Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ty Segall Bakes On Goodbye Bread

It's true that Ty Segall's fifth solo album, Goodbye Bread, is nowhere near as dirty, loud, or brutally brilliant as Melted. But it's not really supposed to be. It defies brilliance in a different way and no one ought to expect less from Segall.

After all, Segall has never stayed in the same place for too long since he began his recording career. He's always made it a point of being "part time" in various underground bands (The Traditional Fools, Epsilons, Party Fowl, Sic Alps, and The Perverts, among them). No one expected his solo career to be any different.

Goodbye Bread is a much mellower and even handed album that might give the impression Segall was holding back. I hear something different. There's a quiet restraint to the album, with a little more attention to the harmonic details. He's also more relaxed, making the entire album sound like the after party attached to Melted.

Goodbye Bread plays like a relaxed event in your neighbor's storage shed.

The tempo is slow. The lyrics are reflective. The mood is mellow. The structure is steady within every song and across the entire album, smoldering at a much slower pace. And all of it fits in nicely as a variance when you consider his full career.

"I felt like people would expect me to get rougher, fuzzier, and do the same thing," says Segall. "That's no fun for me. I always wanted to make a classic sounding record, and that's what I was trying to do."

Remarkably enough, Segall feels better about this album than any previous outing. He wanted to say something as opposed to making a straight-up party album, which also underscores the most noticeable difference on Goodbye Bread — the vocals are turned up against the backdrop of crisp and clean instrumentals.

As good as Goodbye Bread is, the best track on the album is You Make The Sun Fry, which is a beautifully sun-baked love story that spirals back and forth between wanting commitment and wanting to be free from the constraints of it.

You Make The Sun Fry isn't the only single with heady introspective artistry. My Head Explodes trips between imagery and reality and has several amped up moments in between the near testimonial. The contrasts continue with California's collision between introversion and exteriors. A Comfortable Home splits up the emphasis between being together and buying to stay together.

The latter is especially poignant as Segall manages to construct the story in remarkably few words. I Can't Feel It does much the same: Flying without being able to feel it; changing for other people.

It's when you really listen to the lyrics that the entire album becomes something remarkable for Segall, and very possibly the best songwriting of his career (even if we like his rough and tough stuff too). Even if the album plays better intermixed with his other work, there isn't a song on the 10-track Goodbye Bread that you'll want to miss.

Goodbye Bread By Ty Segall Embraces A 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's anyone's guess why Drag City sat Goodbye Bread on the sidelines since January when it was finished, but that hardly matters when you're listening to classically complex songs like I Am With You. Keep an eye out for upcoming concerts. Segall is known for his amazing one-man shows, but readily admits it's often more fun playing with the band. We'll take it either way.

Goodbye Bread by Ty Segall is up on iTunes. You can also pick up the album at Barnes & Noble or find Goodbye Bread on Amazon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Balboa Bay Club & Resort Sails In Newport

Balboa Bay Club & ResortStepping a single foot onto iconic Balboa Island or any of the natural estuaries and manmade inlets that make up Newport Harbor can make you feel miles away from Los Angeles. And even though the island itself is primarily residential, it has attracted unique boutiques, gift shops, and a few eateries along the timeless charm of Marine Avenue.

Although not located on the island, Balboa Island easily becomes one of many focal points for anyone staying at the Balboa Bay Club & Resort, certainly located in Newport. The hotel itself has an equally balanced foothold in history and modern luxuries.

Originally built in 1948, a scant 20 years after the area began to take shape, the club managed to capture a resort casual kind of atmosphere. And by doing so, it has seen the signatures of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and John Wayne on its guest list.

Balboa Bay Club & Resort creates the illusion of a California Riviera

John Wayne also once served on its Board of Governors, which is why the resort's harbor-front bar is named the Duke's Place. Years ago, it wouldn't be uncommon to see his yacht docked nearby; Balboa was one of his favorite areas in Southern California.

Today, the lounge is known for its resort casual dining, breathtaking views of the harbor, and nightly performances by area jazz masters. It's the perfect last stop before retiring to your room.

Although the Riviera-styled property is built on a sprawling 15 acres, the resort portion is relatively modest with 160 rooms and suites. (The balance includes short- and long-term apartments.)

Balboa Bay Club & ResortThe best rooms include bay views with small patios or incredibly spacious bay view suites with two separate verandas. The courtyard, standard, and one-bedroom suites are nice, but it's the bay views that make any stay unforgettable. All of them are appointed in luxury, with feather-top beds, crisp white duvets, and rattan and wood furniture.

As a resort and club, the hotel hosts seasonal events — summer barbecues, brunches, and concert series in the summer. And the Balboa Bay Club & Resort is home to a state-of-the-art spa, fitness centers, and full-service nail and hair salon. Guests and members can also rent electric Duffy boats, two-person kayaks, or paddle boards.

Rather than manning a boat on your own, you can board a traditionally adorned wooden gondola at the nearby Newport Harbor. Taking advantage of the calm crystal waters, the sunset tours take passengers past canals lined with beautiful boats and homes. The adventure includes appetizers and sparkling cider. Although perfect for two, the rides do accommodate up to four. Dinner is also available.

The quiet, historic charm of nearby Balboa Island.

Walking the boutique-lined Marine Avenue feels like a place out of time.

Balboa IslandIt's almost impossible to imagine that in the early 1900s, the island was little more than a manmade sand bar, frequently swallowed up by the high tide. Early developers slowly began to change all that, selling island lots for about $500 (sometimes as low as $25).

Although the island is primarily residential, Marine Avenue hosts several unique boutiques and gift shops. There are several favorites to visit, including Ornate Home, Debra Huse Gallery, and Art For The Soul. William's Patio is the best bet for breakfast; Basilic for dinner.

This island was also home to classic stars like Errol Flynn, James Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart. Today, most homes range between $1 and $3 million.

The Balboa Bay Club & Resort Sails To 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There are more luxurious resorts in the Newport area, including a former Four Seasons, which will probably warrant its own review in the future. However, hotels situated around Newport Center are uniquely different. They are set back far enough from the harbor to change the entire mood of the stay.

Rates for the Balboa Bay Club & Resort vary widely, with standard room starting around $250 per night. You can check airfare rates at Fare Buzz with flights up to 60 percent offGondola rides in Newport can be reserved through Xperience Days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Henry Clay People Land In A Desert

The Henry Clay PeopleThe Henry Clay People have played hundreds of free-spirited shows since they first formed in 2005. Once, in 2008, they received a dubious distinction as the most intoxicated band at SXSW. And it hasn't been the only live show made infamous.

Sometimes it's kind of shocking. The band was originally founded by two brothers who grew tired of typical college antics only to make some of their own on stage. But even more uncharacteristic of the chaos, one of them is a pessimist and perfectionist.

So when indie reviewers didn't get behind their last album or the label asked them to make some compromises or frontman Joey Siara thinks about his progressing hearing damage, all of it sounds sort of on the brink of catastrophic. You can even make yourself dizzy thinking about where they might end up.

Here's the run down. The Henry Clay People have paid their dues. Their low point was sharing their last loaf of bread in a park for dinner. Their high point was signing with a new label and opening for the Drive-By Truckers. And despite the steady climb, some people still peg them as competent but not distinguished. Is it any wonder their new EP has its own sense of aridness?

The Henry Clay People Find This Is A Desert.

Without doubt, the new EP is more mature than previous releases. And like many EPs that spiral out of the studio immediately after a tour, This Is A Desert likely marks a transition. Or, you never know, it might simply be another way for the band to cover those incidentals.

It's hard to say. Part of listening to the EP picks up on the uncertainty that comes with being signed just as much as being newly discovered. Meanwhile, TDB Records describes the rushed outing a collection of the familiar and exploration of the new. It's some of their best work, except It Isn't The Waiting. Pass on that one.

The Winter Song is better than that, even if it really doesn't showcase the three songs that really make the EP worthwhile. It's best described as some sort of epic rock lament or bizarre slacker ballad more indicative of an aging band than an up and comer. And since the band was caught short without a video for the work, they placed the single over a studio fight between the two brothers.

The best parts of the EP include California Wildfire, which is the best track as indie rock (light). It's also the only full 4-plus minute song worth the download if you grab only one. It opens with buzzing guitars before breaking into steady vocals underscored by piano with just enough noise to keep it from being cleanly mainstream.

The next two picks are bittersweet in that they are solid songs but you might feel cheated because both end in under two minutes. The pop punkish The Honey Love He Sells may get plenty of play to make up for its shortness. And while This Is A Desert misses with the opening band chant, it recovers with the vocals and groovy guitar noise.

This Is A Desert By The Henry Clay People Rips 4.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's a playable EP that serves as an introduction (or reintroduction) of the band's potential beyond the pub rock they sometimes produced with Autumn Tone Records. Expect better things ahead from Joey (vocals, guitar), Andy (guitar, vocals), Jonathan Price (bass, vocals), and Eric Scott (drums).

You can find This Is A Desert by The Henry Clay People on iTunes. This Is A Desert EP is also at Amazon. Go ahead and browse Somewhere On The Golden Coast too. Nobody Taught Us To Quit is the one to zero in on. It might only be a minute, but it's a great minute.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Retro-Inspired Summer Style

Sun Spot Orange Echo DressNot everyone will remember the nod to the 1953 romantic comedy starting Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. But a few people will.

Roman Holiday is the story of a princess who escapes the embassy to experience Rome on her own. She wants to have fun. An American newsman helps her find some away from the routine.

It's also the part of the retro-inspired summer style from Cath Kidston. The tangerine orange summer dress with crisp white sun spots that are easily mistaken for polka dots from afar is immediately recognizable as a 1950s summer throwback.

It's a style that reimagines what Hepburn wanted to do. Sometimes girls just want to have fun.

Sun Spot Orange Echo Dress By Cath Kidston.

In the movie, Hepburn mostly wore a solid two-piece ensemble. But with the Kidston design, the colorless neckline and sleeveless shoulders give it a modern flair, saving it from looking too plain or prep. And in a city like Los Angeles, it was easily a weekend standout. It was ordered from Britain, she beamed.

Sun Spot Sun DressSurprisingly as crisp to the touch as it is crisp to look at, this amazingly simple but striking summer dress is adorned with detail. Even the white buttons bring in some orange to reinforce the sun spot style.

The dress itself isn't the only place the fabric becomes interesting. The pattern, this time added to a polyester-spandex blend instead of cotton, was also used to create a vintage-inspired swimsuit with halter neck and smocking across the front. The smocking is a nice touch.

Originally invented in the 1600s, smocking was popularized in part by Singer sewing machines in the 1950s. They released several patterns that were meant to create a richer and smarter look, regardless of the material. But it's not the smocking alone that creates a vintage look.

The cut and pattens picked up by Kidston work well enough on other suits too. One chic one-piece has a halter neck tie and high cut legs that pop just as well with bright tropical flowers. And if you would rather wear a bikini, Kidston has a wild folk ditsy design with tiny flowers sprawling across a low rise bikini matched with the fashionable halter neck tie top.

A Dainty Bit About Cath Kidston.

Kidston originally opened a tiny shop in London’s Holland Park to sell a few vintage fabrics, wallpapers and brightly-painted junk furniture. Most of it was her desire to bring back the styles and prints she fondly remembered from her childhood in the early 1960s (with an emphasis on 1950s patterns and lines).

Amazingly, Kidston gained the courage to open her first store after surviving breast cancer at 37. In less than 20 years, she has opened more than 30 shops and concessions worldwide. Some people, including Kidston, say people either love it or hate it.

"People either love it and want a little bit of it very much, or want to stab us," she once said during an interview on the BBC.

Personally, I'm usually more taken by women who wear something with more attitude. But if they can wear the occasional 1950s cool too, then I'll side with those who love it every time.

Retro-Inspired Summer Styles By Cath Kidston Shine With 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When everything begins to look the same, it's the styles that no one else is daring to wear that catch more attention. I think that's what made Kidston such a success from the beginning. She's right. Owning a little bit of retro Brit can strike the right notes during the right occasions. It's feels good and looks fun; worn by someone you want to spend the afternoon with.

Of the eight dresses highlighted by Kidston this summer, the Sun Spot Orange Echo Dress hits everything retro right (about $80). The pattern is striking enough to work equally well as the Sun Spot Orange Amie Swimsuit (about $75). For more variety with retro swimwear, consider the Tropical Flowers Hope Swimsuit or Folk Ditsy Kirsty Halterneck Bikini.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wye Oak's Civilian More Than Wistful

Wye OakUnderrated indie folk rockers Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals) and Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitars) from Baltimore, Maryland, have come a long way since their early beginnings as Monarch in 2006. With Civilian, the band takes advantage of their understated stylings to create melodies that grow as wiry as their namesake, Wye Oak.

Yet, their strongest tracks on Civilian aren't necessarily the mysterious atmospheric near-pop picks. It's when they add in more earnest indie rock that they sound their best and prove they are much more than a one trick pony.

There's a fire burning behind Wasner's vocals and we wish she would let it go more often. Some tracks on Civilian do.

Wye Oak's Civilian rocks when it's dirty and unrestrained.

Released by Merge Records, which sometimes seems neglectful of the last band on their list, Civilian highlights the duo's talent for blending multi-instrumental arrangements with Wasner's airy compositions. Except, as noted, on some of the best tracks like Holy Holy, Doubt, and the opening of Dog Eyes where Wye Oak plays with some piercing guitar work and pained vocals.

Civilian is also one of the strongest tracks on the album. It has an incredibly full sound on the album, but breaks up nicely as an acoustic anywhere the band decides to play it — even on a balcony in Amsterdam.

For a few months (before heading home to Baltimore and hitting select festivals), they took their loneliness-infused album across Europe. While in the States the band generally has to build their audience bit by bit, the tour abroad almost always provides a packed house. Where they win with their live performances is opening with their softer, folksy numbers before opening another level of rawness.

"I kinda holed myself up and came out with a lot of songs, way more than I’ve ever written in any small amount of time," Wasner told Venus earlier this year. "We had a lot of material to choose from, and we acted with a 'go with your gut' mentality on which songs would be on the record."

As an album, Civilian is set up to play the same way. Wye Oak is well known for its soft, loud, soft combinations within their albums and within some songs. It works, especially when Stack is driving things with his wickedly timed sense of layering keys and drums. Have another listen to the title track and you'll hear the layers pile on as the song builds to an epic finish. (Free download via Soundcloud.)

Watch for the band to get especially busy starting in August. Although they do have shows scheduled in Hartford and Northampton this July, the bulk of the tour carries them one month later and into October. Ironically, Civilian might touch on loneliness, but Wasner often finds herself craving isolation on the road.

Civilian By Wye Oak Isolates Some Greatness At 4.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a third album, it's pretty clear Wye Oak knows what they are doing. Personally, I'm hoping they invest more time in developing their sense of angst like you find on Holy Holy and Doubt. There is a beautiful ugliness to them that you don't hear every day, especially Doubt.

Civilian by Wye Oak can be found on iTunes and the album is discounted on Amazon (if MP3s are good enough). You'll also find Civilian at Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Survivor: A Novel Finds Resurgence

Survivor: A NovelNobody can really write the singular plot lines like Chuck Palahniuk and still manage to make it pay dividends. Not really. And in his recently reissued (for e-readers) expedition into evilly amusing satire, Survivor, Palahniuk does exactly that.

Survivor, which was originally published in 1999 as his follow up to Fight Club, keeps a brisk pace as the anti-protagonist, Tender Branson, races to his own demise (maybe). He certainly captured the tone of the time, a nation caught between taking pride in its ability to make everything seem larger than life and its disgust over making the most inane twice as big.

It still plays that way sometimes today, which perhaps is why Survivor reads as fresh as if it was published yesterday. Americans love to elevate the thinnest of personalities to the highest possible pedestal before tearing them down. It's almost one of the most spectacular spectator sports created, even if Branson is secretly more complex in his own way.

An anti-protagonist with a few complex and twisted layers of secrecy.

On the surface, Branson doesn't amount to much as a man. He's one of the last surviving members of a religious cult that committed mass suicide as the federal government had begun to investigate allegations of crimes against children.

Branson is one of them, sent out beyond the protective confines of the community to live a solitary life as a personal assistant/ house manager for the newly rich; people who couldn't eat a lobster without an instruction manual. Most of the money he makes is sent back to the elders. He's a nobody, born and bred to be a solo servant for the greater glory.

He's almost more complex, however, secretly taking delight in giving his outer world charges one-off instructions, maintaining their prized garden of stolen funeral flowers, and answering a suicide hotline with two catastrophic words of advice: kill yourself.

Branson might have gone on that way, happily miserable enough, for the remainder of his life. But then everything changed when he presumably becomes the target of the cult's cleanup crew — someone who is all too happy to assist any of those who escaped The Deliverance.

“Maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.” — Chuck Palahniuk.

By taking a page from the history of public relations (propaganda), Palahniuk offers up an escape for Branson. As soon as he becomes what most of the world believes to be the last "Creedish" cult member, Branson is invited to become one of those larger than life celebrities.

Survivor by Chuck PalaniukEverything has been prepared for him well in advance, starting with an autobiography prewritten as a composite of virtually every other cult that committed suicide. And since no one will be around to refute the sole survivor, the story of his sect miraculously matches whatever the ghost writers made up.

But that's only the beginning. Branson is destined to become a brand, one that the public relations crew has painstakingly crafted from market research to have the most impact and money making potential. All Branson has to do is adjust, lose a few pounds, receive a few treatments, and find his life managed by even more than the rigorous schedule he was forced to keep as a rented out servant.

Branson doesn't go it alone either. He stumbles across more than his fair share of adversarial allies, including the agent, his brother, and most notably the object of his desire — Fertility Hollis, a pale-skinned girl with fire red hair who happens to be the sister of a suicide caller that Branson assisted to his grave.

The first rule of any Palahniuk book is that there are no rules.

Much like with Fight Club, which blazed onto the screen with the help of David Fincher, Palahniuk is a master at translating his freelance journalist skill sets into writing tight novels (although he also credits Tom Spanbauer for a minimalist style). Some people even wonder how he can possibly pack so much into 289 pages.

Chuck PalaniukPalahniuk didn't begin writing fiction until his mid-thirties. He started after attending a writer's workshop, hosted by Spanbauer. Before that, he initially used his degree from University of Oregon's School of Journalism to secure a position at a local Portland newspaper before abandoning it to work as a diesel mechanic for Freightliner trucks.

Occasionally he wrote manuals on how to fix trucks and freelanced. He later quit that job to become a near full-time volunteer and a member of the rebellious Cacophony Society, which is said to have inspired Project Mayhem. And that is perhaps one of the most striking things about Palahniuk. He dares people to live life, not allow it to become meaningless by being a spectator.

Survivor By Chuck Palahniuk Flies To A 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Survivor is a fast read, quick page burner that continuously teases you along to see what's next, question what's real or imagined, and give up any preconceived notions that anything is a hint of where the story might end up. It's a classic in capturing his early work at marginalizing characters who eventually self-destruct.

Survivor: A Novel is available on Amazon and the book can be found at Barnes & Noble. You can also download the novel on iBooks from iTunes, which also carries the audiobook. If you opt for audio, make sure you listen to the sample clip by Paul Garcia. Personally, I would have never imagined Branson to sound the same.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

JEFF The Brotherhood Kicks It On Six

Jamin Orrall next to Neil Young's caddyJake and Jamin Orrall might be the sons of successful producer/singer/songwriter folk pop artist Robert Ellis Orrall, but they have unquestionably cut an independent and different path as JEFF The Brotherhood.

With the exception of a live album produced by Third Man Records, they've remained successfully independent with their free-spirited, partly-owned label, Infinity Cat Recordings. And recently, they signed on for a distribution boost from Warner Brothers. But even this new deal keeps everything, unmistakably, in their control.

"Everything goes through us, and we have final say,” Jake said in a recent interview. “It’s a very hands-on deal.”

The announcement of the new partnership with Warner Brothers came shortly after a groundbreaking 3 a.m. Moscow performance. And the move coincides with their new album, We Are The Champions. The label pairing isn't the only change to expect.

The LP is considerably more laid back than many of their earlier albums. It's also the most consistent across all 11 tracks, amounting to a serious shift in how the duo serves up music. Few of their previous albums carried as much cohesion.

We Are The Champions is packed with indie-infused laid-back garage rock.

Sure, Cool Out has a faster pace with its metal guitar and some punkish remnants in its pitch. Someone even complained the lyrics were too much of a rehash to be interesting, but that depends on when you've been introduced to the band. It's hardly tired as one of only two songs (the other is Shredder) that cross slightly into punk.

The balance of the album is laid back garage rock, more indicative of what excited Rolling Stone enough to classify Hey Friend as best new music (the first track on their sixth album). There's no rehash here; the lyrics touch on a playfully creepy family-envy story, set against some deep psychedelic stylings and riffs.

Bummer carries some of the same undertones forward too, meandering through heavy psychedelic guitar and tightly packed drum sets. Ripper too, which is largely an indie rocker with punkish vocals. What makes it most memorable is the heavy guitar and tempo changes, creating a decently complex arrangement.

Along with those mentioned, Mellow Out, Diamond Way, and Wastoid Girl (despite its early slowed down, extra heavy Weezer influence) are all worth keeping. And, when you add in their unmistakable chemistry and reputation for a recklessly exciting live performance, We Are The Champions plays like the opening of the next chapter.

If We Are The Champions is an introduction to JEFF The Brotherhood, there is plenty to discover, including early Be Your Own Pet (Jake helped found the band, before leaving after the first practice), fronted by Jemina Pearl. They've also worked with Ty Segall, who released his solo album Goodbye Bread yesterday.

We Are The Champions By JEFF The Brotherhood Shreds At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Jeff The BrotherhoodIf you like any of the songs, purchasing the album makes sense because you'll find yourself going back to download one more single until you own the whole LP anyway. It could also be one of the last albums featuring the duo on their own. In a recent interview, Jamin Orrall mentioned adding three band members to the lineup within the next year.

Even so, the brothers intend to call all the shots. Having fun and retaining control is more important than any other factor, even as longtime fans have followed their slow climb up from newbies to princes within the Nashville rock scene. We Are The Champions is available on iTunes. We Are the Champions is also on Amazon or the LP can be picked up at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Surfers Healing Opens Up For Autism

Surfers HealingA little more than 15 years ago, Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz (son of Doc Paskowitz) and his wife, Danielle, had an idea. They set out to share their proud surfing heritage with their son Isaiah. Except their son wasn't just any other boy. He was diagnosed autistic at age 3.

Nobody was sure what might happen. All his father knew was that the ocean was one of the few places that calmed his son. So Paskowitz, a former pro surfer and instructor, paddled out into the ocean with his son for the first time. They surfed back, in tandem (with Isaiah on the front of the board), together.

It was almost like a miracle for the family, and it had a profound impact on their son. The two spent the remainder of the day surfing together, an event that sparked an even more ambitious and adventurous idea.

Surfers Healing opens an experience to kids otherwise left out.

Out of his quest to find something his son could do with confidence and an activity they could enjoy together, Paskowitz discovered a mutually therapeutic experience and one filled with hope. Paskowitz and his wife set out to create a special program so they could share their personal experience with other parents.

Today, Surfers Healing travels the country to bring the surfing experience to autistic children. Typically, the full-day camp includes an afternoon of music, comedy, and art produced by children who have varied degrees of autism.

But it's the main event that has so many families turning out to participate — sometimes as many as 500 children for only 100 spots (which are reserved in advance). Amazingly, even among those who are initially frightened by the unfamiliarity of the boards, they calm down almost immediately as they enter the water.

"I truly believe the water is the element that soothes," Paskowitz has said. "Water, any water, makes a difference."

And for the rest of the day, they take turns riding the waves with experienced and sometimes well-known professional surfers, all of whom volunteer their time. In some cases, older children even learn enough to surf a small distance on their own.

In other cases, they might only have short ride but as Tim Haddock recently shared with ESPN, his son had fun anyway. And Haddock's son is not alone, as evidenced by the growing number of personal videos about Surfers Healing online, like this one.

Several professional surfers have been very supportive of the program. It's not uncommon to see pros like Sunny Garcia, Danny Fuller, or Clay Marzo, one of the most accomplished surfers and aquatic athletes in the world today.

Coincidentally, after years of surfing, Marzo himself was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, in 2007 at the age 18. Today, he is 22. Marzo is currently making a comeback after suffering a serious knee injury.

Izzy PaskowitzSince its first event, Surfers Healing has grown to touch the lives of more than 2,000 children and their families who participate at special camps all over the world. One of the next camps will be held over a three-day period at Campland on the Bay in San Diego, July 5-7. And while always subject to change, Surfers Healing has future camps planned through September with first-time campers being given priority enrollment.

In prior years, the camps were also open to brothers and sisters, but growing demand had made it more difficult to accommodate more children on a shoestring budget. Expenses to host the camps typically include beach permits, insurance, administration, and food for the families. Surfers Healing also purchases new wetsuits, surfboards, rash guards, life vests, and other equipment every season.

Surfers Healing For Autism Is A Good Will Pick By Liquid Hip.

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 picked Surfers Healing because Izzy and Danielle Paskowitz never intended to create such a vibrant nonprofit organization. Their original intent was simply to share their experience with the parents of other children who have been diagnosed with autism. And what they have found is a remarkable opportunity to open doors for children who might otherwise feel isolated and alone.

Even today, despite demands, Surfers Healing asks most donors to sponsor children, thereby reducing the cost of the camp and also helping the nonprofit to expand by offering more camps throughout the year.

Inventive sponsors have even sponsored bake sales, car washes, and barbecues, a few of several dozen grassroots ways that people have helped fund the organization. Surfers Healing also manages an online store with T-shirts and charm bracelets to help raise funds and maintains a Facebook page, helping to increase awareness for autism.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Redlight King Brings Old Man Around

Redlight KingIn the midst of reinventing himself again, Kaz (a.k.a. Kazzer a.k.a. Mark Kasprzyk) has stirred up some controversial dust related to his new single Old Man, which samples the 1972 original by Neil Young. The single was released in anticipation of the upcoming Hollywood Records LP Something For The Pain.

Most people love it or hate it. And it's very likely they will feel the same way about the Redlight King debut, which will attempt to balance and sometimes fuse alternative rock with rap rock and hip hop.

Although Kaz, under the name Kazzer, has done much the same, early samplings suggest rootsier material after hard luck and liquor derailed his career. More concerning might be how the song plays live, given that it was produced with significant studio polish.

Why the love it or hate it buzz up just doesn't matter.

Old Man was originally written for a man named Louis Avala (and his wife, Clara), who were caretakers for the Broken Arrow Ranch. Young first performed it live on a BBC broadcast in 1971 before it was released the following year.

When Avala asked Young how a young hippie like him could afford the ranch, Young mused with all sincerity that he was just lucky (perhaps as lucky as Avala to be there too). The song ties the two men together, considering that they are more the same than they could ever be different.

Although the song only reached #31 on the charts during the year it was released, Old Man has since become a folk rock classic and one of the most powerful of Young's career. It has been covered almost a dozen times, with most never coming close to the deep, emotive qualities of the original. It has also been featured in several films, most notably Lords Of Dogtown.

Redlight King reconnects a singer-songwriter with his roots.

While it has been repurposed several times, it has never been sampled (which gives an artist permission to take considerable liberties with any elements of the song). Young rarely entertains sampling requests so it was no surprise that Kaz was quickly denied on the front end. Still, you have to give him credit for persisting until Young heard the material.

As much as some feel the sampling detracts from the original, setting sentimentality aside might produce a different consideration. The embellishment connects a new singer-songwriter to a legendary one as much as it connects a father and son. It brings 1971 into 2011, and indirectly passes a torch between generations.

It's very unlikely Young approved the song because Hollywood Records is billing its new artist as stubborn. It's more likely that Young personally approved the sampling because, regardless of what others think about it, Kaz does deliver an impassioned recognition that everything he was reluctant to learn as a teen has played an important role in his life.

Old Man By Redlight King Stops At 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

All of this isn't to say that Young is passing a torch. Kaz has talent, but tends to be inconsistent, sometimes wavering from solid to sloppy during live performances. The same can be said about early acoustic previews of the upcoming album; City Lights and Come Back features brilliant songwriting but questionable live delivery.

However, as a studio single release without allowing preservation prejudice to color a pick, there is more than enough to like about it. You can pick up Old Man by Redlight King and Old Man by Neil Young on iTunes. The Redlight King version is also on Amazon. Something For the Pain is available for preorder at Barnes & Noble. It will be released on June 28.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jesse James As An American Outlaw

American OutlawI've never given Jesse James much thought. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of his reality shows Monster Garage, Jesse James Is A Dead Man, or The Celebrity Apprentice. Until recently, I didn't even know he owned West Coast Choppers.

What I do know about James is that he was married to Sandra Bullock. He also did something behind her back. And for that reason alone, I don't like Jesse James as a person. It's one of the reasons that I picked up his autobiography, interested in finding some redeeming qualities.

American Outlaw is filled with drinking, theft, betrayal, and regret.

James grew up in Long Beach, Calif. He never writes much about his mother; he lived with his dad and a string of horrible stepmothers. His father wasn't much better. It's clear he was abusive.

At minimum, James' father had no qualms about keeping his son out of school so he could help unload trucks at swap meets; laughing at and mocking his son over a broken arm; and accusing his son of setting the family home aflame (even though Jesse James did not). It was a final straw.

His early life framed up what James would later consider his two talents: stealing and playing football. Even today, his autobiography hints that James possesses pride over how many robberies he and his friend got away with, from cars to money to merchandise.

It was this penchant for stealing that eventually derails what could have been a promising football career. His eventual arrest and incarceration, ironically for the one robbery he didn’t commit (he merely stashed the goods), shut the door. And then a serious knee injury bars it shut forever.

James does attempt to trade up from a life of crime.

Fortunately, James decides to replace stealing with a more respectable career. He becomes a welder, a skill he unexpectedly finds measures up to his past talents. He is good enough that his work helps finance the opening of West Coast Choppers, which James quickly turns into a successful business.

He marries Karla, his first wife, and has two children. But he prefers to put more into his easy successes than those he might have to work at. They divorce, and James discovers a talent for drinking.

The fast track to instant celebrity on reality television.

Monster Garage propels James to instant success with reality star status. He banks on this visibility, marrying porn star Janine Lindemulder. They have a daughter, but eventually split. James describes her as so unstable that he is afraid of her.

For anyone who didn't know James after Monster Garage, they know he married Sandra Bullock next. Although most people consider the couple a mismatch, they settle into a comfortable and mostly normal family life with his kids. It might have been the moment James turned the corner, but eventually he gets bored and sleeps with someone (just one, he says in his book, contradicting interviews) at West Coast Choppers.

Today, he says that he realizes he made a serious mistake. But it will be too late. After the other woman comes forward to capitalize on James’ money and fame, he is forced to admit his misdeeds to a devastated Bullock.

His actions, screwing over one of the nicest people in Hollywood, will never bode well for any future likability. Even another trip to rehab seems unlikely to change that fact. After losing Bullock for good, leaving his children distraught, and becoming one of the most despised men in America, his book alone is the only thing redeeming, assuming it can be believed.

Jesse James: American Outlaw Steals A 2.3 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale

Jesse James is not really an American outlaw, one that can be feared and admired like his namesake. In fact, some reviewers have even called his book American Ass. Still, I will give him credit where credit is due. The book is an interesting read, mostly candid, and occasionally self-serving. Chalk up most negative reviews to people who make up their minds before page one.

Equal credit belongs to co-writer Sam Benjamin (a sometime independent filmmaker and author). It seems obvious that Benjamin is the person who puts the pieces together, capturing James' recollections nicely. Enough so that even if you don't care for the man (or maybe you do), it becomes a revealing read about someone who could have been cool if he wasn't his own worst enemy.

You can find American Outlaw on Amazon or download the book from iBooks. American Outlaw by Jesse James is also available at Barnes & Noble. It was published by Gallery.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seasick Steve Is Up For Old Tricks

Seasick SteveWhen people mention the blues, any number of names might come to mind: John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Lee Williams, Buddy Guy, and Fred McDowell. All of them are greats, those who rock and roll owe (and everything after) a fistful of gratitude.

Go ahead and add another name to the list. Steven Gene Wold, a.k.a Seasick Steve, is one of the greats. Never mind that no one heard of him until 2001 or that he got his first big break after he moved to Norway and was noticed in the United Kingdom.

Seasick Steve is as American as you can get, learning to play guitar from K.C. Douglas, one of the most influential blues stylists outside Oakland and San Francisco. Seasick Steve was only 8 when he first learned how to play; five years before he ran away from an abusive household.

Music took a back seat for Seasick Steve who picked up as a carnie, cowboy and farmhand. And when he didn't work? He was happy enough as a hobo (and, at one time, touring musician and clean-shaven studio sound engineer). But maybe that's why his newest album feels so full of life. He put 70 years of living into it.

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks asks why would you want to?

Seasick Steve stirs up something that only the best blues players ever muster. His raspy whispers, laments, and screams carry an eclectic mix that cross over in rock, country, and blues. The range he delivers with his ensemble of equally eclectic guitars match.

Who else can play something that resembles a Fender Coronado with only three strings? Or a one-string broom with a screwdriver slide? As mentioned, if those are the old tricks, it doesn't make much sense to teach Seasick Steve any new ones.

Although that clip comes from an earlier album, it helps drive home the idea that the hobo who might have inspired you to clutch your purse tighter happened to be one of the greatest musicians on the planet. He proves it too, all over his 14-track album You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks.

Every bit of it shares his passion and love for the blues, with a bluesy rocker like Back In The Doghouse, played on the three-string. Don't Know Why She Love Me But She Do carries a steady rocker beat in the back and folksy overtones. Write Me A Few Lines is one of two Fred McDowell covers. The other cover is Levee Camp Blues, with a fuller but not necessarily better sound.

John Paul Jones and Jack White make for great session mates.

What stands out about both McDowell covers is Seasick Steve is joined by Jack White (The White Stripes) on drums, giving Dan Magnusson some time off from the sticks. The bass, of course, has been set down this time by John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin and Them Crooked Vultures), making the Old Dog LP one of several marks Jones has made on music lately.

Other songs worth a listen include Days Gone, Party, and the super smooth Burnin' Up. The title song is another easy favorite for many people, but I mostly like it because it's true (and not the best the song on album by a long shot).

Vance Powell at Air Studios in London also deserves some props. So does Henry James Wold, who produced the album alongside Seasick Steve.

Seasick Steve And His Old Dog Has Bite At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There are moments that the album easily breaks into the 9s on select songs so the rating is only indicative of a balancing act. At the same time, it really makes you wonder. If Seasick Steve can create something timeless at 70, then what is everyone doing?

The album was released by Third Man Records in the U.S. Play It Again Sam is releasing the album in Europe. You can download You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks from iTunes. The album is also available on Amazon. Pick up the CD at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reinventing The V-Shirt With Affliction

AfflictionThere has always been a love-hate relationship with T-shirts. Everybody wears them, but few people consider them fashion. Not really, even if one of them happens to be your favorite.

It might have something to do with how they started. Around the Great Depression, it was the default garment worn by farmers and ranch hands. That didn't change so much until Marlon Brando wore one in A Streetcar Named Desire as a precursor to their popularity in the 1960s. Two decades later, the 1980s heat-transfer look made them uncool. It took the 1990s to rescue them again.

What to watch for this summer is a return to the retro styling of V-neck T-shirts. While it was common as a work shirt in the 1940s, the V-neck became more popularized for its sports applications. This time around, it's one of several detailing features that help take T-shirts up a notch.

Neckline cuts from split crew to V makes tees more interesting.

While designers have always wanted to make better tees, it has been the greater emphasis on the neckline helping some people appreciate the tee again. Affliction has known it for some time. It's how the clothing designer originally made its mark.

Warbird Squadron SS V-Neck TeeTheir new summer line has some interesting twists, but many of the designs look better with a V neck. The Cedar SS V-Neck Tee (above) is just one example with silver foil on black and the design offset from the center. But when you look at the greater body of work being done at Affliction, you'll see plenty of other elements in the mix.

When you browse the various designs, you'll note that some include black yarn stitching around the sleeves. Others include a seam down the front like the Warbird Squadron SS V-Neck Tee, creating the illusion of a button down. But all of them, even if the traditional scooped crew still carries the top tab, work with the V-neck stylings.

V-Stain TeeOf course, Affliction isn't the only one increasing its selection of V-neck tees. I spotted a Volcom V-Stain Tee sporting a regular fit V-neck to its line with allover stain pattern this weekend. And Ben Sherman had added an SS Henley T with 4-button placket with allover heathered detailing. Sure, the Henley is a design unto itself, but this shirt relies on the V-neck as much as the placket.

All of the T-shirts are 100 percent cotton. However, Affliction's blend tends to feel lighter and fit tighter than other brands. But once you know how the shirts fit, it's easy enough to order them any time, online or off.

A quick flashback to how every Affliction design gets its start.

While not everyone appreciates the designs, Affliction tends to fit because many of its T-shirt designs originally grew out of a concept based on tattoos and biker art. All of the designs start out as hand drawn black and white illustrations before coloring, layers, and dyes are mixed for the final designs. Their team has insane talent, often setting trends to watch for.

Originally opened in 2005, the company started with simple skull and crossbones designs before branching off into other Xtreme-related genres, including mixed martial arts. It was by sponsoring several UFC fighters that the small clothing line grew into the multi-brand company it is today.

The V-Shirt By Affliction Draws A Line At 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Affliction Clothing recently opened its 2,500-square-foot flagship store near its corporate home in Seal Beach on June 4. The opening was attended by dozens of tattoo artists, metal artists, and leathersmiths. Live music was provided by The Black Cloud Collective. While I missed the opening, I visited the store last week. It's smartly industrial and spacious.

The Cedar SS V-Neck Tee is available from Affliction Clothing direct for about $54. So is the Elevated Truth SS Tee ($58) and Warbird Squadron SS V-Neck Tee ($58). You can also find the SS Henley T ($59) at Ben Sherman and the Volcom V-Stain Tee ($22) from Becker Surf.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vanaprasta Unleashes New Rawness With G-

VanaprastaWhen Vanaprasta first debuted a three-track EP last year, the experimental rockers led by Steven Wilkin were notable for their light, airy vintage sound. Forming The Shapes was a breathy, soothing, and quietly near-indie rock pop release. This year, these Los Angeles-based indie rockers are bringing something more to the table.

Their upcoming album, Healthy Geometry, is more indicative of their brooding and blood-stirring live performances that alternate between sublime and sultry. Since they came together in 2008, their newer work shows how an otherwise unorthodox quintet has come into their own, with smokier, emotive vocals and more challenging arrangements.

The unpredictability of the sound carries itself throughout the album and within each new song as the band moves from smooth to smokingly aggressive guitars and back and again. If the critics thought they had something to talk about with Forming The Shapes, then the full LP will easily turn their heads later this year.

G- leads off the diversely intriguing LP Healthy Geometry.

Nothing could better illustrate the point than their bluesy psychedelic scorcher G-. The song defies genre and sticks deeply with its slurred guitars, suggestive lyrics, and multiple climaxes. It's salty, but even more so when it's cut to vintage untamed pinup shoots that add extra fire and brimstone to the set.

Although the LP isn't due out until September, Vanaprasta has been trying to build up some pre-preorder buzz by leaking singles available for free downloads on their Website. If you like what you hear on Skinny State and Minnesota, then you can always order an early 7-inch vinyl edition for $4.99.

Of the three the band is pressing right now, G- is a must have, followed closely behind by Minnesota, with its rich and unmistakable Pink Floyd influences. Minnesota also showcases Wilkin's vocal control, with the lyrics sometimes whispered, roared, and belted at various parts of the track. Skinny State is also worth it, even if it is uptempo and jazzy, much closer to but more emotive than Forming The Shapes.

The band gives a hand to finishing touches that made it more raw.

According to the band, some of the rawness in the upcoming album is due to their last studio session. In fact, guitarist Collin Desha said Minnesota and Skinny State were two of three tracks that wouldn't have ever been released without such influence.

"They ended up taking our record and bringing all the tones out of the mic with this amazing room sound," said Desha. "The result was us immediately sounding bigger, trashier, and much more raw."

Along with Wilkin and Desha, Vanaprasta also includes Taylor Brown on bass, Cameron Dmytryk on guitar, and Ben Smiley on drums. Those are only their principal positions, as the band members frequently switch up keys and samplers.

G- By Vanaprasta Smolders With A 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If G- and Minnesota, in particular, are any indication of the direction Vanaprasta is heading this year, the band will easily garner some well-deserved attention. It's great to see the musicians play dirtier, longer, and more aggressively while Wilkin unleashes his voice without any restraints like we heard last year.

You can pick up the previous three tracks on Forming The Shapes via iTunes. For a sampling of free downloads, including G-, head over to the Vanaprasta site. The band also has several other packages available for fans to catch up on their work. They are currently booking one show at a time this summer so check back often for live performances across the West Coast.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Super 8 Film Sparks Amateur Interests

Super 8With the movie Super 8 creating such a renewed interest in filmmaking, this summer could be a landmark year for inspiring future filmmakers. It's especially possible given the studio behind Super 8 has been hosting a Super 8 iPhone App video contest.

While the contest ends June 17, interest might not be confined to a short-lived competition. J.J. Abrams himself started a filming career with a Super 8 camera back in the 1970s. Spielberg did too, and both of them have said most of their friends had thought it was uncool. Fortunately, times change.

The grand prize is a Sony DCR-SX85 Handycam camcorder (except it's black). The Sony Handycam was primarily chosen because it represents today's version of the Super 8, minus its vintage coolness and Mac compatibility.

The Sony Handycam is a workhorse despite setbacks.

As a camcorder ultra-compact entrant, the Sony Handyman works well enough. It can capture 12 hours of footage. It also includes many popular Sony technologies, including SteadyShot image stabilization and a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens. Although the Handycam works as a still camera, most camcorders aren't suited for high resolution photos. This one included.

As an alternative, consider the harder-to-find Sony Water-Proof LCD DV camera. It captures images at 1080p HD and makes poolside and boating films without giving up HD quality. While I wouldn't recommend the cameras for dives, it does justify some image quality loss in favor of ruggedness.

The camera is powered by a lithium battery and features 4x zoom. Like many camcorders, it supports 30 frames per second as well as 60 frames per second when set to WVGA. Connectivity is supported by a USB cord and other formats (all cords included).

Smart phones change the way starter movies are made.

Since Apple upgraded iPhone 4 video technology, the need for carrying around a second camcorder is significantly diminished. The iPhone 4, for example, features 720p HD video recording, capturing up to 30 frames per second with audio.

Super 8But what really brings back some of the magic of filmmaking are the video apps that add a vintage feel much like camera apps helped recapture Polaroid photography.

Two apps are especially suited to this purpose, Super 8 and the 8 MM Vintage Camera. The new Super 8 iPhone App does its best to recapture the functionality of a Super 8 camera, along with the look of the finished work. While the interface styling brings some of the magic to life, one of the best thought out features is a horizontal frame while holding the phone up vertically.

Not only does this simple effect make filming more comfortable, it also eliminates a common problem for smartphone films: the thumb spilling into the upper corner. Other features, while fun, are a bit more cumbersome. The Super 8 app makes you go through the motions of "ejecting a cartridge" and "developing" the film. It also doesn't automatically share to your film files.

8MMThe better features are those that work more intuitively, like the choice of seven lens styles, including Chromatic. While seven doesn't beat the original 8MM Vintage Camera app, it seems to be just enough. The original 8MM Vintage Camera by Nexvio includes a 1920, 70S, Sakura, XPro, and Siena format along with five lenses that work with each camera style.

The net result is that the 8 MM Vintage Camera has more effects, more sound options, and automatically ports to camera roll storage with one single step. The only disadvantage is that the film has to be shot while holding the phone horizontally, much like you would shoot any video without an effect application.

Super 8 inspiration from the 1960s.

Of course, the original Super 8 film cameras were released by Kodak in 1965. It was the first time amateur filmmakers could enjoy 50 percent larger film and have the benefit of an easy-to-load plastic light-proof cartridge. The take-up spools were only 50 feet, giving owners about three minutes and 20 seconds of film per cartridge.

Typically, most Super 8 films were made with reversal stock, which produces a positive image on a transparent base. This avoided the expense and degradation of image quality using negative film and then copying to a positive. But in 2005, Kodak discontinued the popular stock. Nowadays, anyone attempting to recapture the Super 8 look uses a new ISO 64 Ektachrome.

Super 8 Scores A Retro Score Of 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Sometimes you can still find unused Super 8 movie film on the market, with its super saturation and wide latitude. The few places with Super 8 film left usually charge about $20 per roll. Originally, reels were as little as $5 and could work on $30 cameras.

The influence of Super 8 film cannot be underestimated: Ron Howard, Sam Raimi, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese all started with 8MM film. If you have an interest in picking up 8MM film as a hobby, make sure you visit for some great tips, techniques, and updates on the art.

Otherwise, you can download the Super 8 iPhone App from iTunes for 99 cents. Or try the original 8MM Vintage Camera for only $1.99.

You can also find the Sony DCR-SX85 Handycam Camcorder on Amazon. Or, the more rugged Sony Water-Proof LCD DV on, which also sports a broad selection of specialty video equipment.

Friday, June 10, 2011

We Are Augustines Raise Sunken Ships

We Are AugustinesWe Are Augustines is the result of two members of a broken band who took three years off to reinvent themselves. The wait has been worth it. There is something uniquely special here.

Their new album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, is a breakthrough indie debut for Pela veterans Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson. And now, joined by Rob Allen on drums, the new three-piece hailing from New York is ready to put the past behind them.

"The thing that finally broke up [Pela], was probably the thing that breaks up every band. For eight years we never really fought. Sure we had disagreements, but we always talked them out," Sanderson has said. "But in those last few weeks our strong personal bond cracked and we fought amongst ourselves. The minute that happened, the band was over."

The death, resurrection, and rise of a music career.

While the band was over, not all the work was finished. And as McCarthy and Sanderson continued to lament what they had lost, they eventually decided that the material deserved to be finished no matter what. And this time, as the Augustines, they would go it alone.

Taking a rough cut originally recorded in an old and cold Canadian church under the direction of producer Dave Newfeld, best known for his work with Broken Social Scene, McCarthy and Sanderson set out to finish one of the most personal songs ever written by McCarthy. Book Of James touches on the tragic life and death of his younger brother who hanged himself while undergoing psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia.

His mother had done the same years earlier. Also diagnosed schizophrenic, the state eventually put her sons in foster care. She later committed suicide; her body was discovered in a homeless shelter with a business card. It was from the local mortuary; her children's names were scrawled across the back.

Book of James isn't the only song that pays homage to the tragic qualities of McCarthy's early life and family. The entire album bends and twists around the grittiest corners of New York, Los Angeles, and even Mexico (where he had once traveled in search of his father). It's an album about facing struggle and surviving no matter the outcomes of everyone else around you.

Chapel Song is a slice of an incredibly raw, emotive, and deeply personal album. Although much of the material is constructed from McCarthy's experiences, Sanderson has an equally pained past, with family members suffering from drug addictions and mental conditions.

Although UNFD is releasing the album physically in Australia and New Zealand, We Are Augustines are hoping word of mouth can drive the independent biographical album, with all its earnest angst that ranges from cathartic to ferocious. It grows more gripping with every play. It's brave, brazen and near impossible to pick out only a few tracks.

Augustine, the song that the band is named after (McCarthy and Sanderson both have August birthdays), touches on how a family might try to hold each other up, even if they are unwilling to share the relationship with others. East Los Angeles breaks between the beauty and heartbreak of homelessness. Juarez is the story about an ill-fated trip to Mexico to find McCarthy's father. Patton State Hospital relives the confused anxiousness of mental illness. It's not the only exploration of it; the entire album tells the story.

Rise Ye Sunken Ships By We Are Augustines Rises To 9.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Nearly every track on the 12-song album is perfectly executed as the set explores trying to carry on with life. Underrated by some reviewers, Rise Ye Sunken Ships is certain to kindle a life of its own, securing a little piece of history along the way. Expect this one to be talked about for years to come as the album that will be cited as an inspiration in alt rock.

You can download the self-released digital album Rise Ye Sunken Ships from iTunes in several countries. It was recently featured as a pick of the week, with Headlong Into The Abyss included as a free download. You'll want to see the band live if at all possible. I caught them at The Roxy in May, and have been waiting for the album ever since. The emotional tugs hit twice as hard live. These guys are the real deal.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tom Holt Fills A Troth With Sausages

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of SausagesEveryone experiences a bit of absentmindedness from time to time. A sock disappears. A remote is put away. A once full cup of coffee is finished.

But not everyone experiences such events in a novel by author Tom Holt, where anything and everything can happen and usually does. For Polly Mayer, it's not just her coffee that goes missing. The cleaners where she dropped off her last coat is gone.

There isn't even a crater in its place. The shop has moved and the stores on the same block have closed in. She isn't the only one to notice either. Her brother, Donald, watches his neighbor vanish, shortly after wishing him away.

And then there are the cleaners themselves, a couple who seems inexplicably stuck inside their shop as it disappears and reappears in one location and then the next, day after day, year after year. But that's not the half of it. Just beyond their bathroom door, two knights have been fighting for more than a thousand years, which is considerably longer than it took for the pig to fathom her piglets were being swept in a temporal trans-dimensional gate.

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sausages is an exercise in the wonderfully absurd.

While many reviewers have frightened people away from this fantastic mind bender with warnings of too many characters, the book never descends into chaos even if the characters in it sometimes do. It requires a little faith in Holt, knowing that his entire cast is traveling toward the same destination.

They are. It only takes a little while to get there, which is precisely why his comic tale works so well. The ride is much more fun than ever reaching a destination, even if some characters become stuck in their own contemplation for a page or two too long.

chicken peopleIt's such ramblings that might explain why a few reviewers frame it up as nothing more than a satirical farce. I might too, but only as a compliment. Holt does a fine job juggling the point of view of about eight principal characters, some of whom are easy to mistake as the supporting cast.

All of them, whether they know it or not, are being tested. They are all being asked, directly and indirectly, one of the most pressing questions that has plagued humankind for centuries: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Holt manages to answer the question within the last quarter of the book, assuming you accept one or several answers that some characters entertain (and not become too hung up on the idea that the whole affair is really a metaphor for parallel universes folding in on each other, or maybe being contained within each other). Or perhaps, well, you know. Maybe not.

This may seem like a tall order to deliver, especially as the first character introduced at the open is a sow. But don't worry. You won't have to brave the wrangling over physics in between normal pig distractions too long.

The introduction simply sets the tone and the amusing (but not side splitting) absurdity of what is about to come. Well, that and the opening becomes apparently important several hundred pages later.

A Link Between The Author And His Past.

Tom HoltWhen Tom Holt attended Oxford, he primarily studied bar billiards, Greek agriculture, and temperamental Japanese motorcycle engines. And with such a dynamic skill set, as you might imagine, this diverse backyard qualified him as a solicitor (attorney) specializing in death and taxes.

But since there is no future in either death or taxes, Holt inevitably turned his attention to comedic writing in 1987. His name graces more than 30 wonderful books, almost a half dozen historical novels (that means five), and a few more odds and ends.

He is brilliantly funny in that he has mastered the craft of making fun of familiar. That requires a certain semblance of artfulness that not many writers can muster. In fact, he has said several times that he is striving to produce something that people call unfunny, but with a smile on their faces. With Sausages, he might even be close.

Tom Holt's Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sausages Carves Out A 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Lifelong Holt fans like to say Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sausages isn't his finest work. It's still masterful, regardless, with two caveats. There is no punchline per se, but only a final accounting ties it all up nicely. So don't expect an "ah ha" revelation.

Second, the craft outshines the characters to the point that you don't really care about them so much. One of them comes close to being something more than disposable, but this character's own formality keeps it in check. You decide whether that is good or bad, just keep in mind that you'll have some fun figuring it out.

Released earlier this year, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages can be found on Amazon. You can also download the book from iBooks or order it from Barnes & Noble. It's a quick read at 400 pages and published by Orbit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Barn Burner Doubles Up On Bangers II

Barn BurnerIt feels like Montreal-based (Bongtreal, they say) heavy rock/metal band Barn Burner released their debut album Bangers a few months ago, but it was really released in February of last year (earlier if you don't count the Metal Blade rerelease). Even so, some people seem surprised that the band was ready with another album quick on the heels of the first.

There's no surprise here with the release date. There is a surprise with the sound. There is no question that Barn Burner has Metal Blade proud with the follow up.

While the Bangers debut was a fine throwback metal album often described as stoner rock with all its obvious influences, the new album, Bangers II: Scum Of The Earth, passes out plenty of nods to the past but with an unexpected fierceness and freshness. They may as well be a new band. Everything about it is better, bumping them from average to a band worth watching.

Bangers II: Scum Of The Earth stands up where Bangers laid down.

Don't let the worst album title in the world fool you. The new album is heavier, with a whole more more guitar, bass, and innate contemptuousness. But more than that, the new album stands out in the genre for its renewed technical skill, tenacity, and intensity.

Sure, anybody who has savored heavy rock and metal will be able to pick up some familiar riffs. However, the entire project is more progressive than anyone expected, with a touch a punk that makes it more modern.

Hat tip to producer Adrian Popovich too. I'm starting to appreciate his fingerprints on albums coming out of Canada. This one especially.

If Half Past Haggard from the first album sounds about right, then Bangers II will give you something to look forward to. The best tracks on Bangers II are Dark Side Of The Barn, Brother Fear, and Gate Keeper. Crushing Defeat and Ghost Jam also have a down tempo groove compared to the rest of the album.

A little riff of history about Barn Burner.

The band originally formed in late 2007, but it took some time to get off the ground in a city Kevin Keegan (guitar/vocals) once said wasn't friendly to their type of music. Then the band had a major setback when their first label pulled the plug on the album and then a second label, New Romance For Kids, pretty much did the same.

When almost everything seemed like they would have to start over, Keegan decided to send a promo kit to Metal Blade, never expecting they would be signed. They were signed, which was immediately followed with a rerelease of Bangers and a tour schedule for Keegan and crew: Cameron Noakes (guitar), Nick Ball (bass), and Taylor Freund (drums).

In some ways, Keegan is right. Barn Burner really wasn't hard enough for Metal Blade to keep them with a prayer. But Bangers II is a different. Barn Burner clearly bumped up their game while remaining an underdog of sorts — underdog in progressive corners in that Keegan isn't a screamer nor is he someone from whom to expect a death growl. Instead, you get some clean, refreshed vintage metal, some chunky power chords, and now some Keegan sneers that fit just right.

Bangers II By Barn Burner Rattles The Ladder At 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Not everyone sees the evolution of the band as enough to break free from other 1970s head banging wannabes. I disagree because it's the pace of some tracks that sets Barn Burner on a different path. This tour-savvy, hardworking band has obviously put their earlier laziness aside and is ready to earn more than comparisons to their influences.

Bangers II: Scum Of The Earth can be downloaded from iTunes. You can also find Bangers II on Amazon and the CD at Barnes & Noble. They have a mini-tour up the West Coast already kicked off for the album release. And then the band will return to its roots, taking their new sound back to Canada.