Monday, January 31, 2011

Cloud Nothings Breaks From Lo-Fi

Dylan BaldiNo one can ever call Ohio's Dylan Baldi a slacker. As a teenager, he wrote and recorded some catchy, lo-fi songs in his parents’ basement.

Admittedly, the lo-fi sound was an accident. According to his indie label, Carpark Records, Baldi was never striving for a lo-fi sound. The sound was created on a “simple computer and crappy microphone." That's the way they turned out.

Accident or not, the songs were well received and smartly promoted online. But online success is seldom enough. In order to get songs in front of people, Baldi needed to hit the road. He needed a band. And he needed a little bit of luck.

To do it, Baldi recruited Joe Boyer (guitar) TJ Duke (bass) and Jayson Gerycz (drums). Then they picked up opening gigs wherever they could find them. If luck can be described as the bands you open for, Baldi found it with Best Coast and Wavves.

Last year, the band was signed by Carpark Records, which quickly put out a few 7-inch singles and a massive 14-track LP filled with power pop-driven murkiness that sets it apart. Somehow, in between it all, Baldi also found time to record a new CD with Baltimore-based producer Chester Gwazda (Future Islands, Dan Deacon).

Cloud Nothings is a self-titled restart to the band Baldi built.

You might say the eponymously titled Cloud Nothings, released in January, is Cloud Nothings' first LP. This time around, Baldi dropped the simple computer and crappy microphone to create a different kind of sound. The lo-fi charm that caught everyone's interest is now mixed in with high velocity, exuberant melodies, and chiming guitar hooks for a good effect.

Should Have is an easy favorite with its choppy guitar despite the oddly twisted video. But it's the album’s Forget You All The Time that proves there is still much to love as the talented musician transitions from the basement to the studio. You can hear it because while he was always confident on guitar, he seems much more confident with his vocals now.

In addition to Forget You All the Time and Understand At All, give the super short Hearbeat, clocking in at just over a minute, a spin for its almost chorus-only arrangement. Not Important and Nothing's Wrong also give a glimpse of Baldi’s real songwriting talent. I have every reason to believe he's just scratched the surface.

Cloud Nothings Hooks Up With 3.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Cloud Nothings’ self-titled CD includes 11 songs in less than half an hour. It's ridiculously short, but a good trip nonetheless. The band embarks on a European tour in mid February and returns in March to open their U.S. tour in Athens, Georgia.

You can find Cloud Nothings on iTunes. On Amazon, Cloud Nothings is available on CD or as MP3 downloads. You can also keep up with the band on Facebook.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise And Fall

End GameIn the United States, chances are that Americans can name just one world class chess player. His name is Bobby Fischer, and he is widely regarded as the greatest chess player of all time.

Such acclaim doesn't always come freely as the title of the newest book on Bobby Fischer's life. Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise And Fall From America’s Brightest Prodigy To The Edge of Madness (Endgame) is exactly as it sounds.

The unlikely makings of a world chess champion.

When they were children, Fischer and his older sister taught themselves how to play chess. But as time went on, she grew bored with the game while he went on to read every book he could find on the subject. Then he ventured out into New York City to try his hand and absorb what he could.

Fischer’s mother, Regina, did what she could to introduce her son to other hobbies and sports, and he was quite proficient at some (such as swimming and tennis). School studies were different. He was a mediocre student, thinking only of chess. His mother, perhaps sensing his brilliance, eventually helped to connect him with seasoned players who might take the boy under their wing or at least give him a challenge.

In a matter of just a few years, Fischer became a chess master.

In Endgame, author Frank Brady does an outstanding job chronicling Fischer’s life. He debunks many urban legends, myths and untruths while revealing a highly credible side of the chess champion that most never knew existed.

Fischer may have transitioned from the emotional kid who cried when he lost into a swaggering, confident champion, but hidden behind the brilliance and confidence were a slew of insecurities and eccentricities. These would be his downfall.

Fischer could be kind, but he could also be cruel, casting people out of his life if he felt they had betrayed him or if he felt threatened in any way. He also had no hesitation in making outrageous demands of tournament organizers, asking for far more money than what the prize purse might have been, free hotel accommodations, specific lighting, specific chairs.

What sometimes looked like monetary greed might have masked a insecurity. For all the bickering he did to demand more prize money, he routinely turned down lucrative offers to lend his name to products and endorsements. He also turned down an opportunity to play for $5 million, a decision he surely regretted in later years.

It is almost impossible to understand why that as Fischer progressed, he became anti- American and anti-Semitic in his beliefs. But this growing hostility would eventually lead him to be jailed in Japan without a valid passport. He could no longer turn to the U.S. for help. He was wanted for tax evasion and violating international sanctions (for playing a tournament in Yugoslavia).

He was eventually released after being granted citizenship in Iceland. His health failing, Fischer died three years ago, pretty much alone.

A few moves about author Frank Brady

Frank BradyBrady is currently the chairman of the department of mass communications, journalism, television and film at St. John's University, New York. But prior to his position and teaching there, Brady was the founding editor of Chess Life magazine.

Although Brady went on to serve as editor of several major publications, his passion for chess led to him to become an international arbiter. He has also directed many major chess tournaments and served as secretary of the United States Chess Federation for two years. He has written several books and his previous Fischer biography, Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, was a best seller.

Endgame by Frank Brady Checkmates An 8.8 on the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Another interesting note about Brady is that he was one of Fischer’s long-time friends. It's this interesting bit of trivia that makes his insight and understanding of chess and the culture surrounding the game an additional win for the book.

Brady was there, and when he wasn't there he earned enough experience in the game to provide a compelling read about it, as well as the interesting lives people lead behind it. As an additional point of interest, it reveals how different cultural backgrounds weigh heavily on shaping the play of the game. Sometimes it reads as if the players were competing in a boxing ring.

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness is available on Amazon on Feb. 1, 2011. This review is based on an unedited advance copy of the book from Crown.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Gang Of Four Make Content Like They Never Left

Gang Of FourThe on again, off again post-punk rockers from Leeds, England, are on again. Content by Gang Of Four offers up an uptempo album with lively vocals solid enough to make you wonder where Jon King (vocals) and Andy Gill (guitar) have been hiding since reviving the band in 2006 with Mark Heaney (drums) and Thomas McNeice (bass).

As an album, Content might not be perfect, but it will clearly convince first-time listeners why the Gang Of Four became one of the most influential bands of the 1970s. They might not be as minimalist as they used to be, but the delivery is better than reliving nostalgia that some aging critics claimed. I wasn't old enough to experience them in 1978. I'm glad I'm old enough now.

Rehashing A Radical Past With The Gang Of Four.

Some people might rightly wonder just how big the Gang Of Four really was in the late 70s and that's okay. They never blew up the music scene with chart toppers or dominated airplay. What they did do was often under the surface. They were influential because they helped shape plenty of bands who came after them.

They've been given heavy nods by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. For the Gang of Four, it works both ways as they link up nicely with The Ramones.

So what happened? The Gang Of Four was ahead of their time. They didn't bend. They walked off a television show when the BBC told them that they must sing "packets" instead of "rubbers." They were punished for the walk off too. The song was banned. EMI buckled and Duran Duran got a boost instead. It wouldn't be the last time either.

Content Is Seductive In Its Simplicity.

Content has all the right stuff. A choppy guitar. Intense and sometimes strained vocals. Straight bass and drums. The politics is still there, agree or not. It still sounds about right. You'll Never Pay For The Farm is a fine enough introduction.

What's worth yanking is You'll Never Pay For The Farm, She Said, I Can't Find Your Lonely Face, A Fruitfly In The Beehive, and I Can See From Far Away. All five have the right funk and a savageness that revisits old themes as if they've been releasing albums all along.

Chances are that the album will take some time to its legs under it as people realize this isn't a rehash. The new music touches on the times, covering financial fall out, authority, and blindly following the daily grind. Fun enough to drop a caseload of CDs in Egypt.

Content by The Gang Of Four Scores 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Take a listen to the whole album. While I picked from the pack of ten for vocal reasons, all the songs are every bit as relative. If you do pick only one, make it She Said. It sticks, without wavering. As I said before, the Gang Of Four doesn't bend. Bank on this album influencing someone in the near future.

Content by The Gang Of Four is on iTunes. You can also pick up Content at Amazon. For a limited time, Gang Of Four is also giving up You’ll Never Pay For The Farm when you join their list.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

!Women Art Revolution Rekindles Feminist Art Movement

!Women Art Revolution
"Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us." — Robert Redford

One of the films making the Sundance Film Festival this year is !War (!Women Art Revolution), which elaborates on the relationship of the Feminist Art Movement and the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements. The film then expands into major developments throughout the 1970s.

Much like Redford said about independent storytellers, the documentary by director Lynn Hershman Leeson re-raises the issue of women's role in art, providing a glimpse into hundreds of hours of interviews with visionary artists, historians, curators and critics that Hershman Leeson collected over 40 years. Her own art is held in numerous collections, including at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the National Gallery of Canada, DG Bank (Frankfurt) and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis).

Along with the art, Hershman Leeson sets the footage to music contributed by women musicians such as Laurie Anderson, Janis Joplin, Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, Erase Errata, and Tribe 8. The film has also been used to raise funds for the San Francisco Art Institute.

"One day seven years ago I found myself saying to myself–I can’t live where I want to–I can’t go where I want to go–I can’t do what I want to–I can’t even say what I want to–...I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to." — Georgia O’Keeffe, 1923

While the film paints a pivotal feminist art revolution that is often overlooked in a historical significance in the 1960s and 1970s, there have been several movements to unshackle women from conformity. As late as the 1900s, women were limited to specific styles such as portraits, still life, and domestic subjects.

NMWAAccording to the National Museum Of Women In The Arts (NMWA), there was a time when women had to advocate for the right to render any nude figure, a subject previously restricted to male artists. When they were finally allowed, several female artists reinvented the monumental female nude as a strong "new woman" rather than the sexualized object of male desire.

Artists Suzanne Valadon and Lotte Laserstein, specifically, are credited with leading the way. But before women won this freedom of expression, they were often forced to confine themselves to domestic subjects. Valadon became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Laserstein was a German artist whose greatest work was completed in the period between the two world wars.

The NMWA, located in Washington D.C., has a permanent collection that includes more than 3,000 works of art by women from the 16th century to the present. It also provides extensive educational programs that trace women in the arts from the 1600s. Currently, the museum is exhibiting a selection of nearly 30 photographs and sculptures called P(art)ners: Gifts from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection through March 6.

!Women Art Revolution Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick.

LynnAt 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.

If you would like to help, the producers of !Women Art Revolution request donations for the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools of higher education in contemporary art. You can donate through the film site or direct. !War has yet to be released for home entertainment, but periodically lists limited showings around the United States.

Or, consider supporting the NMWA, which is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to recognizing the contributions of women artists. Interestingly enough, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay began collecting art in the 1960s when scholars and historians began discussing the underrepresentation of women in museum collections and major art exhibitions.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social Distortion Finds Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes

Mike NessIt has been seven long years since Social Distortion released Sex, Love and Rock ‘n Roll. But now Mike Ness and company deliver a much-anticipated follow up, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. It's the band's seventh album.

The first noticeable change for Hard Times, produced by Ness, is a warmer tone and clearer sound. Some fans were surprised, but don't mistake their concern as an all-out shift. Social Distortion still delivers the characteristic mix of punk rock, country, and Americana.

Social Distortion creates an album with a more consistent upbeat tempo.

California (Hustle and Flow) — with its blues/rock, melody-heavy sound, and female backing vocals — is probably getting the most play. The song owes more than a nod to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones. Still, the track isn’t the album’s finest moment.

The best track honor belongs to Machine Gun Blues, a feedback-heavy homage to a 1930s gangster. Far Side of Nowhere, which finds Ness looking to break free from predictability and boredom, can also be said to make that claim.

Another notable is Bakersfield, which has been part of the band’s set list for years. It tells an emotional tale of love and forgiveness. Buck Owens and his Buckeroos would be pleased. Owens never received enough mainstream attention, even if he did earn 21 number one hits on the Billboard country music charts.

In addition to the musical shift, Social Distortion has adopted a more mature and polished look. The leather and loose jeans traded up for appearances on shows like Jimmy Kimmel. No harm. The gangster look fits Ness too.

Machine Gun Blues is indicative of the album. Most songs on Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes focus on the down and outer and the survivor, but this time expect a few clichés mixed in.

It might be because so much has changed since Social Distortion first pushed their way into the Los Angeles music scene in the early 1980s. Ness’s high school friend guitarist Dennis Danell died of an aneurysm in 2001, leaving Ness as the sole founding member.

His band mates — guitarist Jonny Wickersham, bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo, Jr. — are all solid performers. Yet, it's clear that Ness is the man at the wheel. He has said “I see people bringing their kids to shows. And I see kids bringing their parents.” Of course, that is also another way of saying that the music is still good, but the audience is different.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes Hits A 5.7 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Some fan reviews of Hard Times have been less than kind (especially on Amazon and iTunes) and perhaps it's because some people just don't get it. Seven years is a long time between albums. It's only natural this would be reflected in the band's new album.

Social D still delivers high octane without the need to retread old ground. They are currently on tour in California and Washington (with a jaunt to Reno, Nevada) now through mid February, and then they’ll be heading down under to Australia, back home for a break, and then over to Europe in June. Find the full list on the Social D website or find SocialD1 on Twitter.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes has three bonus tracks on the Deluxe version. On Amazon, look for Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes with eleven tracks on the CD or as a Social Distortion MP3 download.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How St. Louis Gets Its Swing On At The Bistro

Jazz At The BistroTime magazine once wrote that St. Louis has never placed very high. "Like Atlanta, Cleveland, Buffalo or Pittsburgh, it has been traditionally an entertain-at-home sort of town..." But that all changed in the 1950s and 60s, when Gaslight Square started attracting a mix of mink coats, turtleneck sweaters, and black stockings.

At its peak, Gaslight Square became home to an odd assortment of taverns, cabarets, restaurants, sidewalk cafes, and antique shops. It attracted a largely bohemian and free-spirited crowd, eclectically centered poets and writers like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, entertainers like Lenny Bruce and Barbra Streisand.

In recent years, Gaslight Square has been renovated into a residential district, but the wide-eye vibe in St. Louis still exists a few blocks away. The essence of the experience is alive and well, moved a little closer to the St. Louis Gateway Arch. There are several venues to be found there, but one of the finest is Jazz At The Bistro, where a mix of new and legendary talents still satisfies the original affliction.

Jazz At The Bistro Makes St. Louis A Rich Exploratory Hot Spot.

Opened in 1995, Jazz At The Bistro, now best known as the main performance venue for Jazz St. Louis, quickly became a meeting place with purpose. As a classic jazz club, the originating concept was tried and true. Everyone is equalized, with locals performing alongside nationally known artists and patrons mingling with the entertainers.

The magic of the venue is maintained by a low key, medium-sized room with surprisingly solid acoustics and sight lines. In recent years, Jazz St. Louis has been working even harder to share the St. Louis experience that is sometimes overlooked. The supporting organization frequently shares interviews with performers like Russell Malone, Regina Carter, and David Sanborn.

If you're unfamiliar with the names, Sanborn is currently regarded as one of the most respected sax players in the world. Malone is a self-taught swing jazz guitarist with a flair for bebop. And Carter started as a classical violinist at the age of four before becoming a jazz musician.

“Some of the melodies sound so simple, but the difficult thing is to keep them simple, to take this beautiful music and make it ours, but not decorate it too much,” Carter said.

Jazz At The BistroThe same can be said for the experience at Jazz At The Bistro. While performances typically begin at 7:45 p.m., the club also serves dinner. Patrons enjoying dinner during the performance are asked to arrive slightly earlier than the performance time. Reservations can also be made prior to a performance, but those patrons are asked to finish before the show begins.

Entrees generally consist of a mix of St. Louis and Southern favorites, with entrees such as Cuban pot roast, crawfish and andouille stuffed trout, and roasted portabella steak (stuffed with goat cheese, spinach, and tomatoes). The venue also has sandwiches and a dessert menu. The point is that there are still places in America when you can make the experience your own.

Jazz St. Louis At Jazz At The Bisto Rises To An 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience the club while attending a conference in St. Louis. Recent news that Jazz St. Louis was recognized by the Missouri Arts Council with a 2011 Missouri Arts Award reignited my interest. The council specifically acknowledged their contributions in the community as well as for making jazz synonymous with St. Louis.

Jazz St. Louis has almost a dozen educational and outreach programs. They range from artist residencies to in-school jazz programs that blend entertainment history with education. All of it helps tie together what happened in St. Louis about 60 years ago when someone first noted that jazz is St. Louis.

If you are visiting the city, there are plenty of other jazz and alternative hot spots, many of which are within walking distance of the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch. For ease and convenience making travel plans, Fare Buzz has several specially-priced air fare packages to consider.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Times Of Grace Captures The Hymn Of A Broken Man

Times Of GraceWhen guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage had to face emergency back surgery or risk paralysis, some people said that the U.K. tour that he cut short would be his last. Those who did greatly underestimated the influence he would and will still have on modern metal. Dutkiewicz did too, especially with additional nerve damage in his foot.

"I thought my career as a performing artist was over," he said of the surgery. "If I can't walk on my own, I can't play."

Then, as a form of healing in the hospital, Dutkiewicz started writing music in his head. And, once he returned home, he started singing and humming fragments of material into a mini tape recorder. When the near album was complete, he called his longtime friend Jesse Leach of Seemless and The Empire Shall Fall for an unlikely reunion.

The Hymn Of A Broken Man is powerfully engaging and painfully emotive.

Although the new metalcore duo that makes up Times Of Grace is technically a debut, nothing about it sounds like a debut. The redemptive album that even Leach feels is scared is a collaboration on par with or even cut above anything they have done before.

Strength In Numbers, the straightforward rocker that was released as a single in October, is only the beginning of an impressively desperate and depressive album that manages to pull hope out of its darkest parts. Every song on the album is worth placing in heavy rotation, with only Strength In Numbers missing some emotive melodies, that places Leach back on top.

The best of the album includes the melodic metal Live In Love, the fiercely fast title track Hymn Of A Broken Man, the Southern-infused The Forgotten One, and the recasting of the metal ballad Willing. Hope Remains, Worlds Apart, and Fall From Grace are all strikingly solid among the 13-track album.

The newly released Special Edition includes a fourteenth acoustic duet that is nothing short of mesmerizing. Anyone who doesn't consider themselves a metal fan ought to give it a listen. You'll hear Dutkiewicz and Leach, instrumentally and vocally, in a much different light. There is no denying their talent includes a range beyond what fans know them for. The Special Edition also includes artistic videos with every track (but not the music videos released elsewhere).

Times Of Grace's The Hymn Of A Broken Man Rises To A 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is only one questionable comment (compared to scores of raves) from reviewers on iTunes and Amazon. And even that lone comment is dreadfully out of place in attributing to the album to Killswitch Engage. Apparently, he missed every indicator this is something different.

Of course, fans of Dutkiewicz and Leach's respective bands might like to know that neither has any plans of leaving their respective bands. Times Of Grace is a side project that comes with an extensive tour. They have been piecing together a band, one person at a time, since finishing their first video late last year.

The Hymn Of A Broken Man (Special Edition) is available on iTunes. On Amazon, you can download The Hymn Of A Broken Man or order the The Hymn Of A Broken Man (Special Edition) as a CD/DVD set.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mefisto In Onyx By Harlan Ellison Goes On

Mefisto In OnyxBefore some people ever read the first sentence of the first paragraph of Mefisto In Onyx by Harlan Ellison, they were taken in by something else. The compelling third paragraph in the Acknowledgements that provides an unadulterated glimpse at the reputation that made Ellison one of the most brilliant and equally abrasive speculative fiction writers in history.

And finally, perversely, I owe heartfelt thanks for their rudeness, ineptitude, short-sightedness, cowardice, ignorant arrogance, and boneheaded behavior to Melissa Singer and Tom Doherty of Tor Books, and to James Frenkel. Had it not been for these three, this story would have appeared in one of their forgettable anthologies, and vanished forever. And I'd be out $300,000. Thanks, y'all. — Harlan Ellison.

It makes for a great lesson. The way you think it has to be isn't the way it has to be. Sometimes taking the road less taken by authors like Ellison is the right road. He managed to preserve his psychological thriller intact even if not many people will ever read it this way. It won the Bram Stoker Award in 1993 and the Locus Pool Award in 1994 for best Novella.

The original award-winning hardbound novella with cover art by Frank Miller is rare. There were 1,000 hard copies with slip covers and 40 leather-bound editions, signed by both Ellison and Miller.

While the story also appeared in Omni, 1993, the published version is 500 words longer and with, according to Ellison, more editing. Recently, it did appear in The Best American Noir of the Century, but there is no movie.

A Few Thoughts On The Masterwork Mefisto in Onyx.

Frank Miller ArtThe story is about Rudy Pairis, an educated and telepathic African-American who is drawn in by his longtime friend deputy district attorney Allison Roche. He had a one-night stand with her once, something that had since left an impression on his heart.

Roche, who knows about his ability but has never tried to abuse him for it, has an unusual request for Pairis. She wants him to take a jaunt inside the mind of a serial killer. The request is especially unusual because Roche, who helped prosecute him, has suddenly and inexplicably fallen in love with the killer.

The novella doesn't smack much of science fiction, parapsychology, or the supernatural. Ellison seems much more concerned about the psychology of relationships, especially the consequence of being able to see inside people's minds, with all their muddy infidelities, doubts, fears, and hates.

Pairis even recounts how he was turned away from the motel desk not because they were full as the clerk said, but because of the color of his skin. Enough episodes like those, he concludes, and anyone would resist seeing inside another human being unless their feet were held to the fire.

For someone else, however, there might be different urges. For if you can take a jaunt in someone's mind, there might also be a very good chance you can creep inside and rearrange things. You might even be able to do something else, perhaps prolong your most hideous desires by refusing to leave once safely tucked away inside along with all the ambition of Gilles de Rais. What then?

A Scratch Across The Surface Of Harlan Ellison.

Harlan EllisonEllison has written more than 1,000 short stories, novellas, and screenplays along with essays, columns, and criticisms. The full weight of his work has lead to more awards for imaginative literature than any other living author. He also has distinction as being among the most controversial. Among my favorite descriptors of him is that he is a burr in the side of complacency.

Burr indeed. His personality is distinctive enough that it has been permanently embedded in several books. And while sometimes criticized for it, he has drawn a line in the sand against copyright infringement and unauthorized distributions of his work. Any short-term pains experienced by some do not withstand the long=term gains for authors.

Mefisto In Onyx Locks A 9.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Mefisto In Onyx is very likely the author's finest novella. It is frequently classified as noir in that it is a blend of true crime and dark prose approaching horror. However, in the case of Mefisto In Onyx, Ellison blends and bends several genres until it ultimately fits in all of them and none of them at the same time.

While sometimes challenging, you can look for Mefisto In Onyx in Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories or the aforementioned The Best American Noir of the Century on Amazon. The signed and numbered slipcase editions and leather=bound editions are exceedingly rare, recently valued at $300 (without dustcover) and $1,800 respectively.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Trail Of Dead Discovers The Weight Of The Sun

Trail Of DeadAustin-based alternative rock band ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (Trail of Dead) seems rightfully anxious to release its seventh album, Tao of the Dead, on Feb. 8 and 9 (Feb. 15 on iTunes). Who isn't ready for it? Ever since Jason Reece and Conrad Keely started pursuing their indie roots and regained their independence two years ago, they've only gotten better.

Joining Reece and Keely this time around are longtime friend Chris ‘Frenchie’ Smith (producer of the band's seminal 1998 self-titled LP) and indie producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead) on a 16-minute opus titled Tao of the Dead Part 2. Part 1 is 11 tracks or chapters, with each track standing on its own or played together as one long song.

The format not only pays homage to Keely's childhood influences but could also resurrect the allure of well-composed albums. There is an art to something like that, an increasingly rare art as most people sample albums one single at a time. That's not to say there haven't been opportunities to sample.

Trail Of Dead Teases With Weight Of The Sun (Or The Post-Modern Prometheus).

The second single released from the upcoming long play album, Weight Of The Sun (Or The Post-Modern Prometheus) seems to have a little less buzz than the first, Summer Of All Dead Souls, which was released last November. The new tease is an equally strong — I'd say stronger — introduction to their new stripped four-piece sound.

Tao Of DeadThere is something to be said for fast-track recordings when masterful musicians enter the studio. Recorded in 10 days, but obviously extensively pre-rehearsed before stepping inside the booth, Trail Of Dead have captured a flair for immediacy. Combined, the two singles set an energized pace for what is likely to be a breathtaking album.

The entire album is hard boiled into a science fiction storyline set in a steampunk milieu. The music can stand on its own, but the art is equally inspired, bridging a 6th century Tao Te Ching into the fantastical future imagery inked by Keely and foreshadowed on a special Tao Of Dead reveal site (check out Conrad Keely too). Along with the art and contents as part of the build up, Trail Of Dead has been sharing roughly produced acoustical snips of the upcoming album.

The one shot bedroom acoustic sampling pales in comparison to the final production. The single Weight Of The Sun starts as a simple melody before drifting into its dramatically rhythm-infused chorus. What the acoustic does do is slip into the melody and lyrics with a spontaneity seldom shown by artists.

No surprise from Reece and Keely. Despite their successes, they have never been ones to take themselves overly seriously even if the idea of resurrecting the rock sympathy stylings of previous decades, complete with a graphic novel, might play that way.

Weight Of The Sun Weighs In At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If Weight Of The Sun (Or The Post-Modern Prometheus) is any indication of what to expect in February, Trail Of Dead won't disappoint anyone. Whatever Keely, Reece, Autry Fulbright, Aaron Ford, and "an unspecified person we will simply call R" composed in Connecticut has all the makings of a riveting compilation. I'm already looking forward to revisiting it all once the album is out.

In the meantime, Weight Of The Sun (Or The Post-Modern Prometheus) is on iTunes. You can also find Summer Of All Dead Souls there. Weight Of The Sun and Summer Of All Dead Souls are also on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Californication Seduces Another Season With Showtime

David DuchovnyCalifornication fans have something to smile about. Showtime has already committed to a fifth season for the original dark comedy cable series that never concerns itself with what may or may not be appropriate for television. A sixth equally seems certain.

The early renewal and possibility of a sixth season is the first time the series seems open ended, with no one wondering if they are watching a final twelve-episode installment that casts David Duchovny as Hank Moody, a tragically comedic and self-destructive New York novelist trapped in Los Angeles.

Everything about this entertaining disaster works. The camaraderie with his longtime friend and agent. His merry-go-round relationship with his girlfriend. His dysfunctional 'almost' family, tied together only by a semi-Goth rocker daughter.

Californication is darkly funny, tastefully dirty, and naively shameless.

Perhaps it seems a little less so for anyone attempting to cut in on the first few episodes of season four as the show slowly works back toward its comedic balance. It's disproportionately darker in the opening episodes after ending season three on a particularly serious note.

As a result, the humorous moments are spaced apart much more sparingly. Even some of those may be lost without having any sense of the back story. It's understandable as the show comes to partial terms with its longest running story arch.

In the first season, Hank Moody and a young fan mutually seduce each other in a bookstore. But it is only after their odd one night stand that Hank finds out the fan, Mia Cross (Madeline Zima), is also the daughter of Bill Cross. Bill also happens to be the Los Angeles publisher that Hank's girlfriend, Karen, had an affair with and left him for. Mia happens to be 16 and Becca, Hank and Karen's daughter, is already starting to think of her as a stepsister.

Recognizing an affair with Karen's underage and soon-to-be stepdaughter would end all hope, the two agree to keep it a secret. However, keeping this secret comes with a heavy price as Mia extorts the first manuscript Hank writes since Hollywood turned his finest novel into a wildly successful but painfully shallow romantic comedy.

Since the beginning of the show, creator Tom Kapinos has always been careful to balance Hank's addiction to drink, drugs, and women with his high regard for chivalry and nobility. The extreme duality of Hank, as well as other characters, is part of the charm. When faced with a choice between two wrongs, Hank will always pick one as if no choice is never an option.

The appeal of the show is its honest candor and unapologetic dark humor.

Californication is not sitcom funny; it is dark humor funny. Credit for this belongs largely to creator and screenwriter Kapinos and team, who also deserve props for masterful economy of the script. Kapinos seems to be able to deliver one hour of storytelling in the tight confines of 30 minutes. And his 12-episode seasons have as much depth as any that run for 24.

The primary cast is perfect. In addition to Duchovny and Zima, it includes: Natascha McElhone (Karen, the frequently torn and unfair girlfriend); Madeleine Martin (Becca, the quietly withdrawn but equally wise daughter); Evan Handler (Charlie Runkle, the affable and fallible agent); and Pamela Adlon (Marcy Runkle, the brash but squeezable agent's soon-to-be ex-wife).

The show has also entertained some exceptional seasonal characters, notably Callum Keith Rennie (Lew Ashby, a legendary rock producer based on Rick Rubin), Kathleen Turner (Sue Collini, an agency owner and aging sexually liberated throwback), and Rick Springfield (as a depraved version of himself). This season has already introduced several newcomers, including Rob Lowe and Addison Timlin. You can find other early guests on IMDB.

Californication Earns 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The best way to watch the show is to start with Californication, Season 1 on iTunes. You can also find Californication - The First Season on DVD from Amazon.

However, most people will be able to follow along as the series regains its comedic pace or even watch Season 1 and Season 4 simultaneously. Given each season consists of 12 episodes, it would be easy enough to laugh your way through the backstory.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tapes 'n Tapes Goes Outside The Comfort Zone

Tapes 'n TapesContinuing to build on the success of its self released debut album in 2004 (rereleased in 2006 by XL Recordings), Tapes 'n Tapes has evolved from malaise to melodic and halfway back again after walking away from XL Recordings. Leaving the label behind gave the band a chance to return to their roots and record their third album in Minneapolis.

There, Tapes 'n Tapes spent two weeks inside The Terrarium with their longtime sound engineer, Drew Malamud. After recording, frontman Josh Grier took it to Peter Katis to lend his signature sound to the mix with some oversight.

Did it work? The result is a sturdier sound that has given critics more than enough reason to write them off, some claiming the new album is a whole bunch of sameness while others lament they liked the "sellout" sound, Walk It Off, better. This is what happens to bands over built by buzz. They receive un-buzz for not delivering less original sound.

Outside proves you cannot be experimental unless you experiment.

All in all, the new album sometimes sounds more pop rock than indie but there are a few solid singles that will help Tapes 'n Tapes survive the apparent discovery buzz hangover. While no one can really say that this album was worth the three-year wait between releases, it also seems unfair to dismiss the album outright when you stick to the most promising tracks.

Badaboom, SWM, Desert Plane, Outro, and Freak Out shake off much of the album's overall sluggishness and create something that is more original than previous efforts. These five, on their own, might have even made a great EP with Freak Out as the lead in for a faster-paced indie romp.

Clearly, while Grier (guitar, vocals), Jeremy Hanson (drums), Matt Kretzman (keyboards, horns), and Erik Appelwick (bass) felt they had learned enough to resurrect ibid records, they still have plenty to learn. Self-promoting an established band is different than buzzing up a novelty that once had two guitars, a bass, and CD player covering drums.

Back in 2006, the story was as striking as the music on the charming indie recap. We passed on them back then, but other people grabbed on the idea of innocent beginnings, with Grier graduating from college, moving to Minnesota, and making a band that put together an album inside a cold winter cabin. That all sounds fun to write about. But nowadays, it has to be about the music.

Outside By Tapes 'n Tapes Spins For 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I find myself much more bullish about the future of Tapes 'n Tapes than most critics, especially those saying they're a flash in the pan. The album's sound is much more original than previous releases, with only the larger balance sounding as if they considered salvaging some Walk It Off fans. Let 'em go. Lesson learned.

Tapes 'n Tapes does its best work on four, maybe five, tracks mentioned. You can find Outside on iTunes. Outside retails for a little less on Amazon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kevin Guilfoile's The Thousand Measures Up For Pythagoras

The Thousand
Pythagoras of Samos (570 B.C. to 495 B.C.) was a mathematician and scientist best known for providing Greeks with the Pythagorean theorem in geometry and algebra. But he was also a philosopher (the first to call himself one) who eventually established a university (some call it a religious sect) on the island of Croton, a Greek colony in southern Italy.

There are ample mysteries surrounding Pythagoras, including that he was not a mortal man but rather a god who had taken human form to instruct the human race. Others say he was a demigod, a son of Hermes or Apollo. It is easy to understand why, given his extensive studies and contributions to geometry, music, and astronomy.

At the core of these contributions, Pythagoras linked them all to mathematics and the secret significance of numbers. Even after 2,500 years, philosophers from all over the world have been unable to unlock the remnants of his lexicon, mostly because much of which he taught was never written down. His disciples committed it to memory in order to keep their secrets.

Pythagoras provides the foundation for The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile

Although Kevin Guilfoile only scratches the surface of Pythagoras, it does serve as the foundation for his thriller, setting heroine Canada Gold (Nada) at the center of a civil war between two factions of a secret society, modern day remnants of the Pythagoreans. One faction wants to expand the teachings. The other wants to preserve its purity and all of its secrets.

PythagorasAt points it almost seems a shame that Guilfoile offers no real astute details about the fictionalized factions and their secrets, but the book is still entertaining in the partial pursuit of a reconstructed ending for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's famed Requiem. The new completion, apparently using Pythagoras's teachings, was completed at the hands of composer-conductor Solomon Gold, Canada's father.

He is murdered early in the book, apparently as an act of revenge, shortly after being acquitted of the murder of a violinist in his orchestra, with whom he was having an affair. With the loss of Gold, so is his masterwork, the completion of the Requiem.

However, the pursuit of the Requiem is only a partial quest. The other pursuit is of Canada herself, ten years after the death of Gold. She seems to target of the competing factions because of her relentless interest in her father's case and for a neurotransmitter implanted in her head to curb seizures. The device does more than cure seizures; it provides her with a de facto mental acuity, photographic memory, and potential to unlock Pythagoras's secrets.

For the most part, Guilfoile does a fine job building a story with an interwoven conspiracy and the extent people will go to profit from or protect such secrets. However, the primary driver of this novel better parallels an adventure crime thriller than the greater effort of more popular legend-based thrillers.

The writing struggles frequently, with rough transitions and chapter openings that leave readers guessing whose point of view they have adopted. It's a curious issue, sometimes creating the daunting task of rereading every chapter opening with a different perspective once you know which character's eyes the author has loaned. Another annoyance is the constant swapping back and forth of characters' first names and last names for no reason whatsoever, even on the same page.

About Author Kevin Guilfoile.

Guilfoile is an American novelist, essayist and humorist. His first book tapped his humorist skills by creating a scrapbook parody about President George W. Bush. Four years later, Guilfoile shifted toward more serious subjects with Cast of Shadows, a thriller that takes place after cloning has been legalized in the United States.

Guilfoile is a fine writer, but still seems to lack the literary prowess and discipline to translate imaginative stories into masterful works. Still, The Thousand is entertaining and memorable, with elements that raise interesting questions for exploration.

The Thousand By Kevin Guilfoile Measures A 2.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's easy to understand why some readers become frustrated with The Thousand. It's a good story, but makes it all too obvious that it wants to be much more than the final work delivers. The coolness comes from the reintroduction of the Pythagoras mythos and treatment of some supporting characters as adventure heroes, especially Canada's courtier Wayne Jennings, who is the only character in the book to escape a queer self-fascination and self-interest with himself (or herself).

The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile is available on Amazon. It's a decent, although thinner, placeholder between the next novels by authors like Michael Crichton and Dan Brown.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Funeral Party Releases Finale Ahead Of Debut LP

Funeral PartyFresh off a U.K. tour and shortlisted by NME as one of the 50 Best New Bands Of 2010, Funeral Party from East Los Angeles has a lot riding on their upcoming LP released by Sony's RCA label. Golden Age Of Knowhere debuts on January 25.

Distinctly different from many bands in Los Angeles, these East-side indie rockers will likely be making a rough choice in the months ahead. Their music tends to spill on both sides of the indie rock and pop aisles, sometimes labeled as post punk dance or even art punk dance (whatever that is). I'm comfortable with a different split.

On one side, there are songs like Carwars and Where Did It Go Wrong, and Just Because. On the other are Chalice and NYC Moves To The Sound Of LA. While the former is tracking with twice the play on their Myspace page and elsewhere, the latter is what put Funeral Party on the radar. Nobody bumped to Chalice, as one agent described it. They thrashed to it.

"I always knew it would end just like this. So pour me one last drink with a final kiss."

This lyric and others from the recently released single Finale rip through the unpredictability, back-and-forth, and hit-and-miss nature of relationships. Chad Elliot sings them across an uptempo and aggressive instrumental. Even with a somewhat roughly layered band chorus made up of studios solos toward the end, it works.

Give a second listen if you feel Elliott's vocals sometimes strain when they drift too high. Once you settle into the song, his voice expresses an urgency that works well with the raw stylings from the band's roots. For comparison, listen to the second and third tracks on the original Bootleg EP released by Fearless Records in 2008.

The imperfections are exactly what you might expect to hear from a band that was best known for playing backyard parties and borrowed instruments, a factoid now pressed inside every bio and interview since the signing with RCA at a UPS store. Since then, the band members still seem dazed by the solo studio work with Lars Stalfors and tours in the U.K. and Japan.

Sometimes it still happens that way in music. And it seems to be happening that way for Elliott (kyeboard/vocals), James Torres (guitar), Kimo Kauhola (bass), and touring members (strange) Tim Madrid (percussion, keys), and Robert Shaffer (drums).

"Drawing you forward, pushing you back."

I liked their sound when I first heard them on a college radio station before the signing, and I still do. But what prompted me to add them in now is that there is some uncertainty on their direction after this album. Rock or pop? Something tells me it will be pop, even if I like their coarser work better.

You might even find a foreshadow to some changes ahead from the recent interview with ARTISTdirect. Elliott talked about the differences between the U.K. and American music scenes. He sees the U.K. caring more about music and U.S. looking for celebrity coolness. But what he doesn't see yet is that it's music like Finale that makes the coolness. Not much else.

Finale by Funeral Party Buries In At 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Here's to hoping the boys keep it real. And if not, then it's great to know they gave us some solid, scratchy rockers. You can pick up the single Finale on iTunes. Finale is also on Amazon.

If you are interested, there is also a free download, Giant Song, from their Facebook page. It's alright, but skews toward that dance pop side. For another sound, check out their cover of The Faces' Ooh La La, which you can find online. It proves Elliott can sing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rapha Makes For An Extraordinary Ride

ralphaWhen does a bicycle become something more? Rapha, a small but rapidly growing U.K.-based bicycle apparel and gear company, found the answer with the limited release of four handmade bicycles designed by four master frame builders.

The teams behind the machines include Chris King, Beloved Cycles (Portland, Oregon); Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira, Breadwinner Cycles (Portland, Oregon); Independent Fabrication (Somerville, Massachusetts); and Cinelli (Caleppio di Settala, Italy). Each partner was selected for mastery of the craft and each model was designed for specific riding purposes.

The Everyday Bike.

The first promises to deliver something more than a commuter bike. It's designed specifically for city racing, with a brazed lug and fillet brazed construction with a Columbus SL tubeset (Spirit headtube and stays). Complete details can be found here. Each order takes approximately eight weeks. About $5,200 plus shipping.

The Continental Bike.

Designed as a collaborative effort, each bike will be built with Columbus steel and a blend of Zona and Spirit tubing. The all-weather, all-terrain bike makes for a serious cross country racer. The bike will only be offered twice a year, with no more than 50 being made with each offering. Complete details can be found here. Each order will take up to four months to complete. About $5,000 plus shipping.

The Independent Fab XS.

Designed by the team headed up by Lloyd Graves, the special collection bike puts a modified spin on the infamous XS. Constructed with carbon fiber and titanium, and a choice of Campagnolo Super Record, SRAM Red, Shimano DuraAce, or internally routed Di2 packages. Complete details can be found here. Each order will take eight to ten weeks to fulfill. About $6,800 plus shipping.

The Criterium Racer XCR.

One of the best-known bike makers in the world, the team at Cinelli has a history of reinvention. Built with Columbus XCR stainless steel tube sets and fork, the bike is limited to only 30 frames per year due to the scarcity of material. Complete details can be found here. Each order will take approximately four months. About $4,500 plus shipping.

All four bicycles share a Rapha color palette as interpreted by the makers. And each includes a custom Rapha head badge, inspired by the serial plate of the Rapha H-Van. The Continental are bikes that Rapha Continental riders have been using for the last five years touring some of the best rides in the United States. I've included a clip from one of the short films Rapha occasionally puts out (above).

While there is no possible way to write a timely review for a bike that requires at least eight weeks to four months to deliver, I have ridden bikes built by two of the four manufacturers in the past. Their reputations are rock solid. Rapha's decision to team with them was smart and helps add enthusiasm for the sport.

Rapha Bike Collection Makes Its Mark With 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

What truly stands out about this collection is the uniqueness and, in some cases, extreme exclusivity backed by a business that works very hard to earn respect as an apparel and gear company. The company even supports books on the sport, including the Rouleur Photography Annual 2009 and Rouleur Photography Annual 2010.

In addition to the new bike collection, Rapha developed a special application for the iPhone. The app is designed to invite other friends and riders to share routes and follow riders in real time. Rapha Rendezvous is free on iTunes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dropkick Murphys Rollick Live On Lansdowne

Dropkick MurphysNot many bands can lay claim to their own cultural phenomenon. Boston’s Dropkick Murphys can easily make that claim with their signature blend of working class songs and Irish punk roots.

The only other way to capture this kind of sound would be to combine Green Day with the Pogues and stick them smack in the middle of Boston. Then pump them up with New England pride, pick up some sport fans, and sell your recipe for greatness with a pint of stout.

Few would ever guess the Dropkick Murphys started in the basement of a friend's barbershop in 1996. They're flawless in the studio and even better on stage where they have more room to energize everyone in the area.

Take, for instance, the band’s March 2010 live CD, Live on Lansdowne, recorded over seven shows in March 2009. The live cuts on the CD cull the best songs from those shows, making something that sounded great on the initial release even better with the video of fans and feedback. The 20 rollicking tunes include The State of Massachusetts, Red Sox anthem Tessie, and longtime favorite Caught In A Jar.

There is also an amazing take on I'm Shipping Up To Boston as the band is joined the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Never mind the critics or the initial push back that Live On Lansdowne focused too much on newer songs. One listen convinces that the song selection is spot on. It's too easy to pick up older songs someplace else, like 2002’s Live On St. Patrick’s Day. That compilation includes Nutrocker, which is the Boston Bruins theme song.

The Lansdowne crowds obviously love their hometown heroes. The camaraderie and mutual respect between the fans and the band is evident, with the sea of green rising from the front row deep into the nosebleeds.

Throughout the DVD, you can catch plenty of banter between the band and the fans. There is even a good-natured ribbing of a Yankee fan (gasp) in Red Sox territory. The end product places anyone watching as close as they can get to what the Dropkick Murphys are like live, assuming they haven't had any Irish luck to see them unleashed in person. For everyone who has, it keeps the memories alive.

Hitting their stride after 15 years together, the Dropkick Murphys are getting better with age. The band includes Al Barr (vocals), Ken Casey (vocals, bass), Matt Kelly (drums, bodhran, vocals), James Lynch (guitar, vocals), Tim Brennan (guitar, accordion, vocals), Jeff DaRosa (mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistle, acoustic guitar, keyboards, vocals), and Scruffy Wallace (bagpipes).

Dropkick Murphys Live On Landsdowne Rollicks In With A 9.1 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Notorious for their boisterous St. Paddy’s shows, Dropkick Murphys fans travel from all over the globe to be a part of the annual celebration. Every seat sells out well in advance.

If you want to see them live, mark Feb. 23 in Niagara Falls, NY on the calendar. They'll then wind their way through Pennsylvania, New York City and Connecticut before returning home to Boston for several shows. They've already sold out at the House of Blues March 16-18.

You can find Live On Lansdowne, Boston MA (CD + DVD) on Amazon. On iTunes, Live On Lansdowne, Boston MA (Deluxe) adds some additional gems. Among them is a live version of Baba O’Riley. The movie, Live On Lansdowne, is also available for download.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Tale Of Two Roosters With True Grit

Jeff BridgesIn comparing the 1969 film True Grit with John Wayne and the 2010 True Grit with Jeff Bridges, there is only one clear winner. His name is Charles Portis, who originally wrote the novel in 1968. It also appeared as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post that same year.

Portis is the winner in that adaptations of his story managed to resonate with film goers a generation apart, with the exception that Mattie Ross plays very differently today. In the 1969 adaptation, Ross (Kim Darby) comes across as naive but uncharacteristically independent for the time. In the 2010 adaptation, Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) comes across steely and straightforward with no explanation.

The Portis story behind the film adaptations.

The story is the tale of a 14-year-old girl who hires a fearless, one-eyed and often drunk U.S. marshal known as "Rooster" Cogburn to help her bring her father's murderer, Tom Chaney, to justice. The unlikely pair are joined by Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who has been tracking Chaney for killing a senator and his dog.

In the story, the characters develop an appreciation for each other and their apparent differences, with Cogburn and LaBoeuf providing a contrast of two very different kinds of lawmen. Their differences are punctuated by how Mattie Ross interacts with them, which solidifies her bond with Cogburn even if LaBoeuf would seem the more likely confidant.

The differences are distinguishable but not better or worse.

Critics have been uncharacteristically kind to the Joel and Ethan Coen version, which earned ample praise simply for not coming across like a Coen film. The adaptation may be truer version being shot in settings like the novel describes and telling the story from the girl's point of view, but less so in what it omits. Certainly, the bleakness is more characteristic of the book as is the starker conclusion, sadly empty but authentically so.

At the same time, the script written by Coens is shorter on detail and character depth as compared to the one written in 1969 by Marguerite Roberts. With a different cast, it may not have compared to the original with exception to the film work.

Both are a bit slow to the draw at the start, with the new narrative weaker than the original scene that reveals why Chaney kills Mattie's father. As for the rest, the newer and thinner script yields a thinner sort of adventurous trio.

The new script changes the character chemistry.

John WayneGlen Campbell played LaBoeuf as rash but affable. Matt Damon plays him as convicted. Barry Pepper plays 'Lucky' Ned Pepper as a dirty scoundrel. Robert Duvall played him as a mastermind, who just wanted to be left alone. John Wayne played Rooster as smart and steadfast, despite his love of whiskey. Jeff Bridges plays him starkly, a grit of a different kind, like a flickering lamp running low on oil.

The performances in the latter may be stronger overall and the film tighter without the sometimes campy flair that creeps into the 1969 version, but the contrast of the characters is diminished to a matter of convictions as opposed to personality and life experience. So, for everything gained in the new film, it sacrifices charm, making the Coen Rooster the curmudgeon we love to watch and the Roberts Rooster the one we loved.

Collectively, watching the films within close proximity yields a unique experience. Both make each other greater than either can be on their own. It is the composite memory of the two films that pay tribute to Portis' distinguished anti-hero and proves Cogburn is cool in any era.

True Grit (1969) and True Grit (2010) Share A 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Some people have taken to saying nostalgia is the only appeal of the 1969 version. However, the details may hint that it is how one defines true grit that will produce a rough firmness of character or an abrasive personality that entertains more than it endures. That is not to say one is better than the other. Just different.

True Grit (1969) is available on iTunes. There is a True Grit (Special Collector's Edition) on Amazon, which also carries the 1975 sequel Rooster Cogburn. The 2010 version is now available on iTunes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Disraelis Might Not Be So Bitter

The DisraelisJust when fans were beginning to think that Toronto post-punk shoegazer band The Disraelis might be dead, one curmudgeon caught them playing the Piston in Toronto on Dec. 4, a tribute to Spaceman 3/Spiritualized and benefit for former founding member and artist Natty Brooker.

They performed a spirited cover of the 13th Floor Elevators via Spaceman 3 cover of Roller Coaster. The appearance is one of the first indications that they might be resurrected in the near future after coming thisclose to a split.

Even their label, Optical Sounds, had splashed that "while the band is close to a split, we're hoping some months away from each other will bring them back better than ever," leaving their debut EP Demonstration the only real remnant of their work.

The Disraelis deliver gruffly sung vocals with stripped down instrumentals.

Formed in 2006, The Disraelis consist of Cameron Ingles (bass, vocals), Dave Barnes (drums), and Colin Bowers (guitar). However, before anyone gets too excited, Bowers' name is absent from the band's Facebook and MySpace pages (but Bowers still calls himself a "Disraeli" on his page). You can find a rough single there called Secret, but it's not as dynamic as anything on Demonstration.

The album received a lukewarm reception for the Toronto underground darlings, with early critics calling them too closely tied to the cool English bands of the 1980s but without anything original. But that's the way it goes sometimes. Early reviews are dismissive, leaving the band to work that much harder up hill to get under people's skin.

And then, after a few months or years when the band builds its own following, the same boneheads who dissed them start scrambling back saying they miss them. Let's keep it real. The reverence makes them relevant. And they don't fit in all that tightly to most floated comparisons.

The best songs from Demonstration are The Bitter Ash and Blackmail, but the entire five-track EP is worth the download if for no other reason than to support the band. Maybe you'll even help convince them to get back to work.

If you still need more convincing, you might still be able to find The Bitter Ash as a free download via bandcamp. Just remember to contribute something if you like the single.

The Disraelis' Demonstration Makes The Grade At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Named after the Cream album of the same name, the band originally set out to be creative with a more stripped-down guitar, bass, and drums sound. And they never let a synth line take charge of everything or anything they were trying to produce, making them a great pick for the slowest new release weeks in the music business.

Demonstration can be dowloaded from iTunes. Demonstration by The Disraelis is also on Amazon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Diamond Age By Neal Stephenson Matures Nicely

The Diamond AgeThe only thing more epic than the post-cyberpunk novel The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson, is the path it is taking (or perhaps not taking) to become a three-part, six-hour television miniseries.

The on and off again project has trudged along. It was originally green lighted by SyFy (then called Sci Fi Channel) in 2007 and awarded to George Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smoke House Productions. It was then stalled during the writers strike in 2007-2008.

In 2009, The Diamond Age miniseries resurfaced when Variety reported Zoë Green had been tapped to write the script, just a few weeks before Clooney and Heslov made the move to Sony Pictures Entertainment. The most recent update came last year when several publications reported Green was still tackling the script for the miniseries during negotiations to pen a Disney live-action film featuring gargoyles.

Why The Promise Of A Miniseries Seems Alluring.

The Diamond Age is principally about an abused and disadvantaged girl, Nell, growing up in a lowland slum belt on a world overly reliant on nanotechnology and without nations in the not so distant future. In the place of nations, the world has developed tribes. Most are globalized, maintaining enclaves all over the world.

Nell's life begins to change after her brother steals an illegal copy of an interactive book, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (etc.), that engineer and designer John Percival Hackworth had intended for his daughter. Hackworth made the copy after working on the original book, which was meant for Lord Finkle-McGraw's granddaughter.

The Diamond AgeThe importance of the primers is that they are meant to teach the girls subversive thinking, enabling them to pursue more interesting and free-spirited lives than the rigid protocols and societal rules established by their particular tribe. As a technology, the primer is leap forward in that it not only writes each girl into stories but also adapts stories based on the situations they face in everyday life, even giving them the skill sets they need to survive.

As a story, author Stephenson weaves the novel primarily through the point of view of Nell, in the real world and within the fable-laced primer, and the point of view of Hackworth. Several other characters share the spotlight from time to time. Watching Nell grow up and apply the interruptive counterpoints offered by the primer to real life is the diamond within the mine.

Through it all, however, Stephenson creates a richly textured and deeply layered story. And even though the future is immersed in technologies, it focuses on the social science over hard science. Stephenson invests as much time in detailing societal connections and cultural relationships, going to great lengths to help his readers understand the varied cultural interactions. One exception are the Drummers, who employ technology to create a hive-like mind and bizarre existence.

About Author Neal Stephenson.

Neal StephensonA Seattle-based American writer, Stephenson is known for his works of speculative fiction. He wrote his first novel, The Big U, in 1984, three years after graduating from Boston University with a degree in geography and a minor in physics. His most recent book, Anathem, received nominations for the British Science Fiction Association, Hugo, and Clarke Awards in 2008.

Recently, Stephenson teamed with Greg Bear to cowrite a subscription-based historical novel about Genghis Khan conquests. They are among a growing number of writers looking to break away from traditional publishing. The story, The Mongoliad, goes further with a rich first step in interactive and participatory storytelling.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson Weighs 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The almost 500-page novel reads as if it was much larger, making it especially easy to become lost within the nuances of the world Stephenson created. Sometimes, it may even leave readers searching for a plot thread to keep from drowning in it all. Eventually those loosely woven strands do come together, but without the benefit of tightening or tidy resolutions, which is characteristic of the author's work.

Despite the sheer weight of the pallet, there are moments within The Diamond Age that are unforgettably interesting, touching, and tirelessly engaging. While the first half of the book is effortlessly greater than the last half (a better split is 70-30), chalk up the change in temperament to the increasing oddness of Hackworth's storyline and the shift from the psychological aspects of Nell's coming of age story to the greater purview of a tribe she leads.

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book) is available on Amazon. The Diamond Age is also available as an unabridged audiobook on iTunes.

Read by Jennifer Wiltsie (18 hours, 33 minutes), have a listen to the preview before purchasing it. Wiltsie feels perfectly cast throughout much of the book, but completely miscast in others. It might not be her narration, but a technical weakness in the writing, particularly transitions that cause some rough breakage.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bardo Pond Hides Some Gems Inside A Self-Titled LP

Bardo PondThe broken down deconstructionism that accompanies every Bardo Pond release isn't for everyone or even all the time. But for anyone looking to hear a psychedelic rock experience like many bands perform on stage but never in the studio, Bardo Pond has been hard to pass up over the last two decades.

Currently touring with Michael Gibbons (guitar), John Gibbons (guitar), Isobel Sollenberger (flute and vocals), Clint Takeda (bass), Ed Farnsworth (drums), and Aaron Igler (keys) the band is best known for delivering an experience with stretched out instrumentals and musical tracks, sometimes that carry on for as long as 22 minutes. One song. Not every track is like that.

Although the band's hometown is Philadelphia, their latest self-titled LP comes from Fire Records (U.K.), which is one of the few times the band hasn't named the album after something related to hallucinogenics. The reason, at least by Fire Records' account, is the band considers it a distillation.

"Two decades of playing together have sandblasted away everything unessential and left us with what we have here."

For the average listener, there isn't much of a difference. There are ample guitar distortions and wailing vocals that some people liken to a chaotic haze. At the same time, there are moments within all the songs when hedonism proves its point.

If pleasure is the only intrinsic good, then Bardo Pond have eliminated the pain by signing with the right label that wants them to do what they do best. They know what they like to play and play it with a denseness that sticks to your bones.

The best of the bunch in the self-titled release strikes surprisingly close to something shorter for music pursuers to sink their teeth into. The haunting song Don't Know About You brings Sollenberger much more forward than many Bardo Pond songs, as captured by one fan in this video (which also includes a snip from Stars Behind You).

Other keepers within the hour-long album include Cracker Wrist and The Stars Behind. Undone is something to behold for the sheer length alone, but it is best sampled after dipping a toe in the Bardo Pond experience since you have to buy the album to claim the 21-minute track. You can always complete the album after trying Don't Know About You and something else first.

Joining Bardo Pond on this art-infused rock experiment are Jeremiah Misfeldt (farfisa) and Dan Baltzer (harp). If you do try the entire album, prepare yourself for swings back and forth from slow-building burns of enjoyment to annoying itches that can't be scratched.

Bardo Pond Rips A Self-Titled Release For A 2.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Confining the review to the single song would have cranked up the rating as high as 6.8. Cracker Wrist deserves something better too. But as an album, there comes a point when it wears too heavy for its own good.

Case in point, Just Once wants to be liked, but the chosen vocal delivery with the right lyrics detract more than it embraces, especially in the opening two minutes. After that, it gets better and better but you have to wait for it.

Bardo Pond is available on iTunes. You can also find the group's self-titled release on Amazon.