Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kühl Warms Up Casual For Winter

Casual is always cool and that means comfortable utility jackets or wool sweaters this winter. While this usually means you have to pick one or the other, Kühl designed one of the best sweaters for men seen this year.

They also took care of everything some people hate about sweaters. There is no itch. There is no pullover. There is no neckline. All in all, the spy sweater by Kühl looks like a jacket that zips and buttons, but is functional like a sweater because it has all the comfort and none of the bulk.

It's also made with Merino wool, which is the finest and softest wool you can buy. It's the same wool manufacturers choose for athletic wear because it's excellent at regulating body temperature and drawing moisture away from the skin. The high collar is ribbed.

The design, including tight weaves, is part of Kühl. So are some of the other clothing technologies, like using recycled coffee grounds in select knit fabrics and organic cottons without pesticides and fertilizers. Specific to the sweater, Kühl used double-plated boiled wool. The company is serious about all of its choices.

Kühl Clothing is mountain born in America.

Merino wool was once so sought after that Spain made exporting Merinos punishable by death. Today, Merinos are more common, but only because King Ferdinand VI of Spain sent some to his cousin in Saxony in the 1700s. It didn't take long for the colder-climate Germans to cross them with Saxon sheep, making the wool even denser, finer, and softer.

Although Kühl conjures images of Germans and European mountaintops, the company was born in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Kevin Boyle, like most of the people who work there, is an avid skier, rock climber, and mountaineer.

In fact, he skied over a hundred days a year, taking advantage of record snowfall in 1982. That was one year before he and his brother, together with Conrad Anker and Alf Engwall launched a different company (the predecessor to Kühl the following year). Even the company's first full-time employee, Evan Shapiro, moved to Utah in 1984 to do the same. (They only had about $2,000 to start, mostly hoping to fund their ski obsession.)

As avid outsdoorsmen and environmentalists, it's no surprise that Kühl is passionate about freedom, civil liberties, and the environment. They are also avid supporters of the High Road for Human Rights. And, although unrelated, recently redesigned a 1972 unimog into a bio-diesel Kühlmog.

An alternative jacket for colder climates from Kühl.

The spy sweater was easily a winter pick for me. If you want something heavier or a layered look with the same smart styling, the alpenwurx by Kühl marries classic fleece with a vintage twist. While I'm not personally fond of Berber fleece, it would work exceptionally well with this jacket.

You might also notice the shoulders and elbows look like suede leather at a glance. The material is actually a sueded micro fiber fabric. But the real tell in the quality of Kühl clothing is that they use precision Swiss Riri zippers, seriously some of the best zippers made. And Riri is known for innovation and environmental respect.

Kühl also makes several jackets for women too. The standout among them is the Kühl compass flight Jacket, which combines motorcycle lines with an ultra-soft fleece. It looks like wool, but in this case Kühl opted for a poly micro fiber and polyester blend. You would never know the difference.

The Spy Sweater By Kühl Warms Up 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The spy sweater by Kühl is perfect for someone living in a climate like Southern California. Winters are never that cold here. However, the sweater is still great for layering in colder climates, without adding too much bulk. Some people have said they typically unzip after they warm up their core temperature. Yeah, I can feel that.

You can find the spy sweater at Sundance (about $158) as an exclusive online offer. It comes in three colors: brown, black, and olive. Kühl also offers a smoke grey sweater on their site, but no longer lists olive. The prices are about the same. You can also find it on Amazon, but it is only available in black.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Blackwater Fever Gets Swampy And Dirty On Stage And In Stereo

At first listen, The Blackwater Fever evokes a swampy, dirty sound that conjures up the dark, mysterious American South; dense and heavy forested places you don't want to happen upon alone. Their full sound quickly creates the illusion that every band member – four, maybe five— operate on high octane.

So imagine my surprise. The Blackwater Fever is Australian, not American. Band members? They're a power duo.

Released on Plus One Records, In Stereo is the sophomore full-length album from the Brisbane-based band. It was recorded at Borough Studios in Brisbane, co-produced by the band, along with Skritch (Mary Trembles, Tex Perkins’ Dark Horses).

Comparisons to the Black Keys and White Stripes are inevitable, but not really needed. The Blackwater Fever isn’t really like either band or anyone else. They aren't even close. They just happen to play hard with drums and guitar.

The Blackwater Fever serves up rock blues and soul; but nothing traditional here. 

Fans of their shows will instantly recognize many of the songs included on In Stereo because The Blackwater Fever has been playing them live for some time. They only recently got down to the task of capturing them on disc. These are “old” songs most of the world is hearing for the first time.

Atmospheric blues rock sounds about right. The band says In Stereo is not nearly as dark as their first release, the solid Sweet Misery. In Stereo is lighthearted in a way, but not by any means light.

There isn’t a weak track on the album, but two stand out more than any other. Sophia’s Waltz spins a bittersweet, sad tale that sticks in your head. Better Off Dead is an atmospheric tune commissioned for the Australian horror film called The Tunnel. Here's a taste from an older live session.

In Stereo is even better, thanks to singer/guitarist Shane Hicks and drummer Andrew Walter. The duo works because Hicks’ husky tones and remarkable guitar work brings the songs to life while Walter's purposeful drumming weaves it all together.

The lyrics generally lend themselves well to their swampy, mysterious sound. On Back Roads, Hicks sings: “Riding the back roads, twelve hounds on my trail, closing in slowly, driving me straight to hell. I got it wound open, further then a clock strives twelve. The devil is waiting, with open arms.”

How the duo became a trio at the last minute of recording.

Oddly, the duo became a trio with the addition of keyboardist/organist/bassist Jed Walters when In Stereo was nearly complete. The band had been looking for a third member for quite some time and had all but given up hope. They wanted a perfect fit.

In Stereo doesn't include anything with their new member, but anyone seeing them live knows. With Walters on board, The Blackwater Fever is bound to cut a third album sooner rather than later. Expect the keyboardist to play a prominent role.

This past summer, millions of Americans were exposed to the band (although they may not have known it) when slivers of their songs were featured by HBO in a short-term Cinemax marketing campaign, including one promoting Terminator Salvation. Maybe 2012 will be the year they know where it came from.

The Blackwater Fever’s In Stereo Slithers In 9.0 on the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The band will be playing several dates in their native Australia in early December. I'm already hoping to see them include North America among their tour dates; 2012 would be a fine year to have it happen.

In Stereo by The Blackwater Fever is on iTunes. You can also find In Stereo at Amazon. If you sign up to their email list, you can receive a free MP3 of Back Roads from the album.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Surprising Art Discovery In Milwaukee

With nearby Chicago frequently competing for attention with New York, the other major city nestled up against the banks of Lake Michigan is often overshadowed. And yet, Milwaukee has several iconic treasures worth national attention.

The best of them is the Milwaukee Art Museum, an architectural wonder that houses an art collection that has been assembled since the late 1880s. While the museum has had several incarnations, the latest addition designed by architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava is as stunning as the works on display there.

The graceful Quadracci Pavilion is a post-modern sculpture that now defines the museum itself, a chancel that is shaped like a ship, with signature wings and a moveable sunscreen that spans 217 feet. The bride soleil is made up of 72 steel fins, each rising in length from 26 to 105 feet. And the entire structure overlooks the deep blue expanse of Lake Michigan.

This stunning structure isn't the only building that makes up the museum. Along with the 1975 addition of the Kahler Building by David Kahler, the 1957 War Memorial Center, designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and built under the supervision of his son, has been an regional landmark since it first opened. The building is memorable. It's a wonder why most people are still more likely to associate beer with the city instead of its long-lasting love affair with art.

The art inside the Milwaukee Art Museum. 

While it hasn't fully caught on as common knowledge, Milwaukee continues to transcend its image as an offshoot of the Chicago art world. In truth, it always has shined as brightly as its southern neighbor, but most people never knew to take a look inside the ensemble originally started by a meat packer.

However, in the international art community, Milwaukee has managed to gain acceptance for its collections of international importance. Enough so that the city has secured some of the most spectacular visiting exhibits, hosting as many as three at a time.

Currently, it is hosting Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper, which includes 125 drawings, watercolors, and pastels from the greatest artists of Western Art. The names are familiar: Manet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Seurat, and Van Gogh (to name a few). The museum managed to organize the exhibit in partnership with Albertina in Vienna, well known as one of the finest art collections in the world.

And this is only one of three exhibits. The permanent collections are equally grand, and much larger than anyone might expect from a city bordered by a lake on one side and farmland on the other. The permanent collections, which are regularly rotated, include 15th to 20th century European and 17th to 20th century American paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. The museum is also well known for having some of the best American decorative arts, German Expressionism, folk and Haitian art in the nation.

In sum, the Milwaukee Art Museum's collection includes nearly 25,000 works of art that range from historic to modern. Some of the historic works are immediately recognizable for their inclusion in important books on art and history. It requires two full days to adequately see what is on display; and even then, visitors will never see everything.

Ten permanent collections and three visiting exhibits. 

Although the entire embodiment of work spills beyond the museum's ten collections, they capture the spirit of what has been preserved here for 125 years. As a mere cursory preview, one of the most important collections includes the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection with its Fauve paintings by George Braues and Maurice de Vlaminck, seminal Expressionist paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Vassily Kandinsky, and magnificent works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Of course, importance is relative.

The Marcia and Granvil Specks Collection features prints by masters such as Erich Heckel, Kathe Kollwitz, and Emil Nolde. And the Richard and Erna Flagg Collection of Haitian art includes works by Hector Hyppolite, Castera Bazile, and Wilson Biguad. Along with these, the museum is also home to pre-1900 decorative arts, a collection of more than 100 unique and historically significant objects from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including the best collection of German Renaissance clocks anywhere outside Germany. 

In has also painstakingly preserved original works collected from the Layton Art Gallery and Milwaukee Art Institute, which originally formed the city's start in the arts. And, it has an exhaustive collection of American art after 1960 (including Warhol) as well as one of the largest Georgia O'Keeffe collections in the nation. 

A bit about Georgia O'Keeffe, the daughter of a Wisconsin farmer. 

Sure, O'Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916 but she was first and foremost a Wisconsin native and born in a farmhouse near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. It is her abstract imagery of the 1910s and early 1920s that is considered among her most innovative works.

But later, she would eventually discover northern New Mexico, being the first woman to lay claim to the American Southwest. What is especially unique about the Milwaukee Art Museum's collection is that the paintings and drawings are from both her early years and after she intensified her focus on the American Southwest.

Together, they demonstrate a complete evolution of O'Keeffe as a painter. And without her, later women artists may not have had the foundation to base their movement on in the 1960s. O'Keeffe was easily one of the first women to shrug off what was expected and paint whatever she wanted.

The Milwaukee Art Museum Carves Out 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Milwaukee Art Museum truly is a premier destination for art in one of the least likely locales. It also serves as one of several anchors to revitalize Milwaukee's downtown. The museum is still in need of more retail and dining options within walking distance (beyond Coast and Bacchus), especially for breakfast and lunch. The museum does, however, have a small cafe.

Visiting the museum has become one of the best "must do" activities for anyone visiting Milwaukee, even helping to place the city on the national map beyond its annual SummerFest or Milwaukee Brewers games. You can check airfare rates at Fare Buzz with flights up to 60 percent off. For anyone with an interest in O'Keeffe even though her original work is out of reach, Barewalls has an abundance of art work prints, some of which can be ordered on canvas.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Duke Spirit Is Still A Bruiser

It felt like forever for the Duke Spirit to see the release of their third album, Bruiser. Originally set for release in early 2011, it was pushed back several months, leaving the single Don't Wait as the only holdover since the release of the beatific ferocity found inside the Kusama EP last December.

The wait was by design, given front woman Liela Moss has described Bruiser as an exercise in painting and repainting. You can hear it in the album too. Some of the repaint is barely dry.

But random repainting wasn't the only reason. The band had carefully weighed whether it wanted to release the album as an indie or sign with Fiction. Signing meant a longer wait while the label looked for the right opening to an already full slate.

Bruiser bounces between brutal and over-baked. 

So if anything, the painting and repainting almost happened in reverse. The extra time gave Moss, Luke Ford, Toby Butler, Oliver Betts, and Marc Sallis more to time to tinker.

For instance, remnants of their early work with producer Richard File (formerly U.N.K.L.E.) was scrapped, but they retained some of his rhythmic influences. They also recorded more songs, refined some, and remixed several. That's both good and bad.

Bruiser retains the London-based alternative rockers' uniquely haunting arrangements but sometimes breaks the album's continuity by dabbling in several directions. The variety is nice, but not always.

Fortunately, the best is intact. Villain is a killer. Northbound is a keeper. Everybody Is Under Your Spell is still a driver. And while Surrender feels too pop in parts, Moss smokes outside the chorus.

One personal goal they did achieve inside a studio they built themselves was isolating the instruments so they could stand on their own. It especially rings true in songs like Procession that muscles its way forward, slowing pushing through the crowd.

Breaking down the rest of Bruiser, the band's little bit of everything.

Bodies also brings the band back to its bare bones, connecting with their earlier work in that it almost reintroduces the confessional feel that originally helped the Duke Spirit get noticed. That of course, and their live shows. The Duke Spirit has always squeeze themselves for every drop of attention.

There is no wonder Moss calls it the band's horoscope, map, and punching bag. After opening with with the chorus-restrained Cherry Tree and then bristling through the next two tracks, Don't Wait never hits the crackling and pained attraction that Moss adds to it in live perfromances. Neither does De Lux nor Sweet Bitter Sweet (in parts), at least until she throttles up her vocals.

On the flip side, Running Fire is as ferocious anything that the Duke Spirit has put out. And Homecoming, which almost comes across like a bonus track, might be the most underrated track on the album.  

Bruiser By The Duke Spirit Muscles Up At 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

When you count up the hits and misses, Bruiser is a remarkably better album than than it sounds at times. The drop off comes from knowing several of the songs play better on stage and have more potential than the studio versions deliver. Or maybe it was waiting so long. Or perhaps not having A Wig On A Mind, the B-side to the Surrender single released in the UK.

Bruiser by The Duke Spirit is available on iTunes from Shangri-La Music in the U.S. The CD is available from Barnes & Noble. Amazon also carries Bruiser, with the MP3 downloads the better value.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Definitive History Of Fleetwood Mac By Mike Evans Is Definitive

There have been dozens of books written about Fleetwood Mac. Some of the best like Steve Clarke and Roy Carr’s excellent Rumours ‘n Fax are either out of print or difficult to find. (Although Storms by Carol Ann Harris is worth a look.)

Most are merely regurgitations of well-known information, sometimes with snippets of interviews and articles that have appeared elsewhere. Edward Wincentsen’s absolutely dreadful Fleetwood Mac Through The Years would be an example of the worst of the worst.

Mike Evans is now joining the fray with his own look at the band: Fleetwood Mac The Definitive History. It’s a must-read for any FM fan and a solid retrospective for the casual and curious.

Based on sheer size, Evans stands alone. 

This larger, oversized coffee table book doesn't waste a stitch of space. It's filled with excellent photos, some of them never before seen, including by the most rabid collectors.

The book starts with the usual look back, giving a glimpse into the early beginnings of the band and not the one that most people know today. This beginning starts with bassist John McVie joining legendary John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The roster at one time included Eric Clapton and, very briefly, drummer Mick Fleetwood.

Fate would eventually bring Fleetwood and McVie together with Peter Greenbaum, better known as singer/songwriter/guitarist Peter Green. And thus, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was born as a British blues band.

As the narrative retells some of the story, full-page photos of each album cover introduce every successive phase. Evans includes the track listening, songwriting credits, and personnel. These details make it an indispensable resource.

The revolving door that eventually led to rock greatness. 

Fleetwood Mac’s revolving door through 1974 would include Christine McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Bob Weston, Dave Walker, and Bob Welch. In fact, it was stalwart Welch’s departure that opened the door for duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

It's here that Evans does the story justice, telling how Fleetwood was scouting studios when he heard a tape of Buckingham Nicks. He liked Buckingham’s style, eventually inviting the pair to join (they famously came as a package deal).

While most of the lore surrounding Buckingham and Nicks is well known to fans, Evans dutifully lays it out. There are a few new tidbits here and there, but nothing earth shattering. It's been told. We all know it.

Once this famous lineup was solid, the 1975 self-titled Fleetwood Mac was released. All five members (the two McVies, Fleetwood, Buckingham, and Nicks) became multi-millionaires overnight. Maybe it was this early success that also ensured Fleetwood Mac would become well documented, along with the excesses that became part of Rumours, the band’s defining album.

Rumours is a once-in-a-lifetime romanticized anti-love story. 

When the two couples in the band split during recording, and Fleetwood divorced (and later married and divorced yet again), most bands would have scrapped it all. Instead, in between the copious amounts of drink, drugs (especially cocaine), and infighting, they captured one of the greatest angst albums ever made.

Rumours, of course, went on to become one of the top-selling albums in history, with Fleetwood Mac justifiably the biggest rock band in the world in the late 1970s. Tusk, the follow up to Rumours, was musically controlled by Buckingham, with everyone else calling it in.

Amazingly, Tusk would be a triumph and a disappointment all at once. The music showcased three obviously different songwriters, with each person's songs strong, but collectively not cohesive. However it was likely the decision to make Tusk a double album (Fleetwood’s call) that ultimately led to disappointing sales, not really Buckingham's experimental tracks.

The retrospective takes the story up through Christine McVie’s eventual permanent departure (retirement) and the band’s current lineup of Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood, and John McVie.

Mike Evans’ Fleetwood Mac: The Definitive History Is 8.0 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Evans does an excellent job pulling decades of information together without getting off track. Fleetwood Mac The Definitive History is one of the best books written about the band. It’s an enjoyable read about an even more enjoyable ride through the years.

Barnes & Noble carries Fleetwood Mac: The Definitive History. You can also find Evans' Fleetwood Mac: The Definitive History on Amazon. There are electronic versions of the book available too. It's hard to recommend them. This is one book that deserves to be owned in print. For more Fleetwood Mac rarities, visit Wolfgang's Vault. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Peter Kernel Beats A Black Heart

Peter Kernel isn't for everyone. They might not even be for anyone. And it's anybody's guess when this Swiss-Canadian art-punk trio will be touring Stateside. Good. They're too disruptive.

Seriously. Listening to their nearly perfect addictive and delicious album White Death & Black Heart ought to come with a warning label. Every primal, primitive beat will resonate in your head for weeks.

It started quite impossibly by accident when Aris Bassetti (guitar, voice, graphic design), Barbara Lehnhoff (bass, voice, filmmaker), and Ema Matis (drums) got together to write the soundtrack for the experimental musical, Like A Giant In A Towel (Locarno International Film Festival 2006), which was directed by Lehnhoff. That's all it was supposed be, a one-time gig for an indie film. 

Peter Kernel was dead on arrival and nobody cared. 

Well, that's not really true. They cared. They cared enough to cut another album in 2008, a debut produced on their startup label, On The Camper Records. How To Perform A Funeral wasn't even an album. It was an experiment that did everything wrong, leaving you to wonder why it sounds right.

Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade) knows what I mean. He felt the same way when he heard the debut, just before inviting Peter Kernel to open for his band's European tour last year. Krug shouldn't have encouraged them. Because as soon as they stepped one foot off the stage, they spent their holidays recording the 12 tracks that make up their sophomore album. 

It's just as twisted. White Death & Black Heart is an absolutely painfully perfect disaster that you play over and over again. It makes you wonder if art punk and pop noise finally woke up from a nap and slapped you because it was waiting for rock to need another reboot. Here's the wake-up call.

Panico! This Is Love is what Peter Kernel is kicking around as a seduction. From the very first twangy slide, it's blatantly annoying and deliberate. So much so you can't help but to turn it up louder and rattle the windows and piss off the neighbors. It's an unapologetically raw smackdown of pop packaging. 

The entire album is equally insensitive and insistent. For a band without much technical ability, they deliver more gritty guitar work and an oppressive, buzzy rhythm that hypnotizes than many other bands do. You can add Lehnhoff's vocals to that, whether she croaks out the note or simply speaks them. 

Most of the songs are discontent and dark, dreary minimalism that sucks out self-love sappiness and leaves the husk behind. Sure, some people have underrated the album on the whole, but it's the whole album that shakes, smokes, and splinters. 

There seems to be little doubt that Bassetti and Lehnhoff captured the fracture of their original drummer's split with his girlfriend (and fourth member). But most of it can be attributed to what Bassetti describes as being paranoid. The world is dark, but you can still find a reason to smile, which is why the band has taken to cutting less-than-serious videos despite their lyrics. 

This is an album to own outright. It can't be cut into single standouts. However, if you insist on taking it slow on the discovery from AfricaTape, start with the melodic I'll Die Rich At Your Funeral, the spoken and anti-poetic Tide's High, punchy Captain's Drunk, and the seductive Want You Dirty, Want You Sweet. 

Peter Kernel White Death & Black Heart Beats 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Peter Kernel is just getting started. White Death & Black Heart follows up the debut album with better compositions and songwriting all around. Sure, there were some hints of what to come with tracks like the brilliant Flies Die and What The Hell off the first, but all twelve work here, albeit some more than others.

I expect a few will question the score, given some scorn by some reviewers. Chalk it up to the fact that you can't change a single note and make it any more than it already is. And then add in that this band isn't a throwback to past alt acts as one lazy hisser implied, but something else in pop noise that goes beyond the most obvious influences. You can download White Death & Black Heart by Peter Kernel from Amazon. White Death & Black Heart is also on iTunes. Keep up with the band at Peter Kernel.

Liquid [Hip] received a digital copy of the album. Stuck in our heads since.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sonos Redefines Possible For Wireless

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." — Aldous Huxley

We are living in the most exciting era in the history of music. We have the largest, most diverse playlists, from obscure independents to big label bands. We can fit an entire record store full of music inside a device no bigger than the palm of our hands. And our options to enjoy it all are nearly inexhaustible.

One of my favorite options is Sonos. In recent years, Sonos has done everything possible to earn its position as the hands down best wireless multi-room audio solution on the market. And while overall sound quality might see Polk, Paradigm, or KEF carry the day, Sonos allows you to play those too.

Sonos Systems put wireless portable HiFi within reach for anyone.

Chances are you already own a controller. If you have an iPhone, iPad, Android, Apple computer, or PC with Windows, you do. The software and apps are free to download. All you need is hardware.

There are two ways to enjoy wireless music. You can either hardwire one Sonos speaker system to a wireless router or purchase a speaker system along with the Sonos Bridge. The Bridge amps up its own secure wireless signal, connecting every Sonos speaker system in your home. (Get it, unless you want one speaker tied to the router.)

There are two speaker systems, the Play:5 and smaller Play:3, which was released this summer. Both have exceptional sound quality (with exception to audiophiles), but the Play:5 speakers are better given they have two tweeters, two mid-range drivers, and a bass driver (all with their own dedicated amps).

The Play:5 speakers are also bigger: 8.5 inches by 14 inches (4.8 inches deep). The Play:3 speakers have a considerably smaller footprint at 5.2 inches by 10.6 inches (6.3 inches deep). But there are some trade offs with the smaller size. Specifically, the Play:3 speaker system includes one tweeter, two mid-range drivers, and one bass radiator (with three amps). The radiator is good enough, but it's not a driver.

Selecting the right system really depends on you and your needs. Most of my friends who have Sonos systems in their places have two Play:5 speaker systems per room, creating right and left channels for limited stereo sound. However, since Sonos launched the Play:3, some of them have added one or two Play:3 speakers to smaller rooms too. And therein lies the magic.

Sonos plays entire audio libraries or streaming music anywhere.

The magic of Sonos is the ability to customize and control music anywhere you want it in your home. You can set different music to different rooms or the same music to every room. You can use the same controller or different controllers. Do whatever you want, including a few things I haven't mentioned.

What sold me on Sonos is how it continues to integrate different sound systems into one. For example, if you already like your big room speakers (like I do), Sonos Connect allows you to add Sonos to your analog stereo, giving you a means to listen to your audio library without burning CDs, docking your player, or plugging in an iPhone. Keep your KEFs front and center. They work.

And that's what I did. I bought the Bridge, Connect (living room), and one Play:3 speaker (bedroom). I'm already thinking of adding two more speakers: a second Play:3 speaker for better stereo sound in my bedroom and another for the kitchen. That's three rooms, all controllable by my iPhone or iPad.

If you want some other ideas, Sonos also makes the Connect AMP, which connects directly to non-Sonos speakers. The amp powers the sound with 55W per channel. I don't really have the need, but I know people who do. The idea goes a long way in demonstrating how CEO John McFarlane and his team outdo themselves in building a straightforward but exceptionally customizable wireless sound system.

Sonos Wireless HiFi Systems Stack Up At 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

I love Sonos. It represents the future of home audio. There is hardly anything to improve, except maybe adding a reliable battery instead of keeping things tied to a power cord. It would also be nice to see Sonos in the car audio department or creating a solution to rival the X-Mini II.

In terms of sound quality, it has an edge over Bose. But in terms of functionality, Sonos might as well be a light year ahead. You can order Sonos Wireless Music System direct from Sonos. The Play:5 is about $400, Play:3 about $300, Connect: Amp about $500, and Bridge about $50. Sonos sometimes adds in the Bridge for free. Sonos also makes every streaming service available in one convenient place.

If you want, compare Sonos Play:5 at Amazon. Other retailers carry some systems too, but almost always at a higher price. And, although not part of this review, Sonos does carry its own controller if you don't have a compatible smart phone or tablet. Check out the controller if you visit Sonos direct.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster IV Mixes Up Swamp Rock Without Metal

What happens to an up-and-coming band with a loyal, devoted following that makes a sweeping departure from their characteristic sound? Backlash. Some fans might even post scathing and disappointing reviews. And some bands might question the wisdom of the decision.

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster IV finds the Birmingham, Alabama-based band on just such an unexpected detour. They are breaking away from their Southern near metalcore lifeblood and into more of a Southern hard rock sound that would be easily appreciated by the Marshall Tucker Band.

Do Maylene and the Sons Of Disaster really deserve a fan flogging?

While some fans (and reviewers too) are up in arms over the perceived commercial sound, IV deserves a few serious spins before passing judgment. It's cleaner. It's more melodic. It's anything but all bad.

Since its inception, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster (MATSOD) has crafted a conceptual and lyrical thread based on Ma Barker and her criminal gang of sons. All of it evokes images of outlaws, prohibition and a little violence. Even IV's cover reflects the concept. Designed by Forefathers Group (In Flames, Children of Bodom), it depicts the dangerous backwoods mood of the dirty South.

With each new album and up through III, the band has always made subtle progressions in their sound. It's also what makes IV such an abrupt and startling shift. But it's not as surprising as some people think.

The band has always had a revolving door of members, with the only constant being frontman Dallas Taylor. With the latest change in the lineup, I suspect it contributed to the dramatic shift more than anything else.

The new lineup includes the charasmatic and big-voiced Taylor, Jake Duncan (guitar), Chad Huff (guitar) and Brad Lehmann (bass). For recording the album, the band also leaned on a host of supporting musicians on everything from keys and pedal steel to drums. James Butler recently stepped up as touring drummer.

There were other changes too. Although still with Ferret Records, IV was produced by Brian Virtue (Audioslave, Jane’s Addiction). He might have influenced some of the experimental sound while keeping the gritty guitar riffs that always helped to keep the band from being pigeonholed.

The trick is to pick the tracks that work on their own merit.

The album kicks off with In Dead We Dream, a song about conflict caused when someone bends the truth to look like a victim. It's solid from start to finish, and would have fit nicely on III in my opinion. And no surprise, the song sounds very different on the road.

Never Enough is a song about love that isn’t returned, and about things never turn out the way you plan. It might even capture something from Taylor’s own recent bitter divorce. Open Your Eyes is a complete departure of pace, more in common with Lynyrd Skynyrd than any MATSOD track. And Off To the Laughing Place seems to haven been slapped on as an afterthought, complete with spoken words by Taylor’s young son, Corgan.

As a whole, the album is solid enough, especially when Taylor punches his voice, making it dirty and nasty. Other times, it does feel like he is holding back. Not something I expect would happen live.

Taylor has been quoted as saying he knew the new album would upset some fans, but this was still the record the band wanted to make. Good for him. Greatness only happens for those who take risks.

Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster IV Scores 3.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The band will be completing its current eight-state tour in mid-December in South Carolina. They've been trying to connect with fans regularly on Twitter. Even more interesting is their YouTube channel, Maylene TV, which includes something from almost every stop along the way.

There is no reason to look for the deluxe edition of IV. It features two additional songs, Carry Us Away and Save Me (High Top Kicks Remix), both of which are best forgotten. Again, the trick, across the entire album, is to listen to the pick without being mired down with the occasional miss. So don't count Taylor and company out yet. IV is an album set to help the band rediscover who they want to be.

You can find Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster IV on iTunes. You can also order the CD from Barnes & Noble. IV is also on Amazon. The tune used in the teaser, by the way, isn't on the album unless maybe it alludes to Drought Of '85.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Stir Of Echoes Is Timeless Matheson

Paranormal has always carried a straightforward definition. It applies to all experiences that lie "outside the range of normal experience or scientific explanation." Most people understand the term well enough.

About 75 percent of the people say they believe in or have had a paranormal experience. And the percentage rises even higher if you confine it to extrasensory perception (ESP). Almost 95 percent of the population believe that some people have these powers. 

Much less common is having paranormal experiences — ranging from deja vu to dreams that come true — to the degree that they alter a person's life. And yet, that is what happens to Tom Wallace, an exceptionally ordinary man who works in publications for a North American Aircraft plant in Inglewood. 

A Stir Of Echoes is an under appreciated thriller by Richard Matheson.

Although originally written in 1958, A Stir Of Echoes is remarkably timeless. And although most people consider it one of Matheson's minor works when compared to I Am Legend and Somewhere In Time (originally Bid Time Return) or The Incredible Shrinking Man, the reason many dismiss this short fiction is what makes it work. 

Wallace is ordinary, even boring. He exemplifies the most mundane of the American dream as it could be defined in the 1950s or 2010s. He has a slightly above average job; a comfortable and stable marriage; an average family that includes a son and a second child expected soon. And they live in an average suburban neighborhood, with neighbors who have problems that are disturbing but neither shocking nor necessarily uncommon. 

They have desires, secrets, affairs, and animosity toward their spouses. Wallace sees it all, at first in pieces and then with growing clarity after his latent psychic abilities are unexpectedly unlocked at a dinner party. But that isn't everything that he eventually sees. There is also a ghost who is still unsettled.

The subtly of the stir is what makes the story sparkle; reason over thrill. 

Given the pace of the plot plods compared to many Matheson books, it reads much less like a thriller than a clinical transformation, with Wallace quietly struggling to determine if his "gift" is real or more likely the early stages of losing his mind. It makes the story even more real, delving into how an ordinary person might cope with such abilities rather than being chased by them for 200 plus pages.

It has creepy moments, especially early on, but remains relatively steady in its narration and reliance on dialog. Its strength, however, is that it is not a traditional horror story as much as it is a work of literature that contains a paranormal thread before paranormal was even popular. He was well ahead of time. 

For Wallace, the ability to read minds, foresee the future, and eventually act as a medium isn't fun, fascinating, or even welcome. It's especially worrisome because he cannot always distinguish dreams from reality or separate clairvoyance from telepathy. As the original cover teases, it's a novel of menace.

It's this critical point that distinguishes the modernized 1999 movie, Stir Of Echoes by David Keopp and starring Kevin Bacon, from the original work. Whereas the movie immediately finds its pace by focusing on the ghost, the book opens different doors. The ghost can be tied to his clairvoyance or the manifestation of other people's thoughts: what they know has happened or wish would happen, or even be non-itelligent energy left on an object.

Wallace doesn't know, especially because the ghost thread is given equal weight to the rest of his experiences. But what Wallace does know is that his abilities aren't something to share. When he turns to the only person he thinks he can trust, his wife, she begins to mistrust him, fearing his ability to read minds (or more accurately, emotions) and especially that he might start to read her mind. 

Another difference between the film and book is the weight given to a child. They are largely inconsequential in the book, more window dressing with the exception that the psychic powers are hereditary. In the movie, Wallace's son is well-attunded to his family's gift.

Matheson has left a permanent mark on modern literature. 

Stephen King has called Matheson one of his greatest inspirations for a reason. Matheson, much like Edgar Allan Poe did for another era, concentrates on the psychological and sociological impact of his fantastical tales as much as the action that takes place as a result of them. 

He puts more life in his characters because you can feel the consequence of exposure as opposed to their momentary reaction to it. In Stir of Echoes, this translates into Wallace wondering how to live with these psychic abilities and profound impacts it will have on life. Even resolution won't cure him.

All in all, Matheson's dozens of books, short stories, screenplays, and television shows reach further than most people know. He is especially adept at communicating complex ideas into concise, tightly packed writing (as well as his understanding of metaphysics) that is always something to appreciate.

A Stir Of Echoes By Matheson Shivers At 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With so much material written over his remarkable career, it would be easy enough to pick up any number of Matheson's novels for review. There is no doubt someone will. This time around, it seemed more fun to highlight one of his earlier and less appreciated works, especially because its depth is greater than most people give it credit for and its timelessness borders on uncanny. 

A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson is available on Amazon. A Stir Of Echoes can also be found at Barnes & Noble. On iTunes, A Stir Of Echoes can be downloaded for iBooks and there is an audio version. While the audio version is all right, the reading lends no real creepiness or suspense when it's needed most. Stick to the book.

And, of course, for an entirely different treatment, a much more simplistic and straightforward ghost story (without relying on gore or body counts), the movie Stir Of Echoes is discounted on iTunes. The movie and book don't spoil each other. They are very different creations. I lean toward the book; the movie is average.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Black Belles Hex Their Self-Titled

The Black Belles has been in need of a self-titled release for the better part of a year. The wait was worth it. Produced by Jack White, the release has his fingerprints all over it but not his pawing palms.

Sure, sometimes they come across as a Third Man Records processed act. But the girls overcome the design with their own tenacity and talent.

Their ability to bridge garage rock and soul from the Sixties and bring it into the modern era can't be understated. They have more power behind fewer notes than countless acts have with an entire album, after they soften up rock into pop with guitar.

These girls are different. They twist, bang, shred, and howl out melodies that mash together, pretty and wicked. So much so that pretty wicked is what you're left with in describing portions of the full-length debut.

The Black Belles are minimalistic in measure, frightening in their mix.

If The Dead Weather had died and then were resurrected as four wannabe goth belles with a taste for sparsity and an addiction to vintage equipment, they would sound almost exactly like this. And while some might think that somewhat shameful because they could be even more, we can all hope that the self-titled release is just a stage floor for these girls build upon. I think it will be. Mark my words.

While plenty of people are dinging the Black Belles for all the hype and showmanship, Olivia Jean (vocals, guitar, organ), Ruby Rogers (bass), Christina Norwood a.k.a. Tina NoGood (synth), and Shelby Lynne (drums) deserve more credit as an act. Not many bands can pitch their careers as "not suitable for mass consumption" with the intent of being consumed by the masses. It's all very obvious, but no one needs to apologize.

Even the B-side video, Lies, supposedly lost, rediscovered, and released a week in advance of the self-titled album, was anything but accidental. It sets a record pace by reminding us how erratically compelling they can be. Not bad, because Lies (or any other previous single) won't show up on the album.

Instead, the Black Belles bust out with a collection of 11 standouts and sit downs. The standouts include Leave You With A Letter, Wishing Well, Pushing Up Daises, Not Tonight, and In A Cage. The latter is getting the most attention because it carries the biggest sound with crunchy guitars, meaty bass lines, and staccato vocals. They also owe more to their producer on this track than any other song.

It's the In A Cage chorus that hints at a musical depth six feet deeper than what they deliver here. Leave You With A Letter underscores their potential for harmonies, which is odd because the album version doesn't sound like their live performances. Jean snarls out the lyrics on stage.

Wishing Well, on the other hand, is my personal favorite in its arrangement, splitting and flipping the guitar riffs, bass lines, and relaxed vocals nicely. It will have the longest shelf life.

Some of the other songs won't. The Wrong Door is catchy, but needs the warmth of vinyl to make it work. Breathing Down My Neck is half solid, with the distortions so much more compelling than the whole of the song. And The Tease is okay, except it really doesn't.

The Black Belles are strangely fiction or maybe just stranger than. 

I could take or leave HonkyTonk Horror, which pre-teased the album as a single. Pushing Up Daises would have made a stronger showing. The band powers through it with much more conviction. HonkyTonk Horror was probably picked because it includes more packaging.

The girls themselves are interesting "creatures," as their bios often call them. With the exception of their home cities (and sometimes just home states) Third Man hasn't given up much. Most of their bios are creative, catering to stories of witchcraft, nastiness, and an evil alliance made in reform school.

But some of it is grounded in truth. There is no reason to doubt that Jean is from Detroit, Rogers from Mississippi, NoGood from Nashville, and Lynne from California. I also expect one of their early interview stories is true too: they shared childhood pictures and the photos all look similar. Spooky, but not really.

The Black Belles Self-Titled Release Hexes 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The album is better than worth sharing, especially some songs more than others. And the case can easily be made that the Black Belles are more than the sum of one album. I thought it was great that the singles released weren't repeated on album. On the flip side of it, some of the singles are stronger than the tunes that sat down more than they stood up.

You can pick up the Black Belles self-titled album at iTunes, but also pick up Charlene II (I'm Over You) and What Can I Do? Both singles, along with their B-sides, belong on any playlist with portions of the album. Barnes & Noble has the vinyl release. Amazon has vinyl editions of both What Can I Do? / Lies and Stephen Colbert and the Black Belles - Charlene II (I'm Over You) bw Charlene (I'm Right Behind You).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inspired Designs: The Upper East Side

New York City has always been shrouded in an aura of romance and mystery. And everywhere you look, from Times Square to Central Park, Manhattan best punctuates the point. So do the landmarks and cultural institutions that make up the Upper East Side.

It was only a matter of time before an artist would stroll the streets and pick out architectural ornaments found on lesser-known buildings tucked just out of sight behind the better known chic boutique scene on Madison Avenue. That artist, a jewelry designer who graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art, is Rebecca Schiffman.

If the name sounds familiar, you may have heard it before. She created a wildly inventive line of fashionable chain mail cuffs, bracelets, and dress grids a few years ago. That concept was clever enough, but it's her newest inspiration that is catching attention. All of her new work is inspired by the more timeless architecture that surrounds her. 

The Upper East Side Collection by Rebecca Schiffman. 

The Upper East Side (UES) Collection is a work of beauty, with each piece having a story. For example, the sterling silver geometric flower pendant isn't just imagined. It comes with a story, inspired by the geometric flowers that adorn the building at 19 East 88th Street (William M. Dowling, 1936).

The Art Deco design decorates the facade, lobby, and each individual apartment. The building wouldn't even exist, if not for the fearlessness of Nathaniel Wallenstein. He was one of the few people willing to build in the middle of the Great Depression. The other building is nearby, at 411 West End Avenue.

Schiffman has two treatments for the pendant. The much more striking one is set with a 2mm diamond. She also uses the flower again as cufflinks, with solid curved bar pyramid backs. It's not improbable that a couple might consider a matching set.

Another dazzling design, one of her earliest, is the sterling silver flower shield, crafted as a pendant or earrings. Like the geometric Art Deco flowers, the building at 1021 Park Avenue also has a story. It was designed by Rosario Candela, an Italian-American architect who defined the city's characteristic setbacks and signature penthouses.

The building was one of his last to be completed during the boom. In addition to being an architect, Candela was also cryptologist. He even broke a historic military code that had long been considered unbreakable.

Schiffman has plenty more designs, including a cuff bracelet inspired by a planter outside 11 East 88 Street, a racing hare that decorates the third floor of 1040 Park Avenue, and tulip earrings that borrow their inspiration from a fleur-de-lis facade at 5 East 92nd Street. The emerging collection's creativity carries old world architecture into the modern world.

A Bit More About Jewelry Designer Rebecca Schiffman. 

The work she is putting into her new collection carries an authentic fascination with the Upper East Side. While some might rightly argue that the West Side has more architecture to tap, Schiffman is a lifelong resident of the area.

After graduating from art school, she has gone on to study ancient jewelry techniques at Jewelry Arts Institute as well as casting and model making at Studio Jewelers, LTD. She currently studies under Feed de Vos in New York. His own studies are influenced by schools in Holland and Canada.

Schiffman is working to launch her collection using Kickstarter. She has raised about half of her funding goal to date. There seems to be little doubt that she will meet her goal, but be aware that not all orders will be complete by December.

The UES Collection By Rebecca Schiffman Sparks 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While we usually avoid showcasing work that is still in development, Schiffman's work is stunning with its back story and simplicity. Somehow she has managed to capture the smallest details in the romance and mystery that surrounds the city. Most people walk by, day after day, and never even notice. Schiffman takes one small detail out of the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

While you won't find her newest collection at any boutique today, you can support the UES Collection on Kickstarter and become one of the first to own a piece, set, or larger part of the collection. In the interim, you can also visit her studio portfolio for updates.

If you are looking for something sooner, such as December, you can always consider some of the vintage (unusually rare) or one-of-a-kind pieces at Charm & Chain. Some pieces are so unique (one of a kind), they are near impossible to review.

The Spills Uncoil With Occam's Razor

There's something happening in Wakefield (United Kingdom) that's almost hard to describe. The city has been working toward its vision to be a distinctive and vibrant center of Yorkshire, sure. But along with this change, there is a DIY culture thriving there, where few ever expected it.

Almost overnight, Wakefield became the third hottest music scene in the country. A new independent record label, Philophobia Music, is flourishing there with mostly local acts. Cool guys — like Chris Morse, music promoter and at The Hop and Bank Street, and Dean Freeman, editor of music fanzine Rhubarb Bomb — launched the city's first three-day multi-venue festival called Long Division. And alternative talents like Emma Pollack from The Delgados and Stanley Brinks from Herman Dune turned out to support it.

Yes, there is something to watch for in Wakefield. And one of them is an up-and-coming indie rock band called The Spills. All four members are thrilled to be part of the scene.

The Spills uncoil their love for all things alternative in Wakefield. 

Although the band was founded in 2006 and released their first single in 2007, they've had time to trade up their original angst for haze, finding a fuzzier indie rock sound in 2009 with the release of I'm Scared I Might/Faux Pas Ha Ha. This single was followed up with a 5-track EP, Smoke Signals.

As good as those releases were, none of them really compares to their latest effort. Occam's Razor is a sharply cast full-length album filled with haze and abrasion. Ten tracks of indie rock goodness.

"The entire album was recorded on analog at Greenmount Studios in two days [10 days total] because it was recorded predominantly live so the record sounds like us," says frontman Rob Slater. "Greenmount is a cool-as-fuck studio with loads of classic vintage equipment like a desk that belonged to Bjork and a tape machine from Island Records. Jamie [Lockhart] and Lee [Smith] are amazing, and really good friends of ours."

Friends is a word you can expect to hear when talking to The Spills. 

The band members are longtime friends, hooking up in school after Slater and Sam Smith (guitar) bought a 4-track recorder and attempted to record some demos. None of it was very good. So they decided to start a band instead.

"Chad (Daniel Charlesworth, bass) and Joe (Grayson, drums) were the obvious choices because we were all really good friends," says Slater. "Then we just took it from there really. Well, when we first got together, we were just kids and couldn't even get proper gigs."

All that is changing. The Spills are currently touring the countyside, recently playing London, Leeds, and York (among others). They're packing in as many more gigs as they can into three weeks this November to support the album. And they are open to adding dates. So far, so good. They love to tour.

"Previously, we were limited while finishing our degrees at the university, even when we wrote the Smoke Signals EP," says Slater. "But now we're going to keep doing what we're doing. We've already started making plans for the next album and writing new stuff."

Occam's Razor tracks stack up for a hazy and abrasive debut.

Since Smoke Signals, there is no question that the band has matured, even while their approach to music has remained. Song writing is usually sparked by Slater or Charlesworth, who come up with ideas or bits of melodies and chords to write a song. Afterward, the band works all the disjointed fragments together. And this is where The Spills truly shine.

"It usually takes more than one of us, if not all four of us, to finish a song," says Slater. "These parts and ideas get thrown around in the practice room and everyone will chip in with how it's going to work. The main thing is that we are just loads better at writing songs."

Occam's Razor proves the point. Jury's Out is a fuzzy indie rocker about hiding behind hero worship, and trying to model yourself after someone else. It sympathizes with those who avoid self-acceptance, but still dares people to do something about it. Lockets deals with change and departure, feelings of loss and regret in the face of life events with an apprehension for the future. Summer Vibes is about trying to "grow up" to become a better person, while asking if anybody really changes.

"It's like thinking back to a time or incident when you realize you acted like an idiot," says Charlesworth. "But you then you think about it some more and decide you were right, even if you acted like an idiot. Maybe we change, but we don't change that much."

Occam's Razor By The Spills Cuts Deep At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Jury's Out, Lockets, and Summer Vibes deliver the best diversity, but the entire album is worth the download, with the exception of maybe Silver Bullets and Newton's Flaming Razor Sword. Those songs get by, but are nowhere near the strongest on the otherwise brilliant debut.

When you give them a listen, don't let openers or samplers fool you. The Spills have all sorts of embellishments that rise and fall inside every song, shifting in and out of being pop sensible. Charlesworth credits Greenmount Studios for much of it, but there's more to be heard lurking here. It makes all the music less predictable, rightly disrupting the direction (but not the melody) with screeching guitars, heavy bass lines, and short runaway drum sets.

Occam's Razor by The Spills is available on iTunes. You can also download Occam's Razor from Amazon. Buy it from bandcamp and enjoy an eleventh track. Nobody here has heard it yet, but chances are it rocks. For everyone else on this side of the pond, keep hoping they have cause to visit the States.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Seven Billion Actions And All Good Will

In October, the world topped 7 billion people. Some people see it an achievement. Some see it as a challenge. Some people recognize it as both at the same time. And some see it as nothing important at all.

"Some say our planet is too crowded. I say we are 7 billion strong," said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "In our increasingly interconnected world, we all have something to give and something to gain by working together."

Seven billion is a big number. It's especially hard to grasp because the population has been growing exponentially. In 1900, there were a mere 1.6 billion on the planet. There were about 4 billion in 1975.

Last year, Luccaco, a small web design studio in South America, created a video and info-graphic to help put the total population in perspective. By scaling the entire population from 7 billion to a small community of 100 people, a different picture emerges all together. They call it the miniature earth project.

While some people have questioned the statistics, the sentiment still conveys clarity. We live on a planet that is much different from the one we see every day of our lives. And chances are, if you are reading this article, you have plenty to be grateful for. You are better off than about 92 percent of the world.

Some of the other numbers are even more startling. Twenty-one of those people live on less than $1.25 per day. Twelve cannot read. Fourteen are hungry. And that alone might be enough to remind you to appreciate what you have because whatever you have is more than so many other people in the world.

Seven Billion Actions - A Global Movement For All Humanity. 

Although the Seven Billion Actions is spearheaded by the United Nations Population Fund, the effort is backed by more than 200 organizations and the call to action is largely individual. They are asking people to share their stories, music, and films on how they are making the world a better place today.

The stories being shared are varied, ranging from inspirations to actions. Sarah Raafat, a 15-year-old in Cairo, donates some of her time at an orphanage. Dr. Babatunde, the executive director of UNFPA, is dedicated to improving and empowering the lives of underserved populations. Katie Elliott is a musician in the United Kingdom who organizes performances for young people.

There are hundreds more stories, ranging from students to global leaders. But no matter what their dream or thought or contribution, they all recognize themselves as equal. They are one of 7 billion who want to make the world a better place in any number of possible and positive ways.

One of the most striking aspects of the campaign was its collaborative efforts with Playing For Change, which is a project that organizes and produces music using musicians from all over the world. This is the second time that Grammy-winning filmmaker Mark Johnson has been included.

The video was produced when the filmmakers traveled the world, adding each musician to the track and creating a video that they hope serves as a tangible example of something people can do together. It works, with the music temporarily erasing borders and boundaries for a common purpose and goal.

The ideology of Seven Billion Actions is exactly that. It's an effort to raise awareness and inspire action because even the smallest actions from a percentage of all the people on our planet can change the world, one action at a time. It celebrates both the individual triumph and the collective impact.

The Global Film Competition Through Seven Billion Actions. 

As part of the overall campaign, Seven Billion Actions is also hosting an international film competition that puts human faces to the challenges (and solutions) affecting our world. Submitted films are asked to focus on one of seven key issues targeted by the Seven Billion Actions project.

These issues include: breaking the cycle of poverty, empowering women and girls, young people, reproductive health, healthy environments, aging, and urban planning. Digital submissions will be accepted through February 15 and winners announced on March 8. Check here for submission details.

Seven Billion Actions 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.

Share your story, submit a film, or remix the  Seven Billion Actions theme. The choice is yours. Or maybe you can take it a step further and find an organization in your community to support or choose any number of worthwhile organizations. There is never any shortage of them. The choice is always yours.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Carina Round Circles The Last Time

Anyone who was disappointed that Los Angeles-based Carina Round celebrated her 10-year anniversary with a reissue is now redeemed. The singer/songwriter from Wolverhamption who turned down an offer to join the Smashing Pumpkins put up a new single.

It's not sugar and spice like the EP she put out two years ago, either. The new single, The Last Time, brings Round full circle to her early years, with her duality intact. She's beautiful. She's tortured.

And yet, it's unlike anything she has produced to date. Her vocals come on strong as an invitation and then punish for contributing to her pain. It's the perfect introduction to her next full-length due out in 2012. It's the most irresistible track I've listened to in weeks.

The Last Time is epic, passionate and mysterious. 

Inspired by a letter that someone sent Round, the song deliberately talks about the weather while alluding to something eerie and disturbing that is bubbling up from underneath. But we only see the surface.

What makes it the perfect introduction to her upcoming full-length album is she says there is something strange and beautiful going on within every song. It makes for the promise of something extraordinary soon enough.

The Last Time is a quest to push past any resistance and become what you want to become. And the video, directed by Scott Rhea, captures every bit of its elegant, haunting, and painful premise. Round transforms herself from her natural beauty into something dark, dramatic, and aggressively deep.

Even more remarkable, she stepped up her game by getting deeply involved in the engineering and production. The new approach allowed her to transform what she had initially composed and move this song and others in entirely new directions. Some songs, she says, she completely made over.

Given she has been performing with and opening for Puscifer (the side project of Maynard James Keenan) in support of the album Conditions Of My Parole, it's impossible to guess where she finds the time or the fire. But that is one of the things I've always liked about Round. She takes no prisoners.

Everything is coming together for Carina Round. 

Since Artist Direct first streamed The Last Time for one week in October, everything has come together for Round. American Horror Story picked up two of her songs for the show. She played on the Late Show With David Letterman with Puscifer. And she opened for Puscifer in my hometown of Seattle.

While people are still finding The Last Time video, expect to see the numbers climb. An interesting aside about the video, Round tapped the intriguing vision of Gary Baseman to decorate the set. Every painting you see in the music video belongs to him. Baseman and Round frequently collaborate. She even wrote a nursery rhyme for one of his recent events, introducing his ChouChou character.

All in all, if the album is anything like the single (and I have every indication it is), Round is about to release her most artistic, interesting, and delicious album next spring. If you like the find, then The Last Time will have to hold you over until winter.

The Last Time By Carina Round Smolders At 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Round has always been a vibrant force on the alternative music scene. Since 1996, she has supported some amazing acts, anyone and everyone from Annie Lennox to David Gray. But I've always felt her strongest work hits home when she balances that duality where beauty and ugly meet, where everything is raw and instinctive.

Round's The Last Time is available on iTunes. You can also find The Last Time on Amazon. Round is currently touring as a member of Puscifer, but she opens some shows too. The Last Time music video is available on iTunes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nicholas Griffin Plays The Dizzy City

After a German grenade kills his three friends and severely wounded him just a few feet away from a shell hole, Englishman Benedict (Ben) Cramb decides he has had enough of World War I. Mistaken for someone else in the muck where he lay unconscious, he is taken to a palace transformed into a hospital on the Isle of Wight.

Having a reprieve from the trenches for the first time in months, Cramb plays out the hand he is dealt. He assumes the officer's identity, capitalizing on the assumed diagnosis of amnesia and an inability to speak. The dangerous game goes on well enough, until 'his' fiancée arrives for a visit.

Although heartbroken after discovering the patient in the bed is not her would-be husband, she never suspects Cramb might have an intact memory. With a comforting, tear-strained smile, she promises that someone will come for him. She is sure of it. Cramb is too and quickly sneaks out, stowing aboard the first ship he can find.

Welcome To America, New York City, 1916. 

Cramb cannot believe his luck when the ship docks in New York City. The vibrant, noisy city streets suit him, an easy place to find work as a musician or anything else he might want to be. Even better, New York feels like a world away from the war in an America that has yet to formally choose sides.

All he has to do is keep his head down and stay away from British representatives and consulates. He knows as well as anyone that deserters are tried and shot without exception. He would have done exactly that, if he hadn't made his first friend, Julius McAteer.

McAteer, an older gent who makes his living as a professional flim-flam man, is looking for new talent to help him with his elaborate cons. He sees Cramb as the perfect candidate, someone who isn't against using what he learned growing up in the theater to make his mark or money. And, although McAteer doesn't know it, Cramb's own cons are what landed him on the front in the first place.

Dizzy City is the setting of an elaborate sting.

Nicholas Griffin paints Ben Cramb with such a complex brush, creating someone that can easily earn your sympathies as he plays out some of his smallest and creative cons. In fact, Cramb's likability makes it all the more difficult to accept a different point of view one-third into the book.

Griffin has no choice but to do it. The reader needs a bigger view to appreciate the scope of the real game.

The mark that McAteer intends to hustle isn't what he seems to be. On the surface, Midwestern cattleman Henry Jergens is just an affluent man who might be interested in music publishing. But Jergens is a willing participant in the fraud, hoping that it all might help him achieve his own specific agenda.

The first con plays out nicely enough. But the second sting, one set in motion by Jergens, brings Cramb full circle into a con that brushes up against the war he is trying to avoid. And on this side of the Atlantic, it all revolves around the ongoing arms trade.

As if this doesn't make the entertaining cat-and-mouse con interesting enough, Cramb develops a love interest with an actress. Split three ways between him, his unseen nemesis, and his second mark, Katherine Howells is as much a wild card in loyalties as she is in her emotions.

A bit about author Nicholas Griffin.

Part of what makes Cramb so real, especially as he takes in New York City for the first time, is that Griffin can relate. Although he has lived in New York for almost half his life, Griffin was born in London to an English father and American mother. So while New York is as much his playground as it is the setting for historical fiction, Griffin still recalls arriving for the very first time.

His talent for blending modern experience with historical research has always been a strength. His first book, The Requiem Shark, was written after discovering that one of his ancestors was a pirate. So before writing the novel, he spent time aboard an 18th century sailing vessel.

He did the same for his other books too. He traveled to Caucasus and Italy before writing two other novels. And for writing The House of Sight and Shadow, he asked friends to smuggle him into mortuaries and medical schools.

There is no indication be became a con man for Dizzy City, but Griffin has said he tried to structure the book as a game of three-card monte. Authors and writers, he says, have played it for years. They want to trick you into watching one character while you ought to have been watching the other.

Dizzy City By Nicholas Griffin Cons A 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

When Griffin changes the point of view for the very first time from Cramb to Jergens, it can be jarring. Cramb is so well drawn that Jergens is dull in comparison. Stick with the change. Howells' point of view plays much better, and eventually the book returns to its complex protagonist and the writing warms up again.

Dizzy City: A Novel By Nicholas Griffin is available on Amazon. You can also find the book at Barnes & Noble or for download on iBooks. Dizzy City was recently released as an audiobook on iTunes. It is read by Peter Bishop, who brings additional warmth to Cramb.