Thursday, January 31, 2013

Robin Cook Puts Nano Under The Skin

Without knowing that the medical thriller Nano by Robin Cook ends with loose ends or on a cliffhanger, it's almost certain to be hated. So let's get it out of the way. It ends on a cliffhanger.

It doesn't even end on a good cliffhanger. It just ends. But while this perplexing lack of a conclusion is painful enough, Cook also includes his love-her-or-hate-her protagonist Pia Grazdani. For many readers, they have two reasons to dislike the book before it ever begins.

Grazdani first appeared in Cook's book Death Benefit, which was about a medical student who uncovers a murder disguised as a laboratory accident. She has a personality disorder that makes her mostly unlikeable. That is, she is mostly unlikeable, except to most male characters she encounters. They seem to be drawn to her cool aloofness like fruit flies to spilled soda.

Among the most afflicted by the smart Italian-Albanian medical-student-turned-researcher is George Wilson, who followed her around like a puppy dog in the first book. He still wants her to fall in love with him. She still rebuffs his advances.

Nano is a medical thriller that becomes Grazdani's latest puzzle box.

Being aloof with men who take an interest isn't Grazdani's only flaw. Once the stubborn and self-spoiled heroine suspects something is wrong, she can't let it go. It's what almost cost her life in Death Benefit and again in Nano.

In this case, a mystery presents itself at her dream job as a researcher working on the cutting edge of nanotechnology. While some people might disagree, this is one area where Cook gets it right. Most nanotechnology thrillers get carried away with the possibilities like Prey by Michael Crichton.

Cook mostly keeps it grounded. In this case, the Chinese aren't interested in one of nanos that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells as much they are interested in increasing the efficiency of oxygen delivery within the blood stream, giving their athletes more of an edge in competitive sports. The premise isn't too far from the truth. Nano medicine could be tomorrow's equivalent of "doping."

In this way, Cook does a fine job introducing nano and its scale, which is no more than one-billionth of a meter long. Or, using Cook's borrowed government description: if the diameter of a marble was one nanometer, then the diameter of the Earth would be one meter. They are tiny. They are powerful.

Nanotechnology promises to change everything from stronger everyday objects to more creative applications like paint that can change colors. The possibilities are endless, especially in medicine. It is only a matter of time before nanotechnology tests our ethical limits. Cook, likewise, reminds us of worst case scenarios too — the field is largely not understood and unregulated. There is foresight to what might happen if certain kinds of nanos ever escaped.

Nano reads like a prequel to something much bigger.

Chances are had this book been released second as a prequel, instead of first as an introduction, it might have been better received. By then, readers would have already discovered a much more ruthless antagonist than the placeholder that her boss fills in Nano. Zach Berman wants to be the villain, but is limited because he becomes another Grazdani boy crush victim.

Likewise, there are other characters that allude to Cook's next book being better. Dr. Paul Caldwell, who likes Grazdani but is fortunately exempt from falling for her, brings in a much needed adult presence. And Grazdani's father, an Albanian mobster, helps the story shift into a badly needed higher gear.

Cook is widely credited with solidifying the medical thriller genre after the release of Coma in 1977. His own background is wildly diverse, setting up labs for Jacques Cousteau to serving aboard submarines in the South Pacific. He currently works and lives in Florida.

Nano By Robin Cook Moves 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Some people accuse Cook of becoming too formulaic in his approach. While themes of ethics and cutting edge medicine are decidedly important elements in any Cook novel, Nano isn't any more or less formulaic than any book. At times, the novel is maybe too playful for its good, making some characters seem especially dumb or naive. But the foundation of it, applied nanotechnology on the horizon, raises some interesting and entertaining questions along the way. Not his best, but better than reader ratings.

Nano is currently available from Amazon or you can order the novel at Barnes & Noble. The book can also be downloaded for iBooks or as an audiobook on iTunes. The latter is narrated by George Guidall. Incidentally, the audiobook receives better reviews than the book, partially because Guidall knows how to deliver the dialogue and make it more believable than our imaginations.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dexters Recover Rock, Punk, And Pop

Dexters, a fresh 5-piece from Hoxton, London, have every reason to smile this month. Their 7-inch single debut sold out, their tracks continue to earn airtime, and the experience has laid the right groundwork to follow up with an album this year.

That's not to say everything has been easy. After the band succeeded in seeding the first cut of their video on several dozen review sites, it was taken down for a terms of use violation. It seemed the video editor missed some illicit drug use at the house party where they shot it. All that remains is a black box.

Dexters have since uploaded the Recover video, unwilling to let anything slow down their momentum. After forming the band in 2011, Dexters put out a couple of tracks in the United Kingdom and quickly earned support slots at some of the best indie venues around. In a few short months, some of their songs snuck onto indie track-of-the-day picks. And they have continued to build a following from there.

Recover is the first major release from the Dexters.

The single, Recover, might not even be the best introductory track, but it does capture the feel good rock and roll that the boys from a rougher part of East London want to produce. Inspired by the lyrical prowess of Ray Davies and The Kinks, the band enjoys telling stories, especially those that include heartbreaks and hangovers.

The boys themselves were self-decribed delinquents who even stole a set of master keys from their school's caretaker, who also happened to be singer/songwriter Tom Rowlett's father. Chances are Rowlett's dad laughs about it now. He understands his son's draw to music, given that he too had once played in a blues band and frequently let his son follow him to the pubs.

The rest of the lineup are equally vibrant, including Chris Heggie (guitar), Ben Debo (lead guitar), Vincent Dignan (bass) and Chris Mardon (drums). And that alone might explain the allure of Dexters.

Recover is a straight up feel good rock song, with an upbeat twang and snare. The chorus is a crisply delivered gang chant, carried by the backup vocals as much as Rowlett. It's a breakup song.

While Recover doesn't necessarily stand out as a breakaway song beyond being catchy, the B-side, Conscience Calls, comes much closer with brasher guitars and vocal clarity. The song is also about a breakup, part of their desire to write songs people can relate to, especially anywhere they get a gig. 

Conscience Calls does have a few moments when the instrumental transition doesn't feel right, but it makes up for it with some soaring melodic moments. Rowlett has a knack for rolling out his vocals.

Jamie Ellis (Chapel Club), who has been producing the band's work, also deserves props. Mostly, he adds just enough distort into the mix to make the music interesting without drowning it out. The guitars are the heroes here, laid down over fast tempo percussion. Duncan Mills (The Vaccines, Beastie Boys) mixed it. 

Added up, Dexters aren't necessarily going to change your world, but there is a clear honesty in their approach to music that deserves appreciation, especially because it falls somewhere between rock, punk, and indie pop. It's a crisp, guitar-driven sound that will lift people off their feet.

Recover By Dexters Fires Up 4.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Dexters is the kind of band that easily grows on the ears and convinces people that they have a potential to punch through the indie bands in the United Kingdom. Two things they have going for them is their onstage energy and ability to deliver honest lyrics without becoming sappy. Even if the tracks don't sweep you away, expect great things to come.

Recover is currently available on iTunes, along with the B-side, Conscience Calls. Recover is also up at Amazon. In addition to the two tracks out as their debut, the band is also offering the Start To Run demo as a free download from Facebook. Of the three, it might even be my favorite.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

SunVolt Chargers Shine On Mobile

I've never been a big fan of cumbersome chargers, but SunVolt shines a new light on the solution. The SunVolt Solar Power Station takes advantage of new technologies and accommodates more than one device at a time, making it more like a portable changing station and less like a backup power supply.

The size is justified because it delivers a faster charge for mobile devices. So while I can't see most people casually carrying it around like a second satchel, there clearly are some places it makes sense — like at the beach, at a campsite, in an emergency, or other similar places.

Think of it as something to take along when you have a destination in mind, leave it in the car, or keep it with any emergency kit at home. Unlike a one-time battery backup, all you need is the sun. 

SunVolt takes another step toward hands-free portable charging. 

The innovation is the brainstorm of Don Cayelli, who originally wanted a faster and more reliable charger when he spent the day out on a boat. A boat is the perfect place to use SunVolt, given you can set up the charger in a safe location and forget about your phone, camera, or other mobile device.

Depending on the model, SunVolt can deliver 10 watt or 15 watt devices. This includes most mobile devices like the iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, or anything else with a USB connector. Gomadic also carries a variety of tips/adaptors too, which expands the charging capabilities to include some cameras and bluetooth speakers too. It cannot charge devices that need more wattage like a laptop. 

There are some other limitations, which is why it's still considered a next step solution. While the SunVolt will work on a cloudy day, it charges slower in anything except direct sunlight. It also works better outdoors. While it can charge indoors, it requires direct sunlight (not ambient light) and some window tinting can interfere. Artificial light will not work. But this is true for any solar chargers.

Most of the limitations aren't really an issue. With a little foresight and the right adapter or a solar cache battery back by the same company, you can always charge a battery when you aren't charging a device, saving additional energy for use later in the evening or when weather is less than desirable.

Why the SunVolt has a leg up on other chargers. 

What makes the SunVolt stand out is that Cayelli redesigned the solar charger to skip a set. Most chargers charge a battery pack. This charging system charges the device directly. Gomadic also likes to say that its monocrystalline-like panels are better than polycrystalline solar panels. This might be a myth. 

I say "might" for two reasons. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are generally within one or percent of each other in terms of efficiency. What's more important is who manufactures the panels. SunVolt seems to have settled on one of the best suppliers. As for the second reason, Gomadic always stresses the "like" after monocrystalline. Still, the direct-to-device charge makes the charger stand out.

Beyond the power supply efficiency, there is plenty of attention to detail. The custom designed carrying case, made of semi-water resistant ballistic nylon, and protective cushions add durability to the device. The case was also designed to tilt the panel to an optimal position to collect and convert energy from the sun. And the case is designed to carry any cables and devices you bring along. 

The SunVolt recently had a successful run with a Kickstarter campaign, introducing the smaller 10 watt design version. Many people opted for the bigger model, which had already been on the market. Besides size, the 15 watt model can charge up to three devices at the same time. Two is plenty, unless you want to make friends fast. 

The SunVolt Portable Solar Charger Burns 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Along with some of the other advantages listed, both SunVolts come with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturer defects. From my perspective, it seems better built to last than most devices and ought to serve anyone who buys one for a long time. 

There are several places you can find a SunVolt Solar Charger. Currently, Amazon has several 15 watt models (SunVolt MAX) available. When buying from Amazon, always check to see what tips/adapters are included. You can also purchase them and any accessories direct from Gomadic. The 10 watt SunVolt chargers retail for about $100. The 15 watt charges goes for a little more.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Joy Formidable Writes Wolf's Law

The Joy Formidable
The Welsh-raised, London-based the Joy Formidable turned heads last year with The Big Roar. This year, the roar is even bigger as the trio releases Wolf's Law, which adds confidence to the already convincing mix of brisk and dangerously addictive alternative rock dished up by Ritzy Bryan (vocals, guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (bass, backing vocals), and Matt Thomas (drums, percussion).

Producer Andy Wallace (Nirvana, The Misfits, Avenged Sevenfold) deserves props too. The vocals and guitar were recorded in Maine. The drums, orchestra, and choir were added in London. No one would ever know it based on what they laid down — 11 tracks with all the veracity of The Big Roar albeit with much more polish.

This wasn't written in retreat like previous outings. It's grand, grown up, and without any dirt. In doing so, the Joy Formidable took on a new risk as the grit is what attracted plenty of people before.

The Joy Formidable grows up with Wolf's Law. 

Despite the more commercial aspects of the album, with simplified songwriting, the Joy Formidable has kept everything that counts. The guitars still buzz. The percussion still pounds. Everything is preserved that makes this surging power trio stick, right down to the diversity of Bryan's vocal delivery.

The Ladder Is Ours, which opens the album, is a prime example. It starts with an easy orchestral open that winds up everything tight before the band breaks into the bristling, loud, and strangely beautiful and dreamlike qualities of Bryan's voice. The song teeters between soothing and unabashed.

The video, like any released by the band in the support of the album, is a big production like the music.  Cholla is even better, with a bigger and bassier foundation. It fits the lyrics, the breakdown of a relationship that has hit a standstill.

Cholla also nails one of the aspects of the band that continues to make them a standout. As the song barrels ahead, the trio tightens it all up midstream by dropping everything back to a near silent status. The whisper of it is as powerful as the big sound they deliver. So where are they going? Big.

After pulling back on Tendons and Little Blimp, Bats powers up simple lyrics and a bipolar instrumental. It's one of the more underrated tracks on the album, partly because the lyrics are so repetitive, but it;s the heaviness behind it that brings the band closer to the abruptness that ensures they don't sink into any sameness.

The growing diversity in their arsenal rocks and rolls.

On the other end of the spectrum is Silent Treatment, with Bryan quietly sharing a lullaby of the song. Hearing it live is even more powerful because the acoustics are so much more pronounced, but the studio session still captures the folk-like qualities of a song about how much someone is willing to take and still hang on.

Silent Treatment is a remarkable track to usher in Maw Maw Song. The track is transfixed on tribal rhythms and sweeping melodies to carry it. What makes Maw Maw Song work is it contains some of the best guitar noodling ever put out by the band and creates a thunderous atmosphere that is anthemic.

The track proves that although the Joy Formidable is more polished, they aren't any less experimental. If you ever wondered what metallic prog might sound like if it were played by an alternative pop-rock trio, then Maw Maw Song is probably it. It's also likely to become their biggest callout song on tour.

Also under reviewed is the hidden track Wolf's Law, which cuts in on the closer The Turnaround. For me, it was one of the most smashing moments on the album and probably a mistake to bury it. Wolf's Law deserves to be its own track and the video makes it right.

Forest Serenade and The Hurdle both tap some sounds from the band's earlier stylings without as much grit, making for solid bookends for the spiraling six-minute anthem The Leopard And The Lung. Plenty of people have called it a favorite and then deliver oddball criticisms, claiming it's too long. Any shorter and the atmosphere of it would have never materialized. Period.

Wolf's Law By The Joy Formidable Breaks 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

You know a brand is headed in the right direction when half the rabble is disappointed because it's not hard enough and other half is lamenting that it could have been harder. True, I miss the dirt too. But in the greater context of their repertoire, the Joy Formidable has only sharply added to its tenacity and its addictive live performances.

Wolf's Law by the Joy Formidable is available on Amazon and can be downloaded from iTunes. For added richness, consider the vinyl version from Barnes & Noble. The band is currently touring in Europe with plans to hit the United Kingdom in February and the United States in March. Check schedules via Facebook.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stuart Neville Shackles Up Ratlines

At the end of World War II, not everyone received a warm welcome home. Irish who had enlisted in the British Army despite their country's neutrality during the war, were often subjected to discrimination or blacklisted outright. In the eyes of many Irish, they were renegades, deserters, or even traitors.

Lieutenant Albert Ryan, directorate of intelligence, understands it. He himself had enlisted and fought in the war. And he would have been shut out had the government not recruited him for the same reason other Irish were shunned. G2 needed men with active military experience.

Ratlines by Stuart Neville weaves conspiracy in with ethical and moral contradictions. 

Set in 1963, just months before a historic visit by U.S. President John F. Kennedy, several foreign nationalists have been murdered in Ireland. Ryan is assigned to the case, only to discover that they were former Nazis or Nazi sympathizers during the war and tied to Otto Skorzeny, the infamous Waffen-SS lieutenant colonel who rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from being turned over to the Allies.

Neville bends fact and fiction, placing Skorzeny at the center of the ratlines, a system of escape routes that were created by Nazis and other fascists (ODESSA) fleeing to countries such as Ireland, Spain, and South American countries. Ryan, who had seen the atrocities of the Nazi party while serving in the British Army, takes an immediate dislike to the arrogant Austrian and his assignment.

As his investigation deepens, Ryan discovers that the men behind the murders are targeting Skorzeny to bring justice to the former Nazis and collaborators he assists. However, just as Ryan wavers on carrying out the orders of Justice Charles Haughey to save Ireland from international scorn and embarrassment, he learns that the men after Skorzeny are equally cruel, callous, and deadly dangerous.

The result places Ryan in the middle of a politically-charged game of murder, greed, and privateer espionage, with different interests — Nazis, Israeli Mossad, IRA, Breton separatists, SAS operatives — all converging in pursuit of their varied interests. As for Ryan, each of them sees the investigator as an ideal ally and a most expendable pawn.

To recruit him and achieve their goals, any one of them is willing employ deceit, coercion, threat, or force. And this makes Ryan's assignment very different than his initial orders. His has to stay alive.

Fact and fiction converge to make a convincing historical thriller. 

Neville walks a fine line with his characters, who range from one-dimensional dotes to fully fleshed out historical personas. There are as many standouts as there are unfortunates. But the best of them, the fictional protagonist Ryan and fictionalized antagonist Skorzeny, are a compelling contrast by any measure.

Ryan is an unassuming battle-hardened but beaten down Protestant who wants to be both loyal and noble in circumstances that only afford him to be one. As a result, it is his resolve to trudge through obstacles with his head down, relying on little more than perseverance and having nothing to lose.

Skorzeny is an elitist Nazi veteran who has managed to parlay his post-war position and wartime propaganda into a growing sphere of power that he openly flaunts. It's his aim to cooly control anyone within his vicinity and he is unafraid to employ any means to intimidate, control, and retain an upper hand.

While some suggest these characters are stereotypes, both are surprisingly accurate. Ryan is a composite of Irish men who faced hostility after returning home. And in every historic photograph of Skorzeny, he is always authoritative, arrogant, and composed (even in a cell at the Nuremburg trials).

Along with them, Neville portrays several other historical figures with arguable accuracy and is extremely careful in aligning the story with real events in Ireland. In fact, G2 did monitor Skorzeny when he bought a lavish 165-acre farm in Ireland in 1959. And he abruptly cut his visits in 1963.

Ratlines By Stuart Neville Crosses 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Not everything is perfect about Ratlines. Neville takes too long to make his case on occasion and tends to draw out action in slow motion, including several torturous and brutal scenes designed to make people second guess who is the lesser of two evils. And yet, where Ratlines wins is in tackling a painful legacy that burdened Ireland long after World War II, even if they covertly aided allies.

Ratlines by Stuart Neville is available from Amazon or you can order the book from Barnes & Noble. The book can be downloaded for iBooks and the audio version is on iTunes, narrated by Alan Smyth. Smyth portrays Ryan with a slight edge and Skorzeny near perfect.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bad Religion Find Its True North Punk

With 16 tracks, 10 written by Greg Graffin and six by Brett Gerewitz, Bad Religion doesn't hold back on True North. The album fires up short, crisp storytelling songs that the band recorded last summer, with the run time of the entire album played out in about 35 minutes.

It's another testament that the punk band they formed in Los Angeles in 1979 still remains relevant, only they are more inclined to write about a more universal human experience than being rebellious youth. But that's not to say the two voices are separate. One is an extension of the other, a concept that drives the album from beginning to end.

True North by Bad Religion breaks for the human connection with the passion of punk. 

Everything about the album was a conscious decision, including writing songs that play to what they do and have done best. Just as they were once a band that played a very specific kind of music before evolving into rock anthems, they have come full circle. Rather than evolution, they wanted revolution.

In this case, True North shoots for the hard and fast tightness of who they were, while still serving up intellectual lyrics. Several songs are cut from the wisdom that Graffin and Gerewitz have amassed. And this time out, they touch the intellectual and emotional side of the music. It's smart and primal at once.

Although not the best track on the album, True North does the best job conveying where the band might be today. It pays homage to everything that can be learned, but then breaks against the grain in singing that for all the wisdom that's been laid out before, true north is found on the inside more than outside.

This theme creeps into several songs throughout the album, including Past Is Dead, Changing Tides, and In Their Hearts Is Right. The latter is especially poignant and straightforward: "Everybody knows what's in their heart is right." But perhaps more telling is the theme isn't limited to individual versus society. It plays to any almost any absolute constructs people might spend a lifetime erecting.

Bad Religion doesn't necessarily pick sides. They poke at the concept that corporations are people in Robin Hood In Reverse and then question unlimited guarantees for insatiable needs in Land Of Endless Greed, where the narration takes on a sarcastic out-of-touch tone, indicative of the time they wrote it.

One of the best tracks on the album, Fuck You, was released last year in advance of the album. Some people quickly dismissed it as an immature ode to a two-word curse, but it's surprisingly smarter — laying out that any statements of thoughtless conditioning will be recognized for what they are and, well, pissed off. They deliver with an angry joviality that sticks.

The song lays out one of the things that Bad Religion does best. 

Graffin, after all, is the best kind of teacher in that he can throw down his PhD or his punk. It's all the same to him. The band drives that point home again with Gurewitz taking lead vocals on Dharma and the Bomb, which weaves together Eastern religions, atom bombs, and I Dream Of Jeannie.

The album rocks in its entity. Hello Cruel World is richly harmonic. Vanity is classic punk. My Head Is Full Of Ghosts carries a sharply defined structure. Nothing To Dismay has a fiery chorus. The Island is a smooth rocker. Popular Consensus struggles a bit with its vocal and instrumental continuity, but the message is right. And Dept. Of False Hope is, strangely or not, is becoming a personal favorite.

The lineup on the album includes Graffin (vocals), Gurewitz (guitar), Brian Baker (guitar), Greg Hetson (guitar), Jay Bentley (bass), and Brooks Wackerman (drums). It was produced by Gurewitz with Joe Barresi. They recorded it in about a month.

True North By Bad Religion Quakes 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This truly is a standout album by the band. While In The Dissent Of Man proves the band wasn't locked into punk, True North proves punk is still where they play most at home. It will easily appeal to fans who have tracked them over their 30-year plus career, but also makes a great introduction.

True North by Bad Religion is available on iTunes (first track free for now). True North is also up on Amazon and the CD can be found on Barnes & Noble. For tour information, find Bad Religion on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Belen Echandia Design Is In The Bag

Although Jackie Cawthra had already established her career as an attorney, it wasn't long before she began to dream of more freedom. She wanted to be more creative. She wanted to work for herself.

It didn't happen overnight, but she finally set aside some time in 2003 to create a few handbag designs and secure a few workshop contracts. The effort didn't pay much. Even when London's Austique agreed to accept a few early designs, Cawthra planned to practice law for another two years.

As she tells it, it could be frustrating at times and rewarding at others. The only thing that kept her going was knowing it was the right direction. With every new challenge, she worked harder and followed her instincts.

Belen Echandia isn't an ordinary handbag. It takes a world of talent.

According to Cawthra, there are several elements that go into creating a successful London-based handbag and accessories company. One of them is design, but there is something else for Belen Echandia. The luxury brand works a little harder to deliver personal service, including custom features.

Although Belen Echandia can still be found in many luxury stores around world, it is their commitment to customization that gives the brand a modern lift. And for the women who buy them, these custom handbags are often equated to dreams.

covet me miniAfter picking the size, style, and design, Belen Echandia invites customers to choose their leather, lining, and hardware. Extras can be added too, including laptop sleeves, two-way sliders, external slip pockets, and detachable zipper compartments. (Every handbag already includes leather key holders, smartphone pockets and a secure zipped pocket.)

Whether the handbags are custom or off the rack, all of them are made in Italy. They are all handcrafted by a family-run Italian atelier. Using techniques that have evolved over generations, these craftsmen cut every piece by hand, stitch the piece together, and then add the lining and hardware.

"I was transfixed. Before I began designing leather goods I had never previously thought about how or where the bags I bought were made," says Cawthra, recalling the first time she saw her designed crafted. "It is truly a fascinating, laborious process when done in the old-fashioned way."

The importance of tradition isn't confined to the craft. Cawthra takes pride in tradition, only purchasing leathers and fabrics from Italy and France. The Belen Echandia brand isn't supported by an advertising campaign and low cost labor. Instead, it is supported by small quantities being hand produced by craftsmen who have perfected techniques passed down for generations. Doing so transforms something as simple as a handbag into an art form.

Two highlights from the ever-changing Belen Echandia collection.

While it might be odd for someone who never owned a handbag to pick a few highlights, there are some stylistic considerations that immediately stand out. The lines look right. The space use is smart.

new york satchelThe Covet Me Mini is a smaller handbag, measuring 7.5 inches in height and 10 inches in width (less than 1 inch in depth) made with fine European leather. The design is made for modern living, with mobile pockets and leather key strap. In addition to an upper-flap compartment (with magnet closure) and zipper pocket on the reverse, the handbag also features an interior zipped pocket. As an alternative compact bag, consider the Madrid Crossbody.

For bigger bag needs, take a look at the large New York Satchel, with its central zipped compartment, mobile pockets, front pocket, and combination clasp/magnet closure. With its larger size (11 x 15 inches width, 6 inch depth), the satchel makes for a more serious handbag with room for tablets or laptops. Likewise, Belen Echandia also carries backpacks that retain the the styling of a handbag.

Belen Echandia Handbags Carry 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Belen Echandia represents everything worthwhile in design and fashion, taking care to create beautiful and functional designs and then carrying those idea through with authentic craftsmanship. The added option of designing a custom handbag only makes its appeal better.

The Covet Me Mini and Madrid Crossbody go for around £400 (about $625 U.S.) and the larger bags like the New York Satchel and Copenhagen Backpack for around £500 (about $800). While this might seem a steep investment for some, these are the kind of bags that can be kicked around for life. To view the full line of limited edition bags or to custom design your own, visit Belen Echandia direct.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sir Sly Splits Some Gold And Ghost

Sir Sly
Sometimes creating a bit of mystery behind the music is warranted and sometimes it isn't. Los Angeles-based Sir Sly didn't really the need the gimmick given their electronic pop steeped in sadness and angst can stand on its own. It was only a matter of time before they pulled back the veil anyway.

Beside, electronic indie pop in any form tends to magnify the personality behind the music and there was no reason to think Landon Jacobs, Jason Suwito, and Hayden Coplen didn't have any. They do, even if their mystery is mostly grounded in the web scrub of The Royal Sons (the one that formed after Brothers At Sea, not the North Carolina gospel quintet from the 1940s), which had produced a well-received 6-track EP with the help of producer Suwito (who also had his own band, Polaris at Noon).

Sir Sly stirs up spirits with downbeat electronic.

No matter. The new bandmates obviously wanted a break with the past or as clean as they could get it. Doing so might shave a few review graphs of comparison, even if the difference is mostly a darker, more cohesive and less commercial sound than any earlier work. They truly put in the time to perfect it.

All three tracks were recorded, mixed, and mastered at a home studio, which was probably only possible to do with Suwito on board. People in Los Angeles are reasonably familiar with his name. He's been connected to a number of projects, just none of which (arguably) were this promising.

Ghost was the first track put out for sampling by the trio so it only makes sense that it is also the one most people are talking about. This breakup ballad capitalizes on Jacobs' always powerful and deeply melodic vocals. He also conjures up the heartache of a fading love, with nothing much left than an evaporating memory — a ghost of something felt a long time ago by something much more literal.

The song is spot on for electronic with its surging synth, but crosses over into indie quarters thanks to some solid percussion work. While it loses some of its power with the introduction of a falsetto three-quarters into the song, Ghost still proves Sir Sly has found its place to make some compelling music.

Still, as good as Ghost is, it was the anthemic second single Gold that caught my attention. It lands somewhere between push off and regret, which is closer to how these things feel. There comes a point when everybody needs to shrug off broken relationships.

Sir Sly rocks the track with its big thematic sound, filling up every inch with just the right amount of synth and live instruments. Gold also showcases the trio's talent for writing lyrics and then finding the right way to deliver them. The heartbreak is obvious but so is the ability to move on — a textured blend of hip hop, rap, and indie rock influences.

Sir Sly is surprisingly rousing with its brooding, downbeat arrangements. 

The third track, Where I'm Going, is a bit more straightforward in its delivery on the front end. But after the opening arrangement, the song breaks new ground after the minute mark, with a bigger yield and a fuller sound before finding itself with a chilling chorus.

Like the brooding qualities of the first two tracks, Where I'm Going touches on someone who gets up after getting punched in the gut. But there is something more too. It also brings in the juxtaposition of broken gender roles, and the resolve to overcome them.

All in all, it's how all of it comes together — the music, the lyrics, and vocals — that earns Sir Sly space as a new artist to watch. While the tempo suggests all three tracks belong on a chill playlist, it's nearly impossible to sit around after the second pass of noir pop.

Sir Sly Stirs With Its Debut Ghost At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Neon Gold Records will be releasing Ghost as a 7" debut next month in conjunction with its sister label National Anthem in the United Kingdom. But even with the promise of a debut release, it's important to note that the B-side track, Where I'm Going, will only be released on digital offerings.

The double single, Ghost by Sir Sly, is available for download from iTunes. Ghost is also available on Amazon. The single includes all three tracks, including the B-side Where I'm Going. For upcoming tour information, visit Sir Sly on Facebook. Most appearances are slated for California, but the band recently booked a March show in Arizona.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Good Will On A Historic Day Of Service

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day (a.k.a. MLK Day) in the United States has become as unique as it is universal. Signed into law 30 years ago, this national holiday marks the birthday of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and has become known as a National Day Of Service where Americans are encouraged to make it "A Day On, Not A Day Off." The concept is as inspired and enigmatic as the man.

"If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness." — Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Enigmatic is the right word as the concept was inspired by a 2,000-year-old message of empowerment without constraint. King was able to beautifully interpret it as a modern call to action in one of the many powerful speeches he delivered during his lifetime. Simply put, adopting a new definition of greatness tied to service could make everyone great regardless of education, social standing, or economic prowess.

Instead, greatness is earned by all those who ever tried to love somebody. It is earned by doing something to feed the hungry. It is earned by offering clothes to those who are naked. It is earned by taking the time to feel empathy for others and serve humanity. It is earned through service, which is potentially more lasting than any other measure in the world. And King personified the concept of it.

Although assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, many of King's ideas, words, and actions have led to the foundation of national efforts like the Corporation For National and Community Service and international efforts like Points Of Light. Both organizations have been instrumental in mobilizing volunteers into service on MLK Day

Last year, Points of Light trained and activated 4,000 volunteer leaders to support more than 2,700 projects across the nation while engaging 7,900 veterans and military families. But beyond its efforts in the United States, it also works with the HandsOn Network, which has grown to create 70 affiliates with 12 locations overseas. The vision of both organizations is to make it easier for people to identify community need and take action that provides pragmatic solutions through service.

It doesn't matter who you are or what your interests might be. Volunteers take up a diverse number of
 challenges to transform  King's teachings into community action, with most tied to efforts that provide lasting change in the community. Such projects frequently advance economic development, promote education, and prepare for or recover from natural disasters. And for many of these volunteers, the efforts they put forth on this day become the catalyst to create a legacy of lifelong service.

A bit more about the man who inspired service.
Martin Luther King Day

After Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white passenger in 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. was thrust into the national spotlight for helping to lead the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott, which became symbolic of racial segregation and the civil rights movement, gave injustices related to voting, segregation, and labor rights national prominence.

In 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Shortly after, as s King gained an increasingly large and sympathetic audience, he expanded his speeches to include messages of peace, education, service, and economic justice.

While some of his socio-economic beliefs beyond racial equality can be debated, his legacy also epitomized the virtue of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility, and service — values that still empower people toward volunteerism and community service within their neighborhoods and communities today.

A National Day Of Service 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.

We chose organizations like Corporation For National and Community Service and Points Of Light for their continued efforts to preserve, inspire, and empower volunteers to take action on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The organizations are not only charged with taking action, but also inspiring others toward service and greatness — maybe even you for your neighborhood or community, anywhere in the world.

There are dozens of ways to become involved in programs designed to enrich local communities, including those that aim to end hunger, aid disaster victims, mentor children, and participate in neighborhood improvement projects through the Corporation For National & Community Service or in conjunction with Points Of Light and its initiatives like the HandsOn Network and GenerationOn. For more volunteer ideas, visit VolunteerMatch or the Global Volunteer Network. Even the smallest commitments represent another step toward finding greatness and making the world a better place.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Parquet Courts Crushes Light Up Gold

Parquet Courts by Heather Strange
Brooklyn is fast becoming the most dynamically diverse musical spot in North America. So much so that after Parquet Courts cut their teeth on the Texas music scene, they packed up some stuff and headed off to New York. Never mind that starting up somewhere else wouldn't be easy.

Getting gigs is competitive. Practice spaces are expensive. Finding day jobs is a necessity. And staying motivated is sometimes contingent on how long it takes for someone to dig your stuff. For Austin Brown and Andrew Savage, that meant potent, stripped-down poet punk about the wildly alien world from which they hail.

Parquet Courts comes across as deliciously ambivalent, twangy punk. 

As their new self-released album Light Up Gold enters its second pressing, the three-quarter Texas-bred quartet is winning people over for their wildly intelligent and bizarre prose about places and people on their first proper LP. The charm of it is partly situational and partly topical.

It's a cross-country foray into the DIY underground. But more than that, it has a greater sense of purpose than their little heard and less spoken about cassette debut, American Specialties. Savage says it best in the liner notes: "This record is for the over-socialized victims of the 1990s 'you can be anything you want,' Nickeleon-induced lethargy that ran away from home not out of any wide-eyed big city daydream, but just out of a subconscious return to America's scandalous origins."

Borrowed Time, the second track most served up as an introduction, makes sense of the assessment. Savage and his bandmates feel nostalgic for their youth when they could lay around waiting for something to motivate them. But, you know, sometimes it never comes around.

This brilliant little ditty plays out like most of the tracks, in just over or just under two minutes. As lyricists, neither Brown nor Savage need much space. Some tracks don't constitute more than a couple of lines, delivered with an incessant repetition over a bed of gritty guitars, bass lines, and percussions.

Master Of My Craft, which likely inspired the album's name as much as the title track, plays fast and loose as the pace setter. Parquet Courts aren't looking to learn anybody anything. They're looking for their first gold record. Except, they really aren't as ambivalent as they want to come across. Socrates might be dead, but there are plenty of people who can relate to the state of the places they visit.

Donuts Only, for example, tucks all of Texas in a one-and-a-half minute hole. And yet they manage to work in more words than 90 seconds can accommodate, singing matter of factly about a small town murder, religious fervor, and the scarcity of bagels. Max Savage (drums) is especially sharp here.

If you sense some semblance of a beatnik vide, you would be right. Parquet Courts captured these crazy scenes from the places they've seen, with an emphasis on absurdities. But the lyrics aren't the only  driver. The band was hellbent on capturing the aesthetics of every cover with their instruments.

Other standouts include N Dakota, which adds emphasis to Shaun Yeaton's oft post-punk bass lines as the vocal duo pronounces one of the dreariest pictures of North Dakota ever crafted. Stoned And Starving trivializes Queens into a drug-induced blur. And although speculative, it sure sounds like P.T. Disney is a kiss-don't-tell tune about a food-borne norovirus in Wyoming. But even if it wasn't clairvoyant when it was recorded, it's still a smart and snappy tune like every track on the album.

Light Up Gold leaves listeners sweaty and smiling, mostly amused by the meandering cynical soundscape and enough vocal variety that never gets boring. Even if there are occasional pitch problems, it's easy enough to brush off as punk not pigeonholed.

Light Up Gold Crushes Everything At 9.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The entire album is worth the download, especially because many of tracks sound their best alongside each other as opposed to some random playlist. Light Up Gold is one of the few outings that begs someone to press play and let all 15 tracks loop for an afternoon. Only No Ideas is likely to feel tired.

Light Up Gold by Parquet Courts is available for download on iTunes. Light Up Gold is also available on Amazon. Barnes & Noble is slated to have the CD soon. Check their website for updates.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Aric Davis Takes Rough Men On A Ride

Rough Men
The worst nightmare of any parent isn't to outlive a child. The worst nightmare of any parent is to lose their son or daughter to a senseless violent crime, and then not being able to count that child among the innocent. For author Will Daniels, the news was almost too much to bear. His son Alex was guilty.

There were three of them that went into the credit union, all of them armed. And by the time all three assailants left, more than a half-dozen people would be critically wounded or killed. The first victim, a loan officer who attempted to trip the silent alarm, was shot by Alex. The last victim, Alex, would be discovered days later in an abandoned barn, shot in the head and burned beyond recognition.

For Daniels, the news crews and public outcry were surreal compared to the unshakeable feeling that he had failed as a father. The same dark lure that he himself had barely escaped had come back to claim his son and, despite leaving that life so far behind, Daniels feels compelled to seek out answers.

Rough Men is an adventurous crime thriller by rising author Aric Davis.

Although devoid of the tenderness Davis has shown to a litany of broken characters in A Good And Useful Hurt, Rough Men is an action-driven crime adventure with a reluctant protagonist who brushes up against punks, thugs, and members of the vicious transnational criminal gang, MS-13. The book packs a punch despite some rough edges and delivers on the author's signature blend of intensity and empathy.

"Rough Men came out hard, fast, and mean, and that attitude was meant to rip off of the page. I was coming off a rejection on a novel that I’d worked on for months," says Davis. "More than anything else, it got me back in my wheelhouse. 'Writers write' is the oft repeated mantra in the book, and I was trying my damnedest to write. The sessions at the laptop saw my ears covered in headphones, while raucous punk rock played too loudly."

Struggling to produce a third novel that would be accepted is something author Davis shares with his fictional counterpart. Like Davis, before the horrific atrocity consumes his life, Daniels is an author who questions his own success and struggles with bouts of self-doubt and writer's block.

"There is definitely a little bit of myself in the Will Daniels character, although it does seem that my subconscious may have been a bit too forthcoming with some of the details. I do feel like an accidental writer, and I did struggle with a submission sent off to my publisher prior to Rough Men, so at least in those two things, we are similar," said Davis. "Like Will, I struggle with being an accidental writer, and it makes it very easy to second guess myself. To be perfectly frank, I often have nightmares of having the rug pulled out from under me, and of being told that this was all some bizarre mistake."

Rough Men is a reverse transformation with ample redemption.

There isn't any mistake. Although Rough Men doesn't necessarily ascend to the caliber of his previous novel, literary prowess and real life grit shine throughout most of it, with occasional flashes of brilliance. Davis continues to show real promise as a writer for his generation, unafraid to take a hard look at life but without sacrificing humanity.

Where it pays off in Rough Men is that the story does rip off the page, establishing the fictional Daniels as a conflicted author barely able to cope with past, present, and future circumstances. Daniels doesn't like the man he was and had worked hard to distance himself from it, but neither is it in his nature to surrender to the softer and insulated trappings of life that he has created. He has to take action, away from the prying eyes of media and police proceedings. His son Alex may have turned dark, but it doesn't lessen the responsibility of being a father or dull the hurt of hearing that his son was murdered.

Aric Davis
"There is always another side to these stories, and as easy as it is to dislike those who were closest to one of these time-bomb individuals, it was a rock I wanted to overturn," said Davis. "I'm not sure it is a rock I want to look under again."

This rock takes Daniels, his brother, and a former associate who hasn't completely opted out of a hardened lifestyle. The three of them commit to following the trail wherever it might lead. In this case, it leads to a series of subcontracted criminals, including MS-13, which is known to let other gangs take all the risks while they extract the rent.

While the climatic action culminates into a furious confrontation on the eve of a brutal Michigan super storm, the clipped post-climax wrap-up might baffle some readers as Davis admittedly takes a literary leap to establish a trail end. This leap, along with another seemingly misplaced scene that offers a nod at the spiritual or supernatural (but one still appreciated by fans of A Good And Useful Hurt), disrupts the otherwise fast-paced and potent work. Fortunately, it's not enough to malign the merit as a must-read stopover for Davis.

Rough Men By Aric Davis Shoots Up 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is plenty to look forward to from Aric Davis. On the heels of Rough Men, Davis will be releasing a Kindle serial called Breaking Point. The first chapter will be released in March, with subsequent chapters released every two weeks. The serial is a prequel, of sorts, to another book to be scheduled for publication by Thomas and Mercer in July.

He already has other projects in the works, having given up his occupation as a tattoo artist in order to turn his attention to being a full-time writer and novelist. You can also meet him in person at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 26 and at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, New York. His is open to other appearances within a reasonable drive from Grand Rapids.

Rough Men by Aric Davis is available at Amazon. You can also find Rough Men at Barnes & Noble. His first two novels, Nickel Plated and A Good And Useful Hurt, are available as audiobooks on iTunes. It is only a matter of time before Rough Men joins them there too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dropkick Murphys Are Sealed In Blood

Dropkick Murphys
In 2011, the Dropkick Murphys tried something different with Going Out In Style. It was a bit of a concept album that traced the journey of Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin. Larkin’s journey was told from several points of view and with the added support of notables such as Bruce Springsteen (guest vocals on Peg O’ My Heart).

The band then took a break from touring in spring 2012 to focus on writing material for what would become their eighth studio album. They chose to work in a warehouse in, appropriately enough, South Boston.

The result of that productive period can be heard and felt on 2013’s Signed and Sealed in Blood, released on the band’s Born & Bred Records. Whereas Going Out In Style is a concept album, Signed and Sealed in Blood is classic Dropkick Murphys.

Dropkick Murphys bring back an old friend to help out.

Given the album brings the band back to their hard-hitting Boston Irish roots, it only makes sense to recruit someone who understands it. In this case, producer Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly, Gaslight Anthem) is back at the controls (he also produced Going Out In Style) but this time his presence keeps the proceedings grounded and cohesive.

The band itself is clearly a more cohesive unit too. Although the lineup has changed over the years, the band’s vision and passion remains. The current lineup includes Al Barr, lead vocals; Ken Casey, lead vocals and bass; Matt Kelly, drums, bodhran and vocals; Tim Brennan, guitar, accordion and vocals; James Lynch, guitar and vocals; Jeff DaRosa, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistle, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and vocals; and the venerable Scruffy Wallace, tin whistle and bagpipes.

The band comes out blazing with stories, sing-alongs, and even a few unexpected moments such as in the lilting Jimmy Collins’ Wake. The song tells of the man who took the beloved Boston Red Sox to victory in the 1903 World Series. Collins both managed and played for the Red Sox for six seasons and was known as a “terror with the bat. A feared clutch hitter,” according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, into which Collins was elected in 1945, two years after his death at age 73.

There’s also the rousing and anthemic The Boys Are Back, and no doubt looking for trouble. End of the Night is a drinking sing-along song that Casey has aptly described as a loser’s anthem. Prisoner’s Song is hard hitting while Rose Tattoo, the single that was released in advance of the album’s drop date, is propelled by a chiming mandolin, driving drum beat and catchy chorus.

Although The Season’s Upon Us is a Christmas tune and may feel out of place in January, it's very likely to become a holiday staple. The seemingly traditional Celtic-inflused holiday song is about a family that’s about as dysfunctional as one can get, perhaps the kind of family the Ramones might have sung about.

The official video is definitely worth a look. It feels good, regardless of the season, because the Dropkick Murphys embrace problems rather than try to hide them or brush them under the rug.

Signed and Sealed in Blood is filled with everything fans have come to love and expect from Dropkick Murphys: love, family, fight, and plenty of passion. From the first track to the last, it’s a lively, rollicking listen. Each new Dropkick Murphys album is my favorite, and that’s definitely the case here.

Signed And Sealed In Blood Stomps 9.0 On The Liquid HIp Richter Scale.

Dropkick Murphys are one of the hardest-working bands and can usually be found on tour. They’re in Europe this month and part of February, returning to the United States in February and March, and then heading down under to Australia in April.

Signed and Sealed In Blood by Dropkick Murphys can be found on iTunes. The deluxe version includes Lucky Charlie and two music videos, Rose Tattoo and The Season's Upon Us. Amazon also carries the deluxe album, with the additional song and music video (when you purchase the album). Barnes & Noble carries the original release as well as a vinyl edition.

Dropkick Murphys will be playing their annual and legendary St. Patrick’s Day show at the House of Blues in Boston on March 17 this year. Expect tickets to go faster than you can say Jimmy Collins. You can stay up to date on Facebook or the band's website.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Beverly Hills Hotel Is All California

The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows
The guest list tells a diverse and storied tale of Los Angeles as much the hotel. The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows (also known as the Pink Palace) has attracted some of the coolest customers, ranging from Hunter S. Thompson to Elizabeth Taylor, and inspired the Eagles' rock classic "Hotel California."

Last year, as the hotel celebrated its 100th anniversary, the City of Beverly Hills bestowed it another honor. The Beverly Hills' Cultural Heritage Commission named it the first Historic Landmark of Beverly Hills for its iconic presence. It opened in 1912, which predated any plan to become a city.

A brief history of the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel a.k.a. "The Hotel" to most locals. 

After purchasing land, Burton Green, president of Rodeo Land and Water Company, hired Wilbur D. Cook to design a town and Margaret J. Anderson to build a sprawling hotel on a 12-acre parcel. The Mission Revival-style hotel, named after Beverly Farms in Massachusetts, was designed specifically to spark interest in an area billed as "halfway between Los Angeles and the sea."

It didn't take long. By 1914, Beverly Hills had enough residents to incorporate as a city (about 550) and by 1920, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had built their home on the nearby hills. More stars followed, including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Will Rogers, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino. Together, they later mounted a fight when Los Angeles thought to annex it in 1923.

Within the next eight years, Harold Lloyd, John Barrymore, and Robert Montgomery joined them and Hollywood was entrenched, giving the area its renown for being home to the rich and famous. And other than tough times during the Great Depression, the city has mostly flourished after World War II. At its heart, The Hotel has almost always been the place where local and visiting celebrities play.

Today, other than a two-year renovation hiatus in the 1990s, the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows has thrived as one of the premier hotels in Los Angeles. While much of the allure is world-class service and amenities, the historic charm of 1940s architectural and interior design work of people like Paul R. Williams, Paul Laszio, John Luccareni, and Harriet Shellenberger is forever present.

In addition to giving the hotel its iconic sunset pinks and palm-shaded greens, it was these designers who worked diligently to retain the feel of the original property while creating spaces that felt like home wrapped in a hotel. It still carries an upscale but bright casualness that defines California today.

A few highlights at the the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows.

Located on Sunset Boulevard, just one mile from Downtown Beverly Hills, the hotel still rests within a 12-acre conclave of manicured gardens. And with only 208 guest rooms, which includes 38 suites and 21 bungalows, it is always bustling but never too busy for its guests or visitors.
The Beverly Hills Hotel Pool The Beverly Hills Hotel Nineteen12
Guest Rooms At The Beverly Hills HotelSome of the classic features of the hotel, most of which were introduced in the 1940s, are as legendary as the Polo Lounge. Named after a band of polo players who toasted victories after winning matches in the nearby bean fields, the Polo Lounge has a country club feel starting with well-appointed breakfasts and carrying on with live entertainment from just after noon to just after midnight.

The outdoor pool is another landmark unto itself, framed by palms and well-planned grounds. Even when it is too cold to swim, the seasonal Cabana Cafe serves coffee, breakfast, cocktails, and lunch through 6 p.m. (and not necessarily in that order). The atmosphere is club casual, a contrast to one of my favorite places on the property — Nineteen12. Named after the year the hotel opened, the chic bar and terrace still carry a high back vibe from yesteryear. Only the drink menu has been updated.

When the Nineteen12 is full or the music misses the vibe, the Fountain Coffee Room makes for a great retreat with its 40s-50s styled sodas, floats, and pastries. What's most important to note is that the signature banana leaf paper is still intact. In fact, the classically curved counter is a restoration of the original, built in 1949. Like the spa and other attractions, everything plays toward the pool.

The rooms are all luxurious, tastefully appointed and decorated in a relaxing array of off-whites, soft beiges, and muted golds. The suites are much the same with stepped-up amenities like spacious living areas and fireplaces. A few steps above all that, either the hotel presidential suite or bungalow suites include a one-up marked luxury. All have modern niceties too, docking stations and plasma televisions.

The Beverly Hills Hotel Still Delights At 9.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The location is perfect, just a stone's throw away from the Golden Triangle, with Rodeo Drive running through the center and bordered by Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard. The hotel is remarkably close to such diverse attractions as Paley Center for Media, Whisky a Go Go, and Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It's one of the best places to stay off the beach.

The guest rooms aren't always easy to book and the prices might seem steep, beginning at around $650 (unless you happen to catch a special). One example of a special invented by the managing Dorchester Collection, for example, is a one-night stay with spa packages and $200 hotel credit. It's a good value. Parking is still an additional $34 per night, but most people expect it. Start by comparing specials against top travel deals at

Monday, January 14, 2013

Triple Hex Gives Gritty Sarcasm In E.P.

David Hex
Just days away from their official EP release party at the Gutter, Brooklyn-based grime rockers Triple Hex are full up on their latest excursion into a primitively sleazy set of rock tracks. The 6-pack release, Triple Hex E.P., is a twice-over head turner.

The good tracks are groovingly good, slow and smoldering as crooner David Hex sets his always deliberate pace. The bad tracks are delectably bad, with a raunchy exuberance that earns a double take.

The first pass might be wondering why anyone would want to record anything like it. On the second, you have to wonder why anybody hasn't recorded anything like it. Because there really isn't anything too much like it, which is why Triple Hex sometimes conjures up comparisons to Tom Watis or Nick Cave.

Triple Hex E.P. pokes at the freakishly dark and deviously exploitive. 

After debuting a rockabilly-tinged EP in 2006, Triple Hex has settled into a downward trajectory that has taken them to some pretty dark and sullen places. This stopover is no exception, with a tasty bit of glam grit rock that is as seductive as it is grotesque. But you'd never know it from the first track.

The lead off track Winter is stripped back sex-driven rock, with a vibe that teases as much as it threatens. Opening with Jill McArthur's percussive snare and thump, Hex follows up by overloading his guitar to fill in spaces where a bass might go that aren't already covered by Miss Chip on keys.

The lyrics are primal, a despondent howl about how things wither away in the winter. Hex suggests despite the doom and gloom of it, you might embrace it, taste it. Inexplicably, it's the tamest track.

Winter is followed by Viking Funeral, a meaty rock death ballad about a man who takes pride in his vices more than his virtues. Hex talks him up like a tough customer but then defaces him as a forgettable lout, talking his way through the story with a sarcastic spin to it, tossing in chuckles at the end.

Most the lyrics in Viking Funeral just roll off Hex's tongue but a few stand out so much in his overemphasis, they kind of clunk with forced awkwardness. The same thing happens with Love Song, which is anything but a love song. And Triple Hex has been catching some flack about it.

Any so-called shock serious is loaded up with a dose of sarcasm.  

Love Song has some daring to it, but the shockability is tempered by Hex's sometimes pedestrian need to remind everyone that he isn't as serious about the subject as the lyrics suggest — "I don't want a love song, I just wanna fuck." And yet, that might be the point.

Half a dozen hip hop and rap artists have tapped the latter half the lyric line and are called musical geniuses for it. And knowing this really casts a different color on the entire track. The song isn't meant to shock as much as it fronts the middle finger.

The same kind of debauchery busting lands in the lyrics of Deranged too. Hex sucks people into the tune for its uncensored, smoldering sexual overtones and then punishes everyone for being taken in. That Ain't Enough provides the answer to this amusing exploitation of sorts. The joke might be on the audience or at least anyone who doesn't understand it. It's not gratuitous as much as it's a warranted smack down for thinking it might be.

Triple Hex's ability to deliver full post-punk noise comes around thick in the final track. Although my least favorite track, Kill is still a blazer for anyone hoping to find some underground hedonism. It's a hypnotic counterpunch to the opener.

E.P. By Triple Hex Spellbinds At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Some people make everything Triple Hex takes on all serious and gothic. By that measure, Triple Hex only provides a ride to halfway there. Where E.P. becomes a round-trip winner is only after it is apparent Triple Hex is making fun of anyone who wants to take such a ride. And that makes E.P. worth the listen, front to back, with its crime being a bit haughty while pretending to be reckless.

E.P. by Triple Hex can be downloaded for iTunes. You can also pick up E.P. [Explicit] from Amazon or visit Mon Amie Records for the physical CD direct. Visit their Facebook page for updates on shows after the release party. They always rock live venues.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Thirty-Nine Steps Closes On 100

Thirty-Nine Steps
"Contrary to general belief, I was not a murderer, but I had become an unholy liar, a shameless impostor, and a highwayman with a marked taste for expensive motor-cars." — Richard Hannay, The Thirty-Nine Steps

People may say what they will about one of the most loved and loathed classic thrillers of the last century, but The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan has proven its place after almost 100 years. Written around the outbreak of World War I and published in 1915 while Buchan was recuperating from a peptic ulcer, he set a new tone for espionage thrillers with a flair for high adventure.

His protagonist, Scotsman Richard Hannay, is an extremely capable Boer War veteran and rugged gentleman who has returned to London after making a small fortune in South Africa. As such, part of his charm is the exaggerated calm and melodrama in which he recounts an extraordinary tale.

Richard Hannay is bored before the outbreak of the First World War.

Like many self-made men, Hannay had always planned to find his fortune and then return home, enjoying his retirement as an affluent member of English society. What he never expected is that despite the cultural richness of London, he would quickly begin to miss the risk responsible for making him a rich and respected colonialist. In the short span of a few months, he is close to done with London.

But just as Hannay had given London a mere few more days to redeem itself and alleviate his boredom, he is besieged by American Franklin Scudder for help. Scudder, who reveals himself as man in fear for his life, claims to have faked his own death and asks Hannay take him in to avoid being found out.

The 39 StepsAlthough Hannay is unsure whether or not he should believe him, the unusual request is just enough to pique his interest with high hopes to be either exhilarated if it is truth or amused if it is not. In the days that follow, the evidence suggests that Scudder is telling the truth. But even if it didn't, the fourth day erases any doubt when Hannay returns to the flat to find the man stabbed in the heart.

Fearing that the police will pin him with murder and feeling a sense of duty to take on Scudder's assignment to foil an assassination on Greek Premier Constantine Karolides, Hannay invents an elaborate plan to flee the flat by masquerading as a milkman. Carrying nothing but Scudder's coded notebook and his wits, Hannay thrust himself headlong into the game of espionage and counterespionage (not unlike many stories told by filmmakers today).

With an apparent knack for finding ciphers, uncanny ability to adopt disguises, and considerable luck, Hannay attempts to stay one step ahead of his pursuers while searching for anyone willing to give him credibility and corroborate his story. And in the telling of it all, Buchan somehow manages to balance early pulp fiction with the sophistication of a gentleman, speeding through some scenes while drawing out suspense in others. Even Hannay himself veers back and forth between being invincibly tenacious and carelessly naive.

About the author John Buchan, 1st baron Tweedsmuir. 

John Buchan
In some ways, Buchan isn't all that different from his dual life as a writer and political aficionado. After a brief legal career, the Scottish novelist served as a private secretary to the colonial administrator in Southern Africa and was later recruited to write propaganda for the British War Effort.

In some sense, Buchan epitomized the characterization of a rugged gentleman, even if he suggested once that Hannay was based in part on Field Marshall Edmund Ironside. Ironside spent some of his military career spying on German colonial forces in Africa before being identified and nearly caught.

Eventually, while maintaining his career as a novelist, Buchan's political and diplomatic career also flourished. He would eventually become governor general of Canada and encouraged Canada to develop its own identity and national unity. He wrote more than 100 works, including novels, biographies, historical books, short stories, and a collection of poems.

The Thirty-Nine Steps By John Buchan Jolts 8.0 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although many people reading the Thirty-Nine Steps today might consider the character Richard Hannay a cliche, it's an unfair assessment given the opposite holds true. Hannay was the seminal characterization that would influence the countless spies who would follow in books and film. A much more fair criticism of Hannay in his first appearance would focus on how often the character finds himself at the right place at the right moment to move himself along.

Given the story is told in just over 200 pages, it's an excellent quick read that feels surprisingly timeless. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan has been added to the free digital books from Amazon, which also carries print editions from various publishers. Barnes & Noble also carries several print editions of the novel. You can also find The Thirty-Nine Steps for free on iBooks or enough the recent audiobook release on iTunes. It's read by B.J. Harrison, who delivers a classic narration fitting of Hannay himself.

While the novel was always well received, especially by men who actually read the story in the trenched of World War I, Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 adaption of The Thirty-Nine Steps remains a favorite, even if it greatly deviated from the original work by turning it into a romantic thriller. There is some cheese served alongside it, but Hitchcock's sharpness still shines through.