Friday, September 28, 2012

Gallows Restarts With A Self-Titled LP

Last year, Gallows did everything they could to survive a split with Frank Carter. Shortly after asking Wade MacNeil to fill the vacancy, they put out Death Is Birth earlier this year to prove what could be done. It took some guts to do it.

The 4-track hardcore outing has since became a marker of sorts for a band that wanted to remain true to their roots. It also gave them new material to prove themselves in person. Their shows are ferocious, enough so that some people wondered how hard they wanted to be.

Their new album answers any questions straight up as a self-titled restart. While the players are the same, Gallows is a new band. Their new material rubs up against Death Is Birth while making the case that they are anything but dead. There is nothing soft about this album.

Gallows is still a disenfranchised D.I.Y. punk band.

All of it has been a smart choice on their part. They knew that MacNeil could never be Carter. Instead, they made MacNeil the right fit for a Gallows without any frontman resistance. There is no doubt that the band is moving forward now. There will be no retreat.

Victim Culture opens with a 12-line definition of the song title, recited by a guest vocalist. As soon as she is done, Gallows defines itself. They don't care for any familiar victim outs and shout their defiance in a gang chorus: in us, we trust! Then MacNeil picks up the verse, embracing all the bad that finds them.

The song isn't the sharpest on the album. But neither is Outsider Art, which was also released as a video. It's good, but the pent up beginning holds on too long before breaking to the better half.

The video directed by Stuart Birchall was based on the band's vision for a twisted romance. The finished piece, however, feels like something different. The unavoidable collision isn't between mismatched lovers or anything like that. It's between two very different kinds of people who frequent the same scene, with the girl on the vicarious fringe becoming the brutal bruiser by the end of it.

Mostly though, the album plays better in its entirety. Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead) has the feel of real punk fury. Last June adds in the intensity of their earlier work as one of the most physical songs on the album. Vapid Adolescent fuses together beauty, brawn, and bawdiness that will make some blush.

After just these three songs, it's all very clear that Gallows is more cohesive. But it also reveals that MacNeil doesn't offer as much diversity in his vocals as Laurent "Lags" Barnard (guitar, keys), Steph Carter (guitars), Stuart Gili-Ross (bass), and Lee Barratt (drums) do on their instruments.

Why you might expect more from Gallows in the future. 

I'm not suggesting MacNeil broaden his range. He sounds his best when ratcheted up on anger, and is only less convincing or even distracting when he moves beyond it. The band covers some of it with more gang vocals. It softens up the growls, roars, and screams with some semblance of harmony.

That makes Gallows is a great album for its unrestrained brutality, its not fully formed in every song. Even in the most musically interesting tracks — Austere, Depravers, Odessa — how the vocals (or lyrics) fit can be hit and miss. Austere is perfect. Depravers is strained. Odessa hits is on and off. The same can be said about the bonus tracks. We Bite fits better than Borstal Breakout.

Gallows Comes Out Swinging At 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The self-titled album is better than the Death Is Birth EP and a harder hitting sound than Carter could have delivered. While there may be rough spots, Gallows is shaping up to be a hardcore band to watch. Who knows? Maybe that means anyone put off by the split will find they will have two bands to like on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Gallows can be picked up on Amazon or you can download the album on iTunes. You have to download the album to pick up the bonus tracks. Given the better of the two (We Bite) is only 71 seconds long, you might think twice. Barnes & Noble carries the CD. The band is currently touring in the United Kingdom before crossing over to the United States in November.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

deWitt Pens A Darkly Comic Western

Canadian-born author Patrick deWitt trades in the Hollywood bar scene and pours his talents into an immorally violent and vehemently funny revisionist Western set during the California gold rush. And yet, not everyone or everything is without conscience in The Sisters Brothers. The protagonist, Eli Sisters, is sensitive in his starring role as a reluctant anti-hero.

His brother, Charlie, is different. He happily earns every stitch of his reputation as a gunslinger for hire. He is a selfish, cold-hearted killer whose appetite for taking is only matched by his ability to justify anything. If you don't want to sell something to him, he will enthusiastically shoot you, take it, and blame you for the trouble. Charlie's only soft spot, if he has one, is his loyal affection for his brother.

The Sisters Brothers is about two gunslingers on a job in California. 

You might never guess it by the narrative, which is told by Eli Sisters, but they are the bad guys. They have just received their newest job from the Commodore: track down prospector Hermann Kermit Warm and shoot him dead.

The date is 1851. Oregon City is booming. But their quarry, a small bald-headed man with a wild red beard, is several days away. Warm is planning to set out for his claim, ten miles east of Sacramento.

It's like any number of jobs they've taken up before, except for one small detail. The Commodore has designated Charlie to be the lead man after the last job was botched. Eli takes exception to the new rules, especially the pay rate. But their bickering over how the money might be split isn't the only tell that these two brothers are cut from different cloth.

Eli's head is filled with questions — anything and everything from what Warm did to whether or not Warm will be there in the weeks it will take them to traverse the countryside. Charlie won't entertain much of the nonsense. They were hired to do a job and he doesn't need to know the details.

The trip itself is the bulk of their adventure across an untamed and hostile landscape. There are few romantic notions about what life might have been like in the 1800s. The land was hard and the people were harder, quickly quelling any notion that being a bad guy is a conscious choice. It's a necessity; nothing is safe.

One night you go to sleep under the stars. The next morning your head is swollen from the crown of your skull to the top your shoulder. And for the all the trouble of your tooth infection or or spider bite, all your brother can do for you is laugh and call you half dog — right before tossing a stick to see if you'll chase it.

The people they meet aren't much better than their mutual company. Most of them are losers, cheaters, liars, and killers. The only thing that keeps men alive is their ability to keep their wits and shoot, not necessarily in that order. All the while, it's Eli's boyish charm that takes it all in.

He is just as predisposed to killing as his brother, but he doesn't like it. He keeps his dreams squarely locked on the future when some day he can give it all up, settle down, and live a peaceful life. Doing so also helps the story find its humanity. The Sisters weren't born bad. The place they were born was bad well before they got there.

When they do eventually catch up to Warm after their fair share of misadventures with witches, prospectors, and gangs of frontier criminals, deWitt brings in a hint of steampunk-like magic into the story. Warm might not be the adversary they expected. He simply invented a new way to find gold.

A little bit more about author Patrick deWitt. 

Patrick deWitt was born in 1975 on Vancouver Island, but later moved to California, Washington, and now Oregon. Like many new authors, he didn't cut his teeth in front of a typewriter. He worked as a laborer, clerk, dishwasher, and bartender.

It was the latter experience that inspired his first book, Ablutions, which was named a New York Times Choice book. Shortly after, he wrote Terri, a screenplay about a large 15-year-old boy who struggles to adjust. The film starred John C. Reilly, whose production company has already bought the film rights to The Sisters Brothers.

Interestingly enough, deWitt had the idea to try his hand at refreshing the Western genre after buying a single book from a Time-Life Old West series. According to the National Post, he paid 25 cents for it.

The Sisters Brothers Shoots Out 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Patrick deWitt places dirty underground and a surprisingly modern noir spin on the Western genre until it easily appeals to anyone who would never think to read one. It could easily be set in a different time, perhaps threaded with gangsters or post-apocalyptic scavengers without any romanticism. It can be argued the novel casts a Western as modern pop or perhaps more appropriately anti-pop culture.

It's more entertainment than literature, and a rip-roaring good read. You can pick up the The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt from Amazon. You can also find the novel on Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. The audio version is read by John Pruden. Any boyish charm, naivety, or wonderment not captured by DeWitt as prose is made minute by minute better by Pruden.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dum Dum Girls And The End Of Daze

Dee Dee Penny
It's easy to categorize End Of Daze as an evolution of Dum Dum Girls given the fuller sound across all five tracks. But this EP is something different with two new songs alongside two B-sides and a cover.

It doesn't make the EP any less of a bright spot in music this year. Kristin Gundred a.k.a. Dee Dee Penny sounds great, even as she breaks from the fuzzy garage noise pop that struck me last year on He Gets Me High. Since then, Penny has alluded to a darker album, making this a placeholder.

There is something bright within a darkness. 

Mine Tonight opens the EP with an ominous but much more somber and purposeful approach than some of her previous outings. The deep throated guitar and bass chug along, creating a contrast with her light, confessional vocals. And yet, it's not a light song at all. It's more like a dark lullaby.

The lyrics have a heaviness about them as she sings about loss and the feeling of being lost that comes with it. After a brief instrumental chorus, she returns to the effect. There's recognition that you may never be the same person person again, even when you're looking in the mirror.

I Got Nothing wakes things up a bit, bringing in more pop sensibilities and sounding like a lost track from He Gets Me High. She pushes the monotone and minimalist boundaries, revealing some of her power while never letting it out. The texture fits the words, a numbness over lost love and a joy over starting again from a blank slate.

Like the first track, she recorded I Got Nothing last year. And along with those, she also put down the cover Trees And Flowers. Originally recorded in 1983 by Strawberry Switchblades, Penny easily makes the song her own. She brings a sadness to it that the original purposefully never realized.

"Dawn cracks the dark ... and it breaks the silence ... of my many waking hours ... and my heartbeat's license."

Penny draws out every line, stretching the song by only a few seconds and yet making it feel impossibly long. It's haunting. It also provides the perfect bridge to the songs she recorded this year.

Reflection and regret peppered Lord Knows. Equally slow and somber, she gives up on love as a preventative against causing even more hurt and pain. But from the opening you understand it. She wants to set her course in a new direction. It's not the recently rerecorded Shivers, but there may be a hint of influence.

The last song, easily the highlight on album, brings up the pace and adds more dynamics. Props to reviewer Adrian Agacer for finding a thread from the song to Arthur Rimbaud's poem "A Season in Hell." You can decide for yourself whether or not it was an overreach, but it's worth mentioning even if I'm a bit more bullish on the EP.

Season In Hell is the redemptive track on the End Of Daze, coming across with much more polish. The chorus is a startling optimistic break from the dread in much of the album. And while I get the point that it cancels out any relentlessness some people experience, I don't expect she's playing it safe.

More likely is the ideal that Penny didn't know what to feel. When there is an absence in the heart, emptiness bends itself into a nihilism. All there is left to do is to will your head up and see any brightness that might end the daze. And in that song, Penny does that while making us wonder where she'll end up next.

End Of Daze Is A Haze Over 6.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While not nearly as addictive or brassy as her last EP on its own, End Of Daze delivers something better in the context of her career. This one will be remembered. It's the kind of music you want to put on when when you're lost or losing yourself. The first four will do it, but the it's the fifth that saves you from simply drifting in the abyss.

End Of Daze by Dum Dum Girls is available on Amazon. You can also find the vinyl edition there, which comes with an MP3 code. You can also download End Of Daze from iTunes or order the CD from Barnes & Noble. You can keep up with Penny and the rest of the band on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Rainforest Alliance Saves 25 Years

A little more than 25 years ago, Daniel Katz attended a small workshop on tropical forests. From that workshop, he and four others got together to start a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the plight of rainforests at a time when 50 acres of rainforest was disappearing every minute of every day.

"We were looking at how to make people in the United States more aware of their interconnectedness with all of the things that were in and coming from tropical forests," Katz said. "Early on, the Rainforest Alliance was a young startup organization without any money, without staff, and with very little credibility. So we had to get people to believe in us."

What initially started as an educational campaign, slowly evolved into a different way of thinking. Instead of telling people what not to do — don't buy this or don't buy that — they started to provide economically viable and socially desirable alternatives. This little shift quickly became something big.

The Rainforest Alliance focuses on conservation efforts over merely attention. 

The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. In other words, there is no guilt trip. They actively seek alternative practices that farmers, forest managers, tourism businesses, and companies can adopt and then share their decisions with customers and prospects in any market.

Today, the Rainforest Alliance has grown from the original team of five people in 1987 into an international organization of conservation and sustainable development, operating in more than 70 countries with offices in ten countries on four continents. The measure of their work is extensive.

They've certified more than 4.5 million acres of farmland and 163 million acres of forest. This certification is only given to those farms, forests, and consumer products that meet alliance standards and proactively protect threatened and endangered species by conserving habitats and ecosystems. In addition, their programs currently benefit more than 3.5 million people in 74 countries.

We can help people and the planet at the same time.

It's a big job, one that requires giving communities alternatives to illegal logging and destructive practices, teaching workers how to implement sustainable solutions, and developing methods that not only improve sustainability but also increase efficiency and profitability for farmers, foresters, and hoteliers around the world. Nobody has to lose by being green. Everyone benefits instead.

It seems simple enough. By making informed choices about some goods and services, consumers send a message to farmers, manufacturers and companies that how goods are grown and harvested matter as much as the products themselves.

The hard work — making sure the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal means something — is taken care of by an organization that is less interested in forcing people to do "good things" and more interested in teaching them that doing good things is better for everyone, even companies. It makes sense because progress and environmental protection don't have to be at odds with each other.

How the Rainforest Alliance is different. 

On the contrary, the Rainforest Alliance model creates job opportunities in poor communities, recruits global businesses to source responsibly resourced goods, and then works to raise awareness so consumers know that they are supporting better products that do not irreparably harm the environment. It works well enough that their programs have specifically saved the habitats of wildlife and endangered species like the tigers in Sumatra and great apes in the Congo.

The success stories are impactful, but more work needs to be done. To date, almost half of the world's rainforests have been cleared and 32 million acres are needlessly lost every year. Along with this loss, between 150 and 200 species of plants, insects, birds, and mammals are becoming extinct. About 15 percent of all mammal species and 11 percent of all bird species are threatened with extinction.

There are many ways you can help change this. The Rainforest Alliance has a plan to protect another 100 million acres of rainforest, develop new certification standards, establish hundreds more alliances, educate millions of children about their role in conservation, and help more people know that sometimes something as simple as choosing a specific brand of paper towels can make a difference.

The Rainforest Alliance 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.

The Rainforest Alliance has proven that proactive solutions can do more good for the environment and enterprise while establishing new opportunities in communities where none exist. This three-fold effect creates healthy, prosperous communities, environmental consciousness within companies, and better sustainable products for future generations. Or, as Katz once said, his measure of success will be whether his great-great grandchildren are still talking about how many rainforests we saved today.

Naturally, the Rainforest Alliance thrives with the support of grants from government agencies and foundations. Most grants are contingent on private and individual commitments. If you would like to know more about how to make a difference beyond shopping for certified projects, visit the Rainforest Alliance membership and giving page. Even $35 a year can go a long way with the right people.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dinosaur Jr. Makes A Bet On The Sky

Dinosaur Jr.
J Mascis has been busy and his business has been of the best kind. After several projects, including Several Shades Of Why, the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup snuck into the studio once again to shake up their sound and produce their third album since 2007 (tenth since 1985, although several without Murph and Lou Barlow).

If I Bet On Sky proves anything, it's that J Mascis is even more comfortable producing the music he wants to make without any concern for anything else. It's in this space when Mascis sounds his best, along with Emmett "Murph" Murphy and Barlow (Sebadoh). As music pioneers, people expect them to press ever on with their pop-rock-punk uniqueness. They never disappoint.

I Bet On Sky rolls out with 10 plus one. 

Eleven tracks will give people plenty to talk about, especially with Mascis' beautifully indifferent vocals over the distinct whine of their guitars and consistently tight drums throughout most of the album. Of course, Mascis doesn't sing all eleven. Barlow takes the lead vocals on two, Rude and Recognition.

The first track to be taken in, Watch The Corners, was released in advance of the album as a music video. Like many of the songs, it rolls along with introspection and the passage of time — how we do things, lose things, miss things, and will never have the chance to get them back.

There's a sadness to the song, a loneliness like almost nobody but Mascis can deliver. It also makes you wonder how much the soft-spoken singer-songwriter sometimes reflects on his own life in every somber melodic note.

On the album, Watch The Corners follows Don't Pretend You Didn't Know, which has a similar tempo but with Mascis relying on keys more than his signature guitar. The opener is about waiting for something to spur you along past your fears and toward your dreams. It's mostly about a girl, but it doesn't have to be.

The same might be said about Almost Fare, with more heaviness in the instruments and punctuated by indecision. There's a solid groove to the tune and it makes a perfect lead-in for the ballad Stick A Toe In, where Mascis' lyrics finally seem to get around to doing something instead of sitting back almost unnoticed in a self-reflective corner of the room.

The first four make the punkier attitude of Rude provide a change of pace. It's much less dreamy and much more physical, giving the album the perfect bounce. Along with the punk influence, there is also some folkiness to it. Although still reasonably low key, Rude has a bit of rawness that would make for a  lead-in to a jam session.

The balance of a good bet on music. 

Dinosaur Jr.
With Rude bringing up the tempo, Mascis brings it up on I Know It Oh So Well. It's a great song, with some introspection and a relentlessly even beat. Pierce The Morning Rain is one of the most consistent and clearest tracks, with a few brilliant guitar riffs tucked inside. For as short as it, it's most reminiscent of classic Dinosaur Jr. and has an immediate impact. The album name comes from this song.

See It On Your Side closes out the album with some of the band's best guitar work. After two of the weaker tracks on the album, this one stands out as one that will be long remembered for its lyrics, composition, and occasionally chaotic intensity across the instrumentals.

The eleventh track is truly a bonus. This live version of Pond Song from Bug brings it up to date, with Mascis' increasingly muddy and raspy voice making it even more interesting than when it was first released. Playing the original studio version against this live recording gives a glimpse into how the band has changed and matured — all of it, if not almost all of it, for the better.

I Bet On Sky By Dinosaur Jr. Wins With 8.8 On Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that every album, whether together or apart, dresses up another generation of influence. Even when they play their old songs, they catch people by surprise. Pond Song is a great example. When it was released, it was one of their best underrated songs. Nowadays, people ask for it.

I Bet On Sky by Dinosaur Jr. was put out by Jagjaguwar and can be found on Amazon. You can also find the album at Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. They have several shows lined up in support of the album and you can keep up with them on Facebook. The hero shot above is from their release day party via Instagram.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Scott Returns To The Real Collinwood

Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood
As children, my brother and I would sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to watch syndicated reruns of the Gothic soap Dark Shadows (1966-1971). We were fascinated, intrigued and terrified of vampire Barnabas Collins.

Several decades later, I have the entire series on DVD and love it today even more than I did back then. Being a Dark Shadows purist, I naturally had mixed feelings about Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows movie.

The trailer bears little resemblance to the Collinwood or Barnabas Collins that I love. And for anyone who had reservations like I did, there is a book that makes the connection between present and past.

Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood puts everything into perspective. 

Written by actress Kathryn Leigh Scott with Jim Pierson, the book is a loving look back through five decades. It pinpoints why this Gothic drama has become a cultural phenomenon. The book was even partly inspired by Scott’s invitation to make a cameo in the Depp/Burton film.

Scott devotes an interesting chapter about her journey to the film’s set in England. She wasn't alone, but accompanied by fellow actors David Selby, who played brooding werewolf Quentin Collins in the original Dark Shadows; Lara Parker, who originated the role of the vengeful witch Angelique; and Jonathan Frid, who played the infamous vampire Barnabas Collins.

Scott recalls the trip, cast and set in vivid detail, giving readers a real sense of what it was like to be there too. She also mentions her concerns about Frid, who, at age 87, was in poor health and feeling a bit cantankerous after traveling from his home in Canada. Scott and the others even worried that their cameos would be scrapped because Frid was insistent upon returning home as soon as he arrived.

That didn’t happen. Frid passed away in April 2012 before the movie premiered.

Before his passing, though, Frid wrote the foreword to Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood, fondly reflecting on his involvement with the original series. Parker contributes a chapter too, covering her impressions of the trip back to England, including meeting rocker Alice Cooper and actress Eva Green, who portrayed Parker’s character Angelique in the film.

The book also includes chapters devoted to: a Dark Shadows timeline spanning 50 years; information about the Depp/Burton movie and its cast; Dark Shadows in prime time with the 1991 revival series starring Ben Cross; insight into a potential second prime time series that never aired; a poem by Selby (who has also authored several books of his own); and Dark Shadows on the silver screen with the theatrical films House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. It's a collection of memories.

Collinwood by Kim Becker
One of the most enjoyable chapters of all is Scott’s return visit to Seaview Terrace (a.k.a. Carey Mansion) in Newport, Rhode Island. It's there, not the fictional Collinsport, Maine, that the actual Collinwood mansion is located. Scott provides a brief history of the property. There are also some great interior photos.

Even more memorable is the chapter called Backstage Memories. Scott tells of her journey as a Minnesota farm girl who turned into a soap opera star. She doesn't just tell her own story, but gives many behind the scenes anecdotes and recollections from her days with Dark Shadows.

A bit about author Kathryn Leigh Scott.

Kathryn Leigh Scott
Actress/writer/publisher Kathryn Leigh Scott originally worked as a model and a Playboy bunny while trying to break into acting. She graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and almost immediately landed the role of coffee shop waitress/governess Maggie Evans on the half-hour soap Dark Shadows.

She played three other characters on the show: gold digger Lady Kitty Hampshire; teacher Rachel Drummond; and wealthy Josette Du Pres, doomed fiancee of Barnabas Collins. Later, Scott became a talented writer too. She has written several books and collaborated on five with Pierson, who works for Dan Curtis Productions. (Curtis is the late creator of Dark Shadows.)

I own most of the books Scott has written, edited and published through her own Pomegranate Press, including the Dark Shadows Almanac, My Scrapbook: Memories of Dark Shadows, and The Dark Shadows Companion. And of them all, this is the best.

Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood Raises 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Not only is the book packed with truly fantastic photos, but it isn't weak on editing as readers have long complained about some of Scott's other books. I did catch just a few typos, but nothing to detract from the book. It does maintain her always warm and friendly writing style. She knows Dark Shadows fans and it shows, making this a classic.

Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood by Kathryn Leigh Scott is available from Barnes & Noble. You can also find Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood on Amazon. The book is also available from iBooks. Incidentally, so are some of the original movies.

Scott is a classy lady with a genuine appreciation for her fans. You can learn more about her latest projects on her website. It's worth checking out, especially if you're a new (or long time) Dark Shadows fan.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Subwaste Gets A New Split With Allies

Looking to pick up more attention since their sophomore album Broken Machine in March, the old school punk band from Orebro, Sweden, has just kicked out another split. Sharing the 7" four-track Allies EP with newly signed Stabbed In The Back, Subwaste sounds even better than they did earlier this year.

Some of the subtle punk change-up is in Tobbe Pettersson (guitar/vocals) breaking up his voice to sound rougher than he did on the album. First time listeners might even wonder if he can sing as he growls out lyrics and allows his voice to break under the strain. He can sing, but this is punk.

Umbrella and Skeleton Key lead off Allies. 

Allies is the third Subwaste split with upstart label Warbird Entertainment based in Atlanta. Their first in 2008 featured six tracks opposite another six by Tommy Gustafsson & The Idiots. Two years later, they dropped a short two over two split with the Dead City Drags before waiting another two years for their sophomore album.

Broken Machine was a pure street punk album, even though I let it slip by for review earlier this year. Most of it was good, but it seemed to me the band was losing some of its edge. Sure, Pettersson proved his range on Broken Machine but it felt like the band had waited far too long between album releases.

It picked up some decent praise elsewhere and that was that. The hard-to-find Straight Out Of The Underground (2007) put out by Randyarchy Media in Europe might have caught more buzz. In fact, I think it would have played out different had the split songs made the album.

Umbrella is an upbeat outlook at having a black cloud hanging over your head after losing something. It's one of the best songs put together by Pettersson, Erik Ersson (guitar/vocals), Danne Pettersson (bass/vocals), and new member Daniel Petri (drums) who joined in time for Broken Machine.

Accompanying Umbrella is Skeleton Key, which sounds more garage rock than previous outings. It might even be stronger, with Pettersson evening out his vocals through the chorus after shouting out the verse. It also feels more substantial in the arrangement and in the lyrics.

The song is about being locked out of life and looking for a skeleton key, feelings plenty of people have these days but can't always articulate. Expect Skeleton Key to move the needle for the band, maybe even more than Umbrella, which had a head start with the video put out last April.

A couple graphs about Stabbed In Back.

The song makes for a great lead-in for Warbird Entertainment newcomer Stabbed In Back, a hardcore punk band hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They've played together for a long time, putting out brutal, angry tunes for almost a decade. Although they started as a four piece, their lineup nowadays includes Adam Hooks (vocals), Colin Dowell (lead guitar), Dustin Brandon (guitar), Yuri Pryor (bass), and Tim O'Hara (drums).

Their two songs on the Allies split — Cave In and Parasighting — have a maturity I haven't heard before from the band. So although this review focuses in on Subwaste, give Stabbed In Back a listen too. In fact, all four tracks together will give you a glimpse of their successful 17-day tour across Europe.

There isn't any doubt I'm looking forward to them putting out their next EP or LP for review. I'm not sure when that will be or what either band has in place when they return to the States. I do know that both are gearing up for a big year in 2013.

Subwaste is especially forward focused, having said they're planning shorter sessions in the studio to record two- and four-song sets rather than ten days straight like they did on Broken Machine. Good idea. Being amped up like Subwaste is known to be is hard to maintain in a studio setting.

Umbrella And Skeleton Key Unlock 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Subwaste has never really received the attention it deserves because the band draws so much influence from the 1970s. But I think that's all the more reason to give them a nod. The sound might be inspired, but they do bring their own spin to it all. And this split, Allies, proves it for me.

Allies - EP is available from Amazon. You can also download the split from iTunes. Kudos to Warbird Entertainment for giving a growing number of great bands a home. For upcoming dates, you can find Subwaste here and Stabbed In Back here on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vancouver Under The Hotel Le Soleil

Hotel Le Soleil
In a city as dense as Vancouver, finding a small boutique hotel with the right proximity might sound improbable but it isn't. Thirteen years ago, Starwood Hotels and Resorts had set out to build its first luxury boutique hotel in North America. It spared little expense, investing $650 per square foot.

Perhaps that is what makes the physical aspects of Hotel Le Soleil so memorable. Interior designer Jose-Luis de Araujo had drawn his inspiration from the Savoy in London and Le Crillon in Paris. The idea was to bring an old world charm to an otherwise modern city.

And yet, nothing about the hotel is presumptuous. It's surprisingly easy to overlook the fluted columns, Nero Portorro Italian marble, and Louis XVI-style furniture imported from Italy. Instead, you feel immediately relaxed, an almost startling contrast to the bustling financial district outside.

The location of this neo-classic cannot be beat either.

Although located in the financial district, Hotel Le Soleil is almost equal distance from Downtown Granville Street and Robson Street, both of which are dotted with shops, entertainment, and restaurants.   It's worth taking advantage of the pedestrian-friendly city, even if it's still best to have a destination or route in mind before you leave the hotel.

Many of the downtown stores have limited frontage and feel dark from the outside, making widow shopping a little less enjoyable than Gastown, Chinatown or Granville Island (among other areas). Likewise, walking to the harbor is easy enough but the area around Canada Place isn't the same as it is around Stanley Park. (Canada Place is, however, a central start for many hop-on, hop-off tours.)

One obvious destination from the hotel is the Vancouver Art Gallery. The gallery doesn't use its space as effectively as many West Coast galleries, but it does have several collections that are unique to British Columbia, including an extensive collection of Emily Carr. One caution: The gallery is traditional in many respects, including photography bans (even though many museums are becoming more receptive to non-flash digital, except around visiting exhibitions).

Highlights from the abundance of Vancouver attractions. 

Totem Pole by Richard Becker
Just outside walking distance from the hotel is where you'll find the most memorable neighborhoods. There are an abundance of them in Vancouver, beginning with Stanley Park. There is a reason the expansive 1,000-acre park frequently lands in the top attraction column. The forested park is lined with trails, dotted with cultural enclaves (from totem pole monuments to a aquarium), and framed by a 5.5-mile sea wall, with separate walking and biking lanes. It's a community in and of itself.

Stanley Park also feels different than Downtown Vancouver, much like Gastown, Chinatown, or Granville Island feel different too. Gastown, which was the original Downtown Vancouver, includes several blocks of historic architecture that are now home to specialty shops, art studios, and restaurants. It is even more well suited for wandering shoppers.

So is Granville Island with a much more hip and contemporary atmosphere. What used to be an industrial district that fell into disrepair during the Great Depression has been transformed into an island of performing arts, art education, art studios, dining, galleries and a public market.  Chinatown has had even longer to establish its own identity. Its development began in the early 1890s. A must see.

Expect quiet comforts inside Hotel Le Soleil.

No matter what experiences you take in while staying in Vancouver, Hotel Le Soleil makes for a perfect retreat from the city despite being in the midst of it. The suites are reasonably spacious, the furnishings European imports, and the beds fitted with hypo-allergenic sheets. The baths are Italian marble. It's not as spectacular as it once was more than a decade ago, but still holds its own.

Hotel Le Soleil roomThere are a few unexpected annoyances, considering it has a Four Diamond rating. Most can be overlooked, but these do exist. While the valet is exceptional, they are often undermanned and frequently serve as valet, porter, and even concierge. This leaves guests waiting at the door too long when the desk staff could at least take your keys (like other boutique hotels with a limited valet). Also, the additional charge for WiFi was expected, but it's still unnecessary in this day and age.

Everything else was above average, including the Indian-fusion dining at The Copper Chimney, which also serves the hotel's more traditional breakfast (there are few places for breakfast in Vancouver, but plenty of coffee shops). The individual service is always well balanced between friendly and professional.

The Hotel Le Soleil In Vancouver Captures 4.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Hotel Le Soleil is certainly better than average and many people likely give it high marks because the rates are modest for a boutique hotel with such charm (modest, even for suites with a view). The reasonable rates make the parking fee more tolerable, which seemed high even for Vancouver (notorious for parking charges).

On the flip side, the hotel provided a turndown service without even being asked (a service that is usually requested), a nice touch since much of our trip was focused on the natural side of Vancouver. If you ever have the chance to visit, consider Fare Buzz to save up to 60 percent off on travel to Vancouver, British Columbia. For travel comparisons, start with the top travel deals at Vancouver can be an expensive city so every dollar saved is earned.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Call Of The Wild Leaves Its Leather On

There is a band that has been cycling through my playlist for a few weeks and I can't ignore them any longer. Brooklyn-based garage punk band Call Of The Wild's debut Leave Your Leather On is a tightly abrasive album that is loud, fast, and reminiscent of the original CBGB scene.

The album's title, Leave Your Leather On, even has a dual meaning. In one of the first interviews with the band via Verbicide, drummer Allison Busch (formally Awesome Color) offered up two explanations. One was that singer/guitarist Johnny Coolati used his leather jacket as a blanket in jail. And the other? It will remind you how much Busch has been missed while she was tending bar.

Leave Your Leather On is rough rock for the all right reasons. 

The band came together about a year ago after a long-time friend of Coolati's convinced him to give up on Nashville and head to Brooklyn. His friend wasn't the only one. Busch happened to be tending bar when the call took place and she shouted some encouragement.

Max Peebles (Turbo Fruits), who was already in New York, was another natural fit for bass. Coolati and he had played together on short-lived projects and always clicked, giving them a power trio good enough to create some unrelenting heavy sound, only louder and faster than they've ever played.

Any other trio might not be able to pull it off, but Busch, Coolati and Peebles have the right skills and character. As Coolati tells it, all three had gone through enough shit to be themselves and have fun — like a crew of maniacs playing for friends. They pick up this thinking in All The Lessons.

Although down the track list on the album, All The Lessons is indicative of the attitude of the band. They've learned the hard way enough times that another knock isn't going to move them. But that doesn't necessarily mean they will take it either.

That cover of an Rose Tattoo song would have made a great opener, but Leave The Leather On starts with the pulse-quickening Autobahn. There is a bit of pop punk in its restraint, but the speed of it still makes for an addictive tune.

The second track, Breakin Shit, is much more aggressive, fast enough that even the band sometimes has a hard time keeping up with themselves. Busch's assessment that they want to play like maniacs comes to fruition with it. It's fitting for a mosh pit; a cure for any and every bad day.

There is enough diversity in the music to make you pay attention, drifting back and forth from heavy rock to garage punk, with blistering songs like I'm Scarred and Choke Out. The latter carries lyrics that sum up what the band has said could be their motto. "Take it or leave it, win or lose, this is the life we choose."

The rest of the album is much the same, but with shorter and increasingly tense tracks like Crack The Whip, NY Ripper, and It's Your Night. They all have their share of adversity and hardship. It's Your Night is especially pointed with its promise to never back down. They don't on an off-album track either.

Goin' Around was performed as part of the Secret Project Robot last May. What makes it stand out, even if it isn't on the album, is it demonstrates the connection of the quickly formed trio as well as the seamlessness of Coolati and Peebles trading lyrics. As for Busch, she has to be one of the most physical  female drummers out there.

Leave Your Leather On Calls Up 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Call Of The Wild is dirty, heavy, and sometimes punk. It has all the makings of a great aggressive band that doesn't make you feel mad as much as it makes you feel like they got something off your chest. It's hard to say when any band has been able to that.

Leave Your Leather On by Call Of The Wild can be found on Amazon. You can also download it from iTunes or order up a CD or LP from Barnes & Noble. It's a great pick up from Kemado Records too, a label that is just helping the band get things moving in the right direction. Check out the band on Facebook.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Affliction Adds Attention With Denim

The Seal Beach, Calif., clothing line Affliction is putting an emphasis on denim. It isn't alone. Several signatures are setting their sights on the comfortable and classic ruggedness of denim.

Where Affliction has always stood out with denim is in the detail. Big pockets, artistic top stitches, big back pockets, metal buttons, and ornate rivets. It's these embellishments that help the jeans stand out, making them more wearable for concerts and events.

ACE takes the lead for Affliction jeans. 

Almost always among the best sellers at Affliction are ACE labeled jeans. They are characterized by the detailed back pockets, side stitches, and cross emblazoned buttons and rivets. While pre-worn abrasion has taken a back seat among other lines, Affliction keeps the look intact by not overdoing it.

The best of the bunch are the ACE 3-D Flap Capitals because they sport the button-down back pocket. But not all ACE jeans have the flap. The darker blue Basque Repo adds a scoop pocket instead. The fit is slimmer in the thighs but opens into a bootcut flare. The abrasion varies, but remains mostly light.

Other Affliction lines also include Blake and Cooper. While there are some variations and crossovers, the Blake frequently adds a fleur-de-lis to the back pockets instead. The Cooper sticks with the classic "V" but adds some variations to what otherwise looks like the ACE design. All men's jeans are 100 percent cotton.

Affliction denim isn't made for just men. 

Although Affliction is generally a masculine line, it does make a limited selection of jeans for women. One of the more interesting designs (perfect for concerts) is the Jade Patriot. It also carries a bottom-down back pocket like the ACE line, but with more artistic embellishments in the patchwork and embroidery.

The Jade Patriot is particularly interesting because the abrasion on the front breaks away to reveal an American flag. It's a unique look, but also pays tribute to where the jeans are made. While not everything by Affliction is made in the USA, its jeans are made stateside.

If you are looking for something a little more understated, then the Raquel label might be a better fit. The skinny jean style carries the patchwork and top stitching. The alternative is more relaxed and straightforward. Affliction also adds a slight variation in the material blend, adding 2 percent Spandex to the cotton for a little more stretch.

An alternative to Affliction from across the pond. 

If these American classic cuts won't fit a more urban look, then consider some of the recent entries from the United Kingdom. Voi Jeans have been on my radar for awhile, with a variety of styles for men and women from this designer in Preston, Lancashire.

For men, the look carries a baggier fit in the thighs before tapering in at the ankles. Many of them break with the traditional 5-pocket classic, adding more to the front like cargo pants or sometimes just a single coin pouch. The styles are more limited for women's jeans, but include some interesting variations like elasticated cuffs on an otherwise loose-fit jean. For more diversity, try DL1961 Premium Denim.

How things kicked off for Affliction several years ago.

Sometime in 2005, Todd Beard and Eric Foss grew tired of selling designs for other major labels like Hurley and Quicksilver. Tom Atencio came on shortly after, not only because he once owned his own design firm and silk string company, but also because of his affiliation with fighters.

But there is something else about Atencio some people don't know. The Affliction story isn't all luck. There was a lot of hard work behind the brand, with struggles inside and outside the ring.

"You have to make sacrifices. Everything takes hard work. It takes time," he told the Sports Courier last March. "A lot of people want to just work the 9-5 or ideal hours and just get what they want as it comes along. That can work to an extent, but to be truly successful, you have to really work hard."

Affliction Fall Denim Looks Up At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

I've always been a fan of Affliction, even if the brand sometimes overpowers its smart designs. This isn't the case with its jeans, which tend to carry subtler markers (like its jackets and other accessories). In my opinion, this is when Affliction still works better, giving jeans what they need.

Sometimes you can find Affliction elsewhere, but be weary of knockoffs. The best rule of thumb if you don't buy direct is to always make detailed comparison. For some of the other jeans mentioned, visit DL1961 Premium Denim or Voi Jeans. Both brands are reasonably priced.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wo Fat Hammers Out The Black Code

Back in 2006, Wo Fat released the hazy, smoke-filled metal and blues-infused album the Gathering Dark. The album was a benchmark debut, one that Wo Fat described as a blueprint they could expand upon. They've done that for the past six years.

The Black Code is unquestionably their finest installation of this heavy, crushing rock that carries more improvisational freedom than most bands see in an entire career. The self-recorded five-track full length is a riff-filled 46 minutes of laid back, mind-numbing goodness without a beginning, middle, or end.

The Black Code from the underground. 

The band originally came together in Dallas three years before their first album. Kent Stump (vocals, guitar) had some musical ideas floating around in his head and asked Michael Walter (drums) and Tim Wilson (bass) to jam out together. Stump had already known Walter for 20 years and he and Wilson became friends at a recording studio were they both worked.

Surprisingly, the band was meant to be four piece, but their second guitarist (Matt Watkins) couldn't make the Missouri-Texas commute (although he did make four songs on the debut album). Stump still give Watkins props for influencing him, even though it is evident his own guitar skills have grown.

On The Black Code, Wo Fat opens with the shortest of its five stack. Lost Highway eases into itself as what people have come to expect. Easy riffs laced with cymbal crashes shift into a heavier, more distorted groove before Stump breaks out his gravelly storytelling vocals.

Lost Highway tells you exactly where Wo Fat intends to take you with The Black Code — a deeply hypnotic sci-fi related motif with cyber code, alien artifacts, and alternate dimensions. The arrival coincides with the song's descent into a thick-as-sludge instrumental conjured up from their collective unconscious.

After Lost Highway, everything else is more expansive, opening into bigger and better sound with more room for the band to bring about psychedelic doom. The title track, The Black Code, opens with an ominous arrangement stretched out for a full minute before the song begins to pulse and pick up the beat.

The next nine minutes of the 10-minute track sway back and forth through increasingly progressive sways and drones as Stump attempts to ward away the black code from taking his soul. Like their music that remains rooted in a warm, thunderous roll that harkens back to the Seventies but without any restraints, Wo Fat fights off being tempted by tech. They would rather jam for what ought to feel like infinity but never does.

At center, Hurt At Gone opens with a strong guitar before Stump slides it back to give more attention to Walter's percussion. Wilson fills out the more primitive and bluesy beat and back country lyrics. It feels more aggressive in both its message and meanderings, picking up some Southern folk blues and distorted funk but presenting it with the smoldering smoothness of metal. The solo work is as sharp as ever.

It makes wanting to embed a video from The Black Code even more urgent, but there are only a few decent live clips of Wo Fat floating around like this one from Las Vegas. Black Code is a bit like this, only better.

The last two songs on The Black Code have the balance of the album. The Shard Of Leng is the longer of the pair, an impressively long and hazy instrumental for the first six minutes or so before Stump finds his voice to sing about outer-worldly and spacey experiences. It almost plays as two songs strung together.

The other, The Sleep Of The Black Lotus, anchors the entire album. It's a brilliant piece of heavy rock with poetic imagery tucked between multiple crescendos. It's here that the band's chemistry is at its peak in its ability to bring a song to a climatic finish and then ride it out for another five minutes. Wow.

The Black Code By Wo Fat Hammers Out 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Black Code is a must have album in entirety. It also brings clarity to Wo Fat's rating system that breaks every album into five scoring points — riff density, riff caliber, post blues factor, groove factor, and dig it. While I don't know if Stump, Wilson, and Walter think of their mad science creation when they are in the studio, The Black Code hits high marks in every category.

The Black Code by Wo Fat can be found on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. Only two tracks are available without purchasing the album so you might as well get it and dig it. You can also keep up with the band on Facebook, where they sometimes tease with big news for hours.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Peter Heller Charts Out The Dog Stars

The details of the super flu that ravaged humanity are never flushed out, but that hardly matters in Peter Heller's debut fiction novel The Dog Stars. The post-pandemic novel fully realizes its principal character, one of the few survivors trying to stay alive in an unforgiving and savage world.

Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knew, except his fiercely loyal dog Jasper. Now, nine years later, he has settled into what has become a new normal that doesn't sit well with him. His only human friend, a mysterious survivalist named Bruce Bangley, seemed better suited for it.

Bangley's resolve is firm. Never negotiate. Kill anyone who comes within a half-mile. No questions. No apologies. No guilt.

The Dog Stars is a literary gem about humanity and hanging on to being human.

Hig and Bangley have staked out a small country airport and training field, surrounded by a small housing development similar to a golf course community. Hig had gravitated to the airport because it is where he kept his cream and blue 1956 Cessna 182, which he affectionately called "The Beast."

Bangley just showed up one day with a truck and an arsenal. His most used is a .408 CheyTac sniper rifle. Hig has an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, fitted with a night scope. Bangley brought much more with him than a few rifles. He could arm a small company.

Despite only having each other, the relationship is strained because Bangley is untrusting, short-spoken, and not looking to forge any attachments. They have an arrangement instead. Hig flies his plane around a 30-mile perimeter, sometimes dropping rocks with notes on them to warn people away. "Turn Back South Or Die" and "Turn Back North Or Die," they read. Bangley kills people.

Hig contributes in other ways too. He maintains a small garden, takes hunting trips, and occasionally goes fishing despite Bangley's insistence it is a waste of time or "recreational." For Hig, however, the trips are therapeutic, a means to fight off his chronic sadness, isolation, and guilt over killing people.

They have little choice. Most of the people left aren't nice. When they see an airport off in the distance or a light in the night, they only see a potential source of water, fuel, shelter, sustainable power, and maybe food. The few times Hig tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, he was nearly killed.

The unexpected, infectious qualities of a deeply visceral novel.

With the exception of his now aging dog Jasper, Hig is largely on his own despite their shaky alliance. The only other contact he has is with a small community of Mennonites who live about 10 miles away from the airport. They survived the flu, but have since became infected with a blood disease that came afterward.

Hig visits them time to time to trade seeds and supplies, but has other reasons too. He longs for companionship and the ability to show compassion. He misses morality and humanity. He desperately wants someone to prove Bangley wrong and find someone who just isn't out for themselves.

Much of the visceral novel is like that, plodding along with its poetic and haunted internal struggle. The ramblings frequently come across as a memoir written by a survivor and discovered years later. So while the book does paint a vivid description of a post-pandemic world and a planet attempting to shake off global warming, it could just as easily stand on its own without the fracture of civilization. However, making it what it is brings something else to bear throughout-- several tense and suspenseful contacts.

It's surprisingly touching too. Even when events prompt Hig to chase down a random radio transmission he once picked up from Grand Junction, Colorado, both men recognize how important they have become to each other, like two brothers from different generations with nothing else in common except living together for nine years.

The realization sets in because in order for Hig to investigate Grand Junction, he has to fly beyond his point of no return. And even if there are survivors who don't kill him, there is no guarantee they will have unspoiled or additive-laced fuel for Hig to fly back.

A brief about author and adventure writer Peter Heller. 

Peter Heller is no stranger to the subject matter despite the fictional setting. He has years of experience as a veteran adventure writer, working for NPR, Outside magazine and National Geographic. Many of his previous books provided captivating glimpses of survival, including trips to Antarctica and Tsango Gorge in southeastern Tibet.

There seems to be little doubt that although he accompanied others on these excursions, the solitude and scarcity of resources of such extreme areas contributed to his ability to capture such deep self-reflecton and an appreciation for capturing breathtakingly physical visuals. In other words, The Dog Stars feels more real than made up in coming to know a man who is forced to survive in solitude.

The Dog Stars By Peter Heller Shines 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Named The Dog Stars because Hig had made up new constellations to replace those he had forgotten, every stitch of it is a complete and purposeful character portrait about a man who regrets the way he has to live while remaining hopeful despite despair. While originally concerned that the desolation and introspection would eventually run out of fuel, it wasn't long before I found myself wishing the book wouldn't end.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is available on Amazon. The novel is also available at Barnes & Noble and can be downloaded for iBooks. The contribution by Mark Deakins as narrator of The Dog Stars audio version goes beyond memorable as Hig, Bangley, and other characters. Deakins not only captures the voice of Hig, but also his state of mind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Abel Braves Fire To Make It Right

After several shakeups since their debut album Lesser Men in 2010, Poughkeepsie, New York-based alternative rock band Abel is releasing a heavier, darker and more pragmatic sophomore album. The 10-track indie album Make It Right is right on target, a superbly crafted collection of songs that deliver amazingly authentic vocals and wildly addictive music.

"I think we've always wanted to do something a little grittier and bluesier, but music has a natural progression," says front man Kevin Kneifel. "We weren't ready to make that leap on Lesser Men."

Make It Right is an album of life lessons.

As Kneifel calls it, Make It Right is not as complex as Lesser Men. What it delivers instead is an impassioned execution that only comes with surviving adversity. And while Kneifel is reluctant to speak on behalf of the band, he is unafraid to share what was on his mind during the dark period that led up to it.

"Abel did a lot of touring in 2010 and that was definitely a really stressful time in my life," says Kneifel. "I was really struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with myself and where I thought music and touring fit and in my life in general. To top it off, tensions were really high between Alex [David] and myself on tour that year, and we even spent some time not talking to each other."

Like many singer/songwriters and musicians, Kneifel found himself at a crossroads — feeling like he had to commit to the band or the four-year relationship with his girlfriend. The choice wasn't so easy to make because he doubted his ability to do either. It didn't help watching several outside relationships he admired break down and fall apart. The ones who suffered the most, he said, were the children.

"These were the things that were on my mind at the time," he said. "So these were the stories I brought into writing the lyrics for Make It Right."

It can immediately be heard on the first track released by Abel in advance of the album. Fire Walk With Me is a soaring rocker, opening with a smoldering chorus that blisters against self-doubt and self-righteous hypocrisy.

"It's also about running away from your problems," says Kneifel. "It's easier than owning up to the things you've done and the promises you've made."

Several songs on Make It Right carry a similar theme, which is where Make It Right has the most bite. I'll Be Waiting is about the relationship he considered the model of a stable, loving marriage before the cracks began to surface and the couple split apart. Even so, Kneifel maintains some semblance of hope in the song. He says sometimes people need space from each other to work out personal issues. It would be nice to know that they have someone to come home to.

Fine Lines also hits close to home, with Kneifel writing about his long-time friendship with Alex David (bass). During the 2010 tour when tensions peaked, insincere apologies were bantered about just to keep things moving forward. They didn't recognize it until they got back, but pride and putting success before friendship almost caused a near irreparable rift.

They had been there before. These were the same pressures felt when Kneifel and David had played in another band together. They were all suffering from tour burnout when their bass player quit The Comeback Tour. While the shakeup helped them discover Dan Bishop, who later joined Abel, the momentum had collapsed.

When they did reunite, David had picked up bass and Kneifel invited John Rell III to play drums. It clicked well enough for Dreamt Music to produce their debut EP and Come&Live to back their Kickstarter-funded debut album. This time around, Come&Live is supporting the album, but Make It Right was funded exclusively by Abel fans through Kickstarter.

Along with their savings, the band retreated to the Catskill Mountains and then went on to record with producer Matt Malpass (Manchester Orchestra) in Atlanta. Come Home, which is a standout ballad, was one of four songs they finished writing there. It's a nice change of pace in that it was written for Kneifel's girlfriend for their wedding day. The direct contrast to the ballad, An Ultimatum, is based on her telling him to man up or leave.

Make It Right By Abel Hits 6.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This is the kind of album that can propel a band forward. There is a synergy in the collaborative writing process along with influences from Malpass throughout. More than that, it's a landmark album for the band and, in particular, Kneifel. He never had to choose his wife or the band. He only needed faith.

Make It Right is available on iTunes. You can also find Make It Right on Amazon or visit Bandcamp, where you can also listen to Daughter. The band has a heavy set of shows planned at the end of September in support of the album, kicking off in Danbury, Connecticut.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nest Makes For A Cooler Thermostat

Sometimes the best technology is simple and mostly unseen. Nest qualifies. It's a thermostat designed to learn your lifestyle and adjust accordingly, and there is no question that Nest beats the rest in design.

The is the brainchild of Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, two Apple alumni who put their heads together to reinvent the thermostat. Specifically, Fadell worked on 18 generations of the iPod and three generations of the iPhone. Rogers was responsible for iPod software development.

The first impression counted in degrees.

The most striking thing about Nest is right out of the box. If you ever wondered how deep Apple instilled simplicity in its design teams, Nest tells the story. Most thermostats are unarguably ugly. This is sharp.

The interface is impossibly simple. Nest is a domed disc with a mirror finish that reflects your wall. The temperature screen glows orange when it's heating and blue when it's cooling. The screen goes dark when nobody is near it.

It's the kind of design that makes you wonder why no one else ever did it. But the same can be said for how it's programmed. When you first install it, you can set the temperatures you want in your home.

For example, it asks what temperature you want your home to be when you are there or away. The same prompts ask for other times too, like when you're sleeping. After that, Nest programs itself in about a week, adapting to the minor changes you want to make. If you forget to make those adjustments, no worries. Nest can set itself when it knows that no one has been home for a few hours.

If you want to set the temperature a half-hour before you return home or if you expect to stay on at work later than planned or if the weather requires a small adjustment, Nest is controllable from a laptop, tablet, or smart phone (Apple's App Store or Google Play) because it comes with built-in WiFi.

Not every aspect about the tech is perfect. During the learning cycle, expect some surprises. People consistently share stories about Nest making decisions on its own (although this is supposed to be fixed in later releases). Power outages and WiFi failures can also cause some goofiness.

Before you even purchase it, you need to make sure your system is capable. Not every system will work. It's dependent on the wiring of your existing system. Likewise, if the new Nest doesn't cover the hole of your old thermostat, you'll either have to do some paint and patch work or use the cover-up plates. However, as my friend pointed out, mounting plates wrecks the original design idea.

Energy savings from a technically savvy company.

The benefit of putting up with any slight wonkiness seems to be worth it. While I live in an apartment which precludes using Nest, my friend saved about 5 percent on energy costs in the first year. Nest frequently uses the EPA estimate that a properly programmed thermostat can save up to 20 percent. (Any savings will likely be dependent on the how energy conscious you are in the first place.)

One of the finer points about Nest is that it is backed by a living, breathing, and thriving company. Because the thermostat is connected to WiFi, software upgrades are handled automatically. Many of the ideas that were part of the upgrade in April were requests from existing customers.

They included more hands-on control from web-connected and mobile devices and a function for low humidity regions that allow for the fan to operate after the air conditioner has already cooled the home. Nest says that this can reduce AC run time by as much as 30 percent. You know how it works. The less run time, the less expensive your power bill.

The Nest Picks Up A Cool 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There are two ways to think about the price point (about $250), which has given some people pause. You can think of it as expensive if you are the master of your own programming. Or, you can think about having a thermostat company working for you, sending along innovations forever. Seriously.

While I do not own a home, my parents do in Seattle. Air conditioning isn't something they think about; heat is different. I was impressed enough by Nest that it just might make their holiday list. DIY installation is estimated to take about 30 minutes and you can order the Nest Learning Thermostat on Amazon. carries it at a higher price. If you need help, visit the Nest support page for professional installers in your area. Just remember to check for compatibility first.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ian Hunter Ruminates Being President

It’s always rare to see a rocker who can age gracefully and still make relevant music. But Ian Hunter is no ordinary rocker. He was the driving force behind legendary glam pioneers Mott the Hoople and has been an influential and much-loved solo artist who has worked with the likes of David Bowie and Mick Ronson.

He's a smart and intelligent songwriter who penned gems such as Once Bitten, Twice Shy and Cleveland Rocks. You might know the bands that covered those songs: Great White and Presidents of the United States.

Ian Hunter still brings an edge to music. Never mind that he is 73.

He might be 73, but the remarkably fit and youthful looking Hunter proves he hasn’t lost his chops. His twentieth album, When I’m President, features Hunter along with his ace backing group, the Rant Band.

The album features 11 original rocking songs laced with Hunter’s wry, intelligent introspection. Just don’t let the album’s title fool you. When I’m President isn’t a political statement. (His previous outings like such as Shrunken Heads and Man Overboard were another story.) Instead, Hunter has found a way to convey his disillusionment and disdain without name dropping. 

"The songs seem to be more upbeat this time round," Hunter said. "The last two albums were pretty political, just because I thought the Bush years were horrible, and thankfully that’s passed. But I don’t go looking for songs; I have to wait for them to come to me."

In the summer of 2011, he says he had a spurt of song ideas that grew into an album. He would literally get up every day with something ringing in his head and then set out to write it down.

"Songwriting's always been a mystery to me in that way," he said. "Now and again you’re nearer the sun, and you have to be ready to capture it."

The album is perfectly timed to curb Hunter’s perpetual restlessness and decision to return to touring. This clever batch of 11 new songs also gives Hunter a chance to engage in some sly double ententres.

The album ranges from tender numbers like Fatally Flawed to the high-flying honky tonk melodies of Comfortable and the emotional and possibly autobiographical Black Tears. The infectious acoustic guitars of Saint are also worth a listen. So is the ethereal Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), which is told from Crazy Horse’s perspective.

What For is a straight-up rocker that showcases Hunter’s wonderful raspy voice. Wild Bunch, inspired by the movie of the same name, hints at Hunter’s fascination with American history. It represents his strongest swaggering bar band feel on the album. He finds good fun in getting down and dirty.

Helping Hunter to pull it all off is the unquestionably seasoned and first-rate Rant Band, which includes guitarist Andy York (John Mellencamp); drummer/percussionist Steve Holley (Wings, Joe Cocker); bassist Paul Page (Dion); guitarist Jack Petruzelli (Joan Osbourne); guitarist James Mastro (Patti Smith); and keyboardist Andy Burton. They play and perform like true band members and not like backers.

They also assisted when the album's basic tracks were recorded in Pawling, New York. It was co-produced by Hunter and York. In all, they were in and out of the studio in about two weeks.

When I'm President by Ian Hunter & The Rants Rolls In 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Hunter sounds just as good today as he did in the 1970s and his lyrics are as smart as ever. It’s nice to see a legendary performer doing much more than a nostalgia-type tour. He'll never need to as long as he is having a good time.

You can find When I'm President by Ian Hunter & the Rant Band on Amazon. You can also order the CD from Barnes & Noble or download the album from iTunes. Hunter & The Rant Band are touring in the United States through September and then are heading for a heavy schedule in Sweden, Norway and the UK.

For tour dates, visit Hunter's website. The cheeky singer also has a section on the site called Horse’s Mouth. Fans can ask questions and often get answers from the man himself. Pretty cool.