Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dead Rabbits Explode A Big E Ticket

Dead Rabbits
Thomas Hayes and Neil Atkinson Jr. wrote hundreds of punk, grunge, garage, and psychedelic tracks over the years. But it really wasn't until the duo expanded to include Suzanne Sims and later Paul Seymour that they really had he makings of a Southampton, United Kingdom, band in 2009.

Calling themselves the Dead Rabbits, the foursome immediately set out to perfect their live shows, mostly holding off on studio time until 2011 when they released six EPs with London-based Flower Power Records. The EPs received some limited attention. It was enough to keep the band going.

The Ticket That Exploded makes Dead Rabbits stick. 

And then the going got slow. Although their EPs were well-received and their live sets good enough to steal the thunder from club headliners, the band didn't make enough to produce a proper LP. Specifically, the band needed a bigger space to lay the album down live. It was the only way to preserve their philosophy of making music — baring their souls without the weight of consequence.

Eventually, it was Hayes who came up with a solution. He searched around until finally finding a studio that was willing to talk about trade. In exchange for Hayes working several weeks as a resident painter and handyman, Ranch Production House Studios was willing to let the Dead Rabbits record a debut named after the novel by William S. Burroughs.

Several of the songs were produced with Greg Swan. Others were mixed in the band's smaller studio. But regardless of where they came together, Dead Rabbits managed to create a brilliantly fuzzy neo-psychedlic album with 11 tracks of hazy bliss.

It's All In Her Head is no exception. The hypnotic drone of the song has become a mainstay placed early in their sets anywhere they play. Much like their beautifully composed sublime rock anthem, Heavenly Way kicks off most shows (and the album), All In Her Head captures the essence of the band.

It's also this essence that sometimes draws some criticism of the debut. Although stunning through most of the album, the consistent shoegaze pace doesn't always hold an interest. A little variation can go a long way, even if the abandon happens to be as it is with Dead Rabbits.

Of course, this is also why some songs like Keep Me Warm hit harder later on. Even the slightest change in sound makes an impact. It's like talking and talking to someone but then tossing in a whisper, which immediately has much more impact. Fortunately, any sameness is short term.

Vanilla Skies, which is a brand new track composed with an assist from Klaus Von Barrel (Suicide Party), is capturing a lot of attention in Southampton as it should. Although not on the debut album, it goes a long way in proving that Dead Rabbits have a bright future ahead of them. 

Who knows? Maybe Hayes and company will abandon this notion that it's more fun to avoid doing the same thing twice. Although Hayes says that changing everything up every time they step inside a studio is fun, relying a little more on people who already know what works might propel them even faster.

Sure, Hayes might like to unleash a few dozens demos on YouTube now and again, but I wouldn't consider Dead Rabbits so much a work in progress. They've progressed and found a sound. Now all they have to do is vary it a bit and continue to evolve. The songwriting is clearly there. The composition too.

The Ticket That Exploded Takes 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

It's also great to see that the Dead Rabbits have signed on with Fuzz Club Records, a relatively new label that has partnered with the Reverb Appreciation Society of The Black Angels. The general idea, according to the label, is to make a new home for European psych-heads and distribute limited edition albums on both sides of the globe.

You can find The Ticket That Exploded by the Dead Rabbits on Amazon. iTunes also has the album. For show dates and upcoming releases, visit Dead Rabbits on Facebook.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Albion Fit Is A Swimwear Design Pick

Albion Swimwear
Last year, I was taken with a new swimwear collection that was anything but boring. The collection carried a retro pinup styling with knotted bodices and ruffled skirts. They were anything but expected.

As it turns out, the Stardust collection created for Shabby Apple had a story behind the story. The designer responsible is a family-owned husband-wife team based out of Salt Lake City.

For the last five years, Liz and Dave Findlay have designed and led a core team of designers and pattern makers to create a full line of swimwear with a mission. Or, more precisely, a motto: feminine, sophisticated, true, and timeless. For about three of those years, they have had fun drawing inspiration from the 40s, 50s, and 60s to draw out some of those timeless qualities and recreate a smarter sexy.

"For us, it's all about looking as good as you possibly can in a suit and that often means leaving a bit more to the imagination," says Liz Findlay. "It also is more practical and more comfortable, making it a win, win." 

The cuts and stylings aren't the only inspirations borrowed from the past. Albion Fit frequently picks a color palette that complements each suit. And while they don't use many patterns, the few that do have patterns tend to be classic. Stripes and polka dots are still very cool.

"I think what sets our suits apart is that, often, they just don't look like a swimsuit," she says. "The gown suit [for example] could be a dress if you look at it from the waist up."

The one-piece gown suit is one of several that caught my eye this season. Although it is a one-piece suit, the Findlays designed it with flattering ruching at the waist. There is also a creative flair along the top of the suit, a ruffle that gives it a little more to look at and it's timelessness.

The fabric makes a difference too. Rather than adding cover ups, all anyone has to do is pull a skirt up over the bottoms and create the illusion that the swimsuit is a form-fitted top. It's flattering and functional.

Other styles that have recently rolled out at Albion Fit.

Although the gown is an immediate eye catcher, there are several suits that make an impact. Albion has created pin-up cuts, ballerina suits, nautical two-pieces, and a variety of mix and match bow tops. Most of them feel fashionably modern with a nod to the past.

The nautical bow suit, for example, adds more coverage while looking a little more flirty with its bow-tie detailing. The look is classic, inspired by the sixties, and immediately reminded me of an active suit more fitting for surf or scuba diving than what many women wear.

Although Albion writes it up as a suit with strategic ruching and ample coverage, the real twist is finding something that not everyone is going to be wearing on the beach. Even the bottoms, with two rows of buttons as accents and a boyish charm that contrasts with the form-fitted top, rewrites the rules about getting noticed.

A few more graphs about the design team at Albion Fit.

While many residents from Utah might know better, the rest of the country might be surprised to find fashion-savvy swimsuits coming out of Salt Lake City. Although the Great Salt Lake isn't suitable for swimming, the city does have three lakes nearby, all within a 40-minute drive. Lake Powell is also a beautiful place for inspiration beyond their California ties.

"I went to graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, and my husband was a graphic designer in La Jolla for five years," says Liz Findlay. "We lived five blocks from the beach and pretty much lived there when we weren't working."

Nowadays, however, it is more likely that they are both working. The Findlays have had a huge year, opening their first retail space at the new City Creek Center in Salt Lake City. Their new store puts them alongside neighbors like Tiffany and Rolex.

Maybe even more memorable is the personal connection they have with the space. They are located in the same spot where they met 15 years ago (the copy room of a law firm that literally exists above their store). And across the street? It's the same place they married a decade ago, completing a full circle journey.

Retro Swimwear By Albion Fit Splashes 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While the Stardust Collection is still available from Shabby Apple, Albion Fit has also launched its own online store. All of the inspired designs are readily available from the online store and many are featured in the company's new retail space. Along with swimsuits, the designers have added a sports line too.

When you visit the site, you might notice that the tops and bottoms of many suits are sold separately. This is by design because Albion Fit doesn't want anyone to feel like one has to be married to another. What they have done instead is to add a "consider this" drop down that suggests several ideas, although customers tend to be more creative on their own.

*Special thanks to our editor Rich Becker who interviewed the Findlays and contributed to the story.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Deville Teases A Many-Headed Hydra

This past decade has been great for Deville. The heavy rock foursome from Malmö, Sweden, have produced three progressively better albums. Hydra is easily their best.

Not only did the band trade in some of their sludgier stoner rock for something more contemporary, but every inch of the new album is tightly woven and clean. Sure, this new effort lands them somewhere between hard rock and heavy metal, but it's also patently clear that Deville is confident and comfortable in this fuller space.

Hydras have many heads. Some bite.

Overall, Hydra picks up the pace thanks in part to simpler arrangements. No, the band hasn't completely abandoned its stoner rock roots. They've also kept some piggish elements, adding in plenty of dirty riffs and additive hooks. The biggest difference is they want to do more than create atmosphere. They want to drive it. 

Ask the band and they're likely to sum up the changes as simply taking the very best of what works live and putting it together. They don't want anyone to leave their shows bored. And nowhere is this fact more evident than the first track. Lava is a journey, just like the video.

Filmed and directed by Henrik Christoffersson and Peter Tarpgaard, the song lays down a blurry and impossibly impulsive first person account of what it takes to get it done. There might even be an inside joke in featuring drummer Markus Nilsson as the one trying to make the studio session. 

He had two jobs this time out, taking over as engineer too. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean Nilsson was calling the shots. Most people know Andreas Bengtsson asserts himself as the frontman for Deville. He is the one who drives the band forward, just not without asking for opinions and input.

The truth is that it was Bengtsson who wanted Nilsson to mix it after the first mix by someone else flopped. According to Bengtsson, it was too lo-fi and held back too much. Nilsson agreed to fix it, but only on the condition that no one would interfere with his process.

The totality of the album is a more diverse Deville.

The advantage of having Nilsson mix it is apparent. He was there when the band play-tested many of the songs on tour. It could also be in some of the mixes that he accentuates the more experimental moments.

I'm not sure all of them work. For example, Let It Go has these oddly pop-infused choruses sandwiched between heavier steadfast lyrics. The better track is the nod they give to their own past performances as Imperial leans on their atmospheric roots. Stay A Little Longer could have also been more thunderous than subdued.

While there is plenty to like about the album, the best highlights are on the top half of the album. Iron Fed, an underrated track, chugs along at the same relentless clip. In Vain has an almost alternative rock feel as Martin Hambitzer and Markus Åkesson weave together a few timeless impressions. The Knife is a fuzzy, fuller throwback that also contains compact and memorable drum work.

There is no doubt that Bengtsson is more urgent on the album, that Deville packs in more than two guitars to add even more weight to some sections, and it's mostly straightforward hard rock with Nilsson occasionally working overtime. Sometimes it's almost too clean. Sometimes there's too much pop.

Hydra By Deville Drives 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The biggest impression most people will take away from the album is that the band isn't confined to the 1970s. Rather than quietly produce something to complement their stoner rock creds, Hydra is a little more modern and a whole lot more serious.

You can find Hydra by Deville on Amazon. You can also order the vinyl edition from Barnes & Noble or download the album from iTunes. They are clearly a band to watch, given that Hydra demonstrates how much more there is to this band than most people realize. It would be great to see even more material that showcases their new-found direction. Maybe they'll leak some while on tour.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Thief Of Auschwitz Is All A Clinch

The Thief Of Auschwitz
Max Rosen was 14 years old when he approached the gates of Auschwitz. He was 18 when he stepped through them. It was the lie his father told him to make as they approached a great divide in the line.

The line had already split once, tearing men from women, husbands from wives, brothers from sisters. It was at that fork that Jacob and Max said goodbye to Eidel and Lydia. It was this fork that challenged their resolve once again.

The division was clear. The healthiest men were being sent one way while the unhealthiest, youngest, and oldest were sent another. Max was tall for his age, a luxury that his sister who was suffering from a cold didn't have when his mother and she came upon a similar break. They said goodbyes there, with Eidel clutching her daughter's silk handkerchief, knowing all too well that the promise of a clinic for her daughter was a lie.

"Fourteen is a child," Jacob insisted. "Today, you're eighteen."

With the infamous concentration camp name in the title, plenty of readers will turn away from this gem. But the book, which avoids stereotypes and shields against some atrocities by confining itself to the labor camps that made up Auschwitz, isn't a story of death.

Instead, The Thief Of Auschwitz is story of survival and sacrifice, one that author Jon Clinch makes clear by revealing that Max Rosen is alive and well in New York City straight away. He is an artist who has recently celebrated his 88th birthday, which included the four years his father made him add at Auschwitz. It's his story to tell, one that he never shared with anyone before.

AuschwitzIt was his prerogative to keep what happened 60 years ago his secret. As he said, most people were done with such stories, confining them to bad memories best left forgotten. Besides, his family didn't always identify with being Jewish. They had even stopped attending the synagogue until young Lydia drew them back.

His mother, Eidel, would have preferred they spend the day in the mountains so she could paint. It's what she did. She painted upstairs or outdoors and Jacob cut hair, a barber who had inherited enough from his father to get by but felt it was important to teach his children a proper work ethic. It was his responsibility to tend to their future after all, not his father's money.

It was his responsibility, even if the war descended down upon them.

It might have even been their subtle disassociations that convinced them not to flee Poland outright. It was worse in Warsaw and Krakow, but not the Carpathian peaks where they were at the onset. In fact, by the time they knew they couldn't wait any longer, it was too late.

The best they could do was try to stay one step ahead of the encroaching soldiers. And eventually, they were swept up in the chaos. The three of them, after Lydia was taken away on the first day, would do their best to survive and, above all for Jacob and Eidel, protect their remaining child.

Eventually, the means to do it would be made clear. Jacob could cut hair better than the current barber. And Eidel, once her hidden talent was discovered, could ingratiate even the foulest of demons. In fact, she would have to succumb if she hoped to keep her son alive.

A few graphs about third-time author Jon Clinch. 

Jon Clinch
Clinch is an American novelist and teacher, who spent several years working as a creative director for various advertising agencies in Philadelphia. That all changed in 2007 when Random House published Finn, a back story about Huckleberry Finn's dad. It was named one of the best books of 2007.

A few years later, he would go on to write Kings Of The Earth. And then, relying on his advertising experience, wrote What Came After under the name Sam Winston, a book he marketed without the benefit of a publisher. The book sold 10,000 copies, convincing Clinch that his next outing would be self-published too.

The Thief Of Auschwitz By Jon Clinch Surprises At 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This is one of those books that would have been easily dismissed by most publishers, especially those who might never get past the title. His agent wasn't thrilled with his decision to use the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in 2011, but the book has long since moved beyond Amazon.

The Thief of Auschwitz by Jon Clinch has since published on other platforms. This includes his book on Nook at Barnes & Noble. Earlier this year, his book was added to iBooks. You can also find out more about Clinch on his website. Paul Hecht narrates the audiobook.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Fallen Leaves Kick Back In London

The Fallen Leaves
With one foot in the sixties and another in garage rock, The Fallen Leaves are something of enigma. Three members of the original lineup were all part of the punk band Subway Sect before manager Bernie Rhodes sacked them, keeping only Vic Goddard.

In fact, had it not been for live recordings made at the The Roxy in London, few people would have known Rob Symmons (guitar) and Paul Myers (bass) were part of the band at all. Rhodes had gone so far as to lock up the original album, which was supposedly lost after the smash success of two singles.

The unexpected rift sent everybody in different directions until three former Subway Sect members reconvened in 2004. And although the lineup changes from time time, recently adding Matthew Karas (bass) but continuing to change out drummers on a regular basis, their original rally cry remains intact.

The Fallen Leaves believe that a good idea played badly is better than a bad idea played well. And mostly, they are right. Except, of course, when they're wrong. And that is the way it is with The Fallen Leaves. The band rocks unless it gets lost in its own jangly, somewhat tinny existence.

The Fallen Leaves lay down some tunes live with no overdubs. 

There is a strange sort of chemistry that happens anytime that Symmons and vocalist Rob Green jump into the studio together. They want to heat every thing up, but only on their own terms. This means tossing out most modern technology and recording everything with vintage valve amps and an old mic or two.

After hearing them play, some people stand by the notion that their vintage angling is nothing but more excuses. And yet, there is something refreshingly fierce in the style. Songs like Always More sound like they could have been produced decades ago. Other songs, like Girls In A Trance, were written in the 1970s.

Other tracks will produce a mixed reaction. The first track, Against The Grain, is fast-paced jam that the band unloads with a feverish intensity but it also sports lyrics that are more pedestrian than the rest of the album. The truth is that although the studio session starts well, it doesn't hold up to their live performances.

The same can be said for other songs, which makes it all the more important to listen to some tracks ahead of the others. The jazz-infused crooner I Made A Mistake, for example, is the perfect lounge tune  as it slinks along, creating candlelit dimness and an impossibly smoky atmosphere.

Ancient & Modern is another standout track. As the pitch perfect throwback, the songs smacks of the band's signature theme of dramatic dissatisfaction. Green pointedly sings that he already knows that the roads aren't paved with gold, even if he holds out hope.

Start with those two tracks and you may have a different take on the rest of the album. Passing By has great guitar work by Symmons, even if the song is mostly so so. And War Memorial, despite feeling dated, has a classic pop rock that almost harkens all the way back into the fifties. It even has a slight surf rock element to it. Those and Against The Grain with a slight EQ adjustment might do.

If Only We'd Known Shakes 3.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

To be clear, the two tracks worth the download are I Made A Mistake and Ancient & Modern. The rest of the album is all about how much you like a near-novelty sound made by some guys who not only lived in the era, but also made their mark with the Subway Sect. It's all pretty cool when you consider what might have been, even if most people tuck these tracks away like guilty pleasures.

You can find If Only We'd Known by The Fallen Leaves on Amazon. You can also download a couple of tracks off the album on iTunes. Follow The Fallen Leaves on Facebook. They list several live shows on their page, mostly in and around London. If Only We'd Known is their third album.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kurt Vile Wakes Up To A Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile
Continuing on with the success of Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile's increasingly warm and spacious vocals sound exactly like you might expect on his follow up. Wakin On A Pretty Daze is an unhurried and wistful album, with Vile waking up to something new on his mind.

The title track plays on for nearly ten minutes. It never feels tired. The Philly-based singer/songwriter somehow manages to capture everyone's attention and keep it. And then the song seeps inside and lines up everything else, with a new guitar on his knee and what Vile laughingly calls prog-pop sensible.

It's very clear the once fuzzed out and mumbly Vile is committing to articulate meanderings with longer songs that are even more reflective. Yes, sometime he trails off, leaving you to fill in the blanks but nobody will mind feeling lost at times. The play time for the album is 69 minutes.

Wakin On A Pretty Daze is surreal and served foggy. 

Following the title track, Vile kicks up KV Crimes with a classic guitar riff and a wink with lyrics that suggest he is ready to restart himself in a new direction. The entire fantasy of it all has an epic feel. There is something more to be found in the direction he wants to take the sound.

It's a new idea, just like the one Vile promised in his dozy opening. There are two ways to give Wakin On A Pretty Daze a listen. Matador Records released the making of the mural made for the cover art. But there is something else to be gleaned outside of the Philly countryside when you watch it live.

This isn't the only place where some people will wonder whether Vile ever had a plan for the album. The answer is yes, but given that almost all of it is confined to the briefest of moments — when we wake up with sleep in our eyes — it's understandable if not everyone can shuffle alongside him.

Too bad, because tracks like Was All Talk proves how effortlessly Vile puts it all together. He slips this kind of wryness into several of his songs, knowing that not everyone will see the album for what it is — a standalone bridge that is both taking you somewhere and existing as a destination.

The crooning daydream of A Girl Named Alex is just like that. It's a story seen in the flicker of morning, a snapshot of the past playing over and over again. The wildly accessible Never Run Away is much more direct, punching up the sentiment with a folk rock inspired pop sound that feels fresh despite having its roots in the 1970s. Pure Pain features finger-fluttering guitar work along with deeply introspective lyrics.

The rest of the album continues on in this fashion through the finish. Shame Chamber is perhaps the best of the tracks after Pure Pain. There are times on the lower sets that Vile starts to feel a bit directionless in the pursuit. Gold Tone, for example, might stretch too far with ten minutes of play time but without the purpose tucked inside the title track. But expect others to think it's expansive.

That is the way it goes with Vile at times. Expect the album to be both elevated and dismissed. Some people will claim Vile is somehow given a pass because he is so popular. The truth is that Vile is less popular than he is effective in finding an audience who isn't so interested in the top 40. He's out there because he isn't content in laying down sameness.

Wakin On A Pretty Daze By Kurt Vile Reflects 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The album is another step up from Halo, proving how far the artist has come over the last two years in perfecting a direction. Although the album does falter in its second half, with the exception of Shame Chamber, Vile leaves those who love him with the unshakable feeling that he is already onto something else. And whatever that something might be, it will only get better.

Wakin On A Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile is available on Amazon. You can download tracks from iTunes or order the vinyl from Barnes & Noble. If you ever have a chance to see Vile live, take it. While it works best a lazy sit down affair, he is a master at creating a mood in person. You can find tour dates on his Facebook page.

Monday, April 22, 2013

End The Day With Earth From Above

Earth From Above
Twenty years ago, Yann Arthus-Bertrand set out to do something extraordinary. As a French photographer touched by the girl who silenced the world at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, he set out survey the entire planet and get a sense of it.

The work eventually came together in 170 color photographs in a folio format to chronicle the state of planet Earth. The work is both stunning and shocking. For every dramatically beautiful discovery, Arthus-Bertrand uncovered the planetary scars caused either ignorantly, inevitability, or intentionally by humankind.

In doing so, he permanently binds humans to the ecology that they are often quick to exploit. When he shows a picture of a fish market, he adds that one out of five people depend on fish but 77 percent of fish stock are over exploited. When he shows a striking photo from Africa, he points out that one billion people do not have enough to eat while 90 percent of America's corn feeds animals or is used for oil. In the rain forest, he discovered that deforestation claims 50,000 square miles every year.

"We don't want to believe what we know," he says in surprising solace.

This is part of the magic behind what he does. Discontent with showing the world through pretty pictures, he seeks to uncover the story behind the landscape. There is ecology and enterprise. There is humanity and poverty. There is environmental protection and encroachment.

There are his shots and an open invitation for other photographers to follow in his footsteps to track any progress in either direction. It makes him, and anyone who supports the work, among the most objective observers. While every moment he captures carries a message, someone else wrote it.

Among the most striking of his pictures are those that are stunning, but the underlying message is startling. A dramatic shot of Kilimanjaro for example points out that the glacier many people rely on for water is nearly gone. And it is in this way that twists the connection between the photographer and the subject and transforms it into a statement between two subjects.

Even more remarkable, perhaps, is that being the observer, artist, and messenger isn't enough. For Arthus-Bertrand is an active participant who makes every day Earth Day. His deep commitment to the environment and his willingness to get involved with the largest possible number of people in a shared-future project led him to create a unique foundation.

A few graphs about the foundation Arthus-Bertrand built. 

The mission of the GoodPlanet Foundation is to raise awareness and educate the public about environmental protection. It encourages everyone to adopt a way of life that is more respectful of the Earth and its inhabitants. It offers realistic and optimistic solutions, and encourages each individual to take action in order to “bring ecology to the forefront of awareness.”

Ocean HeartThe foundation accomplishes this in a number of ways. For example, in ecologically fragile and diverse areas like Madagascar, it supported a programs that restored 23,000 hectares of fragmented forest and created an additional 470,000 hectares of protected areas. In Belgium, the foundation partnered with the Roi Baudouin Foundation to deliver educational poster kits and programs to schools in that country. In Haiti, the foundation partnered with Defi GNO and others to formalize classrooms made from bamboo.

The bamboo classrooms are not only used by schoolchildren, but are also a sustainability lesson in that bamboo is more energy efficient, renewable, and as durable as concrete. It also provides environmental benefits such as regeneration of unproductive lands, soil erosion mitigation, and farming protection.

There are dozens of these programs supported by the GoodPlanet Foundation all over the world. And at the heart of this effort is always the founder, a photographer who said being an observer isn't enough. He continues to press ahead with work today, finding new ways to inspire and engage people about the environment.

The GoodPlanet Foundation By Yann Arthus-Bertrand Is A Good Will Pick.

At least once a month, Liquid Hip highlights good will efforts undertaken by people with big hearts. We don't score them. That belongs to you.

We chose Arthus-Bertrand and his work, along with the GoodPlanet Foundation, because it blends awareness with sustainable action. One of the newest additions to Arthus-Bertrand's work is Home, a documentary that expands on the concept of Earth From Above by showing a stark contrast between the beauty and the beast that has become our planet.

If you would like to learn more, you can find Earth from Above, Third Edition on Amazon and visit the GoodPlanet Foundation. There you can find free posters and wallpapers or consider making a direct donation to the foundation. Some challenges, after all, are too big for one person to solve. But some solutions only need a few dedicated people to make a difference.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Harold Feinstein Finds A Retrospective

"It is 1963, in a long, faded apartment block in inner city Philadelphia, and a crowd has gathered for a private lesson in the living room of the young counter-culture photographer, Harold Feinstein. It is a scene that Feinstein, a legendary educator, would repeat in one fashion or another for the rest of his life." — Phillip Prodger

Although starting his successful career in photography in 1946 at the age of 15, there was one success that eluded him. Feinstein never published a monograph of his early work. It was only admired elsewhere, including the Museum of Modern Art, after supporter Edward Steichen had purchased it.

But unlike such showings, online and offline, there has always been something more permanent about print. While new photos can always be hung on a museum wall and online galleries have a way of eventually fading into obscurity, every printed portfolio lasts until the paper finally crumbles away.

Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective has found its place in history.

Feinstein became a prominent figure in the vanguard of early New York photography. His work was shown frequently. It was often exhibited in galleries such as the Helen Gee's Limelight Galley.

Today, some of his work is represented in the permanent collections of major museums including the Museum of Modern Art, International Center of Photography, and the George Eastman House. But his name has continued to escape the public as his work was less accessible than many historical talents.

At least, this was the conclusion of his supporters. They all wanted to see another chapter in the career of Feinstein. And that chapter, for Feinstein at the age of 80, would be about finding a champion in Jason Landry from the Panopticon Gallery. Landry asked others to make this dream possible.

The book opens with photos of New York City, Brooklyn, Harlem, and, of course, Coney Island. His compositions are a cut above, frequently using light, silhouette, motion, and reflection to add depth. 

Many of the photographs are spontaneous, capturing life as it happens. There are boys running into the surf, men with bulging bellies, women brushing sand out of their pockets, and scores of people from an era where suits were as common as swimsuits on the beach. 

What is equally striking is that even those shots that are portraits by nature are never posed. While it is difficult to tell at times, there is a sense that his subject either noticed him at the last second or he called them just before snapping the photograph. More than that, he captures life in the late 40s, early 50s. 

The juxtaposition of Coney Island and Korea. 

And then, it abruptly gives way to something else. Starting with a solider standing guard on a desolate road in Korea and several more photos of men leaving for training camps and foreign shores, the mood is permanently altered. The photos are no longer innocent. The freedom becomes the uniform. 

Following the Korean portraits, his work transforms into documentary portrait. The last of his jubilance disappears into something profound, mature, lovely, and haunting — a handful of landscapes and portraits from New Jersey to Paris. 

In closing, Feinstein finishes the work with a thought. He states it simply, beautifully. He loves this life, and has always strived to share his love for it with others — saying "Oh, will you look at that."

There isn't a more perfect way to conclude the work. And what makes it so perfect is that once you have reached the personal message left by Feinstein, you suddenly feel invited to travel back though the journey — this time appreciating that the pictures are not just photographs but a portrait of his life. 

Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective Captures 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If there is anything that rings even mildly disappointing about the book, it is that it has to end. The journey feels too short. But that isn't a critique about the production as much as it is a praise of Feinstein's explicitly human and sometimes intrusive work. He saw things no else could see … that is, until he shared them. 

Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective is a specialty book published by Nazraeli Press. You won't find it elsewhere. He does have several other landmark books published. They include the direction his later talent took him. One of the most amazing is One Hundred Flowers. His photography is noted for its exquisite detail and turning each photo into mesmerizing works of arts through his lens.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Devil To Pay Finds A Muse In Fate

Devil To Pay
In a little more than than a year after Devil To Pay crawled out of the obscure Indianapolis music scene, it faced its first major setback. Singer-guitarist Steve Janiak was hospitalized with a drug-induced coma.

The attending doctor didn't have any hope. It was luck, or maybe a miracle, that Janiak survived. But he woke up with vivid hallucinations and visions etched into his memory. And his survival became the impetuous for the band's debut, Thirty Pieces Of Silver.

While the retro-infused, dialed-down debut may have been ten years ago, Janiak hasn't forgotten the experience. It haunted him, even as the band began to gain regional and national exposure. Two years ago, Janiak delved further into attempting to understand the link between normal and paranormal.

Fate Is Your Muse smoulders along with methodical, metaphysical metal.

Although only the fourth album for the band reinspired in 2008 after adding Rob Hough (guitar) to the lineup along with Janiak, Matt Stokes (bass), and Chad Prifogle (drums), Fate Is Your Muse plays with significantly more confidence than their last outing four years ago. If not more confidence, then certainly more solace in whatever it was that Janiak compiled for inspiration.

The 12-track album meanders back and forth between science and spirituality, which drives the mood as much as it serves as the band's muse. Songs like Ten Lizardmen And One Pocket Knife will stick with its lyrical prowess and guitar hooks. Props to Stokes and Prifogle too for laying down the rhythm that drives the song.

But you don't have to wait for the third track for Devil To Pay to leave a lasting impression. At the top of the album, Prepare To Die sets the imagery for the entire album with stomping riffs and rhythms offset by woeful lyrics. It's a foreshadow to the both the beginning and the end at the same time.

The band hasn't been using either track to preview the album. The first music video out of the box showcases their potential for intensity. Train Won't Stop is an excessive tempest, a whirlwind filled with hooks, riffs, and melodies that never lets up on the studio session despite relaxing a bit live during the additional minute of play time (and puppet cameo).

As one of several relentlessly heavy tracks, Train Won't Stop captures the strength of the band on stage. They always leave room for plenty of embellishments, giving every show a uniqueness all its own.

There is plenty that can be said about all twelve tracks that make up Fate Is Your Muse, but The Naked Truth stands out for the sheer passion that the Indianapolis foursome puts into it. It's a personal favorite, especially as the track is as empowering as it powerful.

Other standouts include the methodical and shadowy Yes Master, the blues-imbued title track Already Dead, and the jangly hard rocker Tie One On. Each track hints at the diversity of the album found throughout. Black Black Heart is also a solid track, giving up a little more sludge and foreboding to the offering on the front and back ends.

Fate Is Your Muse By Devil To Pay Grabs 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There is clearly some bone-crushing heaviness across the entire album with several tracks that will stand out among the best Devil To Pay has ever produced. For its primal rawness without avoiding any finality, Fate Is Your Muse accomplishes what Janiak set out to do by walking the line between states of being as seen through several points of view.

All in all, Devil To Pay has put together one of those just under the radar albums you'll be proud to pull out or add to a playlist. You can find Fate Is Your Muse by Devil To Pay on Amazon. You can also download it from iTunes or order the CD from Barnes & Noble. The band is currently booking shows in Indiana, but you can keep tabs of them on Facebook for any upcoming tour information.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Silent Age Is A Time Warp Story

The Silent Age
Almost immediately after it came out, we found ourselves sucked into the immersive and mostly flattened world that makes up The Silent Age. Stylish and straightforward, this free episodic story-based game with a time travel twist delivers a surprisingly addictive plot.

The nostalgic element of the game has everything to do with its setting. It's 1972 and change is in the air. This weighs both figuratively and literally on a janitor named Joe, a hypothetical everyman with a mustache who is handed a portable time travel device. It shifts between two times: his present and some well-weathered point in the near future after civilization came to a reasonably abrupt stopped.

Playing in two times gives the game legs. 

Although the puzzle of the game is relatively simple and surprisingly linear, forcing Joe to find and use various tools in a linear cluster (e.g., you can't find a tool in a room that hasn't been unlocked by a key someplace else), the writing and design saves this gem from obscurity. It's creative. And that counts.

There is an unquestionable enjoyment in discovery. For example, a random plant in 1972 grows to block a door in the desolate setting of 2012. The man you passed on a table is reduced to dust and bones, exactly the way he was left for dead a long ago (or in the very near future). So it's all up to Joe to navigate this crazy obstacle course with near average intelligence (or slightly brighter depending on you).

The trick is, of course, to toggle between times and use each to its advantage. A plant, for example, killed four decades ago won't ever grow to wild proportions and block a door. A locked door can't slow anyone down if the walls have collapsed around it. An orange jumpsuit worn by a time traveler remains suspiciously nondescript, mostly to remind Joe (and you) that the fate of humankind has fallen to a chronic underachiever who wasn't even given more clearance until his predecessor met his demise.

The Silent Age falls somewhere between campy and spooky. 

While it might be more fun to have even more interaction in the environment, the game developers seemed to have kept the game play straightforward on purpose. Rarely will anyone become stumped at the successively and lightly progressive challenges that keep getting thrown in Joe's way.

The benefit in keeping it simple is that The Silent Age pace remains largely seamless for the story. Joe never knows exactly what is happening but always has a sense of what needs to happen next. This creates a compulsion to play through with curiosity and will make some people crazy because episode two is not complete.

In order to make the game a labor of love fueled by passion instead of cash, the game developers are asking for donations of $25,000 to complete episode two. Once they do, those who helped out will get the game for free. Everyone else will have the option to buy. Think of it as reverse crowdsourcing as the developers want to reach a no-risk threshold before they give up the goods (which are, at least, party done).

A few words about the indie developers who designed it. 

House On Fire
The game was created by an indie developer based in Copenhagen. It mostly consists of a team of six, with programmer Linda Randazzo, game designer Thomas Ryder, and production manager Uni Dahl (who also programs from time to time). They originally came together to create a different game, Neon Zone, but then became immersed into this alternative universe instead.

Episode two, they say, will also be the final installment. The development team wants to keep the game straightforward without too many extensions. Some players might have feelings about the news, given the expressionless Joe has a significant amount of character. Maybe it's the mustache, originally meant as a Facebook joke for the Movember Moment until fans picked it over a clean shaven hero.

The Silent Age Shakes Up Time At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If the puzzles weren't so easy and the linear controls not so confining, possibly even alternating outcomes like The Walking Dead, the game would score even higher. But even as it stands, The Silent Age with its stylish throwback graphics and clever storyline is well worth the the investment. It's especially promising as something opens up Pandora's box for more time travel games in the future (or maybe the past).

The Silent Age is currently available from iTunes for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad. However, plans are in the works to release the game for the Android too. The company, House On Fire, is very adept at communication through its social media channels. Visit them on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jake Bugg Breaks With A Debut Burner

Jake Bugg
At first pass, some people stateside might be skeptical about Nottingham-born singer-songwriter Jake Bugg who catapulted to the top of the U.K. charts last October before his debut album was released in the United States in April. But dig a little deeper into the 19-year-old singer's back story and it all makes sense.

His parents both made recordings in their youth before moving into medicine and sales. His uncle taught him the guitar at age 12. And his personal taste in music was so heavily influenced by a collection of formative songwriters like the Beatles, Johnny Cash, and Jimi Hendrix that he dropped out of a music technology course at 16.

"Bob Dylan's cool, you know, he's great, but he's not a major influence." — Jake Bugg to The Telegraph 

Bugg said it for all the right reasons too. Any folk rock artist with an affinity for music tends to be compared to Dylan because reviewers can't seem to avoid comparisons. But give the young artist some time and it won't be long before people are comparing other artists to him as he managed to break though as an antidote to processed pop.

He never expected any of it. Mostly, Bugg set his sights short and hoped to help more people re-spark their interest in guitar-driven music. Americans might even be ready for his sensible guitar rock too.

Although armed with more bluegrass than beatnik stylings, Bugg does better than nostalgia with his lyrics. Most of them are well-crafted analogies and metaphors that cut at some of the conversations his generation and others are having today. Lighting Bolt only sets the tone. There aren't any answers.

Trouble Town is especially poignant. Backed with little more than a clean guitar to provide a foundation, Bugg taps the tentative and tenuous grind that gets people by for awhile but eventually breaks down. There has to be something more than being stuck like that.

"There's a tower block overhead. All you've got's your benefits. And you're barely scraping by," he sings. "In this trouble town, troubles are found."

Not every track on the self-titled Jake Bugg debut is wise beyond his years of observations. Some of them, like Two Fingers, are confessional as the song tells a little bit about Bugg's own story, growing up in a broken home after his parents divorced.

Relatively few tracks besides Simple As This or Seen It All really kick up a notch. Bugg seems to be storytelling and contemplative over faster-paced arrangements. It's in this down tempo space that he feels best suited to make a lasting connection with lyrics you want to really hear.

While there are a few songs on the back half of the album that might have benefited from more diversity, few if any are throwaways. Someone Told Me, Ballad Of Mr. Jones, and the short and sweet crackling track Fire all work on the subconscious, drawing you in for a listen. The only people who might not appreciate it will probably have an aversion to twangy guitars and a short attention span for lyrics.

Jake Bugg's Self-Titled Debut Snaps 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although there is some risk that Bugg could get caught up in a whirlwind celebrity status, there is no risk of losing any rawness off the debut. As mentioned, there are some songs on the album that are pretty average given the company of the brilliant tracks they keep, and there is as much timelessness as there is restlessness in Bugg's take on urban folk rock.

You can find Jake Bugg's self-titled debut on Amazon. The album is also available on CD from Barnes & Noble, which will warm it all up considerably. Or you can download the album off iTunes. Given his album broke in the United Kingdom back in October, Bugg already has a considerable following on Facebook.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Affliction Finds A Fit For Cargo Shorts

Although the Seal Beach clothing line is hoping to make a splash with board shorts, the best summer additions from Affliction are cargo shorts. The wildly detailed but streamlined look removes most of the excess bulk associated with cargo shorts for a cleaner, fitter look.

Unlike most cargo shorts, it all works together. Affliction took a slim fit shorts cut and added side slash pockets and back welt pockets for a relaxed fit. Fit is the operative word as most cargo shorts have added bulk instead.

Affliction streamlines the cargo short for a better fit. 

Taking what they have done so well with denim and applying it to shorts is what the summer needed. These shorts are comfortable but rugged, made with a durable 100 percent cotton fabric. There are also some signature stylings such as reinforced stitches, metal buttons, and ornate rivets.

These simple embellishments help the shorts stand out, making them more wearable than board shorts but just as comfortable. Green isn't the only color. Although each variation carries different stylings, Affliction adds additional character with charcoal, black, and steel gray.

But if you want something that stands out and is noticed even more, Affliction added plaid cargo shorts into the mix. With a slim fit and 22-inch inseam, the plaid prewashed fabric adds something more to cargo shorts. It also gives plain plaid shorts the extra carry space they were missing, but without the overtly bulky pockets.

The Take Back Plaid Walkshort is one of the sharpest deviations from the solid colors, but the darker blue Mystery Knowledge shorts work too. Either provide a distinction between the original 1940s design inspired by the military and adopted for hunting. The shorts are rugged, but with an urban sense.

Another interesting aspect about the new line of cargos from Affliction is how understated the brand has become on some products. The change isn't only limited to shorts. Many recent looks have placed the emphasis on the design element over the brand, which will be smart over the long term.

A few additional graphs about Tom Atencio. 

Affliction Clothing came on the scene in 2005, with an emphasis on tribal tattoos, skeletal jewelry, and a toughness borrowed from mixed martial arts, metal, motorcycles. and muscle cars. In some ways, it was more under the radar than Ed Hardy and more accessible than Von Dutch.

Tom Atencio really built the business with Todd Beard and Eric Foss out of the design industry and then shifted toward clothing by sponsoring mixed martial arts competitors. As more competitors requested sponsorships, Affliction quickly grew into clothing readily associated with the sport.

Ask him why he thinks he is on top, and Atencio points to partnerships first and all other things associated with the brand second. This includes smart marketing, quality products, and innovative designs. The company even owns its own manufacturing facility, which allows it more design flexibility as well as the ability to put as many as 20 to 30 new designs into production every month.

The Slim Fit Cargo Shorts From Affliction Cut 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

For anyone who who is closer to lean than bulked, the Affliction cargo shorts are a welcome fashion addition as standard cut cargoes are typically too baggy. Even those that aren't bulky have too much pocket material. The slim fit cuts give the body a much more tapered look, especially when wearing a shirt that might be cut comfortably bigger.

Sometimes you can find Affliction from other sources, but always be alert for knockoffs. So while it is often useful to visit other sites for price comparisons, consider visiting the clothing line's buy direct site, which eliminates any concern. On average, the cargo shorts are about $85. Affliction also recently added sweat and fleece shorts for about $55. Occasionally, you can find some savings on Amazon, especially on previous lines.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bleached Rides Some Hearts Hard

Mika Miko might not have ended the way Jennifer and Jessica Clavin intended. The often dark and always trashy throwback punk band that was spawned from Dead Banana Ladies played on for almost a decade. They produced two albums, with the sophomore album progressively better than their debut.

The downside, however, was that We Be Xuxa caused the band to question the potency of studio sessions compared to their onstage performances. And shortly after, they decided to call it quits in favor of other projects. Jennifer Clavin even took a break from music, moving to New York.

When she got there, fashion design wasn't enough to keep her attention so she signed on as keyboardist with Cold Cave. Meanwhile, her sister continued playing with another band, Cold Showers, in Los Angeles. It wasn't until Jennifer returned to Los Angeles that the two would try something new.

Bleached is the cleaner sound created by the Clavin sisters, reunited. 

If there was any tension between the two over the split of Mika Miko, nobody would ever be able to tell listening to Bleached. Although it took some time to get it right across several singles released since 2010, the Clavin sisters' new full-length debut is nothing less than masterful. 

Gone are the early rough cut meanderings of Francis released by Ooga Booga records two years ago. The fact is that the new album, Ride Your Heart, is even cleaner and more polished than Searching Through The Past put out Suicide Squeeze Records. The Clavin sisters have clearly found themselves.

The post-punk fueled release might be late by any measure, but it is packed with hooks, drums, and smartly written lyrics. Much of it is cynical but presented in the most palatable way. Even the more morose moments are underpinned with an urgent cheeriness that feels decades away from their roots. 

Next Stop careens across the California countryside with little bits of repeatable life, looking backward from a more reflective age of 35. The resolution isn't the same, either. It isn't the same the second time and it will likely feel different again in a decade. Until next time. 

Equally striking is Dead In Your Head. The track might pretend to be about lost love, but it cuts much deeper. It's really about life, all those things that you might regret — choices made and opportunities missed — the kind of stuff that hits you hard when you wake up and think that you might have fucked up.

That's not to say that the entire album is bigger than it needs to be. Outta My Head is simpler, a song dedicated exclusively to breaking up with a boy. The opening track, Looking For A Fight, is also simple — it's exactly how anybody might feel when they come home after a bad day and warn everyone to make a wide path. Dreaming Without You does much the same, except to some non-descript former lover left behind and maybe forgotten.

The balance of the 12-track album carries the theme forward. Most of it is about heartbreak on the sun-drenched beaches and deserts that surround California. Sure, there is still a sense of nostalgia indicative of what the Clavin sisters have done in the past (with a little help from Jonathan Safley this time), but there is something fresh and dreamier about their mature take on the California girl myth.

All together, there isn't a track to be missed. From the title track to Ride Your Heart and Dead Boy to everything mentioned above, there are no duds. There isn't any question that Ride Your Heart is the best work ever produced by the Clavin sisters. 

Ride Your Heart By Bleached Strips 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Sure, there are some people who will think Ride Your Heart came out a decade too late and the material is too mundane. That might be if the only measure of success is some surge in interest. Maybe there will be. Maybe not. But that doesn't deny the truth that it is a masterfully crafted album about female angst with a foundation of post-punk compositions that push in all directions. 

Ride Your Heart by Bleached can be picked up on Amazon. You can find the LP at Barnes & Noble or download Ride Your Heart at iTunes. Every track is worth the album price as mentioned, with the first five songs among the best of a great album that fits the big American and European tour planned out on Facebook.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Harlan Coben Obsesses Over Six Years

Six Years by Harlan Coben
Six years ago, Jake Fisher met the love of his life — an artist on retreat near an old farm town in Vermont. Like her, he was attending a workshop, with plans to finish writing his dissertation.

When their paths crossed in the town that linked the two retreats together, it was love at first sight. The initial spark quickly grew into a fire that would burn for three long months and consume them. That is, it did until their idyllic whirlwind love affair ends as abruptly as it had begun.

His confessed soulmate, Natalie, breaks it off. In fact, not only does she decide to end it, but she also seeks to bury it. After announcing her plan to marry someone else, she gives him a wedding invitation and dares him to come. When he does show up, he surprises some people but not Natalie.

She is ready for him, planing to use it as an opportunity to extinguish any remaining flame once and for all. She makes him promise to leave them alone. And for six years, Fisher would keep his promise.

Six years only feels like a life sentence against love. 

While some people might wonder about the sappiness, particularly if they have never been so lucky to have stumbled into a soulmate at least once in their life, Fisher's affliction is very real. And as he pines away for his lost love every few pages, it intentionally raises a question that persists throughout the entire novel. Is Fisher a romantically inclined dote or a dangerously obsessed stalker?

This is the kind of question even Fisher asks himself from time to time. He might have isolated himself in academia, spending almost every moment of his bachelorhood on or near the quiet Massachusetts campus where he teaches, but his memory of Natalie is as fresh as spring dew.

It might have remained that way forever too, but things take an unexpected turn. Natalie's husband Todd, a man who happens to have been an alumni from the same college where Fisher teaches, has died. And Fisher, unable to resist temptation, elects to attend the funeral.

Although Fisher attends, hoping to see her again and possibly find closure if not the opportunity to rekindle the feelings that he believes they shared, Natalie is nowhere to be found. Todd's real wife, on the other hand, is found very easily. The high school sweethearts married early, raising two children.

The discovery raises more questions than it answers. Was Natalie's husband one of those oddball men who secretly supports two families? Was the wedding a ruse to chase him off forever? It is possible that he has invented the entire affair? And if not, where is Natalie today and is she still safe?

A few graphs about mystery-thriller author Harlan Coben. 

Harlan Coben
Even after writing 24 novels, including several New York Times bestsellers, Harlan Coben shows no sign of slowing down. The award-winning New Jersey-based mystery-thriller writer continues to alternate between his well-known Myron Bolitar series and standalone novels.

As his newest standalone novel, Six Years, offers up something new from Coben. Although not belonging to either genre, it sometimes feels like a psychological thriller and a supernatural suspense story. He accomplishes this by making Fisher an untrustworthy protagonist with a suspect point of view and by creating the suggestion that some of the events occurring are frighteningly larger than life.

The result has a two-fold effect for some readers. They either walk away believing Six Years is his best work since the critically acclaimed novel Tell No One, or they are moderately disappointed because the resolution is much more grounded than the events leading up to them suggest. I belong to the former, someone who appreciates Fisher enough as a strong and complicated protagonist, despite his incessant whining over a broken heart, to forgive the tightly-wrapped package at the end.

Six Years By Harlan Coben Messes With Heads At 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a mystery thriller, Six Years works even when it become clear that the novel is more mystery than thriller. The real thrill is attempting to discover whether or not some of the events happening to Fisher are even real. As a man obsessed, Coben leaves open the premise that anything is possible for a delightfully long time.

You can find Six Years by Harlan Coben on Amazon. The book can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is read by Scott Brick. Despite some overproduction issues in the first few chapters, the entire read evens out as Brick eventually becomes Fisher. Some people will think Brick is being melodramatic, but the love craziness is the book.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Generationals Relax A Groove On Heza

The third album from Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, who make up both halves of the New Orleans-based Generationals, takes the duo in a more subdued and sensible direction than their earlier outings. It's the kind of album that catches you before your first cup of coffee and with sleep in your eyes.

Joyner and Widmer play it that way. There is something effortless in what they are doing here on Heza. That doesn't mean they were lazy in production. The sounds they make are laid out endlessly even and there is a smooth indie pop groove that comes across as smart as it is blissful.

A little less accessible but all the more enjoyable. 

Heza has a haziness that will likely make the 10-track album a little less commercial. I'm fine with listening to the Generationals without all the coffee and peanut butter cup distractions that epitomized their last LP. It also makes up for Lucky Numbers, the three-track single with only one exceptional song (Sale City).

Opening with Spinoza, the Generationals meet everyone's expectations with an up tempo relationship track offset by some half-hearted pleading. Some people wonder if the song has anything to do with the scripture, as the name might imply. Maybe. Maybe not. That's the beauty of it.

They follow up the heady (or maybe not heady) track Spinoza with Extra Free Year, which is characterized by its creatively inclined synth pattern and brooding delivery. Some people think it falls flat, but it is their laissez-faire attitude that makes the song and the entire album memorable.

Skip Say When and then give a little more listen to You Got Me. The song isn't memorable per se, but makes for a great lead in to Put A Light On. It's tracks like Put A Light On that make Heza feel more alternative than it was ever meant to be.

No, it's not a fast song and it doesn't infuse any guitars beyond a barely noticeable bass line. But the melody and inventive percussion arrangement carries a rock impression. It feels passive aggressive, much like the lyrics suggest. We drift along until it finally hits us to casually step off somewhere.

I Never Know is infinitely more convincing as the duo infuse more guitar into the groove, giving a low-key rock groove that matches the vocals well. The down side, of course, is once someone gets a taste of the Generationals with a bit more guitar, it's hard not to want more of it.

That happens later in I Used To Let You Get To Me and Durga III. The former song is the better of the two and might even be my favorite besides Spinoza. There is a quiet matter-of-fact resolve in the telling that eventually bleeds into an underlying confidence.

Anyone can argue that the Generationals are going through the motions on Heza, but I don't think so. The added guitars lend well to the work, maybe even giving some people a taste of how these two high school friends originally started playing together in an indie rock band. That and the production wasn't thrown together. Someone obsessed about every second.

Heza By Generationals Creates A Hazy 6.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Not every track wins on Heza, but the tracks that do can be played indefinitely. Spinoza, Put A Light On, Extra Free Year, and I Used To Let You Get To Me would have made an exceptional EP, with or without Durga III, which progressively gets better as the track plays on. None of them are memorable in the way a true indie rock album might be, but it's nice to hear these doing what they do best.

Heza by the Generationals can be found on Amazon. You can also pick up the LP from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. The band is loaded up with tour dates starting this week in April. You can find out specific show times in the south and then northward on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Art Exhibits High At The Getty Center

The Getty by Richard R. Becker
Rising high above the Los Angeles skyline in Brentwood is a museum with one of the most impressive art collections anywhere. To get there, guests are asked to leave their vehicles behind and catch the three-car cable pulled tram that ascends and descends the hill every day. The winding route takes five minutes.

Almost 1.3 million people take the journey every year to see one of the finest collections of pre-20th century and 20th century European and American art. Housed in five exhibition pavilions that make up the campus, the Getty Center itself is a work of art, meticulously designed by architect Richard Meier.

Meier took special care in considering how people would arrive and orient themselves. The museum itself extends south along one of two ridges that converge to make up the campus. Once they arrive, they have an immediate choice to explore the grounds or enter the museum through the three-story cylindrical lobby that opens onto the museum courtyard, which is surrounded by those buildings.

"Not all those who wander are lost." — J.R.R. Tolkien

Although not written for the Getty Center, the timeless Tolkien quote conveys the right sentiment. This is the kind of place to wander for hours and lose yourself despite never being lost. Around each and every corner of every circling pavilion, the work of master artists, painters, artisans, and craftsmen are everywhere, usually with statues and artifacts on the first floors and paintings on the second floors.

Inside The Getty by Richard R. BeckerWith many beginning in the North Pavilion, guests will find art, sculptures, and illuminated manuscripts. The majority of the collection in this pavilion pre-dates 1700, with an emphasis on medieval art. After transversing the lower and upper levels, a sky bridge connects the North and East pavilions.

It is in the East Pavilion where visitors will find increasingly familiar artists, with Dutch, French, Flemish, and Spanish paintings as well as sculpture and Italian decorative arts dating from 1600 to 1800. The highlight of the collection, however, is the 17th century Baroque art.

Immediately between these buildings and easily missed while wondering into the South Pavilion is a small standalone building that holds what the Getty Center calls The Family Room on the first floor. It is one of several places where the Getty lives up to its mission to inspire curiosity about the visual arts, inviting younger visitors to construct their own interpretation of an illuminated manuscript, build tube structures, and enjoy treasure hunts.

The Getty Museum is evolving on site and off site with apps.

Further back, however, is another Getty Center rarity. The South Pavilion contains the museum's 18th century paintings and a majority of the museum's European decorative arts collection. What makes the collection especially interesting is that some of the exhibits are done up in finished rooms, elaborately furnished and paneled.

Getty App
It was one of the Getty Center's interactive exhibits that inspired The Life Of Art, an iPhone application that details how four decorative works maintained at the museum came together, with various artisans each adding their expertise to create the elaborate furnishings. The app, much like the exhibit, includes a lidded bowl, silver fountain, side chair, and wall light.

The application isn't exclusive. The J. Paul Getty Trust has produced other free apps, including one to coincide with its exhibit Florence At The Dawn of Renaissance. The visiting exhibit is tied to how Florence flourished in the 1300s and helped set the stage for the Renaissance.

In addition to its own apps, other developers have created some.

In keeping with the desire to inspire, several other apps have been undertaken by other developers. In 2001, Toura created an app that featured highlights from four exhibits. And another by the same developer features 150 stunning works at the collection. It is the only one that requires a purchase, but does include some of the famed paintings from the West Pavilion, including Van Gogh.

Chicken by Richard R. Becker
Even more remarkable is the museum's recent exhibit on Pinterest, with almost 1,700 works. Still, even if these drawings, paintings, and photographs capture representations of the work, there is nothing like the real thing. The fountains, architecture, cactus garden, and central garden designed by artist Robert Irwin all converge to transport anyone away from Los Angeles for a few hours or even a day.

The Getty has several options for eating. In addition to light fare snack carts, the center has a restaurant and semi self-serve cafe (pizza oven and hamburger/chicken grille). While the restaurant menu seems pricey at a glance, the preparation and presentation is exquisite, as fine as any leading Los Angeles eatery. Plan to eat in, with dinner equally distinguished.

The Getty Center In Los Angeles Rises To 9.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Getty Center and Getty Museum has been a favored place to visit in Los Angeles since it opened. Given the museum waives its admission like several Los Angeles museums and art galleries (there is a modest $15 for parking), there really isn't any reason to miss it.

For a complete overview of travel accommodations in Los Angeles, compare top travel deals at Expedia.com. The Getty is especially close to Santa Monica (and you can avoid any highways). For a virtual tour of the Getty, you can find The Life Of Art, Getty Museum HighlightsFlorence At The Dawn of Renaissance, and Pacific Standard Time on iTunes. Three of the apps are free.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kvelertak Turns It Up More For Meir

Not everyone stateside gets excited when a band's native language isn't English. But then, every once in a while, there comes along a band convincing enough that it just doesn't matter. Thankfully, Kvelertak is one of them.

The band's blend of rock, hardcore punk, and black metal influences is so sharply defined that most enthusiasts agree that there is plenty of time to decipher the Norwegian vocals. It doesn't even matter if their sophomore album, Meir, which means more, is precisely that. It's more of the same — the idiosyncratic sound that earned them two Spellemann Awards for their eponymous debut.

Meir is more melodic, with hints of experimentation. 

It might almost seem like a shame that there isn't more experimentation to distinguish Meir from their self-titled debut. But it's also good that they expanded what seems to work for them — riffs, hooks, anthems, and an attitude that the band sometimes calls "necro n' roll."

They make most of it by taking straightforward power chords and mashing them up against the hardcore vocals of Erlend Hjelvik. Even the opener, Apenbaring, a melodic riff-driven rocker about Vikings, sets the tone. It also gives you a taste of why this band from Stavanger, Norway, needs six members — Vidar Landa (guitar), Bjarte Lund Rolland (guitar), Maciek Ofstad (guitar), Marvin Nygaard (bass), and Kjetil Gjermundrød (drums) joining Hjelvik.

The buildup in the song is potent, perfectly alluding to the album that follows. In fact, if there is any criticism to be given, it's likely confined to how short the song feels. You really are left with wanting more, maybe even more than the first single release off the album.

That song, Bruane Brenn, is more straightforward, harkening not back to the Vikings as much as AC/DC. Bruane Brenn, by the way, means"the bridges are burning."

Most notably, besides the younger stand-ins seen in the music video, is the lighter sing-along chorus. For a few seconds, Kvelertak moves toward the pop side of rock in between a celebratory rock stomp of near jubilation as bridges burn. Somehow the light and dark of it work, with tight rhythms and transitions.

Along with Apenbaring, Spring fra Livet and Trepan open the album before Bruane Brenn. Spring fra Livet is a relatively rock party-friendly track with the most emo lyrics on the entire album. The title, means run from life, with Hjelvik suggesting you got to know when to go home.

Trepan is notably darker, taken from the medieval surgical procedure of drilling holes in people's heads in order to relieve pressure. The practice is even more primal than that, dating back to prehistoric times. Where Kvelertak gets it right is that they mean it figuratively as much as literally, given the ability of metal to be a release as much as it can wind people up.

Other standouts off the album include the smooth and even bluesy hard rock hit Evig Vandrar, the chug  and conflict of Undertro, the infectious and tightly wound Tordernbark, and the closer Kvelertak. Although tamer than most tracks on the album, Kvelertak will help some people pronounce the band's name correctly, which is the same way it's spelt — Kuh-vell-er-tack.

Meir By Kvelertak Strikes A Thunderclap At 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Most people don't know it, but this band has been extremely patient in making their mark. Although their debut album came out in 2010, Kvelertak originally formed in 2007. Their break came in 2009 when they got a spot at the Roskilde Festival. It would take a little more time, but eventually they would break through in Norway after Ordsmedar Of Rank was nominated for an Untouched Award in 2010. This song, and Mead, would eventually get radio play.

Meir by Kvelertak is available from Amazon. You can also order the album from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. The band is currently touring in Norway and Sweden before heading to the United States toward the end of April. Shows are listed on Facebook. If the album art looks familiar, it should. It was designed by John Dyer Baizley of Baroness. The full image is here.