Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Play The Walking Dead In Real Time

There really is a zombie invasion. Independent film, interactive gaming, and literature are all overrun with them. And why not? Zombies are fun. They provide a challenge but are easy enough to beat if you're fast on your feet.

But there is a downside that comes with popularity. Not all zombie offerings are equal. Even people who have a passion for them eventually lose patience if they try to sample everything (much like vampires). I try to be cautious despite being curious, looking for things that pay off like Call Of Duty: ZombiesWorld War Z, and The Walking Dead

It was the tie-in to the series that convinced me to give the latest interactive offering a chance. I'm glad I did. The Walking Dead game for the iPad rocks despite the price point that has some people shaking their heads. 

The Walking Dead from Telltale Games rocks.

Based on the comic book by Robert Kirkman, the Walking Dead game from Telltale is an immersive, choice-based adventure that represents an evolution from its other cinematic story lines. The art is sharper, the interface improved, the pacing more fluid, and the experience feels different.

The choices you make matter. Not all them were inset into the game just to carry the story froward. They change things. If you lie to a character or choose to save one person over another, there are consequences, nuances, and subtle changes forever. Some are more important than others.

Some choices that are more visceral than real make the game surprisingly immersive. But even those that don't change an outcome will change how various characters react to and interact with you later.

The storyline is as rich as the comic or television series. 

The story exists in the same universe as the one many people are familiar with. While this game is based on a different group of survivors, they are geographically close enough to each other to allow for cameo appearances.

The primary perspective is provided by Lee Everett. Everett, a university professor convicted of murder, is being transported out of Atlanta to prison when the epidemic starts. From the backseat of the police car, a few exchanges between the police officer and Everett provide some back story.

It also enables you to set the early tone of the experience. You, as Everett, can be reasonably regretful and cooperative or more callous and disinterested. Depending on how you act will dictate what you learn. And then, bam. 

The police officer is too engaged in chatter to notice the first zombie in the game as it ambles across the highway. The impact causes the car to veer off the road. Everett is left dazed, drifting in and out of consciousness. When he comes to, the world is a very different place. Soon, he meets survivors.

Some are new. Some are old friends. Most notably in Episode 1, Everett meets Hershel Greene and his son before Shawn becomes one of the walking dead. He also runs into the always resourceful and likable Glenn, who is traveling to Atlanta in this timeline. Glenn has yet to meet up with what will become the Rick Grimes group.

The Walking Dead game is more story and less kinetic.

If you are familiar with other games by Telltale, like Back To The Future or Jurassic Park, you'll have some sense of the Quick Time event (QTE) environment. The Walking Dead is better, and delivers what seems to be the right amount of length for each episode. Expect about two hours of playtime each.

The story itself is strong enough for anyone feeling starved for the series between season breaks. It has stood on its own as a digital comic. Anyone who plays, however, will be glad there is more. The sense of controlling some character's destiny is entertaining, even if it is limited.

There are a smattering of forgivable setbacks. For instance, if you see a dead police officer, you really want the ability to search for his side arm. You can't unless it's in the script. Weapons and useful items are relatively constricted.

The next most common critique is how the game is being released. Across all platforms, players are anxiously awaiting installments. Episode 2 was just recently released (but not for the iPhone or iPad). Episode 3 might arrive by mid-August.

More troublesome for many iPad and iPhone owners is pricing. The Walking Dead doesn't distinguish between platforms, charging $4.99 for Episode 1 and $14.99 for the bundled preorder, Episodes 2-5. I don't personally have a problem with it given this isn't a stripped down game, but iOS customers are becoming increasingly frustrated by price creep. This one nearly eliminates portable platform savings.

The Walking Dead Game By Telltale Survives 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The most fascinating aspect of the Walking Dead is it is among early entrants in the evolving cinematic game concept. This kind of gaming — balancing an interactive comic, light action, easy puzzles, and psychological depth — seems like this would be a natural fit for the future. It could be especially be great for games based around James Bond or Star Trek.

For portable iOS, The Walking Dead is only compatible with iPad 2 and up or iPhone 3 and up from iTunes. It is also available for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC/MAC platforms. The Walking Dead [Online Game Codes] can be found on Amazon. My review is based exclusively on the iPhone and iPad experience where it feels natural despite being the last platform.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Overwhelming Colorfast After 20 Years

Anyone who has been to as many concerts over the years as I have knows that it takes something special to make it memorable. Any Ramones concert qualifies as phenomenal, but there was one Ramones concert that eclipses all the rest that I've seen. The bill featured the Ramones, Social Distortion, and an opening act I had never heard of, Overwhelming Colorfast.

An unknown band opening for the Ramones and Social Distortion carried a certain risk in 1992. If it wasn't a cut above good in Providence, it would get the wrath of the crowd.

Overwhelming Colorfast was better than good. They were, well, overwhelming.

Overwhelming Colorfast had a fan in Joey Ramone.

It has been 20 years since their self-titled album was released and added to my collection for heavy rotation (and still earns play to this day). Two decades might seem like a long time ago, but the band's hard and crunchy pop punk still stands the test of time.

The original lineup included Bob Reed, lead vocals and guitar; Torg Hallin, guitar; Steve “Bean” Espaniola, bass and backing vocals; and Bob’s brother Dan Reed, drums and backing vocals. The band comes out of Antioch, California, a suburb of San Francisco. And with their layered guitars and melodies, it’s pretty clear their primary influence is Bob Mould and Husker Du.

The band released a
 7” single of a killer song called It’s Tomorrow on a small indie label and then caught the eye of Relativity Records, which signed them in 1991.

By late summer/early fall, they had recruited noted producer Butch Vig to produce their first full-length album, which was recorded over a few months at Smart Studios in Vig's home base of Madison, Wisconsin. Vig not only lent some of his percussion work, but also his penchant for heavy guitars as he would subsequently do with Smashing Pumpkins on Siamese Dream. (Today you might recognize him for his work behind the drum kit with Garbage.)

The album that Overwhelming Colorfast made with Butch Vig.

The 13 tracks that make up the self-titled Overwhelming Colorfast album in 1992 are classic pop punk/rock. It's a powerful start with It’s Tomorrow, a welcome reappearance with relentless driving work by Espaniola and Dan Reed. It was also the early days of the grunge curve, which their goofy video for the song nicely reflects.

The super melodic Arrows and cheeky Totally Gorgeous Foreign Chick feature Bob Reed’s big voice along with some chunky, fuzzy guitars. But oddly, one of the strongest cuts on the album is the band’s cover of the Beatles’ She Said, She Said. They gave the song a completely different, somewhat grungy feel while showcasing Bob Reed’s strong pipes.

If you’re going to cover the Beatles, you’d better do it right. Reed and company did that and more, making it sound original even though it was a 30-year-old cover.

Overwhelming Colorfast would go on to release a few more albums after their self-titled release. None of them ever equalled the unabashed excitement of their first. The reason was likely tied to the lineup.

Hallin was the first to leave, followed by Espaniola. When Dan Reed left (later to return for different incarnations down the road), frontman Bob Reed became the only common denominator.

In recent years there have been a few Overwhelming Colorfast reunions. Most of them include Bob and Dan Reed, and one of the latest took place at the 2012 Noise Pop Reunion. Although they may be a little out of practice, they still sound surprisingly good.Bob Reed's voice is as commanding as ever.

Overwhelming Colorfast’s Debut Is Back With 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I'm not sure what has become of the original lineup over the years, but I hope they're still making music. Never mind that some people don't know them today, these guys enjoyed a brief moment being on the forefront of grunge without succumbing to the hype and commercialism that came along with it.

The debut album Overwhelming Colorfast, circa 1992, is available on iTunes. You can also find the album on Amazon from time to time. It's a must-have for anyone who appreciates the purity of pop punk as it was originally cast. And the music will still play strong in another 20 years plus.

I'd welcome any of the original lineup to contact me through the editor of Liquid [Hip]. Just drop an email to the editor. I want your autographs....seriously.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Earth Unaware Mines First Contact

There aren't any top science fiction lists that neglect Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The high stakes game of interstellar conflict is a classic. The life and story of Ender Wiggin unforgettable.

Given that Ender's Game is also the most highly anticipated science fiction movie (November 2013), the timing for a new trilogy in the Ender's Game universe has never been better.

Earth Unaware is the story of first contact with the Formic. 

Set one hundred years before Ender's Game, humans still believe they are alone in the universe. Humanity is just starting to creep out to the furthest reaches of the solar system, hoping to mine asteroids in the remote and isolated Kuiper Belt.

There, in the cold vacuum of space, 30UA from the Sun (30 times the average distance of the Earth to the sun), a few families of free miners eke out an existence. Most of them have traveled this far out to avoid the petty squabbles and territorial disputes that frequently occur in the asteroid belt among themselves, space pirates and corporations.

Life on board the free miner ship El Cavador.

The work, however, is hard. Ships frequently travel for months before happening upon an asteroid with valuable ore. When they do, they tether their ship to it and send out suited miners to guide laser drills and collect the material.The worst environmental risk, besides the obvious loss of a life line (air and power) and a life spent in mostly zero gravity, is hitting a mining ice pocket that pitches ships off their axes. The worst societal risk is falling in love aboard a deep space miner populated by relatives.

It's a painful lesson for a young Venezuelan mechanic named Victor Delgado. In a preemptive move by ship seniors, his lifelong friend and second cousin Alejandra is to be quietly exiled to an Italian family of free miners. The decision creates an immediate and personal conflict, seemingly the most important in Victor's life until other threats materialize all around them.

Somewhere in deep space, traveling at near light speed toward their position, is the first alien ship ever detected by humans. Much closer 
to their position is the Jukes corporate ship under the command of Lem Jukes, who sees the asteroid claimed by the mining family to be the ideal target to test a new technology.

The handling of multiple story lines and the trilogy will baffle some.

Earth Unaware, The First Formic War, was released with several elephants between its pages. And because of this, it's best to dispense 
with them quickly because they've become sore spots for some.

It seems likely that the entire trilogy was written as one big book, making the decision on where to break the installments painfully suspect. It means Earth Unaware ends on an anticlimactic cliffhanger.

The cliffhanger feels especially disjointed because of the third storyline. It follows Wit O'Toole, the unsuspecting leader of an earthbound international peacekeeping force called Mobile Operations Police (MOPs) and made up of the world's military elite (and apparent predecessor to Wiggin's training camp).

It never also catches up to the primary story. Just one additional chapter could have made all the difference, even if O'Toole is properly poised to dominate book two.

Equally noticeable is that compared to the depth and prowess of Ender's Game, the novel feels considerably lighter than what Card fans are used to. However, the comic book thinness does evolve rather quickly. It reads like
 an opening flower, starting with the confined details of one mining ship and blossoming to include more and more of the universe as it existed 100 years before Wiggin.

The whole will be better than any one part of the trilogy.

The introduction will eventually pay off, especially for anyone being introduced to Ender's universe for the first time. It provides an opportunity to appreciate life before the constant threat of war and invasion.

It also shows why Card has always been astute voice in science fiction. His prose, even with the assist of author Aaron Johnston, is plausible enough to make science fiction feel physical and human enough to introduce characters who could exist in the present as they do in some far off future.

Specifically, Card and Johnston provide a glimpse of humanity at the predawn of 
interstellar travel, creating mining folklore not all that dissimilar to the American West. They also pen some vividly memorable characters. 
Delgado is a gifted but naive protagonist forced to grow up too early and Jukes is an exceptional transformative antagonist who is forced to grow up too late. 

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card Mines 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although Earth Unaware isn't Orson Scott Card's finest work, it still outshines many other authors who are extremely talented except by comparison. As long as anyone picking up the book is prepared for a disappointing place to break the trilogy, Card's disposition toward scenic writing is well worth it.

Earth Unaware, The First Formic War is available from Barnes & Noble. You can also find the novel on Amazon. The book can be downloaded from iBooks or as an audiobook from iTunes. The audiobook is read by seven different voices, which might even be an advantage over print in helping to further define various points of view.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Daniel Pearson Spins Around Satellites

Singer-songwriter Daniel Pearson might have grown up near the banks of the Hull River in the United Kingdom, but his soul can be found in the heartland of America. His music, much like the American landscape that characterizes the region, rolls along for miles with equal parts pain and hope.

"When you grow up in a place without much of a musical identity, you end up looking elsewhere for inspiration," says Pearson. "I've always been drawn to American music and bands, which I think gives me a sense of escapism."

Kingston upon Hull (Hull) in East Yorkshire shares some similarities with the heartland. The economy struggled for decades, the land feels flat and unchanging, and the people are weathered but resilient. Singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan and Neil Young were easy for Pearson to gravitate toward, especially after his parents introduced him to Bruce Springsteen.

"Even in the mid 90s, the biggest bands were all in the U.S. — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, REM, Green Day,  and Weezer," he said. "It was only through Britpop a few years later that I got into The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But I think us Brits have always been a little in love with America."

Satellites captures the spirit of temperate American folk rock.

Although Pearson says the iconic images and ideas transfer pretty effortlessly into his culture and psyche, it doesn't always mean that record labels are willing to take a chance. After shopping his first set of songs around, he learned it's easier to be a boy band, dance act, or female soul singer nowadays.

Undeterred, Pearson started his own label. He oversees everything from finance and distribution to promotion and bookings. All of it comes back to him with a handful of people who help out a little where it counts.

"It was a blessing in disguise really. I've learned an incredible amount about how everything works while managing to stay totally in control of the ship," he said. "I'm also ultra-prepared when in the studio — the record was done and mixed inside a week and a lot of the songs are first and second takes."

There is perhaps no better place to hear his conviction than his second track, Wishing Well. The steady but brilliantly composed song about overcoming adversity underscores Pearson's desire to retain the purity of folk rock without being overblown.

"It reminds me that life is short and I need to keep working away on things that I believe in and strive for," he says. "When I listen to it now, it's as much for me as anyone else."

Waves In The Sea, with its haunting and darkly mortal undertones, is different. While the track is obviously a love song, its inspiration came from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The book, he said, set him off thinking about the end of the world and the last fragments of humanity being tested. Although he admits it might sound hokey to some, he sincerely hopes love can survive it.

While his brooding arrangements capture more attention, Pearson is not confined to the pace. His straightforward and upbeat 4th July, full on with a harmonic backing, is a quick fire pop song played in under three minutes. It almost didn't make the album, but goes a great distance in lending more texture.

Civilians too, although familiar in its pacing, offers up an unexpected twist that might make some early reviewers blush. Although the song has some of the daydream qualities of Pearson's serious prose, the song is a response to the celebrity and talent show culture that has become so influential in society.

"A lot of the reviews in the U.K. actually misunderstood that song and took it literally, like I was the one wanting a magazine deal and all those things," laughs Pearson. "Next time, I need satire stickers for those kinds of songs!"

While no artist would necessarily pass on the rush of being discovered, Pearson is more practiced in patience. Even when he composes music, he invests more of his time in building a couple of lines of melody around a phrase or two. Sometime after settling on a chord progression or sound, he fleshes it out and starts writing draft lyrics.

Sometimes he even records a demo straight into his phone, just to listen to it a few days later. Most of the songs, he says, are scrapped before anyone else can ever hear them. The ones people do hear are often play tested live before he steps into a studio.

Satellites By Daniel Pearson Rolls Over 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Incidentally, the song that Pearson most relates to on the album also touches on the connection between East Yorkshire and the American Midwest, Satellite Town. The relaxed acoustic captures the passage of time in one of those hundreds of towns in the shadow of a city.

Pearson, who has been stateside several times, will be visiting Los Angeles this August after the release of his next single in the U.K. (yesterday). The better songs, however, are all on Satellites, which was put out by his Saint In The City Records (SIC Records) label. Satellites is also available on Amazon. You can keep up with his career on Facebook. He's one to watch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Striking Late Summer Sun Dresses

With some fall fashions already slipping onto store shelves, it's only a guess when anybody might wear them. This is why it's sometimes better to shoot for mid-season styles — something that can easily be worn now and into early fall.

There aren't too many options out there to fill this niche, except some rustic summer sundresses from Sundance. In fact, some are striking enough that they may be back ordered.

Much of the allure of these unique summer cuts is that they break away from body hugging designs and introduce more diversity into the wardrobe. But what caught my eye about these simple designs is that their presentation is more muted with a color palette that feels like autumn and can be easily carried into fall.

A few late summer dresses from Sundance. 

The hero shot above is the dress discovered around Los Angeles this summer that prompted the review. The Muir dress is a soft cotton sundress with tone-on-tone embroidery. It carries a feminine quality without looking fragile and easily conveys something more sensible like relaxed, rugged comfort.

The cut is also brought in at the waist, defining the bodice before billowing out over the hips with a modest pleated flair. While the pleats might restart the fit for women with slightly smaller hips or a proportioned middle given the cut, the idea is to look for something versatile. While the Muir might not be for everyone, there are several other dresses in the lineup that more than make up for it.

The Pinafore, for example, skips the slight snugness in the bodice in favor of a shirred front, which allows the material to land on the waist. Such cuts are usually a more comfortable fit for women who have a bigger bust or prefer to not draw as much attention to the middle.

The deep ivory color is also a plus. As an off-white, it comes across muted enough for fall but neutral enough to accessorize for other seasons. The back is smocked and the style keeps things simple.

The third design worth highlighting is called the Dancing Dots Dress, mostly because the pattern relies on contrasting white polka dots across the black cotton voile. At the same time, the polka dots are not overtly large, creating a much more textured look than a pattern.

Of the three, it also comes across as having the best chance to have an extended seasonal life, especially in regions with warmer winters. But another reason this dress stands out is its versatility.

While it was designed to be worn with a matching underdress, it is easy enough to imagine it with leggings or jeans (jeans probably being the better call). That gives the dress even more life when everything does cool down.

Like all three dresses, it works because it looks fun without drawing too much attention to itself or making the person wearing it look too frilly or fragile. The idea here is to not have people notice the dress as much as the person wearing it. That, and because most fashion trends become too similar off the rack, it's nice to see something different.

All three dresses land just above the knees. They are cotton, which requires hand washing but makes up for the additional care because it breathes in the summer. The only noted word of caution is that these dresses are said to run slightly larger than expected. So keep that in mind before placing an order.

Late Summer Dresses By Sundance Shine At 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that Sundance has been around since Robert Redford founded it in 1969. But since its earliest outing as a catalog in 1989, the store has managed to capture an American outdoor experience that often hits ahead of a trend while remaining timeless.

The late summer sundresses fall into this category, especially because they're adaptable enough to manage several different looks across several seasons and styles, whether rustic country or urban Mediterranean. You can find all three dresses shown here (and some more vibrant patterns) at Sundance Catalog. They range from about $120 to $150, usually sized from 2 to 16 (matched to their size guide).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Walkmen Take You To Heaven

The Walkmen aren’t indie darlings any longer. Over the last decade they’ve grown up, started families, and have matured as artists.

Their seventh studio album, Heaven, casts aside their previous outings bursting with dejection and despair, replacing them with glimmers of hope and confidence that nicely showcase the more mature band. You might even say that Heaven is cautiously optimistic.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve stayed friends and those friendships have grown,” says multi-instrumentalist Peter Bauer. “We have survival experience and real love that children generate in your life. The detachment you can feel throughout our younger records is gone. We felt like it was time to make a bigger, more generous statement.”

This newfound maturity seems logical given that The Walkmen have known each other since their school days in Washington DC. In addition to Bauer, the lineup includes Paul Maroon, guitar; Water Martin, bass; Matt Barrick, drums; and frontman Hamilton Leithauser, vocals.

“When you’re starting out, you’re sitting there trying to come up with a big idea, but after a while, you learn about the process of writing,” said Maroon. “You learn about your friends in the band and how they work best.”

Heaven finds a band comfortable with one another and with their maturity as musicians, writers and people. They’ve evolved since their debut, Everybody Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, put the band on the indie music radar a decade ago.

This time, noted Fleet Foxes producer Phil Ek approached the band and asked if they’d like to make a record with him. They said yes, of course. So they traveled to the Northwest to a studio outside Seattle that Ek likes to use. His involvement in the project is evident with a warmer, fuller sound that brings out the best of the more evolved band without sacrificing any of the fire that fans have grown to love.

As an album trailer, the video just works. So do the album’s 13 tracks. While any of them can stand alone, the album works better as a whole.

The moody and atmospheric The Love You Love is the closest in sound to The Walkmen we’re used to hearing. There is an impressive and eerie video of the song, directed by Seattle-based artist Sean Pecknold, which is said to have been filmed at a haunted house in Pennsylvania. The boy in the video, by the way, is Bauer’s son Otis.

The jangly, surf-rock Heartbreaker puts things into overdrive with Maroon’s slashing guitar and Leithauser’s searching vocals. Robin Pecknold, singer/guitarist/songwriter with Fleet Foxes (and younger brother of Sean) adds low harmony vocals here and there to knockout tracks like the bittersweet We Can’t Be Beat. His voice beautifully complements Leithauser’s croon.

The sweet Song For Leigh is folk rock/alt country with Maroon’s ringing guitar and Leithauser singing “I sing myself sick about you” for his daughter. Love Is Luck has a bigger, louder sound propelled along by Barrick’s nimble drum work.

Throughout, Leithauser alternates between crooning and howling, but the vocals on this album have far more prominence than on previous outings. He sounds great. The band’s ace rhythm section of Martin and Barrick is also in perfect form, Maroon is in the sweet spot, and Bauer continues to be the band’s ace in the hole, slipping from instrument to instrument with complete competence and ease.

Heaven By The Walkmen Swoons With 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Heaven is arguably the band’s finest album to date. It’s much more adult, more dramatic yet subtle in all the right places. And as for Leithauser, he finally sounds just right. Ek was smart to give the vocals more prominence on this album.

You can listen to samplers of every track from Heaven by The Walkmen on iTunes. Barnes & Noble has the album on vinyl. You can also find Heaven on Amazon. You can catch the band live ad they tour the United States this year, with stops in Canada through October. A full schedule can be found on Facebook.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rhyolite Has A Few Ghosts Of Its Own

A little more than a century ago, anyone traveling 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas would have run into one of the largest cities in Nevada. With the discovery of gold in early 1905, Rhyolite had exploded. Several thousand people — mostly gold seekers, developers and miners — called it home.

The city was surprisingly sophisticated, with electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, school, opera house, and even a stock exchange and public swimming pool. Today, almost all of it is gone. Its population is zero and its once envied buildings lay in ruins, a few crumbling walls towering over a vast expanse of desert.

The quick history of a boom-bust town. 

As well developed as Rhyolite was for a turn-of-the-centrury mining town, its boom and bust was remarkably short. The boom lasted five years; its drawn-out bust took a decade.

Its story started like many mining stories, with two seemingly out-of-luck prospectors giving up on the Keane Wonder Mine in California, located on the famed Funeral Range that ran down the east side of Death Valley. The partners, "Shorty" Harris and Ed Cross, were headed toward Goldfield, Nevada, stopping only to camp near Buck Springs for the night.

"The next morning while Ed was cooking, I went after the burros. They were feeding on the side of a mountain near our camp, and about half a mile from the spring. I carried my pick, as all prospectors do, even when they are looking for their jacks—a man never knows just when he is going to locate pay-ore," Harris wrote in his 1930 memoir, Half A Century Chasing Rainbows. "When I reached the burros, they were right on the spot where the Bullfrog mine was afterwards located. Two hundred feet away was a ledge of rock with some copper stains on it. I walked over and broke off a piece with my pick—and gosh, I couldn’t believe my own eyes ... it seemed to me the whole mountain was made of gold."

Although the two men made the discovery, they never became multi-millionaires. Harris and Cross filed a single claim, hoping all the subsequent claims would drive the claim's value higher. For the most part, it worked.

They watched the town quickly grow up from dugouts and rag houses (half boards and half canvas) into dance halls and brokerage buildings. Unfortunately for Harris, however, he had a habit of letting any man interested in his claim butter him up with booze. And one night, after being especially "lit up," he went on a six-day drinking binge that ended with the sale of his claim (one he didn't remember) for $25,000.

His partner, Cross, was paid five times that amount and bought a ranch in San Diego County. But Harris stayed on, living as large as the town, which quickly became larger than life.

When business developers and promotors moved in, they wanted to make Rhyolite the finest city in the state. In the Harris account, the largest three-story office building was cut out of stone and the biggest of three banks was finished with bronze, marble and stained glass.

The bust occurred shortly after the mining claims were formalized into mining corporations, with shares of stock rising to $23 and then dropping to less than $3. By 1908, minority shareholders opened Pandora's box by hiring a British mining engineer, who gave the mine an unfavorable rating.

As soon as shares in the biggest mine fell to 75 cents, it was the beginning of the end. All of the mines began to slow or close. As they did, so did the town. The banks closed in 1910. The newspapers in 1912. The post office in 1913. The train station in 1914. And eventually, the electricity was turned off in 1916.

Although Harris moved on, he never believed his discovery of the Bullfrog mine was tapped out. In his account, he says stock speculation killed the town because too many thought they could get "gold out of the pockets of suckers" faster than they could get it out of the ground.

What remains on the eastern edge of Death Valley. 

The ghost town today mostly consists of eight crumbling structures on a ridge that overlooks the wide open desert. Most of them of are merely frames, including the three-story Cook Building, two-story school house, and the front of the Porter Brothers store.

The buildings that have fared the best include the jailhouse, railroad station and the infamous Bottle House. The latter was built by Tom Kelly over just under six months, made out of Adolphus Busch bottles (better known as Budweiser) as he and his saloon patrons drank them.

It was one of three bottle houses built in Rhyolite, but the only one to survive long enough to be preserved. It might not have have had Paramount Pictures not restored and re-roofed the home in 1925 for a movie. People also lived in it, on and off, until the 1960s.

Rhyolite's other claim to fame includes the ghostly statues built by Albert Szukalski at a site now known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Since he first placed his Fiberglass cast statues out there, several other artists have made contributions to this odd and interesting sculpture garden in the middle of nowhere. The most famous still belongs to Szukalski, a life-sized sculpture of the Last Supper.

Rhyolite, Nevada, Spooks Up 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There are few accommodations anywhere near Rhyolite, with most adventurers traveling from Las Vegas to see the sculpture garden and quiet giants found there. The most common place to stop for lunch is Beatty, Nevada, which one of several towns that sprung up at the same time as Rhyolite.

Beatty doe have a few small hotels and motels, serving mostly as an outpost for people exploring area ghost towns and natural wonders around Death Valley. The town boasts several historic buildings of its own and a museum dedicated to preserving the history of the Bullfrog Gold Rush, in which it played a part.

Although summer is generally considered an off season, given Death Valley consistently climbs above 120 degrees, some well prepared and experienced guides provide tours from Las Vegas. People who would rather go it alone with a rental ought to plan ahead and be especially prepared. Anyone planning to stay in Las Vegas can compare prices with Fare Buzz. While Harris' memoir is nearly impossible to find, there is another out-of-print book about him on Alibris.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Kadavar Has All Our Dusty Thoughts

Kadavar never talked about the style of music they wanted to make before they made it. They just walked into the practice room and starting turning out a heavy dose of hazy psychedelic that channels the 1970s heavy rock scene as if it were today.

But that doesn't mean saddling the band with a throwback moniker really fits either. They sound better than any retro project. The music is fresh, with a hint of krautrock. Every song rolls in like a blanket of smoke and hangs in the air.

Kadavar's self-titled debut lingers long after the last note. 

The album, cut in the studio owned by the drummer and recorded on analog, carries a classic blues-laden heavy rock jam rock that effortlessly grooves and chugs along in whatever direction feel natural. Expect to hear plenty of comparisons to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Sir Lord Baltimore, and everybody else critics can tag on to stories. None of the comparisons fit, even if the band would have fit into these band's lineups.

There's much more going on here than layering distorted guitars over a bass line that serves up some melody as much as rhythm. Much of it has to do with the way Christoph "Wolf" Lindemann balances his guitar riff and vocals, giving Rivoli bassist Javier Mammut more room to bridge the space between himself and Ted "Tiger" Tinski's impulsive drums. 

A rundown of what to expect from the brilliant debut album.

The album kicks off with All Our Thoughts, a four-and-a-half minute jam that introduces their powerfully convicted sound. The Berlin trio eases everyone into a hypnotic groove before breaking into a seafaring rock fable about an endless quest. Lindemann's vocals are relaxed; his guitar solo toward the end bristles.

Aside from the opener, the most chatted up track is Creature Of The Demon after its video debut. The song, loaded with guitar riffs, is exactly what you think it might be — a woman with all the seductive prowess of a succubus. She might haunt your dreams, but the reason isn't pretty.

The vintage film clips used to make the video help set the vibe. It was edited together by Lindemann, keeping the band temporarily true to their DIY attitude. It's in their roots, much like playing "the German way" has become the band mantra. Everything is relaxed, confident, and purposeful.

Black Sun has a masterful touch of doom rock, with Lindemann singing about those things in the dark reaching out for you at the edge between worlds. It's a convincing witness song with some of the finest guitar riffs on the album. I heard the demo last year; the polish improved every aspect of it.

Forgotten Past carries sound that's more raw than much of the album, with Lindemann's vocals a bit too distorted and some of the change ups occurring with a jolt. Goddess Of Dawn smokes, a creepy sacrifice song of sorts. And the 8-plus minute Purple Sage is a brilliant masterwork, brining in some space rock.

It is also the only song on the album that invited a fourth member. Their friend Shazzula Nebula, who guests in many bands (White Hills and Farflung among them), joined in to play the Theremin. She does it perfectly, creating many of the eerie space rock effects. It's the centerpiece of the open and end.

The Theremin truly sets the tone for this long play jam session. It also hints at something that doesn't always come across overtly in the album but is very much a part of Lindemann's passion for music. Atmosphere is just as important to him as riffs, lyrics, rhythm, or any other part of a song.

Overall, this is a must-have album for anyone who enjoys some vinyl-ready heavy rock. It's also a good reminder that music some people consider part of the past can be refreshed easily enough. There is plenty more to be mined from any genre with the right progressive approach.

Kadavar's Self-Titled Debut Shatters 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter. 

Add Kadavar to your watch list. What's especially great about the band, even as a three piece, is that it doesn't feel like Lindemann is strained when he balances vocals and guitar. And to Mammut's credit, part of the reason is pushing the boundaries of the bass.

The self-titled album Kadavar is available on iTunes. You an also find the album on Amazon. If you can splurge for vinyl, do it. There's an additional layer of warmth that makes Kadavar even better.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Daniel H. Wilson Gets Amped. You?

There are two ways to size up Amped by Daniel H. Wilson. Enjoy the fast-paced, near future techno-thriller despite its shortcomings. Or suffer through it, longing for character development and more literary substance.

I chose the former because it wouldn't be here otherwise. But I still think most people need to know more before they buy it. Many reader reviews are mixed because they expect something else.

Boiled to its core, this book is largely about prejudice, except it uses science fiction as a twist. It's not the color of people's skin that drives discrimination, it's what lies just under their skin — technology.

The Amped concept is greater than the parts that play it.

Amped can be a bit mind numbing when you think about it. Technological advances in the next decade or so could bring part of Wilson's world to light. Technology could be implanted to help people regulate their minds — an immediate cure for mental conditions or better interface for prosthetics.

The solution is nothing less than a miracle. For Owen Gray, it changed his life. He suffered from epilepsy and was prone to seizures. Compared to other "amps," the technology helps him function. But for others — children who were slow learners or maybe diagnosed with ADHD — the technology means something else all together. They get a Flowers For Algernon ride up the intellect ladder.

Right, intelligence-enhacing surgery is one of several familiar hooks, with Wilson taking it a few steps further en masse. Once the government helps fund hundreds and thousands of people to rectify their shortcomings, people start to wonder how average humans might keep up. They become a minority.

In some cases, they become scary. Military test subjects have a new way to look on the battlefield. Mixed and matched pushes the envelope of enhancement. Highly focused concentration can alter human chemistry. And the creepiest part: Even if the amps are surgically removed, the brain remembers the paths and patterns they helped to stimulate. There is no going back.

The frightfully vivid flashback in history seen as a near-future event. 

The book opens on the same day that the Supreme Court issues a controversial but populous opinion. Amplified humans are different from humans, and therefore aren't entitled to the same set of rights.

Some of the changes play out like the lead up to World War II. Without rights, amped citizens are tossed out by their landlords, absolved of their property rights, and eventually subjected to ghettos. The idea is the same as it was more than 50 years ago. Isolate the undesirables from the greater population.

Although Owen Gray is hardly as noticeable, he is quickly caught up in the wave of mistrust and hate. But unlike many other amps who suddenly fund themselves unprotected, Gray isn't as ordinary as he thinks. His father, one of the technological pioneers, gave Gray much more than an epilepsy patch.

Gray, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident, has been implanted with an experimental military amp in an effort to save his life. It has been sitting inside his skull dormant. So he makes his way across the country to find the only person who can figure it out — one of the people his father worked with during the initial trails.

And there is someone else: Lyle Crosby, one of only twelve people who was implanted with a similar device. Discharged from the service after the rogue program was discovered, Crosby is already organizing a resistance — one that has dubious backer for a different goal.

As a blazingly fast summer read, it won't take long. Wilson even lays out some literary tricks to hasten the pace, inserting news reports and political briefs to shorten the time in between any action, which is mostly handled well.

The other price, of course, is that the protagonist relies on being an everyman hero without any time to answer the bigger question about what it means to be human. His one and only love interest is equally unconvincing against the backdrop of entertainment.

A couple quick graphs about Robert H. Wilson. 

Given Wilson has a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, his technological aptitude is always readily convincing. After earning his degree, he moved to Portland and started writing some mind-bending and entertaining books that often read like more accessible (but not as engrossing) Michael Crichton.

He is easily best known for his book Robopocalypse. That book could have easily ended up a B-movie on the SyFy Channel. But Wilson has more than tech insight in his corner. He has a lot of luck. Steven Spielberg is directing the movie adaption, which is set for release in 2014.

Amped By Daniel H. Wilson Ports 3.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The concept is cool and the book is all right for what it is — entertainment that raises a few deeper questions. It makes you wonder whether technology could eventually change the human experience or if that would be considered a human experience. The answers aren't in there and maybe that's a point. Some of these technologies already exist.

Amped: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson is available on Amazon and you can find the novel at Barnes & Noble. Indie shop Alibris also carries it. The book can also be downloaded for iBooks or the audiobook from iTunes. The book is narrated by Robbie Daymond. He helps solidify the writing style, but doesn't add much more to Owen Gray than is already on the page.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sunday Lane From Where You Are

Emerging artist Sunday Lane never imagined becoming a singer-songwriter. She was just an ordinary girl growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And like many children in Tulsa, her parents wanted to expose her to music.

At the age of 5, they enrolled her at the Janell Whitby School of Music led by Janell Whitby to learn classical piano. But there is something different about the way Whitby teaches. She believes all children are born with a natural aptitude for music and nurtures their connection to it as early as possible.

"I wouldn't trade all the time I spent there for the world," says Lane. "The school not only helped me learn to play, but also understand it, feel it, and eventually love it."

Even as Lane grew into her music, singing and songwriting was still the furthest thing from her mind. At 12, she learned to play chords and joined a band instead — a setting she wanted to be part of. But this isn't a story of a classically trained pianist from middle America who joined a band and later found her voice at 15. Not at all.

Sunday Lane is a gifted songwriter and deeply passionate singer. 

Lane cut loose from Tulsa to attend Pepperdine University in Los Angeles. What she found there was the makings of a musical career at the Musicians Institute of Hollywood. Although unsigned, two of her songs have since been picked up for the television show One Tree Hill.

Both — Heavy Heart, Heavy Hands and Reckless One — appeared on her debut EP Bring Me SunShine. The latter is most likely to become a live show staple, a song about someone willing to fall in love with someone who isn't ready to fall in love.

The EP is good, but her new indie album co-produced with drummer Zach Annett is what caught my attention. From Where You Are is an 11-track blend of piano-driven indie pop, with some folk rock leanings.

The best track is the sad and sobering Painted Blue. Inspired by the realization that you can't be someone's everything, the song is bittersweet in its wisdom and pained in the loss of the illusion. Although stronger with the backing of her piano off the studio track, the live cut captures Lane's spirit as it gets going, weeping out the words as much as she sings them.

"Down the line, I'd love to work with other producers but I'd always like to have a say in the production because my songs mean a lot to me, and the way they are presented," says Lane, who often draws from personal experience. "I wrote Slowly when I was 17 and had my heart broken for the first time."

The song captures the moment between being hurt and still wanting the person who hurt you. And yet, Lane works in the realization that there is no benefit in a slow departure. The longer you hang on, the longer it hurts.

"There comes a time when you can't linger in the pain any longer and you have to let each other go," she says. "Writing has always been therapeutic for me."

Although Slowly means the most to her personally, dramatic tracks such as Waltzing With Fire and Let Me Go capture her range. She co-wrote both with singer-songwriter Hannah Crockett and immediately knew she wanted to include both on her next album.

"We played a lot of shows together last year and both of those songs were written when we were supposed to be practicing," says Lane. "I wrote the lyrics, but she helped shape the melodies and instrumentation. Solo writing and co-writing music and are two very different experiences, but I love them both."

It was also those songs, as well as her upbeat A Little Too Young, where Lane almost seems reminiscent of folk rock singer-songwriter Melanie (Melanie Safka) in the mid 1970s. Although Lane is unfamiliar with the artist, the two singer-songwriters share a commonality in that they sound wiser than their years.

From Where You Are By Sunday Lane Rises To 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Sunday Lane is an emerging artist pick who could easily move toward pop or folk rock. The latter seems likely as she said she would like her next album to be more guitar-driven. As long as she can retain the soulfulness of her voice, I'd cover it. If you are in Los Angeles this weekend, you can catch her third during a showcase set On The Rox (above the Roxy) on July 21. I plan to be there.

Otherwise, you can find From Where You Are by Sunday Lane on iTunes. From Where You Are is also available on Amazon. You can keep up with her solo career on Facebook, but she also splits her time as part of Thick As Thieves, a contemporary mashup band that blends pop harmonies with hip hop and rock.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunshine Kids Let Some Fun Inside

If you've ever read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, you have a sense of how being a kid with cancer changes one's perspective. His story might be fiction, but the affliction isn't. More than 12,000 children are diagnosed every year in the United States and the prognosis is slowly creeping upward.

One of the many places where his novel touches a nerve is in capturing the loneliness and depression that many children experience while facing death before their lives have begun. He didn't make this up. It touches on the truth.

It is the same condition that Rhoda Tomasco noticed in 1982 while serving as a volunteer in the pediatric cancer unit of a hospital in Houston, Texas. So she decided to do something.

Sunshine Kids helps the fun shine in for kids with cancer. 

Tomasco had a vision. She wanted to provide these young cancer patients with opportunities to participate in positive group activities to raise their self-esteem, give them a sense of personal accomplishment, and let them experience the fun of being a kid without the weight of world.

The Sunshine Kids accomplishes this mission by hosting hospital parties for oncology patients and their families at more than 20 hospitals around the United States, planning regional events across the country, and arranging national trips throughout the year. The adventures are as diverse as the children themselves and there is no cost to participate.

Typical events include attending hockey games and sporting events, visiting the sets of television shows, or participating in parties, picnics, and other participatory activities. One of their most recent regional outings, for example, included attending the USA Olympic Team swim trials in Nebraska. Earlier this year, the Sunshine Kids met up for a 5-day skiing trip in Colorado.

The point, as many of the kids themselves often say, is that these opportunities are like vacations from their illness. The organization empowers them to be kids while helping them see that they aren't alone.

"I cried as soon as I got home. You guys do something amazing for us that we don't get anywhere else. You bring us all together with other people who have the same thing in common with us, and that's fighting for our lives..." Patrick Betters.

Since its earliest beginnings when Tomasco organized what must have seemed like an impossible journey — the first amputee ski trip for young patients at the M.D. Andersen Cancer Center — Sunshine Kids has grown to become a well-respected national organization. And the board of directors today now reads like an accomplished list of who's who in medical, media, entertainment, and business (including Tomasco).

The pin that Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio wore. 

In addition to its dedicated board and staff, retired second baseman for the Houston Astros, Craig Biggio, has served for years and years as the foundation's national spokesperson. And in this role, Biggio does everything except play from the bench.

While he has made numerous personal contributions to the foundation and helped it raise more than $1 million, Biggio also invites the kids to play baseball with the Astros every year and frequently visits the foundation's Sunshine house. He's been doing it for 20 years.

Although he is probably the best known spokesperson, Biggio isn't alone. Every year, the foundation invites three more people to serve as national spokespeople, patients and survivors who have helped inspire other kids facing the same tough decisions.

This year, they include Ben Hu, Mariana Monzon, and Brenna Huckaby; all three have compelling stories. Hu was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2009, Monzon with leukemia in 2009, and Huckaby (pictured above), a high ranking competitive gymnast, with a tumor in her right distill femur in 2010.

She was faced with the choice between her leg or her life. Shortly after the surgery, Sunshine Kids helped remind her how to live it again at a water park event. Now, she mostly enjoys snowboarding.

The Sunshine Kids Is A Good Will Pick By Liquid Hip. 

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

We picked the Sunshine Kids because it is filled with courageous people with big hearts, beginning with Tomasco, who had the courage to found the organization, and then continuing on with the dozens of volunteers, staff, and board members. But even more memorable than these generous supporters are the most courageous advocates of the foundation — the kids. And that's pretty cool.

The Sunshine Kids is a national nonprofit organization that is funded by private and corporate donations, civic clubs,  philanthropic foundations, memorial donations, and people like you. For more information about the Sunshine Kids visit their website. In addition to information about the organization, you will find dozens of inspired stories written by the kids themselves.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hank Williams Jr. Has New Rules

With Old School New Rules, Hank Wiliams Jr. wasted no time sharing his opinion about ESPN’s decision to dump his Emmy-winning song as the opening theme for Monday Night Football.

Twenty years of “Are you ready for some football?” might be no more, but Williams kicks off the song Takin’ Back The Country with a snarl. “I’ll go find a network that will treat me right.”

The tune’s rocking, rollicking sound is based on his father’s (Hank Williams Sr., of course) song, Mind Your Own Business. It's also a reference to Williams’ now infamous 2011 interview on Fox & Friends in which an allegory intended to get a point across was deemed by some to be a comparison between President Obama and Adolf Hitler.

The brouhaha that inspired the album Old School New Rules. 

If anything good came out of the brouhaha, it was that Williams became inspired to write and record his first new album in three years. The aptly titled Old School New Rules contains 11 tracks, including a cover of his dad’s You Win Again but with a Southern rock twist.

Williams tackles a number of relevant subjects, including what he calls “America haters’ on his pro-troops We Don’t Apologize For America; Wall Street thieves and swindlers on Stock Market Blues; and Who’s Takin’ Care of Number One, which laments government policies and the way working men and women are getting the shaft.

The radio and CMT-friendly That Ain’t Good is the first single off the album, and a good choice at that. The bluesy, straightforward song takes aim at the media.

“Watching these nuts on TV/Blowing themselves to hell/So they can all get to heaven and my kids want me to tell/Tell ‘em why/Did all those people have to die/No that ain’t good,” he sings.

Even at the age of 63, Williams’ strong, robust voice conveys the power of his emotions. He sounds just as good as he did 30 years ago.

He also delves into his storied past on Old School, where he gives props to the musicians who were part of his musical upbringing as a child. These include people like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Earl Scruggs. But not everything is sentimental. Cow Turd Blues showcases the singer’s sense of humor and ear for a great melody.

“Sometimes when it gets so bad, you’ve just got to laugh about it,” Hank says. “I do like to make people laugh, too.” 

There’s not a weak song on the album, but I think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink is a true gem. With Williams and the legendary Merle Haggard trading lines and messing around, it has the mark of a classic romp as the two musicians have a good time. Williams does the same with Brad Paisley on I’m Gonna Get Drunk And Play Hank Williams.

There is no doubt his storied life and history have shaped Williams' writing and career. He was born in 1949 and lost his dad in 1953. Left to be raised by his mother Audrey, Hank Jr. quickly developed a penchant for music, singing and playing his dad’s songs.

Audrey took it a step further by having clothes made for Hank Jr. that were just like his dad's. By the mid 1970s, Williams had broken away from the image and ended his mother’s involvement with his career. Since, Williams has recorded more than 70 albums and has sales of 55 million records to his credit. Some of his songs, including Rowdy Friends, Old Habits, and Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound helped to define the country sound of his time.

Old School New Rules Swaggers In With 8.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Released on his own Bocephus Records under a licensing agreement with Blaster Records, Old School New Rules is a fine showcase for Williams’ fiery voice and blend of traditional country, Southern rock and blues, and adds a new dimension and potential new audience for the country music legend. 

You can find Old School New Rules by Hank Williams Jr. on iTunes. The CD is available at Barnes & Noble and the album is available on Amazon. Williams has shows set for late July and August in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky. Keep up with Hank Jr. on Facebook.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bad Luck For Everything You Know

When Zoe Heller's second novel, Notes On A Scandal, was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for fiction, it proved to be a bit of bad luck for her equally comedic and cruel debut, Everything You Know. The debut seldom gets a fair shake without becoming the subject of comparison to her later work.

That's not to say Everything You Know doesn't have first novel challenges, but the re-release by Picador has been largely overlooked. There are plenty of people who would be surprised by the darkly funny prose. Willy Muller is a likable misanthrope, an earlier conceived but less lovable predecessor to Hank Moody.

Willy Muller is an aging Hollywood hack, made quasi-celebrity over his memoir.

The memoir he wrote, To Have And To Hold, was a controversial semi-fictionalized confessional that only further alienated his two children. It's no surprise they were hurt by it, given it chronicled his ugly relationship with his dead wife, the woman he was accused and convicted of murdering.

In Muller's opinion, it was some of the worst writing he ever had the displeasure of putting down on paper — the kind of dribble that sells. Now, eight years later, a producer has optioned the book for a film and a studio has agreed to pick it up. The money might be good, but he doesn't want to do it.

He might even consider it bad news, a painful reminder of how he made his money to be piled on all the other bad news he has had to endure. He can't seem to write word one of the autobiography he was hired to ghost. His younger daughter just committed suicide. He is recovering from a heart attack.

"Mr. Muller?" she said. "I hope I didn’t disturb you. My name is Vivian Champ. I’m a post-trauma counsellor." 

I shifted slightly, dragging my body up towards the headboard and causing a gust of fuggy air to rise up from the sheets. Vivian’s right eye veered about like a restless marble, making her left eye seem peculiarly still and glaring. 

"Are you going to give me a bath?" I asked her. (Bathing is a rare and exotic privilege in the modern American hospital regime. In the entire fortnight I have been at the Beverly Memorial, I have been steadfastly refused anything more than a once-a-day wash down with a chemically moistened cotton- nylon napkin.)

Some might say Muller is a bit of a cliche as a sarcastic adulterer and constantly casual drinker. But his dreariness and self-loathing isn't depressing. Heller never gives Muller the time to be overtly melodramatic, rushing him off to Mexico for recovery so no one will be the wiser about his weak heart.

Given he is equal parts resigned to victimhood and yet not satisfied with his immediate conditions, it isn't the best idea. The only place he could possibly attract more disruption than his own home is a vacation rental in a foreign country.

Once his agent does convince him to get out of town, Muller invites an old fling to spend the first few weeks with him before the woman he adores arrives. Their paths are bound to overlap and do, at the same time that two more friends arrive. One of them is even more of a curmudgeon than Muller.

Everything You Know is filed with a cast of tragically comedic characters. 

If anything stands out about the characters in Everything You Know it is their willingness to embrace their darkly humorous lives as the only lifeline available. Almost all are losers, hustlers, and misfits.

Muller's agent is painfully jovial, old school, and losing clients as he enters his autumn years. Muller's girlfriend, Penny, looks great despite having had one or two plastic surgeries too many or has a need to invent environments of pretend civility. And Richard, the unconscionable antagonistic friend, enjoys stirring the pot for his own entertainment like it is a professional sport.

Although Muller's younger daughter committed suicide, her presence is felt throughout. Shortly after Muller admits he was gleeful over the lack of a long goodbye note, he receives a package. Sadie kept several diaries.

Between bouts of confusion and sharply written dialogue, Heller shares Sadie's entries just as Muller reads them. Sometimes the addition is disruptive, given that Sadie only managed to survive a miserable second-fiddle-to-her-sister life because of her own stunted development and naivety. Her sister, on the other hand, is mean spirited and purposely chooses her own misery and wallows in protest.

Still, the narrative written by Sadie is needed because Everything You Know is meant to be transformative and redemptive. And even though Heller clumsily brings that transformation and redemption very abruptly at the end, it's everything Muller comes to know that changes his life.

Everything You Know By Zoe Heller Zings 4.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

On the whole, the book doesn't deliver at the right pace. However, there are so many tremendously wicked and wonderful scenes, anyone who appreciates an antisocial satire will never forget them.

Everything You Know: A Novel is available at Barnes & Noble. The novel can also be downloaded from iBooks. Everything You Know: A Novel. It was the last book to be rereleased for the electronic market written by Heller, who never felt comfortable with the attention lavished on writers. She hasn't written any fictional work since her third novel, The Believers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Young Evils Go Dark Pop Perfect

When the Seattle-based alternative pop band The Young Evils self-released Enchanted Chapel in 2010, it was clear they had talent. Troy Nelson (vocals and guitar) and Mackenzie Mercer (vocals) sounded great together, even if something was missing.

With the exception of a couple standout songs like Get Over It and Crazy People, the production made their airy acoustics and arrangements flat and forgettable. Two years later, that's no longer the case. 

Foreign Spells is a thrilling 4-track EP that takes a darker turn away from pop and toward alternative rock. It was a turn for the better with noisier guitars, richer percussions, and a kick-ass bass when it's needed. The overall effect is a more dynamic and addictive band that is poised to explode this summer.

Foreign Spells by The Young Evils is the alternative EP summer needed. 

With the addition of Cody Hurd (rhythm guitar), Michael Lee (bass), and Faustine Hudson (drums on the album), the The Young Evils aren't just another cute indie band. By placing their 60s-styled do-wop melodies over noisy, lightly distorted guitars and a layer of low noted rhythm, they've made something distinctly playable and instantly memorable.

One day before the July 10 release, The Young Evils uploaded the first quirky video from Foreign Spells, featuring Dead Animals, which showcases Mercer as lead vocalist with Nelson backing. Although the band's manager is shopping for a label, the band is still very much DIY. The video was co-directed by Nelson and Hurd.

Dead Animals is a solid introduction to the band's new direction and fuller sound. Sure, it might not be the most dynamically layered of the 4-track set, but the song sticks in your head as it tells the story of a romance that would be better off dead. 

For anyone who notices, you won't see Hudson in the video. The band's new drummer, replacing the always busy and longtime Seattle band vet, is Eric Wennberg (formerly with Slender Means). After the abrupt breakup of the Slender Means two years ago, it's good to see Wennberg with a more visible and very viable gig.

The balance of the Foreign Spells is a must-have EP for heavy rotation. 

The first track, Darker Blue Bayou, starts out with a beautifully chunky beat. Nelson and Mercer sing it as more of a duet, trading out verses. The theme of the song is darkly entertaining as a pre-apocalyptic tune that imagines people making a free-spirited community without rules until the end of the world.

The Devil's Barricade is lighter fare by comparison, bringing in more of the band's original pop leanings but without losing its fuller, three-dimensional sound. That doesn't mean the song is cheery. It's a bittersweet breakup song tucked inside some surf rock elements and with a brief, nostalgic and confessional voiceover toward the end.

Touch Tone Lovers is the most straightforward of the four as a disintegrating long-distance ditty, and is most likely to be unjustly overlooked as an "also on the EP" track. It carries effortless change-ups with a 60s folk rock feel alongside an alt rock beat. There's a distant echoing guitar solo tucked inside.

While it may be difficult to pinpoint the influence producer Shane Stoneback (The Cults, Vampire Weekend) brought to the show to enhance the band's demos, it doesn't matter. It all works brilliantly while shining a brighter light on Nelson's songwriting.

Foreign Spells By The Young Evils Splits 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While I tend to lean toward heavier stylings, Foreign Spells clearly marks a turning point in the band's potential. Expect them to break away from being part of the crowded Seattle favorites list and given rising star status this year, especially if they can add more songs like this to a future full-length.

You can find Foreign Spells by The Young Evils on iTunes. Foreign Spells, which could easily become the indie EP release of the year, is also on Amazon. The band is currently on a West Coast tour and you can keep up with them on Facebook.