Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Another year older.

I survived another year! My last few birthdays have been quiet affairs, each one marked by a small amount of disbelief that I actually made it through another year, and a large amount of hope that things couldn't possibly get any worse, so sunshine times just had to be around the corner!


So this year I'm level. Routine. Boring. Living is a mental state where disbelief is suspended by actual reality and the resulting world we all inhabit is, right now, a very scary place. This year my only real hope is that it will be less scary this time next year. But I've given up saying "it can't get any worse" because I'm tired of proving myself wrong over and over again.

So let's see where we're all at next year. Maybe I'll even be feeling festive enough by then to actually regain the celebratory joy that used to mark my birthdays. This year I'll just be content with working part of the day and then spending the rest of the day walking and trying to find a quiet place to do some reading.

That seems pretty cool to me right now.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Feeling alright?

Here's a quick one to get your weekend started. I've written about Ryan Allen multiple times here and elsewhere, mostly in relation to various bands he's been in, but during the pandemic he's been cranking out some excellent new music so I wanted to share his recent effort with you.

I'll just let the music speak for itself, but I did plunk down some of my own hard-earned cash for my own download of it. And if the music ain't enough top open your pocketbook, maybe the knowledge that Allen says, "100% of my proceeds for downloading these songs will go to the Black Lives Matter movement." Win-win, people. Win-win!

Psssst. Pssssst! Also, between you and me, I am endlessly amused with Allen's "record label" for this release. Now if only he were wearing a "Loser" t-shirt in the shot...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Some movie and TV and recommendations I meant to share last month and, well, better late than never!

Over the last few months the file of ideas to write about has grown overstuffed, so who knows what from that pile will ever make it's way through to live on at some point or another. But I did come across a text file on my desktop created in early May that I clearly meant to post, and just never did!

So with that in mind, here's a list of stuff I was going to recommend back then to anyone looking to fill their free time. Come to think of it, we're still not getting out much, so this is still relatively useful to most!

The Lighthouse
I've been putting this off since I expected it to be a brainier watch and wanted to make sure I was in the right mood. I shouldn't have waited! Visually brilliant. And so entertaining! Yes, it's dark, but I actually had a rollicking good time viewing this one. And I'll definitely be rewatching it a few times in the near future. So much better (IMHO) than Robert Eggers' debut The VVitch.

Normal People
Read the book first and then watch this adaptation of the material. It's rare when a book comes to life onscreen the way I envisioned it, but in this case that's what happened! And that is probably due in no small fact to author Sally Rooney's involvement with the series. They actually listened to the writer!

After seeing Devs, this feels a little sim pie and flat at times since it goes over similar ground. But it's enjoyable and the characters are deep enough that when they take unexpected turns it actually fits with their development instead of just being stunts to carry the story along. In other words the characters feel more lived-in and "real" than I would've excepted from a comedy about a digital afterlife. I guess given that it was created by The Office's Greg Daniels I guess that shouldn't have come as a surprise though.

The season's conclusion feels a little out of place, primarily because the series resorts to cliffhanger in obvious hopes for a second season, but the twist feels earned so I'll keep riding along if there is another season.

The Leftovers
I'm going through a re-watch of this. I know, I know, how could I find a show where a percentage of the world's population just up and disappears during this pandemic? But there is so much feeling in the show itself that I find great human comfort in it. And this rewatch surprised me with the discovery that this is possibly one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Who woulda thunk?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Never stops?

I finally had a second to think to myself today after sprinting non-stop since the early morning hours, and then I got the most disturbing snippet of news about a loved one so now I'm sitting here with a thousand questions and no answers. I don't wanna get into any of it right now. And I want to know everything about it right now.

Sorry to be all vague and such, but some days you just don't want to feel alone, even if you don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Who taught you how to shave?

I had never been able to grow a full beard, and the less said about the goatee and soul patch I wore for a portion of the '90s, the better. But a few years ago I discovered that hair had suddenly decided to grow on my face in all the places a beard would usually go! Luckily for everyone I always shaved before things got out of hand.

When the lockdown began last March, I had been just about to schedule one of my twice-a-year haircuts, so I was shaggy and unshaved. Once we were all sheltering-in-place I decided to just let the hair go where it wanted to and figure out what to do about it once my stylist's salon opened back up.

So now I look like Grizzly Adams' slightly hipster cousin who's bordering on, and beginning to encroach into, dad-bod-land.

And I have no idea how to groom something like a beard!

I love my dad, but while he was on this planet he wasn't the strongest when it came to relaying manly information on doing manly things (like shaving) so I am in new territory. Once I realized that though, I began to really miss my dad and while I'm glad he's not still here to see all the stupid mistakes I've made, I wish he was here so I could ask him questions about so many things, including those stupid mistakes. And how to trim a beard.

Funny how that all started with me simply realizing he never taught me how to shave.

Friday, June 19, 2020

One songwriter, 31 interpretations.

Usually tribute albums are understandably hit and miss affairs, and at 31 tracks Saving For A Custom Van—a celebration of Adam Schlesinger's catalog—has a couple experiments that maybe don't land perfectly, but it's still 31 songs written by Schlesinger so the source material couldn't be much more solid.

Also, I betcha there are many many people who will be surprised to learn Schlesinger was involved with so much of the music they've probably taken for granted. I know even I forgot he had a hand in the sublime "Way Back Into Love," and who knew Sarah Silverman could sing?

And thank god Rachel Bloom, who collaborated with Schlesinger on so many Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs tackles "Stacy's Mom," taking it in a wholly unexpected direction to give a song Schlesinger might have tired of over the years a new twist.

*Well, actually I knew that. And so do many other people. But admit it, Silverman ain't the first person you expect to see on a tribute album to a power-pop legend.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A new way to keep dancing on your own.

Photo by Chantal Anderson, from Robyn's Facebook page 
In the early morning the world always looks fresh and full of potential to me. As the day wears on that fades, but I try to hold onto at least a sliver of that mentality through the day. It just helps me reframe the day and balance out the suffocatingly bad with the potentially good.

This take on Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" takes the yearning power of the original and reformulates it for a more consistent strut-worthy experience that perfectly pairs with long afternoon walks better than I envision it playing out on an actual dance floor. It doesn't carry nearly the same emotional power of the original, but it keeps just enough of that original intent and spices it up with just enough new twists to make an old and familiar friend seem new and fresh, even if no longer as close an old friend.

Monday, June 15, 2020

You're gonna love The Sounds' 'Things We Do For Love,' I betcha!

It seems almost fitting that The Sounds' first album since 2013 should be launched into the world during the grey area that is new music releases during our pandemic times. I say fitting because The Sounds have always existed in an area that, to me, always felt just outside "the normal." In a "normal" world these Swedes would be a globally dominant music force, based on their outstanding output of consistently hook-filled, rock-tinged dance floor anthems. But here we are, in 2020, and for a while I had a hard time even finding links to where you can actually buy their latest album, Things We Do For Love.

That just isn't fair. But the world isn't fair and here I am, again championing a band that should need no help from a pleb like me to get the word out about them.

So instead of convincing you about why you need The Sounds in your life right now, I'm just going to appeal to your inner laziness and simply urge you to click on the player below, and don't hit stop until the album's end.*

It's at this point I predict you will be as upset by The Sounds still being a band adored on the margins when they should be conquering the mainstream. But here we are.

*The fact I'm including a Spotify embed given my personal hesitation to use that platform except when absolutely necessary should give you an idea of how much I want you to listen to this album!

Friday, June 12, 2020

I'm still here...

I avoided posting much this week. There are other and more important things to worry about, and confront, and change, and fix. But I'm still here and as O.K. as anyone else who has a conscience and is just battered and horrified by the world around all of us right now. I do take a small amount of solace in the fact that maybe, just maybe, this time we'll all keep up the pressure to institute real and systemic change when it comes to addressing racism. It certainly feels different to me, this time around. And that gives me hope—but we all need to stay vigilant. That doesn't mean we have no time, or it's some sign of laziness that we might want, to hear about good things or new bands or movies or books, or any of the other stuff that honestly seems pretty irrelevant right now. I firmly believe art is a most excellent "distraction" in these times, especially since that "distraction" often helps us make sense of the world around us. But, like I said, these things should offer us comfort without dulling our passion to implement real, lasting change.

I do feel incredibly hopeful about our prospects for success, but I also fear this may be our last chance to get things done before we slide irrevocably into a deeper, darker, and more chaotic abyss.

So we ALL need to keep at it and not give up!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Well, that's one potential way to bring live music back...

I mean, it does keep everyone safe whilst enjoying the show!

[Credz to my old friend Sean for bringing this to my attention since I fell asleep early last night and missed its original airing!]

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Rockin' My Turntable in 2019.

Photo by Travis Wiens.
Well, I'm still 6 months late with this, but at least I'm getting closer to being back on track since my 2017 list took almost a year to get up. Progress? Progress!

It's worth noting that in the intro to my 2018 list I mentioned my listing habits had returned to normal when it came to new music. Of course I wrote that at the end of 2019 and since then they have returned to normal (as of yesterday, I've logged 344 albums so far this year).

2019 was a year for me slowing down, regaining control, and leaning on the familiar to get me through uncertain times. In this case you'll see "the familiar" has to do with sonic connections of the bands more so than. litany of old faves. Sure, there are a few stalwarts in here, but the vast majority are newer artists who hew to the sounds of my personal nostalgia and sentiment. So that's the basis of a lot of how these wormed their way into my head and heart, but if these were just bands trading on their influences it'd bore me (and you) pretty quickly.

The albums below are in total random order. The only potential organizing principle was that if the music is available on Bandcamp (my preferred platform for buying and streaming but mostly buying music) those are grouped first. Honestly, I haven't a clue why every band isn't on Bandcamp since I think Spotify is not a musician's friend and Soundcloud is fine but, again, doesn't seem as financially supportive to musicians as one would like.

So, let's go!

Bob Mould - Sunshine Rock

The granddaddy of indie punk shows no signs of slowing down. He's taken many detours over the years but he always seems to land in the power trio format and simply can't help himself from writing chunky guitar pop masterpiece after chunky guitar pop masterpiece.

Foxygen - Seeing Other People

Foxygen decided to take a trip down the groovier lanes of '60s pop psychedelia and I was and still am all in.

Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising

Don't kill me for saying this, but this is the album I always knew The Carpenters had in them if they'd just unleashed Karen.

Brat Curse - Brat Curse

Power pop on trucker's speed, with a vocal delivery that will have people singing Tripping Daisy tunes from their past. Urgent, immediate, and so much fun. Chugga chugga chugga!

PUP - Morbid Stuff

These cats never disappoint with raucous party punk that keeps the blood and sweat glands pumping.

Kitty Kat Fan Club - Dreamy Little You

Imagine a lottery ball machine filled with tiny globes of perfect indie pop bouncing all over the place and nudging against each other to be chosen unknowing that in fact they are all winners. That's Kitty Kat Fan Club.

Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center

You've heard this. Everyone has heard this. And there's a reason for that. But hopefully you didn't just hear the singles. Better Oblivion Community Center also put on one of my favorite shows in 2019, even though I think I went solo since my friend who was supposed to go that night canceled at the last minute. Big mistake!

Ex Hex - It's Real

This power trio whips out the polish and applies an '80s gleam to their indie power-pop numbers to take you down right in the solar plexus.

Dude York - Falling

This trio gets sharper and sharper and I've enjoyed watching them grow, especially as the guitarist and bassist have slowly started to more evenly split the songs they sing on.

Charly Bliss - Young Enough

One of my newer friends thought Charly Bliss was my favorite band of all time because of how much I played their music and talked to anyone who would listen about how terrific they are in 2019. While they aren't my favorite band of all time, over the years they have swiftly risen up my internal rankings ever since I saw them open for Veruca Salt way back when. They get better and better and better and if they top this album I just might explode.

Great Grandpa - Four Of Arrows

Another gang of youthful types who love '90s indie rock and explored the noise corners of that sound on their last album, only to shed much of the volume in favor of finesse on this huge step forward.

The Dollyrots - Daydream Explosion

I keep saying this because it's true: if Josie and the Pussycats released new albums they would sound exactly like this.

100 gecs - 1000 gecs

This was certainly the most memorable show I saw in 2019. If you have to ask yourself if you're too old to "get" 100 gecs then you're doing it wrong. You don't need to "get" them, you just need to submerge yourself in them. Also, I'm sure the duo behind the group's music has never heard of Atari Teenage Riot, but they are the spiritual sonic forefathers of 100 gecs—even if the gecs get the last word when it comes to crafting backward hooks.

Bleached - Don't You Think You've Had Enough?

These albums are indeed in random order, but I'm noticing a trend: Bleached also put on one of my favorite shows in 2019. Their set focused mainly on this album, so it was a slicker and more "disco" affair than one would expect from a band whose work often sounded as if it was made to bounce off garage doors and basement ceilings. But it was great, even if I think the singer in the band and me were the only people in the room not drinking that night.

Extra Arms - Up From Here

Ryan Allen and his crew never disappoint. Just listen to the whole thing already. Also a really fun show even if the cozy confines of the Montrose Saloon didn't seem entirely sure what to do Wirth the band when they started playing, everyone in the room was a convert bye the end. Bonus points fro keeping one of the owners of said Saloon dancing near the front of the crowd for most of their set.

Yeasayer - Erotic Reruns

It figures that just when Yeasayer releases an album that trims their flabbier tendencies towards excess in their music it would also be the band's final release. This deserved more attention than it got.

Starcrawler - Devour You

Another band with a phenomenal 2019 live show. They injected more glam into their tunes but the gutter is always half a step away in their music as it teeters on the edge of the abyss.

White Reaper - You Deserve Love

This is the album that should have made these cats an arena act. This is also the album that made me realize that the vast majority of groups the music press writes about and focuses on are much smaller than you would think when it comes to broader cultural awareness of their music, and that can set lopsided expectations divorced from reality. So while yes, in a different world You Deserve Love should have made these cats an arena act, in our world it's just a fan-fucking-tabulous album.

Telethon - Hard Pop 

These folks from Milwaukee are just cranking out hit after hit, and I can't get enough. Luckily they pace of their output is pretty speedy so I never have to wait too long for new goodness. Also? The album sounds just like it's title.

Tacocat - This Mess Is A Place

Yes, I think it's funny a band based in dreary (allegedly) Seattle would create such a terrific beach album. But they did, and it's great!

Radar State - Strays

When I wrote about this sorta supergroup I said,"The sound is all energetic, classic riffle and sing-along prompts that you'll fall prey to halfway through any given chorus. It's the sound of four people who share enough of a common background to keep things cohesive, but are different enough that none of this sounds like a rehash of their own bands." Yup.

Angel Olsen - All Mirrors

Grand. Eloquent. Stately. Baroque. Angel. Olsen. Outdoes. Herself.

Masked Intruder - III

According to my play counts over 2019, I played this album A LOT. It's pure release, and on top of it, Masked Intruder is just so much funny fun.

Dark Thoughts - Must Be Nice

As simple and loud as it gets. 'Nuff said.

The Regrettes - How Do You Love?

Sugar laced with cyanide and topped with bouffants hovering over sleeves of tattoos. At least that's what the latest album from The Regrettes sounds like to me.

Love In October - Shapes

These Chicago-based siblings continue to show a knack for kicking out condensed blasts of guitar pop bliss that, at the right moment, could also get you onto the dance floor.

Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA

This album is a total '70s soul throwback that is absolutely sublime and made me immediately fall for Michael Kiwanuka. Don't worry though, even though it's got its dusty roots in a retro sound, KIWANUKA's immediate effect is all modern.

Miss June - Bad Luck Party

When Miss June played to a room of about a dozen people last year these kids from New Zealand could have just phoned it in. Who wants to play to an empty room? Wisely, they chose to rock the fuck out. (This is a tactic that works. The last time I saw a band play to so few people in that particular room while treating it as a stadium-sized sold-out crowd the band's name was Cage The Elephant. They turned out O.K.) Oh yeah, the music is great too. Still bummed I didn't have enough dough to buy a t0shirt at that show though.

The Futureheads - Powers

Still tighter than a wire even if they're not changing the formula. But if they did, then they wouldn't be The Futureheads.

Carly Ray Jepsen - Dedicated 

Did you get more and more frantic as you read, wondering how in god's name I could forget Carly Rae Jepsen?! I didn't!

You made it to the very end! Congratulations! And thank you! I promise my best of 2020 list will actually be published in 2020, or a week within its ending, at the very latest—we shall see!

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Yeah, I don't know what to say right now either.

No matter what I start writing it feels wrong. There's a swirling tsunami of thoughts up there, but focus is absolutely impossible. What little disposable income I have has already been spread thin through donations to local businesses and social causes I want to support through these trying times. And I admire the protestors out there making their point en masse and peacefully, even if I can't join them on the front lines. I do believe that this could be a positive turning point for our country, but only if the public's historically short and ever-shrinking attention span remains focused on change and ignores the non-stop volley of chaotic messages and actions from the people who are supposed to be leading our country. Like many, I remain absolutely perplexed that Trump continues to have strong re-election prospects despite the majority of the population disagreeing with his polices, and the minority that does support Trump seems absolutely blind to the fact that a) he has done nothing to improve their lives, much less the healthy economy he inherited (and continues to stake his reputation on—but we're talking about a man so stupid he believes the stock market is the leading indicator of economic security and growth) and b) I would venture the anecdotal guess that 99.999999% of the U.S. population is worse off on so many levels than they were in 2016. Including me. And I bet, you.

On top of all that, Trump is a racist in the midst of a national movement to finally address the issue of systemic racism that has been a core original sin of the U.S. from the very beginning. I'm just another white middle-aged dude, and there are so many inspirational people and activists and leaders so much wiser and better informed on this offering explanations and plans-of-action, but I am doing what I can to offer my full support for fixing this evil—as painful and uncomfortable as it is for everyone—however I can.

So, I don't know how we change this. It feels like it decimates rational thought and positively proactive actions. And don't you dare tell me to wait until November and let the people's votes do the talking when our system is loaded with laws to disenfranchise and keep the potential voters most affected by this away from casting their votes. Still!

I just don't know any more. But we can't give up hope.