jeans, tousled hair, and soulless blank stare kept the cretins away from me(still do, except there’s not much hair left to tousle.)

When you grow up and have children of your own there’s a Pandora’s Box of fears you develop. You worry about one thing then a million more things pop up. Are they eating right? Are they developing at the right pace? Am I ruining them on some existential level? Are they reading enough? Are they reading too much? Should I let them read that? At what age should I expose them to Star Wars? What if they prefer Star Trek? What if I find they’re reading Nicholas Sparks novels? What happens if they prefer the Dave Clark Five to the Beatles? So many things to consider when you become a parent.

For me, one of those fears is that my kids will become victim to a bully. I know how sweet, kind, polite, and loving they all are and the thought of someone physically and mentally terrorizing my children just kills me. Right before Christmas break my wife was tipped off by someone at my son’s school that he had been picked on by a couple of kids in his math class. There were no details other than who the two were that did it and that the teacher was taking care of it. Our son hadn’t said anything to us, nor was he acting differently either. I still felt like I needed to at least bring it up to him. I’ve always told the kids that they can come to us for anything, about anything. Especially if someone’s giving them trouble at school; be it bullies, teachers, friends, Jehova’s Witnesses, or whoever.

So I brought it up to my son about him being picked on at school and he just gave me a puzzled look. I’ve got that parenting sixth sense that I know when there’s a problem. Not every parent has this ability, but I do(thanks, mom.) I could tell he honestly didn’t know what I was talking about. Maybe the school informant misunderstood, or maybe they were saying something behind my son’s back and he didn’t know. Either way, I wasn’t going to push it. I just told him that if there were ever any problems at school with anyone to please just let me know. I’d handle it…I’d handle it. Yeah, what does that mean? In my head I’m already going through the revenge fantasies. Me walking into the classroom dressed as T-800 from T2:Judgement Day. “Hasta la vista, baby”, I would say as I douse the punk in Silly Spray. In another I show up at the kid’s house to talk it out with his dad, only to have the dad get lippy and I go Steven Seagal on him. As I snap his arm, I shout “You should’ve tried those Baby Einstein videos with that son of yours!!!”

I mean, who really deserves the punishment in that case? Sure, the kid did the deed. He picked on someone he felt was weaker than him. Felt he wasn’t a threat. But you learn that behavior at home. Unless the bully is a straight up sociopath, mom and dad ruined their child and turned them into the monster. That’s how I see it, anyways. More than likely the parents of a bully are a bully themselves. Or are just too flippant to teach their kids right from wrong. They don’t have time to discipline the little people they brought into the world. Here’s an electronic device, son. I don’t know how to tell you “no”, so just play this video game for hours while I slip into an alcohol-fueled daze.

Either way, I think that dad deserves some Steven Seagal justice.

I guess for the time being I won’t worry about bullies. My son’s got some good pals at school, and I know he’ll tell me if he’s having problems. He knows I’ve got his back. He also knows we come from a long line of hot heads that will keep their cool until they can’t. Then look out. My paternal instinct is to work it out rationally. Think things through and find a reasonable solution. Then, if that doesn’t work I break out the spiked ball bat and I hash out it in Thunderdome.

I think that’s reasonable.