Friday, June 29, 2012

Juniper Books Redefines A Book Look

Fewer people might have a need for bookshelves since the advent of e-readers and tablets, but printed books don't have to evaporate from the landscape. They may even make a collectible comeback.

Bolder, Colorado-based Juniper Books goes beyond making spaces that fit books and instead helps books fit the space. The brainstorm began with Thatcher Wine, who originally started selling books online in 2001.

Over time, his original concept for an online company took a turn as he started personally designing and curating libraries of leather and vellum books, bring them together by size, author, and subject.

Wine doesn't just arrange the books on a shelf. He invented custom book jackets in 2010, which can span several covers and change the entire look of a home library. Even better, if you don't have the right books for the job, Wine has curated collections and added the jackets for dozens of authors.

A peek inside the mind of a Thatcher Wine collection at Juniper Books. 

A few immediate favorites include the J.D. Salinger Custom Book Set, which includes four books decorated with a tree silhouette; Ernest Hemingway Set, adorned with an elephant and the author's name; and Custom Puffin Classics Collection, which includes the name of the child.

But pre-curated series with dust covers are just the beginning for Wine. He also creates solutions for large collections that are unique to the collector. For example, he wrapped the library inside the Architectural Digest Greenroom with a filmstrip look featuring classic scenes from vintage films.

Most projects are little more straightforward. Some collections (or collections filled by the collector) take on a much more traditional look. There are many sets that include a simulated leather look in brown, black, and red. And Juniper Books has also assembled some collections. (Jack London, Charles Bukowski, John Irving, and Tom Wolfe among them.)

"Our focus is on building book collections and personal libraries," says Wine on the store's FAQ. "We buy books specifically to put them into book collections as opposed to other sellers who might try to get rid of their books in bulk if they do not sell in their store."

Several other creative ideas for books around the web and in other places. 

One of my long-time personal favorites since it first appeared last year comes from San Francisco-based furniture designer Jane Dandy. Her idea was to enable people to send in the dimensions of their favorite books and create custom end tables that fit them perfectly.

While some people were initially concerned that the books stood to endure undeserved wear, I might point out that there is still plenty of table space to avoid putting anything damaging on the books. Or for anyone especially concerned, asking that the books be recessed would allow for a pane of glass to be placed over the top.

If you want something more classic in its approach that still stands out, then Alejandro Gomez Stubbs might have something more functionally creative. After graduating from the Pratt Institute, the Colombian native began designing for Clodagh in New York City.

The bookshelves themselves are cantilevered modules that can be stacked together at a single angle, titled to negate the need for any bookends. The company, Malagana, is still developing its site for online orders. In the meantime, they ask that you send them an email if you are interested in Equilibrium design.

While both solutions are affordable, there are some designs that are slightly more lavish. One of them is Draper Cabinet, an incredibly sophisticated shelf with a vintage look. The shelves are made from handcrafted plantation-grown hardwood and then painted black and red in select areas.

The shelves are very versatile, sold as a set of three or separately. One of the better singles to consider is the horizontal cabinet. For those that are curious, the wood is made from maple. The fixtures that adorn the shelves are an alloy made from copper, zinc, and brass.

Thatcher Wine's Juniper Books Stacks Up At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Juniper Books is really the hero of the story, but the shelves provide additional perspective. It isn't very hard to imagine how the custom covers or collections might fit on any of the highlighted shelves. Despite all the buzz about e-readers and tablets, which I personally love, sometimes it feels good to be able to see, touch, and feel books that are part of the collection. Wine does it right.

Because of the unique nature of Juniper Books, it is best to make contact them with direct. As for the shelves, Jane Dandy retains her contact information on Etsy. The Equilibrium shelves have appeared in several showrooms, but it's best to contact Malagana direct. The remarkable Draper's Cabinet was available from Sundance.

Special thanks to editor Rich Becker for contributing to the review selection. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Henry Clay People Turn Up 25 Again

The Henry Clay People haven't hit the decade mark and they already want to turn back the dial. Their newest album, Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives, breaks from some of the progression heard in This Is A Desert EP and strips a few layers of wear and tear on themselves and maybe rock 'n roll too.

“We wanted to finally make the record that our 16-year-old selves would have been excited about,” says frontman Joey Siara. “Unfortunately, the only way to do so was to live for the last 13 years and get some adult suffering under our belt. Now we can direct our misguided teenage angst at our failed 20s.”

They ought to have done it sooner. Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives is a rollicking collection of impeccably composed arrangements with the most reflective lyrics of Siara's career. Their 16-year-old selves ought to be proud of their somewhat wiser and slightly pissier 20-something versions, at least as seen by their almost 30-something selves.

There is an honesty in the music that hasn't been heard for awhile, with punk influences as pure as they were in the 80s. It's honest too because the band didn't play test it. It was a album already germinating in Siara's head about the same time the band released Somewhere On The Golden Coast.

Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives revs up with rock's punk mistress.

After a short, spooky, regret-soaked aged analog introduction, the album breaks into the title track, 25 For The Rest Of Our Lives. The scrappy garage rock track laments the loss of youth without doing enough of anything to prevent it despite all those boasts that they might be different. It celebrates the presumptuousness of it, right before waking up to find you're exactly where you didn't want to be.

The Fakers follows up with the same reflective angst, only angrier. In some ways it captures how Siara felt about the Golden Coast, the album he says made him bored and lazy. The punkness of the song pushes the limits of what can be set down under two minutes as caught by jaminthevan, one of our favorite music sites.

The clip is grittier than the album cut, but no less poignant. And from there, the album only gets better. Hide rails against the idea of giving up dreams to do the sensible thing, only to discover there are no guarantees on that career track either. Somber and sobering, kids do what they're told only to move back home.

EveryBandWeEverLoved doesn't pull punches either. Even those who have a brush with success are destined to sell out or break up. The Backseat Of A Cab has poppy undertones until you hear the words about ephedrine medicated blissfulness in with lines about loneliness that come after all those carefree moments with those people you forget. Living Rooms, too, feels lonely in a different way; lives lived with the people we keep but just as lonely.

Friends Are Forgiving and Anymore, Any Less are both touching in their resignation over what people lose along the way. As you grow older, friends who were friends for life become friends you forget because they can't keep up so they give up. The other speaks candidly about how we look back and put more importance on past relationships that never existed.

None of them necessarily sounds sad with the Henry Clay People's amped up guitars and hammered bass lines. But as the album restarts after the first few passes, expect some recognition that this is a transformative album about how angry we are about losing our youth until we realize there's no point to being angry.

Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives Stings 9.1 On The liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a snapshot, Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives by the Henry Clay People might have been good enough. But instead, Siara, his brother, and the balance of the band record it all as a memoir trapped in a time capsule and covering various bits and pieces of attitude from every album and the bands they loved at the same time. This is great rock 'n roll, tinged and tangled up with punk.

Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives by the Henry Clay People is available on iTunes. You can also pick up the album from Amazon or order it on vinyl from Barnes & Noble. It's worth the download in entirety (which includes the bonus track Calling Free), a real gem put out by TDB Records and the most promising set for live shows yet. The album is the kind you'll eventually sing along to. If not now, a few years from now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hotel deLuxe Is A Portland Playground

Hotel deLuxe in Portland isn't really in the thick of things but it's close enough. And if you've already stayed on the wilder side (a.k.a. Jupiter Hotel) then the bigger rooms and quieter comfort will be welcome. The staff are friendly and attentive without being a bother.

As a contemporary tribute to the Golden Era of Hollywood, the hotel pulls mostly from the Art Deco and Art Moderne designs of the early 1930s and 1940s. The building's history is even older. It was built in 1912.

The rooms alone make the stay worthwhile, with high-thread linens and soft pillowtop mattresses, but the Driftwood Room also has a sophisticated vibe that has remained mostly unchanged since it opened in the 1950s. Unless, of course, you count the Czech crystal chandeliers.

The Driftwood Room and Gracie's at the Hotel deLuxe Portland. 

The entire bar has a dark and cozy feel, even if you are more likely to meet overnight guests than the few cocktail-savvy Portlanders. The music doesn't feel right though, with too much emphasis on crooners. There needs to be more jazz, blues, or beatnik, which is what the Golden Era stars likely preferred.

That said, it's not hip or happening and the martini and food prices are best around their extended happy hours (2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to closing), but it is the kind of place you want to come back to when everything else is done. The lighter food served is made by the hotel restaurant, Gracie's.

Gracie's is mostly contemporary cuisine with a Pacific Northwest twist. While the fare has received some mixed reviews, it was always perfectly prepared during my stay. The best menu item was the pork ribs, but many guests will likely be taken in by the small plate menu items.

There is plenty of playground around Portland. 

The hotel is located on the eastern edge of the downtown area, about five blocks from the Pearl District and home to many Portland icons. Most notably, Powell's Books, the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. It might be. They sell four million new, used, and rare books every year.

The Pearl District is teeming with art galleries, boutiques, small clubs, and bars. The district got its name at the forefront of the renovation in the 1990s because the buildings still looked crusty, but the creatives who populated them were pearls. Originally, the area was a warehouse and railroad yard district.

For what isn't close, its easy enough to catch the TriMet Max light rail line, one of the better planned mass transit systems in the country. Some people have suggested to me that since the rail connects to the airport, you can skip the car rental. It's an ambitious idea, but I wouldn't want to try it especially because there is too much to do.

A little longer than walking distance from the Hotel deLuxe.

Portland carries a sort of casual take on cosmopolitan. Everything that other places think of as trendy just happen to be matter of fact, like enjoying a microbrew at the movies. Many of the theaters do it. Called "Brew n' Views," most are renovated or restored from their heydays in the 1920s and 1940s.

These are also the places to go for indie flicks, art films, and cult classics that run alongside first run theaters. The idea of it only scratches the surface of what makes Portland work.

This is the land of the microbrew, music, books, and gallery walks. But nobody here seems to do any of it because they think being well-read or experimental is cool. It's just what people do. And maybe they do it because everything used to be something else.

Already known for its music scene, Portland is slowly adding arts.

Take the Aladdin Theater for example. Its dubious history makes Portlanders proud but with the pomp. Originally built as a vaudeville house in the late 1920s, the theater morphed into a porn institution during the 1970s until Steve Reischman and Sally Custer rescued it in the 1990s. What's especially crazy is the concerts draw must-see acts (e.g.,  Richard Thompson, Indigo Girls, Gillian Welch) to play a remarkably intimate venue with only 620 seats.

It's not alone as an attraction. There are dozens of venues around. The Roseland Theater only holds 1,400. The Wonder Ballroom holds 750. And the Jupitor Hotel I mentioned earlier is also home to the Doug Fir, which hosts an eclectic mix of music almost every single night of the week with table seating for 125 and a room capacity of just south of 300. Almost all of them help discover local artists and attract a high volume of touring acts.

And even then, none of it begins to touch the vibrant music scene and part-time venues like pizza parlors, cafes, and book stores that abound in Portland. The same can be said for art galleries and museums. Sure, the Portland Art Museum is worth visiting, but so are places like the the Winslow Homer Studio. There's an ever-growing art scene there and a surprising number of alternative spaces.

Just keep in mind that Portland's art scene is still very much a work in progress. For all its eccentricities, many of the art galleries are still catering to colors that might match the sofa. You have to look a little harder to find it, but you will eventually find it. And what's cool about it, most Portlanders will deny it.

Hotel deLuxe In Portland Washes In At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If only the hotel was a little less on the fringe and more toward the center or eventually hosted some entertainment that would help coalesce its vibe (they sometimes host rooftop movie nights), Hotel deLuxe would be looking at nines. Still, the price is right, the rooms are clean, and the atmosphere is classic. Room rates start at about $200 per night for the smaller but comfortably appointed deLuxe Queen rooms, with valet parking around $28 per night.

You can save up to 60 percent from Fare Buzz to Portland. There are some additional discounts offered by the company during the summer. Portland itself is especially cool in the summer (temperatures rarely reach 80), and it's also the driest season of year. For comparisons, start with the top travel deals at

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beware The Darkness Howls All Right

Opening for the post-punk duo Middle Class Rut clearly has its advantages. But even without picking up such a coveted opening spot, Beware The Darkness is an amped up rock trio that rises to the occasion.

They've been known to shake up the stage with their sound, one that smacks of Southern Depression-era rock. None of the members hails from a Southern state. They just sound like it at times.

The three of them came together when singer/songwriter Kyle Nicolaides packed up his belongings in Santa Barbara and headed south to play small clubs and dark venues in Los Angeles. Tony Cupito (drums) happened to catch his act one night and they quickly forged a good enough friendship to start a band named after a George Harrison song.

After fielding several area bass players to fill out their band, they eventually discovered New Jersey native Daniel Curcio (bass) who was visiting Santa Monica after learning he had a half-brother. The meeting led to a match. A few months later, they signed with Bright Antenna Records.

The Howl EP  introduces their upcoming album due out in October. 

Although sometimes described as alternative rock, it's their epic rock single — Howl — that immediately gets people on their feet. The track, which blends and bends around some blues, gospel, and vintage rock influences can be easily summed up as a pickup song straight out of the Seventies.

While the lyrics are not typical for Nicolaides in their straightforwardness, he has the right bravado to deliver up raw and primitive rock vocals against a steady stream of borrowed guitar riffs, chunky bass chords, and crashing percussion. It doesn't hurt that the object of the song's desire is chaste either.

The rest of the material works much harder and mostly sounds better for it. Ghost Town is a broody fate song about turning your back on heaven. The best part is at the end when the band loosens up from the consistent chug and crashes into a crescendo, with Nicolaides asking "where's my savior." He doesn't expect one, mind you.

The lyrics for Holy Men are just as dark and also pointed at religion. The song takes on the sinister subject of pedophiliac priests and what it does to faith. It's the most musically ambitious track on the EP with the chorus and Curcio's beautiful bass riff holding the song together. Some people won't like the message, but the angling toward contemporary issues over the buzz of rock works here.

The fourth track, Culture Bomb, has some of the best lyrics with its attack on post-modern paranoia. Nicolaides wails that the end of the world happens daily, a cultural bomb that makes some people think change is a bad thing. The truth is that things always change. They always have and always will.

Unfortunately, Culture Bomb is also the most experimental track and maybe too much so for its own good. The song brings in a piano that overpowers and distracts from everything likable about the band. It's obvious the arrangement was written to convey chaos and paranoia, but works too hard to do it.

Beware The Darkness has promise if the band doesn't over think it. 

Putting a single about religion in the crosshairs isn't necessarily the theme of the upcoming full-length album, but it is a common thread for Nicolaides. And that means he sometimes runs the risk of being too heady for his own good. As much as Culture Bomb attacks end-of-the-world fanatics, he has some upcoming lyrics that rail away with same paranoia he claims everybody else has.

Maybe it will come with maturity, but he also misses what makes his influencers great. People like Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, and Allen Ginsberg didn't just wail about what was wrong with the world and claim to be right. They showed people how to celebrate what everybody else took for granted, ignored, or loathed. They also never thought themselves cool to do it.

The EP Howl By Beware The Darkness Nails 3.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All the same, Beware The Darkness has enough potential to anticipate the album and enjoy most of the EP. It's cool enough to land here, even when the subject matter is muddled with a hint of righteousness.

I've also had the good fortune to catch them live, with Curcio playing bass like a lead guitarist and Cupito putting real power behind the sticks. Once you do, its easy to to understand why they were signed. Even when Nicolaides hits a sour note or strains to make his fingers hit the right strings, the energy and urgency draws in everybody.

The Howl EP is available on iTunes. Howl is also available at Amazon. The title track is the must-have and so is seeing them live. You can find them and their touring schedule on Facebook

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gregg Allman Has A Cross To Bear

Gregg Allman has lived a full life. But he’s the first to admit that he wouldn’t do it again if given the chance. My Cross To Bear is his autobiography, written with an assist by journalist Alan Light, and it reveals the pain, regrets and joys that the legendary singer/songwriter/organist has experienced throughout his 60+ years.

Allman, who prefers to be called Gregory and not Gregg, recounts his formative years growing up in Tennessee and Florida with his brother Duane (older by 18 months), whom Gregg idolized. While toddlers, the boys’ father, a World War II veteran, was senselessly murdered after stopping to give a ride to a hitchhiker.

As a result, their mother, Gerry, struggled to raise Duane and Gregg on her own and at one point sent the two to military school. Since Gerry worked, the boys spent a lot of time on their own and eventually taught themselves how to play guitar on a Silvertone Gregg had bought. That, it seemed, marked a new beginning.

In high school, Duane dropped out to hone his musical chops and the brothers formed a series of local bands. Eventually, the Allman Brothers Band would propel the brothers into musical history.

The Allman Brothers find their break into the big leagues. 

Like many bands of the era, the brothers indulged in drink, drugs and sex while on the road, particularly Gregg. Some of it is depicted in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (which is mostly based on the band). But Gregg recounts it all as matter of fact. He is unfazed.

Yet, his greatest regret revolves around cocaine. He swiped Duane’s coke and when Duane accused him of taking it, Gregg denied it and Duane apologized. Those were the last words the brothers would ever exchange because Duane died shortly after in a motorcycle crash in Macon. All those magical moments, like the classic Whipping Post played Live At Fillmore East in 1970, were over.

The tragic irony: their third album, Live At Fillmore East, had just achieved gold status but Duane would never get to enjoy the success he rightly earned. Consumed by grief, the band’s bassist Berry Oakley would also spiral into a depression that he could never break.

Gregg wishes he would have done more to help Oakley. But a year later, Oakley was dead too. It happened in a motorcycle crash just miles from the site of Duane’s death in 1971.

Gregg and the band would soldier on but things would never be the same. Rather than a band of “brothers,” they would become the object of a bitter power struggle between Gregg and guitarist Dickey Betts. It caused the band to be torn apart and reunited more than once.

His professional problems and drug addiction only scratched the surface.

Gregg hates to be alone. So it’s no surprise that he would seek out companionship. He’s been married and divorced six times and for the most part doesn’t maintain relationships with any of his exes, save for wife number 3, Cher. Gregg recounts how the two met, fell in love and married, and how his drug abuse was the catalyst that broke them apart.

He and Cher were perhaps the first celebrity couple to send the tabloid media into a veritable frenzy. People magazine all but stalked the couple. And this constant intense media scrutiny also played a factor in the couple’s inevitable divorce. Check out a clip of them performing “Move Me” in 1977 on the Old Gray Whistle Test. Or not. Of their joint album, Gregg unapologetically says “The record sucked, man.”

He also regrets all his recording, cavorting, and touring while his five kids (with various women) were growing up. He was rarely present and wonders if not growing up with his own father made it hard for him to know how to be a dad. Nowadays, though, he is proud of his children and does enjoy relationships with them, especially daughter Island.

Gregg got clean in the 1990s, but years of hard living has taken a toll. He has battled hepatitis C for many years (which he attributes to a dirty tattoo needle) and underwent a liver transplant in 2010. Recently, he had a hernia operation.

My Cross To Bear by Gregg Allman Wails 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although Gregg Allman's life has been marked by phenomenal success and public tragedy, he still soldiers on. Unfortunately, it isn't getting easier. He recently postponed a tour to promote the book due to cardiac testing.

Not one to seek the spotlight, he still retains his white blues wail, belting out songs like Whipping Post and Melissa. Rolling Stone ranked him #70 among the top 100 singers of all time. You can find out why from the book, which is available at Barnes & Noble. My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman is also on Amazon and you can download the book for iBooks. The audiobook is read by Will Patton. If anybody but Allman is going to read it, Patton is the perfect fit for such conversational prose.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Witch Mountain Brings Cauldron To Boil

When Portland-based Witch Mountain decided to stay closer to home in 2003, some suspected it might be a permanent hiatus beyond occasional sporadic gigs in the Northwest and occasional reunion shows. But that all changed in 2009 when songwriter/guitarist Rob Wrong (M99, Iomni Stubbs) met Uta Plotkin (Aranya, Stalking Jane).

Plotkin, who grew up in drummer Nathan Carson's hometown in Corvallis, Ore., made an instant connection with Wrong and the rest of the band. Her blues-infused, smoky vocals are proof that not only can a female vocalist sing doom metal but she can own it. Her range alone can hypnotize any bong-drenched souls as she belts out Wrong's otherworldly lyrics.

Plotkin also freed up Wrong's duties as the frontman of a three piece, giving him much more levity to layer the music and expand his own proficiencies as a guitarist. More guitar also means more bass from newcomer Neal Munson (Hauskness).

Cauldron Of The Wild carries on what South Of Salem started. 

Almost immediately after recording their sophomore album South Of Salem in 2010 and touring most of 2011, Witch Mountain wasted no time before heading back into the studio. They had every reason to keep producing after NPR named South Of Salem the fourth best metal album of the year.

Cauldron Of The Wild stands to make a lasting impression too. It's clear Wrong wrote the bulk of the material to showcase Plotkin as well as some grainy guitar solos packed with six songs that range from five minutes to almost 12. The ambiance, atmosphere, and approach lends itself to its timelessness.

It's clear that the band has more to sing about than dark tales of the occult, despite being classified as doom metal. The opening track, The Ballad Of Lanky Rae, is about a dangerously awkward and formidable female marksman.

The entire song chugs along, alternating among stellar guitar work, spoken lyrics and wails. It is slow as an opener, but anyone listening to metal will immediately recognize that Witch Mountain is nonstandard. The primal nature of Beekeeper pounds on the point as atmospheric and it is emotional.

Veil Of The Forgotten, which originally appeared on a complication about the same time their sophomore album came out, has always been inexplicably haunting in a tale designed to keep you up at night. The tour de force, however, is Aurelia, the near 12-minute epic unraveling as Plotkin throws down some splintering and addictive riffs. As a slow burner, it doesn't get much better.

Shelter shatters any distance between blues and metal because Witch Mountain mixes them together like a swampy, heavy elixir. Plotkin's sad and solemn voice is a perfect contrast to the constant steady deepness of the foundation and some of the biggest instrumental runs on the album.

The album winds down with Never Know, a sleeper in that the meat of the song comes in toward the end. It is brilliant in the way it lulls before unleashing an intensity that is difficult to forget. But there is no spoiler in mentioning it. Even after several passes, the song will constantly catch you off kilter.

Cauldron Of The Wild Boils At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Witch Mountain may have begun as a threesome in the 90s with an explosive album release in the United Kingdom, but they've been resurrected into something new as a quartet with three seasoned musicians and a vocalist with the paradox of a young, passionate voice singing weathered lyrics that spill out like dark and timeless fairytales. Everything about the album is oppressive in its presentation, even as it teases you into a tranquil sway.

Cauldron Of The Wild by Witch Mountain is available on iTunes and you can order the CD from Barnes & Noble. Cauldron of the Wild is also available on Amazon. Digital downloads require an album purchase to include Aurelia, but it's worth it. Currently, Witch Mountain is embarking on its first U.S. tour. You can keep up with show dates on Facebook.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

David Freed Takes On A Flat Spin

A flat spin is a worst case scenario for any pilot. The odds of recovery are slim and the plane falls, spinning, with its nose above the relative horizon. Depending on the plane, you are going down.

One might say Arlo Echevarria entered flat spin when he opened the door for a Domino's guy despite having never ordered a pizza. Any of the three slugs could have been potentially fatal wounds. Together, there wasn't anything left for Echevarria to do except drop like 164 pounds of wet laundry.

The murder was an especially sour problem for Cordell Logan, not that he didn't have enough problems already. His credit with Larry Kropf, who rented him hangar space, was running on empty. His plane, the Ruptured Duck, was in need of repairs. His conscience was still too intact to freeload on his landlady, Ms. Schmulowitz. And on any given day, his success at being Buddhist worked as well as feeding his lazy, overweight, and largely apathetic cat.

Flat Spin is also the condition of Cordell Logan's entire life.

Somehow Logan manages to take most of it in stride with a reckless calm, rippled only by his sarcastic pedestrian humor that was frequently wasted on nearly everyone he met. But Echevarria's death was different. Logan used to work under him. And Echevarria's beautiful wife Savannah Carlisle used to be his wife until his boss moved in for the steal while sending Logan on out-of-town assignments.

She is the one who tells Logan about the murder, waiting for him in his hangar after he and his student barely managed to bring the aging Cessna down on the tarmac. He hasn't seen her in six years.

Her request, however, isn't an easy one. What she wants the man who still pines away for her to do is tell the police that her suspicions are right. She believes her murdered husband worked for the government. But that doesn't make it easy for Logan, who knows her husband did.

He did too. All those business trips that he took had very little to with sales and everything to do with his work as part of a top-secret military assassination team known as "Alpha." And giving up Echevarria's former covert operations means giving up his own, an action with consequences far worse than the dangers Logan would face hunting down the killer himself.

Cordell Logan doesn't fit the stereotype, but he is a fun curmudgeon. 

Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile that Logan is a former assassin, given his lighthearted quips and cliches about everything. His skill sets tend to bubble up from time to time with foreshadowed precision  not unlike the qualities exhibited by Robert Downey Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes franchise. Like Holmes, Logan either recalls specific instructions from his past or foreshadows before the fight.

This gives the book a much more action-adventure foundation than the reluctant detective story it is meant to be, which is fine. As a character, Cordell is fun in that he is unfazed by his former occupation but severely stunted by the split with his wife and frequently conflicted in everything he does.

At times the wit and whimsy feel like they are being spun by a former journalist or clever screenwriter as opposed to the man Cordell could be, but author David Freed more than makes up for the lowbrow comedic overdose in other areas. His own professional experiences do lend authenticity to the story more times than not.

David Freed is a Pulitzer Prize winner and small plane pilot. 

There is nowhere Freed makes Cordell more comfortable in his novel than when he is flying an airplane. There is no question that both men, the author and the character, are most at home in flight. The prose in those moments is among the best written, much like the banter between Cordell and Ms. Schmulowitz (and other characters) on the far sitcom end of the spectrum.

Freed has enjoyed a diverse career as an investigative reporter, embedded journalist, and with the U.S. intelligence community. According to Freed, all that mostly occurred because he didn't have a high enough grade point average to get into law school. What he does have is a vivid imagination and a character that despite the constant buzz of author injections is one worth following as Freed is already working on the next book.

Flat Spin by David Freed Soars To 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

What makes Flat Spin entertaining is the rare blend of action, adventure, mystery, and comedy while never staying in one genre too long. It's rarely forced and frequently pitch perfect as a punchy first person narrative cumulated from his years as a journalist. There is promise here as Logan matures.

You can find Flat Spin by David Freed at Barnes & Noble and Flat Spin (Cordell Logan Mystery) is available from Amazon. The novel has been produced as an audiobook, which can be downloaded from iTunes. The book is read by Ray Porter, who pushes the sardonic tenor in Logan's voice off the page and into life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Breathe Out Exhales On The First EP

Six months after longtime friends and former bandmates Alex Clegg and James Goodhead put their solo projects on hold and started working together on a recording project, their new collaboration nearly fell apart. It wasn't anything that anybody aid. It wasn't anything that anybody did.

Just as the duo was starting to feel prolific about their work and even talking about starting a proper band, Goodhead had a heart attack. Lights out.

"I basically died twice," says Goodhead. "It set us back about a month, but the demos were being emailed back and forth with increased urgency. The first time I heard [our song] Deep Impact, I was still in the hospital."

Deep Impact is one of five tracks that make up the band's self-titled EP, Breathe Out, put out by Art Is Hard Records. The song is about loss, with the opening lines still a foreboding reminder as Clegg sings, "I'm still here, but I had my fill. The temperature is set to maximum chill."

The song is haunting even without the connection. Propelled by a wicked bass line and screaming distorted guitars, it sets down the eclectic indie rock/pop sound that is slowly taking shape in London.

"I think the eclecticism has helped us to stand out with out recorded music as there are a million bands doing the fuzzed out 90s influenced power pop thing," says Clegg. "I think we have a slightly more interesting take on that by mixing in other influences. The idea of this band has always been to do whatever kind of music we felt like."

Incidentally, Deep Impact wasn't the only song to see some hospital time. The music video shot by Goodhead in the hospital adds an eerily ethereal and out-of-body experience to the down tempo Elite/Corrigans, a song he had written almost year earlier and recorded only a month before the collapse.

"The lyrical content is so obviously profound to to me now, a young man saying goodbye to his friends and family," says Goodhead. "If things would have turned out differently, this song would have been some horrible epitaph but luckily things turned out okay. For the video, yes, I was fully aware I was making the video for that song and wanting a visual document of my time in the hospital."

The contrast in the composition alludes to how the original duo tackles their music. Each song starts as a demo and then is built out by the rest of the band. Originally, it was Clegg and Goodhead who wrote and recorded everything, but there is more collaboration since adding Stuart Dando and Nick Shaw with the result being a more balanced output.

"I kind of have two ways of writing songs. One is to spend a few weeks slowly building up all the parts  and the other is to just sit down with a guitar and let the whole song flow out in about 10 minutes," says Clegg. "Champion was definitely the latter. I had a true story about a mock execution, which was really upsetting but also kind of darkly funny and ironic. We tried to give it a raw, live kind of feel."

The track, which was one of the first highlighted by the band, carries a much lighter, campy 60s throwback pop rock sound with a few arrangements similar to early Weezer. While this might throw off some people who gravitate toward a certain sound, Clegg is right in that it makes the band more unexpectedly listenable much like their influences: Beatles, Blur, and even Brian Jonestown Massacre.

In fact, Goodhead had just downloaded the entire Jonestown catalog and was obsessing about the 60s U.K. psyche scene and often forgotten bands like July when he wrote Cut Out And Keep, which played as the B-side to the Champion single. Listen carefully and you'll catch what Goodhead calls cheeky references to Bob Dylan and David Bowie.

The song itself is about a stoned boy taking a beautiful girl hime for the first time in hipster London, circa 1960s. Bringing his new Telecaster home for the first time didn't hurt either. Goodhead says that nothing is more inspiring than a new guitar.

"We're planning to spend most of the summer recording as we've got at least ten new songs to get out. I think these will probably go toward another EP later this year," says Clegg. "As far as remaining independent, we always just take each opportunity and decision as they come."

By the sounds of things, Breathe Out has had a steadily increasing number of opportunities and gigs in London. Not too surprising. Making music is all they want to do. It's always been that way, ever since they first played in a hardcore band called Shooting Victor Francis together and even did a stint in a hip hop cover band better known as Monster Goodhead. And then there was Big Detail and Slam Dunk (Clegg was once a semi-pro basketball player, but that is another story best saved for another time.

The Self-Titled EP By Breathe Out Blows Over 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The swirling 1960s guitars and infectious melodies tie every track together, but there is just enough diversity between each number that it seldom gets old. If anything, Breathe Out gets better with every listen. This time around, it sounds like they've found a sound to call home.

They also have a studio to call home. Clegg co-runs Sound Savers, a studio located in Hackney, East London. So even when the band isn't making their own music, they're making music with a half dozen bands booked at any given time.

The single Champion is currently listed on iTunes, but without the B-side, Cut Out And Keep. For that, the best bet is to order both songs from the Big Cartel. The self-titled EP that we love can be ordered directly from Art Is Hard. You can also keep up with Breathe Out on Facebook. If you want to hear more, they also have a double A-side single on Bandcamp with all proceeds going to charity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Let Us Create Is An Arts Good Will Pick

As an early teen, Roger Dixon started painting in a workshop at home. But it wasn't long after that his curiosity propelled him to put his paint brushes aside and see the world.

While he will never regret what he describes as the mistakes and blunders of an optimistic youth traveling across Asia and around the Mediterranean, Dixon eventually decided to make his old passion for art a profession. He returned to painting at the age of 28.

From that day forward, he never stopped painting, realizing he never had to choose one or the other. Although he settled in Ibiza, Spain, Dixon still traveled the world from time to time. And one of those excursions led him to the beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia (a.k.a. Kampong Saom), on the Gulf of Thailand.

While Dixon painted, he began to attract an unexpected audience. Area children who would normally comb the beaches attempting to sell merchandise to tourists or beg for money gathered around him. Almost immediately, mostly because Dixon's own career had seen lows that had him living in a tent or traveling with a caravan, he recognized them as homeless children living in extreme poverty.

How a painter sparked the Let Us Create Cambodian Children's Project. 

His heart breaking, Dixon decided to become an advocate for these children. And with the support of a group from Ibiza, a simple project was started in 2004 to give these children drinking water, a meal, and an opportunity to paint. Two years later, another young man from Ibiza took charge of the ongoing effort and registered the project as a self-sustaining NGO.

Today, Let Us Create has evolved into a closed campus. While there is an open door policy for all children, tourists are not welcome. The idea is to ensure that their activities and education remain safe and interactive rather than at risk or exploitive.

The center provides free education, which includes English and Khmer, along with extracurricular activities ranging from karate and yoga to basketball and technology. The center even has a nursery for younger children, which enables older children to attend class.

Along with these services, the program provides basic nutrition and food assistance for some families. In some cases, the children are provided a bicycle so they can travel back and forth to school.

While the children are sheltered, the center subsidizes its needs with art. 

The center's original building, which is located on Serendipity Beach, now serves as an art gallery featuring the work of the school's young artists and other merchandise. The art subsidizes the programs at the center and has led to a program that rewards students for perfect attendance.

Once a week, students are given items they can use for school or take home and share with their families. Originally, the center split sales with the children until discovering it was counterproductive. Some of the children who were especially proficient would give up creative exploration and attempt to paint only what they thought would sell.

Often times, the work is inspired by the various art teachers who have volunteered at the center. Many of them visit from the United Kingdom and elsewhere to serve as volunteer teachers for one to three months.

In addition to the full-time staff, the center has a volunteer application program. Many volunteers live at the center, teaching art and English while overseeing other extracurricular activities for one to three months. Volunteers invest $500 USD to the project per month ($650 for a single room) and the center offers recommendations for how much volunteers ought to plan for meals and other expenses.

For many years, Dixon was one of those teachers while the project became self-supportive. Today, he is working on a new exhibition after the children, he says, inspired his work. Ironically, like the children he has assisted, he doesn't always know when his next painting will sell to sustain a lifestyle with very few frills. You can find his work on a modest website.

The Let Us Create Cambodian Children's Project Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick. 

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

Let Us Create Cambodian Children's Project allows sponsors to provide a scholarship to area children for $120 per year per student. This includes English and Khmer classes, uniforms, and all school supplies. There are additional sponsorship opportunities, including $45 per month to help ease the financial burden of student families (alleviating the need for children to work instead of attend school).

In addition to sponsorship opportunities, Let Us Create welcomes individual donations. They include an itemized list of the direct support that provides individuals an accurate picture of precisely where the money will be invested, ranging from school uniforms and art supplies to food and a teacher's wage ($180).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Virals Are Coming Up With The Sun

Shaun Hencher has come full circle. The musician, born and raised in the small town of Worcester in west England, left home only to return again. When he did, he found a refreshing sense of purpose in his new musical sound.

True, Worcester isn't what most people would describe as a happening town when it comes to music. But Hencher’s roots are there, along with his girlfriend, house, and a cat. It's also the same place where writing songs would become a welcome distraction from his other worries — dead-end jobs and the immediate future.

Hencher trades in noisy punk for a alternative power pop.

Hencher is best known to some as the front man for noisy punk rock band Lovvers. With the Lovvers, he made a mark with his thoughtful songwriting and scruffy, scuzzy vocals. Now he is playing, writing and recording under the Virals name.

The name came to him in a dream one night, so he woke up and wrote it down. He couldn't believe no other band had laid claim to it. That's all it took, and for Hencher it seemed to fit.

The Virals' 4-track EP called Coming Up With The Sun was released on the Tough Love and Sexbeat labels and features a sunny U.S. feel while retaining some familiar U.K. footings. Originally, the EP was meant to be a studio only one-man project with Hencher playing all the instruments (except drums).

Unlike recording with the Lovvers, this EP wasn’t recorded live. It also didn't have to survive any give and take between band members. Instead, Hencher shares songs written during a period of contemplation and unrest.

The irony is that writing them down and recording them might be Hencher’s own ticket to a sunny future. The Virals are catching on, earning some positive attention from critics and fans alike.

A new beginning after releasing one double-sided single and an addictive EP.

For Hencher, this is a new beginning all over again. He never expected The Guardian to name his Virals the new band of the day, helping earn these tracks some welcome airplay on Radio 1.

The reason people like the songs is easy to figure out. They represent a shift for Hencher toward 70s power pop with a bit of slacker rock and catchy melodies mixed in. It’s effortless and contagious.

 Coming Up With the Sun, the title track, is upbeat with a lighter pop sound. It’s perhaps the strongest of the four songs and nicely showcases Hencher’s high register vocals.

Magic Happens, which was released as a 7-inch single along with Comes The Night (in advance of the EP), plays out pretty crazy on this video made by Zac Ella. The one condition was that Hencher didn't want to be in the video. So Ella did it instead, weaving in old home movies from when he was just a kid doing magic tricks.

The remaining three songs (along with the single) are all worth the download. Shake It Up mixes things up with jangly, treble-heavy guitars, big drums and a solid pop beat. Gloria takes a few chords and turns them into something bright and sunny and urgent. Dig The Moon has the EP’s best guitar work, crashing cymbals and sweet vocals. It’s the kind of song you might play during a day at the beach.

Since Virals essentially a one-man show in the studio, Hencher has had to put together a touring band for live dates. But even as he added band members, it's clear that Hencher seems to be having fun for the first time.

His standout songwriting and vocals are now front and center instead of being buried in the mix. And the result is an EP that indicates Hencher has finally grown up and knows what he wants his music to be.

Virals' Coming Up With The Sun Slides In With 4.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

It’s nice to see a rising talent like Hencher find his footing. He and his touring band are playing June 27-29 in Leeds, London and Brighton. Hopefully he will be taking his act on the road and launching his sound in the U.S. I think it will certainly catch on.

You can find Magic Happens and Coming Up With The Sun on iTunes. Magic Happens/Comes The Night and Coming Up With The Sun are also on Amazon. The Virals recently added a Facebook page too. It went live in March, just ahead of the first release.

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Unexpected Guest Comes Calling

Most people have done something in their past that they regret, at least until they find resolution. For American-born Clare Moorhouse, it was falling in love with a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the things she did with him. But that was about 20 years ago.

Since, she had met an ambitious protocol-cautious British diplomat, married, had two children, and saw the world as her husband advanced to become a British minister in Paris, the de facto deputy head of the embassy in France. Her brief time in Ireland was a distant but not unforgotten memory.

That is, it was distant until the ambassador is diagnosed with viral pneumonia and Edward is asked to host a dinner for the permanent under-secretary and twelve guests. The dinner is not without an alternative agenda either. The under-secretary is in charge of ambassadorial appointments and the ambassadorship in Dublin will soon be vacant.

An Unexpected Guest is a story about regret, resolution, and redemption. 

With Edward having his hands full dealing with the repercussions of the London bombings (2005), Clare is asked to make all the arrangements for the last minute dinner. As the wife of a diplomat, her performance in preparing the extravagantly-detailed dinner would be just as likely to be scrutinized as Edward would be for the position.

Never mind that Dublin is the last place on earth that Clare would want her husband to be stationed. Even after all their years together, she had purposefully and meticulously avoided visiting Ireland again. But now, she was faced with a choice. Either she could pull off the dinner or she could come clean and tell her husband a secret that she has always kept to herself.

If the decision were not difficult enough for Clare, she is a beset by steadily growing series of distractions. Her youngest son at a boarding school in the U.K. has been suspended. She runs into a Turkish man, later identified as the primary suspect in an assassination, during her errands in preparation for the dinner. And, even though she believed him to be dead, she continually sees passing glances of Niall, the IRA terrorist she fell in love with so many years ago.

Author Anne Korkeakivi slowly weaves in clarity about Clare's relationship with Niall in between the tedious details of preparing the dinner with the help of staff. While never fully realized, there is an underlying contrast to the calculated and analytical diplomat's wife she has become and the doe-eyed Irish American abroad.

Korkeakivi scratches at identity; who we are instead of what we are. 

After 20 years, she has undoubtedly adsorbed all the trappings of proper protocol that comes with her station. Enough so that some readers will likely find the Moorhouses' half-Swiss and half-Scottish cook Mathilde more endearing as a crotchety curmudgeon in the kitchen or outside of it. But that is part of the story.

Clare has become so comfortable in her costume of etiquette that she never addressed the guilt or decades of deceit related to her darker past. It was easier to shrug it off as the naivety of youth until faced with it again. It is especially painful for her as she learns her son's suspension could possibly be linked to a parallel path to the one she took.

The very best of the book revolves around how people identity with heritage, position, and status as they contort themselves to fit the roles they are either born with or acquire. The most troubling aspect of the work is how passive the protagonist can be. Things happen to her more than she makes anything happen, until the very end. But even then, the transformation leads to moral acuity as opposed any thrilling conformation or conflict, which is what she primes readers to want.

A bit about first-time novelist Anne Korkeakivi.

There is no doubt that this book by Anne Korkeakivi is an excellent start to a promising career beyond her short fiction. She has talent in weaving words together, enough to be accepted by Atlantic, the Yale Review and other magazines. She currently lives in Switzerland with her husband and two daughters but was raised in New York City and Massachusetts.

She has been fascinated by the amount of attention given to the dinner party, she says, as opposed to issues of revolving around the past and present, privacy and public, and changes that have occurred in a post 9-11 world. But that may be par for the course. Her dinner party details are so crystalizing, it makes sense that some readers would be transfixed. The rest of it, you have to bring with you.

An Unexpected Guest By Anne Korkeakivi Plates 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The novel is well worth the read, but don't mistake it as a thriller. It's also a tall order to compare the book to Mrs. Dolloway by Virginia Woolf as some misguided critics have done. Sure, some can make the case, but it does An Unexpected Guest a disservice laying out an unrelated direction.

An Unexpected Guest: A Novel by Anne Korkeakivi is available from Amazon. You can also find the book on Barnes & Noble or download it from iBooks. The audiobook, which is available at iTunes, is narrated by Ellen Archer, who brings a particular panache to the story by handling some of the harder transition between the present and past and breathing life into all of the supporting characters.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Forever Outsiders Rush Against Time

There are two ways to think about Rush. Subscribe to the idea that they have somehow ascended to become the proverbial Pabst Blue Ribbon of progressive rock, citing their position as third in total record sales after only the Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

Or recognize them as the ultimate indie band, forming their own label (Moon Records) in 1973 before going on to become one of the most influential bands in history by never sounding like anyone else. I believe in the latter, enough so that I've held off writing about them even if they belong here.

Once this Canadian trio shuffled up and settled on Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart as their permanent lineup, they have consistently crafted some of the most relevant, dynamic, and uniquely listenable experimental music over 44 years. Incredibility, they aren't done. They never disappoint.

Clockwork Angels careens as a conceptual record, studio album number 20. 

Lost cities, pirates, carnivals, steampunk themes and other fantasies might sound like an odd ensemble for the concept thread. But the mercilessly mechanical and bass-laden watchmaker story, with its tight lyrics and abundance of instrumental standouts, soars brilliantly over this fantastical landscape. It's meant to be listened to as an album, unfettered, or the experience will be somewhat lessened.

It was written to be an album; painstaking in its design. They didn't step inside of the studio and merely knock out 12 tracks. They started work on Clockwork Angels in 2009 with co-producer Nick Raskulinecz, who emerged much like the band did. The first record he produced was done on an 8-track recorder, well before he won a Grammy and worked with Rush on Snakes & Arrows.

Sure, many songs like the massive 7:21 minute Headlong Flight can stand alone. From the opening chords, you know there is an epic element in the instrumentals. Lifeson and Lee originally composed Headlong Flight as an instrumental, but the song was later reassembled after Peart crafted lyrics that accurately capture the spirit of the song.

It fits well within the concept, while sharing the sentiments of the band. Rush has had an entire lifetime of adventures as one of the few bands to successfully walk along the shore of the mainstream, watching everything that was happening and still always managing to do their own thing. Forever outsiders.

"To what I felt back then, I wish that I could live it all again," Peart sings. Bright. Dark. It doesn't matter. It's all good. There's nothing to regret. Individualism carries its own courageous triumphs.

There entire album is like that. After Caravan sets the tone of toiling away in the known world, Rush wastes no time at all questioning the commonplace. BU2B is the first flicker of dissent as the blue-infused riff and lyrics introduce an awareness that everyone plays their part, living in oblivious bliss.

The story of Clockwork Angels is a journey with time, the one we all share.

As the narrator travels his world, he shares feelings about the various places and people he sees, vignettes that sometimes encapsulate places like Chronos Square (the atmospheric Clockwork Angels), people he sees (the darkly evenhanded The Anarchist), or events such as the one when The Anarchist tosses him the device (and the determination along with it) to be different (the mystical trappings and climbing riff within Carnies).

Carnies, both in its prose and arrangement, is one of the finest tracks on the album for its primal feel. Much like throughout the album, Lee has never sounded better here. As much as the band worked to tighten their play even more, Lee has stepped up to the most vocally challenging Rush album to date.

Halo Effect is surprisingly light for Rush. Seven Cities of Gold is dynamically cinematic. The Wreckers is sad and harmonically stunning. And Wish The Well carries Peart's unique ability to write contemporary and poignant lyrics that play inside and outside the concept. No matter what happens or who wounds you, he surmises, just move on and wish them well. It's this astute piece of wisdom that gives measure to the album's conclusion.

The Garden is as close to a ballad as it gets. But the passion being sung about isn't a muse as much as love for life and the resolution that comes with one well lived. Whatever's next. Let it come.

In the immediate future, Clockwork Angels will be pushing the envelope further. Thinking big, Peart is collaborating with author Kevin J. Anderson to transform the album into a book. Anderson's a good choice. His first book, Resurrection Inc., was inspired by Grace Under Pressure.

Clockwork Angels By Rush Ticks On 9.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the story isn't nearly as linear or overt as Hemispheres or 2112 (a century away this year), Clockwork Angels is a culmination of everything the trio has learned across their career and some surprisingly fresh material too. Long-time fans will no doubt hear the occasional nod to older works, but the bulk of this album is breathlessly original. It's as timeless as the band that made it.

The full album comes with a digital booklet filled with stunning art. You can download Clockwork Angels by Rush from iTunes. The album can be found at Barnes & Noble (and the novel is already available for preorder). The Clockwork Angels [+digital booklet] is also on Amazon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Retro Plug And Play: Space Invaders

In 1977, a young Japanese engineering student turned video game developer was given an honor reserved for only a few. The Taito Corporation of Japan asked Tomohiro Nishikado to design a game on his own.

Nishikado took the challenge seriously. Still unsatisfied with the pace of development, he started from the ground up. Not only did he design, program, illustrate, and engineer the sound, Nishikado developed an entirely new microcomputer to serve as a platform for his game. In 1978, Taito put it on the market.

Space Invaders was such a success it caused a coin shortage in Japan.

Inspired by War Of The Worlds, Space Invaders pitted players against several columns of alien enemies that would descend from the top of the screen toward four fortifications at the bottom. The only thing that stood in the way of this endless wave of aliens was a single laser cannon behind the first destructible barricades.

Destructible barricades was not the only innovation of Space Invaders. It was also the first game to introduce "lives," set high scores, employ a continuous soundtrack, and revolutionize the industry as an early first person shooter. The game was so successful that the 360,000 arcade cabinets sent around the world made $1 billion (in quarters) in just three years, $2 billion in four.

Some even speculate that had it not been for Space Invaders (and Pac-Man), the home video market might have crashed. Instead, this roll-of-the-dice development sparked a renaissance that would usher in a golden age. The next wave of innovative games would include Galaxian and Asteroids. Pac-Man earned $1 billion in one year.

Space Invaders is one of several highlights at The Smithsonian this year.

The novelty of Space Invaders still hasn't come to a close. The Smithsonian Art Museum recently launched an interactive exhibit to explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium. The exhibit opened in March and will run through September 30. Following its stay in Washington D.C., it will visit ten major cities in the United States, ending at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

The exhibit is rekindling novelty interest in the Space Invaders plug and play joystick with ten video games from the early era. Manufactured by Just Plug It In And Play, the two-button and single joystick controller connects directly into any television set with audio and video jacks. There is no console.

While Space Invaders is the primary game (with its art decorating the controller), nine other less popular games are included. Some of the vintage games include Alpine Ski, Legend of Kage, Bubble Bobble, and Crack n' Pop (the latter two being predecessors to early adventure maze games).

The best known, of course, is Space Invaders. And although there have been many updates to the game in several years, this controller carries something similar to the original art. Its starkness shines.

For those who don't know, the game is incredibly straightforward. Once the five rows of aliens appear, you shoot them while avoiding their three types of missiles: slow, fast, and wiggly. Each alien type is worth 10 to 30 points (990 points per screen), with mystery ships carrying a value up to 300.

During the golden era of video games, masters developed several strategies, including becoming one with the cadence of the game, shooting the outer layers before the aliens can descend, and blowing small holes in a barrier in order to benefit from protective fire. Some even know that the value of the mystery ships is determined how many times you have fired (seriously.)

Space Invaders Plug And Play Shoots 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While playing Space Invaders today carries some campiness, there is something cool about preserving the game as it was meant to be played. If not in an arcade cabinet, then absolutely for television.

You can find the retro Space Invaders game at The Smithsonian Art Museum (about $35-$40, down from $50). The Smithsonian Art Museum has other discounted gifts as well. A similar plug and play Space Invaders controller is available at Amazon. If you aren't sure about purchasing a controller, there is vintage Space Invaders for the iPhone.

In recent years, other plug and play vintage controllers have also appeared for Atari and another for Super Pac-Man and an Atari collection.  Depending on the manufacturer, some controller games have already become collector items.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tall For Jockeys Calls From Manchester

You won't be able to purchase the new EP from Tall For Jockeys anytime soon. The upstart alternative rock band from Manchester, United Kingdom, is just too new for that. They cut their first 4-track EP in January.

It was recorded in a garage in Wigan, which is just northwest of Manchester. Drummer Jordan Lilford describes the entire week-long session as cold, cramped, and tenuous. By the end of it, they had all started to unnerve each other.

It wouldn't be the first time. Tall For Jockeys came together shortly after the bassist from their original band called it quits. They almost continued down that path, but then decided to use the departure as a catalyst. They recruited another longtime friend to play bass, changed the sound, changed the name, and changed everything until it felt more focused.

"[Josh] Reid woke up in the middle of the night with the name and asked us our thoughts," says Lilford. "Cal was the first to say that the name sounded like a pop punk band. But he's just a new bassist so we went with the name anyway."

Get Japan On The Phone by Tall For Jockeys is alternative rock at its grungy best.

Tall For Jockeys never intended to be labeled a grunge band, but the moniker seems to be sticking. And there is some good and bad associated with the term. While almost everybody loves a bit of grunge, nobody ever expects it to evolve. It was about a place in time, a bright and burning retread of rock and roll.

"Everyone's a critic now and there are a lot of loose comparisons that get thrown around," says Lilford. "I don't think we try to set ourselves apart. We just do whatever comes naturally because there wouldn't be any fun in doing stuff that's already been done."

What is fun for the band is being "blown away" as an opening act at the Ruby Lounge. Jay Taylor has been very supportive of the new band, enough to put them on the ticket with reasonably established acts like Those Darlins and The Calimocho Club. They'll add Future Of The Left to that list this month.

"Everything is very much a group effort. Someone usually brings in a riff or two they like to rehearsal and we all bounce ideas around," says Lilford. "Once the music is all there, Josh Reid writes his 'feelings' into the music." 

The EP kicks off with Riptide, a song that singer/guitarist Reid (he trades rhythm and lead guitar duties with Whelo) brought into rehearsal as a skeleton before the band started building chords, beats, and melodies around it. It's easily one of their most accessible songs with distorted guitars, sludgy bass line, down tempo drums, and Reid's melodic but straining anxiousness.

As good as Riptide might be, the band has taken to opening gigs with Louis TherouXXX, a cock rocker that they originally scrapped. Recast with its chugging guitar open and throwback feel, it's easy to understand why the band opens up with the angst-laden driver. It sets a furious stage pace that immediately draws attention.

"Heir started as a jam that just happened at practice," says Lilford. "The slow breakdown happened accidentally. And then Reid started screaming lines over the top and suddenly we brought something more sinister in the world."

The lyrics to Heir are perhaps some of Reid's most compelling work. Tall For Jockeys turns death on its head and focuses in the survivors, especially those waiting around for a cut of the pie. "You're an oxygen thief. You're an oxygen thief. I'll make the funeral plans if you write the will," dares Reid at the climatic finish.

The EP ends with German Suplex, a song that the band started working with based on nothing more than the title. It's easily the heaviest piece of work in their arsenal with more metal influence than any other genre. Lilford says it's the most challenging to play, a signature finish that demands whatever they have left to pull it off.

Of course, everything is subject to change. The band has put together several more songs that they'll be testing out live in Manchester this summer. While Lilford says it's too soon to think about about a full length, they already have one "anthemic" track that's near completion. And, because some members study in Leeds, they plan to add that city to their roster too.

"It's just a loose base for us sometimes, I suppose," says Lilford. "Cal's house is pretty disgusting though, so we prefer to stay away. As I said earlier, we try not to take this too seriously. Too many bands try too hard and it's sad to see them flogging themselves."

Call Japan On The Phone By Tall For Jockeys Rings 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As an emerging alternative rock band from Manchester (although most are from nearby Warrington), Tall For Jockeys is a band to watch from afar. While some elements of the music do take a nod from grunge, there is a noticeable diversity in their arrangements, play style and potential.

While Call Japan On The Phone is not for sale, you can still find it online. All four tracks are available for free download via Bandcamp. No email is required, but you can be a sport and set your own price for each song. You can also follow the band on Facebook, where they post upcoming gigs and other things that they just happen to like. Hat tip to Christian Van Fields and Rob Lawson for the first rate garage production.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Albion Makes Vintage Swimwear Smart

One of my friends recently pointed me to a survey article about swimwear for women by Marie Claire and asked me if it was true. She wanted to know if most men dislike some new swimwear designs.

Mostly, I told her. While designers try hard to keep swimwear fashionable, the standard bikini and some standard one-piece swimsuits beat out the other cuts. Not nearly as many are that excited about the monokini (a one-piece with the sides cut out) or tankini (swim shirt top with bikini bottom). String bikinis are always dependent on who wears them. And retro cuts depend completely on the designer.

There are always some exceptions. The new Stardust Inn swim collection by Albion Fit is one of them. Fit did something smart for Albion swimwear, adding retro/vintage stylings to more standard cuts.

The Stardust Inn collection swims in with great design elements. 

Not everything in the collection is perfect, but there are several designs that stand out, including the Cabana (featured above). It carries some retro pinup styling with its knotted bodice and ruffled skirt. It was designed for women with narrower hips (longer torso) and smaller bust sizes (although there is an underwire).

That is something women always want to keep in mind when they shop for any swimwear. One style does not fit all. In this case, the order one size up too. The suit was designed to be worn loose, not tight.

The Stardust Inn collection from Albion does a good job taking various body shapes into consideration. The Maraschino started as a standard red one-piece, but then Albion added a ruffle detail above the bodice. It's remarkably simple but still carries a vintage feel.

Like the Cabana, it includes cross-back straps, which help minimize them from cutting into the shoulders. Not everyone likes the look, but it does add some comfort. The Maraschino also has some modest ruching effect around the waist.

The ruching actually does two things for the suit. It helps out the waist, and also reduces the number of times that women have to tug the bottom of their swimsuit down.

The Sweet Spot, named after the dot print reminiscent of the 50s, adds a waist defining tie-sash across the middle. It's a better solution for women with fuller busts, but do be careful when considering the waistline.

The sash works two-fold. It can provide some definition to the waist, covering up a minor paunch. But if the paunch is more than minor, some women might inadvertently draw more, not less, attention to it.

All three swimsuits (the entire collection, in fact), are made with 90 percent nylon and 10 percent Spandex, which means there is some (but not a lot) of stretch. The care for each suit is minimal. Hand wash in cold and then lay flat to dry.

There are other styles and cuts, but these three provide a pretty good cross section of what to expect. If the Cabana knot doesn't strike a chord, for example, maybe Quiet Stars (with a bow in back) will. The collection also has dramatically different cuts, including several tankini-style suits and coverups.

A few helpful tips before picking out any swimwear. 

There are plenty of variations that can change how women might wear swimwear, which is why it is more difficult for women to shop for swimwear. But there are some universal ideas that seem to hold true.

One-piece swimsuits and some high-waisted retro swimsuits will generally hide the waist. This is one of the reasons most guys aren't excited about the tankini cuts. While tankinis and monokinis work for girls who want to distract from their busts or hips, it's also the place most guys are least interested in looking.

For smaller busted women, the general rule of thumb is that halter tops, tie-fronts, knots, bows, and bandeau tops all draw more attention to the bust and help fill it out. For larger busted women, the straight cut tops tend to work best. Board shorts simply help women with a larger bust and narrower hips achieve an hourglass shape.

The Stardust Collection By Albion Swims 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Women who want men to notice their swimwear might want to know that how they wear it makes an immediate impression (more than the suit). This was one of the reasons the Marie Claire survey was stacked. At a glance, the standard bikini scored 93 percent, the one-piece 65 percent, and the monokini crashed at 22 percent. Many retro styles didn't do well either, but they weren't designed by Albion.

The Stardust Collection can be found exclusively at Shabby Apple. Styles range from $48 to $108, with the majority around $88. Again, the reason they work is because Albion has added some flair to the otherwise unexciting one-piece and I think that's cool. For alternative styles, such as a standard bikini, check for new styles coming in at Bebe.