Friday, November 29, 2013

Grant's Parasite Gets Inside Your Head

parasite by Mira Grant
A few reviewers have done Parasite by Mira Grant a great injustice by likening it to a zombie-virus book. While some might draw a few similarities between the walking dead and the "sleeping sickness" that slowly spreads throughout an unsuspecting populous, it's too trite of a comparison.

Grant never found her inspiration from zombie lore. She found her foreshadow in a very real and growing horror story that is taking place all around us. This horror story is rooted in the very real notion that the our overindulgence in antibodies is beginning to render them obsolete.

And it is in any post-antibiotic world that humans will suddenly become vulnerable to the stuff that children used six or seven decades ago and were readily been toughened up against. Grant takes this story one step further by skipping the immediate failure of antibodies and into the next step of science.

Parasite is one solution to save modern medicine from collapse. 

Grant sets the stage by choosing one of several directions (genetics, nanotechnology, biochemical enhancements, etc.) that future medicine may take and carries it out to a deeply disturbing conclusion. In the race to build a safer human, one company creates a genetically altered parasitic bodyguard that effectively boosts the human immune system for (its and our) mutual survival.

Once this parasite is proven effective in rushed human trials, the intestinal bodyguard is immediately mass produced and introduced all over the world as everyone wants to be healthier and live longer. Except, predictably, there is a problem with this medical experiment on a global scale — the parasites aren't necessarily satisfied with being slaves to their human hosts, which places the protagonist in an especially precarious position.

The story of Sally Mitchell, an unlikely survivor. 

After barely surviving a car accident that left her on life support, Sally Mitchell miraculously regains consciousness just as her family and doctors are discussing terminating her for organ salvage. The miracle is attributed to her being among the first to receive an intestinal bodyguard.

tapewormShe received it, in part, because her father works for the military. His department was granted oversight of SymboGen, the company responsible for the development of the medical miracle.

Her survival was not without consequences. She lost almost all of her memory, forcing her to relearn everything (including the English language) while rebuilding bonds between herself and a disarranged family. They are both happy she is alive and disheartened because her personality is so different from the spirited and rebellious girl they have always known.

She is also the perfect storyteller because she has to learn the science that everyone else around her takes for granted. Her father and sister are scientists. Her boyfriend is a parasitologist. She is carefully monitored by SymboGen, the maker of the parasite credited with saving her life.

For some readers, Mitchell will likely come across as shallow, but this is by design. While she is more advanced than a child and has the ability to be a quick learner, the new Sally Mitchell or "Sal" only has the benefit of six years' worth of experiences. She isn't necessarily the most honest narrator either, given her propensity to read others superficially as well in this plot-driven opener.

A couple of graphs of Mira Grant a.k.a. Seanan McGuire. 

Mira Grant
Although the pseudonym is well known among fans, Seanan McGuire does adopt a darker and more mature flair for this persona. Or, if you believe the bio of Mira Grant, perhaps the opposite is true.

The author of a dozen novels under McGuire, she is best known for her urban fantasies that balance both creepy and quirky. Under Mira Grant, she also wrote the Newsflesh trilogy and two short stories for When Will You Rise, which was published by Subterranean Press. Grant relies less on quirky, but McGuire's voice is very noticeable among some characters.

Parasite By Mira Grant Digs In At 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although not all the science is accurate, she does open some doors into scientific-medical curiosities that naturally make you wonder what people are doing behind closed doors. And perhaps even more spooky, she asks if you would be among those to try them. It's a significantly lighter read than many scientific-medical thrillers and occasionally comical, but a well-drawn and likable story nonetheless.

While keeping in mind this is a serial with an abrupt end, the foreshadow to what will become a pandemic — Parasite (Parasitology) — can be found on Amazon. The novel is also sold at Barnes & Noble or downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Christine Lakin, who makes Sally Mitchell very convincing as a character without a past and (perhaps) the only person on the planet she can trust. It's well worth the read as an introduction to entertaining fiction to come.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Daytona Debuts With A Self-Titled LP

Daytona is a Brooklyn band that happened largely by accident. All three members knew each other when they played around in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But they never formed a band together.

Even when they relocated to New York City, it took a little time before they clicked. Hunter Simpson (guitar and vocals) was still hooked up with Wild Yaks. Jose Boyer (bass and vocals) spent some time with Harlem. Christopher Lauderdale (drums and vocals) had other gigs too.

No, it didn't stop them from putting out an EP last year. Yes, it did slow them down in promoting the real potential of this power pop-rock trio. Expect some of that to change soon as long as Brooklyn's own independent label, Ernest Jenning Record Co., keeps moving them in the right direction.

Daytona puts out a self-titled debut worth a listen.

The self-titled release pushes past the band's unfortunate name and into a space where many bands collapse. On the first pass, they have a few catchy songs that bounce back and forth between alternative jubilance and artistic sensitivity.

But if you run through the album, things start to sound different. Their sound readily borrows sprawling indie pop harmonies and then plants them on a foundation of folk-tinged strings and Caribbean-influenced rhythms. Most of it proves to be a huge improvement over last year.

The Road, for example, is a solid enough opener in that it establishes the band's sound, layered composition, and shared vocals. There is some cohesion to the arrangement that didn't really exist on Storm So Long last year. It's about a 40-day cycling trip and how sometimes it is best to stay put.

The band has clearly covered significant ground. Air Picker (Lost In The Trees) and Matt Boynton (MGMT) deserve some props here too. Picker recorded the album in North Carolina and Boynton mixed it in Brooklyn. For this band, it makes a difference.

New Foundation changes up the pace while retaining precisely what Daytona has been trying to master. They want dynamic shifts in the sound that spills from buoyant to dreamy, often accomplishing the transition by bringing in one of two or three competing but harmonious layers of pop noise. If you sense a lot can go wrong with this approach, you're probably right.

When the band nails it on tracks like Lighthouse, it's easy to get an immediate sense of their musical vision. But then there are times when it doesn't work as much. Honey is one of those. While there is plenty to like about the carefree and casual vibe of the song, there are too many moments when it clashes with itself, distracting from an otherwise solid song.

Fortunately, there are enough tracks that Daytona reins in its complexity and delivers something interesting. The sure-footed sensibilities of Maria, the soaring drift of Raincoat, and the eclectic instrumental arrangements and poignant lyrics of Oregon all qualify.

It's refreshing to hear a band work so hard to make music engaging. They create an illusion that music can come together much like the band, accidental and off the cuff. The lyrics feel that way too at times. On the whole of the album, Daytona dishes out pleasant and painful with equal measure.

Daytona's Self-Titled Debut Lifts 4.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, Daytona feels like it needs more time to mature. But while it does, they have still managed to produce a handful of experimental pop tracks that are as addictive as they are listenable. Start with The Road, New Foundation and Lighthouse and then consider Maria, Raincoat, and Oregon.

You can find the self-titled debut Daytona on Amazon. The album was also released to Barnes & Noble and can be downloaded from iTunes. The band is currently lining up shows from Austin, Texas, to Durham, North Carolina. Follow them on Facebook for updates. Put them on your watch list because there is a tremendous amount of potential here as they perfect the music.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paula Bianco Brings Bold To Necklines

Paula Bianco
Last year, some of the best scarves making a debut were as much about art as they were wrapping a neckline. And one of most interesting lines turned fantastical images into decorative fashion. 

This year, the opposite holds true. Instead of relying on artistic designs to make a statement, some of the most interesting designs rely on textures instead. Not only do they look as warm as they feel, but the chunky bulk also lends a sophisticated practicality to everything they accentuate. 

The infinity scarf by Paula Bianco is simple and striking. 

While retaining a modern flair with intracate loops and knits, these soft-as-fleece scarves feel immediately timeless, something that can be worn in a decade as easily as they are worn today. The reason this is largely true is in the approach of Paula Bianco, a brand created by Smadar-Pola Azriel. 

She has always had a talent for grounding her work in tradition while upgrading the techniques needed to get it done. In this case, the entire infinity line of scarves is made with 80 percent acrylic and 20 percent nylon (some are 100 percent acrylic). Just don't let their size fool you. They are as light as they are soft. Some almost feel like down feathers.

Infinity Scarf
Another interesting aspect of these scarves is their resilience and adaptability. Knowing that not everyone will appreciate a circle scarf, some design outlets suggest cutting the scarf at the bottom to transform it into a regular scarf. I don't necessarily see that as a solution, but it works well enough. So does adding flair like the original scarves did.

Many of the designs by Azriel's Paula Bianco have a distressed look, with frayed edges and shredded stripes in order to make them look well worn and comfortable. The knit patterns and finished textures ensure it. Just remember that all of these scarves are hand wash only.

A few graphs about designer Smadar-Pola Azriel. 

Smadar-Pola Azriel never intended to enter the world of fashion. She was a high school artist who planned to apply her talent to interior design. She even studied it in college, earning a degree ten years ago.

Nowadays, everything has changed. She is more likely to say that fashion was always bubbling up inside her, possibly released after her first visit to New York City. And so, while designing homes, she started a side project — reconstructing old sweaters into unique scarves.

Smadar-Pola Azriel
Once they were deconstructed, she would often add elements to make each one unique. Some of them sported retro button, ribbons, beans, and even pieces of pottery. Sometimes the look was sophisticated. Sometimes it lent a bit a whimsy. But what each of them had in common was that they were one of a kind, something you keep forever.

Her designs were so immediately well received that she made an incredibly brave decision. She gave up on her established career and took classes in basic sewing and dressmaking pattern classes at Shenkar. The transition has been remarkable, with Azriel expanding her fashion line from scarves and jewelry to full ensembles.

Across it all, Azriel has become a name associated with contemplation. Her work is playfully modern, but grounded in tradition. It looks both fresh and instantly classic.

Infinity Scarves From Paula Bianco Wrap 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

What makes the scarves by Paula Bianco stand out is there is size. Although the scarves themselves are soft and light, their chunkiness adds a visual appeal that accentuates as much as it accessorizes.

With the Paula Bianco site being redesigned, the best place to find the new infinity line is Designs By Stephanie. All of the scarves by Paula Bianco are on sale for the season. They also have a large collection of scarves from other designers too, including Theodora & Callum, Lilly Pulitzer, and their own signature designs.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cumulus Never Meant It Like This

Led by the sprite-like vocals of Alexandra "Alex" Niedzialkowski, Cumulus manages to lighten up the otherwise proper indie pop-rock toughness created by Lance Umble (guitar) and Leah Julius (bass). It's a juxtaposition that fits the debut, which took some toughness and a ton a heart to produce.

Like some startups do from time to time, Cumulus is one of those increasingly few to almost self-produce a worthwhile and listenable debut with a Kickstarter campaign. But that's not to say Cumulus came together yesterday or is some sensationalized overnight success. It's mostly the opposite.

This Seattle-based band is something that Niedzialkowski has been kicking around for six years, writing and sharing songs with her friends like others might write and leave open their diaries. The rest of the elements came together later when she and Umble started to figure out all their chance meetings after high school might be something more than happenstance.

The same can be said for the addition of Julius, whom the duo met after playing a Bruce Springteen tribute show last year. Kyle Holland and Ryan Sprute came later, lending some drums to finish it.

I Never Meant It To Be Like This was never meant to be like this. 

Getting back to the reason almost was set in italics. Cumulus was never given the chance to self-produce their album because Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) sent the group an email just before they wrapped everything up. He wanted to see what would happen if Trans-Records put it out instead.

They readily agreed, giving the the album an added bounce after Trans-Records lined up their first national tour with the Lonely Forest prior to the debut. And as soon as they finished, they put out a video for Middle, a track that sets down why this deft and determined pop-rock combo works.

Middle is a brazenly sharp-sounding song that talks smartly about isolation. It acknowledges those moments and feelings when people feel vulnerable and alone. But the chorus dares anyone feeling lonely to be that third wheel, keeping friendships together instead of letting them fall away.

The release of the video was timed perfectly to coincide with the album's continued climb, an ascent that was started when Trans-Records first released the lighter, poppier Do You Remember. At first pass, the single was almost lost in the delicacy of the album opener. It nearly floats away until you focus in on the lyrics, which are grounded in a triumphant sadness — triumphant because everyone feels that way, sad because everyone loses that feeling.

There is a bittersweet story told across this intentional debut. 

Fortunately, there's much more than two songs to explore on I Never Meant It To Be Like This. Hey Love is an impossibly tender power pop piece that cuddles up to more loneliness. It's brisk and hopeful, bookended by the two mentioned above.

The three of them together set the stage for what will become a storybook of young love, with each track serving up a chapter. The first four tracks all address the end to being lonely — that naivety in feeling invincible as long as the other person stays by your side. All that changes with the broody and muted Wanderlust, when things slowly begin to churn, turn and tear it all up.

The bottom five tracks swirl around with darker clouds as an increasing maturity begins to seep into the songs. The progression is what makes all 10 tracks readily addictive on I Never Meant It To Be Like This. By the time you get to the end, it becomes painfully clear that is a lost love story.

Night Swimming is the perfect closer, a simple but raw track that captures Niedzialkowski in a different light. She isn't all sugar. There is an untapped roughness there too. And as it emerges, you might find yourself wondering about the first track. Do you remember that feeling? Maybe.

I Never Meant It To Be Like This By Cumulus Floats 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With impeccable songwriting and the talent to tell a complete story, I Never Meant It To Be Like This is a bittersweet indie pop-rock astonishment. Listening to a single track or two doesn't convey the real depth of the debut, one that is poised to keep climbing as more people discover this isn't a bubble gum indie pop band. They have laid out something substantial.

You can find I Never Meant It To Be Like This by Cumulus on Amazon. The vinyl release is available at Barnes & Noble or you can download the album from iTunes. For tour listings, check out the band on Facebook.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Argonaut Renovates A New Chapter

Ten years or so ago, finding a place to stay right off Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco was limited. Most of the hotels are at least a block or two off Jefferson Street, with one or maybe two exceptions.

But all that changed when Kimpton Hotels opened the Argonaut Hotel in 2003, a boutique with 252 guest rooms and 13 suites. It literally extends the reach of the Jefferson Street experience to the Aquatic Park and beach just west of the San Francisco Maritime Museum. And although some might still consider this a bit of a trek, the walk can be pleasantly vibrant depending on the time of year.

The destination is worth it too. During the past decade, the hotel has undergone several renovations and, more recently, a redesign. While Kimpton decided to keep the quirky nautical theme, exposed brick walls, and wood-beam ceilings, there is a freshness the hotel hasn't felt in some time.

It seems to have spilled over into service expectations too. I remember when the hotel was proud to earn three diamonds from AAA. Nowadays, the hotel boasts four. People who stay here love it.

The Argonaut shares a history with the Haslett Warehouse.

Argonaut Hotel, San Francisco
The original building, which is occupied by The Argonaut now, was once the largest fruit and vegetable cannery in the world. It was a massive four-story brick and Douglas fir timber construction that was built between 1907 by the California Fruit Canners Association (a.k.a. Del Monte). Operations ceased during the Great Depression and it became a warehouse.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and transferred to the National Park Service in 1978. And in 1988, the warehouse was included as part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, which includes the historic fleet at Hyde Street Pier, the Maritime Museum, and the Maritime Library. Kimpton has a long-term lease on the property, which supports the park.

This is also why the Visitors Center and Interactive Museum is located on the property. The 10,000-square-foot space has dozens of displays and artifacts that retell the wharf's rich history. Some of the museum exhibits are interactive, including the sensory "A Walk Along The Waterfront," which incorporates sound effects from the wharf's golden era to tell the story.

The atmosphere is casual, modern and quirky. 

Argonaut Hotel rooms
The interior design team did a great job balancing modern amenities with an over-accentuated nautical theme and the historic exposed brick walls, large timber beams, and warehouse doors.

The motif is big and bold, somewhere between breach house and cruise ship. The carpeting is striped, unexposed brick walls are paneled, and the fabrics mix and match reds and navy blues that pop against off-white. Some rooms have oversized leather ottomans. All of them have yoga mats.

Other standards include complimentary wireless flat screen televisions, work desks with Eames-style chairs, and surprisingly soft, comfortable beds. Some of the rooms offer views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier. Others provide views of the city, landmarks like Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid. I stayed in a room with a single king.

The Argonaut keeps good company within walking distance. 

The most immediate attraction is The Cannery, which is a waterfront marketplace as rich as many found up and down Jefferson Street; and Ghirardelli Square, another area market. Hyde Street Pier, which is where several historic ships and one submarine make up an impressive floating museum, is located across the street.

A little further away, past all the shops and fish markets, is the always popular Pier 39. There are plenty of places to catch a bite, but the Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar works on any night you aren't up for a walk. The concept there is what they call Barbary Coast heritage and Gold Rush nostalgia as envisioned by Steven Connolly. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Argonaut Hotel Livens Up San Francisco At 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Argonaut Hotel has come along way since it opened ten years ago. It just keeps getting better. The staff is friendly, the service is on point, and even the guests are more approachable. I even recommend the hosted wine hour from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aside from enjoying complimentary wine, the hotel is well suited to guests who mingle rather than retreating to their rooms.

There is always so much to do in San Francisco, with Fisherman's Wharf often described as a destination unlike any other in the city. For details and booking information, start by comparing specials against top travel deals at It deserves a couple of days to explore on its own.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wooden Shjips Race Back To Land

Wooden Shjips
Psychedelic space rock aficionados Wooden Shjips continue their inward slide on their fourth full-length with Back To Land, delivering nine dizzying drifts into a perpetual state of fuzz-encrusted lushness. Even more so than previous albums, the band has minimized the sound even further.

It's also the first album that the band has conceived outside of the Bay area, with Ripley Johnson and Omar Ahsanuddin soaking up Oregon for inspiration. They've both said location played a major influence, with the music taking on a more earthy and grounded sound than anything created in San Francisco.

For most, the change up will best be summed up as subtle. They haven't abandoned their psych-rock core as much as they've changed up some of the instruments, with an acoustic guitar being the most obvious. The results are slightly less brooding tracks that feel brighter to the point of psych pop.

Back To Land builds upon the confidence of Wooden Shjips. 

The title track, Back To Land, sets down something to expect from Wooden Shjips. They skip song structure by sticking with a single groove, something that floats along as Johnson's intelligent lyrics and haunting vocals take hold. The video that accompanies it underscores the spookiness.

Without the clowns, Back To Land has a warmer glow. But even with their teeth gleaming, it's easy enough to hear that this album was meant to be more immersive than previous outings. The decision to lay it down to tape with Kendra Lynn and Larry Crane only adds warmth to the mystique.

The second track to give a listen to is Ruins. The weight of its interlocking organ and guitar groove plods and pulsates along over a spaciously repetitive percussion and bass. The solos tucked inside are especially adept at creating a hazy rhythm-induced sway.

Arguably the best track on the album is These Shadows, a richly sedative and relaxed number that contemplates the day that preceded dusk. It feels like an ending, even it's a brief respite before the complete and total transition to night. The only track better is an acoustic version that Wooden Shjips includes on the deluxe album. The strum becomes more pronounced. The vocals have more reverb.

Other standouts include the effortlessly compelling guitar solos of Servants, the energy of the offbeat and upbeat Ghouls, and the wooziness induced by Everybody Knows. Like all of the tracks on Back To Land, the tone is textural with distorted riffs, modal keys and that steady, ever-present percussion.

Most of the tracks don't even reach crescendos as the band just lets them fade out into space, without much of an end. It's very much like the environment where they composed most of it — with old forests, winding streams, and the unchanging and near timeless coastlines. They roll on too.

You can hear it in the music so readily because Back To Land is the most laid back album of the band's career. And in some ways, it's almost as if the band has become more reflective, taking cues from the music they listened to before they ever conceived this would be their band.

Back To Land By Wooden Shjips Sails 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Back to Land was recorded over an 11-day session and their label describes it as some of the most detailed and spacious recordings of their career. It's nuanced, varied, and easy enough to be sucked into for a spell as opposed to a casual listen.

You can find Back To Land by Wooden Shjips on Amazon. The album is also available at Barnes & Noble or can be downloaded from iTunes. The deluxe album is the one to look for as it includes the acoustic version of These Shadows. The band will be touring in the United States and Europe through February 2014. December is especially heavy with shows throughout Europe before they head to the United Kingdom.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tim O'Brien And Things He Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
There is a reason The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. This haunting and heartfelt meditation is a collection of short story memoirs woven into a poignant and unforgettable work of fiction based on first person history.

It's a novel. It's a memoir. It's a collection of short stories. And it, perhaps more than most books, will bring you as close to his Vietnam War as possible. Except that, and this is what makes the book exceptional as well as controversial, he does it by unequivocally taking a stand that there is nothing to understand about the Vietnam War or, perhaps, any military conflict.

What matters, O'Brien comes to realize as does anyone who reads his work, is that people who are torn away in times of war are forced to wrestle with their own sense of humanity in places where there is no sense and rarely humanity. And even more remarkably, he accomplishes this with a deeply poetic fashion, blending fiction with fact until what is real and what isn't real no longer matters.

The Things They Carried is emotionally taut from start to finish. 

What begins as an inventory introduction of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War by associating them with the good luck charms, mementos, and weapons they carried, quickly transcends into a tightly written exploration of real-life experience and perception that can shape people in dramatically unexpected ways for no discernible reason.

The Things They Carried, Bryan Cranston narration
He sets the foundation for it in a single chapter that predates recollects how the protagonist reacted when he first received his draft notice. Protagonist is the right word here, because unlike the real Tim O'Brien, the fictional Tim O'Brien doesn't board a bus to Sioux Falls. He immediately drives north to the Canadian border where he spends six days in a deserted lodge in the company of an old man named Elroy.

He has a choice to make. He can turn around and head home or he can make a crossing to begin a new life in Canada as an American draft dodger. The story, which climaxes in a fishing boat 20 yards off the Canadian shore, wrestles with which choice requires more bravery. And O'Brien concludes that he was too much a coward to start a new life.

Even this snip illustrates how deeply confessional O'Brien can be in The Things They Carried. While he might have never driven north like his fictional namesake does, it doesn't mean that O'Brien, along with any number of men he served with, didn't consider their options in the face of a draft. Equally true, there were many others who were never torn by their convictions like O'Brien.

A few graphs about the praise and controversy. 

Tim O'Brien
Not everyone will appreciate The Things They Carried for its symbolic literature, semi-fictonalized storytelling, disjointed timeline, or idealogical stand. There are dozens of reviews by Vietnam vets and others who have called it disgraceful, unpatriotic, and questionable in it painting too broad a brush on how veterans might be seen because O'Brien says nothing of less afflicted soldiers.

At the same time, recognizing that the book is less about what these men carried than what O'Brien carried home, The Things They Carried captures a unique perspective of the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes — not in a literal war story sense but in a vibrantly told unable-to-reconcile-involvement sense. And, along with that, he makes the case that understanding these stories — lived, told, or made up — are all part of the experience.

It is the difference between what he calls a happening-truth and story-truth to every account. The experiences are his, but he purposefully leaves you wondering which are truly his and which are myth, and why the distinction even matters. This is not the case with other work he has written.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien Nails 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien can be found on Amazon. The novel can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or downloaded for iBooks. This review was prompted by the new audiobook on iTunes with Bryan Cranston, star of the television series Breaking Bad, narrating the story. Cranston brings the vividness of the modern classic to life.

The audiobook also includes an exclusive recording of "The Vietnam In Me," which is narrated by O'Brien. The essay is a recount of his trip to Vietnam in 1994. Some will find his article even more inflammatory than the book but, agree or disagree, the author has earned his right to share.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jake Bugg Sings It Up With Shangri La

Jake Bugg
By the time the debut LP from British folk-rock sensation Jake Bugg was released in the United States last year, it had already wrangled a peak position on the charts in the United Kingdom. The rebellious and relentless nature of his songwriting, guitar work, and listenable but imperfect vocal presence was a riveting combination from an 18-year-old out of Clifton (south of Nottingham).

His sophomore album, Shangri La, won't be nearly as loved despite the decision to record with Rick Rubin. While the new album has great moments, some of the charm seems lost as the seasoned musicians that he has been teamed up with sometimes play for themselves more than Bugg, leaving the road-tested live sessions more accessible than the studio work.

That's not to say the second album has been put out too soon per se or is sub par. The 12 new tracks work hard to expand the singer-songwriter's range in ways that the debut never did. It works extraordinary well most of the time, especially on occasions when he demonstrates more confidence.

Shangri La sets up Jake Bugg at a career crossroads. 

Shangri La wastes no time establishing that no one wants to hide the sometimes nasal qualities of Bugg's vocal distinction. The first three tracks accentuate the prickly nature of it when he aims to pick up the pace.

He does exactly that on the opener, There's A Beast And We Feed It. It's a fast-paced Twitter ditty that immortalizes the service with some folk-rock sentiment that leans toward disdain. And, he does it brilliantly in about 140 seconds (mirroring the 140 character limit). The lyrics cut to the heart of it.

"Somehow we'd better speak it. We're scared someone will tweet it. It's on the wall but you won't read it. It's gone before you see it. We all dread to repeat it. There's a beast eating every bit of beauty. And yes we all feed it."

The tone continues almost seamlessly in the verse of Slumville Sunrise until he drops it down into a range that makes him as listenable as his lyrics are relevant. The track is a down-and-out rocker, drawing upon the best elements of vintage folk rock and an uncanny capacity for bluesman acceptance.

There is no question that the song resonates with the way plenty of people feel right now. There are people who want to spread their wings but find themselves waiting in them instead.

The track is followed up by the more popular What Doesn't Kill You, a hardhearted breakup song that dismisses any vulnerability at the end of the relationship until it becomes clear the opposite might be true. Bugg lands in the middle.

If there is any doubt that Bugg has a huge career ahead of him, Me And You puts it all to rest. He finds the right register to warm up the entire set of opening tracks. It's a promise song, beautifully sung without ever becoming sappy.

Other standout tracks include the resolute All Your Reasons, rambunctious blues-boogie rocker Kingpin, and the imperfectly melodic Simple Pleasures. The closer, Storm Passes Away, is something of a sad sack spectacle with its country influences.

The crux of the lyrics pine away as Bugg faces the end of a relationship but willfully wants to prolong the rocky end just to have it. The lyrics on their own suggest more desperation would have sold it until he has time to sell the sheer surrender of the arrangement.

The balance of the material holds up, just not as convincingly. The songwriting is strong enough to suggest most will only approve with age, except the unfriendly direction of Kitchen Table. Skip it.

Shangri La By Jake Bugg Blasts 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

After a smashing debut that could be best categorized as urban folk rock, Shangri La catches Bugg at an interesting place in his career. He obviously wants to go with the flow that everyone around him is suggesting he explore. And yet, there is some evidence on the album he might leave too many untapped cups behind if he shifts too close to the mainstream.

You can find Shangri La by Jake Bugg on Amazon. The album was also released by Barnes & Noble and can be downloaded on iTunes. Bugg will be playing Manchester, United Kingdom in December. His lineup for 2014 follows him around the world through April. Listings on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stereoscope Viewers With DYI Reels

Image3D viewer
Nothing really compares to owning a vintage View-Master stereoscope viewer, but Image3D viewers come close. While it's slightly different than the original, the new vintage-savvy viewer was designed by former View-Master photographer Rich Dubnow for a very specific purpose.

Not only did Dubnow want his viewers to accept View-Master reels, but he wanted them to accept custom reels too. And now, all anyone has to do is upload seven photographs per reel (optionally add 3-D type) and the company will send a viewer along with any reel or reels ordered.

The most popular viewer comes in red, which mimics the now iconic Model G color released in 1962. But red isn't the only color available. Image3D viewers can also be ordered in black, blue and white. All orders include a glossy white box, suitable for a handful of freshly printed reels.

Image3D resurrects a vintage medium with a modern DYI twist. 

Dubnow originally founded the company as nothing more than a kitchen table operation. He wanted to produce 3-D experiences for corporate marketers and wedding parties in the Pacific Northwest.

Image3D reel
As he began to deliver the same stunning photographs that he was once commissioned to take for View-Master, his plans changed. Image3D expanded to become a state-of-the-art production facility and Dubnow led a team of 3-D photographers for location, studio and remote shoots for major clients.

While he his company still manages dozens of corporate clients, Image3D has also opened up a division that allows anyone to upload photos and build custom reels. The process is relatively straightforward: Name a reel, upload images, edit images, add text (optional), choose frames, and add a center image that will appear on the reel. There is a preview feature as well.

Individuals with 3-D images can take advantage of true stereoscope reels. The company does not convert individual 2-D images to 3-D images except for corporate clients. Even then, 3-D images are almost always superior to conversions. As a keepsake, it hardly matters. 2-D images are good enough.

I was first introduced to the Image3D viewers at a wedding where the bride and groom had included a viewer with custom reel of their courtship. It included seven of their favorite snapshots together, including their an engagement a year prior. The possibilities are about as endless as your imagination.

A couple more graphs about photographer Rich Dubnow. 

Rich Dubnow
Although Dubnow founded Image3D in 1997, he originally became familiar with 3-D photography at View-Master. Some of his most memorable work included Michael Jackson's Thriller, dozens of National Parks series, and most Spielberg movie reels.

Dubnow worked with View-Master until it relocated its headquarters from Beaverton, Oregon (where Dubnow lives), to New York. Dubnow was too attached to Oregon to make the move. Since then, View-Master has been owned by several companies, including Tyco Toys, Mattel, and Fisher-Price (a subsidiary of Mattel).

With more people interest in 3-D photography and novel mediums, perhaps Image3D will eventually include 2-D conversions on the Celebrate side. It would also be great if the custom reels would fit original View-Masters as easily as View-Master reels fit these specialized viewers. Until they do, this is still one of the most novel and nostalgic ideas around the holidays.

Image3D Viewers By Rich Dubnow Shoot 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

You can find the Image3D viewer and reel sets featured in SkyMall with some other new gadgets. The price starts at only $29.95 for the first set. International orders or marketing departments are encouraged to visit Image3D direct. Viewers and reels are typically shipped in approximately five days. Order date deadlines are also listed for the holidays. The last day to order is Dec. 15.

If you are interested in shooting your own 3-D images, Amazon features the Panasonic Lumix 3-D. You can also view specs on the Alptek 3-D 12 MP Digital Camera at Walmart for comparison purposes.

Just keep in mind that you don't have to have 3-D images to produce stunning keepsakes. 2-D images work well enough. And, of course, you could just order your own classic View-Master too. Reels are being made by several companies (even if Image3D viewers seem more universal).

Monday, November 18, 2013

Big Scary Crosses A Twin Rivers EP

Big Scary
If you're wondering about the upcoming January release of Not Art by Australian alternative outfit Big Scary, their new Twin Peaks EP previews two tracks (one with two remixes), one remix (without the original) off the upcoming album, and one EP exclusive. All together, it's a good introduction to the wistful and enigmatic band out of Melbourne and foreshadows what's to come.

Mostly, it's a bump up from their intimately crafted debut album Vacation in 2011, which Tom Iansek and Jo Syme self-produced on their own Pieater label. By the time that album was fully released in the States, anybody who was a fan-in-waiting had already heard it.

That's pretty much how everything rolled for Big Scary. Animals was an immediate hit in Australia and the duo took it upon themselves to shore up a small cult following in the United States. To give the latter a boost, they played SXSW, CMW and CMJ as part of self-funded North American tour.

Twin Rivers EP lives up to Big Scary expectations. 

The best track off the EP is unquestionably the title track, Twin Rivers. Iansek opens it up with a minimalist instrumental before Syme joins for the light chorus. It hits upon the idea of quiet acceptance and an ease in starting the day. The video supporting the EP is something else.

Shot by director Shaun Garland, the video adds another layer to the lyrics by making a praying mantis his metaphor. Like the mantis, we all have to face the perils of living in the modern world.

"On set the crew would wait patiently for her to move into a good position or give a look with personality, said Garland about the mantis they named Florence. "She performed like a star and even gave the unplanned-for scene by continually moving towards the window, which created the most poignant part of the story."

What stands out is that quiet before the modern world really begins to take off toward busy. There are so many places in Los Angeles where this track fits. Mornings are uncomplicated before rush hour.

The second track, which won't appear on the album, is a more buoyant tune. The bounce no doubt comes from Sydney-based beat genius Jonti. The Adidas Originals dream team collaboration that started with Run DMC and DJ A-Track has brought together six artists to produce three tracks.

The first track finished was Slumming It In Paradise. Although you can also find the pairing free, it makes for a nice fill between Twin Rivers and Invest, which knocks the tempo back to the soft touch that Big Scary likes to float along with. While nowhere near as interesting as Twin Rivers, it clicks.

Big Scary carries forth its winning combination of fusing indie rock song structures, hip-hop production, and experimental ambient noise into something that gets under the skin and stays there. It's almost hard to believe that these two started out with acoustic guitars and egg shakers.

The remixes on the EP are another story. Each of them adds something, especially the Twin Rivers remixes, but seem to loose the intimacy in favor of more dreamlike and even ethereal qualities. They're both good, but it's the original that will remain on my playlist. There is a lot to compare.

The best thing about the Luck Now remix is that it makes you want to hear the original. According to IndieShuffle, Menomena improved on the melody, fortified the bass, and amplified the percussion. Without having heard it untouched, it's hard to say.

Twin Rivers EP by Big Scary Shuffles Up 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This is precisely where the band needs to be in advance of their first label-produced album in January. Twin Rivers is a winner and Invest is solid. Had the band put out a double-sided single and saved the remixes as bonus tacks, it could have climbed in eights.

After sampling the EP here, you can find the Twin Rivers EP on Amazon or download it from iTunes. The EP, like the upcoming album, was recorded and produced by Iansek. It was then mixed by Tom Elmhirst (Arcade Fire, The Kills, Black Keys). Elmhirst did Big Scary right, leaving much of the intent alone while enhancing the sound in just the right places.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Keneally Saves The Daughters Of Mars

The Daughters Of Mars by Thomas Keneally
Unable to cope with the death of their mother, guilt over how they managed her final moments, and the sadness of their father on their isolated farm, two Australian sisters escape to the worst place imaginable in 1915. They volunteer as nurses and are stationed on a hospital ship near Gallipoli.

Gallipoli holds historic significance for Australia and New Zealand. The campaign helped create the national consciousness of both countries as thousands of men were killed or wounded. They weren't alone. Almost 190,000 Allied casualties, excluding illness, were accounted for during the campaign.

The monotonous toll of trench warfare. 

Most of the Gallipoli opener is told from the sisters' perspective aboard the hospital ship as soldiers in need of more care or longer recovery are cleared from nearby field hospitals. It's here on the ship that the wounds endured are cataloged and categorized, setting the pace for a vivid depiction of the war.

The story doesn't end with the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign but carries itself out across the entirety of the Great War after the book's first epic transition — a scene that is arguably the most compelling in the novel. The hospital ship is torpedoed and sinks off the Greek Islands.

After being set adrift for days in an overcrowded life boat, with some survivors clinging to the sides, the sisters are eventually recovered and reassigned to the Western Front. Naomi Durance is set to work at a recovery hospital and her sister Sally is assigned to a casualty clearing station — their initial naivety and innocence already lost upon the wave after wave of causalities.

It is also in this maturity that the two sisters begin to be drawn together in ways they never experienced on their farm back home. The grow closer, recognizing that the war has changed them forever and only those who have experienced the weight of it might understand them.

It is perhaps for this reason they are both drawn to men who will challenge the way they view the world and their sometimes secret and personal experiences. One of the more interesting moralistic explorations is how a Quaker comes to terms with assisting in the war effort. And like he does with many of the characters, these moral struggles is how author Thomas Keneally gets inside them.

Its grimness, historic cadence, and length sometimes work against it. 

Keneally adopted a style that suits the time as an added a layer of authenticity. But this also means he prefers the em dashes over commas, an absence of quotation marks, and some properness in how one might turn a phrase. There is a trade off in this technique, namely readability and empathy.

While some might argue the aloofness might be part of the point as the sisters attempt to keep their distance from the dying (Naomi less so), Keneally sometimes gets lost in the long lists of mutilated men, first from Gallipoli and then the Somme. Indeed, it sometimes feels as if he ties his better story segments together with a graphic accounting of casualties that masquerades as the daily drudge.

Thomas Keneally
It works to come extent, as it all comes around again and again, in that it dulls the senses much like the nurses may have been dulled or indifferent by the end of it. Keneally paints beautiful and sometimes epic or heroic images that will linger, but eventually the sisters impart their own sullen states to the reader until the pointlessness of the war and maybe the book is all that is left.

Perhaps this is to be expected from a writer like Keneally. Much like Schindler's List, The Daughters Of Mars feels important to start, creates an sense of enthusiasm to finish, and is probably too painful to pick up again. And yet, it can easily be said it is refreshing to see such a talented writer continually challenge himself after 30 novels and almost two dozen non-fictions.

The Daughters Of Mars By Keneally Survives 3.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The subject matter of Keneally makes for a sweeping story that lays the Great War out bare. As for its distractions —alternating brisk and plodding pace, occasional repetitiveness, and creative punctuation — can be tempered by listening to the audiobook as opposed to reading the printed page. The end will leave some readers wondering, but it is also this finish that makes the novel worth the wonderment.

The Daughters of Mars: A Novel by Thomas Keneally can be found on Amazon. The book is also available from Barnes & Noble or can be downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Jane Nolan. She does the book justice even if she too struggles with keeping the sisters distinct.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Jones Rival Expands With An EP

The Jones Rival
Earlier this year, The Jones Rival made a stellar first impression with their sonically spaced-out and free-spirited rocker Jumpin' Frog. The single was reportedly written to make people jump; its accompanying B-side, Tell You Again, highlights their natural crooner.

This time out, the sometimes retro-headed five piece hailing from the Southern suburbs of Sydney, Australia have something different in mind. Their self-produced debut EP is a showcase set. 

Inside of five tracks, the band is hoping to earn enough traction to expand their presence beyond the Sydney music scene. And for the most part, The Jones Rival proves it can do it with garage rock filling and psychedelic glaze. While there are some slips, the EP is a solid self-produced debut.

The Jones Rival EP serves up hooks and howls from Australia. 

The EP opens with Cults, a no-frills roots rocker that does a good job drawing anyone into the EP. It starts with guitar supported vocals before transitioning into a fuller mid-tempo five piece. With the entire song playing out in under two minutes, the pace feels just right, 

The lyrics are equally tight albeit less about cults and more about testing friendship with favors and forces opinions. What makes the words really work is that The Jones Rival cuts right to the point. All friendships have break points. Nothing lasts forever.

If there is a downside to the song, it's in the unfortunate production. The track is spliced together too much, making some sections (including the first transition) sound as if they were recorded in different rooms (including the vocals). The tonal change, even in the vocals, is too severe not to notice. 

The second track doesn't have those kinds of problems. Busted is the labor of love that we expected from The Jones Rival. Everything about the track works — with just the right amount of full band sound and individual instrument finesse. 

Busted is exactly the kind of groove you hope to get out of a band like The Jones Rival. There is a timelessness to the track, one that captures the energy of their live performances and the craftsmanship of their best material. 

It's also why the third track becomes a bit of a diaster. The song itself has potential, but the production and mixing sound like it was either rushed to completion or drummer Shaun Gaida convinced the band to give him some additional liberties. While there are some finer pieces that could be pulled out in a remix, it's largely unlistenable in this state. 

Skip the track and go right to Ketamine. It's a smartly produced psychedelic breakdown with two acts. After opening with a Doors-inspired beat (but not nearly as dark), Ketamine drifts into a trippy atmospheric confessional before the band builds it all back up. With so much room for solos, Ketamine feels like the band's crown jewel in composition. 

Broke Up ends the album on a significantly simplified note. As it follows Ketamine, it almost feels like the band is catching their breath and easing into a conclusion. It's not necessarily a memorable song, but it provides a nice fill between bigger tracks like Busted and Ketamine. 

The Jones Rival EP Gins Up 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The EP would have likely gone much further for the band without the unfortunate third track mix and spliced together opener. But we're still bullish on The Jones Rival. Add Busted, Ketamine, and Broke Up to Jumpin' Frog and Tell You Again, and you'll have the EP this could have been. 

Keep an eye out for the remixes of Cults and Aim High, but pick up the rest of The Jones Rival EP on Amazon. You can also download The Jones Rival EP from iTunes. Check for upcoming shows in and around Sydney via Facebook. Let's hope a label can give them a lift around the world sometime.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

House Of Holland Goes Rave Nana Bold

Rave Nana orange cardigan
While many designers have been moving toward muted, understated and sometimes masculine designs, Henry Holland has become firmly entrenched in his own irreverent vision. Everything in his newest assortment is big, bold and brash in a playful, sometimes subversive sort of way.

What is especially unique about his newest designs is that some of the wool material feels like a fall excursion. The colors not so much, which is widely spry and international. Almost everything he has released in the past few months was made to draw summertime attention to the person wearing it — like a beacon amidst a wave of gray.

The Rave Nana orange cardigan is one of a dozen different looks that prove the point. The orange and plum colors are bold, the buttons are prominent, and the fit is comfortable.

The only thing about it that might disappoint some buyers is the sizing. This design is only made for size 6 and 8 (which is U.S. sizes 2 and 4). And if you can pull it off, it might be best paired with something else other than Holland's cigarette pattern, which deserves a graph or two of its own.

House Of Holland lights up Rave Nana pop icons. 

Rave Nana embellished cigarette dressWhile some of the world has shunned smoking and drinking, House Of Holland has fun with it in ways that few people have ever thought up. Two of the designs, in particular, undermine anyone thinking nanny-ness.

One is the Rave Nana embellished cigarette dress that turns a fitted pencil dress with round neckline into something of a startling pattern with gemstones and sparkles serving up smoking cigarettes. With swanlike clouds, the butts smoke on a field of blue. The design is brilliant, an embellishment of a another pattern that Holland has immortalized as a shirt and tee dress.

Rave Nada cocktail jacketThe second design is equally dauntless, featuring rows of cocktail glasses. The tailored cocktail print is fully lined, accented with shoulder pads and accompanied by a single vent.

And then there is the more frantic and fanciful design, a brooch top that fits in a dramatically different way than the cocktail coat. With a high neck, long sleeves and cropped finish, it's fun even if it needs a fall coat. Conversely, the brooch silk shirt has a long, curved hemline.
Rave Nada brooch jacket

Both designs represent some of the louder looks that make up the Rave Nana collection. There are several more designs that are understated by comparison and retro in their allure.

Some of the standouts include dark green sweatshirts, rave wave jumpers, and stunning leather collar wool shirts with gemstones framing the neck. Along with these modernized flashbacks,  Holland also put out an entire series of wave and cocktail glass tights that push the free-spirited sixties forward.

A couple graphs about Henry Holland and his House Of Holland.

Henry Holland
Born in Ramsbottom (Greater Manchester, England), Henry Holland went on to study in London College of Printing. As a stylist who grew tried of seeing fashion move in the same direction, he started to make a label that was bold, colorful and irreverent. It first appeared en force in 2008.

His designs all consider a London girl aesthetic, which is largely different than anything seen in the States or anywhere else in the world. Part of that difference is understanding that women in their teens and twenties have places to go, which defines almost all of his Rave Nana looks. These are the kind of clothes you wear out — to a club, concert or someplace fun.

Rave Nana By House Of Holland Screams Up 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While some of it might be too bold for anything women are wearing in the States, the secret to making the look work might hinge on matching them up with something slightly understated. They are fun and carefree, creating an informed sixties or seventies look for modern times.

You can take a deeper look at the Rave Nana collection and some other new arrivals direct from House Of Holland. Do be mindful that House Of Holland is based in the United Kingdom (adjust for price and sizing). Most orders will be processed by the Royal Mail or DHL shipping, which may include additional duty charges payable by the receiver.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Blind Shake Unlocks False Doors

The Blind Shake by Monica McGiven Photography
Minneapolis riff-scientists The Blind Shake aren't anywhere close to Midwest mainstream. For the better part of a poor man's decade, the psych-noise power trio have been perfecting murderous live shows in warmer parts with the likes of Audacity, Hunters, and OBN IIIs.

The sound has evolved too. From their crunchy and crisp punk debut years ago into a heavier garage rock punk-influenced trio with plenty of distortion, their newest outing feels a long, long way from Rizzograph in 2005. That's not a bad thing. Key To A False Door could leave you breathless.

Fourteen tracks of tenacious percussion-driven garage punk. 

One of the most notable differences on Key To A False Door is how the band mixes up its stuff. Dave Roper is much more front and center than he ever used to be, leading more often than following Jim Blaha on guitar and his brother Mike Blaha on baritone guitar.

In fact, this is precisely what gives their tracks the garage stomp pulse. You can feel the pounding bass rolls course right through you during live performances, assuming you find some place up front. You'll want to do that. Between the yells, shouts, and solos, they make a hardcore impression.

Le Pasion is about as slow as they go. It wasn't the strongest track to promote the album, given the greater propensity for this band to remain in higher gears, but it does reveal some of their psych-noise leanings.

A better place to start to get a better sense of these underground veterans is to start with the first track off the album. Garbage On Glue demonstrates a heavier dose of pulse-quickening percussion and hardcore riffs as the Blaha brothers shout out sizzling lyrics.

Follow that up with Porto Alegre, inspired by the densely populated city in southern Brazil, which crashes along with a that's-the-way-life-is attitude. You trudge along, putting your best foot forward no matter what someone dumps on you.

Many of the vibes put out by The Blind Shake are like that. They have a party-hard vibe, but the lyrics often come from someplace much bleaker. When it is dark, they cut right to it too. The longest track on the album approaches 4 minutes but most average around the two-minute mark.

That longer track, 555 Fade, is one to put on the short list of The Blind Shake samplings. It carries more primal percussion and razor-sharp guitar plunks from beginning to end as the Blaha brothers ease into one mini-riff after the next. What you'll find is four minutes of beautifully disturbing and disruptive noise.

Other standout tracks include the dark and buzzed-out Crawl Out, the hauntingly repetitive build in Anaerobic, and the monotonous and monstrous Monofactory. The plunky Calligraphy about  being unknown and wasting away is worth a listen and Red River Visionaries will be appreciated by the alternative rock crowd for its pop vocals.

There isn't much to skip per se, except Flying Rabbit, which is best played for distortion and feedback fans. It's a decent stop gap for live performances but wasn't necessarily needed on the studio album. Even as a lead -n for Monofactory, the drum at the end sets a mood but doesn't save it.

Key To A False Door By The Blind Shake Unlocks 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There is a monotonous tone that becomes ominous on Key To A False Door, but the album itself is significantly more diverse than previous outings. Some might even say this is one of the band's finest moments in that they channel their own feelings of music scene drudgery at times.

You can find Key To A False Door by The Blind Shake on Amazon. The album can be downloaded from iTunes or you can look for the vinyl rarities like Easter egg yellow direct from Castle Face Records. For upcoming shows, find The Blind Shake on Facebook or their website, which is updated more often. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Jack Andraka Inspires A Good Will Pick

Jack Andraka is not an ordinary teenager by all counts. Sure, he enjoys whitewater kayaking, origami, and a couple of television shows. But he is also a big fan of science and has already made a historic mark in the field of medicine, before he celebrates his 16th birthday in January.

What Andraka did is develop a fast, non-intrusive, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer. It's a significant advancement because the earlier cancer can be detected, the greater the chance of survival.

He initially came up with the idea during biology class at North County High School. He drew upon a class lesson about antibodies and an article using carbon nanotubes. From this unique combination of data, which he later researched with the help of Google and Wikipedia, it gave him a real start.

The miracle early detection test that almost wasn't. 

Naturally, Andraka isn't the only person to have an epiphany. Many people have ideas across many different fields. Some are even thought up by kids his age. But sadly, most ideas don't go anywhere.

Some of them are stopped short for any number of random reasons. For instance, his idea might have drifted away when his biology teacher confiscated his clandestine reading material on carbon nanotubes. Or, even more likely, most students would never be given permission to test their theories.

Andraka understands this all too well. His request for laboratory work at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health were rejected 199 times before Anirban Maitra, professor of pathology, oncology, and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine made accommodations. Professor Maitra sees Andraka as a Thomas Edison of our time.

Imagine. It is very likely that he was only one rejection away from the support he needed to see his idea through to early detection. But fortunately for him and the rest of the world, Andraka was able to develop a test that costs approximately three cents and requires only five minutes to see results.

Developing the test took significantly longer. Andraka dedicated a year and a half of his life outside of school. Most of that time, as he tells it, resulted in nothing more than a ton of failures. But he wouldn't give up.

Part of Andraka's inspiration and motivation came from the loss of a close family friend to cancer, someone who he frequently describes as being like an uncle. Like his source for inspiration, most pancreatic cancer patients have less than a 2 percent chance of survival because it's detected to late.

The average life expectancy after being diagnosed is three months. The likelihood of surviving five years with pancreatic cancer is less than 5 percent. The reason, according to Andraka, is that the current technique was six years old and costs approximately $800 per test.

His solution removes these barriers. It was designed that way from his initial scientific criteria to make the test non-invasive, fast, simple, sensitive, selective, and inexpensive. But before he could begin testing his theories, he had to determine which of some 8,000 proteins in human blood could be used as biomarkers to detect cancer. He researched more than 4,000 proteins before finding one.

His breakthrough came about by thinking of a way for an antibody to bind to this specific kind of protein using nanotubes. This was enough to secure lab space for seven months, through trial and error. And that, regardless of any other measure, is what led to his historic breakthrough.

Jack Andraka And The ISEF Is A Good Will Pick By Liquid Hip.

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 Jack Andraka in part because of his discovery and in part because he defies the need for expert credentials over great ideas and the determination to see them through. And along with Andraka, we would like to highlight the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which helped shine a national spotlight on Andraka's work.

The ISEF provides a forum for more then 1,600 high school students from over 70 countries, regions, and territories to showcase their work while competing for more than $4 million. In 2012, Andraka was the recipient of the 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award. Not only is it the grand prize, but it also helps prove that there has never been a greater potential for teenagers today.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Melvins Make Up Some Tres Cabrones

For anyone unfamiliar with the Melvins, the best place to start is with their first major label debut. Houdini is the album they laid down with Atlantic at the insistence of Kurt Cobain. He even co-produced six tracks and plays guitar on Sky Pup (though most people prefer Honey Bucket).

Personally, I'm partial to the impossibly long, slow, and anti-commerical Gluey Porch Treatments. It was the album Mike Dillard might have made with the Melvins had he stuck it out after laying down the 1983 demos (later released in 2005) that didn't find any support.

But Dillard went his own way and Dale Crover stepped up to join Buzz Osborne and Matt Lukin. It was a decision that unknowingly put the band on a trajectory that intersected with Nirvana (Crover played drums with Nirvana on a ten-song demo in 1988; Lukin and Cobain were roommates before that). And in recent years, this same path has finally come back around full circle.

Mike Dillard returns for satire and sludge on Tres Cabrones.

With Crover stepping away from the drums to play bass (the instrument he played in Cobain's pre-Nirvana band), Dillard has been given enough room to re-establish his roots on drums. And while there have certainly been better albums put out by the Melvins, Tres Cabrones is anything but boring.

While other bands are reuniting to end on something other than burnout or simply trying to shore up some extra cash, the Melvins remain as uncommercial as ever. Opening with the infinitely strange Doctor Mule, which does everything wrong before somehow becoming the perfect oft out-of-tune and even off-beat-at-the-end opener.

It's not an acquired taste. You'll either appreciate it or you won't, right down to some of those beautiful riffs tucked inside the song. There are more in City Dump too, a muddy romp and stomp track that will make some people want to take a shower.

Along with their sense of humor, the Melvins do stick to plenty of slow and sludgy numbers like American Cow. The track lurches forward more than it moves the album along. It represents.

“I specifically wrote tunes that would be good for these guys to play and it worked out great,” says Osborne. “We had no interest in rehashing tunes we wrote 30 years ago and chose instead to simply create new songs. It worked out perfectly.”

Among the new songs, Osborne includes classics like 99 Bottles Of Beer, In The Army Now, and Tie My Pecker To A Tree. All three one-minute outbursts find their place somewhere between repellent and resplendent. If metal was trapped inside vintage animation, it would sound indistinguishable from those three tracks.

Where these side bars work is framing up everything in between. Stick'em Bitch is a brazenly sly punk jam, Dogs and Cattle Prods rails on and on for a fantastical nine minutes, Psychodelic Haze touches off a true psychedelic remix.

Although not all of these tracks are exactly fresh as any Melvins fan might notice, the entire album still has an impressive sound. It's everything you expect from them.

Tres Cabrones From The Melvins Smacks Smart At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This album isn't the best as an introduction to a band that has always danced to a different beat, but it does become an essential part of their late period offerings. What has always made the Melvins something of an anti-metal marvel is that they are never afraid to throw something down (or out). They revel in doing something different, which is precisely what has kept them fresh.

Tres Cabrones by the Melvins can be found on Amazon. It can also be downloaded from iTunes. The album follows on the heels of Everybody Loves Sausages, which is a remarkable assemblage of covers. Some are well known, like the 11-minute cover of Station To Station by David Bowie. Others are not, like Warhead by the black metal group Venom.