Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cage The Elephant Can Shake Me Down

Cage The ElephantComing off of their sweaty and unrestrained eponymous debut in 2009 (2008 in the U.K.), Cage The Elephant is already making promises not to disappoint in 2011. Their new single, Shake Me Down, off the upcoming album Thank You, Happy Birthday, is a defining release for these garage rockers hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The band is ready too. Matthew Shultz has said several times that Cage The Elephant is anxious to play new material. So anxious, in fact, the band recently announced it would play the entire album at Grimey's Basement in Nashville on Dec. 2, several weeks before its release in January.

Fans can expect some changes to the sound. During one interview last year, Shultz alluded to how he was once inspired by John Lennon, who had said The Beatles always strived to produce songs that sounded like another band wrote them.

"So whenever we were writing a song that sounded similar to something we've written before, we'd scrap it and start it over," Shultz said.

The yet to be released song, 2024, underscores Shultz's point. You can hear it via the original preview release at Filter Magazine (now it's everywhere). The contrast between Shake Me Down and 2024 is obvious, with its grittier, sharper sound with the treble straining under the staccato.

The lyrics too seem far off from Shake Me Down, which plays as a brooding outcast confessional that conveys everyone else might have their eyes cast down on the ground, but you can still fix yours on the sun. The message is clear enough. It doesn't matter where you've come from as much as where you're headed. Take a listen on this unofficial band-released vid.

As a defining song for the band, Shake Me Down sets a high bar for the rest of the 13-track album while 2024 takes it down a notch. The rest of the track titles suggest a blend of contemplative, ragged, and catchy indie alt pop throughout.

Cage The Elephant was originally formed after high school friends Matt Shultz (vocals), Brad Shultz (guitar), and Jared Champion (drums) broke up their original band, Perfect Confusion. When they formed the new band, they added Lincoln Parish (lead guitar) and Daniel Tichenor (bass, backing vocals) and were signed by Relentless in the U.K. shortly after.

Shake Me Down Rattles Up To An 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

You have to give credit for Cage The Elephant always striving to be different and hoping to give Bowling Green something more to brag about than Fruit of Loom manufacturing.

You can pick up Shake Me Down on iTunes. Cage The Elephant also released the single with Thank You Happy Birthday on Amazon. Fans have given it a solid five stars on both platforms. You can also download 2024 for free (email required) via SoundCloud.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gilt For The iPad Makes Saving And Shopping Easy

Gilt for iPadSince the launch of Gilt Groupe three years ago, its curated selection of fashion and accessories, categorized by women, men, children, and home decor, caught some attention as an "invitation-only" online shopping experience. Part of the allure to become a member was the price, fashions for as much as 70 percent off.

Last August, Gilt Groupe temporarily suspended the "invitation-only" equation for people who happened to pick up the iPad application. The interface makes online shopping experiences and almost every other iPad shopping application feel obsolete.

The interface is simple. Click on women, men, home, or children and the home category page features a collection of topic headers like Active Outerwear; Bags, Belts, Wallets; and For Lounging. Scroll down and the categories expand to include brands like Cohesive & Co., Hanro, Yoko Devereaux under men and Ella Tein, Vincent Longo, and Vanessa Noel under women.

Shopping is also made easy because they show the front, back, and use iPad technology to allow for zooming and full screen views. Anything can be added to the cart by dragging it over and dropping it in the basket.

The Selection Is Solid; The Prices Are Perfect.

The prices will certainly help you save a few bucks. An Ella Moss cora racerback dress that retails for $160 was offered for $79. A John Varvatos leather jacket priced at $1,995 was offered at $628. In the home section, an inspired black and white photograph of a flower from Art Addiction valued at up to $640 was on sale for as little as $185. A Panasonic camcorder retailing for $199 was listed for $120.

You probably won't see these sales if you download the app. Most sales on Gilt are only available for 36 hours. Items are also limited by quantity, which means waiting to make a purchase might mean seeing a sold out notification pop up before you buy.

Overall, there are two ways to look at the experience: consumerism run amok (because of the artificial demand) or smart value shopping because the name brands are put well within reach. For me, it's the latter.

It might be especially useful for finding a gift and surprising someone by making it look like you exceeded any set holiday budget. This is probably why Gilt will make the cut on several top five holiday app lists in the weeks ahead.

About The Gilt Groupe Founders.

Developed by longtime friends Alexis Maybank (formerly eBay) and Alexandra Wikis Wilson (Bulgari and Louis Vuitton) three years ago, Gilt Groupe borrows from both women's strengths — a fresh way to make shopping an experience and a better-than-average understanding of what constitutes fashion. They don't sell everything they can because they can.

Gilt InterfaceThey also do a fine job mixing member-selected sales versus curated buyer picks, whereas most companies overemphasize one or the other. Their own fashion magazine, Gilt Manual, follows a similar tone.

For example, when writer Tyler Thoreson answered a question related to whether flat-front pants should be cuffed or not, he wrote up the rule (never cuff flat-front pants) as well as the exception, created by the tailor's addition of a slight break. Smart.

Less smart was the advice on how to propose, skewing toward the more hapless grooms-to-be with silly advice to stay away from proposing anywhere near water or ring-laced edibles. If she's clueless enough to eat the ring, you might rethink the proposal. And if you drop the ring while standing on the bridge, chalk it up as a sign from above.

Gilt On The iPad Shops A 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Overall, I like to think I have a pretty sensible head when it comes to fashion on a limited budget (I buy a small number of higher end items as opposed to a duffle full of crap). But as much as I like finding the right things, I also hate shopping.

Gilt takes some of the pain away because I browse for purchases and ideas quickly. It shortens the shopping time, even if I do visit a store in person to get a feel for the products and prices. So when I do go out, I already know what to look for.

Gilt for the iPad is available on iTunes. There are also two variations for the iPhone. One for fashion (Gilt on the Go) and one for in-city entertainment deals (Gilt City).

All of the applications are free, but what is less understood is how long you can keep the limited membership and/or what happens after the introduction is over. The ratings are also skewed lower, mostly because the initial app crashed frequently. That doesn't seem to be a problem right before the holidays.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Say Hi Again To Eric Elbogen With Devils

Seattle-based indie rocker Eric Elbogen has two rules on his Facebook page. Rule number one: No quoting song lyrics. Rule number two: No compliments.

The first rule is fine. The second only works sometimes, if I were reviewing the B-side to his new single, a cover of the Violent Femmes' Kiss Off, I could abide. It ought to cause Victor DeLorenzo bigger eye rolls than when Brian Wilson pointed to Lake Michigan and asked him "What ocean is that?" Enough said.

Devils, on the other hand, has me looking forward to the late January release of "Um, Uh Oh," produced by Barsuk Records. It originally debuted as a free download on Spin and the Gossip Girls. It makes the upcoming album worth watching for.

The label says the album captures a much more weary and "blue-noted, revealing, personal and pained" expressiveness that most wouldn't associate with Elbogen. The more mature sound might even be considered another progression in what sometimes seems like a near-reclusive singer/songwriter slipping toward an emotional meltdown.

Right. He is not reclusive in the isolated, never performing sense. He is reclusive in that most of his work is recorded alone in his home studio. When he's done with an album he solicits musicians to join him on tour. So, really, Say Hi is Elbogen and whomever goes along for the ride.

"The album [um, uh oh] is about being a 33-year-old musician, and the joys and difficulties that it involves," Elbogen told Spin. "When I look at other people my age that I've known from high school or from college, and I compare the two lifestyles, it's interesting and sometimes times frustrating. And the constant, consistent failing relationships with the people who play in my band — it starts to wear you down."

The steady beated single Devils is straightforward and riveting in that Elbogen contemplates if he can turn back on a path of depression and bitterness. The Devil doesn't want him to. But the thing about Elbogen is, even when he is serious about his own situation, he adds enough weight to the song that you can tell he's mocking himself too.

That's part of the hook. Elbogen is an artist who inspires because he writes music he can be proud of as opposed to writing for the masses. In fact, the more he thinks about mass appeal, the more stressed out he becomes. It's part of the pains of being a self-described nerd musician. Take this track from a live performance. You tell me.

Some people say his sense of pop structure and melody are his greatest strengths, but the real payoff is in the lyrics. Even when he makes stuff up, there is somber sadness about him and what he writes.

He's also one of the most nervous, nicest musicians in the business. Lately, the drift from indie pop fables to indie rock reality has been compelling to watch. Keep it up, without getting lost.

Devils By Eric Elbogen (Say Hi) Climbs To 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Devils isn't the first time Elbogen has experimented with a rock and not pop sound. His rock version of Prince of Darkness delivered a richer, more brooding sound than the original. So if you've ever seen him live, you already know what to expect next year. I commend him for that. The new sounds fits him and his lyrics all the better.

You can get the free download via the Spin link above or support the artist by picking Devils up off iTunes. It is not available on Amazon. You can also say hi to Elbogen on Facebook. Wish him some happy holidays. And ladies, he's single.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Red Sox Remain Dedicated To The Jimmy Fund

Tim WakefieldThanksgiving is the perfect time to be grateful. And there is no better way to express gratefulness than to share an example of good will by some greats. By greats, I mean the Boston Red Sox.

As a kid growing up in New England, I attended my share of Red Sox games at Fenway Park. And as far back as I can remember, the Sox were always involved in activities and events to raise money for The Jimmy Fund. Back then, I didn't know what The Jimmy Fund was, but knew it must be important because my favorite players were involved.

Red Sox Hall Of Famer Rico Petrocelli inspires enlightenment.

Years later, shortly after making a move to the opposite coast, I wrote to former Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli. Like many fans, I wanted to ask for an autograph, something to associate with my memories of the game. At his request, he suggested a nominal donation ($5, I think) to The Jimmy Fund.

I was glad to make the donation. But more importantly, it inspired me to learn more about The Jimmy Fund.

Rico PetrocelliThe Jimmy Fund was established as far back as 1948, shortly after a 12-year-old boy named Einar Gustafson suffered from pediatric cancer. While tragic, he had the good fortune to be a patient of Dr. Sidney Farber, founder of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Dr. Farber is legendary for his pioneering work in modern chemotherapy. Gusfafson was asked to speak on Truth of Consequences, a national radio show, with an appeal, which aired in May 1948. Gusfafson, who spoke on the show from his hospital bed, was dubbed “Jimmy” to protect his privacy, but his appeal drew donations totaling more than $200,000, all of it slated to help Dr. Farber’s research.

This was the birth of The Jimmy Fund. Since, more than $600 million has been raised toward eradicating childhood cancers.

How does this connect to the Red Sox and baseball?

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is located in Boston (Brookline, to be exact) and the team chose The Jimmy Fund as its official charity in 1953. Everyone, from players to owners, embraced the charity then and have remained committed ever since.

This includes the team’s 2010 Jimmy Fund co-captains and pitchers, Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz. They have been leading the charge to help raise awareness about the The Jimmy Fund. But there is much more to it than that.

"Every time I walk out to the mound and see that Jimmy Fund emblem out on the Green Monster, I am reminded of the special role the team has played in helping fight cancer since Ted Williams was visiting with patients at Dana-Farber back in the 1950s," says Wakefield. "I'm proud to be a part of it."

Wakefield does much more than think about The Jimmy Fund. He is an active participant and even took the Red Sox's 2004 World Series trophy to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute so Jimmy Fund Clinic patients could lift it. It also lifted their spirits.

Jimmy Fund Clinic patientsHe is not alone. Many players visit the children being treated at Dana-Farber and support fundraising events. One of the events, Jimmy Fund Fantasy Day at Fenway Park, even allows participants to step to the plate or hit the field. Another event, New Stars for Young Stars, includes autograph signings to raise money for the fund. And, every year, you can catch a radio telethon broadcast on WEEI Sports Radio and NESN.

Recently, Wakefield has taken his role a step further, creating the "Wakefield Warriors," which enables him to meet pediatric patients from the Jimmy Fund Clinic or Franciscan Hospital for Children at Fenway Park before Tuesday home games. The kids love him for it. And we do too.

The Jimmy Fund And The Wakefield Warriors Are A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick.

At least once a month, Liquid [Hip] highlights good will efforts undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don’t score them. That belongs to you.

But the way we see it, you don't have to be a Red Sox fan to appreciate the good work being done at Dana-Farber through The Jimmy Fund. In fact, The Jimmy Fund has consistently earned 4-star ratings by Charity Navigator for its fiscal excellence. Less than one percent of rated charities ever receive a 4-star rating.

If you would like to learn more about The Jimmy Fund, we encourage you to visit the website or Facebook page. The Jimmy Fund even has a special section for Red Sox fans, which includes gifts and information on how to obtain an RS plate if you live in Massachusetts. Proceeds support The Jimmy Fund and we're grateful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Heavy House That Dirt Built

The HeavyAll the buzz being generated for The Heavy, allegedly from a small hamlet near Bath, England, is from the cover of James Brown's immortal classic How You Like Me Now. The cover became an instant hit after David Letterman asked the band to perform an encore. It was the first time in history that any band has been invited to do so.

The rest might have have been history, but The Heavy has much more to offer than the buzz of the single cover. Several songs stand out on the new album, with the best of them bringing out the snarling blend of throwback garage rock, funk, and soul that convinced Ninja Tune to sign them in 2007.

The House That Dirt Built transcends some of the band's earlier work, moving away from the smooth neo-soul debut that typified Great Vengeance and Furious and into the indie rock spotlight. Especially appealing about the band is they leave any imperfections and mistakes embedded in the recordings.

Their thinking is how it ought to be. Studio perfection is overrated. Mistakes have warmth and soul.

Chances are you won't even notice. And that credit belongs to the driving vocals of Kelvin Swaby who delivers the lyrics with all the passion of the day, along with longtime friend Dan Taylor (guitar). Also keeping it all together are equally talented Chris Ellul (drums) and Spencer Page (bass). When they rock, the house rocks with them.

When they don't rock, well, you know. They still sound smooth, but the energy evaporates. Live performances will likely hold the music together better than the album as it starts to lull. Before the recap, listen to what is attracting all the attention.

What I would have preferred to add was a vid of No Time, probably the best original piece on the album and, recently, added to to hundreds of Playstation UEFA Champions League ads.

Also worth checking out is Oh No! Not You Again and What You Want Me To Do? Skip the rest despite the label's attempt to promote Sixteen, except for Stuck, a straight up ballad that plays to the band's strengths without any rips.

The Heavy And The House That Dirt Built Brings It Down With A 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If you like the smokey sound of Swaby's voice, give the older tracks Coleen and Dignity a listen. Otherwise, see them live or wait for their next outing outside England. There direction of the band suggests they're slowly finding their place in the world.

The Heavy's The House That Dirt Built is on iTunes. You can also find The House That Dirt Built on Amazon, including vinyl.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Storms Reveals A Different Fleetwood Mac Story

Storms by Carol Ann HarrisThere are only a handful of people who haven’t heard the rags to riches story of Fleetwood Mac. The band on the brink of collapse in 1974 gets a much-needed shot in the arm in the form of guitarist/singer/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, singer/songwriter.

The addition of these two talented Americans to an evolving British blues band resulted in a remarkable turn in fortunes. It first came in the form of the successful eponymously titled Fleetwood Mac. And then again in 1977, when the band hit California gold.

It is Rumours and its aftermath that is the story of Carol Ann Harris’ Storms: My Life with Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac. Band members John and Christine McVie got divorced, Mick Fleetwood and his wife divorced (later to remarry and divorce yet again), and the Buckingham/Nicks pair split acrimoniously. All the drama made for some epic music.

Harris was the one you never saw on stage. She was the live-in girlfriend of Buckingham, mostly from 1976-1984. And in her book, she candidly recounts meeting Buckingham and becoming a trusted band insider. Her story is one of the few honest perspectives of a firsthand witness.

She was in the studio. She was there on tour. And she partook in the glamour, money, and drugs.

It isn't shocking. The band’s drug use was in line with their peers. But what is shocking is the mental abuse that band members inflicted on one another and their loyal crew. It's a side no one had ever seen before. And it's also why Nicks apparently despised Harris, or so it appeared from Harris’ perspective.

Of course, it could have been something else. Harris desperately wanted to be like Nicks, or at minimum, to be her friend.

While many people could chalk up panic attacks, jealousy, and the trappings of fame as commonplace, the allegations of physical abuse of Harris at the hands of Buckingham are another story all together. And that is what makes Storms shocking as Harris recounts in frightening detail how Buckingham was a mild-mannered guitar virtuoso one minute and a raging lunatic the next. She says she was often the unfortunate victim. Buckingham agreed in 1984.

Buckingham and Harris"She got pulled into this whole little world that maybe she wasn't ready for," Buckingham told Rolling Stone in 1984. "She's a girl from a small town who found herself in a world of people who were not particularly responsible."

Some people will not have much sympathy for her role in the story. She could have walked out on Buckingham (and she did, but she always returned). However, others might conclude she was a classic enabler or perhaps became addicted to being a rock star by association, enjoying the wealth, extravagance, and ability to rub elbows with the richer and more famous.

Carol Ann Harris considered herself one of them. But eventually, she did leave Buckingham for good. In 2003, Buckingham went on to produce his Go Insane album. Many people attribute the success of the album to the technical aspects and introductions of a more world sound. It worked because this solo album was about his relationship with Harris. He dedicated it to her, and had said in interviews then that producing the album was better than going to a shrink.

Storms: My Life With Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac Scores A 3.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The book is an interesting telling based on Harris’ diaries and notes that she kept for many years. Diehard fans of Fleetwood Mac won't take kindly to the work because Harris presents a side that doesn't sit well with public perception. However, she gets some marks here for exactly that reason, whether it is one-sided or not.

After her breakup with Buckingham, Harris went on to have a successful career as a costume designer for music videos. Storms: My Life with Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac is available on Amazon. For another perspective, consider this 1984 story from Rolling Stone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Decade With The Decemberists Down By The Water

The DecemberistsIt seems like forever since Colin Meloy left Tarkio in Montana and made his move to Portland. Officially, the band was hardly a band before the self-release of a five-song EP that the band raised money for by playing at the McMenamins hotel in order to buy studio time for the following day.

Their newest effort, The King Is Dead, will be available on Jan. 18. But the release of their new single, Down By The Water, shows that the indie band that rolled out of Portland is anything but dead. If the single is any indication of what is to come, expect The Decemberists to serve up something a little less restrained and more meaningful across an entire album.

With the single, singer/songwriter Meloy still delivers dynamic vocals against the sharper, sometimes choppy sounds banged out by Chris Funk (guitar, multi-instrumentalist), Jenny Conlee (Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keyboards), Nate Query (bass, string bass), and John Moen (drums, backing vocals, melodica). They haven't lost their sense of humor either, suggesting the release date has meaning.

"If you take away the slashes, that reads 11811," writes the band on their Website. "What does that mean? Must you ask? Clearly it is a snowman surrounded by a colonnade of waving banners."

Snowmen aside, The Decemberists will be joined by Peter Buck of R.E.M. appearing on three of the tracks. While he has worked as a session musician for The Replacements before, there is some hope his distinctive style will shine through. It seems likely, as Meloy says, that R.E.M. inspired some of the material.

Also joining in on The King Is Dead is Gillian Welch for seven tracks, which may suggest a darker, busier sound that Meloy has said contributes to a more American vibe than his frequently English-inspired music. Regardless, it is expected to be raw from beginning to end, with the recordings captured in a converted barn by Tucker Martine. He produced The Hazards Of Love in 2009, which was a thoughtful concept album with one solid single, The Rake's Song.

While Down By The Water is the lead single for the album, The Decemberists did play three of the upcoming songs while opening for Neko Case and Bob Dylan in September. Rise To Me and June Hymn, which have been kicked around the net from a solo performance, capture the leanings.

Both are powerful, but June Hymn is something anyone with a taste for indie folk rock will want to add to their must buy list. It's brilliant. The R.E.M influence is especially pronounced, but in a way that only Meloy can deliver, making it almost certain the album will deserve another visit in January.

The Decemberists' Single Down By The Water Surges To 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale

Whereas Hazards of Love was said not to capture any converts, especially from those who had written the band off as precocious, I don't see any critics making this claim with the upcoming The King Is Dead album. Meloy has certainly learned something over the past decade. They seemed poised to release their best album yet with Capitol Records.

You can pick up Down By The Water on iTunes. You can also find Down By The Water on Amazon, where it has slowly been climbing up in sales but has yet to be rated.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Good Omens By Gaiman And Pratchett Turns 20

Good Omens"The difference between me and Neil [Gaiman] in our attitude to movie projects is that he doesn't believe they're going to happen until he's sitting in his seat eating popcorn, and I don't believe they're going to happen." — Terry Pratchett

And so far, Pratchett has been right. Despite the right director, Terry Gilliam, Good Omens seems perpetually put on the back burner but is not dead. Even during interviews for his mesmerizing The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam said the prospect was still promising.

The primary hold up is finding someone willing to foot the bill. The secondary hold up is whether Hollywood will eventually concede that the end of the world can be funny. It has been for 20 years.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch is the funniest retelling of the end of the world, ever. It even comes with a disclaimer: Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt it in your own home.

But ironically, the book is less about the end of the world as it is about the unlikely duo and others who hope to stop it. After spending several thousand years on earth together, the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale have developed an adversarial friendship. This friendship solidifies as the end of times begins, as neither one of them wants to give up their worldly assignments.

A quick, nice and accurate recap of Good Omens.

With the birth of the Antichrist, the angel and demon decide to nurture the child, exposing him to the balance of good and evil and believing free will might somehow circumvent the end of the world. They may have succeeded too. Except for one small problem. The boy they intended to influence was not the boy.

Good Omens AudioThe real Antichrist, Adam Young, was growing up without the direct influences of good or evil. For all intents and purposes, he is a normal boy, perhaps a little brighter than most. And perhaps nothing would have changed had he not received a hell hound on his eleventh birthday, who he creatively names "Dog."

That, and meeting with his neighbor, Anathema Device, the direct descendent Agnes Nutter, who predicted future events with such accuracy that her book of prophecies flopped on the heels of less accurate prophecies written by the likes of Nostradamus. When Anathema gives Adam a stack of tabloid magazines, everything he reads becomes real — including Elvis happily humming while he cooks hamburgers in a fast food restaurant.

Meanwhile, Pratchett and Gaiman introduce the colorful characters of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They include: Scarlett, a red-haired vixen and war reporter; Sable, a best-selling author of a diet book; Mr. White, who gleefully admires polluted creeks and oil tankers; and Death, a presence that is nowhere and everywhere all at once. What makes their introduction delightful, much like the effects of angels and devils, is the commentary attached to all our modern niceties.

They will eventually gather at a roadside cafe, before eventually heading out to meet the Antichrist at a nearby Air Force base. What they don't know is that Adam will not arrive alone. With him are his three lifelong friends: Pepper, Wennslydale, and Brian.

Likewise, Adam's vision of the end of the world has very little to do with biblical propositions. Instead, he would be content enough to abolish teachers and rules for children. Adam isn't the only one to express how his thinking might muck up the ineffability of any divine plan. Newton Pulsifer, a private in the Witchfinder Army, falls for Anathema, a self-proclaimed witch. And Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell warms to physic Madame Tracy.

A brief, nice and accurate recap of the authors of Good Omens.

Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman was originally a frequently rejected writer whose first published work was a throwaway biography of the band Duran Duran. He has since written dozens of bestsellers and comic series. Most recently, his books Stardust and Coraline were adapted into very imaginative and successful films. You can learn more about the author on his website.

Terry Pratchett had his first short story published when he was thirteen, with the proceeds of the sale being used to buy his first typewriter. Still, Pratchett struggled as an author until developing the amazingly rich Discworld series as well as several other best-selling novels. Terry PratchettLast year, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor "for services to literature." He has also been a champion for Alzheimer's, suffering from the affliction since 2006 (see the video too). Visit his website.

A few years ago, Pratchett added to the mythos of Good Omens by sharing New Year's resolutions by Crowley and Aziraphale. Crowley makes eight, including one to stop Googling himself. Aziraphale has eleven, including being nicer to Gabriel.

Good Omens Shows Us The Signs With 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While Good Omens is a novel that tells a story more than it shows one, there is no mistaking it is one of the greatest collaborations in two decades. Good Omens works on many levels, especially in its theme developed around the preconceptions of good and evil as well as how disasters can change people's lives, often for the better.

You can find Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch on Amazon. Good Omens was released last year as an audiobook, brilliantly read by Martin Jarvis.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lykke Li Invites The World To Get Some

Lykke LiWhat a difference two years can make. When Li Lykee Timotej Zachrisson a.k.a. Lykke Li was introduced to the United States in 2008, she made a solid impression with indie music fans despite being framed up as a kid-approved pop star from Sweden. As it turned out, she was and she wasn't.

While Youth Novels was well received in indie circles, the overall album seemed too soft to take seriously. It blended more pop and electronic than alternative rock. Over the last couple years, she has slowly recast herself as a singer with much more power, veracity, and diversity.

Her latest from Rough Trade snarls out an angry, pimped-out single with Get Some while the B-side dishes out a slow and brooding sampling of pained rawness. The coupling is striking, showing off a much more mature Lykke Li. Maturity has added some smoke to her always remarkable voice.

Li was born in Ystad, Skåne, in 1986. She has lived all over the world with her family, including Sweden, Portugal, Morocco, Nepal, and India. When not touring, she now resides in Stockholm.

Get Some has sexed-up lyrics, but it proves Lykke Li has deep talent.

The single, co-written by Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, offers up some racy domination, with Lykke Li snarling "don't pull your pants before I go down" to an aggressively steady drum beat. And then, later, she screams "I'm your prostitute, you goin' get some" before the song breaks into its chorus.

Getting much less attention, but my favorite of the two songs if I had to pick between the two, is Paris Blue. It blisters with a lament that shares the loss of love, the result of choices the singer made in a haunting confessional and explanation that lingers long after the first listen.

All the while you lit your streets for me,
I cursed the pavement that I walked
All the while you loaned your nights to me,
I was unable to forget.

It's a story about how one person might feel trapped, pull away, land in the arms of another, and blame the other person. But as the chorus reveals, they eventually feel the loss, guilt, and take responsibility for breaking their own heart. Compared to Get Some, it's a remarkable contrast.

Lykke Li's Get Some And Paris Blue Rip An 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It was great timing for Lykke Li to come out with these songs. After cutting an excellent single for New Moon, Possibility, it sends a message that she doesn't intend to skew her music in the direction of the series. She has something more to offer.

Depending on when you read this review, you can download Get Some and Paris Blue for free. Once her offer ends or if you want to support the artist, you can find Get Some on iTunes. On Amazon, both can be downloaded.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hotel Oceana Is A Santa Barbara Escape

Hotel OceanaThe Hotel Oceana Santa Barbara is often listed right alongside luxury resorts, but it doesn't necessarily fit there. The casual feeling is much more akin to a beach-like resort, consisting of a collection of four unconnected motels that happen to share the same red tile roof and Spanish Colonial architecture.

The buildings didn't always belong together. At some point, the Hotel Oceana Santa Barbara acquired most of the block. This sometimes makes for confusion, creating mixed reviews based upon nothing more than what building the guest is assigned. Almost all of the buildings were built in the 1940s.

But for some of the shortcomings that come with an older but renovated property, the asset of this hotel is its oceanfront setting. The beach is right across the street. And the hotel has two pools and an outdoor spa. The two primary buildings are brought together with an expansive lawn. And while it might seem funny mentioning such amenities as we move into winter, the best time to think about spring or summer is now.

An Oceanfront Stay In Santa Barbara Is An Ideal Escape.

Hotel Oceana Santa Barbara is located almost directly between the Harbor to the north and Stearns Wharf to the south. In between both points of interest are the soft white sands that make this an ideal place to visit. The beach is relatively uncrowded, even on holidays like the Fourth of July.

Stearns Wharf, which was built in 1872 to serve cargo and passenger ships, is the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco and has a rich history that includes several fires. Today, like many piers, it is a focal point for recreation, with several restaurants, shops, and the Ty Warner Sea Center. What the Ty Warner Sea Center lacks in size, it makes up for by giving everyone a chance to touch marine life.

Equally interesting, Stearns Wharf was once owned by legendary film actor James Cagney. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. He was best known as cinema's quintessential tough guy.

The Harbor, Santa BarbaraNorth of the wharf, the Harbor is home to several more restaurants and gift shops and hundreds of commercial and recreational boats. Watching the sun sink down behind the masts makes for a memorable sunset. During the day, there are plenty of opportunities to book sightseeing, sportfishing, and kayaking trips.

While I would not consider it walking distance, the cosmopolitan center of Santa Barbara blends a Main Street charm with a contemporary vibe. During the day, it provides an eclectic center for shopping and dining that ranges from beer-battered fish to California fusion. And at night, it's easy to find a variety of back alley bars, hip clubs, and moody blues venues.

Hotel Oceana Santa Barbara Scores With A 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Hotel Oceana RoomsThe entire area is vastly different than metropolitan Los Angeles. Between the working wharf, vineyards, and farmland, it seems much less changed by time than its southern neighbor. The same might be said of the hotel, with its friendly and relaxed staff.

Even the rooms, which are spacious and sparse, seem almost timeless with colorful accessories pulled together by designer Annette Jaffe in 2008 to create a sort of "beach chic" vibe for the area's Mission-style feel. The only modern amenity is a flat screen television. If you want to visit, plan ahead using Fare Buzz flight deals.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Jethro Tull Collector's Edition Stands Up And Takes Notice

Ian AndersonJethro Tull might have recorded Stand Up in 1969, but its influence is still being felt today. It broke away from the bluesy sound of 1968 (This Was) and set off in a different direction with an earthy, folksy vibe. For much of the world, it was their introduction to the band. It's also among my top 20 albums of all time.

The reason it matters today is that Capitol/EMI has released Stand Up as an expanded collector’s edition. It includes 2 CDs and a DVD audio with the remastered original album, three tracks recorded during Tull’s first U.S. tour, and two singles that would later appear on the Benefit album, Sweet Dream and Living In the Past. They were even smart to feature four songs from sessions for John Peel’s BBC Radio show and two U. S. radio spots.

The Expanded Collector's Edition Of Stand Up Changes Everything Again.

Some say the band’s more folksy sound was due in large part to Martin Barre replacing Mick Abrahams, who had played guitar on This Was. It's an easy case to make, because it created the strongest lineup in the band's lengthy history.

With Ian Anderson on vocals, 12-string guitar, and his ever-present flute; Clive Bunker on drums; the affable Glenn Cornick on bass; and Barre on guitar, Jethro Tull immediately soared from slowly getting noticed to the top 20 charts in the U. S. and the UK.

“In rehearsal and recording, we all tried different approaches to the songs. Clive and Glenn formed the basic backbone of the group, leaving Martin and me to experiment a bit more with different sounds and, for the time, some radical techniques in sound recording,” Anderson writes. “We often plugged instruments into the rotating Leslie speaker cabinet to treat the sound with the typical Hammond organ-like tones. Martin’s guitar in A New Day Yesterday was recorded with me standing on the guitar speaker cabinet, swinging a microphone, Roger Daltry-fashion around the outside to get a phasing, swirling sound for the main riff."

This isn't just another reissue. What puts this collector’s edition over the top for me is the inclusion of a second disc featuring Tull’s Live At Carnegie Hall concert, which was recorded in 1970. This is an edited version of the show, which the band played as a benefit for a drug rehab facility in New York City.

The Carnegie Hall concert is made even better by the presence of classical pianist John Evan. Songs include: Nothing Is Easy, My God, With You There To Help Me/By Kind Permission Of, A Song For Jeffrey, To Cry You A Song, Sossity You’re A Woman/Reasons For Waiting/Sossity, Dharma For One, We Used To Know, guitar solo, and For a Thousand Mothers. It’s a fantastic live set and one that deserves introduction to a new legion of fans today.

Yes, this is an edited version of the show, featuring a nice new mix. But as all diehard Tull fans know, the concert has never been released in its entirety. However, the expanded collector’s edition DVD does feature the unedited show in 5.1 surround sound. Add in a 2010 interview with Anderson, and the best word to describe the package might be sublime.

Jethro Tull’s Stand Up Expanded Collector's Edition Takes Notice At 9.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There really is only one way to make this collector's edition even better. Imagine what might happen if the Stand Up lineup got together for a tour to support the release. Still, it was great to see Anderson going solo in North America. And while I wish his wrap-up in the States wasn't taking place this month, the collector's edition will still see plenty of decades of work. For the rest of the world, visit Jethro Tull for tour dates.

You can find a remastered edition of Stand Up on iTunes, but you might want to look on Amazon for the full Stand Up experience. It was issued on vinyl too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Les Hommes Makes A Warm Winter For High-Tops

Les Hommes High-Top SneakersSomething happened when Tom Notte and Bart Vandebosch got together in Belgium. Neither one of them really fit into the mold of modern fashion. Their heads were elsewhere, well ahead of anyone else in Europe and maybe the world.

Although they have two very different definitions of how to approach style, they managed to find common ground by founding Les Hommes. Four years later, their men's collection had already reached international distribution. Nowadays, they even set trends in women's fashion as well.

Les Hommes High-Top Sneaker For Winter.

While it doesn't hit me in Los Angeles as much the rest of the United States, most people are packing up their sneakers for the winter and are pulling out boots. But it doesn't have to be that way. The new high-top sneaker from Les Hommes is warm, comfortable, sueded and brings the rubber sole up high enough to protect against wet weather or a light snow.

No, you won't want into walk into a drift, and I wouldn't recommend these for rugged wear (there is another style that can take some abuse). But they do make for a smart shoe in urban settings. The quality is in the details. The pattern is laser cut, the laces are closed, and the stitch detailing is striking. What makes it work is the balance between a modern and classic look.

The high-top sneakers are sold in European sizes. And Les Hommes limits the sizes they make. These shoes are made for 41-43 in Europe, which translates to sizes 8-10 men in the United States, and is the downside for some. The price is right if you care about your feet, retailing at about $440.

Les Hommes High TopsIf you wear a different size, consider the more rugged variation. It ranges from 9 to 12 and includes a zip closure. I don't like the look as much as the gray (mostly because of the toe) and it costs about $110 more. But if the shoe doesn't fit, you can't wear it.

Alternative High-Top Sneakers For Winter Wear.

Since you won't find Les Hommes on traditional retail sites, your best bet is to browse The Corner, which is an online boutique showcasing a selection of cutting-edge fashion and accessories for men and women through dedicated mini-stores. It gives select designers a place to sell their latest fashions online. We have no connection to them. They are just cool.

blackstone high topsWhile you are there, for comparison purposes, check out the other high-top sneaker offerings like distressed leather high-tops by Costume National (but the rubber sole doesn't protect the seam). Or, search for the stained effect high-tops by Common Projects (which has seam protection, but look stiff).

I haven't seen anything comparable. In fact, the only thing in the same ball park is the Blackstone Men's Am02 High Top for $179. And what it lacks in style, it does make up some ground for in rugged appeal. But even then, you have to get over the lack of grabbing tread.

Les Hommes High-Top Winter Sneaker Inspires A 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If Les Hommes offered more sizes, I might rate this high-top higher. The shoes fit, but the sizes leave everyone else out in the cold. Still, what I really like about these shoes is their ability to help inspire. Leather high-top sneakers are smart for winter.

We need more designers in the United States who can make better high-top sneakers. We especially need one that blends the modern and classic look. It's a drag to change shoes, depending on where you are going. And I don't like to stay in one place.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sully Erna's Avalon Is A Masterpiece

Sully ErnaWhen you’re the front man for one of the most successful metal/rock bands in the country and have sold more than 15 million CDs worldwide, you don’t need to take chances. As the singer and primary songwriter for Godsmack, Sully Erna absolutely qualifies.

He has long been well-respected as having one of the best bands and voices in the business. And he is equally complicated.

For years, he worked on writing, playing and producing songs that would have felt out of place on Godsmack’s The Oracle or anything else by the band. So he decided to release Avalon, his first solo outing. It was a risk. It's not remotely close to Godsmack.

It's a “huge departure from anything I’ve ever done.” — Sully Erna

From the very first track, it is clear that Erna relishes the experimentation. Instead of pounding drums and shredding guitar, his songs rely on piano, acoustic guitars, hand drums, and mix of tribal and Eastern influences.

The result is hypnotic, melodic, and showcases Erna’s amazing voice in a most pleasing way. And he could not have found better partners to help produce it.

The Massachusetts native added an entire roster of very competent and talented musicians to help him craft his sound: Lisa Guyer (vocals), Tim Theriault (guitar and vocals), Chris Decato (keyboards, midi and vocals), Chris Lester (acoustic guitars and bass), Irina Chirkova (cello), David Stefanelli (drums and percussion), and Niall Gregory (drums and percussion). Gregory, best known for his work with Dead Can Dance, turns in some pretty impressive hand drumming here.

Released on Universal Records, Avalon’s first single, Sinner’s Prayer, is melodic, ethereal and definitely hypnotic. 7 Years is also epic in tone and length, perhaps chronicling the seven years it took to craft these songs. The Departed with Guyer also strikes the rights notes from start to finish. There is no reason to skip a single track.

Erna is an interesting guy. His lyrics consistently and easily reflect that. Besides his day job with Godsmack and his part-time solo work, he’s also an avid poker player, participating in the World Series of Poker. Beyond that, he is a philanthropist (he and his Godsmack bandmates sent supplies to Haiti) and the author of the memoir The Paths We Choose.

Sully Erna’s Avalon Rises With A 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Avalon is not just a collection of songs. It's a masterpiece. As Erna says, “Everything that I know in my life up until now has been bled into this body of work.” I could not agree more.

He is fearless and it shows. And while he is not currently on tour, Avalon brings him closer than ever. You can find Avalon on iTunes. Follow this link to Avalon on Amazon. You can also find the making of Avalon on Erna's Website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stephen King Keeps People Up Just After Sunset

Just After Sunset Collector's EditionAny time someone mentions the name Stephen King, they conjure up his largely undisputed title as the king of horror. That might be true, but it's not always the supernatural that keeps people up at night. His psychological thrillers and deeply developed characters make his work convincing.

A couple years ago, King put out his collection of short fiction since Everything's Eventual (2002). It was well timed, giving everyone a chance to enjoy bite-sized tales with most readable in a single sitting. Some of them were published in magazines before but unless you're a diehard fan, you might have never known.

What's Inside Just After Sunset by Stephen King.

The only never published tale in the collection is N., which can be best summed up as a reluctant guardian story. The story is presented as a retelling of a retelling. A psychiatrist's sister relates how one of her brother's patients has an obsessive-compulsive disorder and paranoid delusions related to keeping the universe balanced.

After the patient commits suicide, the psychiatrist goes out to see the field for himself. He suffers the same fate while passing the burden to his sister and then his sister's childhood friend Charlie. Not the strongest story of the bunch, but compelling in how people confront a reality that could not possibly be real.

The best of the thirteen include almost no supernatural slants at all. They are psychological thrillers that explore how the unexpected can momentarily turn someone's world upside down. We walk around without a care in the world ... bam!

The Gingerbread Girl tells the tale of Emily, who takes up running to ease the pain of a lost child and eventually runs right out of her husband's life. After hitting the reset button, she decides to stay at her father's summer home. Everything is all right, until she stumbles into a serial killer.

Rest Stop places an author struggling with his own demons at a rest stop where he has to decide whether to intervene and help a woman being abused. Mute is a confession in which a man tells a priest how a deaf hitchhiker might be connected to his wife's and her lover's murder. And The Things They Left Behind explores the 9-11 survivor guilt of a man who called off work the day his colleagues died.

The latter was rumored to made into a short film. But other than one mention in July, it seems unlikely that anyone will see something soon. Unrelated to Just After Sunset, NBC Universal is producing the first Dark Tower film for 2013.

Two Graphs About King Since He Can't Be Summed Anyway.

With a resume as long as King's, it's impossible to recap it all. So, I'll just mention that in the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted the novel Carrie for publication. His next book, Full Dark, No Stars, was released two days ago. It too is a short story collection, including four new short stories.

There are almost 50 books and hundreds of other writings and projects. But what always fascinated me about King isn't only his writings but how he lives his life. In 1997, he biked across Australia. He rode a Harley, of course. You can learn more about King on his website, which is bigger than some publisher's sites.

Stephen King's Just After Sunset Spooks A 4.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is always a ton of news about King. He is popular, but somehow he keeps his cool. True, some of his more recent work is hard to compare to what people call classic King. But lately, I think his work is better, writing without fear.

You can find Just After Sunset on Amazon. The Gingerbread Girl was also made into an audio story on iTunes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Alter Bridge Adds Exigency To AB III

Alter BridgeWhen Florida-based Alter Bridge released its first Roadrunner Records backed single, Isolation, it showed real promise for the alternative metal band's upcoming third album, ABIII (out yesterday). There is an exigency in this album.

And the exigency might be to finally get out from behind what Creed was and focus on what Alter Bridge will be. Former Creed members Mark Tremonti (guitar, vocals), Brian Marshall (bass), and Scott "Flip" Phillips (drums), along with Myles Kennedy (lead vocals, guitar) have added some diversity to the track lineup to do it, for better and worse.

The better of ABIII by Alter Bridge.

Isolation was a brilliant single release. It is their best opening single since their debut in 2004, proving once again that Alter Bridge almost always plays better with aggression than when it attempts to formulate radio rock.

All together, the 16-track album takes advantage of Kennedy's range and emotion. And the darker, heavier material suits them, giving the band an opportunity to showcase their talent without simply sounding like everybody else. The sense of struggle within this album helps cut away any over-polished studio sound.

"A lot of the album is dark," said Kennedy on Listenin.org. "It's a reflection of someone who has come to question everything they have ever held onto as absolute truth."

That's what you'll find on better than half the album (Kennedy says 70 percent, we think less), which is the best of the better half. With standout and varied songs like Isolation, Coeur d'Alene, Still Remains, and Words Darker Than Wings, it's hard to make sense why others made the cut. They seem out of the place. So does Slip Into The Void, but only because it leads the album.

Check out this rehearsal tour video, which shows how down to earth the band really is, especially Kennedy. It also includes highlights of Isolation on the tail end, an Alter Bridge best. Here is Isolation live.

There really isn't a bad or "worse", but some songs lack complexity when compared to what makes the album good. Sure, you will likely hear plenty of praise for Ghosts of Days Gone and Wonderful Life, Home, and a couple of others. They're fine, but seem out of place on the album.

Wonderful Life is a goodbye song, with an emotional thread that is lighter than the message. Ghosts of Days Gone, which reflects on memories, also departs from the record with an underscored message of wanting to make more memories before you're gone.

Yeah, I get that Alter Bridge wanted to explore a darker sound, which is excellent, but allow hope to shine in there somewhere. They don't want to enable hopelessness.

AB III By Alter Bridge Explodes To 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I was originally introduced to Alter Bridge when they released their second album in 2007. It left me wanting to like more tracks than I actually did. There isn't any reservation on AB III. There is enough good and some great to consider the entire album, even if you don't intend to play every track. Otherwise, it's your choice whether you like the lighter or darker sounds.

You can find AB III by Alter Bridge on iTunes. On Amazon, look for AB III.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire Still Smolders

The Girl Who Played With FireWhile the Hollywood remakes are not far off, one wonders if a string of remakes are even necessary. Noomi Rapace delivers an intensity to Lisbeth Salander that will be nearly impossible to match. Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist is endearing.

The first two films are near perfect, with the Swedish production adding that much more authenticity. It may be a sequel, but it's also a reminder that sometimes less is more. Sometimes it feels rare for Hollywood to deliver a "great movie" without reminding us that it is a movie.

Most critics didn't fall in love with Fire like they did The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Most of them only downgraded the second installment slightly because the story line is a bit straightforward, and to distinguish it from their praise for the original. The explanation that the first film was "fresh and unexpected" is mediocre at best. Films deserve a chance to stand on their own.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is what it is. It might be a more fast-paced detective story as opposed to a pulp fiction mystery, but had someone not seen Dragon, I suspect they would have been more receptive. It delivers.

The Girl Who Played With Fire Expands On The Original.

The premise becomes predictable, but still delivers a slightly less intense story line. Salander is being framed for a multiple homicide — two journalists and her loathed guardian, Bjurman. From the police perspective, it's open and shut.

Salander's fingerprints are on the gun, an accidental coincidence as she uses the weapon to threaten her guardian into continuing to make positive reports. After the murderer kills Bjurman, the same gun is used to kill reporter Dragan Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin) and his girlfriend, Mia Bergman (Jennie Silfverhjelm), who are uncovering a sex trafficking operation.

As the "johns" are confronted, it becomes clear the murderer is one of almost twenty suspects. The story would have offered a different twist if the audience were given enough doubt of Salander's innocence, perhaps to protect the identity of the murderer for fear of being connected to him.

However, it would not have been in her character. She doesn't care much about what people might think of her, not even her friends.

Sure, she seems remorseful when several friends express their disappointment that she didn't stay in touch while traveling the world. There is something else conveyed. She is like the scorpion who stings the frog while being helped across the river. She cannot help it. It's in her nature.

Along with familiar characters, The Girl Who Played With Fire reveals more about Salander's girlfriend, Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) and introduces Paolo Roberto, who plays an earlier version of himself. Roberto is a former boxer, tae kwon do champion, and kickboxing champion. He later went on to perform in Let’s Dance, the Swedish version of Dancing with the Stars.

Without question, most people will lean toward The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with its elaborate plot and voyeuristic brutality. I almost prefer the second adaption from the best-selling books by Stieg Larsson for its straightforward subtlety that delves deeper into Salander and what made her the way she is.

The Girl Who Played With Fire Smolders With A 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale

The Girl Who Played With Fire is available on iTunes. It is is also on Amazon.

It is the sequel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and precedes the already anticipated The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, which is still in theaters and has also been the least well received of the series. Some call it the equivalent to tidying up a television series. We shall see.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Atomic Tom Goes Viral With The Moment

Atomic TomWhile a publicity stunt, especially a copycat performance, won't work for most bands, the original concept worked for Atomic Tom. One clever idea on a subway turned their album into an overnight success. Their first major audience included a handful of people on a New York subway and, believe it or not, iPhones.

That alone wouldn't be enough to cover it here. This Brooklyn-based band has what it takes.

After releasing their debut, The Moment, the band was struggling to find inventive ways to get the word out beyond their loyal following in New York. They needed to think big, and in doing so they ended up thinking small.

It started with the brother of guitarist Eric Espiritu. He suggested they film a video of sorts on a train going across the Manhattan Bridge. The only catch was that they were to do it with no instruments. Instead, they would use iPhone instruments.

The stunt serves as an introduction to a great band.

The resulting video for Take Me Out features band members doing just that. They play with iPhones connected to small amps: guitar (Espiritu) bass (Philip Galtizine), drums (Tobias Smith) and microphone (Luke White). Adding even more allure to the magic is that the entire video was shot live, again, with nothing more than three iPhones.

Once added to YouTube with a single notation — “In October of 2010, New York’s Atomic Tom had their instruments stolen… fortunately…they know how to improvise.” — the video went viral. To date, they have attracted more than 3.5 million views.

The stunt left some people wondering whether it was put together by Apple. But there were plenty of critics who were ready to report on their made-up stolen instrument story. As the write-ups and views continued, new fans bought the song and television hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Rachael Ray asked the band to appear on their shows.

They haven't settled on a sound, but that doesn't detract much.

Had this amounted to nothing more than hype, the story would have been scrapped. However, on review, Atomic Tom has talent. The Moment is a great body of work, complete with a mix of dance rock, new wave, and 80s rock. Expect to hear some influences, such as the Killers and perhaps a hint of the Cure.

Some standouts include Take Me Out, which sounds like an arena rock staple. We Were Never Meant To Be is a romantic ballad. And all of it was recorded in a friend’s apartment. The Moment is an outstanding debut, even if the track listing remains a bit all over the place — up, down, all around.

Atomic Tom’s The Moment Rocks In With A 5.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Viral video aside, Atomic Tom has managed to capture a fresh rock/pop/alt rock sound and bring a genuine enthusiasm to the proceedings. They’ll be playing some dates in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. They also have a growing fan base on Facebook.

You can pick up The Moment by Atomic Tom is on iTunes. On Amazon, you can find their first EP as well as The Moment. They signed with Universal Republic Records.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jay Dobyns Is Unforgettably No Angel

Jay DobynsThe Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) is known to many as a worldwide one-percenter motorcycle club and organized crime syndicate. Their primary motto is "When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets."

I've always been fascinated by the strange and frightening world of Hells Angels. It is the most famous of the "big four" motorcycle gangs, and known the world over.

The group's website clarifies that the name was suggested to the founders of the club by a friend of theirs, Arvid "Oley" Olsen, who was a member of the Flying Tigers. You can find a detailed history of the Hells Angels on their site. The book by Jay Dobyns includes another story for history. His own.

Into A Place Few Ever Remember.

No Angel by Jay Dobyns offers a glimpse into the dark and dangerous world of the Hells Angels through the eyes and experiences of a man who lived it. Dobyns isn’t your typical outlaw biker who changed his ways.

He was an undercover U. S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent who did what few have ever done. He was the first law enforcement officer to truly infiltrate the Hells Angels, even becoming a “patched” member of the Skull Valley (Arizona) charter.

His mission, known by ATF as Black Biscuit, involved running stolen guns, moving drugs, and learning firsthand about a variety of violent crimes. One of the most infamous took place at Harrah’s in Laughlin, Nevada, where a deadly brawl broke out between the Angels and members of a rival motorcycle club, the Mongols.

Bullets flew, blood was shed, and middle aged folks in town to try their luck on the slots found themselves caught in the cross fire. Two Angels and a Mongol were killed and the ATF focused on the Angels. The premise was that the motorcycle club (read: gang) was a racketeering organization.

Dobyns wasn’t involved in the Harrah’s melee. He wasn’t part of the club yet, but he was there and he saw it happen.

Trading In His Identity To Become Someone Else.

Dobyns was a former college football player, lawman, and father when he traded in his identity to become Jay “Jaybird” Davis, also known as Bird. No Angel is the story of his transformation into Bird and how he was so convincing in that role. He was so convincing, he almost forget who he really was too.

The book follows Bird’s gun running to Mexico, serving as a collections thug, development of the Black Biscuit undercover team, an introduction to key Angels and associates, and his obsession with being accepted into the Angels’ inner circle. But Bird was already walking a fine line.

In between spending time with the bad guys and writing reports about his findings, he drove home to spend time with his wife and kids. But wearing so many hats can only last for so long. And with each page, as Jay transforms into Bird—with plenty of tattoos, an ever-present cigarette, and, of course, a Harley—he becomes less interested in following the rules or spending time with his wife. Eventually he stops answering his phone. He skips family visits.

Black Biscuit case agent Joseph Slatalla wisely ended the case before Dobyns could become a casualty. As case fell apart, Dobyns’ life nearly did as well.

No Angel by Jay Dobyns Earns A 7.7 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Dobyns, along with co-author Nils Johnson-Shelton, does a great job sharing his story, including many frightening details. He received death threats against him and his family after the case ended. No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels is available on Amazon.

Dobyns had so thoroughly convinced many Hells Angels members that he was one of them that a few refused to believe he was an ATF agent even after his cover was revealed. The movie rights to No Angel have been sold, so Jaybird might be on the big screen in the near future. You can also learn more about Dobyns on his website.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blood Red Shoes Lights A Fire Like This

Blood Read ShoesSix years ago, Steven Ansell (drums/vocals) and Laura-Mary Carter (guitar/vocals) didn't have anything better to do other than to get together for a jam. It was a good thing they did. Their Ginger Rogers meets Fred Astaire dance has turned into a fixture on the indie rock dial.

Primarily influenced by underground punk and rock music on this side of the pond, the guitar-drums only duo from Brighton, England, have progressed nicely since their Box of Secrets debut. Stateside, the introduction is all about Fire Like This, a barrage of stripped down sound.

They just recently left the U.S. (yesterday) and are headed back for a European tour. From a few photos shared from the North American tour, there seems to be some amusement over the Twinkie. Hey, Twinkies are amusing things. We know it. Next time, deep fry.

Blood Red Shoes are loud, explosive, and expressive with the right vocal hooks.

True to their word, neither Ansell nor Carter are predisposed to the mainstream. You can hear it in the music. And while the extended tour schedule has likely put their original plans to produce another EP on hold, that's fine. The ten tracks from Fire Like This are still fresh from V2.

It's Happening Now, Count Me Out, Heartsink, and One More Empty Chair are all standouts. It has to do with boiling the music down to produce a crisp sound and recording to analog tape with minimal overdubs. The result is something raw that comes across in Light It Up and Colours Fade.

For many people not in the U.S., some of the songs aren't so new. Most of it was crafted on the road and tour tested, which is becoming a common creative process for bands with an indie bent. You never know where inspiration might strike. And in one case, it came from David Lynch’s eerie Twin Peaks as they were crossing between continents.

From a single line, Ansell considered the dual nature of fire as a passionate and destructive force. The passion helps them creatively, but it also adds to their intensity. According to Ansell, it captures the essence of who they are. "We do fight a lot, but we’re also very intense about what we want to do creatively,” he said.

The duality includes how they see their future. They want to keep their cred as part of the alternative rock and underground punk rock scene. However, the allure of being the big band at the front of the pack lingers just out of sight. It will come.

Fire Like This By Blood Red Shoes Rips A 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When you want to hear something refreshingly inspired without being ripped off, Blood Red Shoes delivers. They do it well because rather than studying how other bands sound, they get to the business of studying why those bands did it.

Fire Like This by Blood Red Shoes is on iTunes. You can also find Fire Like This on Amazon as a CD, download, or on vinyl.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Walking Dead Rises On AMC

The Walking DeadInitially, there were rumors that The Walking Dead made some AMC executives uncomfortable, leaving them to question whether or not zombies could be sustainable. (Of course they're sustainable, they are undead.) Those rumors have reversed.

After the Halloween premiere, most whispers suggest the series will earn a 13-episode second season (maybe more). And, if the first episode installment is any indication of what is to come, there is plenty of life in the unexpected adaption.

The credit belongs in part to Image Comics for publishing The Walking Dead, originally created by writer Robert Kirkman, artist Tony Moore (issues 1-6 and covers), and Charlie Adlard. The rest belongs to AMC for pairing the idea with three-time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss), and Kirkman (of course).

Together, their combined talents, and what appears to be a near perfect cast at the start, have managed to find the sweet spot for fantastical stories. It's not about zombies. It's about people, who happen to be placed in an extreme circumstances.

The story is gritty, suspenseful, and unmistakably adult.

Wounded in the opening segments of the series, sheriff's Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in the hospital to a very different world than the one he left. Everyone has since evacuated, leaving the dead where they lay. He slowly makes his way home, finding his house abandoned and being unable to process the danger all around him.

Fortunately, Grimes is stumbled upon by Morgan (Lennie James), a father dealing with the loss of his wife and protecting his son, Duane, in a very off-kilter world. The two have secured a nearby house, a refuge they made while evacuating the city after Morgan's wife had been infected.

What works is that while the show is violent, it never beats you over the head with gore or dread. It's balanced, with enough hope and motion to carry it forward. You want to know what happens next.

The only hold back in the first episode is the intense focus on Grimes, leaving us to wonder whether or not we'll feel the same about the extended cast. There is no question about Morgan. Jericho veteran James looks remarkably at home in his role. It's his second outing with AMC, lending another powerful presence in a supporting role for the mini-series The Prisoner.

While Grimes provides a glimpse of a character setting his moral boundaries amidst the confusion, Morgan demonstrates the difficulty of knowing what is right without the willpower to do it. And more than anything else, this is the hook. Many people are surprised how emotional the story can be.

The Walking Dead might capitalize on zombies as a backdrop, but only in that they allow for suspense, metaphor, and a canvas to vet the human experience. That is the secret to fantastic stories. They work best when they bring out humanity rather than bury it. And unless there is an unexpected departure from this general premise, I anticipate The Walking Dead will live for some time.

The Walking Dead Episode 1 Rises To A 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If you missed The Walking Dead because you assumed it might border on the absurd, you can still find episode one on iTunes. In addition to episode one, there are two free downloads: a motion comic and extended sneak peak.

Unless you have an aversion to zombies, it's one of the best new additions to AMC. Unlike Rubicon, which finally found its momentum by episode 8, The Walking Dead delivers with episode one. The best comparison doesn't even come from the abundance of zombie movies as much as something cut from the shorts that make up World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, a book worthy of review some time in the future.