Friday, August 30, 2013

Black Joe Lewis Belts Electric Slave

Black Joe Lewis
When you listen to My Blood Ain't Runnin' Right off the new release from Black Joe Lewis, pay attention to the lyrics as well as the soulful croon that defines so much of Electric Slave. The song has significant meaning to Lewis. He wrote it about his dad.

According to Lewis, his dad wasn't dealt the greatest cards. And like so many people who aren't, he tended to keep messing his life up. Lewis said it was painful to watch such a strong man begin to fall.

Truth be told, he could have followed a similar path. But unlike his dad, Lewis bought a guitar at a pawn shop where he had worked instead. From there, he started to play it every day until one of his friends suggested he learn the blues.

It wasn't long before he immersed himself in the local blues-garage scene at night while driving a fish van during the day to make ends meet. There was no way he could have known it at the time, but Black Joe Lewis was just getting started. Electric Slave is a blistering fourth album.

Electric Slave is blues rock, with a few soulful funk highlights. 

There is a physical weight to this album, with only horns to soften an otherwise raw and dirty sound. So expect the bulk of Electric Slave to hammer blue-infused garage rock into something reminiscent of 60s protopunk, making it the hardest album to date. It's different, but still a solid direction for progression.

The lone exception is Come To My Party, which was the first track released by the band in advance of the album. The track is still a powerhouse, but it differs in packing in a soulful funk that is as much a signature as anything that helped Lewis break out of Austin four years ago.

Interestingly enough, funk isn't the inspiration for this song as much a disco. Lewis says anything that makes people want to dance is good with him. Come To My Party clearly has the ability to do that.

And yet, it doesn't necessarily capture the essence of this album. While it suggests celebratory funk with a vintage familiarity, the only other place you will hear funk with so much prominence is Dar es Salaam. Even then, Dar es Salaam is not a party song. There is significantly more aggression, urgency, and relevance to it. And if you only download a few, it belongs on the must-have track short list.

Then again, the short list runs long on Electric Slave. Skulldiggin is heavy enough to graze alongside some metal bands. Young Girls is a surprising outburst that bring together rockability and punk. The Hipster is punchy blues rock number with a swirling sax that invites anyone listening to stomp along.

Black Joe Lewis
That is the point. Part of the commentary that accompanies this album is how some music enthusiasts miss out on how physical music can be, far away from small screens and headphones. It's one of the reasons Lewis never buys CDs anymore. He prefers vinyl, which not only warms up the music but also adds another instrument to experience.

On Electric Slave, Black Joe Lewis provides enough diversity to test his theory out. In listening to the album from start to finish, Electric Slave feels like an odyssey of old forms brought back to life. The result is an album that revives and immortalizes something special from one of the emergent blues rockers commanding attention today.

With his natural vocal grit and fearlessness to perform chainsaw riffs alongside poignant and timeless struggles like those featured in Vampire and Golem, Electric Slave will one day be a collection that someone dusts off and calls a remarkable find. The passion and purpose here captures where we are today by helping us remember what we gave up to get here.

Electric Slave By Black Joe Lewis Rifles Up 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Liquid Scale. 

For anyone who knew the band as Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, the name change is simple enough to explain. The band originally came up with the Honeybears moniker because someone had brought in a Honeybear bottle into the studio. They added it as a joke for one album and it stuck.

You can find Electric Slave at Amazon or download the album from iTunes. Barnes & Noble is also carrying the limited edition vinyl edition. Black Joe Lewis is currently on tour with a growing schedule that crisscrosses the county. For a complete tour listing, visit them on Facebook.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Christopher Finch Finds A Good Girl

Good Girl Bad Girl
Christopher Finch is a kind of enigma. He's not an enigma in the classic sense of the word, but in a much more encompassing sense as he has woven his career as a critic, writer, photographer and contemporary artist. One might say he gave up on art to become the artist and author he is today.

As an art critic who wrote about everyone from David Hockney to Andy Warhol before becoming associate curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1968, Finch has an insider's view of what now has become the window dressing of a new private eye series. It takes place in New York City, 1968.

The protagonist isn't entirely an art novice either. While he doesn't profess to be an artist, Alex Novalis knows something about art. He was an art fraud detective before being busted for becoming connected to the art scene in another way. He was caught smoking pot.

Alex Novalis wants to make an investigation an art form. 

Without much of a backup career plan, becoming a private investigator seems second nature to Novalis. After all, New York City was the skids in 1968 and police precincts overburdened amidst budget cuts.

There were also plenty of people who didn't necessarily want to involve the police. Gabriel Kravitz, a wealthy construction mogul, qualifies. He didn't want to involve the police when his daughter Lydia wen missing. Given she was last seen with a radical, middle-aged artist, Novalis seems like a natural fit for the job too.

Novalis already has connections within the art community. But that doesn't mean everything is easy or a slam dunk. He still has to shuffle around the city, from scummy art lofts in pre-gentrified SoHo to luxury penthouses overlooking Central Park. He shares a few glimpses of New York City as it was then, a shambling slow cooker of sex, drugs, politics, and drugs.

It was a hot time in the city too. Washington Square Park was a hot bed for music, student demonstrations were commonplace, and the civil rights movement had galvanized the nation. It was exactly the kind of place an eccentric and semi-talented artist like Jerry Pedrosian could call home.

Not only did he thrive in the city, but it was also the kind of place where his performance art would attract attention even when his paintings were selling. It was also a great location to accept speaking engagements from liberal schools that enjoyed his controversial talks such as art providing a subversive counterculture to government.

In many ways, it's the environment that keeps the short novel moving forward as Novalis doesn't represent the modern man but what he used to be. As an investigator with more in common with the counterculture than his former occupation, his self-esteem alone seems capable of propelling him forward as the unsentimental man's man of his era. He likable as such too, even if the prose occasionally borders on dry for the times.

A little more about new author, veteran creative Christopher Finch. 

Christopher Finch
Originally born in Guernsey in the British Channel Islands, the Los Angeles resident is an artist and photographer who has had several shows in New York and California. He has also authored almost 30 books on artists and entertainers, including Rainbow: the Stormy Life of Judy Garland, The Art of Walt Disney, and Jim Henson: the Works.

This novel, Good Girl, Bad Girl, is the first in a series of detective stories that borrows on his life experiences living in SoHo when it was an urban wilderness. The result lands him in an upbeat noir category that feels more polished than gritty in places.

As an author, it seems like he is just getting started. On one hand, his tightness is spot on in telling a short tale that can be finished up in an afternoon. On the other, he doesn't hard boil the story, which makes his character too safe, the plot slightly thin, and the end rushed to wrap up loose ends. It's worth it anyway.

Good Girl, Bad Girl By Christopher Finch Sneaks 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As the start of the series, Good Girl, Bad Girl has a lot going for it. If for no other reason, pick it up as a briskly paced, less-than-200-page introduction to a character who has room to grow. Novalis promises to be a private investigator people will enjoy as he tromps around Manhattan in the 60s and maybe the 70s.

Good Girl, Bad Girl (Alex Novalis) by Christopher Finch can be found on Amazon. You can also order the book from Barnes  & Noble but it is not listed on iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Peter Berkrot, who has the right voice to take on an investigator who lives on the fringe of the art scene.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Army Navy Crushes An EP Like A Car

Army Navy
Crushed isn't a throwaway title of a new EP put out by Los Angeles-based indie pop trio Army Navy. It means something to frontman Justin Kennedy. Tucked inside the title track, Crushed Like The Car, he captures all his personal feelings of  uncertainty experienced after a recent, almost deadly, car crash.

The car crash also serves as the principal inspiration for the EP's stark artwork. The cover is both subtle and direct. It's the husk of an automobile flipped upside down on the highway and unmoving, despite its once glorious past. Like the music, it's a surreal surrender.

Army Navy crushes an EP in advance of an upcoming full length. 

The track, Crushed Like The Car, is also the cornerstone of the little-seen video directed by Cameron Dutra. It's in the video that the band and production team do a brilliant job grounding the track to everyday experiences that make us feel out of body and slowed down. Nothing will ever be the same.

The lines "Am I just too tired for it? Will I be inspired by it?" will sound like an echo for anyone who has ever felt trapped, waiting for a sign or suggestion of what to do next. But there are plenty more meanings to pick out of it.

The track also captures an increasing maturity that is easily recognizable. It has been almost ten years since Kennedy split from Pinwheel (a band that included future Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard). But Kennedy isn't the only one progressing in the band.

Louie Schulz (guitar) and Douglas Randall (drums) prove even more confident on the album, playing with a relaxed assurance even when the pace is frenzied like the climactic end of Crushed Like The Car. Their presence makes a difference. Neither of the two remixes compare to the original, even if the second by Acid Invaders is the better of the two.

The inclusion of the remixes also makes the EP a 4-track outing as opposed to the 6-track EP as some people called it. I might go further and call it a 3-track EP. Although plenty of people will like Pickle, it falls in this odd and uncomfortable place where it is neither bright nor dark. It just exists.

Maybe that is the point, continuing with the theme of being stuck. There are some great moments inside the song, but they are really too few and far between. The acoustic version plays stronger in this case, as Kennedy pines away.

Much more substantial are the tracks on the bottom half of the EP before the remixes. Summer Morning and Running Wild both deserve some showcasing. If the latter track sounds familiar, it's because the song is also listed on the soundtrack of The Way Way Back. (The soundtrack, by the way, is solid.)

Either way, both tracks are underrated, lyrically and musically. Along with the driver Crushed Like The Car, fans will find themselves playing all three over and over, even if the complete EP isn't necessary. Still, the whole thing does its job. These tracks are meant to be a stopover as the band puts the next album to bed and prepares for a tour in November, with the West Coast getting first crack at a listen.

Crushed Like The Car By Army Navy Hurls 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Frankly, I would have given the EP a higher score if the band had kept things tight. Given that Pickle has been out for months as a single, it might have made more sense to lead with the brilliant title track and add the equally interesting Summer Morning and Running Wild to the B-side.

They didn't, which makes the rating a bit higher than it should be for a half-great and half-unnecessary outing. On the flip side, of course, Crushed Like The Car will easily go down as a band classic. On its own, it would easily be grazing nines along with Summer Morning. (Running Wild not as much, but only because it's going for a good time bliss better left to the movie.)

You can cherry pick the EP on places like iTunes. You can also find the Crushed Like the Car EP by Army Navy on Amazon. If you don't know, The Fever Zone is their own label. The EP was produced by long-time friend Adam Lasus. Check for tour updates on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Free People Finds An Edge For Fall

Free People tank
There are plenty of fans of the bohemian style sported by Free People. This fall, however, proves to be a bit different for the designer. There is a noticeable edge to many of the vintage and classic designs.

The lines are tighter; the colors are bolder. Even something as simple as a tank takes on another dimension with a contoured waist with a flare at the hemline. While this transitional piece will require a jacket as the weather cools down, there is still plenty of time to pull it off as a late summer sensation.

It works for two reasons. The overall lines are bold and daring, but the the cut and crocheted detailing add an unmistakable feminine touch. Add in some stud detailing and it becomes easy to see why the day-tripped Toosloosa tank is still a favorite. It's the piece that inspired this review.

Free People finds a little more edge to its vintage look. 

The look definitely brings in a harder edge that was found in the late 60s and early 70s when movements felt more militant. And yet, what makes this design collection memorable isn't only the edge but how the design team managed to make it feminine.

Free People
The military ruffle jacket is a classic example. From the front, there appears to be some much-loved wear to the cotton (and spandex for strength) jacket. It comes across as masculine, with a notched label and ragged sleeves.

But from the back, the ruffled detailing adds a decidedly different twist. And so do the tie cuffs on the back of each sleeve. It's the combination that makes the style tough but with a hint of temptation too.

It's also how most of the collection came together. Even the most bohemian designs, like the dotted mesh Fiona Victorian top carry a toughness worth consideration. The color suggests an autumn romance, inviting and stylish. But how this piece will really pay off depends more on its match.

Free PeopleWith a distressed denim jacket, jeans or skirt, the top becomes a contrasting and comfortable part of any concert ensemble. Again, the lace might make it feminine but the lines are bold, especially across the button back closure.

Of course, not every number is contoured in the collection. Free People maintains its usual range of cuts and styles with every idea casting the collection in a new direction. For something that hugs a little less but still demands attention, Free People has always put out great pullovers.

The only difference between the newest offerings and pullovers from a few seasons ago, much like most of the collection, is the effort to bring everything in to allow for layering. The French Terry boho bum, with its high/low hem and embroidered detailing, is every bit as eye catching but without tailoring.

Free People adds more edge to always interesting and relaxed designs. 

Free People has always been one of my favorite design boutique success stories. It started with a young man named Dick Hayne who planted a seed in West Philadelphia that focused exclusively on younger people who wanted more freedom in their clothes. You know the store. It was called Urban Outfitters.

From there, Hayne and his wife wanted to push their design sensibilities in different directions. They went on to launch more brand stores like Bulldog, Ecote, Cooperative, and Anthropologie. After all of those brands were established, they relaunched Free People as a separate store in 1984.

The Fall Collection From Free People Slips On 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With almost three decades behind the initial brand, Free People remains fresh as it evolves with the times. Initially loved for its cutting-edge bohemian look, the latest collection has added a new edge.

Free People has has more than 50 designs for its new transitional collection. You can view most of the collection at Bloomingdales. The department store recently added a look book that highlights many of the new styles that are waiting to be layered for fall.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Howling Tongues Press A Debut

The Howling Tongues preproduction
After putting out the hit EP Keep The Dust Down last year, the Howling Tongues (formerly The Revels) has followed up their good fortune with a self-released, self-titled debut album that the band hopes will propel them along.

They succeed for the most part, hitting the right notes to make their uncompromised brand of rock 'n roll sound cleaner and crisper. Some people might find it a bit bothersome in that many of the tracks lack a pronounced bass like the EP and too much dirt has been removed to make this album a classic.

But when you factor in that his band had the foresight to produce their own album at the Sound Emporium in Nashville, it quickly becomes clear this 5-piece deserves some credit. There are plenty of high points on this album. 

The Howling Tongues add Southern flair to rock 'n roll. 

The Howling Tongues celebrate two years together in August, but they sound like they've played together for years. Originally consisting of guitarist Nick Magliochetti, vocalist Taylor Harlow, and drummer Tylor James, it was the addition of bassist Zach Smith and keyboardist Thomas Wainwright that established the sound they're known for today. They call it “no regret rock 'n roll.”

While it took another year of live shows and two EPs to perfect it, the Howling Tongues feel confident in the product put together with the help of producers Stan Lynch and Billy Chapin. This time around, the band couldn't rely on computers. Everything was recorded straight to tape.

"We instantly knew that something great would come from working with Stan and Billy,” said Magliochetti. "However, none of us expected to be this blown away by the end result."

The underlying track to their album teaser is Gotta Be A Man, the lead-off track to their new album. It's a spirited, tough talking Southern track in the vein of veteran rock. The entire goal of the track was to lay something down that could get people on their feet.

From there, the album takes a dramatic down tempo turn, showcasing Harlow's ability to set a different mood with his smoky and slowly drawn vocals. Anyone who loves the Black Crowes will immediately have cause to contemplate the similarities. It isn't the only song that inspires comparison.

Other standout tracks include Strange Way To Say Goodbye, Another Heart To Bleed, and What's It Going To Take. All three present a more contemplative side of the group, painting them as a 5-piece brooder rock band with plenty of vocal depth and instrumental finesse.

The Howling Tongues
Outside of those tracks, Too Many Times is a risky but well-appreciated departure from the band's sound as they try on some country rock. While the track isn't necessarily dynamic enough to close out the album the way many people would like, it does prove that the Howling Tongues have greater depth than either of their previous EPs suggested.

In many ways, that is what you can expect from their self-titled debut overall. The Howling Tongues are dead set on showcasing their diverse talent, even at the expense of a riveting rock direction that seemed to be set on Keep The Dust Down. The new direction is still good, but not nearly as moving or convincing as the six tracks that preceded it.

The Howling Tongues Wag At 4.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As an album, the the Howling Tongues' self-titled debut is well worth a listen. There is no question that their brand of rock is cool. At the same time, with the exception of those standouts mentioned, it sounds best when added to their existing set list as opposed to a standalone.

You can catch the Howling Tongues debut on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. To keep up with the band as they begin to book shows and tour dates, follow them on Facebook. For anyone hoping to pick up a vinyl edition, visit the band's website. They pressed 1,000 vinyl records (gold).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Susan Crandall Whistles Past A Grave

Whistling Past The Graveyard
With her father working on oil rigs for weeks or months at a time, 9-year-old Starla Claudelle is mostly raised by her grandmother Mamie. The arrangement, however, is less than ideal. As much as Mamie loves her granddaughter, she still harbors a grudge against the girl's mother Lulu.

Lulu left her family for a shot at stardom in Nashville six years prior, leaving Starla to bear the brunt of the grudge. Mamie blames Lulu for everything "wrong" with Starla, from what she considers a trampy first name to a temper prone to boil over.

Mamie is hellbent on fixing every bit of it. And when Starla resists changing her name or minding increasingly strict rules, Mamie ratchets them up all the more. She never wants Starla to turn out like her no good mother.

Whistling Past The Graveyard is a richly drawn Southern yarn about character. 

When the tension between the two eventually comes to a head, Starla decides to run away rather than being sent to reform school. So she leaves everything that she knows behind in favor of a dreamy reunion with her famous mother somewhere in Nashville.

For the first few hours, Starla feels as liberated as the Fourth of July. But in the next few hours, she slowly starts to rethink her choice. With the hot sun beating down on her and not a drop to drink, Starla realizes the folly of an unplanned escape. She's in over her head, with no hope on the road.

Perhaps that's why Starla does the unthinkable when the first truck she has seen in miles stops right beside her. She accepts a drink from a black woman who is driving it. And then, she accepts a short ride down the lonely country road. Except, the ride is neither short nor lonely. Once in the cab, Starla learns that the woman has given refuse to a white baby too.

From the moment Starla climbs into the cab, none of their lives will ever be the same. The three of them will risk life and limb as they traverse the racially divided South in the 1960s. Their only assets? Starla is strong willed and Eula is impossibly pragmatic. And despite being from different worlds, they eventually learn to lean on and trust each other to survive.

"I believe we’ve come a long way in measuring one another based on our individual character and not our race," says author Susan Crandall. "I understand we’re miles away from that pure goal, but trust that our humanity will continue to inch us closer."

A few graphs about accidental author Susan Crandall. 

Susan Crandall
Crandall never fancied becoming an author. She was a dental hygienist who loved books. As an avid reader, she fell in love with words just as much. She used to look up words just to see what they might mean.

Crandall's passion might have ended there, but her life took a dramatic turn when she found out that her sister had taken to writing. Crandall volunteered to edit, and eventually co-authored four books with her. Ten years ago, Crandall published her first solo work and has continued to progress ever since.

The quiet and unassuming girl from small town Indiana has grown into an empathetic and award-winning writer. She is also the mother of two grown children, one of whom is also a writer. The other is pursuing a career in science.

Whistling Past The Graveyard By Susan Crandall Steals 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although the seeds of the story had been developed nearly a year prior, Crandall had pushed the story aside in the hope of finishing another project. But then something happened. As the story of Starla became clearer and the other story a muddled mess, Crandall abandoned the original novel.

Instead, she decided to stop fighting herself and dedicated all her time to Whistling Past The Graveyard. It immediately felt right. It was the book she knew she was supposed to write. Anyone who reads it will think so too.

Other than giving Starla a wisdom and tenacity beyond her years, Whistling Past the Graveyard is a frightening, forgiving and freeing story of that is one part foolhardy and two parts courage. You can find Whistling Past The Graveyard by Susan Crandall on Amazon. You can download it for iBooks or order the book from Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is narrated by Amy Rubinate, who lends even more credibility to the well-drawn heroine Starla.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Typhoon Sparks A White Lighter

If you ask anyone from Portland, they might hear something bittersweet in Typhoon's new album White Lighter. If this album makes anything clear, it's that the band isn't a local-only treasure anymore.

Sure, some might argue that the 11-piece band has always been big, but not like this. White Lighter is the first album that feels almost too big to be played at intimate house shows or anchor pub crawls.

Nowadays, Typhoon needs a venue to match the orchestra-sized sound as it slides back and forth between pop and rock, rock and folk, folk and orchestra, orchestra and alternative, and back again. Even more remarkable, Typhoon doesn't do this across the album. They do it inside each song.

The power of White Lighter is mighty. The urgency is near punk. 

A few months ago, Roll Call Records put out Dreams Of Cannibalism in advance of what the label promised would be the biggest album in the band's emergent career. There is some truth to it. The track immediately earned some attention, even if it was split across among different formats and platforms.

One of my favorite renditions was the video shot by Matthew Thomas Ross. As one of the creative minds behind neighborhood films, he cut to the very heart of the track as one generation blames its ills on the preceding generation. And, in focusing on this thread, he brings the haunting lyrics to life.

What makes this song stand out is how it cuts down a common misconception that every generation deserves to be condemned for not being perfect. Whereas most musicians are content to roll with this notion, Typhoon breaks from the pack in highlighting a different perspective.

They submit a plea of ignorance, recognizing that more people follow lock step in whatever they are taught. But at the same time, they don't necessarily exonerate any evil deeds. The pain of it still provides a warning. Kyle Morton is an amazingly emotive and contemplative frontman.

While all that might sound almost too heady or heavy, Ross adds in a colorful spot of satirical irony at the end. He isn't the only one to add it. Typhoon often spreads in some satirical moments in its music.

The balance of the album is an experimental bit of tight noise. 

With 12 full tracks and an 11-second prelude, it's easy to get lost inside White Lighter. Artificial Light carries another part of the album's theme that attempts to weigh in on what we think versus what we do, a near parable that talks about how the flame we're taught to chase could be a fake.

Young Fathers follows, a dreary but heartfelt track about the promise of youth and heartbreak of age. The epic sentiment can found in the lyrics, with Morton singing "When you're young, you have, you had your whole life before you. Everyone will adore you. You'll grow up to be an astronaut. Then you weren't."

There are other great tracks, but perhaps none are as perfect as Young Fathers. Other standouts include the loss inside Morton's Fork, the somberness of Possible Dreams, and the emotive edge of Post Script. All three tracks, much like the other three highlighted, touch upon on how fleeting life can be.

Perhaps what makes this theme so significant is that it chose Morton more than he chose the theme. The urgency of it stems from a brush with death caused by something as random as a bug bite. Morton nearly died after his organs started to fail. His life was spared with the help of modern medicine and the donation of a kidney from his father.

"When we started working on White Lighter, I had reason to believe it would be the last thing I ever did," said Morton. "It is now six months since we finished. I'm still here and there's still work to be done."

White Lighter By Typhoon Sweeps 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While some tracks get lost in the layered instrumentals, White Lighter is easily the band's finest work. Morton has outdone himself as a prolific songwriter, elevating the recording project he and Devin Gallagher started in college. Nothing beats knowing there is more to come.

White Lighter by Typhoon can be found on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or order the vinyl edition from Barnes & Noble. Typhoon will begin touring to promote the album in September. The first two shows will be held in their hometown of Portland and followed with performances in nearby Vancouver and Seattle. For details, find Typhoon on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Drury Plaza Hotel Has A History

St. LouisAlthough the Drury Hotel Plaza consists of three historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its the oldest that best epitomizes the history of St. Louis. Much like the famed St. Louis Arch is a monument to the country's western expansion, the building was originally built on one of the country's biggest western industries.

Constructed in 1919, the building on the northwest corner was the world's most important fur trading auction floor. And for the next two decades, it would dominate the industry as coats and hats became a symbol of prosperity during the roaring 20s — the line between east and west as well as the past and future.

After all, St. Louis was not only the gateway to the west, but also a city that thrived with the rise of steamboats and later became the home of the telephone, an invention by the esteemed Alexander Graham Bell. It was an epicenter of progress and expansion, a city unafraid to reinvent itself several times over.

The Drury Plaza Hotel brings together several historic sites. 

Along with the building on the northwest corner, the hotel also consists of the 10-story Thomas Jefferson building annex, which was added to the International Exchange by a hat company in 1957. And the neighboring American Zinc Building, built in 1967, is one of only three truss structural-style buildings left in the United States.

Drury Plaza Hotel
Interestingly enough, all three of these buildings were scheduled to be demolished in 1997. According to the hotel's history, Charles and Shirley Drury stopped the wreckers on their way to attend a mass at the Old Cathedral. After purchasing the buildings, they renovated the expansive lobby to reflect the original architecture and opulence of the exchange.

Of course, the three buildings aren't the only historic structures that the hotel seems to bind together. The Drury Plaza Hotel is centrally located next to several city assets, including the St. Louis Arch.

Hospitality and location make the Drury Plaza Hotel memorable. 

The Arch is the cornerstone of any visit to St. Louis. Built as a monument to Thomas Jefferson and the pioneers who gathered in St. Louis before heading west on the Oregon Trail, the arch also became a symbol of American architecture.

The structure is 630 feet (63 stories) tell with an expanse of 630 feet between the outer sides of its legs. Each leg is 54 feet across, constructed with 3/8-inch structural steel on the inside and 1/4-inch stainless steel on the outside. Even more remarkable, however, is to consider that both legs were built at the same time, requiring the structure to be jacked together to fit the last piece. It was built in 1963.

ArchOther nearby attractions include the St. Louis city museum, a 600,000-square-foot shoe factory transformed into an eclectic mix of hands-on activities and unique architecture; the Saint Louis Art Museum, which was originally founded in 1878; and the legendary Fox Theater, which opened in 1929. Also nearby is the Old Courthouse, which has its own rich history and exhibits.

More than 150 years old, the courthouse is a prominent architectural landmark and site of several historic cases. This is where the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850 and where Virginia Minor's case for a woman's right to vote came to trial in the 1870s. The courthouse was also part of the Underground Railroad.

The Drury Plaza Hotel In St. Louis Preserves 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the opulence of the hotel doesn't necessarily blend into the rooms, the friendliness of the staff and walking distance to the arch, the Old Courthouse, and Busch Stadium make up for the minor wear and tear. Another nice attribute to note is that the hotel is reasonably priced for being so centrally located.

St. Louis isn't always top of mind when people consider travel options, but the city is surprisingly rich in history and has a flair for preserving jazz as it was heard in the 1950s. For details and booking information, start by comparing specials against top travel deals at While the Drury Plaza Hotel charges for parking, the overnight rate is nominal compared to many hotels.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

False-Heads Are An Aspiring Artist Pick

There are plenty of people who could never conceive of grunge having a second life, let alone a second life in London. But there's a foursome that has been busy trying to bring some semblance of it back.

After forming up in 2010, False-Heads went largely unnoticed. They sent out early demos, but are among the first people to tell you that they weren't worth the listen. Frontman Luke Griffiths even summed them up as sloppy and under rehearsed.

But then something started to change. The band started putting in more time and produced Animation Draining Needles. The sound was solid, perhaps more punk than grunge but with a pretty brassy alternative rock. It was a good EP, but nothing like the rawness of what the band put out this year.

Tunnel Vision will turn your head to reminisce.

Even Griffiths thinks of the two EPs as coming from different bands. While he worked hard enough on Animation Draining Needles, he assumed he would start over when he left home for school.

"I planned to just make another band when I met Jack [Hertz] and Jake [Elliot]," said Griffiths, . "But we  didn't want to change the name."

New name or not, the new lineup drove the band deeper into the lower keys of rock, underpinning it with some dirty guitar work and strong riffs. The lyrics are appropriately apathetic in their fatality. Fall Around drives the point home. 

The sound isn't anything different, but there are some bright spots in how they deliver it. The lyrics too are something to think about it. False-Heads balances some of the angst felt today with the dreamy, smoke-embued dizziness of Alice In Wonderland. 

Fall Around is the single the band put out to promote the album, but it's the other singles that have gotten more attention on the other side of the pond. The ones receiving the most attention are Where Is Your Man and Without a Doubt. They've made a mark on Q Radio's Single of the Week and other student stations, including the BBC.

The break is great for the band, especially because Griffiths felt some trepidation after all the positive attention from Animation Draining Needles. He said he felt like everything good (such as labels taking an interest in the work) was happening at the worst possible time. Tunnel Vision is his chance to change some of that, with everything good happening at the right time.

The balance of the five-track EP that you'll want to own. 

The reason Where Is Your Man is attracting so much attention is in the lyrical content. It's a lazily sung call for intervention that doesn't necessarily question faith but makes a pointed statement about a different kind of apathy.

Without A Doubt is stronger if not darker with a similar sentiment. It moves off grunge and centers in on Griffith's punk leanings. There is an aggression that drives the track along, making it impossible to ignore. The guitar solo mid-track gives off an interesting and emotive distortion. Play this one twice.

Griffiths tries out a more poppy approach in Remedy, making the music light enough for indie pop enthusiasts to find something they like. It's a nice change of pace, with some folk influences tossed in too.

Comfort Consumption shares a similar tone. My first impression at the onset of the song was that it was going to close on too light of note as opposed to those big bassy riffs on the front end of the album. But as the song progressed, I dug in for another reason all together. This track shows Griffith's true strength as a lyricist while foreshadowing some future discipline in the way this band plays.

Tunnel Vision By False-Heads Spins 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Sometimes people ask me if I think a band will actually end up somewhere. Sometimes your gut knows, even if you don't let other people know. In the case of False-Heads, I can't really tell if they will take off or not, but I do know I want them to. There aren't too many people who can cue up grunge rock confessionals that are authentic (despite being a little rough at times). I believe in False-Heads and Griffiths is among my favorite lyricists.

Tunnel Vision is an independent release and isn't circulating around too many distribution channels. The best place to catch the Tunnel Vision EP is on their Bandcamp page. The download is free (with a decent bonus track), which is almost a shame because I would have liked to support the band with a name your price purchase. Next time around.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Airocide Makes Nano Technology Real

The first time you hear the story, it carries a sense of urgency. The International Space Station wanted to eliminate ethylene gas being produced by the plants on the space station. The gas, which is a plant by-product, accelerates ripening. By eliminating it, astronauts could keep real produce around longer. 

In one of those cases that proves the value of NASA right here on earth, the invented technology has since been applied by food packers, florists and grocery chains. By eliminating the ethylene gas trapped in storage facilities and refrigerators, food stays fresher longer. 

As it turns out, food preservation wasn't the only place this technology was effective. It can also eliminate bad stuff emitted from things around the house, like aerosol sprays, cleaning supplies, disinfectants, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, and other volatile organic compounds. 

Airocide removes everything from the air that purifiers can't. 

The technological advantages didn't stop there. Airocide was also found to eliminate pollen, dust mites, viruses, bacteria and other biological pollutants. It iss so effective that hospitals and clinics now use them to help stop the spread of everything from bacteria to infectious disease. 

While what it does is pretty cool, how it does it is even cooler because this solution is not an air filter. It works more like science fiction. The Airocide draws in almost everything that is harmful in the air and forces it into a densely packed matrix where it is zapped by a 254-nanometer light.

Airocide Wall MountIn other words, it destroys the bad stuff at the molecular level. That's significantly different from air purifiers that attempt to trap harmful compounds in a filter. Airocide technology removes it completely. There is nothing left except clear air with zero ozone emissions.

The design resembles wall art at a glance. 

The space you see between the two sides isn't where anything happens. The chambers are on either side of the purifier, which gives it a high-tech modern art look. The company recently began offering dark wood sleeves to house the unit too. It's likely more colors will be added in the future.

Three additional features are being added too. The company that makes Airocide is adding wall mounts, floor stands, and reaction chamber replacements (you do have to change the reaction chamber about once a year). Currently, most people find a place for it on a dresser, shelf or end table.

The unit does emit a noise, but it's not any louder than the nicest air purifiers on the marker. My friend did say there is a slight chemical odor the first it's turned on. This smell dissipates after a few days. It's no big deal. As an air purifier, it works. In some ways it works too well.

The last remaining challenges for this product will disappear over time.

The first challenge is simple enough to figure out. The price point is on the high side. The unit itself is about $800, with a commitment to replace the chambers about once a year (another $100).

Airocide Details
There are two ways to look at the price point. The first is how much you value clean air. My friend bought it because he has two children and is willing to try almost anything to improve their quality of life. It makes sense. And that brings me to the second challenge.

Many testimonials credit the gadget with reducing everything from allergies to odors. My friend has left a review or two, raving about the product as well. But as human beings, we're all pretty stubborn when it comes to what we see. And because this doesn't produce a filter with gunk on it, many people wonder if it does anything at all. No amount of science will change the common brain.

The Airocide Air Purifier Cleans Up 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Both challenges mentioned will likely be overcome as more people buy them. You know how this works. Technology gets cheaper and cheaper with bigger production runs. And people adopt belief in unseen sciences as more people adopt something. Remember when critics said that smart phones needed buttons or when people didn't see any real benefit in flat screen televisions? Yeah, like that.

You can purchase the Airocide Air Purifier direct from the company. Recently, it has also added the Airocide Air Purifier to Amazon. You can read some of the reviews there. The company also has a money back guarantee, asking people to try the purifier for 60 days. You'll feel different, they say.

Incidentally, when I asked our editor why he thought the Airocide Air Purifier didn't do better despite decent media coverage, he said the company needed to make itself more human. Trust and assurance come from the people with stories who stand behind a product. Stories like this, he said.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Newsted Moves To Heavy Metal Music

Jason Newsted is having the time of his life. After releasing the critically acclaimed debut EP Metal, the former Metallica bassist has been making metal the way he wants. The full-length album, Heavy Metal Music, stays true to his love for crunching guitar riffs, high gain percussion, and meditative vocals.

The heaviness on the completed album often dusts off a familiar vintage sound, deeply satisfying in its influence from bands like Kreator or even early Megadeath, who Newsted has been touring with now. The album, along with live performances, has put to rest any doubt that Newsted can deliver vocals.

Even with some tracks being recast (now with guitarist Mike Mushok on board) from Metal, the 12 dense and anthemic tracks chug along with purposeful contemplation. If there are any surprises, it's that Newsted rages on some tracks while taking a more omnipotent storyteller approach on others.

Heavy Metal Music is exactly that. Heavy. Metal. Music. 

Some people frame up much of the album as old fashioned, but the better descriptor is meat and potatoes. If you peeled back all the layers of progression and sub-genres that metal became over the course of five decades, this is the sound that is left.

There is a dark, deep and doom-driven base that can be menacing in its iron-like hardness. Newsted also weaves in techniques from trash metal and progressive but most people will hear a special effort by Newsted in looking to the roots of metal as his muse.

Even the breakout single, Above All, conveys that point. The lyrical video released by Newsted is a warning against darker days brought about by unfriendly and oppressive systems. The song is about someone who begins to break out from the muck with independent thought.

The message doesn't crescendo as a call to action, but rather rings as an intellectual truth. The track isn't nearly as harsh or angry as Soldierhead, an old school, high-octane ode to servicemen and women. But it is representative of the sure-handed tempo and occasional frantic bursts that give the album character.

King Of The Underdogs was also re-recorded with Mushok. It's about being the best of the worst. Even outcasts identify people among themselves who are worth admiration. Given his contribution to Who Cares, one might even count Newsted among that kind of metal royalty.

As The Crows Flies contains one of Newsted's favorite moments on the album, with its dual guitar lead at the end. During live performances, he said it is one of the few opportunities he can step back for 30 seconds and enjoy what his band does.

Written within the same timeframe as As The Crow Flies, Kindevillusion also has a story behind it. The track is personal to Newsted. Much of the song has to do with seeing the dream before you pursue it. And therein is where Newsted relates. He envisioned his second life and the band that would deliver it.

Overall, the album is an excellent outing that brings metal around full circle. Even lyrically, Newsted makes it clear that his music might have dark undertones but the words he writes down are all together different. His metal celebrates the individual, hero and dreamer over whatever is being sold. It's about time.

Heavy Metal Music By Newsted Bangs 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the EP seemed to promise a heavier and faster outing from Newsted than the album ultimately became, Newsted is clearly bringing back heavy metal like it used to be heard. Good. There is a need for metal to maintain more diversity in its offering. Sub-genres are cool, but never to excess.

You can find Heavy Metal Music by Newsted on Amazon. You can find the vinyl LP at Barnes & Noble or download the album for iTunes. Newsted has been touring hard in the first half of the year. You can keep up with the band's schedule on their Facebook page.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Masaryk Station Chills With Cold War

Masaryk Station
Masaryk Station by David Downing is meant to be the finish of his six-novel series that follows Anglo-American double agent John Russell in Germany from World War I through the opening moves of the Cold War, but it has the feel of a standalone espionage thriller and pre-Cold War survival story. While the station itself is located in Prague, Russell and his family still live in Berlin. The year is 1948.

They are doing better than most. Between his front as a newspaper correspondent and his wife, Effi Koenen, being a German actress admired by both Americans and Soviets, there is no shortage of choices. The only problem is that the choices they make may have deadly consequences.

So like many people attempting to survive and choose sides in the dawn of the Cold War, they must navigate a hard line. On the one side, there are brash and reckless Americans attempting to prop up or evacuate former Nazis to gain an upper hand in Europe. On the other side, the Soviets are increasing their grip and creating a socialistic slavery that will not tolerate dissent in the slightest.

The makings of a Cold War and the fate of Germany. 

The Berlin Blockade was the first international crisis since World War II and is taking shape as former allies attempt to set their opposing agendas in motion. The Soviet Union wants to unify a weakened Germany under Communist control within a Soviet sphere. The American-British-French (Trizone) press for an economically self-sufficient Germany, which they see as critical to a productive European economy. Despite being mostly left in ruins, the outcome hinges on Berlin.

East Berlin 1948
What makes Russell such an interesting character at the heart of it is his own divided loyalties between the Soviet NKVD and American CIA. Like many, he takes exception to seeing former Nazis (and anti-Communists) being given a second chance. And yet, the Soviets seem to be moving in a dangerous direction, one that isn't protective of workers but of a new and terrifyingly exploitive state.

It is in this tenuous setting that Russell must choose sides, but without being discovered as a double agent before he and his family are safely out of Germany. It's easier said then done, especially because the Americans are giving him increasingly dangerous and easily blundered assignments.

With time running out, Russell decides to seek out one final operation from his Soviet liaison, a mission that will secure the protection he needs while shaming the other into silence. As he attempts to navigate a maze of dubious loyalties, he eventually discovers that the mission he has undertaken hits closer to home than he ever imagined.

A couple graphs about the author and his prose.

David Downing
While the story doesn't have as much action as the rest of the series and is sometimes called the least climatic of the lot, Downing manages to capture the dreary state of post-war Germany at the hands of two brutish adolescent powers. He leaves his primary characters largely cathartic, recognizing that noting will ever be the same. After having exposed them to so much, they have developed a stiffness as being seasoned.

In this way, Downing almost feels more comfortable as a historian than a storyteller this time out. What hasn't changed is his crisp, tightly written prose. Downing proves once again that he is impeccably adept at breathing life into historical fiction as well as history.

Masaryk Station By David Downing Escapes 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Downing never fails to entertain with history and educate with fiction. With an equal talent for both, Masaryk Station brings a tepid close to his series while priming his fans for something new due out this year. What makes his work particularly memorable is that he never glamorizes espionage, making much of players either inept or surprisingly vulnerable to other agencies getting in their way.

Masaryk Station (John Russell) by David Downing is available on Amazon. You can also order the novel from Barnes & Noble or download it from iBooks. The audiobook on iTunes is read by Michael Healy, who delivers a crisp narration that would be fitting for a John Bucan book. There is a historical addendum after the book that crystalizes Downing's thoughts on the Berlin Blockade and Cold War to follow, especially as it related to Germany.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Dangerous Summer Golden Record

The Dangerous Summer
Not everyone was happy when The Dangerous Summer drifted away from their pop punk roots toward a rock sound. Some of it depends on what you love. Some people love most emo. Me too.

It's also why I embraced this band's transition. The Dangerous Summer felt a calling to bring some of what they learned as a pop punk and emo band into rock, giving the mainstream a shot of urgency that many rock bands just don't have. So yeah, I was one of the people who embraced War Paint.

The Dangerous Summer simultaneously made room for a younger band in the alternative sub-genre while bringing a badly needed complexity to rock and roll. After listening to their newest release, I think they perfected the sound. Some people might still call it alternative. Whatever. It's great rock.

Golden Record is a high point for The Dangerous Summer. 

Golden Record comes across as exactly what it is meant to be. If there has been an evolution of sound over the last seven years, this album arrives at the end of the transformation. This long and drawn out natural progression has culminated with some of their best material.

The opener Catholic Girls is the perfect place to start. It sets the tone for the album and introduces exactly what you ought to expect. Frontman AJ Perdomo brings his signature emotive vocals to bear in urgent, atmospheric rock. It's appropriately pained and somber.

There isn't any mistake in what the band accomplishes. Catholic Girls sets up its chills with the contemplative tragedy that is life. They hit fans right between the eyes, saying I've been there too.

Sins is a poignant and pained song about long distance love. The Dangerous Summer hits on the uncertainty of it. It doesn't even matter if the separation is abroad or across town over summer break, the longing feels the same. Phone calls aren't enough.

This is precisely the kind of material that has kept this band relevant for so long. Drowning tackles the angst of becoming jaded. Knives professes commitment but not without a price. Honesty brings up what happens when none of it works out. And the balance of the album largely exists in those feelings.

If there is any emo left, it's likely attached to the band's ability to craft songs that are deeply introspective. They tell stories, but somehow pluck out stories that feel like our stories. And the only downside to that sometimes, if there is a downside, is that sometimes you want to listen to it alone.

Along with a solid 10-track album, The Dangerous Summer has tacked on three revisit versions of their songs. Sins, Miles Apart, Catholic Girls all have alternative mixes that bring in pop elements, acoustics, or otherwise stripped-down versions of the songs. Lastly, they include the acoustic demo version of Sins, which doesn't sound much like a demo.

The Dangerous Summer Golden Record Shines 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This album picks up where War Paint left off with an outstanding sense of confidence from the band. There might not be as much diversity as their last outing, but some of that could be attributed to the addition of Matt Kennedy (guitar) and Ben Cato (drums), who came on last year to round out what has become a Perdomo and Cody Payne production.

The Dangerous Summer is touring the United States through September. At the end of it, they are taking a short tour within the United Kingdom. Golden Record (Deluxe Version) from The Dangerous Summer can be picked up at Amazon. You can also also order the vinyl edition from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. For touring details, find them on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

There Really Is Something To Untuckit

"The best ideas are ones that solve problems for yourself." — Chris Riccobono, Untuckit

Sometimes that is true. And it is true for Chris Riccobono. He wanted a button-down shirt that looked good untucked so he went to work trying to solve the problem some men have, finding the right shirt.

Most of the time, button-down shirts are either too long or too tight to leave untucked. They need to be tucked. Then once they're tucked, there are always new problems. You have to find a belt, which isn't too hard with khakis as much as jeans. But let's face it. Who wants to wear conventional pants anyway?

As jeans have become more acceptable in more settings, wearing button-down shirts untucked made more sense. While the proverbial jeans and a T-shirt doesn't always cut it, a button-down adds just enough dress to make everything work.

There are several dozens looks here. All of them are untucked. 

The variety of styles are all borrowed from what you might expect to find anywhere. Untuckit makes oxfords, ginghams and plaids and even the occasional henley. The difference is mostly in the hemline, with the shirts tailored to be 2 to 4 inches shorter than most shirts.

untickit shirtWhile you can wear them slightly longer or shorter, the idea is to land between the belt line and the pants pockets, dressing up the look but negating the need for a belt. The shirts also run more narrow toward the bottom, ensuring they won't billow or flare out. Here are three for comparison.

Medoc (top). The shirt itself is a periwinkle plain with light blue and pink overlay. It works because the pattern is a clean, classic look. The fabric for this shirt comes from Japan. It's 100 percent cotton.

untick shirtIt was also one of the first shirts designed for the launch of Untuckit a couple of years ago. Riccobono has said several times that it's one of his favorites. It's also one of the shirts that NHL star and Untuckit partner Brad Richards wears too.

But not all of the Untuckit shirts have a prep look about them. The darker colors look more rustic.

Fleur Cardinale. The navy, white, and gray flannel with red check overlay is a flannel. The fabric is thicker than the lighter fare, lending itself better to the more rugged regions of America. Like the periwinkle, the fabric also comes from Japan. (Not every shirt fabric does.)

Rioja II. Another look from Untuckit includes a plain variation. The concept was to give a casual edge to the classic look. I chose the blue as an example because they seem to have more depth than the whites. However, I didn't order this particular shirt because the time for button-down collars has passed.

A few things to think about when you check out the shop. 

Like many online retailers, there is always a bit of a mix in what you will find. In this case, Untuckit does a great job laying out the sizes to help people find the best fit. The sizing page is one of the best features on the site in that it's very clear what size you need to have the seams land where you want.

The grid basically lines up weight to height. While this might not solve the occasional issues all men might have, Untuckit does go a long way in guiding them to do what's right. You can preserve a fit with dry cleaning or wash it to make it shrink slightly or wash it and tumble dry to shrink it more.

What I don't like about the site is pretty common among retailers. It happens all the time. You flip through a few product pages and finally find the shirt you like, only to discover your size is long gone. One of these days, retailers will make sizing more visible, negating the need for treasure hunt sizing.

Untuckit Changes Up The Basic Button Down For 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Untuckit shirts have been out for a few years and it's great to see the company is continuing to catch some attention on an idea that is almost too good. By that, I mean that the concept is so simple that there isn't really much more to be said. Maybe it's time for them to think more about design too.

The best place to look for the newest Untuckit arrivals is direct. Some of the newer additions include an experiment with wrinkle-free button-down shirts, polos, tees, and other style. The company also supports The Pete Frates Fund, which we think is pretty cool too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Norma Jean Does Right As Wrongdoers

Norma Jean is one of those metal bands that feels so much older than its history. Sixteen years is a long time, but it feels like more than 25 years with only Chris Day remaining from the original lineup. And yet, the band is experiencing its renaissance of sorts.

Wrongdoers is the first album to feature the new additions of Jeff Hickey (guitar), John Finnegan (bass), and Clayton "Goose" Holyoak (drums) alongside Day and near decade-long member Cory Brandan. But the change has made a dramatic difference in other ways too.

"We always try to take it to the next level," said Day. "This one is definitely a progression, but it's also fun because it's fast and kind of punk rock."

They accomplished it by going back to square one. Specifically, while Brandan and Day still write the songs, the newer band members made additions and, in some cases, help rewrite the songs to create an entirely new dynamic. Brandan has even said that they (him and Day) would have never thought of these new ideas that now influence the music.

As a summation, the album sounds like a mixture of Norma Jean that most people know but with enough new material to prove that the band has not only survived, but also thrived after several years of setbacks. It's clear that the band is working to usher in an entirely new era, one that separates it from the nostalgia of the first three albums and positions Meridional as a placeholder.

In other words, Wrongdoers is the new Norma Jean. And if the band holds the course, this will be the one that people will remember. The payoff is clearly in the finished product as the production was often described as a nightmare. The new energy and angst wasn't all voluntary. Some of it was forced.

"What we made definitely had its way with us," said Brandan. "We pushed ourselves to keep writing, scrapping songs time and time again; we knew it was not ready but remained hopeful that we'd find a way out."

They did. Through all the headache and heartbreak, Norma Jean has emerged with something better as a result. Sure, there will be people who still look back to the early albums, but it's difficult to deny that Wrongdoers is a badly needed break for the band. If this was a debut, they'd have center stage. The tease.

The track, a small piece from If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty, bridges metal in just two minutes, with some trash and sludge tossed in for good measure. It's hard enough to pack a punch, making anyone who loves metal want to position themselves right in front of the concert speakers.

If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty was also the song that the band opted to put up first as an audio track. You can take that in on YouTube even if I wish they would have broken out with Hive Minds. The deep pounding percussion in the background and guitar work in the foreground is compelling as much as it is foreboding. The onslaught of it is perfectly paced with Brandan at his best.

Other standout tracks that promise to bludgeon the senses include the beating The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind, the chug of The Potter Had No Hands, and the soaring In Mouth, Fire Eyes. While all 11 tracks, including the 50-second stopover in Afterhour Animals, make for a near perfect album, those three best represent the cohesive diversity that that Norma Jean has pulled together.

Wrongdoers By Norma Jean Knocks Out 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The two other must hear tracks are Wrongdoers, which is an all together different kind of brilliant that even non-metal fans will want to put on their playlists, and Sun Dies, Blood Moon that moves through a 14-minute masterpiece. It not only anchors the album, but also ties this down as a band with more of a future ahead of it than a past behind it. At the very least, we can hope.

Wrongdoers by Norma Jean is available from Amazon. You can order the album from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Norma Jean has been touring aggressively this summer with  Dillinger Escape Plan as part of their Summer Slaughter Tour. For tour dates and information, check out their Facebook page.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Vasquez And Sounds Of Things Falling

The Sounds Of Things Falling
Young law professor Antonio Yammara only knew Ricardo Laverde about a year. He had met him a few weeks before Christmas at a billiards club, where both men liked to isolate themselves from the bigger problems of Bogota, Colombia.

Drawn in after learning Laverde was an ex-convict, Yammara invited Laverde to play with him. And from that day forward, the two men would settle into a routine for a few days, even if they mostly remained strangers. Yammara wouldn't have even known that Laverde was married, except he wanted a second opinion on a photo and asked the professor what he thought.

The photo was presumably a gift, something to help rekindle an unlikely reunion after 20 years. That was how long the couple had been separated. She was coming from the United States for Christmas.

But what neither men could guess was that the reunion would never happen. Her plane would never arrive. Flight 965 would crash into the west side of El Diluvio, killing almost all 155 passengers. There were only four survivors, none of which were Elena Fritts de Laverde.

The Sound Of Things Falling is a haunting depiction of intertwined events. 

Yammara remembers hearing about the crash the next morning, but doesn't connect it to his mysterious acquaintance. He had other things on his mind, including the first ultrasound of his future daughter. For the first time in his life, he felt in control of his destiny and changed by the promise of being a father.

He was so sure of it, he forgot all about Laverde until after the holidays. When the two meet again at the billiards club, Laverde ignores Yammara until deciding to ask if the professor happens to know anyone with a cassette recorder. Yammara suggests a lounge and the two walk over together.

Whatever is on the tape, it leaves Laverde visibly shaken. So Yammara closes his eyes, hoping to give Laverde some privacy in whatever moment of sadness he is experiencing. When he opens them again, Laverde is gone.

Unsure of why Laverde left, Yammara attempts to catch up to him. And that is when it happened. Just as Yammara did catch up, two motorbike assassins drive by and open fire on them. The bullets kill Laverde and wound the professor, leaving him physically damaged and suffering with post-traumatic stress. In the months that followed, he begins to feel compelled to investigate Laverde and understand why he had been shot.

The balance of the novel plays out in an increasingly absorbing and tragic mystery. As Yammara slowly begins to fall into the intimate details of this stranger's life, he also begins to fall out of his own. In his pursuit, he finds a life that parallels Colombia, enriched and then destroyed, and the inability to avoid fate.

Juan Gabriel VasquezA couple graphs about about Juan Gabriel Vasquez.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez studied law at the University of Rosario in Bogota before living in Paris for four years. There, he studied Latin American literature and earned his doctorate. He later lived in both the Ardennes and Barcelona.

He has written several novels, including two early works that he ignores. He is also a columnist in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, and sometimes works as a translator. He currently lives and teaches in Barcelona, where he lives with his wife and twin daughters.

The Sound Of Things Falling By Juan Gabriel Vasquez Breaks 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The novel, The Sound Of Things Falling, carries significant literary weight in telling the story of two men and a vivid account of Colombia's history. It is a masterpiece in the level of intimacy Vasquez is able to lay out on the pages, even if the plot exhibits a weakness in a thesis that both men are somehow victims of circumstance. The question whether or not they are forced to relinquish control of their lives lingers.

You can find The Sound of Things Falling: A Novel available on Amazon. You can also find the novel at Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. You can download the audiobook, which is read by Mike Vendetti. The narration suffers from some rough spots, including dropouts. The better bet is to read the translated text by Anne McLean, who manages to retain the author's remarkable command for literature.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pigeon Park Stings With Black Widow

Pigeon Park
When Vancouver-based Pigeon Park released their eponymous EP last year, diversity underpinned the emerging artist pick. The five-piece band prided itself on never really having a consistent set list, making flexibility an important part of their music and where they were headed.

You might never guess that from their new release. The 4-track EP, Black Widow, finds the band settled into a signature blues groove rock. It's a great sound for the Pigeon Park, centering squarely on their strengths. But that's not to say the band has given up on its sometimes soulful and funky sound.

Where they've matured is in developing their overarching style while still managing to weave their diversity into the arrangements. Think of it as the perfect middle ground for the five-year-old band. It helps define their music but gives them enough freedom to make their material feel spontaneous as individual styles emerge within their compositions.

This is the kind of recording that one hopes for from an emerging talent like Pigeon Park. They don't play a collection of solid songs anymore. They have a sound that is clearly becoming Pigeon Park.

Black Widow is a bluesy, sometimes soulful excursion.

The title track, Black Widow, is straight-up hum-along-if-you-want-to rock song about a dangerous seductress who bends men to her will before sucking them dry. And yet, the song itself isn't nearly as dark as the summation implies.

Pigeon Park prevents the track from becoming overtly as dark as the lyrics by infusing temptation into some well-placed guitar licks. Frontman Nick Weber (vocals) might conclude that "it's the last time" at the end of the song, but Kevin Okabe (guitar) and Logan Pacholok (guitar) clearly imply a longing for the next time. It's a warning. It's a dare. And it's held together with a perfect beat and bass line from Hunter Elliott (drums) and Artur Lepert (bass).

It's also not the only place where the band juxtaposes an adrenaline high with a dangerous even disastrous risk. Although the video casts Come Down Slow in a different light, with two teens chasing down a dangerous high, the original concept is drawn from the plight of a homeless girl.

To hear the band members tell it, the lyrics capture the alienation and desperation of life. Although the song doesn't necessarily cut new ground as a straightforward storytelling rocker, it's an extremely tight track and easily the most radio friendly of the lot. Where it wins is in how the band delivers it.

It's very clear that the band has a newfound confidence built on their long-standing camaraderie. It's one thing to lose yourself as a free-spirited rock band but another all together to trust your gut and the guts of your bandmates. It was always just a matter of time.

"We were all friends jamming since childhood," says Weber. "We all went to school together, discovered bands together and jammed together. Eventually, we just bridged that gap."

Forging out a new, streamlined sound isn't the only gap the band is trying to bridge. Money Beats Soul aims at connecting to the groundswell of young adults trapped between picking money or soul. Both soulful and aggressive, Weber peels back the warning as matter of fact. Money wins every time.

Money also wins with its guitar solo, even if there are some splendid solo notes inside the EP's closer, Feel The Rain. The last track starts out as a throwback rock crooner with some funk and psychedelia but ends as a robust, atmospheric howler after its layered build finally reaches a crescendo. Sure, there is a touch of theatrics in the final track but it's all for the right reasons.

Black Widow By Pigeon Park Stings 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Every time this band puts something out, they turn everything inside out to make the most passionate blues groove rock possible. With Black Widow, Pigeon Park had never sounded better or more promising. The EP has fewer frills but more thrills as an accessible EP saddled with the right amount of blues, soul and funk finesse. This is the collection that locks them in as a band to watch.

You can find the Black Widow EP by Pigeon Park on Amazon or download it from iTunes. The band is hosting an EP release party at the Venue in Vancouver, British Columbia, tonight (Aug. 8) with support from other local bands like Whoa! She's A Babe, The Slovos, and No Century. For future tour dates, visit Pigeon Park on Facebook or give the EP a spin on Bandcamp.