Friday, July 29, 2011

Juliana Hatfield Grows Up

Julia HatfieldWith the release of Juliana Hatfield’s album, Become What You Are, in the early 90s, it was hard not to love her. Her lyrics were smart and observant. Her guitar playing was strong, Her voice was a bit little girlish but melodic.

Everything was right. She was right for the time, including the early MTV generation. In fact, her smash single My Sister was as much a staple on MTV as the song was on college radio stations. Another favorite, Spin The Bottle, enjoyed heavy radio rotation too.

On the edge of a whole new thing, an alternative rock scene that invited women artists to take their rightful places alongside the men, her timing could not have been better. Her second album, Only Everything, was equally well received and kicked off what might have been her most important tour.

Everything most people want when they grow up was hers for the taking.

And then the tour was canceled. Her label claimed nervous exhaustion, causing an unexpected hiatus that derailed Hatfield from her upward spiral and out the limelight. Add in a change in the way radio stations selected songs, and Hatfield quickly declined.

In her memoir, When I Grow Up, Hatfield reveals the real reason for canceling the tour. She was suffering from debilitating depression, severe enough that she contemplated suicide. And it's such honest and raw revelations that make the book such an interesting read. She provides insight into her own upward and eventual downward career trajectory.

In the memoir, Hatfield bounces back and forth to her days starting out in the business as a member of Boston’s beloved Blake Babies, as a rising solo artist, and then as an artist who used to be sort of big. She goes back and forth between the past and a 2003 tour, where she was joined by Freda Smith (of the Blake Babies) and Heidi Gluck in the trio Some Girls.

All the while, Hatfield contemplates what it means to have been the next big thing and then have it slip away. There is quite a bit of that, as her tour stories chronicle bad hotels, bad food, bad clubs, bad boyfriends, and a bad case of anorexia. She had a heavy load, revealing that touring is not glamorous and sometimes barely pays the bills.

But even through all this bitterness, Hatfield is grateful not to have had to get a “real” job. As someone who was never a spendthrift, she smartly saved most of her original windfall. And today, she continues to make music and release it on her own Ye Old Records label.

Julia HatfieldEven better perhaps is that she proved herself far from the fragile waif that some of her fans once imagined her to be. It's a story that she obviously isn't afraid to tell, creating a tale that is less a story about the end of a career as it is about change, acceptance, and persistence.

It's an especially good read for anyone who enjoyed her music in the 1990s or even today. Except that maybe, her music nowadays conveys that she has grown up. And you know, maybe I did too along with her.

When I Grow Up: A Memoir by Juliana Hatfield Gets A 6.4 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Hatfield's memoir isn't the only place to find an interesting glimpse into the artist. Her website provides lots of interesting information, photos, and snippets. You can also preview and download songs from her upcoming album, There’s Always Another Girl, which she says are unfinished works in progress, from her site.

All she asks in return is the courtesy of a donation; the album will be available on iTunes around Aug. 30. When I Grow up: A Memoir is available on Amazon. You can also find the memoir for the Nook at Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

25 With Sebadoh; 17 With Bakesale

Arguably the finest release by Massachusetts lo-fi pioneers Sebadoh, Bakesale has been reissued as a deluxe remastered edition. Deluxe is an understatement. The album sounds as fresh as it did 17 years ago, and with plenty of extras.

Looking back, it's almost hard to believe. What began as little more than a side project for one-time Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow way back in the 1980s has become a timeless and influential masterwork. The cost, his his spot with Dinosaur Jr., was worth it.

There is no doubt today that his firing turned out to be a good thing. It freed him to focus on what would become the slow burn success of Sebadoh; Barlow composing and recording tracks with guitarist Eric Gaffney and drummer Russell Pollard. Three years later (five years from the unofficial forming), Sebadoh III and a full-time tour schedule with fIREHOUSE helped them all earn a solid reputation in rock circles.

The early years were especially pained for Barlow, with side projects not nearly as common as they are today. And despite being a talented songwriter, he could never put these songs out with Dinosaur Jr. because he preferred deference to J. Mascis.

Bakesale turned Barlow's lo-fi side project into a band.

There isn't any question that Bakesale marked a change of pace from the Sebadoh's earlier lo-fi releases. The album included several unpolished and beautifully noisy rockers, most under 3 minutes.

Sebadoh purists (at the time) were less receptive. Some blamed the sudden shift on the departure of Gaffney. Others blamed the addition of drummer Bob Fay. Little did anyone know that "blame" was the wrong kind of word.

As much the sound marked a change in the lineup, it also indicated that Barlow's side project had become a band. Along with Fay and Barlow, Jason Loewenstein brought his considerable talents on bass, guitar, and vocals.

His fingerprints are all over the album. In fact, Loewenstein’s contributions musically and lyrically are just as strong as any made by Barlow. It may even be that the combination of these two talents (Loewenstein and Barlow) is what brought everything together.

As mentioned, Bakesale isn't just a reissue. It feature 25 bonus tracks (one for each year), consisting of B-sides, four-track demos, and acoustics. Barlow originally gave fans a heads up with a handwritten note, posted on his website.

As a refresher for those who never heard the album, Not Too Amused builds its way up to something sonic while Drama Mine (dramamine as it was called as a demo) boasts riveting bass and guitar. Magnet’s Coil is propelled by a driving beat, but the standout has always been License to Confuse.

The plaintive lyrics scream: “I'm not attractive today, I'm not a sight for sore eyes. I'm not an Adam or Eve, I'm just a nervous young thing.”

Hearing the album again is a treat. But it's everything else that makes the deluxe remastered reissue a true gem. The bare bones versions of Not A Friend and Mystery Man notwithstanding, there are a few odd mishmashes that will be endearing to anyone who loves Barlow and company.

Bakesale by Sebadoh Cooks Up 8.7 on the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The original Sebadoh lineup (sans Fay, plus Gaffney) has reunited for a tour and all the reviews are solid. They will have three dates in Australia this September before taking some time off. After that, Sebadoh will head back out for the Weezer Cruise on the Carnival Cruise Line “Destiny” in Florida. An odd venue, but strangely it works.

The reissue helmed by SubPop is one of the best music deals this year. Sebadoh released it for a regular price even though the a wealth of tracks and includes a digital booklet. Bakesale by Sebadoh is on iTunes. The Bakesale CD is at Barnes & Noble. Bakesale (Deluxe Edition) is also on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The HMC Project Is A Good Will Pick

Josh JohnsonEver since his older sister turned 30, Toronto-based artist and musician Josh Johnston has had a lot on his mind. For him and his family, every additional year they have with her is a gift. She was born with Down syndrome and juvenile type 1 diabetes.

Three years ago, he decided that maybe he could do more than provide support as a younger brother. He wanted to make a positive impact by raising awareness for both causes while providing other Down syndrome and diabetes families a banner of hope to rally around.

"I just wanted to create something unconventional, informal, but more comfortable for people like myself who wouldn't normally seek out traditional support groups and charities," says Johnston. "The result was a project that I want to grow, but slowly and meticulously, which probably makes my 'business model' pretty poor in the eyes of experienced cause organizations."

Initially, his plans for the project were quite small. Under the the unifying banner of the Hope, Music, And Charity Project (HMC Project), Johnston planned to compile a collection of original songs from various artists and release a compilation album, tapping the experience he gained as a member of the metal band Ever End.

While the HMC Project hasn't released a compilation album to date, the project has been anything but idle. In the Toronto area, the HMC Project has produced a number of shows featuring other bands and produced original music under the same moniker. At every performance, the HMC Project raises funds by selling logo wear, emblazoned with a design by Mike D’Antonio of Massachusetts pioneers Killswitch Engage.

The HMC Project attracts diverse artists for a common cause.

D’Antonio, who is also an accomplished graphic artist, designs and produces artwork for bands such as Shadows Fall, Unearth, and All That Remains under the name DarkicoN. Most recently, the design company finished commissioned designs for Hurt Reynolds Clothing. It was Johnston's idea to commission D’Antonio; and the fellow artist was more than happy to help.

"Most of my friends are well-versed musicians," says Johnston. "With their help, we're slowly putting together new material for the HMC Project and will hopefully release a few solid EPs for sale by spring 2012. Right now, we are hosting songs from artists [on MySpace] that have committed material, have performed, or will otherwise support the HMC Project. In some cases, they have also invited us to play at their shows."

Among the HMC Project MySpace playlist are two original metal songs — One Shot Left and Icarus — performed by Johnson and various friends. The band, distinct from Ever End, consists of four artists from three different bands. Bigger bands featured on the playlist include punk rockers Cunter (formally Hunter) and indie rockers The Almost.

"Guitarist Jay Vilardi made a great point in that while they do a lot of things for causes in place like Africa and parts of the world where people are less fortunate it's also nice to support causes that are local and hit home in a way," said Johnston.

While Johnston takes a think global, act local approach to his Toronto-based project, he also recognizes that the Internet makes it especially easy to connect with people all over the world. It's one of the reasons he and his team of close friends and volunteers have made a new website for the project a priority.

He hopes it will have more cohesion to push it forward, with streamed concerts, an online store, blog, and information about Down syndrome and diabetes. Currently, the HMC Project relies mostly on Twitter and Facebook, with MySpace serving as a gateway site of sorts.

"There is a very real potential for the HMC Project to also become an outlet for those seeking support and showing support for people with diabetes and Down syndrome," Johnston said. "Growing up, with the exception of my parents, I definitely didn't have anyone to talk to about my sister's diseases or how it impacts all of our lives."

He hopes the site as well as the project's local presence in Toronto might provide an alternative to traditional organizations that he hard a hard time relating to as a kid or felt pressured into making a donation. He would rather put forth the effort into something he loves, raise funds, and donate it to a different organization every year.

"The HMC Project has grown enough that we're almost covering the expenses," said Johnston, who has been funding the project since its inception. "I'm very fortunate that my friends [Dan, Brittany, and Neena] and I can deliver a project that feels big at events and online because the concept it so big."

Johnston is right. Hope can be a miraculous thing. Although his own band, Ever End, is currently on hiatus after losing a drummer, he will be gaining a bride this September. Equally miraculous, his sister will celebrate her 35th birthday this year.

The HMC Project 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 the HMC Project in Toronto because Josh Johnston has his heart in the right place. Currently, outside of Toronto, keep up to date with the HMC Project via MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter and watch for the website launch and future EP release. Inside Toronto, attend those HMC events and turn out to buy the merch.

Thanks to Rich Becker, who contributed. And happy birthday, Carrie-Anne Johnston. Your brother rocks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Black Party Politics Is An Emerging Artist Pick From Los Angeles

Eddie HenryAlthough they recently released a 5-track EP (with two radio edits) and have played scores of venues, Black Party Politics still asks the same question many independents ask. What's holding us back?

But unlike many bands, Black Party Politics already knows the answer. Until recently, they never had a permanent lineup, relying on a rotating rhythm section that often felt like continual tryouts. Along with that, for the last four years, they had to work harder at booking venues without the benefit of any recorded material in the competitive LA market. That all changed this year.

After a chance meeting with Chris Ramirez at a local trade school, where Eddie Henry (vocals) and Miles Safford (guitar) both work, they invited him to jam with the band for a few weeks. Those weeks paid off. The three of them, along with Bonnie McIntosh (piano/keys), stepped into the studio as a four-member band.

"The cool thing about working in a band like ours is that no one person can do it all alone," says Safford. "What happens most often is someone will come up with a theme and pitch it to the band and if it sticks, it becomes a song."

Sometimes the process has mixed results in that the band hasn't necessarily settled into a sound. The two most prominent tracks on the Hive Mind EP are the rockers, Blue Devils and Vicious Kiss. But then there is MK Ultra, equally strong, but almost feeling like it belongs to a different band, with a pop-soul fusion, until later in the song.

"MK Ultra is definitely a favorite song of ours," Safford said. "On one hand, it's kind of a laid back soul song with a groove and a smooth backbeat. On the other, it's a defiant rock anthem as the chorus kicks in."

The lyrics certainly keep it within the range, but it also lends to the sense they could easily move in any direction. Their live performances are sometimes like that; with pop, funk, and soul all tossed in the mix. They say that is what defines them — the synthesis of different music. There may be some truth to it, but the masterstroke of their work is rock with Henry's voice big, Safford's guitar free, and McIntosh and Ramirez holding it all together.

Immediately following Blue Devils, Vicious Kiss kicks up an even bigger sound packed with anger, payback, and the refusal to take shit. The band says it didn't originally begin that way. The song took shape like many of their songs do; this time from what started out as a simple chromatic riff played at a practice session.

"A lot of what the album represents to us is our attempt to push back against forces that hold us down, that make our lives heavy," Safford said. "Music gives us a way to lighten that load, a sense of control over feelings that might otherwise be overwhelming if we didn't have that creative outlet."

Playing LA can certainly feel heavy at times, with the band estimating as many 50,000 indie acts in the city at any given time. It takes true determination to move beyond playing anywhere and everywhere they were welcome — tiny venues like Joe's Pizza, Old Town Pub, and Zen Sushi.

Still, it's no surprise they kept pushing forward. Safford and Henry have been friends since high school. Even after Henry left for Cal State Los Angeles, they remained friends with Safford visiting for days on end. Somewhere in between smoking, drinking, throwing things off of roofs, and insulting campus police, they always found time to sit down and write a few songs.

Everything they did seemed to have potential. But the band truly took an even more serious turn when McIntosh moved up from San Diego on a soccer scholarship (she played goalie). And that's why their perseverance is no surpise. The band had the right cohesion with a lineup two, three, and now four deep.

Black Party Politics Hive Mind EP Buzzes Up 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Black Party Politics is looking forward to releasing the full album and has several shows booked through October. If you catch them live, there may be one immediately noticeable difference between their studio sound and stage presence. The EP paints the band as having angst. On stage, they come across much more like performers who want to have a good time with the audience.

All three tracks (as the radio edits are optional) off the 5-track EP are worth the download. You can download the Hive Mind EP by Black Party Politics from iTunes. You can also find Hive Mind EP on Amazon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Alcatraz Is Worth The Visit Any Time

Alcatraz by Richard BeckerIt's nearly impossible to look out over the cold blue waters of San Francisco Bay and not be taken in by the mystery, history, and isolation of it. Alcatraz (a.k.a. The Rock) is unquestionably one of the most visible and lonely places in the United States.

While located a mere 1.5 miles off shore, it might as well as be 105 miles away. And in the 1930s when the military fortification and prison was transformed into a federal prison, the men who were housed there used to wish it was farther out too.

It was not uncommon for the sounds and smells of San Francisco's high society to reach the island, reminding the prisoners on Alcatraz of everything they had lost. There was no way off the island. And unless you believe one or two of the five men who are presumed drowned made to the other side, no one ever escaped.

"There is a number of men in the prison mat shop that are planning to escape in the near future. They intend to use the dust masks that those men use while working cutting tires. They can make a regular diving mask out of them very easily." — #156 Frank Gouker

The opening lines of a letter, dated Jan. 31, 1938, was a plea to the first Alcatraz warden to get an early parole or be transferred closer to home, came almost one year before at least one of the men named in letter did try to escape.

Alcatraz CellsInmate 268-AZ Arthur R. "Doc" Barker, along with Dale Stamphill, William Martin, Henry Young, and Rufus McCain sawed through the window bars and made their way to shore. They were caught, however, at the water's edge. Two of them, Barker and Stamphill, refused to surrender and were shot.

In all, there were some 14 escape attempts from the island. The most famous of these is played out on the island several times daily with the aid of self-guided audio. The "Battle of Alcatraz" began when inmates took two guards hostage and resulted in a two-day standoff. Three inmates and two officers were killed; 18 more correctional officers were injured.

But not all of the more infamous prisoners who stayed there met tragic ends on the island. Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Alvin "Creepy Karpis" Karpowicz all met quieter ends after being released from prison, either as free men or transfered (as in the case of Kelly). But their imprisonments marked the end of Prohibition-era gangsters. It is also not the least of the island's timeless and historic connections to the past.

There are diverse high points across the entire island.

Even when first landing on the piers, it is easy to appreciate the sense of foreboding inmates must have felt. Before they even trekked up to the prison, they were given the long list of strict rules and expectations.

That long list was their first introduction that this island's reputation as a place to break prisoners by putting them in an intensely structured and monotonous routine was true. Every day there would be the same as the last. Enough so that everyone feels grateful there is a last ferry to catch.

#5. PRIVILEGES. You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else that you get is a privilege.

Map of AlcatrazBut while the initial greeting and main cell house are by far the most popularized, walking along the slope overlooking the officers' club, powerhouse, and water tower provide a quiet place away from the tour crowds and great photo ops. Likewise, the view of San Francisco from the lighthouse overlook (first lighthouse built on the West Coast) and deteriorating southwest path off from the pier is memorable.

It is in these places, away from the groups, that it is easiest to see why some believe the prison to be haunted. While many of the reports are confirmed — the utility corridor, cell 14D, and crying and moaning inside cell blocks A, B, and C — others suggest some hauntings may be linked to American soldiers stationed here when it was called Fort Alcatraz and others may be linked to Native Americans.

Native American stories are among the most interesting. The Muwekma Ohlone people once used the island for much the same purpose. Although they gathered food on the island, they also banished members there for violating tribal laws.

They also believed it to harbor evil spirits. Today, however, it has become iconic for their ceremonies, in part, to commemorate the occupation of the island between 1969 and 1971. If you never heard of the occupation, visit the well-worth-the-read story. Some of the occupation graffiti, messages written for the press taking pictures from boats, still remains on the island today. The Native Americans involved changed history, and themselves too.

Alcatraz Locks Up 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

For such a tiny island, it packs in more history than almost any other location in the United States. The National Park Service also hosts an Alcatraz Island museum. It covers three periods: as a military fort, federal prison, and Native American rally point.

Visiting the island is one of several high points of any trip to San Francisco. You can check airfare rates at Fare Buzz with flights up to 60 percent off. If you are especially interested in inmate experiences, check out the book Letters from Alcatraz by Michael Esslinger. It is history from the people who lived it for over three decades.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Dangerous Summer With War Paint

AJ PerdomoThe Dangerous Summer, named after the bullfighting book by Ernest Hemingway, first came together in Ellicott City, Maryland, with the expressed interest to produce an EP. They did that, naming it There Is No Such Thing as Science and sending it out to various labels.

All of it was good but none of it was very original as an alt rock emo release. It did, however, attract the attention of Hopeless Records. They were signed before the original members graduated high school and the EP was rereleased as If You Could Only Keep Me Alive, an album I mostly shrugged off.

Then something happened over the last five years as the band began to tour, cut new albums, record acoustic covers, and build their confidence. Emo and pop punk really aren't such good descriptions anymore. Most of their earliest influences seem left behind. And these four longtime friends have settled into maturity while producing their most compelling album to date.

War Paint progresses The Dangerous Summer into rock.

Part of the change can be attributed to being exposed to more music, helping push the band in a new creative direction. It's almost as if they discovered post rock for the first time. And all four of them have come along way from being four kids no one really had faith in (and had read Hemingway, but never The Dangerous Summer).

The album opens with the title track War Paint, a song about settling down after pushing everyone away to prove you can make it. It's this kind of genuine reflection that gives the music a hook to hang itself on. And it probably strikes a little bit at the truth, reflecting back on the days in a New York City bar basement and an audience of five.

War Paint isn't the only song that delivers some earnest rock. Work In Progress is about trust and strain placed on relationships. Siren is about loss, recognizing how we might take someone for granted until they're gone. And Parachute too, in its own way, carries forward the underlying focus on the moment after you break something.

The Dangerous SummerThose are among the best tracks on the album, but then there are the two acoustic covers of Work In Progress and No One's Gonna Need You More that raise the bar, especially on how much bassist AJ Perdomo has progressed as a vocalist. It's especially amazing when you consider he took voice lessons as a senior in high school.

Along with Perdomo, all of them have come along way to find their sound. Cody Payne (guitar, backup vocals), Bryan Czap (guitar), and Tyler Minsberg (drums), who missed two months of touring but made it back for the album. Notably, the band delivers a full rock sound and stronger, smoother transitions.

War Paint Makes The Dangerous Summer More Fierce At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Scale.

Longtime fans can expect to hear more from the lead guitar and a little complexity (but still fiery) drum arrangements. New listeners are going to find a band with tremendous potential and a whole lot of life left in them. Enough so, I plan to park my seat as close to the stage as possible the next time they play The Roxy.

War Paint by The Dangerous Summer is on iTunes, and Barnes & Noble has the vinyl LP. You can also find War Paint [+digital booklet] on Amazon. Don't be surprised if the album breaks into the top ten.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Paula McLain Finds The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife"I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her." — Ernest Hemingway

When Hadley Richardson ran away with an aspiring writer, matured by his experiences in World War I, in the 1920s, it almost seemed like a dream come true. The exchange rate made it inexpensive and the most interesting people in the world were congregating — people like Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound.

The young couple, hastily married in the States and funded by a small inheritance, rented a small walk-up at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the Latin Quarter. And it was there (and in the small closet-like room rented next door) that Ernest Hemingway began to hone his craft, in between the occasional journalist assignments, and Hadley supported him.

It was an exciting time in Paris, perhaps one of the most brilliant. The Montparnasse was filled with artists like Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Henri Rousseau, and Beatrice Wood. It also seemed like the ideal location for any future writer in a city where cafes rented tables by the hour. Writers like D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker had all taken up residence there. Why not a young Hemingway?

The Paris Wife glimmers with mentions, with a primary focus on the first wife.

Author Paula McLain paints a visual, visceral, and voyeuristic account of the couple, as told through Hadley Richardson's eyes. While fictional in tone and attitude, her work captures every possible corner of their lives, taking in details from letters, biographies, and Hemingway's own work to paint a canvas that spans six years and then some.

It was here that Hemingway would encounter some of his initial successes, but also fall prey to the darker side of bohemian Paris with its liberal views on marriage, affairs, and lovers. While nothing overtly promiscuous occurs anywhere near the opening pages, the trappings of a fashionable society (and Hadley losing months and months of Hemingway's early work while boarding a train) offer up a foreshadow of the tests and tragedy to come.

Still recovering from the loss of the work, Hadley becomes pregnant, prompting them to return to Toronto where they intend to have and then raise the baby. Hemingway himself considered the pregnancy and child terribly annoying, yet another hurdle preventing him from becoming the great writer he always knew he would become.

Hadley takes all of it in stride, sharing both torturous and tender moments but without ever becoming gushing. Sure, she is painted as doting on him with only occasional flashes of will that never quite match the emerging progressive, modern, or affluent women of the time. The real beginning of the end, however, takes place during their return in 1924.

Hadley will come across excitedly passive, perhaps too much so for some.

Although Hadley rarely minces words about people, the author weaves the story in such a way that she doesn't have to. Pauline Pfeiffer is painted as the aggressor and villain (an account that is sometimes unconvincingly refuted). A fashion writer for Vogue, Pfeiffer first befriends and then becomes an admired fan of Hadley, even encouraging her take her piano playing seriously.

And then, she transforms from Hadley's champion into a woman seeking Hemingway's approval and affection. It's near painful to watch, especially from the lens of a contemporary century. Although given an out in that it might have been unintentional, Pfeiffer changes from a dedicated friend to a third wheel and then, eventually, a mistress looking to win the young author.

McLain shares some of the affair in what can best be described as a brief interruption chapter (there are a few throughout the book). Such interruptions are probably necessary but bothersome at the same time (Hadley's autobiographical voice is the true driver and gem of this novel).

Where it works is the accounting of the affair; paper thin details that outline how the trappings were made possible before Hemingway tried to convince himself that affairs were as common to the Parisian culture as drinking wine or brandy. Where it doesn't work, it just doesn't.

Where it is most maddening, but true, is when Hadley, in an effort to save the marriage, agrees that the three can openly entertain the triangle and travel together to Pamplona. The forced arrangement slowly is where everything begins to deteriorate, causing pain to all three participants until Hadley eventually makes a decision no one else can.

A couple graphs about author Paula McLain.

It seems obvious McClain favors the depiction of Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast (which was edited by his fourth wife Mary Hemingway), which notably paints Hemingway as stable and healthy. She even alludes to the idea that Hemingway's womanizing may have been on account of trying to rationalize his first affair.

Paula McLain It's also suggested working on A Moveable Feast may have been a precursor or perhaps a contributor to his suicide. It doesn't mention his mental deterioration or paranoia. But it is clear that Hemingway, despite falling in love with another, never fell out of love with her.

This novel is a stark contrast to the witty and wise Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel, McLain's celebrated debut. But the story is no less engaging and easily makes you glad the economics student turned advertising executive decided to write novels. She currently lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, D.C., area.

Paula McLain's The Paris Wife Is A Magical Tragedy At 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

McLain originally stumbled upon the idea for the book because she wanted to write a novel set in the 1920s, which did lead her to A Moveable Feast. She was so taken by the young Hemingway, she eventually turn her attention to the biographies of Hadley Richardson. The writing is engrossing, but keep in mind the context. As a slice of life, it doesn't necessarily have a climatic lesson for a protagonist as much as a resolution. You know, like life.

The Paris Wife: A Novel can be ordered from Amazon or downloaded from iBooks via iTunes. You can also find the novel at Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is narrated by Carrington MacDuffie. This is a solid pick for anyone wiling to sacrifice traditional framing for a fictionalized account of Hemingway's early years as a writer told through the eyes of someone who loved him.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The London Souls Release A Self-Titled Debut From Abbey Road Studios

Tash NealThe London Souls might have been a mainstay band for Manhattan's Lower East Side and Brooklyn rock scene since 2008, but their smashing self-titled debut conjures up a Sixties-infused sound while remaining firmly planted in the here and now. It's rhythmic. It's real. It's powerful.

Fresh off of winning MTVu's Freshman 5 in early July, the power trio seem to be excelling anywhere people want to hear what heavy-handed classic rock and finesse can do for music. The timing was near perfect. Their independent album dropped a few weeks later.

That is not to say the band is going it totally alone. They've had a helping hand with producer Ethan Johns. After hearing the band's 5-track EP and then watching them play live a few years ago, Johns suggested they cut an album in the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. And where the band seems to have found a match with him is in that Johns listens for one thing when he hears music. He wants honesty.

Better than a throwback band, the London Souls produce honest music.

While the band also had one break, cutting a track for NBA star Derrick Rose and Adidas and being included on Ugly Betty, they own their music. There is an immediacy to it that goes beyond most studio albums. Some songs play as if the band felt their way through them, like they might on stage.

That is the truth of it, too. Johns had encouraged them to play the entire album live. And most of the 13 tracks were recorded on the first take, capitalizing on the improvisational nature of the band.

But even beyond what they did in the studio, there is something else. The London Souls are fronted by a guitarist who grew up on hip hop. But Tash Neal never found a connection between hip hop and the instrument he loved to play.

He did, however, find a connection in bassist Klyoshi Matsuyama and drummer Chris St. Hilaire. They feel their way around each other not so much like Sixties bands but rather players in a blues band from the decade earlier. Those old souls would play set after set until one of them could finally find that mysterious ether area where everything sounds as if nobody could ever play it that way again.

"I didn't want this to be a showcase for proficiency," Neal confirmed with the New York Daily News. "We were all concerned about making it about songs."

The Sound, Stand Up, and She's So Mad are album heroes, adding crunchiness to the deeper grooves of vintage rock. But the more popish Someday and funky She's In Control will provide a few fun plays too. Slower-placed pieces like Six Feet, Easier Said And Done, and Dizzy also lend a lot to the album, proving the band has more diversity than a single speed.

Likewise, while the Neal is a vocal powerhouse, Matsuyama splits some of the vocals with him and frequently lends great backing vocals when called upon. All together, it makes for a great album that can be listened to in entirety or split up a bit to make for a completely different experience.

The London Souls Rework Classic For 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Watching the London Souls over the next few months ought to be fun. Everything is clicking for them, which is where they want to be as they push forward. They are playing tonight (July 20, 2011) at The Bowery Ballroom in New York with guest Gonzo Jones. If we were on the East Coast instead of the West Coast, I couldn't imagine a better place to be.

You can hear the London Souls in full by sampling the self-titled debut on iTunes. The London Souls can also be found on Amazon. It's good news for music that this album is likely the first of many.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Monah Li Looks Beyond The Runway

Monah LiIt used to be that any time you wanted to rub elbows with a celebrity, it was as easy as breezing into the funky little boutique owned by Monah Li on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, just off Hollywood Boulevard. Anyone and everyone was there, where she succeeded brilliantly in a part of town better known for its coffeehouses.

And then, almost as quickly as it opened, Li shuttered the shop in 2001. The decision wasn't too difficult. Bebe had offered her a penthouse corner office and a substantial salary as their head designer.

Given mounting pressures — balancing an 8-year-old daughter, financial challenges, the shop, manufacturing company, and a demanding relationship with a Hollywood writer — the offer was perfect for the Vienna-born designer. Although she had gained ample attention for creating an artfully designed wedding dress for Alyssa Milano, everything behind the scenes was unraveling.

"It got to be too much for me ... and I felt like I was being saved from my daily worries and hassles," says Li, who just recently returned to the runway for a charity event hosted by the Women’s Twentieth Century Club of Eagle Rock. "I always wanted to work for a big company with all those resources. And after I finally had a green card, their offer was too sweet to reject."

Her position with Bebe only lasted a year (she still freelances for them), but it was long enough for Li to begin what she calls a reawakening. Li, who was struggling with her own serious eating disorder, was becoming disenchanted with the unrealistic world portrayed by magazines and her own expectations.

It is something she is trying not to do today. Nowadays, she only asks real women to model her clothes.

"I really want to show that all women are beautiful and I can help make this happen by creating clothes that bring out the individual beauty of a woman at any age and weight," she said. "This has really helped my business, creating a level of trust and interest that has set me apart from the standard."

The transition is especially noticeable on her site Monah Li. While some of her striking past collections were fitted to fashion models, her newest 2011 runway creations were modeled by friends and members of the Eagle Rock club. In fact, the lack of professional models reveals how unique her pieces really are.

There is a reason her work looks like one-of-a- kind designs. In truth, most of them begin that way. She designs an outfit that she would want to wear and then, only after she has created something unique, does she review which pieces have the potential to be mass produced. Those are the ones she eventually incorporates into her wholesale collection and are seen in fashion boutiques, clothing lines, and magazines.

Very little of it begins as a sketch. And even if it does, the work always ends up completely different from what Li sets out to create. She says the best ideas always come while sewing and cutting, even if it means making a mistake that eventually becomes an entirely new component. In some ways, this approach isn't all that different from where she started.

Monah Li designs"I've created my own designs since I was about 10 years old," says Li. "I did not have the resources to buy the clothes I wanted to wear so I started making them myself. By the time I had enough money to buy clothes, I realized nothing was better than what I wanted to create. Except Rick Owens's designs. I always changed his work the least."

It wasn't long before her clothing was noticed. And other women would ask to wear or purchase her clothes until, eventually, they easily found it in stores like Fred Segal and Traffic. And, along with those fashion retailers, celebrities would call her direct.

"One of my favorite customers was Stevie Nicks," remembers Li. "She is kind, lovely, and so vulnerable. I drove back and forth between my studio in Frog Town and her mansion in Pacific Palisades until her outfit for the Grammy Awards was perfect. She was graceful and grateful and I loved working for her."

Nicks isn't the only story Li can call upon fondly. Emmylou Harris fell in love with Li's reworked, reconstructed slips. Madonna used to by 30 or more dresses in New York. And Johnny Depp even sent her a lovely and funny thank you note through her then-boyfriend and now ex-husband, Jerry Stahl.

Appreciating the transparency of Monah Li.

Not all of her customers have earned Li's admiration, however. Priscilla Presley, Barbara Streisand, and Courtney Love all nearly stiffed her. Mariah Carey insisted on being squeezed into a dress two sizes too small. And Martina McBride not only haggled over prices, but demanded a free dress for her daughter.

Monah LiLi's transparency in the telling isn't surprising. She lives her life as an open book. Her blog — Fashions, Addictions and Love and column at The Huffington Post are largely sharp, uncensored, and straightforward (with the HP slightly more reserved). They have to be. She wants to help women appreciate they are not alone and how to turn bitter and difficult experiences into something productive and fulfilling.

Although she is a solid writer with a book deal and screenplay recently purchased by an independent production company, her real dream is to bring manufacturing back to Los Angeles by helping battered women transition into the garment industry. She even has a name for the business concept, Monah Li — Made by Angels in Distress, which would compete directly with what she calls cheap labor companies like Forever 21 and H&M.

Monah Li Designs Rock The Boat At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Monah Li designs frequently set the tone for sexy, Bohemian, and neo-romantics. But perhaps what's even more striking than Li's designs is her reawakening. The clothing collection seems to capture it at times too. She is more focused on designs that glide; and she loves how natural materials like silk, rayon, wool, and cotton can hold dyes.

You can sometimes find Monah Li designs with major labels, but she also maintains her own Etsy shop too. You can find it at Monah Li. The only thing remotely close are a few designs at Free People. But even then, there isn't anything like the one-of-a-kind real deal.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gillian Welch Darkens In Harrow

Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch fans have seen their wish come true — she finally released her first album since 2003. Some might even wonder what they wished for, especially if they were expecting a repeat of 2003’s Soul Journey.

There isn’t a band. There aren't any electric guitars. There isn't anything to compare to 2003.

Instead, The Harrow and the Harvest returns Welch and musical partner David Rawlings to their earliest folk roots.

So while Welch’s music has always felt firmly entrenched in sun-dappled Americana, particularly the American South, The Harrow and the Harvest seems to be from somewhere else. It might even be from the hidden back roads of Tennessee and American folk.

The Harrow and the Harvest is definitely her darkest work, and also the most raw.

Neither Welch nor Rawlings is from the South or Appalachia, but you’d never know it. Welch grew up in California (Hollywood, even), where her parents did the music for The Carol Burnett Show.

She then met Rawlings while both were attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And then they eventually moved to Nashville as a professional duo to be closer to the music and the influences that have shaped their music.

For The Harrow and the Harvest, Welch and Rawlings opted to go with an all-acoustic set framing up songs that are bare and bittersweet, sketched out with his guitar and her voice. The result is a graceful CD that is intuitive, delicate and complex.

These songs aren't full of joy. But then again, they aren’t meant to be. The theme, if there is one, is about knowing when it’s time to move on and let go of the past. You can hear it most prominently in the song The Way It Goes. Scarlet Town is also dark, bleak. But Six White Horses does ring in with banjo and harmonica for good measure. Those are the three to keep.

Welch and Rawlings sound as resilient as ever. So where were they between this CD and the last? Mostly, they were touring, writing, and appearing on other people’s records.

They also released A Friend Of A Friend under the band name Dave Rawlings Machine. It sounds very much like a Welch album, with the bulk of the harmonies switching to the tuneful Rawlings. Seek it out if you're longing for that older sound. It's worth it.

The Harrow And The Harvest By Gillian Welch Sings In With A 7.7 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It’s no wonder to me why Welch has been called a national treasure. She seems disinterested in commercial success and more focused on the purity and honesty of her music. Those are the singers, musicians, and songwriters to watch. Even if they never have a commercial windfall, you can bank on the fact that someone else will eventually credit them for one.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are currently on a U.S. tour, which will culminate with a Dec. 1 show back in their adopted hometown of Nashville as they play the celebrated Ryman Auditorium. You can find The Harrow and the Harvest on iTunes. The CD is also readily available at Barnes & Noble or download The Harrow and the Harvest from Amazon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Monkee Business By Eric Lefcowitz Doesn't Monkey Around

Monkee BusinessThere are plenty of legends and urban myths about the Monkees, ranging from Liquid Paper to Charles Manson. But do you really know which is which?

It’s true Monkee Michael Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper. It’s true Stephen Stills auditioned to be on the show but was rejected over a receding hairline and bad teeth. It’s an urban legend that Charles Manson auditioned. He was in jail.

Monkee Business pulls out plenty of stops.

There have been dozens of books written about the band. But in Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band, author Eric Lefcowitz pulls it all together from the group’s casting call beginnings to their touring schedule today.

He starts at the very beginning, with Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider and their Raybert Productions. Some people say the concept was a made-for-television knock-off of The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night movie. But Rafelson always claimed his concept for what would become the show The Monkees predated it.

Whether or not that is true, the duo did have a carefully crafted plan, which included auditioning actors and musicians to create a specific mix of characters. They settled on two of each: actors/entertainers Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz and musicians Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith.

Rafelson and Scheider were very adept at marketing. Before the first show ever aired, they released several singles by The Monkees. As soon as they hit the airwaves, the songs created a buzz for the show’s debut. It all paid off. The show and record combination made Monkees albums outsell the Beatles. The show also earned two Emmy Awards.

We recently found a rare clip of the original opening for the pilot. As noted on the video, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart sang on this clip. When the show aired, the Monkees took over with more energy and antics.

The secret to their success was kept under wraps.

As more and more success was lavished on the Monkees so was increased media interest. And this is where Rafelson and Schneider made their fatal mistake. They wouldn’t allow interviews for fear that the media would discover that the “band” had been prefabricated.

To make matters worse, the band didn't play the instruments on their debut record. (They did sing and Nesmith did write and produce some songs.) Back then, and sometimes today, it isn't uncommon. Not all bands play every instrument on their records. But there was one difference between the Monkees and groups like Sonny & Cher. That latter never implied that they played every instrument. The Monkees looked, acted, and played like a band.

For all their efforts to keep the prefab beginnings under wraps, musicians Nesmith and Tork eventually raised hell and demanded more creative control over the music. That's when the damage was done. Nesmith offered up scathing comments in an interview about being shut out musically. Their cover was blown forever.

The Monkees arguably proved they had more talent than anyone might have imagined, even Rafelson and Schneider. There is some poetic irony in that fact, given that had the Monkees had less talent nobody would have cared. And today, people don't care so much because, regardless of the initial fallout, the Monkees did capture the innocent side of the late Sixties and perhaps early Seventies.

A nod to the author for an expose on egos.

Lefcowitz, a self-described Monkees historian who began writing in the early 1980s, released his first book The Monkees Tale in 1985. MTV exposure helped make the book a best seller, launching his career.

Eric LefcowitzHe does a fine job with the book and with the facts, but loses some credibility with spotty editing (typos), an increasingly common problem in publishing today. Where he does a nice job, however, is in exposing the personalities and egos of the four Monkees, including grabs for the limelight.

The show ended, but the band played on. At least, it did until only two Monkees were left standing. Then, in 1980, Nesmith had his breakthrough concept for a music video show called Popclips, giving birth to MTV.

The real payback comes from a rebirth of the Monkees on the ideal Schneider, ironically, helped push forward. In 1986, MTV ran a marathon of back-to-back The Monkees episodes, exposing the band to new fans and pushing seven of their albums back on to the Billboard charts. Pretty amazing.

Monkee Business By Eric Lefcowitz Chimes In With A 3.8 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Along with Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band, there are some other artifacts worth mentioning. Rhino Entertainment has one of the best collections on its Monkees Music Box, complete with a reissue of the original albums along with tracks from the reunion. The best of it includes Of You, an ultra-rare 1966 mix. Other artifacts include a U.S. flag screen print and Monkees giclee canvas print signed by Micky Dolenz (limited to 100). Wolfgang's Vault has vintage Monkees posters, crew passes, and memorabilia too.

Of course, Dolenz, Tork, and Jones continue to perform solo and together. Tour dates are listed on the site Author Lefcowitz contributes the occasional article there as well. Nesmith also continues to explore multimedia on his own via VideoRanch.

Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band is on Amazon and the Monkee Business Nook book can be found at Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Listen To Oax Go The Distance

OaxGiorgio Angelini has spent what seems like a lifetime looking for the right home. He played bass for The Rosebuds. He played bass for Bishop Allen. And then he fronted the two-piece band 1986 with longtime bandmate Cully Symington (Okkervil River).

His band 1986 had real promise, producing two albums. The second album especially, Everybody Is Whatever, never got the attention it deserved. Maybe Okkervil River knew it too, which is why they added Symington to the roster. (That and 1986 had some shakeups.)

No matter. Being left without a bandmate didn't detour Angelini. In less than a year, he moved on to another indie project; this time alone under the band name Oax. The release is an EP, which Angelini is hoping sells just enough to fund an album.

The Distance by Oax showcases Giorgio Angelini's relentless talent.

All of it is turning out to be a good thing. Angelini has only gotten better as a singer/songwriter without sacrificing any of his ability to drop in some power chords when he feels it works. Sometimes it works. And sometimes it isn't needed.

As an independent outing, The Distance is ripe with diversity. It's a richly layered semi-confessional that he even describes as "like reading a children's book written by Charles Bukowski." While I'm not sure the analogy holds up to scrutiny, it hardly matters. It's easily one of the best debuts this year.

All five tracks from the new EP are worth the download.

Pretty Good Start kicks off the album with a folksy opening before Angelini introduces easygoing vocals, perhaps reflecting on his initial decision to take a break from music and go back to graduate school. Obviously, he did more than study over the last several months. He hit his home studio and began producing an EP with the help of Ivan Rosebud (The Rosebuds).

Just don't mistake Pretty Good Start as indicative of the overall sound. Angelini changes things up on every track and even these five songs don't reveal everything. The only way to know is to catch him live because there isn't much on Oax as a new band. Still, we did find one live performance clip from the Granada Theater in Dallas. This one isn't even on the album.

Aside from Pretty Good Start, its polar opposite — Liar, Cheat, Jerk — provides a much more raw and indie rock sound, cut up with lyrics of inflexibility. Scoundrel carries the edgy sentiment forward, where Love and Crashing is much more reflective.

The added fifth track proves that although Angelini is certainly onto something as a solo band, he doesn't have to go it alone. In addition to Rosebud, he did an amazing job tapping his ties to Austin. Sutures includes Chris Simpson (Mineral) and Jim Eno (Spoons), providing the perfect closer to a near-perfect debut from this big Houston-based talent.

The Distance By Oax Goes Further Than Expected At 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Unless something comes up, Oax will be the best possible playground for Angelini. He hears everything differently, creating a sound that isn't always noticed but is certainly a cut above. Much like what was said about 1986, all Oax needs is the few hundred people who bought the album to tell at least ten friends. We've got our friends covered. How about you?

Pick up The Distance by Oax from iTunes. The Distance is also available at Amazon, where you can find the CD. And keep your ears open for more performances in Texas.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Second Look At Barney's Version

Although independent film Barney's Version may never recoup its production budget, it will remain one of Paul Giamatti's finest performances albeit buried in an obscure slice-of-life confessional genre (sometimes called a dramedy) that the public seldom if ever embraces. And then add a length that sometimes makes the movie feel more epic than it is.

Barney's Version is best described as a four-act film with the fourth act serving as the mechanism to interweave the three previous acts about the life of Barney Panofsky. This may also be why filmgoers never sought out the film.

After the shortest first act sets the film up as darkly funny, each subsequent act becomes increasingly longer and more melodramatic until it descends into a full-fledged drama, leaving an inexplicable empty and hollow space. But that's not necessarily bad.

Barney Panofsky's life is a fictional biopic of one man's life.

Panofsky is an impossibly ordinary producer of a Canadian soap opera beset by the early stages of Alzheimer's, which makes his telling of any story somewhat suspect. After a slow introduction, the first act picks up on Panofsky in Rome with four friends, about to make what he sees as a noble move in marrying a free spirit (Rachelle Lefevre) who is about to become the mother of his accidental love child.

With all the promise of being darkly funny, Panofsky marries her just days before learning that the baby is, irreconcilably, not his but the seed of his black friend. While his acid-tongued first wife is surprisingly remorseful, she might have tried to make the ill-fated marriage work if not for her hidden chronic depression and an overlooked apology card to Panofsky.

Act two sends unsettled Panofsky into the arms of an attractive, educated woman (Minnie Driver) from an affluent and formally stiff family. But for all these admirable exterior qualities, she turns out to be a surprisingly talkative, naggy, and shallow shopaholic. Still, their doomed relationship is hardly her fault alone as Panofsky falls head over heels in love with a wedding guest (Rosamund Pike).

Although the incessant long-distance pursuit is drawn out and awkward, he eventually gets his chance to build the life he always wanted after he catches his lifelong friend (Scott Speedman) in bed with his second wife. The one-time meaningless fling while his friend was recovering from various addictions becomes the grounds for his divorce and leads to the questionable and unexplained death of his friend.

Where the film works is the dozens of vignettes that delve into individual perspective and perception. It's all too easy to cast Panofsky as an affable character undone by circumstance and insecurity or judge him as a narcissistic and ungrateful buffoon who makes one poor choice after another.

The choice is yours. A case can be made to love or hate any of the characters, with perhaps the exception of Panofsky's politically incorrect father (Dustin Hoffman). He is a hero in faithfully standing by every decision his son makes, for better or worse.

A Nod To Lewis, Lantos, Konyves, And Richler.

Barney's Version is the adaptation of Canadian author Mordecai Richler's last novel. What is most striking about the original work is the near autobiographical accounting of it, which brushes up against Richler's own life.

Michael Konyves delivers a fair and solid treatment of the work, a surprising and serious uptick from his sci-fi television movies. Along with him, Richler fan and veteran producer Robert Lantos seemed to help elevate everyone involved. As director, Richard J. Lewis does a fine job in his return to film after nearly six years of television work. His experience as a writer no doubt helped; he had convinced Lantos to give him a shot by doing the adaptation on spec.

Barney's Version Lives At 3.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While it is true the movie lags at times and drifts in and out of believability, leaving little direction in how anyone might come away from the film, this same quality makes an honest treatment of life, with all of its clumsiness. The overall effect is a timeless piece of work with some sharp performances smartly shot, scripted, and delivered.

If you never mind how it was marketed (sometimes as a romantic comedy, which it is not), you'll likely think of it as a gem of an indie film that's not for everyone but will be surprisingly timeless for some. It's not a great movie, but it is an interesting story in its ability to make human frailties seem understandable and deplorable at the same time.

Barney's Version is available on iTunes. The two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo is available from Amazon and the film can be found at Barnes & Noble. You can also find the book on Amazon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Handsome Furs Rips From Reality

Alexei Perry and Dan BoecknerWhen it comes to coloring outside the lines, Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) and his wife Alexei Perry have always done so in big bold and meaty strokes. Their new LP, Sound Kapital, pushes outside even further with its electronic leanings and provocative content.

Most people will probably miss the guitar emphasis that became part of the Handsome Furs videos at first. It's still there in smaller doses, sometimes as white noise, with the whole of the album serving as a reminder that Boeckner appreciates playing to the unpredictability of his craft. You won't miss the guitar for long.

There is a refinement here moves even further away from Boeckner and the rattling indie sound of Wolf Parade. Some of the album can even be called subdued or restrained but no less urgent. What About Us? is even trending with a video that prompted SubPop Records to release a censored and uncensored version.

Kapital Sounds has urgent meanderings and a smooth finish.

The supportive role of the guitar is sometimes diminished to a distorted undertow with Perry's keys and synth taking on a prominent role, second only to the lyrics. It's the lyrics where Boeckner puts all of his focus, creating a restrained urgency. It also reinforces how much of his talent and genius come from being a confident and convicted songwriter.

According to SubPop Records, it's all by design. Boeckner wanted to prove once again that electronic isn't detached from the human experience. (They even conjure images of Wendy Carlos accompanied Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian vision of A Clockwork Orange.) And, on Sound Kapital, they reject the myth with every fiber of their beings.

The ten-track bonus album (the tenth track Agony is a must have) is a fully engaged and fresh expression for the duo. It also allowed Boeckner to write on the road, fitting all of their compact gear into a subcompact or less before exploring the world.

The deliberatecy of the human experience.

Case in point: Damage incorporates samples of radio broadcasts concerning a Hong Kong hostage situation not because the Handsome Furs had something to say about it but because they were in the Philippines while it unfolded. It is part of the inspiration behind the album. Boeckner and Perry both wanted to learn something about bands that didn't want to escape to sun-drenched paradises to write material.

So where did they go? Repatriated and Cheap Music were inspired by repressed regions like Myanmar and the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. Their journey also included stops in South America, the Far East, and Eastern Europe. They visited crowded, pulsing cities in China and Korea. And they welcomed it all as blank slates wanting to better understand the world.

The cleaner sound can be attributed to the compositions as well as the mile deep team behind it. It was recorded in Montreal, preserved at Hotel2Tango, mixed at Kaiku Studios, and mastered back home in Montreal. Howard Bilerman, Arlen Thompson, Antti Joas, Jonas Verwijnen, and Harris Newman all had their hands on this one.

The best tracks include Serve The People, Repatriated, Bury Me Standing, No Feelings, and What About Us? If anyone hears hints of a retro vibe, the biggest throwback would probably be the bonus track. And personally, that one is my favorite on the album.

Sound Kapital By The Handsome Furs Rips Reality At 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is undoubtedly a lot of ugliness within the album, but not in the arrangements. The album is easily more mature, deliberate, and dark. It may even be named after photographer Matthew Neiderhauser's book Sound Kapital: Beijing's Music Underground.

Sound Kapital is readily available at iTunes or you can download the Sound Kapital album from Amazon. Barnes & Noble has the CD and a vinyl edition. You can also sign up for a free download of Repatriated and What About Us? on the SubPop Records Handsome Furs page. Enjoy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Go Bold With 83 990 Or Stay Home

Everyone likes to talk about how things are changing fast. Yeah, they may be right. But some things that were true yesterday are still true today. Count some of the best beaches in the world among them. Even California can sometimes find it hard to beat the French Riviera.

As the proverbial playground for Europeans (and some Americans), Saint-Tropez remains a steadfast hot spot for summertime. It's the same locale where Brigitte Bardot was discovered in the 1960s. And even before her, painters like Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, and Albert Marquet all helped set the foundation to create a timeless artist community as well.

It's also the home of a new brand of swimsuit that dares men to go bold or stay home. Although only two years old, 83 990 Tenue De Plage has already opened stores on the Puetro Banus Marina in Marbella, Spain, and another at Marina Bay Sand in Singapore. The numbers, by the way, are a nod to the infamous postal code.

83 990 Tenue De Plage delivers retro elegance for men.

Not everyone in the U.S. is taken by the styles created by a true Saint-Tropez native because many of the surf brands have calmed down in recent years. Still, the bold colors (even bolder in Europe) aren't the only consideration. The fit of this casual classic style is a hit.

83 990 Tenue De PlageThe designs capture the more playful and fun resort beaches up and down the Mediterranean and the growing number of Asian resort destinations. And, given the retro fascination stateside, I wouldn't be surprised to see more brightness along both North American coasts.

The shorts, which are part of the Jeff collection, are pretty straightforward. They are modeled after a classic mid-length design, made with a nylon fabric and cotton mesh. They have a vintage button fly with two side pockets and a back pocket.

In addition to the pink pattern, other designs include a washed out blue floral, teal floral, and retro newsprint emblazoned with the Saint-Tropez name. Technically, the newsprint pattern is part of the James collection, but it all works.

Another interesting aspect to the U.S. design is that they have a longer cut; no doubt inspired by the American preference for board shorts. The slightly longer leg only adds about an inch to the length while creating a stitch break where the European styles are normally cut.

Roda83 990 Tenue De Plage is not the only European designer adding brighter and bolder colors this summer. Roda has released a few new patterns too.

The multi-colored floral is certainly the loudest look. However, Roda will also be realizing something simpler soon, a white on blue and white on brown floral repeat. It also has a green pattern, but the added flare to the cut just doesn't work.

A couple minor but noted differences to the two brands. Roda caps off its drawstrings with metal fasteners. 83 990 Tenue De Plage ties them off with a tough orange thread. Both solutions are better than what I remember as a kid when classic drawstrings were usually knotted on the end and called good.

The other difference is the material. The Roda shorts are a polyamide material that leans almost more cotton in its feel. 83 990 Tenue De Plage is nylon (also a polyamide) but feel exactly how you expect nylon to feel. Aside from those minor differences, both designers are trying to provide a contemporary look with a nod to the early 1960s.

83 990 Tenue De Plage Swimsuits Tear A 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Much like I thought the 1950s women's swimsuits from Cath Kidston put an interesting twist on the summer, guys can brighten up their beachwear too. Match this swimsuit with a solid colored shirt, even white with a simple design (if any), and it ought to pull together nicely.

A few 83 990 Tenue De Plage and Roda swimsuits can be found at Tessabit, which has a long history as a fashion boutique in Como, Italy. The savings offered by Tessabit will easily offset any shipping charges. The store delivers globally and has a built-in currency option for dollars, pounds, or Euros.

They carry several 83 990 Tenue De Plage swimsuit styles. Tessabit also carries several styles from Roda. Prices range from about $124 to $142 U.S., usually discounted around 30 percent (a savings better than U.S. stores).

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Story So Far Revs Punk Pop

The Story So FarAfter several EPs, splits, and false starts, The Story So Far is finally out with an LP from Pure Noise Records. When I heard of this pop punk band last year, I didn't expect much. They're named after a New Found Glory song. The heavy influence is apparent.

Originally The Story So Far came across more pop than punk on its earliest split with Maker, but the debut album Under Soil And Dirt changes that up a bit since their beginnings in 2008. It's a welcome surprise too, especially since many pop punk bands have sagged lately.

All in all, it is the added angst that works for me — straightforward songs belted out with as much angst as possible. It feels more authentic too, as most of the members have exited high school and started getting on with their lives. Two of the members don't even live in Walnut Creek anymore.

Under Soil And Dirt twists pop punk into punk pop.

Perhaps the distance between the longtime friends is a blessing for them in disguise. The entire album was written ad hoc, with three of the members — Kevin Geyer (guitar/vocals), William Levy (guitar), and Ryan Torf (drums) — jamming together, making demos. The demos were then passed off to Kelen Capener (bass/vocals) and Parker Cannon (vocals), who added their parts.

"When we went into Panda, we had no idea what Kelen or Parker had written, everything was a surprise for us," Levy told Pop-Punk's Not Dead in January. "It was a treat most of the time."

They weren't the only ones surprised at times. Capener was also in the dark until showing up to the studio. They didn't know what might have to change once they sat down with Sam Pura at The Panda Studios. What did change, we many never know. But what we do know is how it all turned out.

No, they haven't lost their shirts. But finding any quality performances online is painful, especially with other bands claiming the same name (and they are not nearly as good.) Pure Noise Records has posted Mt. Diablo with a title card (along with some other songs), which better represents.

Mt. Diablo isn't the only track that catches. Quicksand grinds away on how every day pulls people apart and drags you under. Daughters, for a song about a drunk girl, has the biggest instrumental depth on the album. Swords And Pens is about a relationship bust up. And States And Minds, ripped in under one minute, is an engaging lead to the entire album.

All 11 tracks lend something to the album (some more than others). If you're looking for a theme, it's mostly about how every one of us has to face the daily grind, how that changes and tears us apart, and how, when it's all over, we all end up under soil and dirt. The title is taken from a few lines in High Regard.

Under Soil And Dirt by The Story So Far Buries 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Not every song is as sharp as those mentioned. Paceholder replaces angst with whininess. Rally Cap is all about regret and reminiscing (yawn). And I'm mixed on Roam, which is a fine song but much less original than other tracks.

Still, I have to give these five guys a hand for an album with more scorching moments than not. The debut is solid, and some folks are already looking to The Story So Far to keep pop punk alive. Under Soil And Dirt by The Story So Far is on iTunes. You can also find Under Soil and Dirt on Amazon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We As The Original Dystopian Novel

WeNinety years ago, Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote a novel that sparked scores of well-regarded riffs and rips, many of which are better known. But very much like all of his celebrated copycats, Zamyatin's book was inspired by experience — the Russian Revolution.

For Zamyatin, it took two years to write; significantly less time for the state to ban it. In fact, We was the first work banned by Goskomizdat, better known as the newly created State Committee for Publishing in the Soviet Union a.k.a. censorship bureau.

Among best known authors and books to draw upon its 200-plus content include George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (indirectly, because he ripped Brave New World), Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, and possibly Ayn Rand's Anthem. As the original satire against dystopia, there is an irony in how often it was treated as collective property.

We and the story of D-503.

We is the story of D-503, a state mathematician and chief engineer of the spaceship Integral, which is 120 days out from completion. The purpose of the craft is simple enough. It will introduce the One State to other planets in the solar system before subjugating them, using force as necessary.

This is how the story starts, with D-503 writing down the announcement that all "numbers" will compose treaties, epic poems, manifestos, and odes of propaganda about the One State. And if those compositions don't win over outer worlds, then delivering them mathematically infallible happiness to save them from their primitive state of freedom is inevitable.

WeThere is only problem with the One State plan. D-503 meets I-330 who dresses a little differently than everyone else. She entices D-503 to visit the historic Ancient House, the only opaque building in One State, which is constructed entirely out of glass. Not surprisingly, it is there that I-330 reveals that she is part of a group plotting to bring down the state.

What is most striking about reading the novel, constructed as a personal journal, is the inner turmoil D-503 feels after being exposed to the prospects of free will, love, and individual purpose. And while he can no longer imagine living in a world without such complexity, he also suffers from being able to return to certitude and servitude where millions of people get up as one.

As a whole, We dramatizes the struggle between freedom and security, nature and artifice, spirit and order. It celebrates the heretic, which the author considered a valued trait among artists. And despite the bleak ending, there is some hope in the execution that, win or lose, rebellions are both infinite and unavoidable.

"True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics." — Yevgeny Zamyatin

Although considered one of the first Soviet dissidents, Zamyatin was originally arrested and exiled from Russia not for being critical of communism but for supporting the Bolsheviks in 1905 (which he also supported during the October Revolution), and a second time for an anti-military story, Na Kulichkah.

As punishment, he was first banished to the northern shipyard of Kem and then Engand, where he was in charge of design and building of the largest Russian icebreaker, St. Aleksandr Nevsky, during World War I. It was after the Russian Revolution of 1917 that he returned, only to find that the quality of life — culture, freedoms, and human values — had quickly deteriorated after the Russian Revolution.

Yevgeny ZamyatinAfter We was rejected for publication, Zamyatin arranged for the manuscript of his novel to be smuggled out for publication in 1924. The publishing of the novel in English immediately led to him being ostracized in Russia, with all of his plays banned. Zamyatin requested exile in 1931, appealing to Joseph Stalin. Stalin granted his request, and he settled with his wife in Paris.

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack a year after collaborating with French film director Jean Renoir on the 1936 adaptation of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, which he cowrote. We was censored in Russia until 1988.

We By Yevgeny Zamyatin Scores 9.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

We is rich with Zamyatin's personal experience; engineering prowess, initial devotion, and age of D-503. While it is much more metaphorical than Orwell's 1984, therein lies the beauty of his story and the parallels that are drawn upon it. Just as D-503 is eventually freed from the burden of imagination, Zamyatin unexpectedly foreshadows his own censorship, deemed necessary in order for him to be a happy citizen.

There are several translations of We, with some of the most recent being Natasha Randall on Amazon. You can also find a 2011 translation of We from Golgotha Press on iBooks or for the Nook via Barnes & Noble. You can also find an audiobook on iTunes. Grover Gardner narrates; his voice may take some getting used to for an unabridged 7-hour read.