Friday, November 30, 2012

Pete Townshend Reveals Who I Am

Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend’s autobiography was commissioned in 1996 and completed this year. It was, the artist acknowledges, very difficult to write at times.

Such is the painful rambling narrative.

The guitarist's troubled childhood sets the stage for a lifetime of emotional tumult and an ego besieged by polarities he accurately describes as “artistic grandiosity” and “desperately low self-regard.” He grew up in post-World Ward II London, the son of musicians/entertainers who liked to drink and often fought.

At the age of 6, he was sent to live with his grandmother, Denny. She was what he calls “a perfect wicked witch.”

Denny was mentally and physically abusive, withholding affection and often doling out beatings instead. Denny, he remembers, would often invite men (“uncles”) into her flat from the adjacent railway station and bus garage. At least one of them sexually abused Townshend.

This “uncle” would inspire the character of “wicked Uncle Ernie” in Tommy. Townshend’s 1966 mini-opera A Quick One, While He’s Away is also an account of his time with Denny.

By the time he went back to live with his parents, the damage was done.

Not everything in his childhood was bad, however. Townshend recalls with fondness his Aunt Trilby, who was the first person to encourage his musical abilities. He also shares how he first met John Entwistle and later joined Roger Daltrey’s band, The Detours.

By 1964, it was this band that evolved into The Who. And it is from this point on that he chronicles the early years of The Who. From 1967-1973, Townshend talks straight about how he helped the band achieve near-mythical status. Interestingly enough, he did this mostly without drugs and infidelity (he was married). His eye was on spiritualism instead, fueled by the Indian mystic Meher Baba.

“My spiritual longings were constantly under siege by all-too-wordly ambitions, undermined by scepticism and ambivalence, and challenged by my sexual yearnings ... I could also behave, frankly, like a complete arsehole,” writes Townshend.

While Townshend mostly avoided the pitfalls of rock and roll excess (at least at the beginning), his fellow band members did not. Moon and Entwistle in particular succumbed to the typical rock and roll lifestyle. Entwistle did drugs, and Moon drank and trashed hotel rooms. And The Who was forever banned from Holiday Inns.

Unfortunately, we never learn too much about the other band members and their relationships with one another. Even most of the people in Townshend’s life, including ex-wife Karen and his children, are merely supporting players in this story.

Townshend was without question the creative force, artistic force, and leader of The Who. Tommy was indeed inspired in part by Townshend’s angst-ridden childhood. Perhaps that is why he never truly enjoyed his fame and fortune. For him, it only fueled pressure to keep delivering the goods.

There are some problems with the book, despite some insights.

Townshend spends way too much time exploring every aspect of many of his more obscure projects as the years go on, including The Iron Man. Throughout, it’s clear that Townshend is self-consious and riddled with self-doubt about his roles as mostly absent father, unfaithful husband, one-time alcoholic, and conflicted artist.

He writes with sadness and regret about some of the tragedies that have touched his life: the 1978 death of Moon, the tragic deaths of 11 Who fans killed in a crush at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, and the shocking 2002 death of Entwistle in Las Vegas.

He also tells his side of the infamous “child porn” investigation, in which he used his credit card to pay $7 to view porn (which he immediately canceled). Although he claimed he was doing research about how banks are culpable in child pornography and his computers turned out to be clean, the scandal took its toll — a tired, sad and worn out Townshend accepted a caution and had his name placed on a sex offenders’ registry (rather than have the case drawn out at a trial).

Who I Am By Pete Townshend Rocks 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Who I Am is introspective and honest, but also reflects Townshend’s big ego. The book is rambling at times and includes far too much detail in some areas, and not enough in others. Still, Townshend is a survivor. As the lyrics say in A Quick One, “you’re all forgiven.” He could easily mean his parents, Denny, the “uncles,” and maybe himself.

Pete Townshend’s book Who I Am is available from Barnes & Noble and the memoir may be ordered through Amazon. You can also find Who I Am for iBooks or as an audiobook via iTunes. He serves as the narrator, but it comes across as him reading a manuscript as opposed to giving additional clues about himself. The runtime is almost 18 hours.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats Bleed

Uncle Acid
To make their sophomore drug-drenched horrific full length, Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats did what any psychedelic doom metal band from Cambridge might do. They packed up their equipment and a few television sets in a dilapidated old barn and went to work. It was winter. It took four months.

Their intent was to make the musical equivalent of a 1960s exploitation horror film. The result, Blood Lust, feels more like the 1970s but the decade hardly matters. The lo-fi metal meanderings hit a tipping point that the band never expected.

Their first album, Vol. 1, was limited to a mere 30 pressings. So Uncle Acid (guitars, organ, vocals) pressed 100 copies of Blood Lust because he felt the songs were much stronger. The first day went fine, but then orders plummeted to a few copies a week.

Blood Lust becomes the gem that took some time to find. 

In July 2011, things took an unexpected bounce. The first run sold out. So did the second. And then the 350 vinyl pressing put out by Rise Above sold out in 24 hours. The album, originally released in 2011, has continued to grow in demand, enough so that Metal Blade Records helped it migrate to digital.

Ironically, the band hadn't played live in some time to promote the album. Other than Harsh Ray who played bass for three songs on the album, Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats are a hard-working trio, mostly confined to Uncle Acid, Kat on bass, and Red on drums. Without the additional benefit of a rhythm guitar player, the three feel any live performances lack power.

As to the mystery of their real names, it's not a gimmick as much as it's a statement. Uncle Acid said in an interview with a Polish/English review site that there isn't enough mystery to music anymore. They want to give it a chance to catch without anything else getting in the way.

That is not to say that the band isn't having fun with it. Stories have surfaced that hint at mind control, witchery, and drug-induced paranoia. Even Metal Blade's bio admits, "We are not able to shed much light on the identity of this drug-crazed coven of freaks but are addicted the their heavy, melodic, garage horror-rock sounds."

I'll Cut You Down is the lead track on the athematic story album, opening with the autobiographical sketch of the drug-crazed sadist the album is about. The anti-hero eventually cuts across the countryside hunting witches until he finally meets a similar fate at the hands of Satan. Ominous, but all in good storytelling fun.

"I was born a wicked man, no hopes or dreams ... I get my kicks from torturing and screams."

More than that, I'll Cut You Down tells another story too. Musically, the lo-fi saturation was produced by recording the entire album on an old 8-track. A few fuzz pedals and broken amps did the rest.

Ritual Knife plays much the same way, giving another glimpse inside the heart of the anti-hero who struggles with a Marquis de Sade complex. But what makes the story compelling is the dynamic internal conflict of the character. Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate barriers between love and lunatic lust, good and evil, or purpose and paranoia until the eighth track.

The ninth, Down To The Fire, is a standalone bonus track with beautifully rendered 1970s metal acoustic. It might even be my favorite from the album, even if the entire LP is worth the download. Not one of the tracks can be scrapped, which was also by design.

Uncle Acid and his cohorts set out to make an album that people wanted to listen to, front to back. As a throwback metal album with a lo-fi twist, Blood Lust is deserving. Maybe not deserving enough to capture some crazy eBay prices it did as a bootleg, but definitely deserving in supporting the band.

Blood Lust By Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats Rips 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

According to some interviews, Uncle Acid says they haven't received much love in their hometown when they started up. Other bands hated them and so did the crowds, people who would immediately walk out when they started to play because they didn't sound indie. But isn't that the point?

Indie doesn't have a sound, but Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats do. What they don't have are pictures. The placeholder above is a picture of Uncle Acid's mic inside the barn that they have since dubbed The Slaughter House. Blood Lust can be found on iTunes. You can also find the download on Amazon, which occasionally carries vinyl. The CD is available at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Wine Aerator That Makes The Menu

Some old school wine enthusiasts might turn their noses up at the mention of a wine aerator, but they do give some wines a lift. By forcing air to be circulated throughout the wine, it expands the surface area of the wine and the aromatic profile along with it.

Most of the designs are messy affairs. They are held above the glass while you pour the wine. As it pours, bubbles are sent through the wine when you don't have time to let it breathe naturally. The downside is that most aerators consider the glass instead of the bottle.

The Menu Wine Breather Carafe skips an aeration step. 

Nobody really wants to pour a glass of wine through an aerator and then set it aside for the next glass. It makes more sense to aerate the entire bottle and enjoy the wine until uncorking the next bottle.

A couple of years ago, a specialty design company in Denmark set out to do just that. They came up with a carafe concept that allows for an entire bottle to be turned upside down, aerated, and then served. As an additional option, you can decant it twice by pouring it back into the bottle and serving.

Some people might be skeptical, but some wines really need it. As one sommelier observed when the carafe first came out, most wines on the market today are between two and seven years old and need some help to bring out the aromas and minimize the tannins. (Tannins include everything from grape seeds and stems to the types of barrels used to store and age the wine.)

The video was one of the first reviews of the product by Tim Vollerslev, a chief sommelier and beverage advisor. What is especially worthwhile about the review is that he also shares how using the decanter can also help remove any sediment from an older bottle of wine.

The carafe is a simple Danish-inspired design, made from glass, steel and a plastic inset created to aid in the aeration process. It only takes two minutes to aerate a bottle, which is significantly less than the 60 minutes or more that some wines require (although some people I know never let it breathe).

A few graphs about Menu, a design company in Denmark. 

Originally founded by Simon Hansen as the Danish Steel House in 1979 (to provide steel products to catering businesses), the company took on the brand name Menu in 1998 as it began to expand its designs. Some of the names associated with Menu might even sound familiar.

Bjarne Hansen developed a famous coffee set that originally pushed the company beyond steel. Pernille Vea joined in 1998 to create a new world of design innovation. And nowadays, the designers have expanded to include Jackob Wagner, Christian Bjorn, and dozens of others from all over the world.

Their designs, usually limited, range from artfully functional to artistically smart. Even the carafe goes beyond being creative in ways that most people miss. The broad base was specifically designed to decant the wine properly.

The original designer for this carafe was Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen and Kasper Ronn (above), who make up the team Norm. A variation of the carafe was recently introduced by Louise Christ, also of Denmark.

A few additional wine accessories for the always curious. 

Although not ready for individual review, there are plenty of other interesting ideas for wine lovers. The Corkcicle is one of them. The Corkcicle was designed to be frozen and then slipped into the bottle to help wine retain a properly balanced temperature. It cools room temperature reds in 15 minutes or can keep a white chilled for up to an hour. It's smart, especially with the creative toppers, although I'm holding out for a step better than plastic. (Maybe Gorilla glass?)

Another great idea comes from Gorham. It's a bright stainless steel bar accessory set that features a ratchet wine pull, foil cutter and wine pouring spout. It might seem overtly simple, but the single handled ratchet beats the traditional pulls any day of the week. This one works especially well, fixing perfectly on the bottle while lending a contemporary design.

The Menu Wine Breather Carafe Uncorks 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Menu produces all sorts of great design and the original carafe is no exception. It's often very eclectic and frequently showcased by top department stores. As a result, the designers and even the company don't always receive the recognition they deserve outside of design shows. I'm glad to include them here.

You can find the Menu wine breather carafe at Bloomingdale's or purchase one from Menu on Amazon. As for the other great wine gadget accessories, the Gorham set can also be found at Bloomingdale's while the Corkcicle can be ordered from the company direct. The latter is especially cool with some of the new stoppers they've added. It might even work as an assist for vodka.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hospitality Drifts Into More Coarseness

It was the bonus tracks and not the studio cuts off the self-titled debut Hospitality that made me a believer in the Brooklyn indie pop quartet. When Amber Papini isn't busy sounding studio pretty, she becomes more convincing as a bit of a punk. So does the rest of the band.

The Betty Wong studio cut is airy and a bit pretentious. The bonus track is raw and emotive. The Sleepover is wistful to the point of listless. The bonus track lays it down flat. Only the studio session, The Birthday, arguably plays better than the Amaya Sessions. But even then, it's only because Papini gives up too much vocal control in the bonus tracks.

But not everyone heard the bonus tracks, especially after the band garnered generally positive reviews. Never mind that most of it seems tied to the hit single, Friends of Friends, and a few other standouts like The Right Profession. The newest single, The Drift, would have gained more attention if they had. 

The Drift dazzles with Hospitality as it might be or could have been. 

The strength of the lyrics, powered vocals from Papini and punch of the instruments is only the beginning. After Papini powers through a couple of sparse verses, the entire song slips into a lazy daydream before bouncing back with some blistering guitar solos. 

This is the kind of song where Papini's idiosyncratic songwriting and the richly layered arrangements of the band earn the respect that has been put upon them. The limited edition 7-inch track smashes any chance that the band will be underrated. 

The near prog B-side isn't an exception either. Monkey has just as much punch, opening with a minimal percussive beat before layering in the guitar work. Between the two of them, there is every reason to reconsider whether indie pop is even fitting for the angst. 

Either one would have made a brilliant video and some people are hoping. Instead, the band put out a vid for Eighth Avenue, which is a funky little weirdo tune that leads the album but without the conviction of Papini's natural power. There is, however, a half-baked version of Monkey that was performed live for WFUV last February.

There ought to be an emphasis on the half-baked tune. The finished song as it was laid down on the single skips out on the sing-song and takes more advantage of Papini's voice and guitar work. There is also more to hear from Nathan Michel (guitar, keys), Brian Betancourt (bass), and newcomer David Christian (percussion) with the instruments being brought to crystal clarity.

Some added attention would be welcome for the band. Originally founded in 2008, the band almost went bust as members drifted away to work on side projects and Papini dealt with a death in the family. Maybe the wait had its advantages. Hospitality might not have played as well five years ago despite putting out a fine EP. 

It will be interesting to hear what other people have to say about these singles that stand out against the album. By cutting out some of the business and letting Papini deliver up biting lyrics with an irresistible rawness, everything about the songs seems like the right direction but maybe too big of a swing for people caught up with all the niceties of the studio album straight up. 

The Drift With Hospitality Stands Out At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Both The Drift and the B-side Monkey could make a great defining moment for the band. Although both are beautifully layered, the roughshod arrangements are better suited for what Papini writes about, especially now. She's a little older, smarter and world weary. Isn't everyone.

The Drift by Hospitality can be downloaded from iTunes. You can also find the limited edition vinyl Monkey/Drift, which comes with an MP3 download. The download is also available there on its own. The band is currently touring in support of the album, recently adding new dates in January via Facebook.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Peddler's Daughter Wraps Up Nashua

The Peddler's Daughter
During the early colonial days and well into the 19th century, the Nashua River was a hotbed of activity for trade for Boston and Concord and a microcosm of manufacturing, especially textiles and paper mills that tapped regional timber supplies. There were tradeoffs, however. Paper dyes and other pollution had all but destroyed the river over hundreds of years.

It wouldn't change again until the 1960s. Marion Stoddart, a housewife and mother of three, took on the impossible task of cleaning it up. And today, thanks to Stoddart and her founding of the Nashua River Watershed Association, the river is clean and largely restored. Most visitors would never know it, looking up or down the river from the Main Street Bridge in Nashua or out the windows of the Peddler's Daughter, an Irish Pub and Restaurant.

The Peddler's Daughter pours pints alongside paper-wrapped fish and chips.

Although the exterior and interior of the pub and restaurant carry the industrial feel of an old paper mill, it was a custom renovation almost ten years ago. The previous tenant was actually a bike shop, but no one would ever guess it by looking up at the high ceilings or down at the well-scuffed floors. The pub feels like it has always been there, overlooking the river.

The original idea was to give it an authentic feel, something not too far removed from what you might expect from a pub in Ireland. Much of the decor was imported, even some benches and chairs.

Things To Do Nashua
The primary reason to give it a visit anytime you're near Nashua is two-fold. They have one of the best Guinness pours outside of Boston. The difference between an average glass and a great Guinness is all in the pour. They take the time to pour it right, or at least as close as you can get in America.

The second reason is the fish and chips, with perfectly beer-battered fish served atop the chips (thick house-cut potato wedges or sweet potato fries). The ketchup is something to admire too. It's homemade and never lasts long enough to live in a bottle.

There are plenty of options on the menu too, most of it brushing up somewhere between pub and Irish restaurant. Among the most notable are the corned beef sandwiches; fried haddock on a sourdough roll; and Guinness braised beef stew, made with short ribs and served with mashed potatoes. While none of it can be necessarily considered "fine dining," it's hard to beat among pub dining.

Peddler's Daughter supports the indie rock scene every weekend. 

Although some people might be put off that the pub and the dining area set in a wide open shared space with its busiest nights Wednesdays through Saturday, some of its well-earned urgency comes from supporting indie bands. Sure, most of the recent acts smack of nostalgic Top 40 cover bands, but they have been known to book a few Celtic rock bands and rougher acts like Ripcord.

The Peddler's Daughter
The live music generally starts at 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, although they used to book Wednesday nights too. The crowds tend to be younger and louder any night the Peddler's Daughter has a band booked. Lunch might be the better option for anyone not excited by a lively atmosphere.

The lineups are much stronger in its sister establishment located in Haverhill, Mass. There you can catch acts like Colm O'Brien, Revels Glen, the Foggy Duo, and Chris & Matt (bands like those that used to be booked in Nashua). By most visitor accounts however, the Nashua establishment still tends to eek out better customer reviews in every other category.

The family-owned establishment is also known to host other events on occasion. Most recently, the pub hosted a Toast For A Cure fundraiser, helping to raise $4,400 for a local cystic fibrosis clinic. The fundraiser was organized by the Garvey family in Amherst, Mass. whose daughter was diagnosed several years ago.

The Peddler's Daughter Wraps Up 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although not necessarily the finest Irish pub in the United States, the Peddler's Daughter is an unexpected plus along the less-traveled paths like Nashua. And while some people might suggest the service is slow or that the liveliness can be a little loud at times, most of that comes from being entrenched in the communities they call home.

Right. The Peddler's Daughter isn't a just a place. It's part of the community, making everyone else who stops in nicely welcomed guests, much like you would expect from an authentic Irish pub. You can find out more about The Peddler's Daughter on Facebook. For all other travel plans, visit with the top travel deals at In recent years, the small city has been revitalizing its historic, natural and local artist offerings.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Babies Rock Their Hill House LP

Brian Schleyer and Cassie Ramone
When The Babies broke their 7-inch Moonlight Mile last August, it was a wild swing in the right direction for the Brooklyn-based band made up of Kevin Morby (Woods), Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls), Justin Sullivan (Bossy), and and Brian Schleyer (Big Soda). The single was also part of a bigger effort to deliver a rootsier, dirtier and more purposeful sound, one that is showcased on their newest release.

Most of Our House On The Hill brings a new cohesion to the ensemble, solidifying the band as anything but a side project. Many of the best tracks hit harder than psych pop, spiraling away from their prior work and allowing The Babies to come into their own as a garage rock/pop band, with some folk infusion. Yes, there are some misses here but the hits are strong enough to shake things up.

Our House On The Hill rocks more than the cradle. 

Whereas Moonlight Mile was about getting lost in the middle of nowhere, the best track on the album, Get Lost, is a powerfully lustful alternative rocker about getting lost in someone. The lyrics are simple and direct. The music is jagged and explosive while keeping the folk rock honesty with a bit more intensity.

Sure, there is better writing across the whole of the album, but Morby delivers Get Lost with a such a convincing reckless abandon at times that it will become a call out song for the band, much like Caroline did two years ago. It's easy to relate to and feel good about Get Lost.

The album opener, Alligator, is much more pathological in offering up the mixed bag that makes up life. You might not have a job, love, or any apparent plans but you can still make small talk without being sardonic. Why? Because most of it is just a matter of time before something turns out right.

After Alligator, The Babies lay down the notion that although Ramone is mostly at home on lead guitar, she can be an equally powerful vocal partner. In the case of this duet, she contrasts Morby's roughness with a sweet doo-wop styling from the 1950s. Slow Walking is a playful throwback that breaks up some of the best full-throttled material.

Ramone takes the lead on other vocals too, but not always the best songs. Baby is too sloppy to be appreciated as a studio track and probably plays better live. See The Country seems half-baked, almost creasing the impression that the band wanted to capitalize on the appetite they created with Moonlight Mile. Don't get me wrong. Her wistful vocals are right for the song, but the lyrics here are among the least inspired.

Much better for Ramone is the duet Chase It To The Grave. She delivers the opening lyrics with a patented matter-of-fact and nearly medicated tone to ward off Morby from chasing his dreams, the passion he brings to the piece makes it work. The song is all right, lending to the case that The Babies are at their best when they cut loose.

In fact, not all Morby led songs are perfect either. The horn work is the best thing to come out of Mean, an acoustic with Morby taking on the plight and point of view of a sad sack. His other mellow offering, Wandering, is filled with promise that never quite materializes until late in the track.

Much better is Mess Me Around, which lands somewhere between pathological and paranoia while never losing the collaborative irony that is frequently laced into the Morby-Ramone songs. Morby starts the song off with some worry about things to come until it becomes patently clear any messing around was likely invited. It's a dare to have the worst done.

Our House On The Hill Rolls Around 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Scale. 

As an entire album, House On The Hill falls slightly short of what it could have been. Yet, the album makes up for it with a few choice songs like Get Lost, Alligator, Mess Me Around, and Moonlight Mile (assuming you held off the 7-incher). Still, The Babies are a band to watch and the one band I really want to succeed because the pairing Morby and Ramone is perfect.

Our House On The Hill by The Babies is ready for some cherry-picked downloads at iTunes. You can also find the album at Barnes & Noble or pick up Our House On the Hill from Amazon. For more backgrounder notes, check out our previous review of Moonlight Mile. The Babies are currently on tour. You'll find their weaker material on the album stands up much better on stage except when they feel shoegazey.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Round House Hits On Two Fronts

It's no surprise Louise Erdrich won the National Book Award for fiction last week. Her book, The Round House, is a contemporary coming-of-age story set inside a Native American reservation.

The protagonist, Joe Coutts, is a 13-year-old boy whose last threads of childhood innocence are dramatically cut short after his mother is sexually assaulted. Although she survives, it's arguable that she doesn't live, slipping into surrender and becoming a shell of the woman he once knew as mom.

The loss of his mother, emotionally and spiritually but not physically, permanently changes him overnight as he and his father, who is an Ojibwe tribal judge, try to understand what happened, who did it, and how tangled reservation and American law might prevent them from seeking justice.

The Round House is a caustic portrait of cultural loss.

Commonly billed as a mystery, which is somewhat misleading as the attack frequently takes a back seat to the subtleties of attempting to make sense of the world as a Native American entering adulthood, the novel is an eye-opening exploration of cultural loss. There is also a deeper unspoken plot line. It reflects on the importance of native women within their families and the cost when they are absent.

Although it can be frustrating at times when Erdrich allows Joe to become sidetracked with less important pursuits that typify teen boys, her reasons for doing so become clear enough toward the end. Joe does enlist his trusted friends — Cappy, Zack, and Angus — to uncover the truth and find the assailant in the wake of a failing official investigation. But their efforts are mostly lackluster and carried on with careless immaturity.

Instead, their "investigation" leads to a better understanding of the world in which they were born. Set in North Dakota, the Ojibwe are at a crossroads as a sovereign nation without much sovereignty, proud as a people but dependent on federal aid, and feeling a loss of their cultural identity as they attempt to invent new meaning for what they once held sacred.

Relatively few people like Joe's grandfather preserve the stories of their ancestors that paint a rich, thoughtful and illuminating heritage. Fewer still, like Joe's dad, understand that how he handles even the smallest tribal cases can often carry consequences for larger cases in providing them more opportunities or limitations.

The blend provides a compelling story in that Joe and his friends mostly act like any teenage boys, with sometimes comic affinities with Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Christianity, and many other American cultural icons. At the same time, there is frequently a sense of tragedy and loss as they take pride in a cultural history that will forever be lost to them.

How to approach the novel and come away with something unexpected. 

Erdich is an engrossing and talented writer who understands character. She breathes so much life and back story into the smallest parts, giving readers an innate understanding of who they are, even if they do not know it themselves. In The Round House, the characters are almost trapped within their cultural identity as much as they are empowered by it, giving them a burden that squanders individualism.

Reading the story from that context, especially as it pertains to how it may or may not shape people, gives the book an entirely different feel than the assault of Geraldine Coutts. That plot line as a mechanism of conflict is important but only in so far as it challenges the human condition and dares us to consider what we would do if it happened to our loved one. And then, perhaps, what we would do with a different cultural identity that has endured several generations of injustice.

A few graphs about author Louise Erdrich. 

Louise Erdrich is the author of twelve novels, several volumes of poetry, and children't books. Erdrich, who owns a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis, frequently delivers an intensity and authenticity to the Native American perspective. She is the daughter of a German-American father and Native American mother.

She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school and is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, which includes Ojibwe a.k.a. Anishinaabe. Later, after graduating from Dartmouth College, she earned a master's degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University.

The Round House By Louise Erdrich Circles 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The story provides a profound perspective on Native Americans as they exist today as opposed to distant historical references that are more familiar to many non-Native Americans. It creates an added urgency to recognize that as many people want resolution for many modern causes, there are many pressing issues that have remained ignored and neglected for hundreds of years.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is available on Amazon. Barnes & Noble also carries the novel. The book can be downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is also on iTunes, which is narrated by Gary Farmer.

While there are times when Farmer really nails down the characters, the decision to emphasize a Native American accent (whatever that is) was misplaced. It's only when he loses most of the accent that the prose retains its importance. The book is set in 1988, not 1888, making the read better than the listen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Freeman Has A Dose Of Hex And Hell

Jason Freeman
Memphis-born Jason Freeman always had a good time with the barrelhouse, honky-tonk hoo-doo music that's best characterized by the jug band inspired meanderings of the Bluff City Backsliders (among others). For the better part of ten years, he was a talented but somewhat restrained part of a band known for preserving the Delta's richest musical roots.

And yet, anyone might suspect that there was something darker, grittier and more organic smoldering under his cool, unassuming surface. All he really needed was a solo debut to uncork the blues out of the bottle and play it like it was meant to be played — unfettered and free, with a little more on the line.

Jason Freeman rolls the dice on Hex & Hell. 

Sure, Freeman sets a slower, more purposeful pace than many have evolved to become rock and roll. But in keeping pure this time around, he provides ten tracks of unadulterated blues with enough passion that it preserves the genre while reminding anyone who loves rock that its roots are borrowed. 

Freeman himself has frequently been called a walking blues encyclopedia and folk/blues wizard, who has spent all his days reading about music. In fact, he was the guitarist that brought a contemporary edge to Samuel L. Jackson's magical transformation with songs like Black Snake Moan in the film by the same name. 

Black Snake Moan isn't his first foray into films. Freeman also wrote the score for MTV's Savage Country and contributed tracks to Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow. One song on the debut album, Magic In My Home, was featured in the remake of movie Footloose. What the film lacked, the music didn't.

The swampy, backwoods blues tune conjures up images of old world mysticism long associated with music. He feels every drawn out chug in his guitar and howl in the lyrics, much like the entire album. There is a primal force behind every composition, landing somewhere between a fiery intensity and laid back resilience.

The title track, Hex & Hell, is a perfect example. After laying down a strong drum set, the song adds a steady growling guitar and bass line before Freeman opens up his smoky lyrics. The song itself is a character portrait, mostly about a man with a devil-may-come attitude. Bring him on, Freeman invites. 

The opener, Dirty Heart, takes advantage of the late blues with its near-rock sound but keeps its swamp vibe with a few bluesy slides across the guitar. Florida Watch is much more upbeat with mean, lean instrumental sections that could easily be embellished during live performances. Help Me delivers more bounce in the beat. 

Hex & Hell has ample highlights, offset only by its consistent pace.

The only drawback as a debut album might be the overwrought pace of it. While (Do The) Rump adds some boot-scoot to the lineup, most of the songs find Freeman easing into a tempo with which he is especially comfortable. It works most of the time, especially on the highlighted tracks. 

Toward the bottom, however, it begins to become too familiar. The drawback is that great songs like Teasin' Me never have a chance to truly capture the spotlight. Instead, they're taken in by the ear as an extension of the greater work. There is nothing wrong with that, but it waters down some of the striking and unique stylistic qualities that Freeman manages to tuck inside so many of these songs.

The upside, it can be argued, is how Freeman wraps up some unexpected musical treats in the otherwise consistent foundation. Blues is frequently approached like that. There is a mellow, rolling beat that invites you to settle into a groove before interrupting the mood with bursts of unbelievable clarity. 

Hex & Hell By Jason Freeman Fires Up 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The best part of the debut is hearing Freeman open up more with music that wants to be heard in a remote crossroads bar, the kind of place only known to locals. As he continues to get more exposure and experience as a solo performer, it is very likely his music will eventually deliver an intensity as big as his technical talent. 

Freeman is musician to watch. He is a surprisingly easygoing, down-to-earth performer with a lot of heart. There is no doubt he frequently becomes consumed in the craft, sometimes losing himself in the process. Ironically, this album could have easily fit into the re-emergent blues-rock category and it would have been propelled to the top. But as a blues album, only a few people knew to look for it. 

Maybe that will change now. You can find Hex & Hell by Jason Freeman on iTunes. Hex & Hell can also be downloaded from Amazon. According to Freeman's Facebook  page, a vinyl and CD release are also forthcoming. They will be offered online and at local Memphis record stores, possibly making physical copies rather rare in a few months.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Digital Photos Take An Analog Turn

Photo To Art
Smart phones and digital photography may have revolutionized how people take pictures, but it hasn't changed how people want to see them. Passing around a smart phone or scrolling digital files isn't it.

People appreciate print. And print has taken on a new meaning in recent years. There are dozens of developers working to deliver more diversity in digital photo output. Several have caught our eye, but, which originally specialized in vintage art posters and prints, has developed one of the newest ready for review.

Photos [To] Art app is free. Ordering is optional.

The Photos [To] Art app is a first generation digital-to-print application for iPhone, iPad, and iPad smart phones. Call it "first generation" because it isn't perfect. It's a promising work in progress.

The application was designed specifically to help people print photos to canvas, wood, or poster prints. This concept isn't necessarily new, but the application simplifies the process because the photos can be uploaded directly from your phone from either your camera roll or Instagram account.

The prospect is promising, but there are limitations. Although the application supports a variety of sizes from 8"x10" to 20"x30", the size is dependent on the photo format and quality. The allure of printing Instagram photos, for example, is limited, typically rendered at 12"x12" or 16"x16", which is especially important to know if you are hoping to create a series of three or more photos of the same size.

For more sizing options, the application prompts members to upload the shot from the camera roll (assuming the shot wasn't taken through the Instagram app). Most photos are then rendered at four or five sizes, with can be viewed against three mock living areas or on the actual wall where you intend to hang it. The latter feature is pretty clever, even approximating how far away you are from the wall.

Photo To Art
Although the limitations might seem annoying at first, it doesn't take long to adjust for output. The primary reason is a bit restrictive is because quality is the priority, especially with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee policy. For more flexibility, the web platform has some flexibility.

Specifically, the web platform provides some limited cropping and resizing (horizontal or vertical adjustments) options and allows you to save up to 10 photos for 30 days. In contrast, the application assumes all cropping is complete and saves only one photo at a time. It may also be possible to sync the mobile app with a web platform account, but I couldn't find it.

A few graphs about and its growing family of apps.

Lord of the Rings from
The Photos [To] Art app easily makes up for any limitations for ease of use and high quality outputs delivered, which has always been the objective of founders Michael Heinstein and Brandon Carr. They started with a single "poster" site concept and a small room in Berkeley, with nothing much more than a modest capital investment from the founders and a sympathetic relative.

Not even 15 years later, the rebranded and several sister sites have grown to become the largest poster and print producers in the world and includes one of the largest masters collections. They have developed two other apps: artMatch, which helps people find similar artistic styles by snapping a picture of any art; and artCircles, which is an iPad art curation tool that features artist picks along with any self-made collection.

More analog offerings from developers on the horizon.

The ability to order self-made prints from any mobile device is not an exclusive fix for analog. Three other projects in development that have caught our eye include the Impossible Instant Lab, which turns iPhone photos into instant Polaroids; Instacube, which ports photos directly from Instagram into digital frames; and Projecto, which transforms eight Instagram photos into a slide wheel that can be projected from a projector about the size of a matchbox. The latter concept convinced us to become a backer.

Photos [To] Art App By Prints 4.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While Photo [To] Art has room for improvement, having personal photographs or artwork transferred to framed prints, wood mounts or canvas from a mobile app is a step in the right direction. keeps its pricing reasonable, with unmounted poster prints starting at under $4 (8"x10"). Canvas runs considerably higher, depending on size.

You can download Photo [To] Art from iTunes. The app has already been optimized for iPhone 5. It also works with iPhone 3GS or better as well as some iPods and iPads. The app is a free download, perfectly timed to take pictures over Thanksgiving with enough time to make prints for the holidays.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chris Cohen Hits The Overgrown Path

Chris Cohen
If it were anyone else, a debut album from someone who’s been in the music business forever would be a contradiction. Chris Cohen is the exception. He has been making music as a member/collaborator with indie bands for years.

If you have heard of The Curtains, Cryptacize or Deerhoof, you already know Cohen. If you have seen Danielson, Haunted Graffiti or Cass McCombs, there is a good chance you've seen him too.

A talented multi-instrumentalist, Cohen is a singing drummer first and foremost (picking up the sticks at the age of 3). But he is probably best known for his work as the bassist and occasional guitarist with Deerhoof (2001-2006), where his skills are showcased on outstanding albums such as The Runners Four and Milk Man.

Chris Cohen strikes his own chords for a change.

Striking out on his own for the first time, Cohen has released the debut album Overgrown Path on Captured Tracks. It also finds him transplanted from Los Angles to rural Vermont, where he sought the peace and tranquility necessary to make this album.

Although it took three years to write and record, Overgrown Path has a relaxed, organic feel that fits together perfectly for Cohen. And that makes sense. He played all the instruments himself, most notably the piano, guitar, bass, and a Cascio MT65.

He has said that he spent three years not really knowing where he was going, and it's reflected in every track on Ovegrown Path. The album is filled with unexpected arrangements, a lo-fi psychedelic pop sound, and an overall charming, unhurried pace.

All of it suits Cohen’s lazy, yet sophisticated baritone just fine. Not an inch of it bears resemblance to any of his previous work with various bands. This time it's about how he wanted to make music.

The video ought to be an unexpected sound for Cohen. Called Optimist High, it kicks things up a notch,with Cohen focusing on staying hopeful even when the odds are stacked against you. The video also brings in some of his newly found connection to Vermont. He plays the drums and communes in nature.

But not all of the album sounds like Optimist High. In Caller No. 99, Cohen laments about waking up to the sound of a clock radio “a year too late, just to sit around and wait.” The song is a nice slice of melodic psych pop with a shimmering guitar and layers of drums drifting about.

Rollercoaster Rider is a solid psych pop tune that explores feelings of being conflicted, going up and coming down. But on the other side of the coin, he composed Inside A Seashell to be all dreamy.

The strongest song on the album, Monad, puts Cohen’s easy delivery in the spotlight. The video was directed by filmmaker and educator (and sometimes actress) Kate Dollenmayer. It's a psychodelic journey that showcases photos taken by the late Vermont photographer Wilson Alwyn Bentley.

If the video gives you a sense that Cohen is feeling nostalgic, you might be right. Many of the songs carry nuances that suggest he is ruminating on his relationship with the past. His most soulful tune, Open Theme, wistfully recalls his youth and laments the years that have quickly passed.

What makes it stand out all the more is that Cohen grew up surrounded by the entertainment business (his dad was a music exec and his mother was a Broadway actress). And yet, anything he produces on his own lends itself to a solitary, sophisticated style — memorable lyrics and a dreamlike delivery.

Overgrown Path By Chris Cohen Slides Up 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Cohen’s solo career is already gathering steam. He will be on tour in Europe throughout the month of December, with shows set for Germany, Italy, France, UK, and the Netherlands.

His entire schedule is shaping up in 2013. He’s already slated to perform at the 2013 SXSW Music Festival in Austin, which should win him more than a few new fans. You can find the album, Overgrown Path, on iTunes. For a few dollars more, pick up the album on CD at Barnes & Noble or you can find Overgrown Path on Amazon. He also posts his own updates on Facebook.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Peter Criss Talks Makeup To Breakup

Peter Criss
It’s not a stretch to say that KISS’s former singer/drummer Peter Criss used up more than a few of his nine Catman lives. He fought his way out of poverty and skyrocketed to mega fame. He made a fortune and then lost most of it. He fell in love, married, and was divorced a few times. He did a stint in rehab and contemplated suicide but then fought for his life to survive cancer.

In Makeup To Breakup, Criss tells his remarkable story in his own words with an assist from Larry “Ratso” Sloman, the author who collaborated on Howard Stern's bestselling books.

Makeup To Breakup isn't an average memoir.

Peter George John Criscoula might have grown up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, but he wasn't built for it in his year years. The oldest of five children in an Italian (and part German) Catholic family, he was a scrawny, sickly child “with a big head and big baggy eyes and big ears.”

Like much of his life, it was a mixed bag. Criss fondly describes the closeness he felt with one grandmother and bitterly remembers the other as being physically abusive. She was more like the nuns at his Catholic school, who were equally physical in their approach.

With relatively few strengths and less self-confidence, Criss was fortunate to find music. He saw it as a way to get noticed and attract attention. It didn't take long for him to gravitate toward drums.

Without any other prospects, he dropped out of high school and played in a variety of local bands. A few had a limited degrees of success, but Criss believed he had a bigger destiny to fill. After running ads in the Village Voice, he decided to try a classified in a little publication called Rolling Stone.

“Exp. rock & roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music.”

In April 1972, Gene Simmons gave Criss a call. After a few more conversations, Simmons and collaborator Paul Stanley went to see Criss play. He was immediately hired after that; his destiny set without ever knowing what might come next.

Kiss crew shirt
In the book, Criss describes what Simmons and Stanley were like in the early days, including their vision for fame and stardom, anti-drug lifestyle, and iron-clad work ethic. But that didn’t describe the fourth person to join the band — guitarist Ace Frehley.

Criss felt an instant kinship with the Spaceman, who believed he was from another planet. Frehley also loved to drink but didn’t like manual labor. From this start, Criss recalls how the band’s look and image evolved as a foursome. It wasn't until meeting with future manager Bill Aucoin and later label owner Neil Bogart that they would begin to shape their fame and fortune.

Along the way, Criss shares plenty of stories of excesses that accompanied rock and roll. Many of them are the by-product of eternal days on the road. What is especially interesting is that Criss shared a room with every member of the band at one time or another: the slovenly Simmons, the prima donna Stanley, and the inebriated Frehley.

Breakups weren't limited to band dynamics.

In the early KISS days, fans weren’t aware that Criss was married (to Lydia Criss) and the reason becomes obvious. It's something he conveniently forgot while on the road. He eventually left her for Playboy playmate Debra Jensen, who, at least in Criss’s telling, was an egomaniac hellbent on getting her hands on his money.

But whatever the reason, he was also head over heels in love with Jensen, even when she forgot she was married. After sleeping with a number of his friends and associates, it seems the only good thing that came out of it was his daughter Jenilee.

Peter CrissAs Criss’s second marriage was in decline, so were the relations with his bandmates. After expressing grave concerns about the band’s musical direction and over-saturated merchandising, he finally quit.

In later years he would be asked to rejoin, but it came with a new awareness. He had unknowingly signed away his rights to his signature Catman makeup and persona, relegating him to hired hand status on reunion tours. He describes the hurt and betrayal that has haunted him to this day.

Eventually, Criss does seem to find a soulmate in third wife Gigi. She supported him during his bout with breast cancer while battling cancer herself. Initially, he had kept the news of his cancer private, but later made the right choice. He wanted to bring attention to male breast cancer so that other men might never have to go through what he did.

Makeup To Breakup By Peter Criss Rocks 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Today, Criss is clean and sober and seems to have found peace. And while he dishes on his KISS bandmates, especially Simmons and Stanley, he admits that he too was no angel. Among the band members, he acknowledges that he was a chronic complainer. And yet, he was also a critical component of KISS’s mystique and success from day one.

Anyone can put on the Catman greasepaint, but nobody else is Peter Criss. You can find Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss by Peter Criss from Amazon or order the book from Barnes & Noble. Makeup To Breakup is also on iBooks.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bettie Serveert Says It Had To Be You

Bettie Seervet
Bettie Serveert celebrated their 20th anniversary as a band last year at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. They had every reason to celebrate. Not only did the band survive all the stops, starts, shakeups, and false starts, but there was also new material in the works.

The band booked La Chapelle Studios in Belgium last April and recorded a new album with Joppe Molenaar (Voicst, Bettie Serveert). The first two songs were released as a single and B-side this week, a hint of things to come from the Amsterdam-based indie-rock pop band.

The album Oh, Mayhem will mark their tenth full-length release. It will be out in January 2013. It's also another shot for the band to move beyond its cult following as it has never crossed into the mainstream.

Had2byou colors the indie pop stylings of Bettie Serveert.

Canandian-born, Netherlands-raised Carol van Dijk (pronounced van Dyk) is something of a marvel. Her voice is timeless, seemingly unaffected by singing and touring for the last 25 years. If anything, she sounds younger.

Some of the it is in the material, at least on the frontside. Had2byou has as much pop polish as Souls Travel did on Pharmacy Of Love, which gives van Dijk a near perky crispness that she never really had in the 1990s when the band produced its best work.

Then again, it is possible that Had2byou could be the pop exception to the band's otherwise indie rock leanings (much like Souls Train was on Pharmacy Of Love). That would fit with the Bettie Serveert most fans know. Even with the optimistic instrumentation on songs like Had2byou, the lyrics have bite.

"And though I know it doesn't matter, every time my heart was shattered and broken in two, it had to be you," van Dijk sings with a brilliantly upbeat sense of sarcasm and irony. Right, it's not a love song. Had2byou only sounds like one.

The video was put up shortly after the initial release but in advance of the U.S. release. It features some wacky, mildly creepy stop motion by Tinca Veerman and Hannelore De Decker. The band obviously had some fun making the film, becoming the canvas for an odd assortment of stuff to be dropped and drawn on their faces. What it has to do with the song is anybody's guess.

What is more notable is that van Dijk seems to be channeling some Liz Phair influenced riffs and vocals into the music. While van Dijk has been known to cover a song or two from the brilliant songwriter, this is the first time a few recognizable stylings have creeped its way into Bettie Serveert's work.

The B-side is a cool cover, straight out of Amsterdam. 

The B-side is a cover of the legendary song Situations - Complications from the 1998 album No Rest For The Alonely (No Rest For The Lonely in the U.K.) by the indie rock trio Caesar. Given the band took a permanent hiatus in 2008 (officially in 2010), it's great to see the song revived.

Bettie Serveert brings a heavier bass line to song, along with van Dijk's smokier vocals. She delivers it so convincingly that anyone unfamiliar with the tune will think it was written for her. Much like Had2byou, some Phair-esque stylings bleed into the chorus.

Incidentally, the reason the B-side sounds so good is that Bettie Serveert added the cover to their live performance repertoire for the better part of a year. As the song has became an audience favorite, it only made sense for them to record it in the studio. The cryptic lyrics really shine in this rendition.

"Life gets so much easier when you're stoned. Yeah, life gets so much easier on your own," sings van Dijk. "It's hard to get down this medicine we call time. There's a lot of it and just me who's on the line."

Had2byou By Bettie Serveert Takes 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is a definite contrast between the single and B-side, which is pretty much lock step Bettie Serveert sometimes erratic compilations. The B-side on its own deserves something in the high 8s, cover or not.

But none of that really matters. What matters most is that van Dijk, Peter Visser, and Herman Bunskoeke have crafted a promising introduction to the upcoming album. Expect plenty of sideways glances and virile tension with plenty of muscle pop guitar work.

Had2byou and Situations - Complications are available on iTunes. You can also find the single on Amazon. The band has only released their touring schedule for Europe to date, with a couple shows in December and then a heavy January. For concert listings, check them out on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pearls Take A Turn Toward Baroque

Although the single strand of round pearls has become iconic, cultured baroque pearls have come into their own again because of their unique and interesting shapes. When set with semi-precious and precious stones, they create a free-spirited and rugged sense of style as compared to their spherical counterparts.

The luster and luminescence is still apparent, but the shapes are contemporary. These aren't the pearls that women wore to represent the unspoken uniformity of the 1950s, but something freeform and wildly organic. Very few baroque pearls look the same.

Baroque pearls unlock the creative free spirit, giving designers more setting options.

Naturally, all pearls are organic because unlike gemstones, they are made by living creatures. They only receive the semi-precious stone moniker for the purchase of jewelry. They aren't stones at all.

They have been prized, however, for centuries. In ancient times, they were considered the most valuable as a symbol of the moon and frequently thought of having magic powers. In ancient Rome and medieval France, only people who had achieved a certain social status were allowed to wear them. But the allure wasn't limited to Europe. China, India, and Native Americans all prized pearls.

Most baroque pearls are freshwater, much like Native Americans farmed from rivers and lakes. The irregular shapes occur because the pearl is nucleated in a mantle without a round pearl sac. More recently, cultured pearls (objects are placed inside the mussel to become coated) have been used to create even more interesting effects. 

The pearl melange necklace from Sundance is a great example. The pearls that make up the double strand include keishi, coin, rice, and potato. It creates a rugged style, as if the necklace was made with found pearls as opposed to those collected for their roundness. It still takes years for these pearls to be made.

To another striking element to the design, the designers added a cluster of garnets, labradorites, and pink opals around the silver clasp. What makes this especially interesting is that it doesn't matter how it lands across the neck. The look makes it wearable for formal, casual, and even concerts.

Other examples from designers who are making baroque pearls work. 

The Whitney necklace, which is part of a limited chunky series of jewelry from a pearl specialty store, arranges the freshwater baroque pearls into an unusual cluster of pearls, shells and wire. It's an eye- catching piece, with the pearls measuring between 5 and 10 mm each.

This piece is one of several baroque designs recently added to the pearl wholesaler, which specializes in round, colored and regional pearls. As a wholesale retailer, the specialty store has several collections that are offered at a fraction of the price. The new collection takes advantage of the urban edge created by baroque pearls.

They aren't the only ones experimenting with freshwater pearls. Among designers, Wendy Mink has added a few pieces that are dramatically minimal, lacing only a few baroque pearls on a longer gold chain. The first was called freshwater pearl station. The other, framing four pearls with five drop-down pale green agates, is a delicate pearl and agate necklace.

What's interesting about Wendy Mink's inclusion in the renewed fascination with freshwater pearls is that she generally works with gemstones that tend to have their own lustrous depths. Her work frequently fuses Victorian and East Asian design, an inspiration that began while traveling throughout India, Nepal and Tibet.

A few tips about pearls, keeping in mind freshwater pearls are different.

Pearls are generally graded along four qualities: luster, surface, shape, and nacre. Luster is best described as the mirror-like reflective qualities of the pearl and nacre considers the beauty of the crystalline material. Shape and surface consider the roundness of the pearl as well as the number of divots, blemishes or imperfections.

The irony is that baroque pearls tend to be graded very low because of their irregular shapes or atypical growths. But since many of them have visible imperfections, luster and nacre are the only to factors to increase their value aside from being set with other stones. I call that ironic because it is the imperfections that make them more interesting and offset any other pearls someone might have.

Baroque Pearl Necklaces Reflect 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Sundance is the hero, the alternative freshwater pearl designs will appeal to either urban extreme. The chunky design typically wears better with solid tops and simple necklines. The simplistic design by Wendy Mink is more forgiving, but could get lost in the shuffle of loud outfits.

The pearl melange necklace was originally released by Sundance, the Whitney necklace at Pearls Only, and the Wendy Mink necklace at Charm & Chain. Prices range from about $60 to $220, with the range reflective of the accompanying stones.

A special thanks to Kokichi Mikimoto, Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa too. All three contributed to the cultured pearl process (enticing mussels to make them on demand), opening up the possibility for everyone to afford them. At the turn of the century, the innovation must have been like finding the infamous philosopher’s stone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mac DeMarco Trades Camp For Cool

Mac DeMarco
When I first heard Mac DeMarco’s debut EP, Rock And Roll Night Club, one word came to mind — strange. The spring release was strange right down to the album cover. DeMarco was front and center, applying a thick layer of sloppy lipstick.

It didn't matter that the photo was taken on Halloween as a goof. DeMarco found it highly amusing. The music was the same way. It features crooning, glammed up, sexed up vocals and an odd variety of musical styles and genres.

The jagged songs were accompanied by a variety of weirdly amusing promotional videos (like this official video for Rock and Roll Night Club. But that's not what this review is about. There is a newly released album.

Mac DeMarco 2 plays for the late night loner.

The full-length LP from the Captured Tracks label is simply called Mac DeMarco 2, sometimes listed a "2" on its own. This is the DeMarco I think I like. The 22-year-old Montreal-based singer by way of Vancouver is a real natural when it comes to songwriting.

He has keen and insightful instincts both as a writer and a singer. The result is a strong album and a much more cohesive body of work than Rock and Roll Night Club. But that’s not to say DeMarco hasn’t lost his edge and sense of irony.

“Mommy’s in the kitchen, cooking up something good. And daddy’s on the sofa, pride of the neighborhood,” sings DeMarco.

Is the song about rebelling against the boredom of suburbia? Or is it something seedier, like a meth lab dad? The choice is left up to listeners, with most of them taking note of the trip-tastic instrumentation.

In all, 2 is much more restrained than Rock and Roll Night Club. It doesn't lose anything by being a cut above the debut either. There is also much greater care to deliver some consistency, which keeps the LP at a steady clip even if it starts to become a bit cloying at times.

Where is works is in DeMarco’s tone and delivery. He is simple and sincere, making a memorable outing that defies the common fare being put out these days. There are several standouts to consider.

Yes, Ode To Viceroy is about how much he enjoys smoking the budget-friendly (in Canada) cigarettes. It takes a lot of balls to write about a brand of smokes nowadays, but DeMarco manages to pull it off with his sincerity. The fan clip captures DeMarco performing the tune live at the 2012 CMJ Music Festival.

Another must listen is I'm A Man, which is about what it’s like to be a guy living life in a city like Montreal (complete with pitchy background vocals). My Kind Of Woman is about a crush (or maybe an obsession). Robson Girl and Annie bring on some great guitar hooks. And Freaking Out the Neighborhood is a lively, unforgettable tune with a catchy melody that apologizes (sort of) to the people he loves for his unusual public behavior.

Either video will give you some insight into DeMarco's appeal. The affable, hat-loving DeMarco has a fantastic stage presence, infinite amount of energy, and clearly enjoys engaging the audience. It's not uncommon to get a healthy dose of hilarious banter. All of it makes him easier to like.

Mac DeMarco 2 is a solid batch of finely written and catchy songs. Many of them seem more enjoyable  as single sets instead of trying to listen to the LP as a whole. In this case, the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. And that is a good thing.

Mac DeMarco 2 Rolls In With 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If DeMarco can put the campiness of Rock and Roll Night Club behind him and stay the 2 course, he’ll be an artist to watch. He's currently on tour in the UK, with shows coming up Nov. 19-22 in London, Manchester, and Brighton, followed by one night in Brussels, Belgium.

You can catch Mac DeMarco 2 on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or order the vinyl edition from Barnes & Noble. To keep up on his schedule, check out Facebook.

Monday, November 12, 2012

SMAC! Sock Monkeys Are All Good Will

Cancer doesn't keep a schedule. Not for Jennifer Windrum. Not for Windrum's SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer campaign. And not for her mom, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005.

This month was meant to be a celebration, a brief and fleeting moment of accomplishment in between bouts of bad news, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. She was supposed to focused on nothing else except raising funds for her SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer product line, a milestone for Windrum's WTF? For Lung Cancer campaign and a source of pride for her mom who inspired it.

The cancer had other plans.

Although she is still doing what she can to ensure the growing grassroots support for SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer, her mom is losing and most of Windrum's time has been bedside. Even answering a few email questions for an interview is hit and miss. It depends if her mom is fortunate enough to fall asleep, a reprieve from the growing pain and discomfort she endures.

The same thing happened last July. After her mom survived three weeks of intense radiation treatment, Windrum had taken a trip to Chicago to attend a friend's wedding. The voicemail came during the reception. Cancer had other plans. Her mom was taken to the hospital, unable to breathe. The next few days were dizzying as treatment for pneumonia led to an infection that required emergency surgery.

"The whole experience has changed me so profoundly that I don't even know where to start," says Windrum. "We've learned to talk about death candidly and, aside from the horrific reasons my mom is dying, we've transformed it into a beautiful and intimate experience."

Not everyone can exhibit the same courage, but Windrum and her mom are resilient in life as they face death. Some of it comes from the decision they made together seven years ago when they learned the awful truth about lung cancer. There is virtually no funding for research because it has become associated with the stigma of smoking.

Except ... Windrum's mom never smoked. And she's not alone.

About 80 percent of the people diagnosed with it have never smoked or quit smoking decades prior. But because of the stigma and because popularity drives cancer research, lung cancer is largely ignored despite accounting for 30 percent of all cancer deaths. If you are diagnosed with it, the five-year survival rate is only 15 percent — about the same as it was almost 40 years ago.

"Because the government, and a majority of the medical community and public have long deemed lung cancer a self-inflicted disease, using the smoking stigma as an excuse, lung cancer research has been virtually ignored for decades," Windrum says. "The true story of lung cancer wasn't being told."

It was when Windrum learned that the lack of research and funding for lung cancer was as much to blame for her mom having to heroically survive the last seven years that they decided to chronicle her mom's story and make it public. Windrum was the right person to do it. She's a former reporter.

The SMAC! Sock Monkey Campaign is three times a charm. 

There are only three good things to come out of this tragic story. More people are aware that lung cancer doesn't discriminate and only target smokers. Windrum and her mom have forged a bond that few people will ever experience. And now, there is the SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer.

The sock monkey concept came out of their long and tireless journey together. As the distance between mother and daughter was often more than 1,200 miles, Windrum had always wanted to find something filled with love, support and comfort.

The spark of an idea finally materialized when her mom landed in a Denver hospital. Because Windrum couldn't be there for the week, she sent along two little sock monkeys that her twin daughters had given to her for Mother's Day. Named Phoenix and NoMo, these two little monkeys became a symbol of everything any cancer patient might need — a huggable reminder that there are people who care more than words.

SMAC! sock monkeys are unique too. They come in pairs. Any time someone purchases a SMAC! sock monkey, another will be sent to someone with cancer. And any time someone purchases a SMAC! sock monkey, it will raise funds for the National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators (NCONN) and Liz’s Legacy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Eppley Cancer Center.

"I chose NCONN because everyone with cancer should have an advocate who manages the overwhelming number of appointments, phone calls, and treatment regimens," said Windrum. "And I chose UNMC Eppley because of their lung cancer research. I believe in the work they do there and can see tangible results with my own eyes."

SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer Are A 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 story of Jennifer Windrum and her mom, Leslie Lehrman, is a triumph in the face of adversity. While there is nothing they can do for Lehrman, they have been an open book for years in the hope that they can help other people who are diagnosed with lung cancer in the future. Maybe someone you know and love, because anyone can be diagnosed with lung cancer.

SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer is working to raise $35,000 to help produce the first 1,000 monkeys, using the StartSomeGood crowd funding platform. Pledges start at $10 as a show of support. Those over $50 include your choice: Phoenix carries the WTF? logo and NoMo carries the SMAC! logo. Larger pledges include monkeys being shipped to cancer patients.