Monday, September 30, 2013

Artisan Knit From Peruvian Connection

Kaffe Fassett Kimono
The first time you feel almost any art knit by Peruvian Connection, you'll appreciate it isn't made like most sweaters, jackets, or kimonos. For one thing, many of them are made with alpaca fleece, which is lighter and warmer than sheep's wool.

The alpaca, which is closely related to the llama, is relatively common in Peru. And while they are sometimes used as food or beasts of burden, they are mostly raised for their soft, lightweight fleece. Nothing is really comparable, not even when the fibers are blended with Pima cotton, which has its own story of superiority.

The quality if fine enough that it doesn't loose anything during the manufacturing. In fact, the Peruvian Connection won't take any chances. Most of the clothing is knitted by hand. The women who do it follow in the tradition of their ancestors. The work they create is nothing less than wearable art.

Three amazing styles to head off cooler temperatures.

One of the most immediately striking designs in this year's collection is the Kilim Pima Cotton & Alpaca Kimono (above). The kimono itself is a Kaffe Fassett-designed art knit that has been generously sized. It features drop shoulders, buttonless placket, and stripped border.

Kaffe Fassett Ruana
Fassett, for those unfamiliar, is known the world over for his colorful work in fabric, knitting, needlepoint, patchwork, painting, and mosaics. Since 1937, his work has become so captivating that it's more likely to be seen in a gallery than in a clothing store. Few have his sense of intuition and history.

In this case, his beautiful design made its way to Peru, where it was handmade using 60 percent Pima cotton and 40 percent alpaca. The inspiration for the concentric design is from a Turkish kilim, recast in hand-tweeded, space-dyed hues.

Ukuku Vest
For a more bohemian look, another masterful Fassett creation is the Western Isle Alpaca & Pima Cotton Ruana. A ruana is a garment that is more typical of the Andes. Using this as his inspiration, Fassett was able to hand-frame the traditional style in dozens of tweeded shades, ranging from sky blue and sage to sand and plum.

As a slightly warmer and more durable garment inspired by those worn by the Muisca people of Colombia, the ruana is made with 72 percent alpaca and 29 percent Pima cotton. There is only one size.

A third highlight from the artisan knits featured in the upcoming collection is the Cotton Ukuku Vest. Although not designed by Fassett, some remarkable design elements are apparent. These are inspired by Andean weaving designs. The vest includes drop shoulders, buttonless placket, and ribbed trim.

Some insight into the mother-daughter teams of Peruvian Connection. 

Biddy and Annie Hurlbut
The mother-daughter team of Biddy and Annie Hurlbut can trace its roots to the 1970s when Annie Hurlbut was spending her sophomore summer at an archeological dig in Peru as a Yale student. It was there that she encountered the alpaca.

She never forgot the experience, eventually deciding to return to Peru and write her thesis about women who sell in primitive markets. She was so inspired by the craftsmanship, she began to add designs to their otherwise warm and practical clothing. The results were breathtaking.

When she returned to her family's farm in Kansas, she produced a catalog with her mother and then took some samples to New York City. Bendel's was among the first to purchase them, but not the last.

Art Knits By The Peruvian Connection Weaves 9.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Peruvian Connection apparel is always worthy of being admired. But then then you add the unique, one-of-a-kind design talents of the masterful Fassett, the colllection's art knits truly become works of art. You can learn more about Fasset in Dreaming in Color: An Autobiography.

The best place to appreciate the entire apparel line of the Peruvian Connection is direct. If you can't find what you are looking for at Peruvian Connection UK, the company has another site stateside. Occasionally, you can find random items on sale, such as this Burgundy Florecita Pillow, on Amazon.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Evan Weiss Is Into It Over It

Into It. Over It.
With three full-length albums and scores of cassettes, splits and EPs, it's only natural that Evan Weiss would want to push his sonic reach with his new album Intersections. He has a long history of pushing himself as a songwriter, whether he is working on his own with Into It. Over It. (IIOI) or playing along with other bands like Their/They're/There and Pet Symmetry.

He even laid out ground rules with drummer Nick Wakim when they started working on it. They didn't want to make an album that sounded like anything else they've put out. It's more fun banging out new.

“A lot of this album is uncharted territory and I think you can hear the nervous excitement on this recording,” said Weiss. "There were a lot of happy accidents on this album."

Many people will agree with that. You cut right down to No Amount Of Sound, and you'll immediately understand why this brutally honest songwriter is a favorite around the underground circuit. His delivery is perfect too, laying it out as it ought to be laid out. It's raw and unpretentious.

What's even more real about that track is how Wakim lays out the percussion. It matches Weiss in creating this feeling of spontaneity, both of them slowly banging along with uncertain measure.

Spinning Thread feels like that too. It's a heartbreak that spirals around the album's overarching theme of relationships that intersect and, sometimes, come crashing down despite our best efforts. It's confused, emotional and well-spun desperation.

Spinning Thread is a plea, which is arguably what Weiss does best. The pain of it matches some of the angst in the opener New North-Side Air. While it's not my favorite track in terms of the arrangement, the lyrics are penetrating as Weiss tells his story about sleepless nights. He lays awake in worry over the monotony of life and approaching that middle age marker.

This is also what is so striking about the album. There is a considerable amount of confession in Intersections. He purposefully pulled in tiny details of his life and double meanings that most people could never guess at or even appreciate on the first pass.

“All of our records are almost hyper-personal to a fault and I’ve been trying to keep it that way since the beginning,” he says. 

But that is one of the reasons I think No Amount Of Sound is the better introduction. That track and Your Antique Organ are so easy to relate to a contemplative confessional that makes you think, yeah, it feels like that. Then again, I just might be more drawn to his early work that leaned more on acoustics like these track tend to do.

All in all, if there are any surprises, the biggest seems to be how much influence Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) had in the production. His fingerprints account for the texture and, more than that, this unheard whisper that kept telling Weiss to try this or that in the studio. This might even account for some of the mistakes, which everyone wanted to leave in to add a stamp of character.

Weiss has even said that he sometimes feels like a square peg in a round hole, and he was able to capture some of that this time around. Not only does everybody feel like that sometimes, it's part of what drives him to transcend boundaries without ever getting bored.

Intersections By Into It. Over It. Transcends 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There are a handful of tracks on this album that I'll listen to over and over again, but I can't really say that about every track on this one. Mostly, I found listening to the album straight through reduces some of the novelty that my favorite tracks seem to have on their own. It might be worthwhile to try individual tracks first.

Intersections by Into It. Over It can be found on Amazon. You can also download it from iTunes to order a physical edition from Barnes & Noble (the vinyl edition is something special with an amazingly large lattice-like die cut). Into It. Over It. will be touring the United States through October before heading to Japan, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shannon Brings In The Bone Season

The Bone Season
In the world of Paige Mahoney, only one kind of person faces open discrimination on a daily basis — anyone who lives with the condition of clairvoyance. Those people, afflicted with any type of vision that allows them to gain information from a means beyond the five senses or communes with the dead, can be considered a criminal for the simple act of breathing. She should know. She is one of them.

For the most part, Mahoney has done a better-than-average job of hiding her rare ability. She pretends to work for an oxygen bar, which is a front for her position with the criminal underworld of Scion London.

Paige Mahoney is a criminal of sorts. She was made that way to survive.

Her job is simple enough. She can more or less break into other people's minds by sending her spirit into the æther, a translucent plane of existence that the Greeks once called the "fifth element." Once there, she can sense disturbances in the dreamscapes of other people or any rogue spirits. She can even touch them on occasion, a trick she generally avoids because of the mental and physical side effects.

She can cause a nosebleed or make them forget something. She can cut a deal with a ghost or whack someone's spirit into the √¶ther. But mostly, the crime syndicate uses her as human radar. With her body connected to life support, she is free to travel Scion London and look for voyants, spirits, and other unnatural things that most people would prefer didn't exist.

It is an exceptionally rare talent, especially when compared to more common types like reading auras or summoning spirits or divining the whereabouts of an object or trying to glimpse the future. It's also especially useful because, after all, a girl has to eat.

The only downside is that she is beholden to a mime-lord named Jaxson Hall. She isn't the only one. There are six others who work directly for his section of the syndicate. And all of them, even Jax himself, have developed a family-like bond despite being pressed into service as a means to stay safe.

A day like any other day can suddenly change, even when you're exceptional. 

As if the world set in 2059 (with an alternate past to our own history) isn't enough, there is another secret world that resides outside her gang's purview too. This world, Sheol (formally known as Oxford), is an unusual penal colony that feels like it exists half in and half out of the physical world.

It's ruled by ectoplasmic beings who have cut a secret deal with the outside world, specifically Scion. In exchange for staying out of their affairs, the Rephaim remove troublesome voyants by making them slaves under the guise of rehabilitation. And, unfortunately for Mahoney, she is considered troublesome.

She is captured after a random patrol stops her train. Using technology and the help of clairvoyant turncoats, Mahoney and another voyant are forced to defend themselves with deadly consequences.

It's after she is captured that she learned the truth. Voyants aren't imprisoned in the infamous tower. They are deported to Sheol 1 and sold into slavery to the Rephaim, who employ them as an expendable army, entertainment and spiritual food source. And all the while, they do it in such a way that many clairvoyants believe that their new lives in a barbaric and unforgiving incarceration is superior to trying to survive in the shadows of the world the Rephaim took them from.

A few graphs about author Samantha Shannon.

Samantha Shannon
As an imaginative otherworldly story, Samantha Shannon has created a dense and completely realized world that lurks under the surface of our own. The Bone Season is a riveting and imaginative work, giving credence to why she was able to command a six-figure book deal on the first three books in what will become a seven-book series.

The deal was the result of a bidding war following the London Book Fair. The 21-year-old author, who just recently graduated from Oxford University this year, wrote her first novel when she was 15. While it remains unpublished, The Bone Season has been optioned by The Imaginarium Studios.

The Bone Season Sees 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The depth of this world frequently overshadows the need to tighten the writing as Shannon frequently allows her protagonist to get lost in her thoughts. Sometimes it works, such as weaving in Irish-English tensions over governance. Sometimes it does not, as Mahoney mulls some topic in a near circular manner. Still, there is no question that The Bone Season is a supernatural world that any reader will enjoy becominh lost in for awhile.

You can find The Bone Season: A Novel on Amazon. The novel can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or downloaded for iBooks from Apple. The audio version is available from iTunes and is read by Alana Kerr. The decision to cast Kerr as the narrator was one of several smart moves by Bloomsbury Publishing. She lifts the story off the page, delivering some needed nuances for a especially complex character.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Deer Tick Lays Back With Negativity

Deer Tick
If War Elephant by Deer Tick weighed in like a ton, then Negativity will weigh in like a feather. The new album by these Rhode Island rollickers skips along in its simplicity with exception to those occasional brassy bursts and sharply played ivories.

No, Negativity is not the same raucous, beer-swigging romp that defined Divine Providence and seldom heralds the growl of John McCauley as a defining attribute of the band. Instead, Negativity goes further in smoothing out the quieter and sensible singer that the EP Tim kicked out afterward.

In comparison to its predecessors, this album will feel immediately less spirited and sprawling. In its place, McCauley and company have found a bright patch of creativity that expands upon the band's legendary diversity. There is a clarity here that feels like that momentary crispness somewhere between the the hangover from the night before and the next night's party.

 Negativity adds a bright and shiny spot of clarity to Deer Tick. 

From the very first track, The Rock, Deer Tick tries on a taut and sometimes tentative sound, almost as if the band is trying to play make up for what it did the night before. There is purposefulness in not sounding as confident even if the entire album demonstrates more self-control.

Even the lyrics inside The Rock are all about self-reflection and depreciation, like someone who pushed someone else away during their glory years only to regret it later. It's a great song in that it reveals a need but suggests that need be denied. From his tally, he ain't all that worthy.

At the same time, McCauley continues to exude the spontaneity that has directed most of his life. He writes, composes and plays the way he thinks it will feel right. As the band approaches their decade mark next year, Negativity plays out with a darkly curious melodic tone like a mid-life crisis laced with more hope than confidence because the really bad stuff might finally be behind them.

When McCauley wrote the album last year, that wasn't necessarily the case. On one hand, the singer-songwriter was everywhere. On the other, his engagement to Nikki Darlin was on the rocks. His father was sent to prison for tax fraud. The album, like the title suggests, is a take on negativity.

What is that exactly? Deer Tick doesn't approach negativity with the same depressing cadence that some bands do. They attempt to admit things suck, but that things can suck with a little pop and accessibility. Even so, some songs sound sad nonetheless, like Big House.

The acoustical sounds even richer on the album, but neither rendition captures the band's reputation for writing relevant songs. There are several lines that stand out, but an easy favorite leads "every morning when you mean to keep your hands clean but it's running down your arms casting shadows on your heart."

It's so much easier to want to be good than it is be good. Other standouts on the album include the more robust The Curtain, the upbeat permission-to-fail pop in The Dream's In The Ditch, and the tightly controlled restraint in Mirror Walls all showcase the insatiable talent of a band that has grown up in Newport and Providence, Rhode Island. Meanwhile, Pot Of Gold, Hey Doll, and In Our Town (with Vanessa Carlton) tap into the charm of Deer Tick's ability to be novel across country, folk pop and rock.

Negativity By Deer Tick Drifts Along At 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, this isn't a Deer Tick anyone ought to expect. Sure, McCauley, Rob Crowell, Ian O'Neil, Christopher Ryan, and Dennis Ryan are all accounted for and familiar, but they've just produced an album one-off from anything they put out before. If it were any other band, very little would seem like it fits. Somehow, however, Deer Tick has made a career of fitting things that don't fit together.

Negativity By Deer Tick is available from iTunes. You can also find Negativity on Amazon or purchase the vinyl at Barnes & Noble. The band has a slew of shows booked in October and November. They have one of the best live shows around. You can find them all listed on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TruGlide Pro Expands An Artist Stylus

Chicago-based LYNKtec has seen some success as a two-year-old startup with its sights set on improving tablet accessories, beginning with tablet stands and microfiber cloths. More recently however, the company has expanded beyond those categories into the already crowded stylus market.

The concept came shortly after working with microfibers. The design team realized that the microfibers could be woven into a soft, conductive tip, effectively evolving the stylus away from rubber. And, using a similar concept, create fine microfiber hairs that could be used to make a paintbrush stylus too.

The LYNKtec TruGlide as an alternative stylus. 

Although the LYNKtec stylus offers two solutions in one, each application deserves its own space with the TruGlide Pro tip as the best place to start. It can be purchased as a standalone piece, an ideal writing and drawing instrument for anyone.

The TruGlide Pro is built around a 4.7-inch anodized aluminum body finished in matte black or slate silver. This housing is balanced and has the right feel, mirroring many of the better made styluses on the market in terns of size, weight, and ergonomics. The most unique aspect about it is the 1.5-inch detachable tip, which also distinguishes it from its predecessor.

Beyond cosmetics, such as mixing and matching matte black or slate silver tips, the detachable tip is functional. It ensures the stylus will remain sturdy even after a tip replacement. It also provides LYNCtec a base for any number of interchangeable tips with specialized purposes.

The primary tip is innovative on its own. As a microfiber tip stylus, it feels different than its rubber-tip counterparts. The TruGlide Pro glides freely across the touchscreen and provides for precise 5mm lines.

Sometimes it is difficult to say whether or not the glide is superior to some friction created by a rubber-tip stylus. It often depends on usage and personal preference. One notable difference is that the microfiber tip requires slightly more pressure to overcome its spongy responsiveness compared to the tips I use on a regular basis.

The secondary function adds an artistic paintbrush. 

Last year, we were truly taken by the inventiveness and innovation of Artist Hardware to bring a working paintbrush stylus, Sensu Brush, to market. Using slightly different technologies, LYNKtec wanted to introduce a paintbrush tip extension that was comparative to the one developed by Artist Hardware.

In many ways, it is comparative. The TruGlide Pro paintbrush tip has soft bristles that look indistinguishable from a fine arts paintbrush. The performance is close too. One notable difference is that the edges are rounded but not nearly as tapered as Sensu Brush, which might explain why the brush requires slightly more pressure before the bristles respond.

This means that the experience is similar, even if the TruGlide Pro tip doesn't have the same soft touch. Most people won't notice the difference, but fine artists might when working with both side by side especially with the brush application in Paper or watercolor brushes on ArtRage. Then again, two different kinds of brushes can expand the number of effects at any artist's disposal.

LYNKtec makes the case that one stylus is not enough. 

It seems clear that LYNKtec is looking to compete head to head. In some cases it can compete, but maybe it doesn't have to be the best in every field. As a writing tool, there is something nicer about the more durable microfiber tip that is the cornerstone of TruGlide Pro.

When the tip is moved to an adjacent field like art, the stylus provides a different but not necessarily better feel. There were art applications where the TruGlide Pro microfiber tip and brush were preferred. There were applications when it wasn't preferred. It mostly depends on which pens or brushes are being used on which applications. Each artist is likely to develop their own unique style.

TruGlide Pro Glides To 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

In proving it really does have a place, the TruGlide Pro also proves something unexpected. Most people size up every stylus by which is the best but this category has expanded. You really need more than one. And for anyone hoping to create digital art, having a greater variety of brushes makes sense.

The TruGlide Pro can be purchased direct from LYNKtec. You can also find the TruGlide Pro Stylus on Amazon, but the brush tip is separate. The best deal is to purchase the bundled package, which includes both tips and a tin case. LYNKtec is currently hosting an art brush contest via Facebook, with gift certificates as prizes (up to $50). It clearly belongs to the next generation of must-have tools for tablets.

received a TruGlide Pro bundle from LYNKtec for the purposes of this review. LYNKtec understood that there was no guarantee for review as all products must meet our minimum standards. This stylus did better than that. It exceeded them.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

TRC Shakes Its Fist At The New Nation

For the better part of a decade, TRC has earned its place as an embodiment of London hardcore with a sound they pounded out of of metal, hardcore punk, hip hop, and grime. They have always been the kind of band that trades in descriptions like catchy for crushing and progressive for pummeling.

Their new album, Nation, is no exception. If anything, it carries another layer of intensity and creates what most will find to be their heaviest and hardest album to date. They also put considerable work into their songwriting this time out, making Chris Robson even more compelling as a narrator who means it.

Nation by TRC is relentless heavy hardcore. 

The lone anti-ballad is Weekend Walls, with Robson taking time out to share something personal about his life. Among all of his friends and bandmates, he's the last to find someone. And since it hasn't happened yet, even he has to wonder.

Still, don't expect him to show any softness as a singer. While the instruments make the track feel melodic, Robson rolls out lyrics with his typical signature punch. It seems pretty clear that even when he does feel anything, he feels it by swinging wildly.

The only place he swings more wildly is on the album's battle cry track. We Bring War is nothing more than a big stage nose stub at any bands who call themselves hardcore. It was the last to be written after being inspired by a single riff and it was the first to be released as a lead-in to the album.

The song almost makes the band seem smug, until you work your way down the playlist. TRC isn't all fight. Or, perhaps more exactly, TRC thinks a bit before picking a fight. The result is a song like 10,000 Hours, inspired by the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

The 10,000-hours rule is a critical component to success, according to Gladwell. TRC wants its listeners to tap into that thinking — make a decision and push it until it becomes real. It doesn't even matter when or where you start.

Between Bridges, for example, is a song about waking up at the crossroads of your life. You wake up one day and realize that what you have been doing for the last 20 years doesn't mean anything. So what do you do? Take a risk or stick to the same job.

The most obvious progression is heavier music and headier lyrics. 

If that sounds too heady for a hardcore band, don't fret. The album opens fast and heavy with 3 Letters 4 Seasons and steps it up with the darkly inspired Motivator, and the two-step driven beat behind EX Games. And then there is Gold Medal Music, which was written during the recording of Bright Lights but didn't make the album. It's one of the hardest introductions the band ever wrote.

Closing it out is the title track Nation, which was written to thank anyone who has ever helped the band. Say what you will about Robson, Anthony Carroll (vocals), Charlie Wilson (guitar), Ben Taylor Dingwall (guitar), Oliver Reece (bass), and Lasselle Lewis (drums), but they know where they came from and who helped them get someplace else. To hear them tell it, it took passion and love.

All in all, Nation proves that TRC isn't slowing down after their nomination as Best UK Band at the 2012 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards. They seem empowered to push even harder with a little extra help from Steve Sears (Gallows, Lethal Bizzie) in London. And it doesn't hurt that the band believes this is absolutely the right time for U.K. music (which is why they wrote Team U.K.).

Nation By TRC Takes On 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While it's true that not everyone is in love with hardcore, TRC stands a better chance to change someone's mind about it. There is something refreshing about a band that isn't afraid to feel pride about their country too. Robson himself has said he wants his music to remind people that they have every right to feel proud about being British.

Nation by TRC is available on Amazon. You can also find the CD at Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. The only thing better than listening to the album is turning out for one of their dangerous live shows. Currently, they are planning to tour the United Kingdom in October and November after their album release party on Sept. 26 in London. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jason Mott Dreams Of The Returned

The Returned by Jason Mott isn't the book that many people thought it would be. It's not about the dead rising up from the grave as much as it is about the void they sometimes leave behind. And that's okay.

The author is pretty clear when he makes his case in his prequels. There are no zombies, unless you count the living who have their lives turned upside down when people long since buried begin popping up in the least likely places. There are so many of them, in fact, an entire bureau is created to assist.

And that is where the book, The Returned, really begins. On one seemingly uneventful day, a bureau man knocks on the front door of Harold and Lucille Hargrave. He has something that belongs to them. And they lost it so very, very long ago that its almost impossible to believe.

What would you do if what you lost was returned?

Some people lost mothers. Some people lost fathers. Some lost brothers and sisters. And some lost those who they always assumed were the loves of their lives. But then one day, all the lost began to be found almost exactly the same as the day they were known as the dearly departed. 

For the Hargraves, specifically, it was their son. He died tragically on his eighth birthday party in 1966. And although it wasn't easy, they eventually matured as accidental empty nesters. Even if time did not heal all their wounds, it did temper the pain. They moved on, adjusted, and settled in their quiet and sometimes sadly solitary lives together. 

But not today. Today, several decades after the tragic event that took his life, Jacob stands before them in the flesh. Jacob is home and he is already looking forward to starting over. He opens with a joke. 

"What has four legs and goes booooo?" 

"I don't know," says Harold. 

"A cow with a cold," Jacob says before grabbing his father around the waist in tears. 

Many reunions would play out just like that, but the bureau knows not all of them do. It's one of the reasons of that Agent Bellamy has questions to ask and bureaucratic paperwork to complete. The most important one of them is also the most telling. After all these years, would the Hargraves take him back?

It wasn't the kind of question to take lightly, given Harold and Lucille were in the autumn of their years. But even more than that, they had both formulated opinions about what was happening all over the world, with Lucille seeing it as a sign that it was the end of times. Without any religious fervor, Harold sees them as people. 

Those opinions, of course, both become moot. Nobody knows what they might think about the returned until it is one of their family members at the front door, just like nobody knows what they might think when the bureau begins to rescind the offer of reuniting families and entire towns become detention camps. 

A few more graphs about Jason Mott and The Returned. 

Mott lives in southeastern North Carolina. After receiving his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Mott wrote poetry and fiction for literary journals. He is also the author of two poetry collections, which explains something about his writing for The Returned.

His poetic nature can paint very complete pictures that draw you into the moment, but it can also leave you wanting as well. The meter might sound right when talking about people standing for a "very long time," but it can make you long for something more definitive. This isn't the only place it happens.

Mott leaves more loose ends than are warranted and frequently struggles with whether he wants to tell the small story in Arcadia or a bigger story that spans the globe. The result is that he spins together dozens and dozens of thought-provoking vignettes without giving the reader much ground to walk on.

The Returned By Jason Mott Comes Back With 3.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Keeping in mind that our rating system makes this book a cut above average, The Returned is carried along by scores of memorable scenes and an overwhelmingly intriguing premise. The idea that this is a debut makes it all the better, but readers ought to know ahead of time that this is an emotional think piece that often has a 1950s feel to it. Even the climatic confrontation it leads up to is tied down with civility.

The Returned by Jason Mott can be found on Amazon. It can also be downloaded for iBooks or ordered in print from Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is read by Tom Stechschulte, who brings a warm, timeless storyteller feel to the book. He brings Harold Hargrave to life, but the boy is more of a challenge, especially because Mott froze Jacob at five years old and not eight.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The White Buffalo Sings Of Shadows

The White Buffalo
Jake Smith a.k.a. The White Buffalo returns with another collection of richly crafted Western folk rock songs. This time out, Smith works overtime as a prolific storyteller as Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways tells one arresting tale that spans an entire lifetime.

All 14 tracks revolve around the life of Joey White, a small- town outsider who goes off to war. When he returns home, he struggles to readjust to everyday life. The girl he left behind is the center of it.

“I look at the whole thing as a love story,” says Smith. “The beginning is their meeting, and because of his need and want to support her, he goes off to war, which starts his downward spiral.”

Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is sorrowful.

What makes the story especially tragic is that White only enlists as a means to support the girl of his dreams. What they never consider is that the experience of war will change him and, consequently, any chance that they might have had at a future together.

The album was introduced with Don't You Want It, an upbeat but tempered song reflecting on the past. There is a hopefulness to the song, more than most, especially as it conveys a sense of becoming comfortable with oneself (good and bad) while looking forward to a fresh start.

Don't You Want It comes much later in the album and offers a brief respite of relief for White. Conversely, many of the songs take snapshots during more venerable times in his life, when Smith takes full advantage of his rugged, weathered and world-weary voice.

Although White is often referred to as the White Buffalo, the band also consists of core members Tom Andrews (bass) and Matt Lynott (drums). Also joining them on this album is drumming legend Jim Keltner on “Don’t You Want It” and former Jayhawks violinist Jessy Greene.

The balance of the album is starkly diverse, like life. 

Although Smith is among the first to call his album a tragic, Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways covers significant ground. The album ranges from acoustic folk to country rock, opening with a gentle folk rock song that will ring with immediate familiarity.

While the tone of the opener is somber, the lyrics of Shall We Go On convey an immediate and relentless connection between two young people with their whole lives ahead of them. The wrinkle is made apparent in The Getaway. Circumstance threatens to keep them apart.

When I'm Gone changes the tempo, portraying the protagonist as someone who is strong and determined, willing to enlist as a means to provide. The track is immediately contrasted with 30 Days Back, a dire and regretful track that powers through in under a minute and a half.

Many of the tracks that follow, regardless of the tempo and change-ups, dwell in an attempt to reconcile the past and find resolution in the present. White faces temptation, damnation, and redemption until This Year, which provides the first glimmer of hope for a protagonist on the ropes. Even so, reconciliation doesn't necessarily come easy.

Interestingly enough, Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways didn't start as a concept album. It wasn't until Smith was halfway through the album before he started to recognize a singular thread. The album was recorded at Unison Music Studios in Los Angeles and produced by the Grammy-nominated team of Bruce Witkin and Ryan Dorn.

Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways Shines 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As much as the concept album adds something impressive to his growing repertoire, Smith sounds slightly boxed into the story he wants to tell. While the album is brilliant, it isn't necessarily stronger than previous outings. At the same time, it's not a story you want to miss from beginning to end.

Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways by the White Buffalo can be found on Amazon. You can also order the album from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. The White Buffalo is currently booking events in Arizona, California and Colorado. A special appearance is slated for Tennessee on Sept. 21. For other event dates, visit the White Buffalo on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Stone's Throw From Jackson Hole

While Jackson is the best known gateway for millions of travelers visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, there is something to be said for staying a stone's throw away. There are several less-traveled choices a few miles north, shaving an hour off the drive into either park.

Most of them are much closer to the principal entrance of Grand Teton National Park at Moran Junction. Once inside, the southern entrance to Yellowstone is a short scenic drive away.

Although unincorporated, the community that makes up Moran has its own history. The first homestead was established in the 1890s by Ed "Cap" and Clara Smith, who eventually found themselves catering to so many Yellowstone Park travelers that they built a two-story log hotel. Their neighbors followed suit, building the nearby Elkhorn Hotel, before the Smith hotel was tragically burned to the ground.

Although there is a rural post office, there isn't much else to do in Moran itself. It's the surrounding lodges, cabins and ranches that make for a great distraction from the more bustling pace of Jackson.

The Togwotee Mountain Lodge is a wilder specialty destination. 

Located about 30 minutes from the Moran Junction entrance, the Togwotee Mountain Lodge became the highlight of a road trip through five states. Nestled in the Bridger-Teton National Forest at a higher elevation than Jackson Hole, guests can book lodge rooms or one of 54 modern log cabins tucked away in the pines.

While the lodge is nice, it's the cabins that add to the seclusion (especially those along the perimeter). They add an element of a rustic vacation, but with all the amenities of a hotel. The cabins consist of two  open rooms divided by a clean and cozy bath.

The living room includes a sofa, small dining table, and kitchenette with a mini-refrigerator, stovetop, microwave, and enough pots, pans, silverware, and table settings to cook your own meals. Along with two queen beds, the bedroom has a dresser with its own flatscreen television.

Even in the summer, nighttime temperatures are cool in Wyoming. Guests have their choice of using electric heat or lighting a cozy fire. The wood-burning fireplace provides plenty of instructions, and each cabin has its own supply of wood outside the front door.

When guests don't want to eat in their cabins, the lodge has two menus served out of the same kitchen. The Grizzly Grill is a wide open dining hall with a breakfast buffet in the morning, lunch and dinner. The lodge's Red Fox Saloon serves a much more casual menu, with burgers and sandwiches. The real draw, of course, is a dozen draft beers including local favorites from the Snake River and Grand Teton Brewing companies.

The Togwotee Mountain Lodge as a hub of activity. 

What makes the Togwotee Mountain Lodge great is its central location. In the summer, there are dozens of activities around the Bridger-Teton National Forest. They include horseback riding, wagon cookouts, mountain biking, river floats, whitewater rafting, and fishing. Some are operated by the lodge, but most are catered by outside outfitters. The lodge is always helpful weighing the options.

Almost everyone who stays there sets time aside for horseback riding. The stables are located right behind the Togwotee Mountain Lodge, with an extensive network of riding trails around scenic vistas in the area. Some trips travel up to the top of Angle Mountain. Others drop down toward Buffalo Fork River. In the winter, the lodge is a favorite destination for snowmobilers.

Conversely, there is plenty to do on your own. Jackson, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone are all short drives away. Just make sure to start every day early. Some relatively short drives take longer than you think, especially inside the parks. Maps make everything look deceptively close.

All of them feature enough attractions to include more detailed reviews. We'll circle back to some of them in the months ahead. But you really can't ask for more than the Togwotee Mountain Lodge, a story that started in 1921 when Al and Bertha Angle opened a camp that specialized in home cooking and mountain outfitting.

The Togwotee Mountain Lodge Saddles Up 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The property has since changed hands several times over the years. In 2008, it was purchased by Aramark Parks and Destination, which now employs young workers as part of its seasonal crews. Many of them stay right onsite in employee cabins, which makes for long hours but an excellent experience.

There is a surprising amount to discover around Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. For details and booking information, start by comparing specials against top travel deals at The Togwotee Mountain Lodge, by the way, includes cabin-side parking as well as free Wi-Fi, which is surprisingly fast for an area where cell service is spotty. The best iPhone app we've found to date is National Parks by National Geographic.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Moon Taxi Takes It To Different Places

Moon Taxi
For the members of Moon Taxi, Mountains Beaches Cities is an exploratory album that dials back on the sonic landscape of their last album, Cabaret. They have a new aesthetic instead, one with a faster tempo, bigger sound and more soulful leanings.

They didn't dial back to their earlier days as a jam band, but they have hit upon the pop-rock groove that they wanted. Although the album is being distributed with the help of BMI, Mountains Beaches Cities was self-produced by Spencer Thomson (guitar) with an assist from Wes Bailey (keyboards).

They had some outside help, with Vance Powell (Jack White, The Dead Weather) mixing and Greg Calbi (Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes) mastering the album. Tyler Ritter sums it up as an evolution, inspired by their time on the road.

Mountains Beaches Cities was created on the road. 

They were on the road in support of their last album when this one started coming together. According to the band, the trials of touring provides its own kind of inspiration. It was easy to stockpile song ideas and demos. When the band returned, they holed up in Thomson's apartment to record most of the album.

One of the songs gaining most of the attention is The New Black. Soulful and slightly funky, the track carries a restrained smoothness that almost begs to be more climatic than Moon Taxi ever lets it become. But maybe that's the point. Moon Taxi makes it more aloof than any other band might have made it.

Lyrically, the song is straightforward too. Trevor Terndrup almost sounds hushed as he sings about finding the next big thrill — the new black — after all those other blacks feel old and maybe boring.

Along with The New Black, Running Wild makes for a great must listen. It is relaxed, even if the lyrics suggest something different. The basic idea is that everyone is running wild but it might be worthwhile to slow down and drink it in before the world stops spinning and the music stops.

It's all right. The 80s throwback Morocco is much more interesting, with its hooky instrumentals and lyrical daydreams about a place that none of the band members have ever been. It's nostalgic in making the destination sound exotic again. River Water feels equally nostalgic, conjuring up images of a soft rock sound from simpler times. So does Young Journey, with its folky acoustic sensibilities.

When sampling the album, listen to the bonus tracks My Own Mistakes and Silent Underground. They're more experimental than most tracks on the album, each of them on opposite sides of the spectrum for this Nashville-based band. It's all right to wish more of the album followed these tracks.

Where Moon Taxi has to be more careful is that they already think that they're so seasoned that they fully understand themselves and their music. It's a dangerous place to be for most bands — that moment when confidence has caught up to their musicianship — because nobody wants their confidence to eclipse it.

It's been great to see Moon Taxi evolve from a jam band and settle into a bigger and considerably more even sound. At the same time, Mountains Beaches Cities misses on the robust diversity that made Cabaret a great listen on the lighter side of rock. Even with the occasional proggy elements, this album moves them more toward indie pop.

The bottom line is that this is a masterful album for what they set out to do, with The New Black, My Own Mistakes, Silent Underground, and Running Wild accounting for the must-have tracks. I'm on the fence with Morocco and Young Journey, especially because the latter is almost too damn pretty for its own good.

Mountains Beaches Cities By Moon Taxi Samples 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There isn't any doubt that Moon Taxi has talent, but they are dangerously close to not being hungry enough. Despite several great tracks recommended for some welcome playlist diversity, expect Moon Taxi to work harder at adding some robustness for live performances. For an album about the trials and tribulations of touring, there is a surprising lack of turbulence here. It's much more kick back and relax.

You can catch Mountains Beaches Cities by Moon Taxi on Amazon. You can also find the CD at Barnes & Noble or download the track from iTunes. Moon Taxi will be touring the Midwest in September before heading South. For tour date information, visit the band on Facebook.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ray-Ban Returns To The Clubmaster

If there ever was a competitor to the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer, it easily belongs to the Ray-Ban Clubmaster. While the popular browline style was never meant to have a second life (let alone a third), the sunglasses with the bold upper frame have found another resurgence.

Ray-Ban has recently remastered the Clubmaster in all aluminum, making them lighter and cooler than their plastic predecessors. They also come in four frame options: black, gunmetal, silver, and bronze. All four are also trimmed in a complementing gold or silver.

The Clubmaster has an interesting place in history.

The Clubmaster itself wasn't around when browline glasses first became popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They weren't designed until the 1980s when the browline style stumbled into its second life after detective David Addison Jr. (Bruce Willis) wore a pair on the hit television series Moonlighting.

Addison never wore them per se. He sported Shuron Ronsirs, which were the original browline sunglasses designed in 1947 by Jack Rohrbach. It wasn't until the series spurred demand in 1980s that Ray-Ban introduced its take on the browline design. The Clubmaster quickly became the third most popular brand of sunglasses in the United States.

The newest resurgence for the Clubmaster is being fueled by an appeal for throwback fashions from the 1950s and 1960s. The trend began in the mid 2000s but continues to hold firm. Some people attribute it to various television series like Mad Men, but others have different ideas as to why the browline is back. Great design doesn't have a shelf life.

The Clubmaster has been subjected to extreme stigmas across seven decades. 

Much like the 1460 Originals by Dr. Martens, the Clubmaster and greater browline style have been subjected to whatever stigma different eras invent for them. In the 1950s and 1960s, they became iconic among courageous and successful individuals, everyone from James Dean to Malcolm X, but they were cast as commonplace and conservative in the 1970s.

The same thing happened again in the 1980s. After they returned to popularity, the browline fell out of style in the 1990s as they became associated with geeks, nerds, conservatives (again), and angry white men. The newest resurgence of browline glasses had grown out from the fringes.

There are several modern influences at work too. The all-aluminum design is part of a bigger movement toward raw materials. Synthetics have taken a back seat to metal, wood and leather. Incidentally, the opposite was true when Rohrbach first came up with a design for Shuron.

The original glasses featured a plastic browline fastened to a metal chassis. It made them lighter while making a move toward plastic (influenced by metal shortages during World War II). Nowadays, stronger aluminum is often lighter than plastic.

The science behind the glasses made by Ray-Ban. 

The new aluminum Clubmaster by Ray-Ban isn't all about design. Some of it is about science.

Almost all of the aluminum frames have been matched with polarized lenses, which Ray-Ban developed to reduce glare, enhance contrasts and improve clarity. The lenses absorb 85 percent of visible light and 99 percent of reflected light. Reflected light is the most common kind of light to cause eye strain.

They do protect your eyes from harmful rays. The lenses were made to 100 percent of UVA, UVB, and harmful blue light up to 400 nanometers. Along with protection from the sun, the lenses are impact resistance. According to Ray-Ban, they resist as much as twice the impact of a common lens.

The Ray-Ban Clubmaster Revives 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The matte-finish aluminum frames are a striking next chapter in browline glasses and Clubmaster history. While I own several brands of sunglasses that I trade out depending on what I'm doing, the Clubmaster has become a favorite for more casual outings.

You can order the new Ray-Ban Clubmaster Aluminum direct from Ray-Ban. The aluminum frames cost a little more, but the durability makes up for it. If you have a tighter budget, then look for the plastic models or hold off for a sale. As an another alternative, you can always look up the Shuron Ronsirs too. I like the Ray-Ban take a little better, but it's hard to argue with an original.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Pack A.D. Plays Some Sssongs

The Pack a.d.
The garage rock duo The Pack A.D. has been firing up blues-infused punk out of Vancouver for the better part of eight years. In the process, they've readily amassed an arsenal of tracks with several charting in Canada while being largely passed by in the U.S.

There aren't any real good reasons for the oversight. The duo, consisting of Becky Black and Maya Miller, are frequently slated in "sounds like" and then summarily dismissed. But then a few weeks go by and some new band that "sounds like" the same bands is heralded as the next best thing.

Maybe that will change with the release of Some Sssongs a few days ago. The EP is really a single, Battering Ram, couched with four other tracks that have been previously released. The plus side is all four add-ons make for a perfect sampler, especially if you haven't heard of The Pack A.D. before.

Battering Ram is a blistering single from The Pack A.D.

Battering Ram is a raucous rock number, painting a portrait of back alley bars and underground venues. It's dark, loud and straightforward with exception to a ballad breakdown close to the end of the song.

The premise is one of preparedness, basically saying that the world is a tough place but these girls have something to protect themselves. It doesn't matter what you throw at them. If there is any truth to a fight or flee response, these are two women who stand their ground. The video has an extended introduction.

Produced by director Lloyd Lee Choi (who also shot videos for Positronic and Sirens), the video aims to capture the gritty side of the underground scene. There is a little bit of everything: fire breathers, brawls and bad attitudes.

Choi didn't need a set to bring the vision to life. The video was shot at the Anza Club in Vancouver. He just dressed it up with lighting and beautifully cast characters. It makes for a memorable introduction to the first track off the band's upcoming album in January, Do Not Engage.

A look back at the past tracks included on the Some Sssongs EP.

Along with Battering Ram, the EP includes Sirens, Haunt You, and Positronic from their fourth album Unpersons. Deer was originally released on We Kill Computers one year earlier. Even if you have heard them before, the compilation and arrangement allude to the notion that Do Not Engage will be their best yet.

The re-release of these four tracks has also brought new life to the Positronic video also shot by Choi last year. The video, released in December, was the one Nettwerk Records opted to tie to signing the band. It was a good choice, given the grisly incarnation of the duo consisting of two tough-as-nails women.

For some time now, The Pack A.D. has been considered one of the most boiling over rock duos in the business. With the new album slated for January and a solid single being teased out months ahead of the album, maybe this really is the breakout that they've been waiting for.

Personally, I've appreciated their talent for some time. Not only did Unpersons have plenty of high points in 2011, re-recording the tracks Sirens and Seasick in French added a twist that few bands can pull off. French isn't nearly as rock friendly as other languages, but The Pack A.D. sounds brilliant.

Some Sssongs By The Pack A.D. Break 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Over the years, Black and Miller have done an excellent job expanding their original sound to include more diversity, everything from pseudo-gaze to stoner rock. I like them best with their blues-punk sensibilities, killing it with a menacing howls, humming guitar and heavy percussion. It's exhausting and exhilarating as they run down any set list.

Some Sssongs was released on Amazon or you can download it from iTunes. The band is currently touring in Canada, but will be dropping down to Los Angeles in October. They have two gigs booked and are part of the upcoming Culture Collide Festival. You can check their schedule on Facebook.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kathleen Tessaro Picks Apart A Secret

The Perfume Collection
All families have secrets. Some more than others. But even though they do, newlywed Grace Monroe doesn't expect her respectable family to really have any worth telling. Given their social status, with her mother linked to a titled linage, her life was drawn out before she lived it.

Never mind that Monroe is as plain as they come. She doesn't fulfill anyone's expectation of a successful socialite in the 1950s. She comes across as more of a plain Jane, someone who knows all the  proper tricks and pleasantries but doesn't necessarily seem convicted about them.

Perhaps that is precisely why Monroe comes across as mysterious as the message she receives from from Paris. She is oddly captivated by uncovering the identity of the woman who left her an inheritance. As far as she is concerned, Madame Eva d'Orsey is a complete stranger, someone who should have no ties to her. And yet, it seems this stranger has willed a small fortune.

The Perfume Collector is a story of identity and memory, family and the familiar. 

Giving the reader a glimpse into the story of Monroe as she attempts to uncover the identity of her benefactor in the 1950s and the story of Madame Eva d'Orsey in the 1920s, Kathleen Tessaro is able to craft a novel that is one part mystery and one part coming of age in Paris. As the story progresses, both women come closer and closer to revealing how their lives are impossibly connected.

Paris in the 1920sAs Monroe uncovers small fragments from her benefactor's life, Tessaro transports readers to 1920s New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London as an ordinary hotel maid is transformed into an extraordinary woman who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumiers. And it is these perfumes, specifically three evocative perfumes, that are used as chronicle benchmarks that capture d'Orsey at three different times in her life.

While it is easy to connect the dots within the story, the real mystery here is decipering how it might have all happened. For instance, it is richly entertaining to be introduced to d'Orsey as a naive and newly hired maid at a famous hotel in Paris, knowing that she will somehow have the good fortune to earn enough for an inheritance despite being on the doorstep of another world war.

At the same time, the story that evolves from Monroe's persistence isn't necessarily a success story. It is a story of love and lost love, risks and regrets, success as an outcome of sacrifice. And as Monroe digs deeper into the life of  d'Orsey, she will eventually find her own changed in ways she could have never imagined.

A few graphs about author Kathleen Tessaro. 

Kathleen Tessaro
Although Tessaro was born in Pittsburgh, she was given the opportunity to study in London for three months after her sophomore year of college at Mellon University. As a student, she never looked back.

She lived there for the next 23 years, attempting to make ends meet as an actress. It wasn't until much later that she began writing at the suggestion of a friend who was an early member of the Wimpole Street Writer's Workshop.

Using nothing more than a second-hand book for structure, she wrote her debut novel, Elegance. It's the story of a frumpy, depressed woman is reborn as an assertive diva.

The Perfume Collector is also a story about transformation, but with significantly more depth and in surprisingly different ways as one woman becomes trapped by social status and another is set free from it. It is beautifully written, capturing the trappings of class across three decades.

The Perfume Collector By Kathleen Tessaro Breaths 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While the book isn't meant to be suspenseful, it manages to mesmerize with a well-wrought plot while giving a glimpse of perfuming before brands set a more pedestrian standard. Both artistic and raw, The Perfume Collector builds perfectly on what has become an astonishingly brilliant career.

The Perfume Collector: A Novel by Kathleen Tessaro can be purchased on Amazon. You can also find the book at Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks.

Interestingly enough, Tessaro never wanted to be a writer. She wanted to be a choreographer or an art historian. She especially enjoyed working with young opera singers, teaching them acting skills. She didn't come into writing until her early thirties.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crocodiles Make Noise Pop In California

Although the San Diego-based pop noise band came together in 2008, core members Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez met better than a decade before. Even as teenagers, they had similar interests.

To hear Welchez tell it, they wanted to play music and change the world. Both of them hung out around at the same music scenes. Both of them were political enough to make rallies and protests a pastime. And eventually, after drifting in and out of the same or similar crowds, both of them started volunteering at a local club at the University of California, San Diego.

Hanging out and volunteering at the same venue is how they got to know each other. Although they were playing in different punk bands, they began laying the ground work for the future. First Welchez tried to recruit Rowell to his band and then just decided to break up both bands and start anew.

The Crocodiles are really a duo with guests and sometimes members. 

Even when the Crocodiles started booking gigs in support of their fourth release, Crimes Of Passion, they started as a duo. But things have slowly changed. They've since added bass, drums, and keyboards with musicians sometimes including members from Blank Dogs, Cat Power, and the Dum Dum Girls helping out.

The latter is no surprise, of course. Welchez is married to Kristin Gundred, a.k.a. Dee Dee Penny. And he used to play with the Dum Dum Girls too. It's not even uncommon to see the bands on the same bill.

When Welchez and Rowell aren't playing live, they are more likely to pull in guests on album. And they recruited several this time. Gregg Foreman (Delta 72), Cat Power, Josh Welchez, and Afrodyete (Breakestra) all make appearances. Given how often Welchez and Dee Dee Penny support other bands, it's not hard.

What is hard sometimes is seeing the Crocodiles give their album a fair shake across the entire length of it, which is why the band usually lands on my almost reviewed list. This time is an exception. I Like It In The Dark was too good to let it go unnoticed.

The song does a great job selling everyone on a zealous noise pop groove with gospel backing only to fade out for something unexpected. Welchez keeps going with a haunting bit of verse belted out like a beatnik poet. It almost feels like it isn't supposed to be there. It doesn't make sense; I'm glad it's there.

The balance of the album is equally eccentric but also more hit and miss. There are some great turmoil-laced songs like Gimme Come Annihilation and Me And My Machine Gun. But then there are simmering noise pop numbers like She Splits Me Up and Heavy Metal Clouds. They don't roll right, especially with one sporting a borrowed melody.

Teardrop Guitar makes for better brevity while Un Chant D'Amour sweeps in with the right stuff for atmospheric finish. It's sometime during that song when you wonder how you landed here from something much more punk like Cockroach. That's what makes the Crocodiles work. They have a distinct sound and still manage to drift from one extreme to the next.

Crimes Of Passion By The Crocodiles Smiles 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The album isn't anywhere near perfect and doesn't try too hard to be original. But what Crimes Of Passion does exceedingly well is break new ground for a band that is easier to appreciate when you see them live. Some might even say a live album would do them right, even if Sune Rose Wagner (The Raveonettes) was a benefit as producer.

Crimes of Passion by the Crocodiles is available on Amazon. You can also find the album on iTunes or order the CD from Barnes & Noble. The band has been busy touring all over Europe. Maybe they will have time to kick out a video when they get home. In the meantime, check their schedule on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The East Is A Cast Of Emerging Talent

The East
When former FBI agent Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is dropped of at Dulles Airport by her boyfriend Tim (Jason Ritter), she doesn't head toward security or her departing flight to Dubai. She exits the airport instead, hails a cab, and heads to a hotel where she immediately dyes her hair and changes her clothes.

The day before, she had been selected by the private intelligence firm Hiller Brood to go deep undercover and infiltrate an underground activist group. The group, The East, targets the corporate executives of companies that its members have found guilty of humanitarian or environmental exploitation.

The movie opens up with the group breaking into the home of an oil company executive and pouring oil into the ductwork. Apparently an act of retaliation for a coastal spill, the oil slowly seeps out of the vents, covering everything in its wake. While never shown, it's implied the executive might have been covered too, an event that attracts the attention of Hiller Brood clients.

A terse psychological thriller that takes aim at emotions and ethics. 

The theme of the movie is relatively straightforward as a modern take on whether the ends justifies the means. But where producer/cowriter/actress Marling and director/cowriter Zal Matmanglij find their footing is in exploring the familiar. The East has many cult-like characteristics and ritualistic activities similar to those in their last film, The Sound Of My Voice.

Moss finds The East by transforming herself into a vagabond traveler and eventually joining rail-riding drifters. She suspects one of them is a member of The East, but he turns out to be an undercover federal agent. She sees him flash his badge when the pack is caught by railroad police.

He flashes as Moss intervenes on behalf of the most vulnerable looking drifter, Luca, whom the railroad police rough up while escorting him off one of the boxcars. Ironically, the unassuming man she saves is a member of The East. He helps her escape and offers to take her someplace for medical attention.

The members of The East are suspicious and divided when Luca brings Moss to their secret squat in the woods. While the group's leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) seems open to accepting her into the group, the outspoken Izzy (Ellen Page) is not. They only agree to let her stay two nights to recover.

The East on FacebookInstead, Moss is recruited to take another member's place in what the group calls a "jam." In this case, one of the members uses his connection to infiltrate a government contract signing party for a pharmaceutical company.

The member, Doc (Toby Kebbell), has evidence that the drug company is marginalizing the extent and severity of the side effects of the antibiotic that the company intends to mass produce for the military. The jam includes spiking champagne with the antibiotic, secretly forcing members of the executive team to take the same risk they find acceptable for servicemen and women.

This jam and others cause Moss to question the ethics and morality of her job to protect what the group considers corporate criminals. It becomes especially difficult as she gets to know and trust other members of the group. Some of them, it seems, have been personally affected by corporate cover ups and negligence. The is one especially pointed scene when Moss tells her boyfriend during a brief reunion that she felt like she was living in a foreign country, but now coming home feels like a foreign country too.

The East By Zal Batmanhlij And Brit Marling Jams 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This time the duo had a bigger budget to bring their vision to life and it shows, but the movie would have done better without the eco-terrorism moniker that reviewers adopted. Eco-terrorism films tend to cool audience interest, making the moniker somewhat of an injustice.

While environmental crime is on the group's radar, The East is more in line with being a corporate vigilante cult as opposed to green police. Despite landing somewhere between commercial and independent, The East reinforces the abilities of Batmanhlij and Marling to entertain our heads.

The East was released early for high definition purchase on iTunes. You can also order The East [Blu-ray] on Amazon (Sept. 17). The movie can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble. For more on Batmanglij and Marling, see the previous review of their work.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ghost Wave Tries To Ride With Ages

Ghost Wave
Last year, Ghost Wave was just getting started stateside as the then three-piece band from Aukland, New Zealand, landed a few festival slots in Los Angeles and New York City. It was there that they won more over people with their fuzzy 60s Brit-pop sound. Their self-titled EP proved they had character.

This year, Ghost Wave is trying to catch another ride with their full-length debut Ages. It's an expansive 10-track album that feels much longer than the track listing suggests, mostly because Matt Paul wanted to stick so close to what the band does best.

They center their sound on the 60s Brit-pop scene and then occasionally twist songs a few degrees toward surf rock or in another direction toward psychedelic. Doing so provides some variety beyond the band's central sound, even if it might not be enough for a full length.

Ghost Wave plays for Ages, but some tracks sound better when they stand alone.

As a debut, Ages will likely have the unfortunate destiny to be an album with several devour worthy tracks that don't necessarily stack well together. It's not that any track is off. It's that every track is steady to near sameness.

In other words, when the needle drops on Horsemouth, you already know Ghost Wave is going to plant it. The first track is pitch perfect with a lazy, throwback shoegaze vibe. But the band also sneaks in this subtle sense of urgency as Paul repeats his line over and over: "Sun come up and sun come down, that's the only time I see."

It plays perfectly if you have the good fortune of seeing the coastline off to your left or right. You can say the same thing about Here She Comes, which tosses in some psychedelic pop underpinnings. The band filmed the video in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

Here She Comes sets down some of the benefits of the band's decision to add Jamie Kennedy on guitar. Kennedy adds more depth to the band, freeing up Paul to focus more on vocals. He's also seems like a good fit for long-time drummer Eammon Logan (Basketball Nightmare) and bassist Mike Ellis.

Originally Paul considered picking up more guitar duties instead of adding another member. It was reasonably plausible because most Ghost Wave songs are written as a three pieces. But be glad that didn't happen. Paul can play, but there is a little more than jangly guitar tabs to master. Kennedy could run away with some tracks if he wanted.

Standout tracks include the manic precision of the beat-driven Bootlegs, the atmospheric, hazy and sometimes listless dozer Country Drifter, and taut and lively infusion of the head-bobbing Orb. It comes closest to the amphetamine-like feel Paul said he was pursuing to set this album apart. On all of those tracks, they come close to it.

Other tracks come close, but don't carry the same sense of urgency. The title track Ages, for example, is decent but never truly ascends to the high water mark set by earlier tracks. And other than the instrumental jams inside I Don't Mind and Arkestra, the tracks themselves are almost too laid back.

The result is that the slower-paced songs tend to drag the album down in quiet disinterest. They play well enough on their own but there isn't anything heavy enough to lift the album out of the mood they set. The same can be said about Mountain and Teenage Jesus. Medicated can overdose contemplative.

Ages By Ghost Wave Catches 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There isn't any question that Ghost Wave retains its right to remain on any octane-fueled band-to-watch list. It's all in how you listen to what they've laid down. If you stick to the best of it or add in tracks between heavier garage rock bands, you will be much more likely to be glad that you haven't missed the experience.

Ages by Ghost Wave can be found on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. The best place to keep up with Ghost Wave is Facebook, where the band will likely start listing its upcoming shows and appearances.