Thursday, February 18, 2021

Chase away the winter blues with 'Love Sign.'

I was puttering around the house this morning and saw the above pass that's been stuck to my dresser for nearly a decade now, and it reminded me how much I missed Free Energy.

You may not be familiar with the band, they had a brief run that resulted in only two albums, but those albums were amazing and their live shows never, ever disappointed. Whether I saw them play in the cramped corner of a dance club in their early days, or commanding larger stages later in their run, they always came across as one of the best, most funnest rock bands in the world.

Today seems like a good day to crank their last album to 11 and chase the winter blahs away. That's it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Hi there, nice to be with you, glad you could stick around!

Been a while, huh? How've you been? How're you doing? How's it going?

Don't worry, I don't actually expect you to answer that.

Since you're here though, you're probably all like, "Where has he been? He's not usually this quiet, right? And I just know he's been listening to a ton of music he wants to turn me on to."

And you would be correct!

Don't say writers block is the reason I've been quiet, though. That would be incorrect.

I mean, there is the whole "am I relevant and who cares what I think about anything anyway" thing, but I've grappled with that since the first time I wrote about something for a wider audience waaaaay back when I was a teenager. It never goes away. But that's just a fact. I came to peace with the notion of "I write because I have to write" long, long ago.

And these days there is plenty up there in the ol' twisted labyrinth of pathways and cathedrals and alien spaces that make whatever it is that results in my mind—I'm being kind here—but there is SO MUCH trying to get out I am having a hard time regulating it into a flow that makes sense. It's more work than I'm used to, but the times they have a-changed, and I guess that even my personal creative workflow has to adjust.

I also shot myself in the foot by saving up bands I really wanted to write about until just the right moment, and many of those perfect moments passed because I was busy trying to stay emotionally afloat during some pretty turbulent seas over the last year, and for once none of that turbulence was of my making! But I did have to manage that ride, and it honestly does take a lot out of me.

So consider that your explanation. 

I am amused that through the last two  decades and change, as I've kept this little corner of the internet going, that people are beginning to return to "blogs"—newsletters are basically blogs again—because they are unfulfilled by the major media outlets out there. So while this might have been the year that broke many things we didn't want broken, I think that may be one of the rare positive trends to emerge. I think people forgot they liked reading stuff that made them feel and grow, instead of stuff that kept them up-to-date on whatever press releases delivered on that day.

So I'm feeling positive. Even optimistic! We'll see, right?

*The absolute biggest discovery during all this is just how much I depend on other humans when I write. So much of what I do is informed by conversations with friends, and testing lines out here and there without people even being aware of it. It has always an integral part of my process, to ensure that the weird vagaries in my head were translatable. I remember my ex being impressed I could knock out an entire festival review in one sitting, and I would tell her it was because I already wrote it in my head, with her help, as I walked the fest grounds. So I was always aware of, and thankful for, others' roles in my own process, but I don't think I ever quite grasped how much my supposed "solitary" endeavors relied on all the humans around me. So much for me being a rebel! Or a loner!

Friday, February 05, 2021

'Postcards From The Edge' pushes you into unexpected realms.

Photo by Lael Neale
I only listened to Guy Blakeslee's new album Postcards From The Edge for the first time a few days ago, and admit that as it started up I was ready to write it off as reverb-drenched, morose, singer-songwriter indie stuff. But there was something about his voice; strong yet vulnerable, cutting through like a laser slightly wobbling through waves of light. By the second tune I realized it was a sneak attack and Blakeslee's slow opener in meant to lull you, so you don't even notice you've entered a kind of dream state where things get progressively weirder.

Blakeslee recorded the album using the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's studio in New Orleans, and when I first read that I wrote it off as just a potential press hook. But the environment is important, and I can't help thinking the studio had an effect on pushing Blakeslee, pardon the pun, over the musical edge of expectations into a weird swirling canvas that mixes conventional structures with wild arrangements and studio trickery. It all somehow sounds totally organic, though they must have taken an incredible attention to detail in order to pull it off without it feeling like a lot of effort.

I believe this "dream state" I describe is intentional though, and like a caring partner after a particularly emotional day, he even tags on a musical coda at the end of the album's final track that slowly brings in sounds of the city—cars, planes, trains, softly falling rain—gently into the mix, creating the overwhelming impression you're slowly waking back up and entering the "real world."

Here is the point. I would usually say, "It's Bandcamp Friday, so you should buy this album from there right now!" but for some reason the pricing of even the digital album is unusually high, so maybe stream it below and then go price-hunting through the various outlets the album is available from if you don't want to use Bandcamp.

*To be fair, the higher price on Bandcamp also includes lots of goodies, so if you love the album, maybe you'll want one of those packages too. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Making Bob Pollard look like a slacker—Ryan Allen just can't stop!

While many have struggled creatively during this pandemic, a rare few have taken all this "free time" as an opportunity to just kick out as much music as they can. And few have kicked out as much music in the last year as Ryan Allen

Allen has always excelled at cranking out crunchy power pop gems with an edge under the Extra Arms moniker, but in 2020 he released a number of albums and EPs under his own name and a number of other guises, including a late '80s-stylee hardcore EP about quarantine and another EP with some light shoegaze ditties

So I would've understood should the man take a break to catch his breath in 2021, but I should've known better.

His latest album, What A Rip, comes out tomorrow, February 5, and while I would have forgiven Allen for releasing something even average after his recent avalanche of releases, it appears he will have none of that and insists on writing taut, sizzling numbers that will make you want to buy a guitar. And maybe some drums. And definitely try and figure out how the dude is doing all of this from home, and largely on his own!

Musically, Allen sticks close to his strengths on What A Rip, relying on a bottomless bag of hooks and memorable, hummable, sing-alongable vocal melodies that burrow in, ready to warm the space between your ears in even the most frozen winter months. It's summer in here, dammit! But he does play with tempo a little more than on his last few albums, so maybe that's a sign the anxiety and adrenaline I suspect may have driven the recent spate of Allen's releases have dropped to manageable levels? If so, it certainly hasn't hurt his drive, but it has introduced some new varieties and flavors to his songwriting I haven't heard in there before.

The lovely, loping bassline in "Feeling You Feeling Me" is definitely a newer move for Allen, and much of the album seems to draw from older inspirations, including the dustier corners of the Beatles' catalog and even some latter-era Monkees of the Head variety. While these inspirations drive the music on What A Rip, it always sounds 100% Allen. 

I've loved everything he's put out over the last year but What A Rip is the first time it's felt like Allen is slowing down to explore a little bit more, and the new terrain he uncovers suits his travels well.

Give it a spin and you'll see what I mean.

NOTE: So, while I know Allen would be somewhat groaning at that headline since it includes a comparison to a hero of his he might not agree with, it is true. Eat your heart out Robert Pollard!