Monday, February 28, 2011

Rival Schools Wrings It Out For Pedals

Rival SchoolsWhen a group of post-hardcore New Yorkers first released a series of EPs based on the idea that multiple groups could form a single band out of a passion for side project in the late 1990s, they were arguably ahead of their time. So far ahead the idea was only good for one album.

Almost a decade later, with the concept of a collaboration commonplace, Rival Schools reformed for a German rock music festival in 2008. Any new work, however, would have to wait until the who's who of the New York post-hardcore scene perfected the sound. Their first full-length album, Pedals, drops on March 8.

The first single, Wring It Out and its B-side, You Should Have Hung Out, was released last week as a brilliant reintroduction. Walter Schreifels (guitar, vocals) from Quicksand and Walking Concert, Ian Love off his solo career (guitar), Cache Tolman (bass) from Institute, and Sammy Siegler (drums) from Limp Bizkit and Nightmare of You have come full circle. Reforming the band that made all four sound their best does better than just work.

Wring It Out sets the stage for Pedals and another shot at rock milestone.

Released by Photo Finish Records, Pedals has all the promise of four artists who never lost their edge. And much like the band set a milestone for heavy rock in the late 90s — punk-like abandon infused with rock discipline and lead by Schreifels’ crisply sharp vocals — they set a great direction without any of the album sounding like it is stuck in the past.

Having heard five yet to be released tracks, the live performance of 69 Guns (a clip captured in Austin), and Wring It Out (along with its B-side), it's painfully clear that Pedals deserves some attention and heavy rotation. With all the angst of metal, brutal rhythms of rock, and biting alternative vocals, every stitch brings in some badly needed vitality.

Rival Schools is the real deal and Photo Finish Records — an undercard for Atlantic, where many Island Records vets fled — is the perfect starting point for a band that almost reformed as an independent. Rivals Schools will benefit from the best of both worlds: independent fan bases brought together by a label that knows how to form a community.

Rival Schools"This is about shedding the bad and bringing in the good — wringing it out," Sammy Siegler recently told Spinner. "It's sort of a breath of fresh air for us, a new beginning and all that. I think it speaks to anyone who is looking to purge any negative elements in their life."

Everybody would be lucky if the the band sticks this time, given they were credited with helping break up the monopoly of faux rock the first time. This time around, there is plenty enough abrasiveness to cut through anything mediocre and restore some dignity to the sound.

Rival Schools Wrings Out A 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Rival Schools is hitting the first leg of its U.S. tour heavy with concerts in Chicago; Allston, Mass.; Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York ... starting March 2 and leading up to the release on March 8. Catch them live if you can. There is no question Pedals gives the band a sense of purpose from out of their respective experiences apart.

Wring It Out by Rival Schools is ready on iTunes. Pedals is available for pre-order. (The deluxe version has three bonus tracks and includes the Shot After Shot video.) Pedals is available on Amazon, including a vinyl edition, and the album will also be available at Barnes & Noble.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Patrick Lee Spooks With Ghost Country

Ghost CountryExtreme Low Frequency (ELF) conspiracies have existed for some time. Buried deep beneath federal agencies as one of the darkest black programs, technologies tapping it can theoretically target individuals and groups (with or without implants) to be used for mind control, physiological damage, electronic failures, weather manipulation, and free energy.

ELF was initially discovered by Nikola Tesla. And some say he was extremely close to collecting the natural ELF produced by the planet. It also occurs around power lines and has been explored for weaponization in the past. Such well-intended latter purposes are partly tapped in Patrick Lee's techno-thriller Ghost Country.

Ghost Country combines conspiracy, time travel, and the fantastic.

Although Ghost Country can stand alone as a novel, it relies in part on the deeply rich universe created in Lee's first novel, The Breach. The original debut thriller focused on what would happen if people had access to technology millions of years advanced.

One of these fantastic technologies, tied to time travel, accidentally uncovers a conspiracy on a grand scale. Someone wants to reset the world and, based on a glimpse of the world 70 years into the future, has either succeeded or failed miserably.

Paige Campbell is one of the first to see an empty world, already being reclaimed by nature. The explanation is anything but nuclear. While eroded, buildings stand empty and some cities are inexplicably without cars as if everyone had stopped what they were doing and drove away. What's worse is that she knows whatever happens will happen in a few months in the present timeline.

What would you do with only a few months to kill?

Faced with the terrifying prospect, Campbell and her colleagues share the information with the President of the United States. Shortly after the meeting, the motorcade is attacked by heavily armed professional soldiers or special forces. As a last act of desperation, Campbell makes an urgent call to Yuma, Arizona, where a top secret underground facility lies.

The BreachThe call is received by young new hire Bethany Stewart, who is told to seek out Travis Chase, an ex-cop, ex-convict and principal protagonist in the first book. While it's oddly forced that Campbell would want to re-recruit the original reluctant hero, it proves effective enough for the people in the story.

Ghost Country is an extremely fast and furious plot-driven read. While the characters are never fully developed, a criticism some pointed out in The Breach, Lee asks new readers to make even more allowances for sometimes trite motivations. Fortunately, the ride makes it worthwhile anyway.

Where Lee does shortcut relationships and character development like a screenplay writer might, he makes up for it in allowing time travel to result across multiple timelines, the logic of the best intentions resulting in evil deeds, and conspiracies to contemplate by tapping technologies theorized and perhaps tested by governments. People who read The Breach will also be happy to see at least one loose end tightened if not tied up somewhat.

A short abstract on the author, Patrick Lee

Patrick LeeLee is a welcome new voice in techno-thriller science adventure, especially because he takes pride in having spent some time as a slacker who was more interested in Nintendo and selling scripts to Hollywood that were never produced.

However, Lee put his other time to good use, writing novels. Expect more from him. With several ideas, along with an endless supply of uninvented technologies appearing daily and Lee's ability to keep people turning pages, he'll only get better.

Ghost Country By Patrick Lee Ends The World At 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As an entertainment-only read, Ghost Country works. His brief descriptions of technology open up some contemplative ideas but leave no time to explore some of the concepts against the backdrop of an action novel. The style is much closer to a spy thriller with a few cliches than science fiction, but at least Lee knows how to wrap up a fun read and still make you wonder when another installment might be released.

Ghost Country by Patrick Lee is available on Amazon and the book is available from Barnes & Noble. The audio version of Ghost Country is available on iTunes. Read by Jeff Gurner, the opening chapters have some very audible inhales in between sentence breaks but eventually fall away. Gurner does a fine job with the the brisk 8-hour, 33-minute read, easily finished in a couple of days.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Twilight Singers Take Dynamite Steps

Greg DulliSinger/songwriter Greg Dulli, former frontman for the Afghan Whigs, loves side projects. His pairing with longtime pal, singer Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age), put him under the Gutter Twins banner. But then there's The Twilight Singers.

The Twilight Singers is a band with a rotating roster of members who perform with Dulli. You would never know it. It has just as much cohesion as any band out there.

The newest release is Dynamite Steps, the fifth album since the Twilight Singers first made an appearance in 2000 with the CD Twilight As Played By the Twilight Singers. What makes Dynamite Steps especially worthwhile is that it looks like Dulli's side project will become his primary focus.

The lineup is hot. Released by Sub Pop Records, the guest list includes appearances by Lanegan, Ani DiFranco, and Nick McCabe (The Verve). It was produced by Dulli.

Dynamite Steps is a dark album, rife with dark tales, and equally dark music.

The new album is indicative of everything that happened since the band's last release, Powder Burns, in 2006. Powder Burns almost paid homage to excess. But the new darkness makes Dynamite Steps arguably Dulli’s best work to date.

He’s just as charismatic and literate, and his pained, yet seductive voice is sublime. He takes listeners through songs that “explore the thin line between life and death, mortality and immortality, resignation and celebration.” On the Corner is one of them.

On The Corner, with its driving piano, isn't the only winner. Most of the songs on the album are quiet, stripped down, yet soulful.

Two other tunes that stand out are Blackbird And The Fox, an excellent duet with DiFranco; and Get Lucky, a confessional that is as close to a power ballad as the Twilight Singers get. Be Invited is not to be missed either. It's a duet with Lanegan, which would have fit perfectly on the Gutter Twins’ acclaimed Saturnalia CD. But I'm glad it's here.

In all, Dynamite Steps includes an 11-song journey of highs and lows, but all of it is filled with passion and redemption. It's a journey well worth taking. And it might even make the Twilight Singers a more permanent attraction to look forward to.

Dynamite Steps By The Twilight Singers Hits With An 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Twilight Singers world tour begins in March 2011 with concerts scheduled throughout Europe and the United States. Touring with Dulli will be special guests Margo & The Nuclear So & So's, a riveting band in their own right. You can track them on Facebook.

Dynamite Steps by The Twilight Singers is on iTunes. You can also find Dynamite Steps on Amazon. There is also a limited vinyl edition.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fossil Tells A Story With Every Bracelet

While charm bracelets have seen their share of trends, the concept is timeless no matter the design. They make a perfect accent for casual fashions and carry additional meaning with every charm. And one of the nicer charm bracelets I've recently seen comes from Fossil.

Originally, the Fossil charm collection started with watches. Most of the charm watches they offer come complete, with about eight charms centered around a theme.

Its newer line of charms are a bit different. You can build your own bracelet without a watch. Or, you can purchase vintage-looking charms and add them to your own bracelet.

Fossil offers six design variations for its bracelet.

When the charm bracelet was first introduced, it came with small and large links. Both 7-1/2 inch silver tone bracelets came with a starter of three charms: a heart, key, and Fossil monogram. Both have toggle closures, and the large link design is also available in a brass tone.

Most people liked them, even if they never add another charm. However, some customers said that the sizing seemed to prefer women with smaller wrists. So Fossil added three new designs that are completely adjustable. Two of the bracelets have large links with leather bands (silver tone and rose gold, but without a charm) and feature a stretch band (with three charms).

The stretch doesn't interfere with the links. It's hidden within two sets of vintage tone faceted beads. All of the bracelets, including the new one, range from $26 to $32.

The real heroes are the charms. Vintage designs and letters.

Charm BraceletThe charms are what caught my eye this weekend when I was out on a date. The girl I was with had removed the starter set completely and replaced them with a compass, scooter, and what they call a wishbone cluster. It's called a cluster because it also has a silver tone wishbone, tiny heart, and tiny gemstone.

Once I saw it, I had to ask her if the charms meant anything. She shied off a little, but then told me it has always been her wish to travel around Europe on a scooter. That explained the wishbone and the scooter but not the compass. So I can find my way home, she said. It was kind of cool that she wears her dream on her wrist, even if I'd rather ride a Harley.

Fossil has about 40 charms, and every letter of the alphabet. All of the charms are easy enough to put on and take off (but I'm not sure about the starter set). I also don't know if there are enough charms yet to make a story for anyone else or not, but I'm not likely to forget hers. Each charm ranges from $18 to $22.

A bit about Fossil and founder Tom Kartsotis

Fossil was originally opened in 1984 by Tom Kartsotis. After leaving Texas A&M and inspired by his older brother, Kartsotis sold his share of a small venture and withdrew his savings to start a new business. After visiting Hong Kong without any concrete plans, he hired a manufacturer to produce 1,500 watches, which represented the first of the Fossil brand.

While successful, it wasn't until he hired designer Lynne Stafford (who he later married) to create a retro design that the vintage look from the 1930-1950s took off. By the mid 1990s, Fossil began adding a growing line of leather goods and apparel for men and women, all with a recreated vintage look. Recently, they also added Fossil finds, some of which are on my future hit list.

Fossil Charm Bracelets Rate A 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When I looked at the Fossil charm builder, I was surprised how much I appreciated the interface. You pick a bracelet style and drag and drop on the charms you like. If you already have a bracelet or prefer another one from their bracelet line, the charms can be purchased separately. Fossil offers free shipping on orders over $100.

You can find the Charm Builder on the Fossil online store. The Fossil large link bracelet is also available on Amazon. A search there will bring up all the designs, but don't expect prices to vary. Fossil provides the complete collection, with more charms released every now and again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Sun Exploding With Tidal Arms

Tidal ArmsIf there is one thing drummer Francis Mark knows how to do, it's how to start and end a band. He's been part of several, most notably From Autumn To Ashes, the defunct side project called Biology (with Cornbread Compton), and post-hardcore Warship.

His newest venture won't have him singing with Tidal Arms. Mark is leaving the voice work up to experimental jazz player Tom Tierney (guitar, vocals). They are also joined by former Kiss Kiss indie rocker Patrick Southern (bass), who is known for adding a more brutal tone to bass.

Mark originally met Tierney on the Internet while he was searching for a guitarist for Warship and Goblin Chick. So Tierney dropped his project and joined up. It wasn't long after that Tierney introduced Mark to former bandmate Southern. They only have one goal.

"We have a simple goal, to try to be our own favorite band and to try to make music that we would want to listen to over anything else," Mark recently wrote to Absolute Punk. "Maybe that is the goal of a lot of bands, and maybe it's an impossible goal."

People who haven't heard Tierney before (and maybe some who have) might be wondering if he was the best choice for vocals. The sound, however, is by design. Tierney has a much smoother, bluesy growl in his repertoire but no more control. You just won't hear it here. You won't hear it as a guitarist with independent female vocal pop folk band Big Tree either.

The studio tracks provide a better vocal delivery, all around. But the real talent of the three-piece band is in the instrumental proficiency that rings consistently throughout the album, which pushes itself over the vocals anyway. The Sun Exploding is excellent with its broad riffs. Driftwood is down and dirty, gritty pounding similar to, but better than, Hair and Teeth.

Less striking are the lower tempo moments of Heavy Brainfall, Lower Slaughter, and Several Circles. They're fine slowdowns but you never really feel dialed in like the more aggressive belts. By comparison, Swarm In Five and Social Landlord do a better job selling the experimental psychedelic rock scene.

Those songs, along with Past Prosperity, have an addictive quality easy enough to get lost in for awhile. You can't really knock it. It's apparent Mark is producing exactly the kind of music he wants to listen to right now. The band is playing Texas with Glassjaw and These People tonight. They'll be in California at the end of the month. I might catch them at the El Rey Theatre on Feb. 25.

Tidal Arms Crashes In At 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

What makes Tidal Arms promising is that all three members have varied styles, ranging from jazz to near punk. None of them ever seem to feel settled into a single gig either, which might even been why the band decided to self-release instead of turing to Vagrant (backers of three Mark projects).

No matter. Tidal Arms is worth checking out, especially if you're a Francis Mark fan. Pick The Sun Exploding by Tidal Arms on iTunes. Amazon also has MP3 downloads from The Sun Exploding for a little less.

Monday, February 21, 2011

P'Tones Records Inspires Youth Productions

MainoFive years ago, a 17-year-old high school student came up with an idea. He wanted to provide a place where teens could go after school to become enthusiastic about learning and exploring their own musical, professional, and/or artistic talents.

So Oren Rosenbaum did what he could do, creating a makeshift basement studio to accomplish his goals. Then, during an internship at Def Jam Records, he expanded the idea to a community center in Trenton, New Jersey. It worked.

P'Tones Records begins national expansion in select urban areas.

P'Tones Records, which is now strategically aligned with Warner Music Group, has been collecting donations and pursuing grants to open additional recording studios. Once opened, each studio is managed by volunteer college interns who oversee work being done by high school students. Students and interns work together to create albums, mixes, music videos, promotional items, and live productions.

From its humble beginnings, P'Tones Records has recently opened new studios in Harlem and Washington D.C. Plans are already in progress to open two more, one in Los Angeles and another in Miami.

Youth-managed recording studios and venues are great ideas.

In the last few years, various youth-managed and youth-supported studios have opened in several cities. Here are a few, including two prominent venues that have been operating for years.

Teh SmellThe Smell. The Smell has succeeded in becoming a powerhouse underground venue for art, music, and creative free expression in Los Angeles. The community-oriented center provides a volunteer-managed space for people of all ages. It has attracted young and professional musicians, artists, and supporters for more than a decade.

The alcohol-free venue is managed by Jim Smith, who also owns the olFactory Records label. Events at The Smell provide reduced admissions. Recently reviewed punk noise band No Age has been a long-time supporter.

The Orpheum. Recently opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Orpheum will be staffed by eight high school students and two staff members who work for the Neutral Zone, which is a youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership, and the exchange of ideas.

In addition to providing low-cost recording studio space, the center uses the studio to provide workshops for recording and producing music. The center is also responsible for Youth Owned Records (YOR), which is a youth-operated label that discovers talent and sees them through to producing and promoting their own records.

LivewireLivewire Youth Music Project. While the concept of youth-managed studios and labels is relatively new to the United States, one of the oldest and longest lasting venues for youth production is located in Saltash, Cornwall, England. It originally opened in the 1940s.

Today, the music-based charity provides music facilities, including music lessons, rehearsal time, recording time, live music, and a relaxed social space. Recently, Livewire teamed with Cornwall Youth Music Zone to produce an Internet radio station. It has received support from a host of legendary performers including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Mick Jagger.

Follow Your Dreams. Founded in 2007, Michael Hicks (age 14) and Warren Hill (age 15) noticed youth in their community were resorting to drug sales in order to pay for commercial studio time. The two began working on a solution.

They applied for a Youth As Resources grant to fund a new recording studio. Since, many teens that have participated in the program have not only gained experience in the recording industry but have also gone on to apply for college scholarships and admissions. Their most common field of study is business.

P'Tones Records And Related Studios Are A 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.

We especially like P'Tones Records because it has developed a sustainable model with a program divided into six branches. Students apply for the program with an emphasis in multimedia, publicity, art, artist repertoire, marketing, and new media.

Once they choose a branch, they still have opportunities to work in other areas with the common goal of producing an entire album. Meeting legendary artists is part of the curriculum. Much like The Smell and Livewire, P'Tones Records is supported by recording artists that include Lil’ Wayne, 9th Wonder, Kevin Durant, and Maino (pictured above).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rev Theory Finds Justice With Justice

Rich LuzziWhen Rev Theory released the title track to its new album last October, their upcoming album had already proved promising. Although well known as brawny rockers that can pummel fans with rockers, Justice proves they can get past being an opening act.

Formed way back in the 2002, Rev Theory has taken longer to put out a full length album, a second, and a third than most bands. For almost ten years, they have toured with Hinder, Papa Roach, and Buckcherry (among others) but always seemed stuck with that opening stigma.

Justice proves something different. The album is bringing out a renewed interest in the band as rock fans are wondering why they never heard of Rev Theory before now. They have been around. In fact, Light It Up (including the title track) has several singles that carried the last album.

This time around, it is certain that they learned what worked and decided to knock it up a notch and include more of it. That doesn't mean this is a landmark album, but it deserves more attention than the band has been afforded before.

Justice by Rev Theory tears down the stigma that they sound like anybody.

Produced by Terry Date (Soundgarden, Pantera, Deftones) and released by Interscope Records, it may be challenging to find a hit because of the lush consistency of the entire album. It's easier to say every song is a potential hit. There are few if any throwaways. Here is a sampling of the title track, keeping in mind the album just gets better and better the deeper you go.

While rockers will fine plenty to praise about Dead In The Grave, Hangman has bigger hooks, Loaded Gun has a better arrangement, Enemy Within has the best mix of guitar and vocals, and Never Again offers plenty of more power. The Fire brings the sound down a notch without becoming overly polished like sone songs sounded on Light It Up.

Hollow Man works as a deeply focused obligatory rock ballad. It's good on its own, but doesn't seem to fit within the context of the album. Meanwhile, Wicked Wonderland and Guilty By Design are borderline fine, even if they represent why Rev Theory took so long to stick with people in the first place. The latter is somewhat painful, mostly in that it is a near miss. Only Say Goodbye is ridiculous in how hard it wants to be a crossover that it never will be.

But that doesn't matter. Much like the album art coveys (an alteration of the famed Iwo Jima flag raising, but with a battle axe), Rich Luzzi (vocals), Rikki Lixx (guitar), Julien Jorgensen (rhythm guitar), Matty McCloskey (bass, backing vocals), and Dave Agoglia (drums) have worked harder than most to reach their objective. I imagine finally reaching the spot they always wanted feels pretty good. They aren't openers anymore with this album.

Justice By Rev Theory Climbs To 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Rev Theory ought to go pretty far with Justice. They had already said that it is the album that makes them the most proud. With songs like Hangman and Enemy Within — which touches on giving yourself permission to be a good person while having a good time — they have every right to be.

Justice by Rev Theory can be found on iTunes. You can also find Justice on Amazon. Rev Theory is touring the Western U.S. right now with a show in Salt Lake City today. They will travel to Colorado next before moving into the Midwest by the end of the month.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Make Your Next Leather Jacket An Affliction

Affliction Mad Max jacketLocated in Seal Beach, Calif., Affliction has always been known to set a higher bar for indulgence fashion. While Affliction is already sharing a sneak peek of its upcoming spring line, its jackets are worth a look for later winter and early spring.

For men, the Spinal Tap lambskin jacket with studs down the spine and on the shoulders makes a statement. For women, the Sinner textured leather jacket with two-way front zippers sets a tougher style.

What sets these jackets apart is that they capture what owner Tom Afencio and team have always done best. They masterfully blend element of tattoos, rock, and fight cultures to create a brand with more attitude. Afencio takes his work seriously.

Heavy pleats bring in the back on the men's Spinal Tap jacket.

Spinal Tap jacketWhat is striking about the men's Spinal Tap jacket is the stylized, form-fitted detail look, giving it a lighter look and feel than most biker ensembles. The name, Spinal Tap, comes from the design. In addition to studs down the spine of the jacket, Affliction has added more depth with heavy pleats to frame them.

Along with pleats down the back, the jacket has topstitched patches on the elbows and lower back. It's not just about the look. It beings in the fit instead of allowing the jacket to flare out as they do with so many other designs. None of it is overdone, making it right for anyone who wants something lighter on their bike as the weather warms up. ($598 from small to 2XL).

A fitted design adds shape to the women's Sinner jacket.

Sinner jacketSince studs can sometimes be too much for a woman's leather jacket, Affliction hits the the mark by adding two-way front zippers for a better fit while adding more form with adjustable panels. The smartly considered welt pockets help minimize puckers.

Another design detail that makes sense is the addition of roll-up sleeves with zipper plackets. The leather is synthetic, which makes it easier to clean and maintain. The low-sheen look and texturing removes all concern for the look while making the jacket obtainable for a more attractive price. The material also adds more elasticity. ($168, ranging from x-small to medium.) Affliction also does carry a leather lambskin jacket for women with a foiled front.

Affliction continues its expansion with a new store in Seal Beach.

Affliction has been thriving with the addition of new designs and expanded lines. By the end of the month, Afencio expects to open a new 2,500-square-foot flagship store near its corporate home in the Seal Beach area. The Seal Beach store is only the beginning.

There are plans to open more stores worldwide in the next few years in places like New York, Chicago, and Hong Kong. There are only a handful of standalone stores right now. Its first was opened on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in 2008, a few years after the company opened.

What I like best about Affliction is that it still sets a high water mark, giving people like me a chance to buy more spirited clothes without sacrificing quality. The expansion of the line to include jackets, denim, and woven shirts make for more to look for in the months ahead.

Affliction Jackets Hit The High Water Mark Of 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

AtencioEarlier this month, former UFC light heavyweight champion Randy Couture made an appearance at the Affliction store located inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Afencio has been a longtime supporter of the UFC and mixed martial arts. Affliction opened in 2005.

You can find the men's Spinal Tap jacket (under $600) and the women's Sinner jacket direct from their store at Guys might want to consider the lighter Turbulence jacket for savings ($205).

Sometimes you can find Affliction clothing on Amazon after their seasonal debut. Guys might want to keep an eye out on the new Mad Max jacket (above) out this Spring.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

There Is A Lot To Like About Yuck

When things don't work out with the clean-cut boys image you established, sometimes you have to get dirty and then say Yuck. That seems to be what Cajun Dance Party's Daniel Blumberg (guitar, vocals) and Max Bloom (guitar, vocals) decided to do.

The London indie rockers picked up Markio Doi (bass, previously Levelload) and Jonny Rogoff (drums, previously Impossible Voyage) to kick off their self-titled debut album, Yuck, with Fat Possum. Blumberg's sister (Ilana Blumberg) even stepped up to provide some backing vocals.

While it is anybody's guess whether Cajun Dance Party is dead (my guess is it was dead when Meakin said it was only to pay for school), there is no guess what Blumberg and Bloom wanted to do. They wanted to make it about the music — the blistering lo-fi kind that revives early indie garage bands.

The new album isn't completely original in terms of tone as a result, but it does pick up on a sound that many people thought was abandoned too early. Well, no more. Ever since Blumberg and Bloom started writing together, they've belted out more songs than the 14-track album could hold.

Don't be afraid to get dirty and grab a big pile of Yuck.

The band has already put out three videos to promote their album, one of which stirred the YouTube pot for brief nudity in their stylized and beautifully disturbing Rubber video. But that was three months ago. There have been plenty of drivers for this band since, including this live session jam of Get Away, the first track on Yuck.

Across the entire album, their roughest stuff works. Get Away provides a great introduction, along with The Wall, and Holding On. Georgia, with the backing vocals emphasized enough to be considered a near duet, is striking in its steady simplicity. Suck is a smartly delivered anti-ballad slowdown.

While those six are favorites, there is another side of Yuck that still departs but almost pays some homage to their past life. Shook Down, Suicide Policeman, Stutter, and Sunday are much lighter on the delivery than the others. The bonus tracks include the addictive heavy jam Dark Magnet and Cousin Corona. The latter is solid except for too much push on feedback during the chorus.

There are a whole bunch of other tracks that didn't make the album but did make a previously recorded tape EP. You'll find some more anti-studio brilliance with works like Weakend and Coconut Bible. You'll hear some of these songs during the European tour. As for the States, it's still anybody's guess when the band will start to book it.

Yuck Gets Better And Better With Heavy Rotation At 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

A handful of reviews from the U.K. to date have been wildly positive even if they distinguish Yuck as decidedly American (despite only one-fifth of the members being from the U.S.). Everyone here thinks it's smart. Or maybe it's just that all things Yuck tend to stick. And then, they get stuck in your head.

Yuck is available on iTunes. You can also find Yuck on Amazon. From the Yuck band blog, several non-album tracks are available for free download, but be prepared to put up with a some hassle from a third-party popup contest promotion. If you do like the band, you'll certainly love the blog. They even have a short post that honors their first official fan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rawhide Down Revisits A Near Fatal Day In History

Rawhide DownMarch 30, 1981 will be forever known for its tragedies and triumphs. It is the same day that a deranged man shot President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to gain the attention of actress Jodie Foster.

It was also a day of heroics — at the scene and in the operating room — that tested a nation before it rallied together.

Anyone old enough to watch television remembers the video clips. Anyone who wasn't old enough has probably seen the clips since. Others have seen the film, The Day Reagan Was Shot, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Crenna, and Yannick Bisson.

None of it compares to the precision and detail of Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilber.

Set for release this March, the book reveals details that have never been made public before. To uncover them, Wilber conducted exhaustive interviews with the people involved, including medical staff, law enforcement, and the Secret Service.

He then delivers a riveting minute-by-minute account of what transpired and how close the President actually came to dying. It was much closer than anyone thought.

What Happened On March 30, 1981?

The day started out like any other, with an afternoon speaking engagement planned for Reagan. Everything had started as planned. At 1:45 p.m. a limo carrying the Reagan departs the White House and heads for the Washington Hilton, where he is to give the speech. At 2:03 p.m., he gives his speech to members of the AFL-CIO. At 2:25 p.m., the speech concludes.

And then, shortly after, everything changed. At 2:27 p.m., Reagan is shot as he leaves a back entrance of the hotel. Agent Jerry Parr shoves the president into the limo, and it speeds away. And the shooter is captured immediately.

At 2:30 p.m., the limo arrives at George Washington University Hospital, and Reagan insists on walking in under his own power. He is having trouble breathing, but still doesn’t know he has been shot. Shortly after walking into the hospital, he collapses.

It takes a full five minutes before the doctors notice a very small half-inch slit under the president’s armpit. At 2:57 p.m., Reagan is wheeled into the operating room. But by this time, he has lost nearly half of the blood in his body.

As the president nearly dies, the world becomes unhinged.

President Reagan, whom the Secret Service had code named Rawhide, is the only serving U. S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt. Also shot (but not killed) were James Brady, Reagan’s press secretary; Thomas Delahanty, a DC police officer who acted courageously during the gunfire; and Tim McCarthy, the Secret Service agent who heroically turned his body to put himself between the gunman and the president.

While Wilber reveals the drama playing out inside the hospital, he also accounts for the equally frightening drama unfolding inside the White House Situation Room. Cabinet members, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, had gathered to discuss what to do. And the questions they asked put the United States at the brink.

Who has the nuclear football? Who’s in charge until Vice President George H. W. Bush returns from Dallas? Should the military be ready for potential action? What should we tell the public, the world? What about Soviet subs patrolling unusually close to the United States? And what if the Soviets, sensing a lapse in leadership, invade Poland?

A Brief About Del Quentin Wilber.

Del Quentin WilberWilber is a reporter for the Washington Post and no stranger to covering sensitive security issues and law enforcement. In fact, it was shortly after he was promoted to cover the federal courts that Wilber took his craft to the next level, chronicling the the trial of former Senator Ted Stevens and writing about the complicated issues surrounding the detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Throughout his career, his work as a reporter earned Wilber the Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting in 2004, and he has been a Pulitzer Price finalist. He got the idea to write Rawhide Down shortly after attending a hearing for the would-be assassin and being handed the gun by an FBI agent who kept it in his drawer. Wilber currently lives in Washington D.C., with his his wife and two children

Rawhide Down By Del Quentin Wilber Turns The World Upside Down With 9 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This might seem an unusual pick at first glance, but Wiber does a masterful job at piecing together the events and provides a lucid and gripping tale of what happened. At the same time, he demonstrates the real talent of an objective journalist, pulling all of it off without a hint of political or personal bias that could color the account. He has also gone to great lengths to provide more documentation on the Rawhide Down website.

Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan is available on Amazon for preorder. The book will be released on March 15. It will also be available as an audiobook on CD. This review is based on an advance reader's copy from Henry Holt and Co.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Graciela Maria Produces Many Places With Robot Koch

Graciela MariaAs part of Project Mooncircle, a label that unifies musical and visual arts from around the world, Graciela Maria seems to be a solid match. Her curiosity-inspiring debut drifts across many genres — indie, pop, world, and electronic — adding something to each but aligning with none. She is still finding her place.

There is good and bad in that. Sometimes cross-genre albums are too diverse to be embraced fully by anyone. Experimental is often less than appreciated, unless the singers and band already have a solid following. And yet, while this Mexico City native is just out of reach of my musical leanings, there is something that wants to be discovered here. It makes her worth a listen.

Many Places is inspired by her opportunity to travel the world.

Many Places is an album that leans heavily toward electronic, given that the compositions are the work of Robot Koch. Maria began working with him after moving from Mexico City to Berlin. Together, at least for Many Places, they seem to strike an usual and appealing balance.

Koch is more straightforward. And Maria is more apt to explore her art against the electronic and dubstep backdrop. But I'm not sure most people will discover the best of it. The first video from the album carries an instrumental arrangement that sometimes overshadows the her strikingly emotional tones.

While there is something likably haunting in Nothing Sale, Maria's best work can be heard on two other tracks — Many Places and Magic Bus. The title track Many Places works as a brooding indie alt-pop, with a very organic sound. Magic Bus has some theatrical underpinnings but retains its alternative edge with a jazzy foundation and licks on a Spanish guitar.

These two songs are the best, but all of it is filled with surreal and personal lyrics that will appeal to somebody. But what makes these two two tracks stand out against Little White Shoes, Meanwhile, and Through The Night, is that those three lean too much toward pop where Maria tends to lose the emotional tug.

Other songs, like Santa Ana Afternoons and Always are good for a single genre, but her accent drifts in and out. It's distracting. It's also while Sirius, also a beautiful song too, works well in her native Spanish.

When you consider how diverse the arrangements are, some people might say its a Robot Koch album as much as it is a Graciela Maria album. Maria has worked with Koch before, singing People Are Strange for his heavy electronic Death Star Droid and three tracks of Listen To Them Fade (look for feat. Grace). This time though, Many Places puts the focus on Maria's melodic talent. She is someone to watch on the fringe.

Graciela Maria's Many Places Travels To 2.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Project Mooncircle has a wide range of artists and photographers who produce and receive credit for the album art and other projects. They frequently bring musicians together for unique compilations, much like they did on Many Places. The concept is interesting, and it gives unnoticed artists like Maria an unexpected world forum for their music.

Many Places by Graciela Maria is available on iTunes. On Amazon, Many Places is available on CD or discounted MP3 downloads. Track two and track four are the ones worth consideration.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Glass Rainbow Is A Lushly Southern Literary Mystery

The Glass RainbowNever mind that there have been 18 novels featuring Dave Robicheaux, a sure-footed, steadfast and compassionate detective who lives along the Bayou Teche in the small and slow-moving parish seat of Iberia Parish, Louisiana. The Glass Rainbow can be picked up and read cold, without a stitch of an introduction.

Seven young women in neighboring Jefferson Davis Parish have been brutally murdered, with only the death of Bernadette Latiolais falling within his jurisdiction. At first blush, Latiolais seems to fit in with the other women who are apparently being targeted by a serial killer.

In addition to being disadvantaged and at risk, her brother has had trouble with the law. Robicheaux agrees to meet with him, traveling to see Elmore Latiolais where he is incarnated and part of a work gang outside Natchez. He wants justice, insisting his sister was a good girl while imploring Robicheaux to investigate a pimp and drug dealer named Herman Stanga.

The Glass Rainbow is powerhouse literary mystery thriller, unrestrained by genre.

As the investigation deepens, Robicheaux learns Latiolais did not fit the characteristics of the other victims. The young girl was a high school honor student and already had plans to escape her situation with a scholarship to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. That is not all he uncovers.

With each new lead, Robicheaux begins to collect a number of names that are all loosely connected; if not for the murders, then for something else equally foul. Among them are Stanga; ex-con Vidor Perkins; the suspicious and affluent Layton and Carolyn Blanchet; the deputy sheriff Emma Poche; the ex-con and celebrity author Robert Weingart; the ancient area patriarch Timothy Abelard; and his subservient son, Kermit Abelard, who is also dating Robicheaux's daughter.

His primary ally is his crass former partner and private investigator Clete Purcel, who often comes across as a liability as much as he is an asset as a friend and reliable lifesaver. Purcel is especially likable as an extra large alcoholic who dispenses with the thoughtfulness that Robicheaux typically exhibits. He also leans heavily on Iberia Parish Sheriff Helen Soileau, who is often forced to balance her role as a confident, admiring colleague and boss.

"It has been my experience that most human stories are circular rather than linear. Regardless of the path we choose, we somehow end up where we commenced - in part, I suspect, because the child who lives in us goes along for the ride." — James Lee Burke as Dave Robicheaux

Set against the backdrop of Iberia, James Lee Burke masterfully paints an environment as dense as the formalities observed by a culture that will feel out of time for urban readers. The blended vividness of his insight into the human condition, precise metaphorical descriptions of the surroundings, and wisdom that comes from a full life make for a compelling, authentic read from start to finish.

About Author James Lee Burke.

James Lee BurkeBurke is a Houston native who grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. Before becoming an author, he worked as a pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, and social worker. His richly diverse life gives every character an additional depth not found in many books. Both his wife of 48 years, Pearl, and daughter, Alafair, are successful in their respective careers.

Burke has earned dozens of awards for his work over the years. He also provides inspiration for writers in that his novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years. Once it was finally accepted and published, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The Glass Rainbow By James Lee Burke Shatters 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Glass Rainbow moves slowly along in literary lushness while exploring people, relationships, and the capacity for flawed characters to keep dark secrets and justify evil deeds as Burke lays out seemingly unconnected threads and clues that cannot be guessed. It isn't toward the last tenth of the story that the various elements are pulled together in an explosive finish in 448 pages.

The Glass Rainbow: A Dave Robicheaux Novel by James Lee Burke is available on Amazon. The book is also at Barnes & Noble. On iTunes, Will Patton narrates The Glass Rainbow, perfectly capturing the tone of the book and Dave Robicheaux. Patton is the same narrator who brought new life to On The Road by Jack Kerouac. The audio times out at just more than 15 hours, unabridged.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sum 41 Takes To Screaming Bloody Murder

Sum 41After a three-year absence from releasing new music and 15 years after being branded as a Canadian pop punk band, Sum 41 is embarking on a greater evolution as much more mature, darker, and heavier indie rock band. Their new title track, Screaming Bloody Murder, travels a much greater distance from their lighter work and is much heavier than some songs on Chuck.

The departure is being driven in part by frontman Deryck Whibley, who says the new sound better represents where he is in life. The statement matches his songwriting style, sometimes stopping conversations just to take a note or record an idea. Later, he might pick it up as part of a song.

Screaming Bloody Murder sets the tone for Sum 41's fifth album.

According to Whibley, the new album, due out on March 29, was produced the same way. The band — made up of Whibley, Steve Jocz (drummer), Cone McCaslin (bass), and Tom Thacker (guitar) — walked into the studio and recorded. That's not to say the album was produced in a single session. Even after they told the label the album was done, they went back to improve some songs and add others.

The first glimpse of the new single from the upcoming album premiered on a Detroit radio station. But it was in la Maroquinerie in Paris a few days ago that any fans have had the opportunity to hear the song live. Here is a fan-shot video of Screaming Bloody Murder at one of the best venues in Europe.

While the production quality drops as the song progresses (and because of the shooter's proximity to the drums), it's obvious the audience already knew the opening lines before the band could break into the driving rocker. That must have made Whibley feel great. He listens to fans more any other measure.

"I never cared what radio or press or anybody thinks," Whibley told Artist Direct. "We're doing our thing."

Who can blame him? Every interview is marred with questions about his divorce and what other people think. And in every interview he tosses down the gauntlet, explaining that he wrote this album with nobody in mind except the band and the fans. Specifically, he has said, it's a straight up 'fuck you' rock record with complete freedom and without any overproduction.

The constant reiteration is good for the band. While frequently saddled with the pop punk label, anyone who has listened before knows they've delivered diversity since the beginning. This time around, however, it seems certain the darker sound (which Whibley attributes in part to a mood he was in) was better suited to the more aggressive but equally passionate rock.

Screaming Bloody Murder By Sum 41 Breaks 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If Screaming Bloody Murder is any indication of what to expect from its fifth album, Sum 41 will prove its best days are ahead and not behind them. Then again, I was introduced to Sum 41 off a pre-album import showcasing The Hell Song and Still Waiting (both later appeared on Does This Feel Infected). They've come a long way since then and the direction gives the band more room to showcase their skills as musicians.

Screaming Bloody Murder is available on iTunes. The album will be released on March 29. On Amazon, Screaming Bloody Murder can be downloaded as an MP3. The band is currently touring Europe before heading to Australia and then Japan.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dead Space Pushes The Envelope On The iPad

Dead SpaceWhen Electronic Arts (EA) does something right, it does it very right. Dead Space 2 is a phenomenal successor to the popular blend of action gaming meets horror adventure introduced in 2008. But for all the buzz that the sequel is rightfully getting, it's the less noticed advent of Dead Space for the iPad that sets the highest bar yet for native iOS gaming.

Released two weeks ago in conjunction with an iPhone app and Dead Space 2 for PCs and consoles, Dead Space for the iPad flawlessly reproduces the high definition cinematic experience associated with the game. The storyline is also unique to the iPad, introducing Vandal as the primary character as opposed to Isaac Clarke.

A brief history of the immersive world of Dead Space.

Set in the 26th century after an extinction-level event, humankind has come to rely on space exploration and technology to mine other planets for valuable resources. The protagonists are mining engineers who are unwittingly ensnared in plots set in motion by the Church of Unitology.

The Church of Unitology believes a prophesied artifact holds the secret to eternal life, including the ability to bring believers back from the dead. The artifact is real, but its effects act like a virus, causing delirium and death before reanimating human corpses into various alien organisms. Think of them as enhanced space-age zombies.

In the first Dead Space, Clarke was sent to salvage the mining ship Ishimura and (unknowingly) retrieve the artifact. In Dead Space 2, he wakes up to find he has been committed to the psychiatric facility on a sprawling space station. He is a live play demo from IGN for comparison purposes.

The iPad storyline is a little less mysterious and unfolds quickly. Vandal is a cult member recruited by the church to sabotage a mining operation. It isn't long before he discovers his work is responsible for unleashing the infestation on the space station. Whoops. He is a quick live demo of the gameplay in action, also from IGN.

Dead Space gameplay on an iPad.

Dead Space for the iPad has been built from the ground up, making the most responsive game for iPad to date. The controls are mostly hidden from sight and toggling for a map is eliminated because the game offers a directional beam any time you feel disoriented. Unlike most iPad action games, the linear path doesn't feel forced. Dead Space allows some wandering.

When the play interface is visible, it is usually limited to onscreen pickups or specific actions, such as slashing with the plasma saw, lifting objects with kinesis, or opening doors. The primary weapon is the ore cutter, which can be rotated with the tilt of the iPad. (I'm not fond of the tilt command, but it works well enough).

Occasionally, the screen does creep in too close to third-player view to see the action. But this rare occurrence seems like a small annoyance for the overall quality of the game. EA makes up for it with small touches like seeing a necromorph run across the hallway in front of you or pull a body into an empty corridor. The sound engineering is marvelous. Play with headphones.

Deep Space For The IPad Screams 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Graphically, the only game that comes close is Rage HD ($1.99), but Dead Space is light years ahead of forced tram movement. It's also more intuitive than CoD Zombies, which is a great game for what most people consider the standard.

Glen Schofield, Bret Robbins and crew have outdone themselves. Dead Space for the iPad is available from iTunes for $9.99. Dead Space for the iPhone is also available for $6.99. Dead Space 2 is also available for the PC, XBOX, and PS3 direct from Electronic Arts.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No Age Shreds Everything In Between

No AgeWhen Wives, the hardcore punk trio from Los Angeles split, Randy Randall (guitar) and Dean Spunt (drummer/vocals) were hardly done. No Age immediately formed and was signed with Seattle-based Sub Pop. Several EPs and albums later, Randall and Spunt are on an evolution binge.

Everything In Between is stocked with surprises. The punk noise that the duo is known for has been refined into a collection of 13 tracks that ranges from trash rockers to electronic experimentation. All of them are oddly addictive, even if the entire ecstatic mix breaks every rule with only the constant hum of distortion and flashes of feedback providing a thread.

Everything In Between is still brutally stripped bare by Randall and Spunt.

Clearly, Everything In Between moves away from the free spirited veracity of their previous albums and toward a more deliberate dialogue for the everyday schmuck with a schedule. It's not a complete departure from their original sound as much as it is noticeable that their abstractions have more uplifts and their presentations more clarity.

The album was originally released a few months ago, but the arrival of a new visually muted and offbeat video has unexpectedly revived the entire set. The resurgence convinced us to give it another spin without the crowded field we found last September. It immediately gave us something to let smolder for awhile.

The video that resparked the release is campy and deep, enough that some fans feel the need to explain the concept, pointing out that everything in between the frame is the universe. Anything inside the frame gets squeezed and everything that falls outside the frame gets shredded. The album was made much the same way, with 25 tracks cut almost in half.

The video was shot by Patrick Daughters, who originally broke into the music video business after filming the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2003. This is his first music video after spending most of last year on commercial shoots. The real beauty here is that it almost plays like an anti-music video. Sub Pop also released a short "making of" clip.

It also captures the appeal of Everything In Between. No Age retains its minimal sound and deconstructs the stuff that you'd expect from straightforward punk or rock or pop noise.

While Fever Dreaming is an easily familiar punk favorite, the rest of the album has bite. Life Prowler opens on a relentless steadiness until it drifts into a bigger sound. Glitter laces together a stylish melody over electronic noise. Depletion is a lo-fi rocker, often called the highlight of the album.

Everything In Between By No Age Shreds A 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When you spend some time listening to the lyrics, you might even come away with the notion that No Age has infused some unpredictable pop stylings into the mix. This might even be why the album sounds more cohesive. Definitely wear your headphones, especially if you purchase the album and enjoy the drifting dizziness that accompanies Dusted.

Everything In Between by No Age is available on iTunes, with the bonus track Inflorescence. On Amazon, you can download Everything In Between MP3s or purchase the CD, but neither have the bonus track. You can also keep up with the band's schedule on MySpace. They play the Rickshaw Shop in San Francisco at the end of the month.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rails Makes Plaid Feel And Fit Right

Rails clothing
Living in Southern California always makes everything feel different. And one of those many differences is short-changing seasonal styles since the milder weather extends the fall though winter and early spring.

Rain-soaked Seattle is much the same way. We were always more likely to add layers rather than change wardrobes like they do in the East. Even Rails Clothing designer Jeff Abrams appreciates that. He once told a fashion magazine that women who invest in vests are smart because they can look sharp or keep you warm.

Abrams should know. Shortly after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he went to work for a television network in marketing. He might still be in television today, but Abrams noticed something while traveling by train and backpacking for two years in Italy. Fitted fashions had much more sophistication than the street clothes he grew up with in Los Angeles.

Rails blends European stylings with Southern California casual.

Abrams initially started out with a simple concept — reinventing the hoodie by adding buttons and bringing in the fit. This idea was an instant hit in 2006. Now you can find Rails Clothing almost anywhere in California, ranging from Anne Michelle and Blue Bee to Red Balloon and Yellow Dog.

Kendra GauzeAbrams has since moved on from reinvented hoodies to a broader line of looks like the Kendra Gauze, but most of them still carry the narrower cut, unique lines, and better fabrics. There is almost a vintage quality in some designs, especially the men's line, ushering in a blend between what some people call basics, even if relaxed metropolitan is the better moniker.

What works especially well is the recent emphasis on plaid, like the Bobbi Plaid in white (above) or the warmer Kendra Buttondown with a similar patten. The latter features Rails' soft, double-sided gauze fabric and relaxed fit. Hand wash, hang dry.

The Bobbi Plaid is a bit different. It is a lighter shirt, suitable for spring. It has rolled short sleeves for a working class 50s feel. The boxy cut makes it masculine, while the cropped length keeps it feminine. If you want something other than black and white, check out the Bobbi Plaid in red.

Rails International's Take On Plaid Fits For 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Rails MenI didn't stumble into Rails shopping for women's clothes. They do have a men's line, with that flair between Southern California and a retro-European look. What I like the best about the clothes is that they work well enough on their own, but can also create a layered look without the need to add a coat.

You can find Rails clothing in any number of boutiques across the United States. There are some stores that carry a few selections online from time to time. Manhattanite is one of them. You can find several of the Rails designs mentioned above. They range from $88 to $120.

If you don't see what you like, Manhattanite invites customers to email them with inquiries. They are happy to place special orders whenever possible.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tristen Finds Charlatans At The Garden Gate

TristenAfter leaving Chicago and setting out for Nashville, Tristen Gaspadarek sought to throw her life in a different direction and find herself. She has since found more than that.

For the last few years, she has been working to restart since those early open mic nights in Chicago. To do it, she cut songs on a $200 Mbox Mini and posted them on MySpace to help perfect her craft and earn a place in an emerging community of artists in Nashville.

It was also here that she met local producer Jeremy Ferguson, who suggested they work together at his Battle Tapes Recording before she went on to produce a full LP with American Myth Recordings, an upstart record label based in Brooklyn.

Joined by Jordan Caress and Buddy Hughen, Charlatans At The Garden Gate has a bigger indie feel than over-the-counter pop, with vintage folk rock and Southern infusions. No doubt some of her surroundings rubbed off on her too. It's a diverse town nowadays, with plenty of musicians vying to be noticed. The reconstructed songs from her early releases are more mature, and much sharper than anything in her early recordings.

Tristen is drifting toward a different deeper cut of pop.

The most impressive cut from her new album is Baby Drugs, which retains the addictive roughness in Gaspadarek's voice. Using the simple composition as a foundation and allowing her textured melodies to drive the song, the studio version is more striking than the live performance. But this live video is still enough to hear the hooks that have new ears.

If you hear some throwback elements from previous decades, you'd be right. It's an important aspect of her music nowadays, making it much better than some of the throwaway music being peddled as pop.

“You can’t escape the fact that we all love and revere music made in the ’60s and ’70s,” she says. “I’m sure that’s why it came out the way that it did.”

Unlike Baby Drugs, not all of the studio versions are necessarily better. The added pop infusion on Eager For Your Love doesn't stick as well as the recording that appeared on MySpace. The story is still there, but I found myself gravitating to other songs.

Wicked Heart, Special Kind Of Fear, and Doomsday better encapsulate a new direction for the artist. And, it would have been nice if the label had included Cheatin on Charlatans At The Garden Gate too. Look for it as one of three songs remaining on the Tristen MySpace page.

When you add it all up and throw in her first heavy touring schedule, Tristen needs another break as artists sometimes do. Add her to your watch list if you want to help out. She might need it, given several annoying setbacks.

LA local favorites Marcus Very Ordinary got more press attention when Tristen headlined the Echo in Los Angeles earlier this week. Her website is stuck in redesign. The physical CD was delayed two weeks because of weather back East. And even her bio remains a disaster, with too much blah blah blah about the origin of her name and not enough about the origin of her music.

Charlatans At The Garden Gate by Tristen Sparks Curiosity At 3.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is no doubt that Tristen is still trying to settle into something. She has the right voice, the right upbeat tempo, and a little bit of earnestness. Yet, I can't help thinking that she does a little better with the rougher sound, drawing that gritty passion and forgoing any yearnings for pop.

The album is good, with the best undoubtedly Wicked Heart and Baby Drugs. Charlatans At The Garden Gate is on iTunes. On Amazon, pick up Charlatans At The Garden Gate as an MP3.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Post Office By Bukowski Turns 40

Post OfficeWhen a down and out barfly named Henry Chinaski becomes a substitute mail carrier, he quickly finds it's not in his nature to hold on to the trappings of a normal life. He quits, hoping to live off his winnings at the track. But when the luck runs out, he returns to the post office as a mail clerk, a job he considered one of the most menial, boring and degrading.

Chinaski has sometimes been described as a tribute to nobody in that he is everyman's anti-hero. But an even more exacting description of Chinaski is Charles Bukowski, the cynical, drunk caretaker who wasn't afraid to hold the mirror for anyone brave enough to count their own imperfections.

An autobiography about the rest of us.

In 1971, John Martin, owner of Black Sparrow Press, took a gamble of sorts. He offered Bukowski, then 49, $100 a month for life if he gave up working for the Post Office and wrote full time. The German-American poet took the offer.

"I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy ... or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve." — Charles Bukowski [attributed: Dougherity]

BukowskiHe finished Post Office within a month after leaving his position, drawing up his life experience like he might take a long drag from a cigarette. Once he started, he couldn't stop. He released a pent up lifetime of prose, poetry, and nonfiction in an unapologetic exhale through bared teeth and a half grin.

Of course. As a mail carrier Bukowski had gotten a glimpse of everyone in Los Angeles. The retentive, anxious resident who would hold out his hand for the mail. The crazed woman who raked his face after he delivered a registered letter. The endless drone of managers relying on procedure to make vassals out of employees to elevate their sense of importance.

What makes Post Office compelling aren't various roadblocks thrown in his way or the detours created by his own hand. The charm of the anti-hero is how he handles it all, chucking off any sense of what is supposed to be done and randomly making choices that kept everyone around him off balance. He was like that in life, too.

Not everyone appreciates his minimalistic rawness, morally repulsive content, and sometimes alcohol-infused rants that teeter between ego and self-loathing. But he had a point. He wanted to write about what other people and poets would never write about.

Post Office is especially tenuous in its journal entry approach to presenting a slice of life that is unordinary only in that some people will find the ordinary. There are plenty of tragic people in the world, and Bukowski, through the only slightly fictional eyes of Henry Chinaski, seems to attract all of them, from broken to bureaucrat, because he looks at us with eyes wide open.

Post Office by Charles Bukowski Rankles At 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If there was anyone who could capture an unromanticized account of pointless existence felt by the blue collar of an American worker in the 1960s, it was Bukowski. While many people were attempting to capture the illusionary trappings of the 1950s mystique, he decided to throttle up his life against the grain.

Post Office: A Novel is available on Amazon. iTunes offers the documentary about Bukowski — Born Into This — by director John Dullaghan. It's a favorite among fans, whom Bukowski has touched like no other poet and author.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bobby Long Fires Up Folk Rock On A Winter Tale

Bobby LongBobby Long might currently reside in New York City, but the 24-year-old singer/songwriter from a small town in Wessex is still trying to find an audience in the States. That's about to change.

With the release of his studio debut A Winter Tale, produced by the always brilliant recording engineer Liam Watson (White Stripes), Long will be quick to pick up a presence in the United States much like he became a fixture at London’s open mic nights as a student attending London Metropolitan University.

Surprisingly down to earth (the possible by-product of growing up in a remote area), Long delivers what can be best described as poetic melodies underscored by elusive, imaginative lyrics. He says they come largely from his subconscious.

A Winter Tale by Bobby Long is raw and original music that touches America as much as England.

Fresh off a thesis titled The Social Impact of American Folk Music, Long went on to write Let Me Sign, which Robert Pattinson sung for the film Twilight. This time around, all the music appearing on A Winter Tale is performed as intended, with Long delivering intensely personal lyrics that only those fortunate enough to see him live or catch his bedroom-produced Dirty Pond Songs EP can attest to.

One of the first interviews to break out appears on Gibson, primarily because of his appreciation for the J-200. It was the first guitar he bought in America after seeing it on the cover of Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.

"I love Dylan; I own his entire catalog," he said in the interview. "He’s definitely one of my favorite songwriters and lyricists so I’ll always consider him a major influence."

Dylan is not alone. Long has been gracious in giving props to Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Tony Iommi, and a slew of blues and jazz musicians. While he doesn't mind the comparisons, once saying it beats a comparison to Bananarama, no one here is hearing the early Dylan as much as the first Bobby Long. If A Winter Tale proves to be a glimpse of things to come, new musicians will be listing Long among their influences in the next few years.

In sum, A Winter Tale is a coarser, often picked brand of folk rock with the broodingly balanced The Bounty Of Mary Jane, steadily straightforward In The Frost, brilliantly written Dead And Gone, and folk-infused minor key Being A Mockingbird all among the standouts. Penance Fire Blues also breaks great once it gets moving. A Winter Tale and Who Have You Been Loving are already fan favorites.

A Winter Tale By Bobby Long Goes Long With 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Long is a prolific and confident poet armed with a guitar. And the decision to record live with a full band was brilliant, given he is someone you want to see live. What you won't see live, of course, are contributors like Nona Hendryx (LaBelle), B. J. Cole (Elton John, Sting), and Lay Low (an Icelandic singer).

Bobby Long's A Winter Tale is available on iTunes, with Two Tone Lover as a bonus track for anyone buying the album. A Winter Tale is also on Amazon. ATO Records is doing an excellent job helping to promote the upstart by releasing an equally honest digital documentary about the singer.

Photo credit by James Minchin.