Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rising Artist Pick: Monks Of Mellonwah

When you ask Joe de la Hoyde who were some of his earliest musical influences, one name stands out among a long list of names. It stands out because it's the one name most people would never know.

John de la Hoyde is his brother, who taught himself to play guitar by downloading tabs from the Internet. Joe eventually did the same, falling in love with the guitar and diving deep into classical guitar studies, which he eventually pursued in school.

It was at school that one accidental happening would be the foundation of the Sydney-based indie rock band Monks of Mellonwah. The two brothers and three classmates — Will Maher from performing arts; Josh Baiddari from music studies; and Josh's friend Vikram Kaushik, who was already an accomplished guitar and violin player — planned to learn a few cover songs to raise money for the school's charity day. 

"Sometimes you are on a special journey and don't even realize it," says Joe de la Hoyde. "It was from there that we grew into our own band, Monks of Mellonwah."

Aside from Kaushik, who left the band to study overseas shortly after recording their first EP, the Monks of Mellonwah have always been the same bunch. What isn't exactly the same is the sound. Their upcoming 4-track EP, Neurogenesis, carries an unexpected maturity for a band that hasn't cut an album.

Some of the credit belongs producer Ryan Miller (RM Music). Joe de la Hoyde says Miller gave them much more freedom in the studio, reinforcing the band's decision not to be hung up on traditional structures or hurting to cut every song under the 3:30 finish line.

"Some parts were done with Miller and others in different recording spaces, in different frames of mind," says Joe de la Hoyde. "The result could be seen as a product of those places and moments, giving it all a big open and free feel with nothing ever feeling rushed."

Free is a fitting description for the album. All four of the band members are spiritual, with the idea of an existence outside of the physical one very real to them. Underscoring this point is the inspiration behind the second track, which the Monks of Mellonwah are using as an introduction to the EP. Some of the video footage is as personal as the song.

"When we were writing these songs, John and Joe's grandfather passed away," says singer Will Maher.  "This event in their lives and in ours had a very heavy influence on the Neverending Spirit. It's about coping with loss by embracing the idea of another life. Their love can't escape your heart."

According Maher, the band is equally attached to all of the songs. Each has a particular connection to one or more of the band members for different reasons. Kyoto is about someone losing their mind and forgetting who they are. You Shine is about love and the power to heal. And the opening track, which is clearly the standout of the four, is about J. Robert Oppenheimer, often called the father of the atomic bomb. 

"I was trying to get inside Oppenheimer's head when I wrote it. I mean: What was his emotional reaction to what he had to create? What did it mean to him?" says Maher. "The chorus suggests a kind of attachment between Oppenheimer and his creation, like Frankenstein and his monster. It's a dark attachment."

Like many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer had mixed feelings about the necessity of bringing the atomic age to life. He later said that it brought to mind words from Bhagavad Gita. Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. (Verse 32, Chapter 11). 

"Neurogenesis is probably a standout as it touches deeply, particularly when we play it live," he said. "When we get up on stage and connect with the audience, it feels amazing. Music breaks down cultural barriers and in some cases makes a positive change in people's lives. Connecting the universe through art is the ultimate experience."

Incidentally, Neurogenesis and Neverending Spirit were mixed by Jeff Bova (Michael Jackson, Billy Joel) and Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) put together the final mixes. For their upcoming album, the band will be entering the studio with Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac, Ozzy Osbourne, Grateful Dead) in November. The expected release date is early 2013. 

Neurogenesis By The Monks Of Mellonwah Explodes At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Advanced tracks of Neurogenesis have earned some wildly mixed reviews, from flaming to fawning for their departure from the more funky rock and indie pop sound that epitomized Stars Are Out. Our take is that Neurogenesis is a progression that will easily pave the way to greater things for this band, with Neurogenesis being darkly brilliant, Neverending Spirit carelessly confessional, and Kyoto perfectly distributed. 

Although the EP originally had a release date of May 25, the iTunes release date was kicked back to June 6. We'll update this interview with download links as soon as the album is available. In the interim, you can give the three remaining songs on the album a spin on the band's website. Their early work as a 5-piece, Stars Are Out, can be found Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Autumn Dynasty Inks Beautiful Battles

There have been relatively few true real-time strategy (RTS) games developed for the iPad, but expect that to change soon. Autumn Dynasty is as playable as it is beautiful, setting a higher bar in the process.

Although the campaign play is woven together with a simple but intelligent storyline, the crux of the game by Touch Dimensions is a large scale real-time military combat simulator set in medieval Asia. Players command units of swordsmen, pikemen, archers, horsemen, calvary, and catapults while building an infrastructure (forts, camps, outposts, towers, and farms) to expand their growing military.

Anybody who has ever played any real-time strategy game ought to know the drill. Players want to build as much as possible, which aids in training a larger army. At the same time, it's likely they will have to defend their encampments against an increasing onslaught of enemy units.

There are four ways to play the game: campaign, skirmish, bluetooth (iPad vs. iPad), and online. No matter which game play you pick, there is considerable attention to detail. It ranges from the storyline of a campaign to the single-player skirmishes that allow for one of three different artificial intelligence (AI) opponents.

The artistic stylings of Autumn Dynasty makes it a standout game.

Most real-time strategy games have to balance speed and art. Autumn Dynasty doesn't have to. By choosing a visually appealing minimalistic design, the game looks great without sacrificing speed.

It plays out on a landscape that carries the simple but striking look of a Chinese ink wash painting, a timeless technique dating back to 600 A.D. The environment looks like it was inked and painted on parchment. The various units are simple while showing off some tiny, well-designed brushstrokes.

The best part of the art is that it goes beyond merely mimicking the look of an ink wash painting. The entire goal of ink wash painting is to capture the soul of whatever is being reproduced. And as units are directed with the graceful lines of touchscreen orders, they do seem to come to life on the screen.

The design and movements of the units and look of the buildings also make it even easier to forget that the game itself is based largely on rock-paper-scissors behind-the-scenes game play. It feels like playing a piece of history. Of course, there are other variables thrown into the mix.

Called doctrines, Autumn Dynasty adds variables that include special training for each unit: improved equipment, building enhancements, special skills, and elemental magic. Each doctrine has numerous abilities and three tiers in each to provide units and buildings with more and more power.

Making minute-to-minute decisions on whether to build, research, or train more units (and what kinds) is especially challenging in the single-player skirmishes. Most players will want to start with the campaign mode because it is as much a general a tutorial as it is game play with a decent back story.

A small introduction to the campaign story of Autumn Dynasty. 

The storyline is straightforward but interesting enough to hold attention, even when it is drawn out during a few of the cut scene sections. (It can always be skipped too.)

The nutshell version is that peace in the ancient Empire is threatened by a growing divide between the North and South. Rumors of unrest have prompted the bureaucracy (made up of farmers, nobles, and soldiers) that runs the Empire to commission an investigation.

Then again, a looming civil war seems certain as the South has not paid its annual taxes. But nobody told Scholar Hsu, because he sets out to investigate on behalf of the North with nothing much more than a wagon.

You know what happens next. Like any RTS that begins this way, some campaign scenarios are meant to be lost to advance the story. In this case, being robbed helps Scholar Hsu meet General Li.

Mostly, protagonist Scholar Hsu (the player) is looked upon more and more like a leader (assuming the payer does well). Told primarily in a cut scene storyboard fashion, each captioned frame carries the theme of the ink brush art renderings forward, creating a very promising game experience. What isn't as straightforward is that it becomes increasingly obvious the developers built in a plot twist or two.

Autumn Dynasty For The iPad Renders 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Touch Dimensions has created a painstakingly detailed and very playable game with enough variations to keep the story from becoming too tedious. The ink brush painting concept is perfect, not only because it fits in with the medieval Orient, but also because it provides just the right amount of detail. It's also obvious that the game was specifically designed for tablet play; mastering a few gestures is simple.

Touch Dimensions said its distributor, BulkyPix, will offer Autumn Dynasty at an introductory rate. Some people shy away from games priced at $5 or more, but this one is worth it if you like RTS games. The game was originally conceived in 2009, but dramatically improved with better unit graphics and the removal of the paint brush pointer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Obits Dream If They Want To

Brooklyn-based indie rockers Obits may have been busy trekking across Europe in May, but the band still found time to cut two cover songs for a new 7" single put out by SubPop during their tour. Both songs are perfect fits for the band, showing off some snarly punk stylings in their interpretations.

At the same time, the single also revives some interest in the singer-songwriter who put the original tracks down: Willy DeVille of the legendary Mink DeVille.

If you've never heard the name, Mink DeVille was a long-time favorite house band at CGBG in New York City and Willy Deville a remarkable talent who helped rev up punk, rhythm and blues, roots rock, and the Brill Building sound (best described as a blend of rhythm and blues and Latin music) over two decades. DeVille's song, Let Me Dream If I Want To, is almost always among the top 100 standards that made 1970s punk rock.

Let Me Dream If I Want To rises up and out of the crypt.

The front track being selected is no doubt a nod to the special history it has from the crypt of Willy DeVille. It's the same song he opened with at CGBG when A&Rs Ben Edmonds happened to be in the house. Edmonds set to the sign the band that night, immediately pairing them with the legendary Jack Nitzche.

Despite this status, the song is largely considered a rarity. It's nearly impossible to find a sampling online. But for anyone who knows, although the Obits scrubbed the alternative title of the song, the meaning and lyrics remain intact. Let Me Dream If I Want To was sometimes referred to as Amphetamine Blues.

Singer/songwriter Rick Forberg does a brilliant job snarling through the lyrics. It's an especially good accompaniment to take on tour because the band's last album, Moody, Standard And Poor, was a little more restrained than their debut. Adding the cover to their touring track list no doubt livens up the presence.

What also makes it a bit unexpected is that Forberg was trying to tone down the screams because it hurt his throat. Maybe that doesn't matter as much as long as he doesn't do it in big doses.

The B-side is a bit tamer, but not much. This City Is Dead is a amazing punk-infused roots rocks track. The vibe is perfectly matched to Let Me Dream If I Want To, with its buzzing repetitive riffs and angst riddled lyrics. Simple, but insanely addictive as it pines away at boredom.

Neither song really showcases the true crackpot anglings and run amok creativity that has made the band a staple on the indie rock scene. Neither is as challenging for Sohrab Habibion (guitar), Greg Simpson (bass), or Scott Gursky (drums) as the Obits's original original material. And neither really makes us forget about the songwriting ability of Forberg, which is always missed on covers.

Maybe DeVille was right about how things might play out.

If you are a band like the Obits and you're going to cover someone, then it makes sense to turn to an underplayed New York punk and roots rock legend like Willy DeVille. And in covering a pair of underplayed songs, the Obits do a superb job making their take fit seamlessly into their road show (they could have had bonus tracks on the last album) while still paying homage to a career cut short.

"I have a theory," DeVille once said. "I know that I'll sell much more records when I'm dead. It isn't very pleasant, but I have to get used to this idea."

With these two new covers by the Obits, DeVille might have proven himself right. These are two of the most significant revivals of DeVille work since Quentin Tarantino droped It's So Easy on the soundtrack of Death Proof, which was part of the ready-made Grindhouse double-feature.

Let Me Dream If I Want To By The Obits Orbits 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

After their European tour comes to an end in Barcelona this June, expect the Obits to take a month-long break before returning to the road in the United States. The first venues to host them in August include the Red 7 in Austin and Marquis Theater in Denver. You can find four playable tracks from their website.

For the Let Me Dream If I Want To single, head over to iTunes. You can also find Let Me Dream If I Want To b/w The City Is Dead at Amazon. For anyone equally interested in sampling some early work by Mink DeVille, the best album to start with is Cabretta. What you'll hear is an amazing blend of roots rock, punk, and blues.

Monday, May 28, 2012

American War Mothers Good Will Pick

"The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men." — Minot J. Savage

There is an 18-foot limestone obelisk that stands quietly at the intersection where East Meyer Boulevard, Brooklyn Avenue, and The Paseo converge near Dunn Park in Kansas City, Montana. There are metal stars affixed to three of its four sides: gold, symbolizing those who died in World War I; blue, symbolizing those who were wounded; and white, representing those who returned uninjured.

The American War Mothers insignia adorns the fourth side of the fountain. It serves as a solemn reminder that under the uniforms of any branch of the Armed Forces, servicemen and women were once children who played on the front lawn like any children, perhaps with their mothers casting a glance out the front window with an approving, prideful smile, largely unaware of the sacrifice they would later endure.

American War Mothers and related organizations on Memorial Day.

American War Mothers was established a perpetual patriotic organization in 1917. It grew out of the bond that many women formed while assisting the war effort at home. Although they were not on the front lines, they too lived a stories of struggle, patience, self-denial, and family sacrifice. Later, their efforts were recognized by a charter granted by the United States Congress in 1924.

The Great War, originally cast as the war to end all wars, was unfortunately short lived. With the onslaught of World War II, the charter was amended to include World War II. And then again, it was amended to include the Korean conflict and all future wars.

The American War Mothers service flag was seen in the iconic film Saving Private Ryan (1998), adorning the modest home of Mrs. Ryan. But the tie to mothers also underscored the entire film as an ensemble of U.S. Rangers were asked to rescue Private James Ryan, whose mother learns that three of her fours sons were killed in action on the same day. United States Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall (played by Harve Presnell) shares a letter that inspires his decision to help alleviate Mrs. Ryan from additional grief.

Today, it is an organization that intersects with both Mother's Day and Memorial Day, and its local chapters are responsible for many memorials like the one in Kansas City, Montana, and are often distinguished by service flags with blue or gold stars. And these stars have inspired like-minded nonprofit organizations such as Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers.

Although the website of American War Mothers is in redevelopment, both Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers have active sites as well as several local American War Mothers chapters, such as in Maryland. Blue Star Mothers hold rallies to support active duty servicemen and women as well as various veteran organizations. Gold Star Mothers participate in many memorial events. The group consists of women who have lost a son or daughter in service to their country.

Along with these organizations that remember the fallen, there is another organization that not only looks at our servicemen and women as sons and daughters but also as mothers and fathers. Children Of Fallen Soldiers provides a long-term mentorship program for kids who have lost a parent while serving in the U.S. military.

When the children are 10-14 years old, the organization accepts applications for acceptance into the America's Dream program. Once accepted, the organization makes a 10-year commitment to assist and empower these children to achieve their goals.

Currently, Children Of Fallen Soldiers is also hosting an Expression of Appreciation, which encourages people to write a letter, submit a photo, or create a video specifically for children who have lost a parent. The point of the expressions is to recognize that the sacrifice of servicemen and women isn't exclusively their own. It is a sacrifice that is shared by their families.

American War Mothers Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick On Memorial Day. 

At least once a month, Liquid Hip highlights the good will efforts undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don't score them. That belongs to you.

We chose American War Mothers and closely related nonprofit organizations not only because Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and national pride, but also because it touches on global awareness. While it is easy for some to forget that the men and women who serve in any military are somehow removed while they wear a uniform, the truth is that they are never removed.

They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers who deserve some semblance of reverence as long as peace remains elusive and conflict part of human experience. All four organizations mentioned above, American War Mothers, Blue Star MothersGold Star Mothers, and Children Of Fallen Soldiers, place peace among their highest priorities. And whether you choose to support them or something tied to a different country of residence, we hope you feel the same way.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Always In Time For Blood Red Shoes

Although the album is already out in the U.K., plenty of people are still anticipating In Time To Voices by Blood Red Shoes. The follow-up album to their subversive Fire Like This is the most ambitious work ever produced by the duo from Brighton, England.

While more polished than previous installments, In Time To Voices doesn't even hint that the couple are careless enough to abandon their underground punk and rook roots. Their first single released in the U.S. proves it well enough.

Cold, which was released in advance of the album, is as fiery and erratic as ever. Steven Ansell (drums/vocals) and Laura-Mary Carter (guitar/vocals) carry a bigger sound with the single, each taking turns to deliver equal parts to the tenuous push and pull between two souls. It hits home in alluding to the idea that love isn't something you need to fight for. You either fall into it or fall out of it.

In Time To Voices smolders back and forth between rough and tender.

The album is much more carefully thought out, with some tracks carving out a softness that isn't necessarily characteristic for the band that sounds best when they belt it out. The decision to bring in a mix like this clearly shows a maturity over the last eight years.

Just don't become too comfortable. Je Me Perds packs in punk in under 90 seconds. The standout track angrily powers up the angriest side of Ansell as he pummels the drums and Carter screams out her verses. It's brilliantly ballsy, breaking away from anything else on the album.

Je Me Perds and Cold are both in the same category. Download them while they are available because not all Blood Red Shoes albums stay up indefinitely in U.S. stores. Following is a live session of Cold, which comes across with a little less power than the official video but with more personality.

Lost Kids may not be as sharp, but is decidedly provocative in its prose. Both Ansell and Carter emote the frustration and disillusionment felt by youth who don't know what to do with themselves. As the song declares, they feel buried anyway.

The title track, In Time To Voices, is thoughtfully composed, starting as a delicate ballad that sneaks up on its powered-up chorus more than 90 seconds into the song. At the same time, it showcases Carter's amazingly controlled vocals. The fact she can hit her notes so effortlessly while fiercely working the guitar and stomping pedals is something that has to be seen to be believed.

The tenderness comes into play on tracks like the broody but hard-handed Night Light, the dreamy atmospheric track Two Dead Minutes with a big finish, and contemplative contrasts that decorate 7 Years (in between some blistering jams and haunting distorts). The balance of the album, from the must-have Stop Kicking to deep bass lines of Down Here In The Dark, makes In Time To Voices a delicate display of contrasts between Ansell and Carter and the full weight of their indie rock stylings.

Even when you think some songs might stay confined to something more expectant of alt pop, one or both of them break into something more powerful. Slow, fast, in between; it doesn't really matter. The weight of the sticks and the power on the strings busts up any notion that Blood Red Shoes are soft, even when the lyrics or instruments take a few licks at tenderness.

This band continues to be unafraid of whatever they want to tackle. It's painfully obvious that the last two more years of guitar riffs, drum smacks, and switch-hit vocals have only made them better.

In Time To Voices By Blood Red Shoes Bleeds 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While their sophomore outing can easily be called their breakout album, In Time For Voices proves that they have no intention of squandering their talent in order to appeal to the mainstream. Likewise, as creatively fierce as Ansell and Carter can sometimes be with each other, it's always great to know they make up in time to craft some memorable music.

In Time To Voices is available on iTunes. Like many of their other albums, Amazon does have In Time To Voices is available as an import. Blood Red Shoes is currently touring Europe this summer with plans to return to the U.K. in August.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Veronica Roth Discovers The Divergent

A little more than a year ago, author Veronica Roth introduced a seemingly unassuming 16-year-old girl named Beatrice Prior in Divergent, the book in a trilogy set in the isolated, crumbling, and dystopian city of Chicago. No one ever really talks about how things used to be. They are too busy doing what needs to be done in the present.

The society they have built is rigid. In the hope of averting future wars, the city shrugged off stereotypes associated with politics, religion, and ethnicity in favor of factions that cater to five virtues: candor (honesty), abnegation (selflessness), dauntless (bravery), amity (peacefulness), and the erudite (intelligence). Not everyone is especially suited for one of these five. Those who don't fit become factionless, subjugated to a life of menial labor and poverty.

For Beatrice, while the fear of being factionless is ever present, she has never truly known their struggle. Instead, she faces a struggle of a different kind. At 16, like the children of every faction, and along with her brother of the same age, she must choose which she will dedicate the rest of her life to. But even after making a choice, there is no guarantee of acceptance.

Divergent tackles identity and stereotypes in beautiful and frightening ways.

Although born into abnegation and seemingly suited to the pursuit of selflessness, Beatrice begins to doubt her affinity for the faction that eschews the self and shuns anything that might draw attention to it (mirrors, jewelry, etc.). Since leaving a faction isn't an easy choice, Beatrice hopes a chemically induced simulation test will help her decide.

For most, the choices they make during the test provide a definitive direction. But Beatrice isn't one of them. Her test reveals a taboo result. She is divergent, which means she shows an aptitude for not one but three of the five factions. It also means if her test results are discovered, it could mean death.

There are consequences regardless of her choice. Candor requires a blunt openness and objectivity to expedite judiciousness. Amity is carefree and lighthearted, tending to the agricultural needs of the city. Erudite (pronounced air-u-dyte) strives for knowledge, providing scientists and teachers. Dauntless is fearless, trained to protect the city in time of need. And abnegation leads the government, given their propensity to think of others first.

In the first book of the trilogy, Roth mostly pulls back the veil on three of the factions, abnegation, erudite, dauntless. Abnegation and dauntless provide the most startling contrasts among the three.

A brief insight into a society built upon factions.

Whereas one faction wears shapeless clothing and keeps their hair functionally short, the other adorns themselves in black with attention-grabbing cuts, piercings, and tattoos. Whereas one faction is quiet and meditative, the other is boisterous and prideful. And whereas one faction is welcoming with outstretched arms, the other is cruel in its expectation that candidates sink or swim, live or die.

In Dauntless, perhaps worst than death to some, only a few candidates will be accepted from the complete roster (something faction transfers are not aware of until they have already made their choice). Those who do not edge out their fellow initiates will be tossed out, much like the faction's elderly, injured, or otherwise compromised. There is no use for toothless lions inside their compound.

For any faction transfers, the odds aren't stacked in their favor. Dauntless children are taught to be brave, fight, and shoot all their lives. Faction transfers, on the other hand, may have never even seen a gun let alone fired one with any accuracy. Likewise, most are surprised to learn that at least part of the process to earn their position within dauntless requires sparring sessions that last until one of the two competitors can no longer complete.

With abnegation, any threat of acceptance doesn't come from the outside. The challenge is much more internal as initiates attempt to lose themselves in a selfless existence. Among the factions, their lives seem to be the steadiest — structured and organized as they attend to government assignments or, in some cases, dedicate their lives to caring for the less fortunate and factionless.

Veronica Roth is a breakthrough author with a memorable debut. 

Chicago-born Roth has barely had enough time to do anything since college or her wedding to fill her biography. Her first book, Divergent, was accepted and published by Katherine Tegen Books when Roth was 23. Roth had just finished studying creative writing at Northwestern University.

Based on the recent success of a different trilogy, it seems like only a matter of time before this one becomes a movie. Summit Entertainment has purchased the rights. Red Wagon, a production company, has signed on to the film. Evan Daughtery (Snow White and the Huntsman; Killing Season) has already written the screenplay.

The second book, Insurgent, is out on the market (and already slated for review here soon). The third book is not expected until fall 2013. Although geared for young readers and occasionally romancing the teens in the story, the trilogy is a striking debut with some reservations.

Divergent By Veronica Roth Burns Bright At 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Roth has built a dynamic but isolated world, the most interesting aspect of the book is her treatment of sociology (and the psychology of how people react to it). By stripping away current prejudices and replacing them with new ones, the story is as compelling internally as it is externally.

This also raises questions about whether it really earns a dystopian categorization. Mostly, the characters are interested in saving their way of life from someone with a dystopian vision. Along with that, people ought to know the read is lighter than works that line up with literature (the writing carries the point of view of an immature teen sheltered by abnegation) and ends in the right spot but feels abrupt.

This leaves many questions unanswered in the first book, which Roth picks up in the second. That said, Divergent has a hard time standing on its own. In total, it's easy to tell this is one big story, split into three books.

Divergent (Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth is available on Amazon and the book can be ordered from Barnes & Noble. You can also download the book for iBooks. iTunes carries the audio version, which is read by Emma Galvin. Galvin is an excellent choice as a narrator, delivering just the right balance for a character who is brazenly daring at times and naively doubting at others.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

DZ Deathrays Flows Into Bloodstreams

As difficult as it can be to get past the gimmick attached to their 'death mask' album cover, the half-breed punk and psychedelic thrash put out by the DZ Deathrays does better than throw a few punches. They land plenty of them on their new album Bloodstreams.

The album follows on the back of their No Sleep EP released in March, and now the band has even more time in with producer Richard Pike (PVT). His goal was to make Shane Parsons sound fiercer and Simon Ridley faster, creating a bigger sound despite being a duo that used to be a trio in a past life. (They used to be in a band called Denzel, named after the cartoon.)

While some listeners might miss the early lack of discipline carved out from their impromptu start at a house party in Brisbane, Parsons (vocalist/guitarist) and Ridley (drums) do keep some of their genre-busting inspiration intact — even if they are too busy to look back. They sense the immediacy of their music might be real.

Bloodstreams is hard-working psychedelic punk rock from start to finish. 

You would never know it listening to the 13 tracks that make up Bloodstreams, but Parsons and Ridley are playing through as if their days are numbered. The urgency they convey on stage is real because they haven't settled into the idea that DZ Deathrays has staying power.

That doesn't mean they don't want it. Outside of being bigger, the album boasts a cleaner sound with much more diversity than their noisy roots suggested. Mostly, it pays off for the band. Parsons manages to turn down the angst in his vocals into something more restrained, even when nothing is restrained.

That is a change from the earliest days when Parsons said that they "like the challenge of making as much noise as possible with just two people." Ridley had mused in response that it's all about hitting the drums harder and setting the amps louder.

There is certainly some of that on Bloodstreams. But there is also something else. The second track on the album almost creates the illusion of a relatively relaxed band, even if they are anything but relaxed.

What Dollar Chills does best is balance out the opener. Teenage Kickstarters is closely related to their EP work, capitalizing on the band's ability to convey urgency. Almost immediately, the strident pace is recognizable as the minimalistic thrashy briskness that characterizes the band.

Later on down the track list, Cops Capacity plays much the same way. The two-and-a-half minute assault breaks down into a room-spliting house party chant. You can hear it in the words. It's meant to be heard live.

All in all, some of the buzz up (where there is buzz up) comes from the electronic undertones on some tracks. Dumb It Down, Trans Am, Debt Death, and Brains all make the case for that. Yet, those songs might not have the longevity of those being skipped over in favor of the most visible and familiar.

The tracks getting the least attention will have more staying power.

Listen to those first if you want, but there are better songs. Dinomight might come across as punk autopilot but the song's head pounding raggedness keeps things interesting. Gebbie Street, which is carried over from earlier recordings, hits on some of the album's best riffs as it drifts away from rap-rock and into a ripping crescendo. Witchcraft adds in the right amount of sludge in under two minutes.

Where the experimentation truly falls flat is Play Dead Until You're Dead. As a cool down song, it doesn't lend much to the music. The best part about it is the organ, but it otherwise it doesn't fit.

Overall the album works, even if some of the songs rely on  novelty more than musicianship. The question some people might ask is how long will the novelty last? In terms of the album, it will depend on the song. In terms of the band, it will depend on what comes next.

DZ Deathrays Zap Bloodstreams To 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While their earlier work might play better overall, there is still a lot to like about DZ Deathrays. Parsons and Ridley picked up tenacity as much as music tips from inspirations like DFA 1979 and Lightning Bolt. They also worked hard to get overseas fast, something they never seemed to be able to do with other bands. The U.K. was immediately receptive; the U.S. was a bit tepid until SXSW.

Bloodstreams by DZ Deathrays is worth the listen, but pick your songs carefully. You can find Bloodstreams on iTunes or download the album from Amazon. Barnes & Noble will carry the physical CD soon in the U.S. If you have a chance, check out the Bands In Transit session on YouTube featuring the song Rad Solar.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catalina Island Is A Wrigley Dream

As impulsive as it sounds, William Wrigley Jr. had never set foot on Catalina Island before he purchased it in 1919. He and a partner bought the 76-mile island based on nothing more than a few postcards. He didn't know it was mountainous. He thought it was flat.

All that would quickly change on his first visit to the island with his wife. When she awoke on the first morning, Mrs. Wrigley walked to the window and excitedly called out that she would like to live there.

"I joined her at the window," Wrigley said. "The sun was coming up. I had never seen a more beautiful spot. Right then and there, I determined that this island would never pass out of my hands." 

Wrigley meant it. When he and his original partner couldn't agree on how to best develop the island, Wrigley bought him out and took sole ownership of it. Shortly after, he began improving island with public utilities, adding hotel accommodations, building bungalettes, designing landscapes, hosting spring training for the Cubs, and finishing construction on what has become known as the iconic Casino (above).

To transport people to and from island, two passenger ships (SS Avalon and SS Catalina) would ferry them back and forth as part of his "day trip" concept. It worked better than he could have ever dreamed. In 1919, 90,000 people visited the island. In 1930, total visitors reached 750,000.

More than that, Catalina became more than a resort destination to Wrigley. It was his family's home. His son, Phillip Wrigley, felt the same way. In 1975, he created the Santa Catalina Island Conservatory to protect the the island's natural and cultural treasures. That decision preserved the majority of it.

Avalon is unlike any other escape, less than an hour from Los Angeles. 

Avalon is the primary community (one of two) on the island. The name was taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Idylls of the Kings" by one of the first developers hoping to transform the island into a resort destination before the Wrigley family acquired it. Today, it's the primary center of activity.

The Mediterranean-style streets are nestled around the waterfront of the mostly rocky harbor; although there is a small sandy beach area that children will enjoy. The shops that line the waterfront are an eclectic mix of resort and sportswear, art, jewelry, and specialty gifts.

The harbor town is especially pedestrian friendly. Cars are rare compared to golf carts, which are the more common means of transportation (although you won't need it).

There are dozens of places to eat around the island, both quick eats and sit down. There really aren't any to avoid, but there several standouts such as Ristorante Villa Portofino, an Italian restaurant, leaning Tuscan; and Avalon Grille, which is mostly continental with an emphasis on seafood and steak.

Interestingly enough, breakfast always reminds diners that the first European explorers visiting the island were Portuguese. Although sailing for Spain, it's some of the Portuguese influence that survived, including linguica as a staple for breakfast.

During the summer, the island hosts a summer concert series, mostly rock, every other weekend. There are other events on opposite weekends, including an exceptional Fourth of July celebration with a four-hour concert and fireworks over the bay. The island also hosts first-run movies in the historic Avalon Theatre. Originally designed for orchestras and live theater, it's now one of the more glamourous movie theaters in the world, with Art Deco murals by John Gabriel Beckman.

Avalon is the launch area for island adventures year round. 

Outside of town, there is a surprising number of things to do on or near the island, especially for those with an affinity for water. The island has always been known for its sports fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and sailing excursions. Most excursions are reasonably priced, and those chartering sailboats might catch a glimpse of dolphins and sea lions, depending on the time of year.

For more relaxed tours, Catalina Island has a number of glass bottom boats, flying fish tours, and even a submarine. Do keep in mind while the latter is a fun experience, motors tend to kick up so much sediment in the kelp forests around the bay that visibility is minimal. (There are better places to snorkel.)

On land, there are plenty of hiking, biking, and walking activities right around Avalon. But beyond that, there are off-road, eco-, and wildlife sightseeing tours that will take you deeper into the interior of the island. Spotting buffalo is especially fun. They were originally introduced to the island in 1924 for a film.

While there are a number of hotels on the island, Hotel Metropole (named after the original hotel that was destroyed in a 1915 fire) is comfortable for a reasonable price. The location of the hotel lobby sometimes throws people off because its front entrance is located on a side street (or at the back of Metropole Marketplace).

Requesting an ocean view is almost a must because most rooms have courtyard views, which mostly look down a maze of shop frontage. The mini suites are especially well appointed with their own private balconies and Jacuzzi tubs. The real magic of the hotel is its ideal central location, just a few steps from the small harbor beach I mentioned earlier.

Catalina Island Raises Escapes To 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the review encompasses the entire island as an escape, the Hotel Metropole with its friendly and accommodating staff easily adds to the experience. If you do stay at Hotel Metropole, the outdoor hallways might surprise you while heading to your room (they overlook back rooftops), but you'll feel at home inside the rooms.

Most of the time you won't be inside. Even if the weather casts gray skies and misty rain, you'll want to be outside. Traveling to the island is easy enough. You can save up to 60 percent from Fare Buzz to Los Angeles. From Long Beach or Dana Point, there are ferries departing every two hours (on average). Fares are an additional $70 for adults ($55 for children under 12).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Godsmack Thrives Live And Inspired

Massachusetts’ favorite son Sully Erna and Godsmack have released the first live CD in the band’s 17-year history. Live & Inspired was recorded during the band’s 2010 tour, but sounds as fresh as it does familiar.

The original concept was to pick songs performed in various cities along the way, but 80 percent of the disc was ultimately recorded at the Fox Theatre in Detroit because of a very lively and engaged audience. The band, already well known for their powerful live performances and ravenous fan base, made the right choice because Live & Inspired captures the energy of their shows without compromise.

An uncompromising live album is just what the band needed. 

The 13 tracks selected are mostly band staples from their studio albums, including The Enemy, Voodoo, and Whatever. All of them continue to be the cornerstone of their live shows.

Unfortunately you won't find any songs from Oracle, but that’s not by choice. The band didn’t have any recordings from Oracle when Live & Inspired was recorded.

There is still plenty to highlight from the album, including Whatever, which plays better live. I Stand Alone, a song that the band contributed to film The Scorpion King soundtrack, is also nothing less than explosive. It's a fan favorite; the most played active rock song in 2002 for a 14 weeks.

Speak, a song written by all four band members, shows their cohesion as a group, and showcases the work of bassist Robbie Merrill and guitarist Tony Rombola. Rombola recalls how Speak first came together.

“While on tour with Metallica, Robbie, Shannon (Larkin) and I were jamming in the dressing room," he says. "Sully popped his head in the room cause he really liked the riff we were playing and he pretty much wrote the melody and finished the song right then and there."

Of course, no live album would be complete without Batalla de los Tambores, which is a drum battle between Erna and drummer Shannon Larkin. Erna spent 20+ years behind a drum kit before forming Godsmack, and it’s clear that his timing and chops are just as strong as ever.

"Live & Inspired is our way of saying 'thank you' to all of our fans for believing in us throughout the years, and helping us to become a great live band,” said Erna. “Along with this ass-whooping set live from Detroit Rock City, we've also included four cover songs of our favorite hits in the past to show you that, we too, are simply just fans that appreciate nothing more than good old fashioned ass-kicking rock 'n' roll! Enjoy!"

Erna is referring to a 4-track bonus disc featuring covers of Rocky Mountain Way, originally performed and made legendary by Joe Walsh; the Beatles’ Come Together; Pink Floyd’s Time; and Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters.

The tracks were selected because they in some way inspired the band. And all four do the originals justice, particularly the passionate Nothing Else Matters and Time, in which the band stays true to the original with Erna sounding remarkably like David Gilmour.

All in all, there isn’t a weak link on the track list. Produced and and recorded by Godsmack, the album also benefits from mixing by Dave Fortman (Slipknot, Anthrax) at Prism Sound Studios in Acton, Massachusetts; and mastering by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine.

Another interesting aspect of the album is that Godsmack showcases how they relish their roles as fans and understand and appreciate their own fans. With Live & Inspired, fans not only participated during the live shows but were also invited to share photos for potential inclusion on the CD’s packaging. Photos include the band on stage, posing with fans, and tattoo close-ups.

 Godsmack Live & Inspired Rocks 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When some bands release live albums to tide over fans (and record companies) in between studio albums, the result is lackluster. But that's not the case here. Live & Inspired holds its own as one of the finer live albums over the past few decades.

Filler it is not. But those itching for a new album anyway can look ahead to 2013, when the band is anticipating the release of its next album. The band recently wrapped up a 20-city tour with fellow Massachusetts rockers Stained. Godsmack has confirmed their participation in Shiprocked, billed as the “ultimate rock music cruise vacation,” for November and December.

They’ll share the bill with Five Finger Death Punch, Fuel, Filter, Sevendust, P.O.D., Black Stone Cherry, Lit, Geoff Tate, In This Moment, and Gilby Clarke. The 4-day cruise sails from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Key West, Florida, and Nassau Bahamas.

Live & Inspired is available from iTunes. Live & Inspired [2 CD] is also available from Amazon and you can find it on Barnes & Noble. This is one of those cases when digital is cool, but the physical set is well worth it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Josh Bazell Takes Out A Wild Thing

When protagonist Dr. Peter Brown (AKA Pietro Brwna AKA Bearclaw) first appeared in Beat The Reaper, my immediate thought was Josh Bazell had invented a character who could deliver a formidable ride regardless of the circumstances. Brwna is as well made as he is big, and Bazell created an entertaining an unapologetic voice for him. 

Some things don't change in Wild Thing: A Novel. Some things do. It won't take too long for anyone reading it to feel some mild disappointment as they realize the author actually is hellbent on proving Brwna can survive any story. Sadly, almost half of Bazell's readers said he didn't. And I don't mean fictionally.   

The novel is one part good and one part distraction; not nearly as good as the debut. 

The good is good. About ten years later, Brwna has adopted a new alias to hide from the mob that wants him dead. His new name is Lionel Azimuth and he is working as a doctor aboard a cruise ship. The idea of Azimuth getting caught up in an off-continent caper seemed promising. 

But it doesn't take long before he jumps ship, right after he receives a "Tel-E-Gram" from an old friend. Professor Marmoset, the man who helped him get into the Federal Witness Protection Program, needs a favor. One of the wealthiest men in America wants to hire Azimuth to join an expedition to a back woods lake near Ford, Minnesota. There might be a lake monster up there. And it's killing people.

True to form, Azimuth calls bull and says he isn't interested. He is interested, however, in a random figure he made up to discourage his employer--$85,000 plus expenses up to that amount.

It doesn't work. The disbelieving Azimuth is hired on the spot. It's a canoe trip.

Accompanying Azimuth on the expedition is a mental mirror image of him. Violet Hurst doesn't have the brawn, but she carries the attitude. She's as smart as Azimuth is practical, and has lust for hard talk and liquor. It doesn't hurt that she uses sex appeal to her advantage too. 

The two of them make an interesting pair, even if Bazell introduces the girl with a rant about global warming and planetary extinction that ultimately has little to do with the story and everything to do with author infusion. It's more fun to focus on their rough and tumble tug-of-war flirtations than that.

Along with them is an interesting assortment of characters from the sublime to sullen, some who even brought bodyguards. As cardboard are most of them are in comparison to Azimuth or Hurst, there is one more in the party who takes the cake and jumps the shark. Cliches intentional. 

Where the novel sometimes takes a turn for the wrong kind of absurd. 

The bad is bad. The story itself plays out like an adult Scooby-Doo skit. Instead of the four teens and a talking dog, it's Azimuth and Hurst. They are the duo who are to supposed to find a real monster or unmask the hoax, but their relationship is always on the surface (unlike those other meddling kids).

If that storyline sounds thin, Bazell does jump some sharks. Just before Azimuth and Hurst are sidetracked by Midwest meth makers (an occupation of last resort in the dozens of dying small towns), they exchange opinions about Scooby-Doo. Hurst does most of the talking. She knows it all. 

There is a surprising amount of talking in fact. Too much of it is packed with political commentary, painstakingly sourced at the end of the book. Most of it only accomplishes one thing — it slows down the adrenaline-fueled read that was worth relishing in the first place. And the kicker almost derails it all. 

Sarah Palin joins the party, but for no real purpose other than to give Bazell the opportunity to punk on Christians and Republicans. I might be more forgiving on this point if after all the flogging he just flat out said "Yeah, I wrote that. So what?" But at the end of the book, Bazell rides the fence saying he made up his depiction of Palin while providing source material to prove he didn't. Wimpish.

My advice, which is the only way to save the story, is to forgive the bravado and go along for the ride. When the ego is taken out of the equation, Wild Thing is served straight up, sexually tense, socially honest, and cleverly twisted. It doesn't even matter if you agree with Azimuth or not. He is an immensely enjoyable dark and funny character to follow. Case in point: My favorite quotable... 

I rarely do drugs anymore, because as I've grown older I've become able to achieve the same states of emotional instability and poor decision-making skills without them...

Wild Thing By Josh Bazell Sinks A 2.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The novel is worth it, but anyone coming in without the benefit of reading the definitely better novel, Beat The Reaper, will be disappointed. Even then, there is still a chance the follow-up won't satisfy the craving that the first one furnished. Think of it as a sequel that reads more like an afterword, with the storyteller ten years older and a little more plodding as a result. I was glad to read it, but some might not be.

Wild Thing: A Novel by Josh Bazell is available on Amazon. The book is also at Barnes & Noble or can be downloaded from iBooks. The audiobook on iTunes features Robert Petkoff as the narrator. He was the narrator for the first novel too. While I didn't think he had the right voice for the oversized character, people who listened to the first one will probably appreciate his return (even if his voice didn't age).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Something Snapped For Glasgow Punk

For the Glasgow-based melodic punk band The Day I Snapped (Snapped), running without a label has become second nature. Even after Lockjaw Records released their debut album, Hooked On Disaster in 2006, the band found themselves wondering what the label experience meant.

"When it came to releasing the next album, I was fairly keen to self-release from the start," says guitarist Richie Bradford. "It was something I had always wanted to do and I felt that there wasn't anything the label had done that we couldn't manage ourselves."

Maybe what it meant was nothing much had changed since the band first came together in 2000. They compose great music. They tap former bassist Chris Gordon (Baby Chaos/Union of Knives) to produce it. And then they book as many shows as they can to promote it, with a few bigger breaks along the way — like opening for Offspring, picking up a live session for Radio One's BBC, or having a couple of songs added to a motion picture soundtrack. 

Tales Of Ordinary Madness by The Day I Snapped deserves another turn. 

It also means the members are always competing against a time crunch, even when they aren't looking for a new bassist (they've had eight) or keeping up with responsibilities at home. They've become a mainstay in Glasgow, but haven't had enough opportunities to step out from it.

"If the guys in the band might have been a little younger, with less responsibilities, then we could have been in a position to gamble a bit more and head off into the unknown to play hundreds of gigs a year on the road," says drummer Craig Brennan. "We were never really in a position to do that. For me, joining this band was a last throw of the dice."

According to Brennan, many of their breaks took unlikely turns. Potential tours were canceled. Shows in England were canceled. The timing wasn't right. And the band formed late, coming together only after Bradford and Brennan (Beauty School Dropout) met singer Alan Easton (Mixu). 

As it turns out, that isn't a bad thing. Easton, who likes to write lyrics reflective of where he is in life or subjects that have an impact, would have never written the song No Answers ten years ago. The song, one of the sharpest on the album, hits on aging and making peace with lost youth. Contrast that with Start Again from their first album.

"I remember reading an interview with Wiz (Mega City Four) about how he tried to take inspiration from Bob Mould (Husker Du/Sugar) with regards to Mould writing about whatever touched them personally as a good starting point," said Easton. "I tried to pay attention to that approach when I first attempted to write songs years ago. The Mire, for example, is about people with addiction problems and how people who know them could have helped them better before, during, and after."

Both songs deviate from what Gasglow fans might recognize as Snapped, but there's an introspective roughness that makes them appealing. The same can be said for Find The Time, which has fallen by the wayside because it didn't hold up as well during live performances.

More familiar standouts include Trucks Of Nicaragua, itsjustadamnpopularitycontent, and Shadows Of The Past. A relentless physical presence, catchy choruses, and instrumental flares make up much of the signature sound.

"I'm personally really looking forward to getting out on tour this summer. It's been too many years since I got in the back of the van and properly hit the road," said Bradford. "We're doing a split tour with two band from down south (England) ... and we already have some ideas floating around at the moment and might have something new recorded by the end of the year."

The two bands Snapped is expected to join this July are Everything We Left Behind and Mug. Otherwise, the band says the punk scene is pretty healthy in Glasgow with promotors like Make That A Take Records and Wreckin' Pit helping to establish a convincing revival.

The Day I Snapped's Tales Of Ordinary Madness Snaps 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Tales Of Ordinary Madness is a fine body of work across a cohesive album, one that will finally capture some well-deserved attention on the road. While touring, Stuart Burnside (Burning Boy/Gallus Cooper) will be playing bass. Andy McFarlane (bass), who is featured on the album, headed to London shortly after band wrapped production.

Tales Of Ordinary Madness by The Day I Snapped is available on iTunes. Tales Of Ordinary Madness [Explicit] can also be downloaded on Amazon. You can keep up on their touring schedule on their Facebook page. On Twitter, they bill themselves as unpopular since 2000. Maybe, but they are cool.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Charles And Ray Still Inspire Designs

The answer to the question "what's in a chair" inevitably depends on the chair, especially if it was designed by Charles and Ray Eames. There was always something more about the work they started in the 1940s, which is why some furniture designers still aspire to capture it today.

The design of the DCM 1952 might seem simple at a glance for example, but it perfectly balanced form and function. That was part of the goal. When Charles and Ray Eames first started designing furniture for Herman Miller, the architect, artist, and their team wanted to make high-quality pieces that were affordable for average people.

At the same time, almost every piece they made carried an elegant modern look. For some designers, the look and innovations might have been enough. Not for the Eames team. They wanted it to work. 

"What works is better than what looks good," said Ray Eames. "The looks good can change, but what works, works."

All of the Eames designs incorporated shapes to comfortably support the seat and back of the human body. The chair became so collectible that originals aren't easy to find. The chair above (featured by the Eames Office) appears to have been sold from the collection it once belonged to. 

Fortunately, there are some designers who take the time to revisit the concept. The Eames chair, which is considered to be among the most collectible designs of the 20th century (and this century too), has been partially recreated in all wood.

While some variations certainly apply, some do not. For instance, the DCW chair inspired by Eames is all handmade. And even though it moves away from Eames' desire to retain natural wood, the veneer finishes are still striking in black, red, or one of four wood finishes.

The manufacturer does pay attention to detail. In fact, INFURN specializes in producing furniture that was designed between 1900 and 1986. The ones they painstakingly being back to life have all reached iconic status. They carry several other models, but Eames pieces immediately stood out.

As an alternative, we also found another designer that carries the inspired design. The manufacturer is Kardiel, which sells the product for about $100 less. Kardeil does a fine job because they triple sand the surfaces and then and five additional coats of UV polyurethane for protection. Eames took a different approach, staining the chair with black dye in order to preserve the grain of the original wood, but Kardeil is close.

This deceptively simple looking chair was a breakthrough in that they were among one of the first people to mold wood in such a way it could be easily reproduced. Interestingly enough, some of their techniques were developed out of a need to supply molded wood parts to aid allies in World War II.

The unforgettable talents of Charles and Ray Eames.

My interest in the Eames was recently sparked by a documentary about the husband and wife team who became one of the most important industrial designers in the history of the United States. While their furniture designs are often the first things that come to mind when people hear their names, their team touched more dreams than many people realize.

The film itself does an excellent job capturing the personal story of Eames, including interviews with friends, by piecing together an amazing collection of archival material. Not only does it capture some fascinating times, it also illustrates how the Eames were virtually out of time.

Best of all, the film captures the color of the characters, even when it attempts to discuss some controversies produced by the team. Some felt that the designers who worked for them never received enough credit because everything carried the signature of Charles Eames. Others, however, looked at it all differently. Without the Eames, including some of their innovative ideas, none of it would have existed.

When you begin to appreciate the true scope of their work and the impact it had on expanding American culture worldwide, there is no question how big of a role they played. They understood it better than most people — modern art and design can be the agents of change. So can two visionaries who happen to become a couple.

The DCW Chair Inspired By Eames Sits At 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The DCW Chair comes as close as possible to original design intent, even if it cheats a bit on the materials and finish. Still, this modern design — incredibly considered a classic even if it still looks modern — is one of several revived retro pieces discovered. They still make a statement today.

You can find the DCW Chair inspired by Eames from a collection that features designer furniture for less (about $280). The designers have recast several more inspirations too, including the infamous lounge chair that remains as iconic today as it was then. For $100 more, you can also find a DCM inspired chair as well. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saulnier Sings About Death Dreams

Any time Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson play together is a good thing. This time out, the garage rock duo from Kingston, Ontario, takes on a more ominous tone with the album they wrote on the road.

Instead of being about life in Kingston like their critically acclaimed debut, P.S. I Love You pulls back the curtain on Saulnier's subconscious away from home. During the tour, he had reoccurring dreams about his own mortality and the slow burn instrumental that opens the album is described as a death march.

The remaining ten tracks are not as downbeat. Saulnier has a way about himself. Even as his voice cracks over "I wish this summer was my last summer" in Future Dontcare, he still sets it against a bigger, upbeat sonic sound. And bigger sound is the direction he wants the band to go.

Enigmatic noise makes up most of Death Dreams. 

Much of it seems to do with how music shaped Saulnier. The soft-spoken singer originally fell in love with music because of metal. But then he stumbled into freewheeling improvisational jazz before finding himself making garage rock, lo-fi, and pop noise.

Many of his riffs are written down during long sessions of free play. He just plays on and then when he or Nelson hears something they like, he writes it down and eventually locks it into a song. Once it's locked, he sticks with it onstage, but only because improvisation would throw off his bass pedal work.

That might change sooner or later. While the band doesn't have any intention of adding new members for now, they have brought in a part-time player to occasionally cover guitar (but never the 12-string) or keyboards, depending on the song. With a third player, the best track is likely to sound even bigger, especially if Saulnier asks their touring member to play keys like a bass organ.

Don't Go thrills every step of the way as an introspective epic. It has a big beat, with Nelson (who also sings backup on this song) playing off Saulnier's need to play loud. This is also the one track where the vocal cracks suit the song as Saulnier bleats out that he was having the worst weekend of his life.

The energy here is electrifying, obviously driven in part by Saulnier's fear and awe of being on the road for the first tour. The same feeling comes across when he sings Toronto. He calls it a pretty city, even if it pushed his paranoia buttons.

Saulnier is a brilliantly raw lyricist who delivers soul shaky vocals.

The riffs and hooks inside Toronto are also among the best, even if the voice doesn't feel as fitting after Don't Go. Right, the vocals are something you have to become accustomed to. Saulnier doesn't consider himself a singer, and the cracking can sometimes be hit or miss despite the volatility of it.

For me, it distracts on Red Quarter and First Contact, but works brilliantly on Sentimental Dreams and Princess Towers. Yet, after watching him perform a few times, the vocals seem to come from someplace deep that can't be duplicated by someone else. He doesn't sing as much as he makes sounds that happen to form words to fit with the music. It's like his pipes are an extension of the guitar.

To make it work more often than not, producer Matt Rogalsky deserves some props. It's his arrangements that Saulnier credits with making the album sound bigger and more complex. That makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is how much Saulnier trusts Rogalsky to master the music because trust doesn't come easy for him. The impassioned compositions and lyrics that make up most of the P.S. I Love You music belong to him.

Saulnier originally launched a a solo career in 2006. His friend Nelson (who was a former bandmate in a band that went bust) lent some artwork for the album cover. It wasn't until Saulnier decided a touring drummer would be better than a drum kit that they began to form a duo. And it seemed methodically slow and steady before Nelson began collaborating on drum compositions.

Death Dreams By P.S. I Love You Unnerves At 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Death Dreams is definitely a progression for this sometimes paradoxical frontman with a deeply entrenched desire to capture compositions as he hears them in his head. He even call himself obsessive compulsive in his approach to composing P.S. I Love You music. And somehow I think that makes everything he does work all the more.

Death Dreams by P.S. I Love You is out on iTunes under the Paper Bag Records label. You can also pick up the CD at Barnes & Noble. You can order or download Death Dreams from Amazon. They have a growing list of tour dates on their Facebook page.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wolfgang's Flair For Vintage Shirts

There are plenty of brands that borrow vintage designs as starting points, but not everyone gets it right. Some of the best T-shirt designs weren't retro brands as much as band art growing out of the synergy that was the Sixties.

The colors were vivid. The letters were drawn by hand. The imagery was all over the place, ranging from straightforward to psychedelic. Everything being made at the time truly dressed the stage. It was art created by artists who relied on pot as much as pens to ink out handbills, posters, and T-shirts.

Almost everybody was breaking the rules, shaping the new look of counterculture but never taking it all that seriously. Most them were simply happy being set free by promotors like Bill Graham and Chet Helms for bands on the verge of becoming household names.

Pop Art, Op Art, And Art Nouveau straight from Wolfgang's Vault. 

The posters are cool, but there was something to be said for the timelessness of the tees. The Jimi Hendrix by artist David Byrd captures the free spirited excitement of the time. As the story goes, Hendrix loved the design so much that the poster art became the cover of his press kit.

When Hendrix did play the legendary Fillmore East, he was already at the height of his career. He was booked for two shows on one night, with the opening act being Sly & the Family Stone. And according to the T-shirt brief, Sly wasn't mentioned on the promotional material and was even heckled by the crowd who had only come in for the legendary Hendrix.

Like all of Wolfgang's Vault vintage T-shirts, they are made from ringspun cotton, with a few featuring a polyester blend to add some stretch and softness. All of the shirts are cut to fit like they did in the 60s, 70s, an 80s, which is more snug than many shirts made today (Wolfgang suggests one size up).

Not all the shirts on hand were originated by artists designing promo material  for bands slated to play the Fillmore. Some of them are licensed with partners, like the infamous Ramones logo that first appeared in the late 1970s. The run of the logo dates from 1978-1983 and has become one of the best recognized icons of punk.

Although the store doesn't include the artist, we know the man behind the now vintage image was artist and designer Arturo Vega. It was Vega's loft, which was located just a few doors down from CBGBs, where the Ramones found their makeshift headquarters in the early years. Vega has even been called their muse.

Originally, the artist was just trying to find ways to cover his own airfare and expenses so he could join the band on tour. That's when he came up with the idea of designing a T-shirt. The band laughed at him out loud. They never expected them to sell.

Another licensed design is the equally famous Roxy Music girls photo, featuring Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald (sister and girlfriend of guitarist Michael Karoli). The shot was taken for an Island Records promo for Country Life in 1972. Even people who didn't click with the music, clicked with the snapshot of two girls standing in front of a shrub.

If you ever wondered, the cover was shot in Portugal, with the art credited to Bryan Ferry and Nick DeVille. Both the girls were fans of the band and neither of them thought it was as scandalous as the United States and a handful of other countries did. Atco Records had the sleeve wrapped up opaque green plastic with a warning sticker. Later, it demanded a redesign with the shrub on the back cover put on front, cutting out the girls all together.

A few graphs about the man who made Wolfgang's Vault possible. 

Whether the art was commissioned by the Fillmore or inspired by it as it took hold, Bill Graham (a.k.a. Wolfgang Grajonca) deserves some of the credit. Had it not been for his vision, there is a good chance that the concert art movement spawned in the 60s and 70s may never have happened.

He was among the first to commission artists to promote concerts (much like the Impressionists were commissioned to promote shows) and smart enough to overprint everything, preserving it all for its historic importance. Today, Wolfgang's Vault is filled with both vintage originals and recreations.

Sometimes it is almost hard to believe that Graham's presence in the concert scene started shortly after securing a modest three-year lease on the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco (1966). Almost overnight, he became the man who would introduce audiences to legendary acts like Otis Redding, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. After San Francisco, he expanded his productions to New York City.

The Fillmores eventually closed in 1971, but both locations had a wild ride with thousands of concerts by an eclectic lineup that included those who were famous and those who are still unknown. Graham stood up for all of them and always demanded audiences give opening acts a fair shot. He continued to do so even after moving on to larger venues.

Wolfgang's Vault Collection Of Vintage Ts Screens 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

On any given day, Wolfgang's Vault carries more than vintage T-shirt designs, ranging from the artists that Graham commissioned to those with timeless band logos like the Ramones. With some of the T-shirt designs trending toward simpler art, revisiting some timeless retro designs might be in order.

The majority of Wolfgang's Vault comes from comes from the exquisitely preserved, original archives of Bill Graham Presents. Beginning with the seminal concerts of the mid 1960s and continuing through today, the store has assembled a superb collection that is being cared for in state-of-the-art facilities. You can find the various retro apparel designs as fresh as the era when they were introduced.