Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blackwater Fever Rises To New Depths

The Brisbane-based band might make its home halfway around the world, but their music carries a weight equal to or greater than any heaviness that has ever escaped the dense and dirty South. The Blackwater Fever has swamp rock down. They got it as a power duo. They get it as a power trio.

The addition of keyboardist/organist/bassist Jed Walters occurred just as they wrapped In Stereo, the band's dense and riveting sophomore album. And that alone is what makes their newest album, The Depths, so memorable. It marks the first time that the trio has laid down an album together.

The result is surprisingly organic, partly because that's the direction they wanted to roll. But also because every stitch of it was recorded in a home studio. There were no time constraints to abide by this time. They played on and measured every note until they got it right or broke something trying.

"The Depths is our best release yet and the first we have made entirely under our own steam," says vocalist-guitarist Shane Hicks. "It was a huge learning curve with much trial and error but in the end I think the result has vividly realized our ideas and vision. This is how we will make albums from now on."

Vivid can readily be dismissed as an understatement as The Depths climbs in, out and around 14 tracks of dark, atmospheric rock that sometimes borders on the edge of metal. But then again, metal isn't what accounts for the mysterious drone of the Blackwater Fever. It's how they bend blues, soul, and trip-hop.

The Depths is another triumph for the Blackwater Fever.

The album opens with When The Night Comes, a three-minute introduction that establishes the eerie atmospheric spirit of the band. The influence of Walters is also immediately apparent. He adds even more heaviness between the bass, organ, and keys while giving Hicks and Andrew Walter (drums) more room to roam, allowing them to ease into some arrangements instead of powering through it all.

The flexibility lends itself well to a diverse, fully realized album with some epic experimental moments. Even the added reverb feels right at home. Sometimes it lends a psychedelic flair to the guitar and bass work. Other times it fills out the foundation of a song without being overdone. And occasionally it  stretches notes a beat or two longer in precisely the right places with an impeccable, unforgettable effect.

Won't Cry Over You balances the band's garage blues and the husky, oft throaty vocals that smolder over some lyrics instead of singing them. At the open, the song chugs along as Hicks leads it to its blistering conclusion — love hurts until we're over it. At two minutes in, the band is over it breaking into an instrumental-driven jam and diverse arrangements. Hicks revisits for a subtle refrain.

Like most of the album, there is a toughness to it. Hicks and company are very serious about conjuring up the rawness and roughness of the old South as much as the outback. Tracks like Seven White Horses, Tide Rider, and End Of Time are heavy with a rugged sense of identity and purpose.

Other standout tracks include the aggressively cast Can't Help Yourself, the shuffling and smoky slowdown in Rat Eyes (complete with thunderclaps), and the pained and soulful brooder Oh Deceit. To round out the album, add in the raspy, Southern-fried storytelling in Don't Fuck With Joe. Although more fun than fiery, the tongue-in-cheek ditty features some nice keyboard work.

The Depths By The Blackwater Fever Brandishes 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

For anyone  looking for garage blues-driven rock with more depth, musicians of diverse talent, and an album laid out so well that it will earn its playtime, The Depths by the Blackwater Fever will deliver for months and years to come. This year might have only recently eclipsed its halftime mark, but  The Depths sets a high water mark as the best self-produced indie rock album out this year. It's infectious.

You can find The Depths by the Blackwater Fever on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. For show dates in Australia, catch the band on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Havaleena Torch Is A Bright Idea

Sometimes simple ideas are the best ideas. And one of the simplest I've seen recently was invented and developed by a company that doesn't normally make gadgets. They specialize in hillside architecture.

Specifically, Tayo Design Studios is best known for some extraordinary architecture in Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and the United States. In California, you can find their work along Quail Drive in Mount Washington, inside condos in Echo Park, or standing out among some of the newer Montecito residences in Santa Barbara County. The designs are modern, linear, and exceptionally striking.

Although successful in their niche as specialty contractors, they sometimes have other ideas too. One of them is a remarkably smart solution to portable sustainable lighting at home or on the go.

The Havaleena Torch is a bright idea for portable light. 

Using one of the more energy efficient and environmentally-friendly lighting solutions — LED lights — Tayo Design Studios was able to design and manufacture an under-covered but design savvy lighting solution that they call the Havaleena Torch a few years ago. The most common design shopped around was simple too.

By pairing three lights together, Tayo Design Studios could make softly illuminated centerpieces for picnic tables and other outside dining venues. Owners could even set the mood by changing the color filters — turquoise, blush, green, or blue. They could be mixed and matched, creating a single color glow or something more festive.

As an alternative, Tayo Design Studios also designed wooden stands so each light (which can also be used as a handheld) can stand on its own. Or, as I was introduced to it, with 40- and 60-inch extensions made from the same anodized aluminum. My friends had added an iron spike so the extended light became our perfect beacon on the beach.

I can easily see that the same concept could be applied anywhere. The lights could be used as a marker near a campsite or along a lakeshore. In either case, it could help distinguish your site or dock, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. Being able to change the filters makes it easy too. Some colors work better under different circumstances.

In considering the design, there are only two possible improvements that could be made. It would be ideal to add solar charging capabilities to the lights, extending their battery life and making them even more sustainable. The second hold back for some people is that although I like the idea of changing the filter color, not everyone else is keen on the idea. They seem more interested in a simple color filter cap.

Otherwise, the Havaleena Torch is a simple but superior design idea that immediately captures everyone's attention. Although the lights are mostly sold as a mood-setting novelty, they have plenty of functional applications too. They aren't merely decorative. They can add light and mark the right spot.

About principal Toedoro Amadeo Berndt.

After Toedoro Amadeo Berndt was born in Misiones, Argentina, it didn't take long before he showed an interest in designing and building. It was this interest that propelled him to study at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina.

As a young graduate, he faced considerable challenges as Argentina was suffering from political instability and economic implosion. Eventually, after completing several green projects in Argentina and Brazil, he moved to Spain to work at the Vicente Olmedilla studio in Madrid.

After being exposed to some of the newest methods of sustainable construction in Spain, he moved to the United States to lead Tayo Design Studios with his sister Monica Berndt. Monica Berndt is a veteran marketing executive who also has a remarkable talent for interior design and land development.

The Havaleena Torch Illuminates 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

LED lights are bright, energy efficient, and give off little to no heat. As a smart design solution, they really can't be beat. And yet, it's the functional aspect of the design that seems undersold. The only other challenge for the Havaleena is their depth of distribution. They are sometimes hard to find.

Currently, only one item was listed on Amazon, making it a better bet to purchase them direct from the site or even from the architectural site that introduced them. However, you may need PayPal to get them. Conversely, it was cool to see that Tayo Design Studios has added a hanging mobile version.

As an alternative, check out the solution from Brinkman or Tiki Torch SolarLights. Neither capture the spirit or craftsmanship of the Havaleena as a viable portable light, but seem more suited to the singular-purpose backyard variety only.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cold Country Is An Unsigned Artist Hit

Sean McConnell knows music. He is an audio engineer responsible for several Chicago bands on the radar (The Bears of Blue River among them). He also has his own folk gig. It's called Cold Country, named after what his dad used to refer to as the Midwest.

Since last April, McConnell has been pouring out an immense body of work, one self-released 7-track EP and two 12-track LPs in about a year. In support of his first outing, Monday Morning, he managed to fit in four short tours.

Much of the material came from songs that didn't fit with an Austin-based duo he was part of for several years. Listening to his full body of work, it creates this urgent and immediate sense that McConnell has been working to lock down his sound somewhere in the indie pop, folk, and lo-fi realms.

This experimental produce everything attitude has a created a patchwork of music, with different tracks appealing to very different audiences with some exceptions. While it's easy to peruse all his music, it's his newest EP that catches McConnell at his best. The sparsely populated 5-track selection works.

Missing The Muse sets a direction for Cold Country. 

As the driving force behind the music, Cold Country is sometimes described as a moniker for McConnell. Of course, that is only part of the story. While some of the music is obviously dubbed, he does rely on an ever-changing carousel of friends to complete his studio sessions.

On Missing The Muse, McConnell handles vocals, guitar, and toy piano throughout and harmonica, bass, and drums on select tracks. Other contributors include Anna Holmquist (Casio, vocals,), Jayson Homyak (bass, xylophone), John Nugent (lead guitar), Chris Jesurun (drums), and Ryan Suzaka (harmonica on tracks opposite McConnell). McConnell plays both accompanied and solo when he tours.

The third track, for example, a lush and slow tempo folk ballad daydream, plays as a duet on the studio session with Holmquist. At the same time, his craftsmanship on Carried Away With The Wind shines through as an acoustic guitar solo too. As lush as it is lazy, he sells it with a world weary gruffness.

If anyone were to single out elements of his performances, it would be the matter-of-fact conviction in his voice paired with an uncanny ability to become part of the songs. You might notice that his eyes are closed in the video, something that doesn't occur as much as it used to but still comes up from time to time.

Recently, he used an artist residency at Hill House in East Jordan, Michigan, to polish his live performances, right in time for a cross country tour in August. Upcoming dates include Iowa City, Lincoln, Denver, Pocatello, Seattle, Albuquerque, and his hometown in Phoenix. He also has an upcoming Daytrotter debut slated for September.

The balance of the tracks that make up Missing The Muse. 

After Carried Away With The Wind, the best place to start on the EP is with My Bird Of Paradise, an indie folk confessional. It straddles a thin line between wise and optimistic, longing and settled. Her Light follows with more power than any other track on the album. Like most of the songs, it's all about becoming lost in the details of someone.

Cutting back up to the top of the EP, What It Takes takes a little too long on the introduction, but will easily win someone over when McConnell picks up the verse. The title track, Missing The Muse, reinforces this notion of effortless observation and self-reflection that have become a big part of the Cold Country sound and McConnell's songwriting.

Missing The Muse By Cold Country Warms Up 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Cold Country didn't necessarily put out the best indie folk EP this summer, but McConnell has certainly made a case to put him and keep him on the watch list. He's clearly masterful at the kick back and settle in sound that can fill a room on a quiet afternoon or accompany an ice cold pour after a long day at a neighborhood tavern. And that's why he made our list as an unsigned artist pick.

Missing The Muse is being released exclusively on McConnell's Bandcamp page. You can find all of his other releases there too. Cold Country also has an EP listed on iTunes. Monday Morning was released last year. With 7 tracks and an interlude, it almost feels like an album. Check Out Fly On Your Wall and Little Bird. For more details on his tour schedule, visit Cold Country on Facebook.

Friday, July 26, 2013

James Rollins Opens The Eye Of God

The Eye Of God
When two historical artifacts and a research satellite predict a catastrophic event in four days, members of Sigma Force set out on a race to decipher incomprehensible but explicit connections across time and space.

What they find are footprints left across history, secrets that indirectly made their way from Saint Thomas to Attila the Hun to Genghis Khan and eventually Monsignor Vigor Verona.

After receiving the artifacts from former colleague Father Josip Tarasco, the monsignor immediately discovered the extraordinary. He has the skull, inscribed in Jewish Aramaic, and human skin-bound tomb, the Gospel of Thomas, tested at a lab.

The results are unlikely and compelling. The DNA belongs to Genghis Khan, artifacts the conquerer had created to spiritually imbue his empire after death.

At the same time Verona is sorting out a mystery that will eventually convince him to look for an ancient cross made of meteoric metal, Sigma Force operative Painter Crowe watches an IoG satellite crash into the atmosphere and scatter itself across Mongolia. It was originally sent to study a comet passing uncomfortably close to Earth because it was disturbing dark energy in its wake.

Its last transmission predicts a horrifying future. The entire eastern seaboard of the United States is on fire. And it's this revelation that will put Crowe and company on the same path as the Vatican in search of the Eye Of God.

All the complexity of history, archeology, philosophy, and quantum physics.

Any story involving the fictional division of the U.S. DARPA program, SIGMA Force, is worthy of being short listed on a summer reading list. They're scientists. They're special ops. And they take on assignments on the fringe of realty, or perhaps more accurately, redefine what we know of it.

James RollinsWhile Rollins often says that starting with the first book in his long-running series is best, any Sigma Force novel is good enough to stand on its own. Picking any of them up based on the storyline or stakes always makes for a great introduction. Rollins continues to add new fans along the way, with The Eye Of God being his ninth installment.

As such, this novel doesn't disappoint. Rollins revives his gift for planting one foot firmly in the mysteries of history and another in what scientists, quantum physicists, and philosophers are trying to understand today.

While sometimes he takes some creative license, such as settling on a singular account of who killed Attila the Hun, every shred of content is researched well enough to springboard readers into scientific research after the novel. And, at the same time, he takes his characters to exotic and sometimes dangerous locations.

Aral SeaIn this case, they spend significant time in North Korea, Mongolia, China, and Russia around the Aral Sea, which is the all-too-real ecological nightmare that turned the fourth-largest lake into one of the largest hazardous wastelands on the planet. As they navigate these places, it's sometimes difficult to reconcile how some suffer while others exploit the world for nothing more than creature comforts, decadence and wealth.

It all feels especially wasted at times while considering what humankind could be pursuing instead. There are fascinating things to be learned at the intersection of dark energy, quantum physics, multiverses, and consciousness.

And then there is the comet ISON. Called IKON in the book, ISON may become the comet of the century. The comet itself presents an interesting twist in the story as it becomes the nemesis more than the various groups that stand in their way, often for unrelated reasons.

The Eye Of God by James Rollins Spins 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Eye Of God: A Sigma Force Novel is nothing less than a masterwork of scientific adventure and historic intrigue from an author who has emerged as one of the finest thinking storytellers of his generation. Rollins meticulously mines physicists and historians for questions much bigger than the ones that dominate the media. And once he finds them, he expertly packages them into an addictive action-adventure where everything hangs in the balance.

For more on Rollins, see other reviews. For The Eye of God: A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins, visit Amazon. You can also find The Eye Of God at Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. The audiobook is read by Christian Baskous. The change from Peter Jay Fernandez, who read his last two novels, shook up some listeners.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mona Faces Up Torches And Pitchforks

When Nashville-based Mona eventually released their self-titled debut stateside last year, the otherwise decent-but-not-outstanding album was mostly buried under by a wave of contempt. The band was mostly ignored, dismissed, or ditched by reviewers who were aiming to teach them a lesson.

While they ultimately survived the sour reception, the title of their sophomore album suggests they haven't let it go. Torches & Pitchforks touches on how hesitant frontman Nick Brown felt afterward. It seems he doesn't know if he chose the wrong words or didn't express the band's confidence.

"You begin to wonder, are we the townspeople or are we the monster?" — Nick Brown 

If you agree with the most comprehensive but also favorably biased account on Laughing Hyenas, Brown and company were done wrong. Maybe. Much of the debate comes down to whether you think Mona are influential or influenced musicians. Mostly, it just detracts from the album at hand.

Aside from Torches & Pitchforks being an unfortunate album title and one of my least favorite tracks, there are plenty of high points with the second outing. The Frank Sinatra-inspired Goons (Baby, I Need It All) is one of them. It's a straight-up rock song with a speedy guitar solo riff, soaring chorus, and catchy eighties-style lyrics belted out with a modern passion until you appreciate the dual meaning.

Brown was inspired by Sinatra's interest in rock and roll despite having expressed a generalized dislike for it. In explaining the motivation for the song, Brown seems right in speculating that had Sinatra been born a decade or two later, he would have made rock and roll too. It's hard to say.

Goons (Baby, I Need It All) carries forward the album's take on duality, presenting a world that leaves only the thinnest line between branding something good or bad, saintly or evil. Of course, that sounds bigger than the album ultimately strives to be. The band isn't trying to take on the world in every track.

Often times, they slow down to settle on the back and forth of relationships with tracks like Freeway and Like You Do. It's these songs that also pinpoint a maturity in the band. While they are still setting their sights on eventual stardom, they are not always trying to fill an arena.

It's almost as if someone turned on the lights and Brown, along with Vince Guard (drums), Zach Lindsey (bass) and Jordan Young (guitar), immediately understood that big songs still reach people on an intimate and individual level.

They accomplished this by writing tighter lyrics, adding more reverb, and bringing down the bass. What they retain are hook-heavy choruses that provide Brown an opportunity to give his vocal prowess a big spotlight. When you start with songs like Cross The Line and Me Under, the vibe is right.

Other times, it still cuts both ways. Love Divine is almost self-indulgent, chugging along for almost seven minutes. L.L.L. plays out like filler compared to the other tracks. And Wasted sounds big but doesn't feel like it should sound big. It's as if the essence of the song is too thin but someone pumped it up with air anyway. And therein lies what frustrates reviewers sometimes. These songs sound right, but not so right.

Torches & Pitchforks By Mona Sets A 5.4 Fire On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Torches & Pitchforks could have arguably been a bigger progression, it continues where the first release left off. Mona is moving ever closer to a breakthrough while producing tracks strong enough to open for big bands that share (or perhaps inspired) a commonality in tone and attitude.

Personally, I hope they do. In the meantime, enjoy mining the more pristine tracks. You can find Torches & Pitchforks by Mona on Amazon. The CD is also available at Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Mona is currently touring the United States. Check Facebook for schedules.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Triple Take On Fall Fashion Theory

"If you're making good clothes and you have a good concept, there's always business to do." — Andrew Rosen 

While the Theory brand has waxed and waned over the years, it has tried to keep Rosen's vision intact by blending European craftsmanship with American merchandising models, minus advertising. The model has worked most of the time, spurring international retail growth.

In essence, the brand was successful. Even so, something always felt missing from the brand once it was acquired by an international retailer. That is, something was missing until the brand tapped Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens. And this year, the relationship that revived the brand is in full force.

Theory looks for a crisp, clean and sophisticated fall.

At a glance, everything looks much like you would expect at Theory this year until you take a closer look at the lines. Those straight edges look modern until you tumble down the new arrivals and pick up a sense of familiarity. Some of the cuts are unapologetically inspired by segments of the Sixties.

Even cooler, the Sixties flair isn't all feminine. It's relativity masculine with a few punk inspirations woven into sophistication. And if it wasn't for the polish and great attention to detail, you could expect to find some of these fashions tucked alway on alternative aisles.

The Trina Turk dress is an example that marks Theory's direction. The fitted dress can be worn at work with a blazer or with a leather jacket as a happy hour ensemble. Highlights include a crew neck, sleeveless top, and concealed zipper.

Like most Theory dresses, it is lined. This one is made with a rayon, nylon, spandex mix. Then compare it to the new Nikay, which is made with a cotton blend (33 percent cotton, 27 percent acrylic, 10 percent nylon, 3 percent elastane). It too is a sleeveless styled dress with a round neck and invisible zipper. Some aspects are the same, only simplified and improved upon.

Likewise, Theory is making some bold moves on pants too. While most Theory pants are known for their tailored cuts with features like off-seam front pockets to create a fitted slacks look, some of the new styles feature tighter elastic waist panels and shorter legs with cuffs. There is clearly a throwback consideration to be seen.

A couple graphs about designer Oliver Theyskens. 

While no on can deny that Rosen still makes an impression at Theory, it's often Theyskens who is driving some of the new lines with his relentless desire to make quality fashion at the proper price. It's an admirable goal, especially as Theory embraces a look that stands out more than ever.

Theyskens himself always wanted to work in fashion. He studied at Ecole de la Cambre in Brussels and started his own eponymous brand in 1997 (just as Rosen was getting getting Theory off the ground). His sharp design and cutting-edge vision made him immediately revered by his colleagues and peers.

Within five years, he was appointed artistic director of Rochas, where he completely redefined the style of the Parisian house. His next move led him to Nina Ricci and he was eventually approached by Rosen to create Theyskens' Theory before he eventually accepted a residency as an artistic director.

The Upcoming Fall Line By Theory Cuts 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While I'm a big fan of both hard clothing and Bohemian looks, the upcoming line for Theory is something worthwhile. It is completely distinct at the right time as a few European designers have been trending in this direction. The look is smart, but refreshingly not overly formal.

You can find Theory on sale at Bloomingdales, where the newest fashions will eventually be featured on the front page. You can also make purchases from Theory direct. Although the brand is best known for women, Bloomingdales also stocks the men's line. Like the new line for women, there seems to be a lot less prep and more punk in the newer fashions being added.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vancouver's Dead Ghosts Can't Get No

Dead Ghosts
The sophomore full-length from Vancouver's lo-fi revival band Dead Ghosts plays out exactly like you might expect. The four-piece garage rockers lock down a dozen surf-tested, country-tinged rock tracks that overdose on distortion and aim for tonal color over highlighting instrumental and vocal talent.

Bryan Nicol (guitar, vocals), Drew Wilkinson (guitar), Maurizio "Moe" Chiumento (bass) and Mike Wilkinson (drums), clearly want everyone to feel something while listening to Can't Get No, an album that monetarily transports listeners head-over-feet into someplace dark, dank and sweaty.

Have a drink. Flail about. As long as you're having fun, it doesn't much matter.

Can't Get No is a flashback sampler romp that Dead Ghosts mostly pull off.

Mostly is the operative qualifier because sometimes too much of a good thing is too much. But you have to appreciate the band's resolve to make it all work.

They funded a Tascam 388 8-track and recorded the entire album in bars, kitchens and basements. So what you hear isn't the work of overzealous studio engineers as much as a carpetbag collection of jangly echoes from the 1960s.

Sometimes those echoes come in loud if not clear. That Old Feeling is an escapist song that gets under the skin. The track is bleak but also serves up a simple reminder. When life gets to be too much, you can always cut and run.

That Old Feeling is a bit cleaner than Can't Get No, a rockabilly album opener about a long distance romance and bust up, and the indecision in it all. Even as the protagonist heads south (presumably San Francisco), he already knows he's only going to look like a fool.

Cold Stare follows this familiar theme too. It's about being fried and missing someone who is impossibly far away, right down the hall.

That song, along with I Want You Back, ought to provide some additional insight into the band. Dead Ghosts love to mine the 50s and 60s for hooks and melodies they like and then make their own. It's more apparent on some tracks than others. I Want You Back owes everything to The Guess Who.

In other cases, Dead Ghosts simply wear their influences on their sleeves. Roky Said is meant to be a tribute to Roky Erickson with just the right touch of psychedelia. The track, which emulates as much as it pays homage to the legendary songwriter, also clinches why the band is sincere in their songwriting.

There doesn't seem to be any question that they love the 1960s indie rock scene. There is more than one track that will win you over with their infatuation. Songs like On Your Own, I Sleep Alone and Hangin do the impossible job of bridging the 50-year space between two generations. As much as things have changed, the heart breaks and bouts with bleakness remain the same.

Can't Get No By Dead Ghosts Wisps In At 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While Dead Ghosts isn't the most original band and are often overwhelmed by their own reverb, there is something steadily poignant about them. They make music with one foot in the 60s and another right here, right now. Start with That Old Feeling, Roky Said, Tea Swamp Rumble, and I Sleep Alone.

You can find Can't Get No by Dead Ghosts. For $1 more, you can download it from iTunes. The band is currently lining up an after-summer tour in Europe, one venue at a time. You can check out the dates on Facebook or catch them live in Vancouver on August 10.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Escapists Lured To Carmel-By-The-Sea

The Coachman's Inn
When the city buzz gets to be too much, a spontaneous drive up or down the California coastline can be the cure. Travel far enough north from Los Angeles (about 6 hours) or south from San Francisco (a mere two hours), and you'll eventually find an escape in one the most beautiful cities in America.

Carmel-by-the-Sea was amazing in its urban planning from the beginning. Even the city's master plan calls it "a village in a forest, overlooking a white sandy beach." Shortly after the turn of the century, the allure of its cultural scene became a magnet for artists, musicians, and writers.

George Stirling is one of the best known residents, as were Mary Austin, Ambrose Bierce, William Merritt Chase, Armin Hansen, Jack London, Xavier Martinez, and Upton Sinclair to name a few. London even wrote a book about the arts colony there: The Valley Of The Moon.

Carmel-by-the-Sea will leave you charmed as will the Coachman's Inn. 

The Coachman's Inn is best described as something between a hotel and a bed and breakfast. The latest rounds of renovations are both spacious and romantic, with the property picking up elements of its 1950s past and Victorian floral accents.

The Coachman's Inn
I'm not normally down for this brand of elegance, but it fits the town's hodgepodge of English cottages. Carmel-by-the-Sea has a way of transporting to you someplace else entirely. It's the point.

What makes the Coachman's Inn work is that it's perfectly centered in the city, making it easy for you to walk the entire town or down to the beach. The parking is private too (but not guaranteed). And the staff is immediately friendly even if they seem more used to couples.

The beds are comfortable. A light continental breakfast (snack) is delivered in a basket to all 30 rooms. (Don't expect to pick up a room as a drop in.) It can easily be argued that there are better places, but this one carries a great value. If I was staying longer, Tickle Pink Inn is tempting for its views alone (below) even if you have to drive into town.

As a weekend getaway, there is plenty to help you unwind in Carmel.

Tickle Pink Inn
In keeping with the escapist theme, plan to spend some time in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This is the famed landscape that artists came to paint and be inspired. I don't just mean painters. The Point Lobos Foundation has an entire section dedicated to the arts, ranging from pics to poetry about it.

The entrance to the park isn't free (and not always easy, with a one vehicle in, one vehicle out policy when it is at capacity), but it is worth it. You can find your own way or join the guided walks and tours inside the Whalers Cabin Museum.

While visiting Point Lobos is a must, there is plenty to see in town. There are more than 100 art and photo galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea and a dozen wine tasting rooms too. Between the galleries and unique stores, it's easy to get lost in something as simple as a walk.

Beach at CarmelSome of it can be tourist-centic, but there are plenty of gems tucked away. The Carmel Art Association
is a good place to start. It has the longest history in supporting local artists, including the bigger names.

Other must-see attractions include the Robinson Jeffers Tor House (built with his own hands) and Celtic-inspired Hawk Tower, see what is playing at the Forest Theater Guild, and make sure you drop by The Forge In The Forest. As for other eats, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts about 60 places to eat. One long-time favorite is Jack London's Bar & Grill. It's a little over rated, but fun nonetheless.

The Coachman's Inn Sparks 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Coachman's Inn, on its own, lands solidly in the 6s on our scale (which is high), but Carmel would easily climb into the 9s on its own. While the inn is a nice place to retreat, it isn't necessarily a destination unto itself like some the other hotels that we've highlighted before. At the same time, Carmel-by-the-Sea is the kind of place that where you stay is almost secondary to the experience.

The nearest airport to Carmel is Monterey, Calif. Some travelers prefer to fly into San Francisco or San Jose, which are both international airports. Fore more details and booking information, start by comparing specials against top travel deals at Consider price and how far you're willing to drive. For all of us who already call California home, the inspiration remains in our backyard.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Traams Is Climbing Up With Ladders

When the trio that makes up TRAAMS started jamming together two years ago, it was a natural progression of the musical escapism all three member share. Stu Hopkins (vocals-guitar), Leigh Padley (bass), and Adam Stock (drums) were compelled to make music in order to escape the mundanity of their hometown.

"We had to start a band." Padley says. "It was all we had."

The lot of them come out of Chichester, which is a rural district in West Sussex, England. Apart from the strip toward the south of it, there are few main roads connecting the area villages and coastal city. It's a very suitable locale for what the band plays. They call it wonky pop, but you might recognize some vibrant krautrock squall lifting the lyrics and arrangements.

Most of it stems from the single thunderous song they wrote during their first rehearsal. According to the band, it made the spires quiver and the cobbles wobble. So they hooked up every week thereafter.

Eventually, this weekly pastime culminated with recording a few songs with the help of Rory Atwell (Test Icicles). As time went on, they added another well-known producer too. They cut come tracks with MJ (Hookworms) in his home studio in Leeds. Other than a handful of copies sent to a few FatCat Records friends and record store owners, only the digital EP has been creeping around the U.S.

Ladders by TRAAMS is a splash of smashing alternative rock. 

Released a few weeks ago amidst a rush of other recordings, the Ladders EP was easily missed on the initial pass. But then when you add a few days and listen to a glut of same-old or soon-to-be-released singles by other bands, the noise they make wafts in like a breath of fresh air.

Low was a track that immediately took hold like a statement against a different kind of mundanity. There was Hopkins lamenting he was losing his ability to judge what was the best part of him.

"I wake up in the morning and my memory is daunted," Hopkins deadpans. "And I can't go. And I can't do. And I'm in and out of pokers. I don't wanna live like bogus."

The studio cut is a bit of beat-laiden perfection, with bristling vocals and sick baseline. It's some measured indie rock, with a touch of rawness and a bit of grunge. But that's not what makes the band.

A couple tracks down, Jack, tweaks up the band's energy, voice snaps, and helium steadiness. In stark contrast, Teeth (my favorite), drops everything down into a bass-heavy garage rocker that grooves along much like the band does during its live performances. Here's another sampling, sans name.

That fan video from Westhill Hall in Brighton is a fine testament to why they'll be worth pulling over for a few stateside concerts. Even the addition of the beyond-EP track Flowers that FatCat recently shared with SPIN as an introduction to the upcoming September album Grin, brings something new to the rattling procession of TRAAMS music. (So does Mexico's upbeat staccato fury if you can find it.)

Ladders EP By TRAAMS Climbs 8.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While it's easy to dismiss the band on a quick shuffle during a heavy week of bands with names you know, TRAAMS quickly finds its place among them with a few listens. Every song on the 5-track Ladders EP, including the title cut, is a must own in advance of the upcoming album. And it doesn't hurt to know that two new tracks will be songs that you'll want to bring home too.

You can find the Ladders EP by TRAAMS on Amazon. You can also download it from iTunes. The EP is a steal at $3 (maybe less than the last coffee you bought). You can also find them on Facebook. They've shaved, for now.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Neil Gaiman Gets Found Again At Sea

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
While its length is more indicative of a novella than a novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman doesn't want for anything. The book is tightly drawn, brilliantly written, and imaginative without end.

Some might even say that the most fitting analogy is the pond behind Lettie Hempstock's house. It looks terribly small until you learn that it's an ocean. And like all oceans and the lands around them, it can very easily sweep someone away with it and most readers will be swept away.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a story about a seven-year-old boy who is never named. He is a bookish little fellow without any real friends. Nobody even shows up for his birthday party except his younger sister and her friends (and they only came for cake).

We first meet him when he is 47, stumbling along the neighborhood of his youth. He is looking for something, trying to remember.

The narrator tunes into his memory like a transistor, connected but fuzzy.

As he wanders around his childhood stomping grounds, the narrator slowly regains bits and fuzzy pieces about what happened to him there. None of it is the stuff you might expect from most children. His memories are dreary, with the promise of something happier and fantastical just over the horizon.

Unfortunately for him, however, not all journeys past hedgerows lead to better places. Sometimes the fantastical only seems alluring to you for the first time, especially when accompanied by your first real friend. To everyone else, especially things that live in such places, it's your world that has an allure.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
So when he and the presumably 11-year-old girl Lettie Hempstock enjoy a few adventures on the fringe of their world and the fringe of another, it isn't any surprise that someone or something might take an interest. What is a surprise, however, is how easily the woman (or flea) could hitch a ride.

It's so easy, in fact, that nobody even noticed until the woman had set her mind to work, granting wishes to make people happy without considering the consequences. If money was everything people wanted, then she would load them up. Never mind where or when it might materialize.

While that might sound more enchanting than fiendish, the narrator has a bigger problem on his hands. The thing they brought back with them isn't simply lurking around invisible. It has signed on to serve as the narrator and his sister's nanny. Sadder still, the cure might be harder to bear than the headache.

A few graphs about author Neil Gaiman, a master at adult fairy tales. 

Neil Gaiman
One of the more unique aspects of this sweet, sad, and spooky tale is that Gaiman borrowed significant portions from his own childhood. The family in the book is not his own family. As he puts it, he plundered only parts of his childhood and then literally reshaped them into a story.

The book began innocently enough after someone had asked him to write a short story. He eventually had to abandon the short as the story ballooned into a book that nobody was expecting. And perhaps this is what will make The Ocean At The End Of The Lane memorable for an author as seasoned as Gaiman.

The book itself carries an innocence that few writers can rediscover, let alone one who has written dozens of books and countless stories, ranging from comic books to films. Among his most notable works include comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, and Coraline. The latter, incidentally, is probably the closest in tone to this new adventure.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane Waves 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

For the few who find the thinness troublesome, the counterpoint is clear enough. The story is precisely the length it needs to be, not one word too long or short. I wish more writers would show restraint. If they did, then this yarn might be their story and not one of Gaiman's finest.

You can find The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman on Amazon. You can also find the novel at Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. The audio version is especially memorable because Gaiman narrates it. There is something that stands out about that decision. While he has a warm, comforting voice that reads like a narrator (and not a character), the narrator is probably closer to being Gaiman than any other character he has ever brought to life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Honey Locust Honky Tonk Pollardizes

Robert Pollard
Twenty years ago, Robert Pollard was just as likely to be standing in front of a fourth grade class as he was an  audience. That all changed in 1994 with the release of Bee Thousand by Guided By Voices.

As an underground indie performer, he was always very capable at carving out the short-run pop-rock songs that skip along so fast that it isn't always easy to settle in on a few standouts. In that regard, almost nothing had changed.

Pollard plunks down 17 tracks, with some ideas sparking less than a minute of music. Amazingly enough, none of those minutes are boring and it's all over in about a half hour.

Honey Locust Honky Tonk is an odd assemblage of indiscriminately listenable indie rock numbers. 

Even when Pollard plays for the shortest length of the time, there is something big behind behind the eyebrows. He is a songwriting powerhouse, convincing in half as many notes as other musicians.

After a few listens, especially if you are familiar with the work, you will start to hear some formula to it. But the thing I like best about Pollard is he always manages to mix in equal parts newness too. And these songs, the ones cut for Honey Locust Honky Tonk, are among my favorite tracks of all time.

PollardThe album opens with He Requested Things, an airy pop-rock song that turns eerie as the boy who arrives on the world begins to request things. The lyrics and hooks will linger long after, leaving feelings that create unease as much as comfort. It isn't clear whether the boy was lifted up or shot down for his audacity to want something better. What is clear is you somehow benefited.

The theme of it isn't exactly surrendered in Circus Green Machine either, which also shows his unwavering reverence to Pete Townshend. It won't be the last time such influences are heard on the album, but it stands out as the most obvious here. Expect them to creep in elsewhere.

There really isn't any point in purchasing singles. The value is downloading the album. If you are thinking about picking one or two, sample the entire album. Many great tracks on Honey Locust Honky Tonk are loaded up on the end.

I Killed A Man Who Looks Like You begs to be played over and over, with its haunting revelations. In the early verses, he distances himself from the victim. By the final verses, he reverses the idea entirely.

The fact that the song feels long is part of the magic of Pollard. Another must-have track is Airs. If there was ever a song that makes you want to take off more than you put on, this is the song that will do it. There is a wise and humbled authenticity to the lyrics that rolls along like he just knows, despite the imperfections and occasional vocal crack.

Other standout songs include the bigness of Real Fun Is No One's Monopoly, the lyrics in It Disappears In The Least Likely Hands, and the Brit bounciness of She Hides In Black. Who Buries The Undertaker is equally good, as is Strange And Pretty Day.

The latter is all about the lo-fi piano before it introduces Suit Minus The Middle. It's also a fine reminder that Pollard is as much a professor of music as he is anything else. Some of those hooks and harmonies conjure up other musicians but in ways that are uniquely his own.

Honey Locust Honky Tonk Pollardizes 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As much music as Pollard has been able to produce in the last two years alone is something of a standout. In addition to this big album, he put out the memorable English Little League under Guided By Voices. The best track off that album, for those who are curious, was Island (She Talks In Rainbows). Noble Insect is close. What makes his solo work different is how starkly haunted he can be.

You can turn up Honey Locust Honky Tonk by Robert Pollard on Amazon. You can download the album from iTunes. Barnes & Noble has also listed the vinyl edition of the album. The added warmth will no doubt make the album hum. Pollard doesn't tour, but occasionally makes guest appearances at events like Riot Fest with Guided By Voices.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Braven BRV-1 Sounds Portable Tough

As someone who enjoys portable speakers and has a home with a wireless sound system, I've been  wondering when the next generation of portable speakers might arrive. It arrived in step with summer.

The Braven BRV-1 delivers better-than-expected sound from a portable bluetooth speaker that was designed like a tank for travel. You can literally take it anywhere — not only every room in your house, but also places you wouldn't take any speaker that hadn't already earned some thrasher moniker.

Take the Braven BRV-1 to a surf beach or a mountain biking camp. It doesn't care.

The basic introduction for the BRV-1 is that it was built for the outdoors. You can drop it, kick it, splash it (IXP5) and never shed a tear. While I don't recommend you go out of your way to break it, you won't be afraid to take it anywhere. You'll want to get out and take it everywhere.

The shape, rubberized casing and water-resistent shell all lend some credence to its rugged reputation. The front grill is metal, electric blue, black, or blue with a thumbprint if you want to pay more for making a donation to clean drinking water. And it's surprisingly small: 4.75 x 3.25 x 2.25 inches.

Despite its small size and weight, the BRV-1 delivers on sound. It provides 3 watts per channel from two 40 mm drivers and houses a 70 mm passive subwoofer. While it doesn't have nearly enough power to support a party, it provides some solid better-than-expected sound, maybe even the best in its class.

The Braven BRV-1 does a little more than play music. 

The 1400mAh battery can play wireless audio for around 12 to 15 hours, storing enough power to charge other external devices (like smart phones with USB or mini-USB connections). You can also connect your speaker to any device that supports a headphone.

Another interesting feature is its built-in mic that you can use as a speaker phone. While it's not nearly as good as the speaker phone on a smart phone, it works well enough in a pinch. And, unlike many portable speakers, the makers of BRV-1 were smart enough to include a means to check for battery life with a 5-point LED array.

All of these connections are protected under a cap, best closed up when not needed. Most of the time, once you set it up, the simple carved-in volume control buttons, shuffle buttons, and power buttons are enough. Considering its face is approximately the size of an iPhone, there isn't anything else to fit.

About the only thing missing is a solar charging station.

If you are willing to trade out some sound quality and durability, the Eton Rugged Rukus is probably one of the best alternatives. Measuring 6.5 inches across the front, the IPX-4 rated Rukus can accompany you to some destinations too — the pool, playground, and anyplace a little less punishing.

It's chief benefit is its solar capability (plus an 8-hour battery), which makes it perfect for back country camping. But the downside is you do need to be careful. Despite being durable, Eton specs suggest that the speaker is drop proof from 3.3 feet and that varies depending on how it's dropped. So as long as you unpack it near the tent, it ought to be safe enough.

The Braven BRV-1 Drops 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Between the Eton Rukus and the Braven BRV-1, I lean toward the latter, which is the more durable of the two. Otherwise, there is another way to size them up. Eco-tourists might like the Eton; extremists might like the Braven, and then pack a solar charger too for anything longer than a day.

You can find the Braven BRV-1 at Amazon in black or blue. (Mine is blue.) The Eton Rugged Rukus is available there too. Wal-Mart carries it as well. The Braven BRV-1 is slightly higher, but also comes in a rare orange color. It also carries the original Eton solar design.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Jones Rival Jumps A Frog Single

The Jones Rival by Mum
Some people around Sydney have taken to calling The Jones Rival a good times band and it seems like they took the long road to earn it. When they released the breakout single Mind Of A Dreamer last year, the most common question asked by everyone was "who are you guys?"

The most common answer was that The Jones Rival was loosely formed as a foursome in Mortdale, which is a suburb south of Sydney, sometime around 2010. Of course, they don't always mention Mortdale in interviews anymore because most people aren't so specific in music. Sydney will do.

Personally, I like the Mortdale detail because it conjures a different flavor for the experience that two members set out for prior to the first release last year. Evan (vocals, guitar) and Adam (guitar) went busking across Europe to hone their songwriting skills and perhaps earn degrees in life. A strip search in Munich will do that.

Jumpin' Frog is a solid wake-up call from Sydney.

As much as Mind Of A Dreamer was a trippy little find last year, it's the material the band has put out this year that deserves the attention. The Jones Rival seems to know it too. They pushed last year's single off their bandcamp offerings (although it still exists) and highlight two new ones instead.

The first is Jumpin' Frog, which showcases the band at its best. It's here that The Jones Rival does a near perfect job at resurrecting the psychedelic outdoor party rock from the seventies in a modern context. The track rollicks as a vintage rocker, with booms, buzz, and howls.

Beyond the sonic spaced-out vibe, Jumpin' Frog is a good times track. It better represents the band too. It's free-spritied as opposed to spooky, which is fine for a few tracks removed from an introduction. As the band likes to quip, Jumpin' Frog has nothing to do with frogs but it makes people like to jump.

The second track, Tell You Again, feels even brighter on the front end and works harder to capitalize on the band's natural crooner, which sets it well apart from other throwback bands. While the track hasn't gotten as much attention as the one they put up in commercial markets, it's just as strong as Jumpin' Frog.

Both tracks were recorded and produced by Shaun Gaida at REC Studios and mastered by Andrew Edgson at 301 Studios. Gaida is also the band's drummer and only band member listing his full name anywhere. The balance of the band includes Lanky (bass) and Battlecat (percussion).

Either track, Jumpin' Frog or Tell You Again, will make a great addition to their upcoming EP. The band is currently writing additional tracks. With a little luck, they expect to have it complete later this year.

Jumpin' Frog By The Jones Rival Hits 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the band has yet to develop that almost innate sense that they might be around long enough to warrant real names, The Jones Rival is worth watching. Their progression with every release seems to indicate they are moving in the right direction — less concerned with modernizing the sound and more attuned to capitalizing on it.

You can find Jumpin' Frog on Amazon and the single was also put on iTunes. The defacto B-side Tell You Again can be picked up from their bandcamp page. They have it set to name your price. While it's easy to pick it up for free, please support the band.

You can also catch Mind Of A Dreamer at Triple J Unearthed. For upcoming shows, mostly in Australia, check out their Facebook page. They frequently post music updates and often share new music there before any other outlet.

Friday, July 12, 2013

DiSclafani Rides With Girls At Camp

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls by Anton DiSclafani
It is the easiest thing in the world to dismiss The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls by Anton DiSclafani as a quiet story about fast girls in the 30s. As a careless summation, that is what the book is about.

But then again, there are other things lurking beneath such safe or easy descriptions. Thea Atwell, after all, comes as close to being a passive aggressive anti-protagonist as any character has hoped to be since Gene Forrester pushed his best friend out of a tree.

Only she never makes us feel uneasy over the brute force of her actions. She was born to make us feel uncomfortable because we realize how unliberated we still want young women to be. We want them to be well-mannered, innocent and proper. If they are not, then let them be victims of men and circumstance.

Few protagonists will haunt you. This one will.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls is everything it is because of precisely the reason critics temper their praise for the lovely and talented but equally uncertain and self-conscious Thea Atwell. It stands to reason that many will be miffed. Atwell earns sympathy early as she is torn away from home.

The book opens with her father doing the unthinkable. He is exiling his daughter to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, presumably for something she did wrong. It's her punishment to be uprooted from an otherwise sheltered existence in Florida where her father's medical practice and her mother's inherited orange groves have afforded her a quiet and privileged life with her twin brother.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls by Anton DiSclafani
The punishment, as readers might assume from Atwell's point of view, doesn't fit the crime. She is being taken from the freedom and safety of an estate and cast into a regimented mountain camp filled with wealthy and affluent girls, most of whom were sent there to learn etiquette and social grace.

The only redeeming quality of the school from her point of view is that it includes riding lessons. Atewell is an especially good rider, not because she is the most skilled but because she is fearless. And it is this fearlessness in this coming of age story that depicts the dark side of adolescence that risks betraying everyone close to her — even the reader.

An era brought to life with both vivid and direct writing.

Anton DiSclafani easily proves her craft as a writer, effortlessly capturing the era and surroundings to make the novel both beautiful and compelling. If there are any risks in losing readers, it will likely be that the passive aggressive plot line proves too tiring, the sexuality too direct and passionless, or the protagonist too cruel, selfish, and unstable.

All of these assessments are grounded in some accuracy, but where the split between one reader and another occurs is that some will recognize all those things are important. Atwell is not Moraine in Out Of The Easy. You do not have to like her. She doesn't need you to like her. She rightly fits the times.

While the story is set in the midst of the Great Depression, DiSclafani and her young protagonist seem all too aware that the roaring 20s gave women a taste of independence. And this story makes the case that they needed more of it, as the virtues of men and old family wealth was to fickle to protect them.

DiSclafaniThroughout the story, it seems clear enough that society wants the young women of the Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls to rise to a specific standard, but some of them are becoming chiefly aware that those who expect this standard haven't necessarily risen to it. As fortunes are lost and families suddenly downcast, more girls than Atwell are learning that the horse show isn't confined to a course.

DiSclafani has a knack for writing. She rode horses and competed nationally. She also studied at Emory University and earned an MFA from Washington University, where she currently teaches creative writing. She lives in St. Louis.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls Rides 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

For much the same reason I have yet to add A Separate Peace by John Knowles to the bookshelf, it's difficult to elevate The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls. There is an importance to the work (though not as strikingly so as that of Knowles) but both are nearly lost on likability. It's a must read, but for a different reason than most novels.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel by Anton DiSclafani is available from Amazon. You can also order the novel from Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. The audiobook, narrated by Adina Verson, is perfectly balanced, making Atwell a girl you love and loathe at the same time. For more about DiSclafani, visit her Facebook page.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Wild Feathers Lift With The Ceiling

The Wild Feathers by Myriam Santos
Four of the members who make up the Wild Feathers had made small marks in music as lead singers, songwriters, and frontmen for years. Each of them had their own local bands, booked solo gigs, and worked for various venues. All of them still do, of course, with the exception of doing it together.

It's a great that they did. Their five-piece band, the Wild Feathers, has a promising start with their signature blend of Southern rock and Americana that they prefer to call rock and roll. And maybe they are right to do it. Rock music used to be diverse before it was broken up into sub-genres.

The Wild Feathers lift off with The Ceiling. 

While the band already has a solid start, their release of The Ceiling on YouTube caught more attention than any other video produced by the band. There's a reason it stands out. The single immediately stood out from the other clips and vids as the band finally found a deeper passion.

Lyrically, the song has plenty going for it. With songwriters willing to share material and shape ideas into something better, many songs by the Wild Feathers create vivid landscapes where varied experiences, sometimes painful, play out against soaring instrumentals and vocals.

The majority of the song is driven by its lamenting and urgent lyrics. Here's a sampling of it.

"Well I did what I did and I didn't mean anything. The sunrise, the drive, the morning. The smoke stacks, the bold hats, still learning. And I don't know how I got this far down with the ceiling."

But what makes the song even more memorable is that after it explodes at the midpoint and then falls silent, the band slowly brings up a stirring melody of hope, creating the illusion that this really is two songs in one. It's brilliant in that it shows two sides of circumstances. It's the ease of being together that matters.

The video was released while the band was on a six-week tour, picking up short-run residencies at various Southern clubs and expanding their circle out from Nashville. It's accompanied by a B-side, Backwoods Company, which was released through an exclusive channel a month before The Ceiling.

The backstory, B-side and upcoming self-titled album.

Backwoods Company is a big and blaring romp focused on a dangerous liaison. If some of it sounds immediately familiar, it's because a tiny slice of it comes from a timeless lullaby. It's from that slice they build layer after layer, transforming it into a rocker.

The Wild Feathers
The track will also open the upcoming self-titled album (August 2013). Like the rest of the album, it was produced the multi-talented Jay Joyce (Cage The Elephant, The Wallflowers), who seems to have helped the band not only find its passion, but also somehow corral it into a warmer, more cosmic place.

This is a signifiant transformation, one that was as important for the band as when Ricky Young and Joel King first came together in 2010. With Young from Texas and King from Oklahoma, it really was their collaboration that sparked the second part of their journey, picking up a drummer .

"We always wanted to do something with a bunch of singers, not just one lead," King said of their early collaborations. They finally had their chance as growly Taylor Burns and brightly appointed Preston Wimberly signed on as equal complements. The first time they played together was in Austin.

“We make songs that I could never write on my own, even if I worked from now until I die,” says Young. “But with these guys and what they bring, it’s easy.”

The Ceiling By The Wild Feathers Knocks 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

When some reviewers note the instruments (including a mandolin), there is an immediate assumption that the band is mostly into folk rock. It's a bit different in that their first love is clearly rock. On one occasion, they even asked to be defined as American rock, not Americana. Fair enough.

With the exception of sometimes feeling overly polished, the Wild Feathers clearly have something happening with 14 tracks (two are bonus tracks) listed on the upcoming deluxe edition. You can find the single The Ceiling by the Wild Feathers on iTunes or the self-titled album due out in August. The Ceiling/Backwoods Company is also on Amazon. For upcoming tour information, you can find the band on Facebook. The band will be joining Willie Nelson in August and ZZ Ward in September.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Walker And Whyte Add Summer Suede

Walker And Whyte
Ever since Miz Mooz added its own line of fashionable footwear in 2000, some people have speculated what might happen if they made men's shoes too. Some of those people will be surprised that they do.

While the line appears to be low key in comparison to the label that was immediately picked up by specialty shops across the United States and Canada, Walker & Whyte consistently put a fresh spin on  suede classics (along with several other cuts). The result is classic shoe with a custom look about it.

Three suede styles from Walker & Whyte. 

The first style, which attracted my attention, turns the classic oxford into a premium modern suede shoe with contrast detailing. The color combinations come in gray and blue, brown and forest or tan and neon yellow, with detailing that includes the laces, piping and sole.

All the functionality of the oxford remains intact with the Drake. The shoe is simple with only two plain-cut eyelets, leather and textile lining, and a cushioned midsole. It wears well, even if it could never be considered rugged. It's ideal as an urban shoe.

suede shoes
The second style, called the Poente, also dresses up the oxford with a soft leather and suede look, adding more depth overall. Like the Drake, it has contrast in the detail work but is much more understated. The sole is neutral and the piping remains untouched.

Instead, the contrasting colors — gray and blue or tan and red — are confined to the laces and the rubber deck that connects the shoe to the sole. One startling difference between the colors is that the tan and red combination includes red leather for the eyelets, which makes the shoe pop (maybe too much).

suede shoes
Whereas the Poente has more formal work (except in red), the Degrau is easily the most casual. Despite adding wingtip details all over, it still feels as casual as a tennis shoe or sneaker in every color.

The color combinations make this shoe something more interesting than the usual suspects too. It comes in gray and purple, tan and red or gray and blue. The gray and blue feels the most like a sports shoe. The tan and red present themselves more like loafers (and the red feels much more subdued).

Walker & Whyte started much like Miz Mooz, with a little more mystery. 

miz mooz founders
Much like Miz Mooz, Walker & Whyte is an exclusive brand for Infinity Shoes. It features its own line along with brands like Dr. Martens, TOMS, and Sebago. Most of the designs are inspired by the Manhattan street scene, which means they feel like they fit better on stage or urban settings.

The rest of the story is very similar. It was originally started Cheryl Matson, Jeffery Bart and Ron Kenigsberg, who wanted to build out their shoe store offerings with shoes nobody else was making until the Miz Mooz line came to life.

They've added some other designers to the mix since then, but the majority of the process has stayed the same. The shoes are designed in the States, sent overseas for some Italian input, and then they are manufactured in Mexico or Asia in order to keep prices within reach.

Suede Oxfords Give A 8.1 Lift To Summer Shoes On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

With so many of the Walker & Whyte lines on sale during the summer, this is a remarkable chance to save between one-third or half off. Of course, if suede is not your style, then there are other kinds of shoes available too. Aside from the suede, they make an all-leather high top sneaker that can easily be considered an urban classic.

Any of the shoes mentioned above can be found direct at Infinity Shoes. While Miz Mooz has always been one of my favorite shoe designers for women, it's great to see the same people stepping up for men too. Having a couple of pairs of handcrafted and uniquely suited shoes makes life a little more fun.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Transplants Return To The Warzone

The on-off again punk band Transplants from Los Angeles are on again with In A Warzone, an album that took almost three years to put out. Although Tim Armstrong (Rancid), "Skinhead Rob" Aston, and Travis Barker (Blink 182) had written as many as 16 songs for the album by August 2010, they wanted their choice of 30 tracks.

Once the album was finished and remixed several times, other projects took precedence as the release date was pushed back. The band wanted to get it right and put it out on the right label. Many people were surprised to hear it wouldn't be released by Hellcats as originally planned, except Epitaph.

"When we started this band 13 years ago, we weren’t worried about who was going to like us,” said frontman Rob Aston. “We still aren’t. In A Warzone is more raw and stripped down than our previous releases. In my opinion, it’s our best album."

In A Warzone is unapologetically hard, with a few wildly diverse breaks in between the band's tight two-minute basics. Some of those breaks, like always, are just unexpected enough that they stand out all the more. One of them, Come Around, takes on the unlikely textural quality of a Western surf song.

Transplants quickly followed up the format with a straight-up rap track, Something's Different, with a blues-rock arrangement. It's A Problem represents their biggest exploration into hip hop, with a nod to Latin surf rock. And Back To You has clipped punk vocals but cast with a tavern rock swagger.

All four illustrate why some reviewers have had a hard time categorizing the band within a single genre. But then again, that might be what makes the Transplants so easy to define. As Aston once said: The Transplants are a punk band because they play whatever type of music they want.

The balance of In A Warzone is purely punk, played hard. 

The rest of the album is as hard if not harder than anything they have laid down before, starting with the title track. In A Warzone blasts off with a viciously straightforward punk sound. The track muscles its way through at breakneck speed, finishing itself off in just over two minutes.

Many of the others play the same too. They're best described as well-thought out punk songs, ranging from purist punk tracks like See It To Believe It to darker calls for advocacy like Gravestones And Burial Plots. All of them have a fair amount of urgency and aggression, except Any Of Them, the sloppiest track on the album.

A couple extra graphs about the Transplants for first timers. 

The Transplants came together shortly after Aston had moved to Los Angeles in 1999. He hooked up with Armstrong, who played a beat he had made with his Pro Tools Systems in home studio. Armstrong asked Aston if he could write lyrics to match.

"I said yes," Aston said. "Honestly, I was scared shitless because I had never been in a band before."

They songs quickly came together, but they both agreed something was missing. So they called Barker and pitched him the idea behind the band. He was on board before he ever heard the songs. After he arrived at the studio, he laid down all the drum tracks in less than five hours. And that was that.

In A Warzone By Transplants Rips 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While some people might be taken aback by the occasional diversity or be disappointed that there are more punk rap pairings like their last album, In A Warzone is everything you want from a hard punk album along with a few surprises that will make other genre artists grateful the Transplants are are punk band.

In a Warzone is available from Amazon. The album can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or downloaded from iTunes. For upcoming tour information, find them on Facebook. Kevin Bivona has been playing bass for a couple of years now.