Monday, November 18, 2019

The power in letting go.

Rowe, photo by Simon Filip
Rowe (a.k.a. Becky Filip) released her debut single "Tired Love" last week, and it's the kind of slinky and slow groove that finds its home deep within you. I know it's stuck with me and bubbled to the top of my consciousness a number of times over the weekend since I first listened to it.

Filip's song is borne out of the newfound freedom driven by the realization that "being alone was not the same thing as being lonely." That feels powerful to me. But also incredibly vulnerable. And those two things come together the song's bridge when Filip sings "So you can write me letters / And you can write me songs / But it won’t make it better / You can’t keep a heart you broke."

It's such a simple statement, but it's also the kind of truth that takes people just so long to truly embrace and understand. On the surface, "Tired Love" appears to be a lament, but I think that at its core it's a statement of strength through self-acceptance.

I'm curious to hear what Filip has planned next under the Rowe moniker.

Friday, November 15, 2019

You'll believe a cat can fly!

Viktor the cat, photo via Mikhail Galin's Facebook page
In a week (month? year? years? has it always been this bad?!) of garbage news, one story rose up to save us all.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sometimes, first thing in the morning, you can literally only talk about the weather.

Sheez, it is cold in Chicago.

I'm not really complaining, since the freeze is something you just grow used to around these parts. However we usually have a little more time to ease into it, and it really does feel like we've hit the deep freeze range of temps we are usually more acclimated to in February.

For example, most of the radiators in my apartment don't work. Or they do, but only for something like 15 minutes a day, at 5 a.m. And the two or three that stay heated longer than that do so intermittently, ad are in areas of the apartment I don't reguarly occupy (like my library or the room where my drum kit is set up). So it can get unusually cold in my place, but I tend to just wear extra layers and crawl under blankets. But last year "unusually cold in my place" didn't really manifest until, you guessed it, February. This year it started creeping toward that territory in October and is now firmly ensconced in the land of not-comfy chill already in November.

I planned on just dealing with it but my upstairs neighbor just told me that everyone in the building is having heating issues already, so maybe this year they'll get taken care of! My landlord is actually very cool, I'm just the sort of person that always just deals with these things quietly rather than bothering someone else to actually fix them. Lame, I know. But I hate feeling like I'm putting people out! I don't wanna do that.

So there you go. Another fascinating update from the Midwest on, you guessed it, the weather. Hey, I promised I'd return to writing something every day, I just never promised it'd all be genius.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Lou Barlow stars in The Get Up Kids' "Lou Barlow" and we continue to reach new heights of self-referential indie awesomeness in today's media landscape.

Continuing the trend of current bands paying tribute to their '80s indie rock idols, and then recruiting their '80s indie rock idols to participate in some manner in that tribute, The Get Up Kids have released the video for their song "Lou Barlow," and it stars Lou Barlow.

In the accompanying press release, Barlow confirmed in an official statement that “I acted the shit out of that.”

I concur.

Also, worth noting, the album "Lou Barlow" is pulled from, Problems, is an excellent album and you should listen to it and buy it and go see The Get Up Kids live and buy all their merch and all of that, while you're at it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fantasy Island was a lot scarier during its original run than you probably think it was.

"Welcome to my island—I hope you survive!"
When I was a kid my family would watch The Love Boat, and to my little brain the biggest draw there was the celebrity quests and the fact all there adults seemed to be having a pretty good time on that boat. After that show, Fantasy Island aired, and I remember preferring it over The Love Boat, while also being super scared of it. In retrospect the series was pretty creepy at times, even if all that spooky stuff was often in support of teaching the guests a lesson that would imp[rove their lives. But the tales themselves would unsettle my little brain and cause me sleepless nights.*

I had no clue Blumhouse was launching a film reboot of Fantasy Island until seeing the trailer for it before Doctor Sleep this weekend.** And while I suspect quite a few people who came up on the series through reruns (if at all) may be surprised to see the latest incarnation firmly rooted in the supernatural realm of Blumhouse terrors, it makes total sense to me!

Mr. Roarke never was a mortal human, and while the TV series did accent Roarke's more merciful tendencies and opportunities for mentorship, there was always a real danger lurking below his island's surface. While I don't know if Roarke will ultimately end up being a hero or a villain in the reboot, I have no issues with his presentation as a dangerous entity introducing peril into visitors' lives.

*This is probably why my parents tried to keep me away from horror films at the same time they would allow my youngest brother to take them in. I think he was always more practical about being able to separate fantasy from reality. This may also explain why he's now a very successful lawyer and I'm a creative in advertising.

**Yes, I gave in and decided to see this sequel to The Shining. It was fine, but unless you're a Stephen King superfan I think you can wait for it to hit cable or the streaming service of your choice. Trust me.

Monday, November 11, 2019

You don't have to read this stuff in order to enjoy 'Watchmen' but I think you really should.

I've really been enjoying the Watchmen television series, and think it's done a fabulous job of treating the source material with respect while building exciting new tales from the original DNA. Heh, that sentence could be viewed as darkly humorous given a few of the plot development s in last night's episode. But I digress.

In the original comic book, there was always supplementary material at the back of the book in the form of book excerpts, articles, and the like. For the TV series, the creators originally wanted to do something is similar, and build post-credit sequences that would serve a similar purpose. However they couldn't find a way to make it quite work within the show. So I believe that's what spurred the creation of the Peteypedia files, a collection similar in purpose to the additional material in the comics. It's the sort of thing that can expand your understanding of what's happening in there main story, but isn't essential.

Here is where you make the argument that the show must stand on its own, without additional required reading, and this is certainly true. When 14-year-old me read the original series as it was being released—I worked in a comic book store in the mid-'80s, marking me a super uber nerd*—I admit I often skipped the "boring stuff" at the back of the book. It wasn't until re-reading Watchmen a few years later, probably bored in my college dorm room and avoiding homework, that I pored over the extra stuff and realized just how much color it added to the story!

The Peteypedia files do the exact same thing.

They release "new" files each week, and while they aren't essential to the central story, they do add to it, and it continues to show what a fully considered world Damon Lindelof and his collaborators have created. Everything here means something, and the attention to detail (and ability to not take everything so seriously**) really does make for fuller immersion into a world so foreign and familiar.

In other words, like the original, HBO's Watchmen stands on its own, but why not take advantage of the expanded world both versions offer in order to create an even richer experience?

*Not as much of a nerd as my coworker at the time who pegged who the villain was in Watchmen before anyone else.

**Also, how else would you learn that Ezra Klein is the White House press secretary for Robert Redford? Tell me that isn't pretty funny stuff.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Winter living.

In Chicago we had the season of "fall" last for, oh, a few days before we got buried in snow all day Halloween. Yesterday was downright frigid and right now the temperature is in the teens, with only a smidge of hope that'll it'll move upward much over the course of the day. This weekend we should poke into the 40s (Fahrenheit, for anyone not lodged in that temperature system) and I guarantee I'll see people walking down my block in shorts and hoodies. It's just how Midwesterners roll.

During my job hunt this year, due to the state of the Chicago market at the time, I had finally opened myself up to relocation to Warner climates after years of resisting such a move. Maybe I should have focused more on that!

Aw, who am I kidding? By this point I'm probably a Chicagoan until my death. I mean, I'm way too old to take up surfing or something like that. And I grew up in South Texas so I know what it's like to have 360 days of summer—and 5 of "winter" where people wore heavy coats as the temperature dropped to a freezing 60° F (ha!). So it's not like I've had to suffer in the freezing cold all of my life.

Plus, a move would so confuse Pickle the Kitten. Right now she's got her seasons down, as far as where she hangs out during the day: spring is when she sleeps on the couch, summer is when she sleeps on the footstool or windowsill (wherever the sunbeam is at the time), and winter is when she actually puts forth the effort to make the leap upward and sleep in my bed. I've finally got her fit enough to make that jump, so I don't want to risk it by relocating her somewhere she'll inhabit a windowsill year-round!

So, Chicago it is.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The best Replacements cover band in all of the land.

When I saw Beach Slang play a last-minute show at Liar's Club in late 2016, James Alex busted out "Bastards Of Young" (among a bevy of other covers) and admitted that his outfit could easily be viewed as a Replacememnts cover band. And he had no issue with that. And hey, when you're ripping off such terrific source material with such earnest love, I ain't gonna judge. It doesn't change the fact that Alex writes terrific songs and has a live presence that makes you fall in love with rock and/or roll over and over again.

Beach Slang has a new album coming out next year, and the latest taste of what to expect is ... "Tommy In The '80s." Featuring Tommy Stinson. Sounding like late-'80s Replacememnts complete with a dated synth horn blast. It should be a disaster but it's not.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Rocking out at House On The Rock.

How has no one else (that I've seen, yet) not used that headline for their news pieces on the latest video from The Raconteurs? Seems like a miss to me. The video was filmed at the Wisconsin tourist trap / state treasure / living fever dream that is House On The Rock, a location I finally visited in person earlier this year. Having lived in Illinois and vacationed in areas of Wisconsin over the last couple of decades, the name House On The Rock was familiar to me, but for some reason the mental image that accompanied it was always more Frank Lloyd Wright in nature. Wow. I was way off on that one.

Even crazier is that I saw House On The Rock featured on American Gods last year and just assumed they had CGI-ed the joint within an inch of its life. Again, way off on that one too.

In fact, House On The Rock is a sprawling series of buildings that takes at least a day to get through, and even then you feel as if you've rushed through and only caught a fraction of the weirdness it has crammed into its confines.

So, take in the video above, and realize that as strange as it appears, it's only barely scratching the surface of the location its filmed in. Dreams and / or nightmares for months!

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

What would the odd do, indeed.

Photo by Vanessa Castro
According to the band, Guerilla Toss' new EP What Would The Odd Do? was driven by singer/bandleader Kassie Carlson's recovery from opioid addiction and open heart surgery to remove a blood clot caused by said addiction. So you would think the music resulting from that experience would be either loudly harrowing and disturbing or quietly claustrophobic. I mean, right?


Instead What Would The Odd Do? Is a swirling, giddy, danceable concoction that skirts genres. I'll take the band's word for it that the album deals with a post-addiction mindset, because the lyrics are largely elliptical, creating poetic impressions that avoid specificity. Carlson comes across as more interested in creating moods through rhythmic constructions of her words, and this leaves an impression of cohesion from a distance. But if you dig into it line by line, you could get lost in the maze of phrases that double back on themselves to create a vertiginous rush.

It's one of the more weirdly enjoyable things I've heard this year. I plan on digging into their back catalog and am curious if that stuff will be just as enhancing and life-affirming as What Would The Odd Do? feels to me. Only one way to find out!

The band is on tour now (they open for Battles at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on December 8). Based on this EP, I think they're worth checking out. I know I'll be there when they hit my town.

Monday, November 04, 2019

It was 75 years ago...

My dad would have been 75-years-old today.

On this day I always revisit the thoughts my brother Sean put together for my dad's funeral 15 years ago. Wow, that seems like forever ago, but at times it also feels like yesterday. I could've really used my dad's perspective and advice over the last 2 years, since some of the things he struggled with at times probably most closely approximated some of my own struggles.

This is one of those posts that has gone through a bunch of different variations since I started writing it after waking up this morning. So here are a few snippets that survived, that didn't end up being too depressing, or self-centered.

In some ways we were very, very different people, but as time has gone by I am often struck by parallels in both history and actions that can't be denied. My dad was the first to teach me parents are human and fallible, but that only gave me perspective on life and never stopped me from looking up to him, no matter what our differences were.

Losing a parent sucks. Since my dad left I've seen plenty of other friends lose parents and I'm always tortured by the understanding that there is nothing I can do or say to lessen their pain, aside from letting them know everything they are feeling is valid, and terrible, and crushing, and that while it will never disappear, the pain will grow more manageable.

I'd still like to think that at my darkest moments over the last few years, he was the one looking down on me and offering me the tiny pushes that kept me from completely giving into the abyss. I certainly took his example of perseverance, no matter what life throws at you, to heart. He was human, but he always did whatever was needed to keep our family afloat, even in the most financially challenging times.

Sean's piece quotes something I wrote that year, and it still does a really good job of encapsulating my feelings, even 15 years later. So go read that, and help me celebrate my dad for all the positive impact he had on his family and friends. I'm no longer sure at all what kind of legacy I'll end up leaving behind—too much is still in flux for me, and I'm kind of starting over from square one—but I hope whatever I end up leaving behind would make my dad proud.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Should you super duper want the new deluxe reissue of R.E.M.'s 'Monster'? Let's discuss.

R.E.M. photo by Jim Cohen
I could've sworn it was an R.E.M. "anniversary" release years ago triggered a salty post from me years ago, but no amount of digging through my own archives or the pages of Donewaiting has uncovered it, so that means it's either a) in my own head or b) actually ran in my weekly email newsletter that predated this site. Either way, I've long been suspicious of "deluxe editions" as far as expanding the historical record while simultaneously finding myself unable to resist them.

In plain terms, in my head special editions are often good only for superfine and pointless otherwise. Mostly. There are exceptions! And that list of exceptions has grown and grown, so I do believe we're moving past the point of these reissues being simple each-ins for labels or bands trying to extend their catalog's lifespan. Hell, one of the first series of remasters I remember making a real difference were when The Who re-released their whole catalog and you could suddenly hear Keith Moon's drums so much better on everything pre-1972 in the band's work. And there bonus tracks actually expanded the story. And and and ... I could go on and on, but suffice to say that series began to soften my stance.

As years have passed the number of special editions has spiked, and most are still pathetic cash grabs but the ones that actually try and make a case for their existence can be tremendous gifts.

This brings us to R.E.M. and today's release of the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of 1994's (in case you couldn't do the math) Monster.

Monster is often viewed as R.E.M.'s reaction to the 1994 "grunge" explosion.* That's because it was. And because of that I think lots of people didn't give it a fair shake at the time. It didn't hurt the band's popularity at all, they would mount a massive tour behind the album that did really well, but the album itself was often derided, especially in "cool" circles like the snobs I hung out with. However I liked the volume of "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" And spent a few hard-earned bucks from flipping burgers and DJing to get my own copy of the CD. And I liked it enough. I certainly did not not like it. Little did I know would be the last great R.E.M. album recorded as an album, if not the last great R.E.M. album, per-se.**

History has been kind to the disc. The band's reintegration of distortion always felt more glam than grunge to me, and I think the intervening years have served to support that opinion. The songs are solid, and there are even a few tearjerkers in there. If you don't get at least a little misty in response to Michael Stipe's plaintive wail on "Let Me In" you need to loosen up and, um, let 'em in.

Sooooo, let's just agree Monster was a fine album. Is a fine album. But does it warrant a super duper deluxe reissue? It breaks down into fur primary components:
  1. The original album, remastered
  2. Demos from that time period
  3. The original album, remixed, presumably now to producer Scott Litt's satisfaction
  4. A live concert in CHICAGO!***
So, let's be honest and take these each separately.

The remaster is just fine, if not really necessary, since it sounds almost identical to the original release. But hey, you can't add that "super" to "deluxe" without remastering something.

The demos are interesting, though you'll probably listen to the once and never again. As always with these things, they're snippets of ideas or half-baked thoughts that offer insight into what was going on behind the scenes. But again, more of historical interest, IMHO.

The remix is where the value-add starts to be obvious, though it's the sort of thing you will wither love or find super annoying. It's basically a whole new album, akin to viewing the original from an alternate dimension, opening things up and adding in different takes and basically rebuilding from the ground up. I've listened to it a bunch of times and I still find the alternative presentation fascinating; a re-imagining of what might have been, if you will. It doesn't change the way I feel about the original album one whit, and it doesn't expose or fix any weaknesses of the original recording, but it's an interesting exercise. And I think it's a valid way to re-approach the material. It's probably only of real interest to superfine, but by this point there are plenty of R.E.M. superfine to support this release. Even if most people I know barely seem to remember R.E.M. any more.****

And the live concert. It's a live concert. I do remember watching the Road Movie concert film they released from this tour (also included in this box set) and thinking the band was in viciously fine form, and this recording does nothing to change that appraisal—though I had forgotten how delightfully loopy Stipe's between song banter has always been. Again, it's the sort of thing I'll listen to once or twice and probably never again. Maybe you're different.

It occurs to me that by this point my thoughts on this super deluxe primo box set seem less than glowing. The fact of the matter is that I think it's pretty great, but I'm trying to process it the way an average consumer would, and give the facts based on whether or not that person wants to lay down a bunch of dollars for this. Do you need it in your library?! Do you really need it?

If you are the average fan, I would lay out the dough for the two-disc version that has the 2019 remaster and the new Scott Litt remix, since I do think that's required listening and something you might play over and over again. Who knows, maybe the remix will become your favorite version of Monster! But two discs should keep you covered.

If you are the above average fan, then by all means grab the deluxe set. You are the type that will listen to the demos over and over again. And dig into the video content (which is content I have not. Covered here outside the Road Movie mention, since it was not included in my review download). And you will play the Chicago concert recording over and over again in hopes that it's transmission might draw the band back to a stage near you. It won't, but you gotta dream. But dreams or not, the reality is that you'll love this set.

*Look, I'm not gonna argue over the use of the word "grunge." If you were in college in the early '90s we all called it "grunge," revisionist history be damned. You know what I'm talking about.

**New Adventures In Hi-Fi was recorded on the road and felt more like a really great odds and sods collection more than an "album," though I think in the grand scheme of things I still rate that as the last great R.E.M. album, with Monster coming in under it, quality-wise. Anyway.

***I didn't realize until recently that until Monster the band hadn't done any touring since I saw them in 1989. For some reason I thought they were always on the road, but I guess despite the massive success of the intervening albums Monster was the one that got them back out there? Weird. In my defense, I was living in a Central Illinois college town so most of my news came from discussions at the bar or the record store, or Rolling Stone and Spin, when I could afford them.

****Which, BTW, WTF?! Seriously?!