Friday, December 30, 2016

Modern Act

This is one of the few bands in a long time that I've been kind of excited about (or "about which I've been excited...")

You can disregard the video, if you'd like, although it does have that certain 90s low-budget quality that's just great.  Like an old Superchunk music video (that one with David Cross and Janeane Garofalo) or something we'd expect to see made fun of on Beavis and Butthead.

The music, though - these guys are on to something.  I'm excited about them because it's one of the first times in perhaps 10 years where I've been excited about a new band in the "post-hardcore" genre (read: bands that sound like Jawbreaker.)  We lost a bunch of them to that ridiculous fucking "screamo" sound - you know, the one where suburban white guys, drunk on their need for self-actualization, nonsensically scream their minor disappointments.  

For being as young as they are, Cloud Nothings find a way to tap into the nonsensical angst of MY youth.  Since I'm not longer in that "youth" demographic by a decade-plus, it's particularly impressive feat for a bunch of early-20s guys.  There's something energetic and uplifting to their music, which of course is part of the appeal, but there's something deeper and intangible about the way they're able to tap into my nostalgia.  It's not the lyrics, it's not the singer, it's most definitely the guitars.  The whole thing sounds like some vaguely punk beach party.  And all my old dogs are there.

Monday, December 19, 2016

How we have ranged

This fucker.  I was a fan for the 12 years before his death and it hasn't even been 4 years since.  Perhaps in 10 years I'll have made peace with it.  Perhaps by then I'll have seen and heard everything there is to see and hear.  Right now, though, I keep finding little gems like this.

15 years and a week prior to his death, this kid seems almost hopeful.  Almost.

is there any room for death even to try
the movement, were it granted,
is only going to go
you are not, as day follows day
to be forgot
you I have not, forgot
at least, we are touched upon
our last days at this place
this time you will not talk of risk
only of certain consequence
oh, you and Napoleon all of that ambition
you are not, as day follows day
to be forgot
you I have not, forgot

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Was it the end? Was it the boy?

To continue staving off my impending existential crisis (I'm a vegetarian social justice-oriented academic in the Trump/Carl's Jr. white house cabinet era) I've been listening to stuff that brings out the 20 year old in me (ironically, a time when I would have eaten at Carl's Jr.)

Quite often, I allow Google's music app to pick my music for me, based around some song that fits my mood.  More often than not, it picks the perfect songs.  Throw on the Jets to Brazil station, get Jawbreaker, Knapsack, Samiam.  Somehow, it knows just when I want to hear the punkier side of the band more than the folksy/classic rock side.  I wonder how much info on me Google uses to put that together ( I write on my Google-blog.)

Anyhow, this one came up yesterday and I remembered how much I loved it:

Yeah, it's completely ridiculous, but it's also a perfect song.  You can sing to it, it has a great melody, great harmony among all its parts.  It's catchy as fuck and it has guitars.  It has keyboard bleep bloops and some echoey moments.  It rocks hard when cranked up in the car.  Perfect song.

I try not to divest too much of my time to the past, but like most people, I like the emotionality of nostalgia when it relates to music.  Like a lot of music, this song isn't actually tied to some event or some emotional state, but more of a generic time in my life.  I think about listening to this album in my little Nissan, driving home at night from school or some show or some thing, music blaring.  Being 20, 22, 26, and having every song hit me in the guts, typically the impetus for dreaming about the future to escape the present.   I wish I'd been able to spend more of my 20s being happy, so my nostalgia would be more joyous.  If there's anything lost in getting older, it's that little seems "new" anymore, even the melancholy, so I'm happy to rediscover these songs now and again, to remind myself of bitter times.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

I haven't posted since the election, because I keep waiting for some profound idea to come to my head, but I'm still just stumbling about and trying to evolve coherent thoughts.  Clearly, I'm enraged and saddened.  I'm confused and scared to a point that it has truly impacted my mental health.  That's pretty incredible, right?  From an election?  I'm an anxious, avoidant guy, there's no doubt about that, but this has impacted my perception of reality.  I'm terrified for all my friends and for billions I don't know.  Are my friends going to find themselves un-married one day?  Did Trump just reignite the ire of India about Pakistan?  And China about Taiwan?  Is my Taiwanese friend now stuck in a mess because Teflon Don can't help but middle finger China?  Are we going to have a bathroom bill nationwide?  Is California's smog coming back?  Are we going to fuck public schools up forever because rich people like rich schools but don't want to pay for them?

I'm terrified for myself, too, since I'm some sort of scientist and I rely on federal research dollars to figure out ways to stop locking up minorities and poor children.  Gee, I wonder how that'll work in a "law and order" society.  Not well, I imagine.

I think the end result from all of this is that I am again reminded of why I'm in social work.  Social work is about resistance.  It's about ethical fortitude and social justice.  Community-building and unification.  It's a values-based discipline that represents and supports the underrepresented and the disenfranchised.  And since that's going to be a solid 40% of the country in 6 weeks, it's important that social workers unite to start and lead movements and to prop up those who are most affected.

As a kid, I was rebellious and angry and I wanted to "fight the system," although, you know, I was 14 and couldn't clearly explicate what "the system" was or why it made me angry.  But, I knew some people were not treated fairly.  Some people had it harder than others, some were not treated as people at all, and that there were structural reasons for this was inherently wrong..  I had it ok in some ways, hard in others, but I knew I had to help people with whatever privilege I was given or earned.  What good is being human if not to help other humans?  To leave the world in a better place than it was provided?  It's what brought me to social work, which I'm now convinced is the progenitor of punk rock.  Exposing power structures, DIYing the hell out of everything, breaking down barriers and forming a community of inclusion. On top of it, we will kick in your door and save your children from whatever horrific shit you're doing to them.  We will save you from yourself.

This new leadership feels like it's going to bleed into every aspect of life I've ever taken for granted as "normal."  We became complacent, assuming the world was progressing slowly, but surely.  That's now in jeopardy.  We will see new barriers, new oppression, new dangers to people's lives, in addition to a resurgence of the old ones.

It's time that we Jane Addams the fuck out of this country.  It's time we kick complacency in the shins, unite, and undo the wrongs we see around us.

We can laugh about 2016 being a dumpster fire or whatever, but I'm putting it out here now that 2017 is on notice.  It's time we secure the good for all of us.  And if 2017 pulls any of the bullshit we've seen this year, we're going to have to fuck it up.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! was a cutesy indie band for a minute, back in the early 00s.  Maybe 2002-2004?  Of immediate note, the band's lead singer was Mark Duplass, who went on to do quite a bit of television and film, most of which I haven't seen (I did see "The One I Love," which was a totally fucked up film.)

I saw them play at some point, with a crowd of, I don't know, twelve people.  I think most of the people in the audience were just the members of the other bands who played, so I don't imagine the Volcano guys made their gas money back on that one.  They played through the majority, if not entirety, of their sole album.

During one of their slower songs, one of the members took out a stack of posterboards, each of which containing a drawing.  Cycling through the posterboards, what ultimately came out was a picture story about ninjas, unicorns, maybe a dragon?  It was all very fairy-tale kitsch and cutesy.

It would have failed in front of a larger crowd, being as awkward as it was, but n front of a small crowd, you couldn't help but confront that awkwardness, rather than just laugh it off.  This guy's showing a story about rainbows in front of 6 people he's never met.  To music.  Yeah, it was weird, but in sort of an intimate way.  Like holding hands for the first time or fumbly sex.

And they killed it.  The whole show.  They performed their cute-ass songs with energy and love, not only aware of their small crowd, but in tribute to it.

The band itself always felt like the members' side job - something that they weren't completely sold on, themselves, which I'm guessing is why they didn't tour or record a follow-up.  Their music was certainly cute and sappy.  Brutally cute and sappy, even, which I'll admit is a niche market.  I think it's part of why this band always stood out for me, but not the whole reason - it's not just brutally cute and sappy, it's unabashedly cute and sappy.  They weren't putting on airs.  They weren't playing to any particular crowd other than people who would like them.

Oh, I'm about 90% sure that the posterboard story came during this song (the other 10% goes to "Firebombing London," but I don't think that's right.)

And for good measure, one of their music videos below the jump:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Believe in What You Want

So, in drastic departure (?) of the stuff I've posted, here's top 40 band Jimmy Eat World.  What?  That "The Middle" band?

Some time during my last year of high school - 1999, for those keeping record - I was heavy into punk bands.  This was satisfying to my teenage rebelliousness, my anger, and my total lack of concern for high school and social norms, but it didn't really speak to my angst and burgeoning adulthood. Besides, I would never be one of the punk rock kids and I knew it - I was terrified of giving myself over to groupthink.

I started this new adulthood by exploring music that was more fitting to the jumble that was my sense of self.  You know, like most kids.  The punk rock was slowly giving way to punk bands with "feelings."  Samiam, 88 Fingers Louie.  All good.  Music became less political and outward, more expressive and inward.

Since I was a lackadaisical do-nothing slacker in my high school classes, I spent much of one class looking for music on this new internet thing.  By chance, I read a glowing review of Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" on some random homespun website.  I think I was intrigued by the name - this is clearly a band with no motivation for fame.  I'm pretty sure they used the word "emo" in the review, which was probably my first time hearing the word that I disliked so much that I would spend dozens of hours of my life trying to define and defend it to others on the internet.  I guess I can own up to that now.

Anyway, I went out and got the album later that week.  For a kid who grew up on punk albums and was trying hard to grow up, 'Clarity' was like a punch in the gut.  It ran the gamut between soft and hard.  It was delicate - on purpose - and expressive.  It complained about the radio.  It's lyrics were damn near nonsense, but they had heart.  Songs would run 6... 7... 16 minutes.  Crazy stuff.  What are those, violins?  Timpani?  Bells?  The album had an incredible focus.*  

I'm not sure why this album spoke to me the way it did.  Was it because I was 18?  Was there something special about the album?  Would any non-punk rock album have had the same effect?  Was it validating merely because it was an underground band and I knew so few at the time that weren't on Epitaph or Fat Wreck or SST?

I don't have an answer.  I think those of us who spend a lot of time and effort exploring music have albums like these - albums that maybe don't initiate a turning point as much as they are representative of one.  In 1999, I moved out, went to college, was lovelorn, poor, and new to the world.  This was the right album for that year.

In 1999, the band fit in with the other indie bands of the era that I would soon explore.  You'd hear their name in conversations about Braid, At the Drive-In, the Promise Ring, Texas is the Reason.  A couple years later, they were all over the radio, which was both fulfilling and weird - what they became popular for was a different sound than what I'd hoped for their next albums.  I don't hold a grudge or anything, it's just a thing that happened.  They put out an album that was meaningful for me at an important time in my life.  That's no small thing.

Many albums later and the band sounds very little like they used to.  Some sounds reflect elements of their early works, but only rarely, and the band is not often mentioned in the context of 90s indie bands so much as early 2000s pop-punk.  In 1999, they toured with a relatively unknown At The Drive-In, in 2000 with Jebediah, in 2001 on the Warped Tour and in 2002 or 2003, with Green Day and Blink 182.

The biggest challenge of being a fan of anything is when what you like about something, and what they're known for, are two different things.  It becomes a question of accuracy - were they ever that good?  Was that just how I perceived them at the time and now I can't consider them objectively?  Were the early works flukes?  Isn't 'The Middle' stupid?  Can I like anything they do now?

I don't have answers, but I stopped caring much about this.  Jimmy Eat World's new album came out earlier this week; and while, no, it doesn't sound like Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World, there are some good songs here.  I don't know what it means, and I don't care.  I'm 35 goddamn years old - if I can't like something, unfettered, what's the point of liking anything?  In conversation, I might still qualify any discussion of them, "I liked Jimmy Eat World back in the day, but not their new stuff."  That's such a shitty way to have to talk about things, let alone think about them.

*[This is the sort of overview that wouldn't have gotten me to get the album in 1999.]

Let it rest and be done

While he was in The Weakerthans, John K. Samson initiated a series of songs, loosely organized around a cat named "Virtute" (that's pronounced "wihr-Too-tay" for you non-Latin-philes.)  Framed around Virtute's relationship with her owner, Virtute became a symbolic foil for adulthood, for struggle and motivation, and ultimately, for depression and alcoholism.

The first song song finds Virtute encouraging her owner to get up and out, to have a party and small talk with neighbors, rather than just sit around, watching TV and drinking like he typically does. She'll "cater with all the birds that I can kill."  The owner will start to believe he's strong ("lick the sorrow from your skin"), in this imaginary party world, if only he can get up and do it.  Virtute is this sad man's champion.  I know you can do it, bud, "I know you're strong."  It's just deep down in there.  C'mon bud, you're great.

In the second song, we get a tone change.  Virtute gets lost, she and her owner are unable to find one another, and she ends up living on the street, left remembering her time with her owner.  Virtute adores her owner, but can only do this from afar now.  John writes his most heartbreaking phrase, where Virtute misses her owner, but "can't remember the sound that you found for me."  She forgot her own name!  This song brings me to tears every time.

Of course, there's more to it than that--Samson doesn't write songs at a surface level only.  Virtute comes to represent the will and the motivation of a person in the midst of struggle - that internal, reassuring voice - but has become so far removed that she can only reflect detached and longingly. The motivation and goodness of life itself has become so far removed from this person that it has become achingly unfamiliar.

This brings us to song number 3, just released last week on Sampson's excellent new "solo" album.
Virtute, now but a loving, supportive memory of this person who has struggled, but ultimately pulled it together.  Ever the friend, ever the champion, Virtute offers one last nod of support.  You did it, friend; now you can relax and enjoy yourself, because we will always support each other, together or not.  We should all be so lucky.

Now that the treatment 
and antidepressants
and seven months sober have built me a bed 
in the back of your brain 
Where the memories flicker 
and i paw at the synapses 
bright bits of string 
You should know i am with you 
Know i forgive you 
Know i am proud of the steps you have made 
Know it will never be 
easy or simple 
Know i will dig in my claws when you stray 
So let us rest here 
like we used to 
in a line of late afternoon sun 
Let it rest 
All you can't change 
Let it rest and be done

Thursday, October 6, 2016

There's a little bit of springtime in the back of my mind

Leatherface did themselves a disservice by naming their band "Leatherface."  You hear "Leatherface" and just assume they'll be some sort of Misfits band, instead of this hard post-punk pop shoegazing something or other that they actually are.  One of their members died recently and I believe they're officially over now.  They had a pretty solid catalogue overall, but there are some particular winners that stand out.

When I need to rock out - like, really need it - I sit in the car, crank up the volume, and put this one on.  That first note hits you right in the ear holes.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dazed and overloaded

Eric Bachmann makes some of the best background music for writing academic articles.  I mean, I know that's not his goal, but it's true nonetheless.  It's not that his music blends into the background - just the opposite.  It's music that keeps me alert.  It doesn't allow me to become mindless.  It's catchy and thoughtful, but it also tends to be low-key enough that it's overpowering my senses.

The song above got stuck in my head for a long time.  The whole album, actually.  It coincidentally came out right about the time North Carolina decided to give a middle finger to compassion and civil rights by passing HB2.  It was accidental timing, but North Carolina was injured and needed to know that people still loved it.  I've been away for a long time and I only have a smattering of friends left there, but it's the place where my childhood was.  It's where I keep my memories.  I guess that makes it home?  Either way, I still have a love for it, and this song was the warm hug and band-aid the state needed.

Also, can we (I) talk about how fucking amazing this song is?  Holy shit.  The lyrical content could have taken this song anywhere - it could be one of those slow, non-crazy Tom Waits almost-torch-songs ("Alice.")  It could have been sung at a bar, drunken and dark, by a slow, piercing piano.  Instead, it's lively.  It's powerful.  It's still unimaginably dark.  It's an emotional state all to itself.  Like many of his songs, I'll be puzzling over the music for years.  See my earlier post about 'New Drink for the Old Drunk.'

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Turn your face to the moonlight

When I was in my mid/late 20s, I had a job that stressed me out immensely.  It was a 12 hour shift in a locked facility, so during the winter months I'd completely miss the daylight hours.  If you've ever regularly shown up for work at a stressful job while it's dark, this is the album you shouldn't listen to.  For a period of months, I regularly listened to this album on the way to work as I felt like it was a good way to try to calm myself down before work.  I'm a lot of things, but under it all I'm an anxious wreck.  In the end, I'd developed some sort of Pavlovian response to this album.  When it comes on, I'm immediately stressed out and think about that drive to a job that used to give me stomach pains. 

On the plus side, it's made me think about the ability for music to transport you back to a different time and place.  I know it's true for me, so I imagine it's also true for others, that there are albums or songs that we relate to specific emotional memories and moments.  These memories are sometimes so emotionally powerful that we can lose those songs if the memory itself is too painful.  Even songs tied to good memories can be too much.  I don't keep track, because why would I do that? - but if the album is important enough or the memory is one that no longer deserves top-shelf status, I'll listen to the album again to try to get those songs back.

This is one of the few albums I've lost that I've never tried to reclaim.  It's too stressful and that's not a place I like to go back to very often.  At the Drive-In's '198d' is another for me, as it's tied to the memory of me driving around when I was 21 after I got a call saying that my mom was probably going to die (she didn't, but I don't need to go to that place again.)

Some are random and goofy.  Mike and the Mechanics' 'The Living Years' takes me back to listening to the radio as a kid in one of my childhood bedrooms.  Jon Secada's 'Just Another Day' puts me on a series of plane flights in the 90s.  Weird stuff.

This has been such a trend in my life that I've learned to be selective about what I listen to and when.  For the couple months leading up to my candidacy defense, I planned on listening to Japandroids 'The House that Heaven Built' right afterwards as some sort of anthemic, memorable cheer.  I did that, and it nearly brought me to tears - but now I just have the memory of planning to listen to that song, because it's such a goofball thing to do (and a ridiculously anthemic cheer song.)

As my mom says, 'you plan, god laughs.'  Maybe it's better not to plan these things, but to just let the music do its thing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

I had a t-shirt with this cute guy for like a decade

Youtube suggested Pedro the Lion while listening to Bats and Mice.  It's apt.

Remember 90s punk bands?  Ben Nichols of Lucero was heading up this one.  I liked punk rock of this style back in the mid/late 90s, but had wandered off into the indie rock woods in my early 20s.  I think I found out about this band a couple years after getting into Lucero.  So, this always felt like a little throwback for me, although it was always fun to consider the parallels between this band and Lucero.  It's fun to see Lucero playing 'The Outsiders' (starts at around 9:50 in the video) now and then.

Listening to their songs now, I'm stuck by how much 'Unfun'-era Jawbreaker shows up in this.  Particularly those basslines.  It's more 'fun' than 'intense' but you can tell how much of a Jawbreaker fan Ben was.  Although Ben could never hit Blake's lyrical styling, it's never bothered me much because he's always singing from the heart.

The above is the 7", but there's a full album floating around the internet that's worth a listen if you dig those 90s Gilman Street style bands.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Man, I do NOT like No Knife

I was so excited when I first heard about No Knife.  Or saw about them, I guess.  It was their sticker on some piece of equipment at an At the Drive-In show in 2000.  I remembered the name as being hip and edgy and within a day or two I had downloaded everything I could find of theirs (Napster?  Audiogalaxy?  Whatever we used back then.)

I tried to like them.  Oh, how I tried.  Other bands I really liked loved No Knife and toured with them a lot.  They were angular, they were edgy.  They were catchy?  I tried to share them with everyone I knew, just to get some dialogue going about this band.  Maybe if others liked them, I'd like them more?  I don't know.  In the end, I gave up.  I just didn't like them, but I couldn't explain why.

There's just this dullness in their sound that completely turns me off.  You know if you have some piece of fruit -- let's say some yummy blackberries -- and one of them is kind of moldy?  Throwing just the one out isn't an option, you're turned off to the whole pile of fruit.  Best just to throw it all out and get some new ones.  That's how I feel about ALL of No Knife's songs.  They're the moldy piece of fruit.  It's just something in your gut that says, 'oh, gross, no.'

I fucking love me some blackberries, but moldy ones turn me off.  Nothing against mold, it just doesn't fit in with my whole schema, alright?  This is the worst analogy ever, but damned if my feelings about No Knife aren't the same feelings that I have about spoiled food.  Oh, the lost potential!

Some years later, I heard Mission of Burma's "Academy Fight Song" and it made me wonder why/how No Knife has a song called "Academy Fight Song" and it's not a cover, but a totally different song.  They knew, right?  Mission of Burma was pretty popular.  And it's a great fucking song.  How'd they make a song with the same specific name, particularly when their band fits in, at least tangentially, to a scene that's greatly inspired by MoB?

I'm going to listen to that old one to get the taste of spoiled fruit out of my head.  Not sure why I'd share something I don't like on here.  Maybe it's because I'm really supposed to be working on this actual scientific paper, but I don't like it one, either.  It's spoiled fruit of my own making.  Bitter, man.

Other Side of Night

I don't remember when this came out.  2006?  It was some point in what appeared to be Small Brown Bike's break-up that one of the singers, as well as the singer of another Michigan band called Charlevoix, teamed up and put out a demo for this song under the name 'Shipwrecked.'  Somewhere in there, the two singers got married, and not long after, they became LaSalle and released two albums.  Neither album became very popular.  They were decent albums, but not particularly enthralling.  Except for this song.  I prefer the demo, but I'm too lazy at the moment to craft it youtube-style.

There's something about this song that was such a different direction from either of the previous bands.  Small Brown Bike wasn't quite a hardcore band, but too hard for the stuff we called 'emo' back then.  Clearly, the songs were all anger-sad and about all those angsty young-adult problems, but man, at 20 years old, Small Brown Bike was such a relief.  Around those times, I was a commuter student with at least a 45 minute drive to school.  I would scream along to the Bike, hoarse by the time I got home.  Their first albums were quite cathartic, if given the right attention, but I think to most passersby, they sounded like a more ramshackle Hot Water Music, but I prefer to think that Small Brown Bike preferred the blurry space between the lines.  Charlevoix was in the same vein and a bit more angular and clean.

And then this song came out and went a completely different direction.  It's soft.  It's obviously sad.  Why is it so sad? The singers had just put out these hard albums and here comes this soft, delicate number to cry in the rain to.  A couple years later, they put out their second album, then I guess faded into obscurity as Small Brown Bike put out a couple more albums.  I still prefer the Bike, but I miss this sort of departure.  It makes me wonder what other musicians would put out if they had time to take a breath.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fucking bonkers

While I'm thinking about Kat Brock's music, have you listened to Dixie Dirt?  How that band didn't become the next Sonic Youth, I'll never understand.  Their songs bounced between delicate and rough with such ease, it almost has a jazz feel to it.  This is one of a few bands that I have real trouble classifying as anything.  Sure, they're a rock band.  A rock band that plays 9 minute songs.  A band that's not scared to use repetition and silence or to have a single instrument holding up as the backbone of a song.

Every last one of their songs feels like a southern summer night memory.  If I had to describe the memories of my emotional state from 18 to 22, I'd just point to Dixie Dirt.  I used to drive around a lot at night during the summer, particularly when I was around 19 or 20.  I'd crank music, roll the windows down, and drive around in the humid darkness, thinking about girls, loneliness, and the future, probably.  I think the best term for that is "Dixie Dirting," even if they weren't around back then.  Maybe "Dixie Dirting" is the term for the act of recalling driving around on summer nights when I was 20, rather than the driving around itself.  Does Dixie Dirt sound more like the action or the memory of the action?  Are they the summer nights or the memories of the southern nights?  The fuck am I talking about?

I have a desperate longing for Dixie Dirt's "Posthumous" album to finally get released after all these years.  C'mon already.  Please?  C'mon.  I still listen regularly to the unreleased songs I stole off their website by mining the source code of their streaming player for mp3s.  For funsies, here's one of them.  Fucking bonkers.  How did this not get released?

Fucked up kids

After more than a year, I can't get over how amazing this EP is.  It's probably 90% because of Kat Brock.  It's moody, hopeful, reserved.  It rocks out when it needs to, not just because it's a rock album.  It's one of those releases that perhaps won't live up to commercial standards, but all the parts are here.  Not that it needs it, but for some reason I'd love to hear these songs put through a Capitol Records overproduction thing.  Hired violins and bells and shit.  The source material is strong.

Much like everything by Dixie Dirt, this won't get the critical or commercial reception it deserves and is likely limited to a scattering of loyal Knoxville devotees.  While there's something to be said for being loyal to the local, I'd love to see this band blow up everywhere.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A reminder that most of Washington state is brown and/or farmland.

I don't take a lot of photos, but I was proud of this one.  Not bad for a nearly 5 year old phone. On the Washington side of the WA/OR border, on the east-west length of highway 221 before turning south toward Paterson and the Columbia river.  I wanted to capture the stark lines between browns in the fields.  A little success, I think.

Edit: I'm on a never-ending quest to get me some of that Rhein II money.  Someday.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I've long thought that if ever I actually got into music, I'd end up a lot like Damien Jurado.  His recordings reflect his mood, which, like most of us, bounces around like a bumpy road.  Some songs are really upbeat, most are downtrodden.  I can't tell if his tunes are confessional, as a release, or more about trying to put a face to a feeling.  Tales of suicide, cheating, running away all suggest he's trying to evince some storied pain from his life, but perhaps it's more that his dark feelings make sense as a song about suicide, relationship issues come out as stories of cheating, feelings of entrapment create stories about running away (or toward.)  It's hard to tell, but whatever it is, it's heartfelt.

Damien Jurado's made up the soundtrack to much of my adult life.  I caught him opening for someone maybe around 2002 or 2003?  He opened either for Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. or Baptist Generals?  Or maybe it was two separate shows or some combination?  My memory's not so good anymore.  Either way, it wasn't particularly captivating or memorable, likely because I was a dumb kid who hadn't actually experienced anything in life. I nevertheless was compelled to get a copy of his rock album "Gathered in Song."  On a lark, I put it on one day while driving and it just fit.   Upbeat, rocking, catchy.  I listened to it dozens of times over the next couple of weeks.  I found his other albums and listened to them while I worked.

His voice isn't fabulous.  Although from the northwest, there's a steel-belt rustiness to his work. Typically, he employs only a folk-singer's tools with little embellishment.  Simple, classic, but aiming right for the heart.  His first album, 'Waters Ave S.' starts off with a failed engagement.  Damien's voice struggles to maintain tonality; this is clearly a guy who HAS to sing this song.  To say it's a catchy song about "heartbreak" misses the point. This is really a catchy song about the aftermath.  The emotionality and changing of tones, the lost future and the struggle with finality.  It's a painful, simple song that I've both listened to, and experienced, a thousand times.  Fast forward to a light-hearted, almost joke song about a "space age mom."  Bouncing down the bumpy road.

Next album starts off with an abandoned girl traveling to see her mother ("Ohio," perhaps Jurado's best known early song.)  Fast forward to "Honey Baby," a jangly ode to love, if nothing else.  These songs are experiences, tales of life.  They go to dark places, they tell of inescapable contrasts and tragedy, they're frantic, they're fraught; they're catchy, upbeat; they beat you over the head and pick you up.  Then 'Ghost of David' comes out and is the essential soundtrack to sadness.

It's hard to retell a long career and its meaning to me at each step.  Damien's latest work has been far more complex, all apparently related to a complex, rough dream he had.  Can't say we all haven't been there - but he's spent a couple albums now telling the tale and working through the meaning, to wonderfully colorful, vast results.  It's tough to do that with a guitar and simple band, so these have been nearly psychedelic albums.  I'd say that's a departure, but really, it's life.  Some things in life have to be dealt with at their level, not from the place where we're most comfortable, which is pretty much the only analogy I can come up with for Damien's music.  Gotta work through some shit?  Spend an evening writing and rambling and listening to Damien Jurado.

Oh, yes, this is on my mind because Damien's coming back to the St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle later this fall.  Tickets are probably cheap.  There's no better place to hear, well, anyone.  Last time, his son played piano and it was quite moving.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mystery shelf

Most of the time, when I'm writing for work, I have music on.  I like to play music that I know really well, so that I can tune it out.  I generally need something that will help me tune out background noise, since I'm immensely destractable.  Academic writing can be staggeringly difficult.  Stories of spending entire days to write single paragraphs are not uncommon.  The words must be specific - never a word too many or too few.  The meaning of each word is precise and intended.

So, I'm working on a paper for which I did the analysis more than a year ago.  Other stuff got in the way, so now I'm trying to crank it out.  It's a paper about predictors of risky sexual behavior in adolescence.  Let's say that I'm currently not 100% thrilled with how the paper is turning out and the stress of not having it done is making it much harder to finish.  Cue writer's block.

The album I posted above is one of my go-to albums for writing.  The music is such a huge part of the movie.  It's foreboding and thunderous.  It's tragic and relentless.  It's other pairs of words that sound good together.  It's a collaboration between Clint Mansell, the Kronos Quartet, and Mogwai.  There are a lot of reasons to like it.

I imagine that most everyone hates or is otherwise indifferent to this movie, but I love it immensely.  It questions the nature of love, time, self, loss, energy, maybe even god, but it's most certainly about the cyclic nature of life.  It doesn't tell you anything in a straightforward way - you have to interpret the plot for yourself.  Every person experiences something different.  It's directed by Aronofsky, so that helps explain it.  It's kind of a slow, brutal journey; not something you watch for entertainment or to critique on its realism; it's something to experience and think about afterwards.

Unlike other music that I try to tune out, for me, this music brings me back to the emotional place of the movie.  Ever see Dancer in the Dark?  If yes, then when I say "the last song" you're going to want to cry.  It's the same thing here, but the place the Fountain soundtrack brings me back to is this creative mystery emotion headspace, where everything is questionable and unknown, yet with purpose waiting to be uncovered.  It's the perfect emotional place to put myself so I can write, so I use it sparingly; Especially during times like right now, where I need to get some goddamn words on journal-quality paper and stop writing in a blog to no one.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Baraka - Kecak dance

The above is a clip from the documentary (of sorts) Baraka.  A beautiful film, but this is the part that sticks with most people.  It shows a Kecak, a form of dance created in the 1930s in Indonesia.  It comes from a more traditional form of trance-inspired dance.

Whenever I think of this (or of other places where people congregate to sing in unison) I inevitably turn to Durkheim's notion of collective effervescence, a term for a shared emotionality that lends itself toward belief in the sacred.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

This fucking thing.

In 2004, fresh out of college, I moved down to Florida to become a contractor - I had about 15k in student loan debt and I wanted it off my back as quickly as possible.  Home repair seemed like a worthwhile skill and a fast way to earn enough money.  I certainly learned the skill - I built decks and patios, painted, replaced roofs, installed flooring, electrical, plumbing, etc.  I bought a small, beat-up house and, in between contracts, I fixed it up.  I was pretty good at the work, although I didn't particularly like doing it for a living.

At the same time, by moving, I'd effectively trashed a good relationship and distanced myself from every friend I'd ever had.  I started to have difficulties making my mortgage payments and I didn't have the time or energy to work on the house.  I had trapped myself.  Over time, I grew extremely depressed.  While I'd been dealing with depression for 10 years by that point, I hadn't veered toward the suicidal in some time.  It started to gnaw at me.  Those who've been through it know that it doesn't really ever go away - it just hides and waits, the first to spring up when thoughts go dark.

It's hard to muster strength in the middle of a depressive episode, but at one point, I realized that if I didn't get out of Florida, it was literally going to kill me.  I began working like mad, trying to get the house ready to sell.  I took on nearly 10k in credit card debt and quit working for others for several months.  I focused solely on getting the house finished.

Summer in Tallahassee often means a heat index around 110 degrees, so I worked nights.  During one stretch of a couple of weeks, I completely remodeled my laundry room - refinished cabinets, installed counters, replaced the sink, put in a vinyl floor, fixed the ceiling, painted everything.  The laundry room was across a breezeway from the house and the air conditioning was slight, at best.  Still 85 degrees at night, I'd work, covered in paint, sweat, and an almost insane commitment to completion,.  I worked to exhaustion.  My beard grew long, my hair wild.  I'd get looks at the grocery store, but was too manic to care.  This was not a good head space.

I would play music while I worked.  I had no internet, no TV, and a massive music collection. During this time, I slowly created what amounts to a mix CD.  To this day, I have no idea why.  Perhaps it was just my playlist.  It had no target, so I guess I made myself a mixtape.  I really wanted to get it right.  It became as much an obsession as getting the cabinets painted and the floor put down.

I love and hate the end result.  It fits together beautifully, mapping the erratic flow of my depressive state.  It gets dark, real dark, but not unexpectedly.  It's heartbroken, but motivated.  Hopeful, but withdrawn.  Challenging, but strained.  Townes sings his poppiest song, yet is so desperately clinging to affection.  Mara Lee Miller sings boldly about being afraid.  Donovan dreams of beauty, Damien Jurado dreams of death.  It begins with innocence and ends with acceptance.

I've created a hundred mixes, but this one is the one that haunts me.

Summer Mix - 2006
Blind Willie McTell - "It Must Be Love"
Townes Van Zandt - "Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel"
Bosque Brown - "Still Afraid"
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Love Letter"
Al Green - "Tired of Being Alone"
Donovan - "Wear Your Love Like Heaven"
Damien Jurado - "Tonight I Will Retire"
Cory Branan - "Spoke Too Soon"
Malcolm Middleton - "Solemn Thirsty"
Mice Parade - "Focus on the Roller Coaster"
Snowglobe - "Rock Song"
The Pogues - "Living in a World without Her"
Six Parts Seven - "Now Like Photographs"
Dixie Dirt - "Appetite"

As postscript - In September, 2006, I sold the house, paid off all my debts, moved back to NC, took the next 6 months off, and shaved my beard.  And yet, I could never leave this fucking thing.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Oh, hi there.

Just a note to say that I have no idea what I'm doing with DM at the moment.  Not that anyone's here, but for now, I'm throwing random songs I like up here.

I may keep talking about music.  I'll probably talk a bit about politics, since, you know, christ almighty.  I'm also working on my dissertation this year, so it's important that I get into the habit of writing, even about non-science things.  Gotta flex the ol' word-thinkery-do.


Unwound is the kind of band where, when you first start listening to them, you have to ask yourself if you have the headspace to listen to them right now.  It's not really easy-to-consume music.  The albums go places.  They meander.  They pinpoint.  They make an argument for, and serve as their own evidence of, the power of music as art.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

One of the guys from Blank (perhaps the singer?) went on to the bands Cross My Heart and Liars Academy. I don't know anything about either of those bands, really, or even any more about Blank, but this song has gotten quite a few plays in the last 15 years. I figured it's only right to throw it up here. I love how it comes out swinging, then pulses between delicacy and rage (like a headache - get it??) I feel like they owe a lot to Braid, but they started coming up around the same time. Either way, play this in the background and have your hip friends ask you about it.

In the end, Braid did this whole thing much better.  This is one of my favorites:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Just realized that I didn't own anymore.

Problem solved.