Friday, January 31, 2014

The Pack A.D. Engages And Whatnot

The Pack A.D.
Leading off with Battering Ram on the Some Sssongs EP was a breakthrough for the The Pack A.D. — the Vancouver duo that has been putting out blues-infused garage rock for eight years. The EP lifted the band out from under the radar, giving them a good reason to re-record and release material to an entirely new audience.

They've been boiling over ever since, now with a new album that they recorded in two parts (2012 and 2013) in Detroit and Vancouver with Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Dirtbombs) who helped them drop Unpersons in 2011 and We Kill Computers in 2010. Both Becky Black and Maya Miller know that this combination of talents is working for them. They don't want to break it.

Do Not Engage means rock on for the near future. 

The 11-track album follows up nicely on the heels of the EP with few surprises. Black and Miller have always has played a range — big rock stompers to draw people in and rolling waves of atmospheric hum to keep them there. In concert, it's lively garage rock-alt pop hooks delivered with a one-two combination.

Boiling over with sci-fi themes and dystopian dreams, it was only a matter of time before The Pack A.D. would find themselves on the same sands used to shoot the series Battlestar Galactica. But even they aren't sure why they ended up dancing around in ebony and ivory ape suits. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. At the time.

Although not nearly as compelling as their Battering Ram video last year, it is more representative of dual leanings despite being one of their addictive throat punch songs. In contrast, check out the album leader Airborne with its rhythmic distortions and throwback hooks. But even with the more pop-centric approach, they never give up their rich blues influences.

It's impossible for them to give it up, largely because of Black's deep and smoky vocals. When coupled with her cutting guitar riffs, it leaves people at their live performances more than a little dizzy. Then there is Miller, who doesn't play the drums as much as she pummels them.

Their playing style is why they land squarely in the garage rock category (that and everyone in a two piece knows that you have to play twice as hard). And yet, they don't miss much of a beat mixing things up with the punked pulse of Animal or the dazzling dark and doomed psycho-spooker Creepin' Jenny (one of the most stylistically interesting on the album).

While there is some sense that the band stacked the front half of the album, there are still plenty of standouts worth the discovery. The Water buzzes along for four-plus minutes of straightforward buzz guitar rock sound with relatively laid back percussion and vocals. Stalking Is Normal packs in an addictive alternative edge. And Needles might be one of the sleepers on the album.

For an experimental stab, there is a lot to like about Loser. But to be honest, the distort on Black's vocals as she delivers some of the verse doesn't smolder as much as it makes you miss it without the distort. The Flight isn't so appealing either.

Do Not Engage By The Pack A.D. Racks 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

On the balance, there isn't any question why so many people want to support Black and Miller as one of the most dangerous duos emerging from the underground circuit. Frankly, that's fine with me. They deserve it. They have plenty of material to drudge up from the depth of sci-fi inspiration.

I really like the band so I was inclined to purchase the album. Plenty of people will find the front six songs might be good enough (minus one to make room for Needles). You can find Do Not Engage on Amazon or download it from iTunes. Barnes & Noble is carrying the vinyl LP. Find their mostly West Coast tour dates (to start) on Facebook.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Richard Kadrey Finds Kill City Blues

Kill City Blues
The Qomrama Om Ya is a weapon of unimaginable power. It was originally designed by a bunch of gods for the specific purpose of killing other gods. And James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, used to own it until he lost it to a rogue angel named Aelita.

Stark doesn't really miss it. But when someone comes looking for it, the inquiry carries side effects. Almost immediately, Stark becomes a target in another power struggle between otherworldly beings.

Mostly, he finds it irritating. He had plans to enjoy a quiet life for a spell after his most recent job, being Lucifer, required too much effort. So he split, but not far enough away to keep from being sucked back by the petty "destroy the universe" crowd. Somebody has to shut Angra Om Ya down.

Kill City Blues is a supernatural romp through a Santa Monica shopping mall. 

In previous stories, Stark sometimes let his swagger run away with itself. Not anymore. In addition to all his scars, he has become comfortable with the Kissi arm grafted to his body. (Kissi are non-angelic beings that are loosely modeled after the Qliphoth or anti-angels that first appeared in the first book.)

Kill City BluesMore than that, Stark is less cocky and more cool. As a nephilim (half-human, half-angel) who has tasted death and temporarily ascended to the top spot in hell for a spell, he has clearly relaxed into a role. There is a certain resignation in his demeanor nowadays, even when it looks like someone might take him to the brink of death.

Despite this transformation, he doesn't seem to have a need to go it alone. He welcomes support from his growing entourage — Allegra, Candy, Father Traven, Vidocq, and even his old friend Kasabian.

Each of them contributes something to the idea of a protagonist, much like everything inside Kill City begins to take shape an collective antagonist, which is where most of the acton happens. It's an abandoned shopping mall that has turned itself inside out into a sprawling retail wasteland with plenty of unpleasant surprises for anyone who gets too close.

The denizens of this world represent the worst of the worst, squatters who have formed tight and deadly tribes to define their their little patches of turf. There are ghosts, lurkers, and bottom-feeding Sub Rosa families that aren't talented enough to make it on the outside.

Stark and company have to wade through all of them. And if anything, having them along for the ride keeps him focused. They are all too happy to watch his back too. Not only is it the best chance to reclaim the Qomrama and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, but he also might be the only one on the planet who can keep the Angra Om Ya from taking it back.

A couple of graphs about Richard Kadrey. 

Richard Kadrey
Few people are cooler than Richard Kadrey. He is a freelance journalist, photographer, and writer who has a knack for flatly calling it like he see it. His work pops up in places like Wired, The San Francisco Chronicle, Discovery Online, and The Site.

He has written several books and a mini-series comic book for Vertigo, but is best known for the Sandman Slim series. It was picked as one of 13 book listed on Barnes & Noble's "Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Last Decade" list and has showed no signs of slowing.

Kill City Blues By Richard Kadrey Carves Out 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While some people have claimed that Kill City Blues doesn't feel as substantial as previous books in the series, chalk it up to not having a clearly defined antagonist. There is one, to be sure, but the shopping mall seems to play that role more than any single entity. Kill City Blues doesn't disappoint.

Kill City Blues: A Sandman Slim Novel by Richard Kadrey can be found on Amazon. You can also find the book on Barnes & Noble or download the novel for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by long-time Sandman Slim voice MacLeod Andrews. The sixth book in the series is expected to arrive in summer 2014. Kadrey also published Dead Set this year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stay In Newport Like A Surfing Local

Newport Beach has plenty going for it as one of several dozen beachside communities up and down the California coastline. Anybody who loves art, water, sand, and waves will have a blast here.

When you live in Los Angeles, there are two ways locals stay and play. Sometimes they splurge for a weekend on some of the most exclusive hotels in the world. Other times they make a play for location — about one block from the boardwalk and the sand.

Bay Shore Peninsula Hotel is small done right.

The staff of the Bay Shore Peninsula Hotel knows they can't win on luxurious, but they can compete by being laid back. They look after the little things instead — friendly breakfasts served every morning and cookies made fresh in the afternoon.

They work even harder at it too, ever since service turned their 2-1/2 star hotel into the top rated on places like TripAdvisor. It's kind of a quirky cool anomaly given that it is in the company of four- and five-star hotels. The primary difference is consistency. They know who they are.

They want to make people feel at home so they add some high touch highlights that you would never expect from a small three-story hotel like a turndown service with complimentary chocolates. They have beach towels and boogie boards for their guests. They have 300 DVD titles that they share for free.

They have free onsite parking or will give you a pass to park at the lot across the street (plan on that). They even have a coin-operated guest laundry but are willing to give you the detergent free. And if that doesn't make you feel a little bit old school, then maybe all the art by John Severson will.

If you don't know who John Severson is, then you don't surf. The short story is that he is the founder of SURFER Magazine and Surfing Hall of Fame surf culture artist. He has done it all. Movies, posters, prints, paintings, and shirts. The hotel was smart enough to get their hands on a few choice pieces.

In more ways than one, it's a match made in heaven. The vibe is meant to feel like a modernized throwback without ever being overdone. And if anybody knows how to make that happen, it would be the Pratt family. They've owned the place for 50 years. Some of the nautical decor even tells some of the story, with additions to the collection made here and there over the years.

The location will lock in many guests the first time. 

Naturally the best amenity, alongside friendly service, is location. More than anything else, it is being one of the few nearby beach hotels in Newport. Almost all the restaurants are within an easy walk.

With the exception of nearby Balboa Island, the beach is what makes Newport tick. Everything else you want to see sprung out around it, like the Lido Theatre that originally opened in 1938.

It was such a close-knit community even then that the first movie ever played there was Jezebel with Bette Davis. As the story goes, she told the owner he better open with one of her films. She lived too close for him to refuse.

Another must see with deep historical roots is the Orange County Museum of Art. Like the hotel, it's on the small side. Some people see everything inside of about an hour. It took me considerably longer because I enjoyed taking in the history of it. It opened in 1962 and quickly caught national attention for the caliber of work on display.

Do keep in mind that the Bay Shore Peninsula Hotel is near the Newport Pier and not the busy Balboa Pier or Balboa Fun Zone. They are still pretty close as part of the Balboa Peninsula.

Bay Shore Peninsula Hotel Hangs 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, the rooms are small but comfortable. If you really feel the need for more room, ask about one of their suites. The hotel is literally one block from the harbor side and one block from the beach.

Of course, if you are looking for more Newport options, start by comparing specials against top travel deals at It frequently runs specials on West Coast locations, including Newport Beach. The area has always been one of my favorite destinations and one of several reasons I moved here so long ago.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Against Me! Sings Transgender Blues

Against Me
It wasn't long after the release of the brilliant reissue White Crosses/Black Crosses that lead singer Tom Gabel announced his decision to take the name Laura Jane Grace and begin living as a woman. While some people wondered what that might mean for the singer's career, Grace started giving audiences a glimpse of things to come with her song Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

Along with that song, Grace has slugged out nine more tracks to make up an intensely personal album, one that comes at you out of nowhere with its powerful and torturous work. It isn't long even, as you listen to it, that the whole thing feels familiar to anyone who has felt like an outcast.

This isn't an album about transgender dysphoria exclusively, but a dark and painful presentation of how everybody needs acceptance even they have a hard time accepting themselves. Even with some alternation in the vocals and a shorter album, it is worth checking out.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is riveting in its transparency.

There is no question that Grace feels uncertain of the band's future. In recent interviews, she admits that she isn't sure where this might end. After all the lineup changes and label battles, it is a wonder she was able to release such a personal snapshot. It will leave a permanent mark on music history.

Here is the first single as Grace played it shortly after coming out. While many fans knew she hinted at gender issues in a handful of songs, this was one of the first times she addressed it straight up. The video is an amazing fan capture.

Most of the album follows up with equally strong, well-constructed material that is part personal and part universal. True Trans Soul Rebel is the former, telling a poignant tale about loneliness and self- doubt. Like a punch to the head, Grace even questions if God could ever bless her.

Unconditional Love alludes to personal transparency but remains more universal in its ability to reflect on accepting desperation. While it lacks the sheer power of previous Against Me! songs, it creates a curious bridge between mixed emotions.

Feel free to skip the next two. The remaining two songs might be of interest, but don't seem to have the same punch. Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ is meant to be a political statement related to Benito Mussolini but never delivers anything that anyone would want to rage over. Drinking With The Jocks is a short lament about not being one of the guys when you are hanging with the guys.

Grace makes up for it with FuckMyLife666, which has some of the strongest songwriting on the album. It's a daring testament to making a decision you know is the right one, even if it might kill you in the process. It's excruciating and accepting at the same time, with words that allude to being a skeleton before she even begins to celebrate the brave new world that is raging.

Two Coffins strikes a chord within the context that nothing will ever be the same. Paralytic States is a concept track about a transexual prostitute. And the closer, Black Me Out, is the best track on the album in its arrangement, power, and impeccable ability to express exactly want ought to be thought of people who expect something from you. Tell them to black you out.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues By Against Me! Rages 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The album is one of the most important ever released by Against Me! but that doesn't necessarily mean it is the best album. The pick of the album includes Transgender Dysphoria Blues, FuckMyLife666, Two Coffins, and Black Me Out. As a single, Black Me Out would see nines.

You can find Transgender Dysphoria Blues on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or order Transgender Dysphoria Blues from Barnes & Noble. You can keep track of shows by visiting Facebook. There is also a great article worth the read in Village Voice. Rich Becker contributed to this review.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Andy Weir Brings The Martian To Life

When Mark Watney is struck by an antenna array during a surprise storm on the surface of Mars, his Ares 3 mission colleagues assume he is dead and abort before anyone else is killed. Except, Watney isn't dead.

His suit was punctured, decompressed, and vitals flatlined. But in another impossible sequence of events, the antenna that almost kills him also saves his life. He lands, unconscious, in such a way that the antenna provides a weak seal— just enough for his suit to compensate.

Eventually, he regains consciousness to the sound of his carbon dioxide filters failing and, after the suit attempts to vent all the carbon dioxide polluted air, a high oxygen warning. Watney, acting mostly on impulse to the sound of emergency warnings, makes his way to the Mars Habitat (Hab), where the crew had planned to complete their mission.

Shortly after attending to his suit and wound, the horrid truth begins to creep into his head. Watney is stranded on Mars, alone, and nobody in the solar system knows that he is alive.

The Martian is a tale of high stakes survival. 

In the vein of the real life Apollo 13 crisis, The Martian is a fictional account of an astronaut stranded on Mars after his crew (believing him dead) abandons him for the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and begins their long voyage home on Hermes. The mistake is nobody's fault; little comfort for Watney.

While he has shelter in the Hab, a working water reclaimer, and 300 days of rations, the next planned mission to Mars with humans is four years off. He also has two important skill sets on his side. He is a mechanical engineer and a botanist.

It was part of his original mission to see see how well Earth plants might grow in Martian soil after it is been "infected" with Earth soil bacteria. If he can grow plants inside the Hab, he might be able to extend his life (along with rationing the prepackaged food supply) by another 100 or 200 days, inching him closer and closer to the 1412 days of food he needs.

In the interim, he is also trying to solve another pressing problem. Nobody on Hermes or Earth knows he is alive. And with his communication dish lost to the storm that nearly killed him, he has to find another way to communicate with NASA.

Split between technical explanation-laced log entries and NASA (once they become aware of his survival), The Martian is a likable and tightly written page turner that never delves into Watney's personal life because he is too busy attempting to survive the present. With the exception of the annoying interjections of yay! and boo! and mawhaha, Watney is a smart but uncomplicated protagonist who is easy to cheer on from the opening pages to the final entry.

A couple of graphs about author Andy Weir.

Andy Weir initially self-published The Martian in 2012 before it was picked up again and re-released by Crown Publishing after it earned more than 1,500 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4.7 of 5 stars. The book received very similar reviews on Goodreads, becoming one of the best self-publishing success stories of the last decade.

Weir simply describes himself as one of many people who grew up hoping and believing in space travel. Since he would never have a chance to journey to the stars in real life, he began writing The Martian, one of what he hopes will be many stories about space travel.

Weir also writes short stories, several of which he shares on his website, including The Egg. The site also includes several works in progress, some of which Weir warns may or may not be finished.

The Martian By Andy Weir Lands 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The fast-moving and briskly paced space adventure-survival story is one of the most entertaining science fiction surprises you will find this year. There is no question Weir has fans here, but we temper some of our enthusiasm over the interjections and a NASA that feels slightly stuck in an Apollo-era time warp.

You can find The Martian by Andy Weir on Amazon. The book is also available from Barnes & Noble and you can download it for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by R.C. Bray, who lends just enough grunt roughness to Watney, making the entire story even more convincing. Great read.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Together Pangea Goes All Badillac

Ever since giving their two singles a spin last year, Offer and Snakedog respectively, I've been anticipating the arrival of Badillac from together Pangea. The band puts garage rock back where it belongs, with an unpredictable edge that lifts your spirits and shreds everything else around it.

The album is the Los Angeles-based trio's third full length but first with Harvest Records. Badillac itself pays tribute to some of the supersonic rock that first inspired them to start playing, while ensuring the band steers clear of being confined to the post-millennial punk put on previous records.

"It might be confusing for people, assuming we're like this garage punk band and then hearing this record," says William Keegan (singer/songwriter/guitarist). "But we really don't want to get trapped at all."

together Pangea is all relentless rock energy and raw punk attitude.

Hearing Badillac for the first time is like hearing together Pangea for the first time. It's a fresh outlook that puts the band's beer blast days as Pangea behind them but keeps the edge where it counts. What's new is more consistency and fullness, and considerably more provocative and intelligent lyrics.

It stands to reason. Keegan first stated writing and recording right out of his bedroom in Santa Clarita. His friends Danny Bengston (bass) and Erik Jimenez (drums) initially jumped in to add more depth to the sound. All three still make up the lineup (along with guest guitarist Cory Hanson from W-H-I-T-E), they've matured as musicians and are a little less afraid to try on a heavier, darker vibe.

One such track, Cat Man, immediately shows how the band has sharpened its claws. While it's not my favorite among the 12 new tracks that make up Badillac, it is a beast of a rocker that takes a long hard walk into darkness. Just be forewarned that the video may have the potential to trigger seizures.

While other tracks play equally dark (inspired by a particularly bad breakup), the pace of the album is mostly powered up and often angry. The opener Alive, for example, toggles back and forth between chugs and pickups. It artfully captures the pull between an on-again and off-again relationship or the mashup of being sad, mad, and sad again.

The band follows it up with the unbridled burner Make Myself True, a relentless last chance song that spins into the big title track — a brutal breakup song that comes complete with shivers. Badillac bristles just the way it ought to, without any excuses. No one second guesses that it needs to end.

Does He Really Care captures some of that aggression too. The only difference is that Keegan tucks it all into a song that lasts a mere minute and a half. The clipped track does a great job dusting off the dance floor for River, Offer, and Depress. It's also about this time down the track list when together Pangea becomes addictive.

Interestingly enough, they don't stick with the angst of it. They slip into this provocative slush of trudging emptiness. Sick S**t and Where The Night Ends survey the wreckage. It doesn't end on an electric note like we hope, but rather something saddled with self-doubt and the sickening possibility of a relapse.

The slowest brooder on the album is down there at the bottom too. No Way Out is nuanced and pouting, a string of regrets that question whether turning the corner makes sense. It doesn't matter if it does. There comes a point in any breakup where you have to surrender to it. It's over.

Badillac By Together Pangea Kills 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This is one of those albums that graduates a band from being an opener to a headliner. It's well deserved, with this new and deliciously dangerous brand of rock and roll putting them on the right path. Badillac is a brilliant way to start the year for together Pangea.

You can find Badillac by together Pangea on Amazon. The album is also available to download from iTunes or order the CD from Barnes & Noble. Offer is included on the album; Snakedog is not. together Pangea is currently lining up tour dates for a great year ahead. Find the schedule on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wilson Inks An Impression On Music

When Wes Wilson first started designing rock posters, he didn't think twice about the deadlines or price. He just wanted to get the work done, making just enough money to afford the $30 rent he paid to stay at the Wentley Hotel in San Francisco. Several artists lived there.

It was one of them, his friend Kent Chapman, who eventually introduced Wilson to the owner of a small in-house commercial printing company. Together, they eventually took the company out of house. And it was there that Wilson made a symbolic political poster as a personal project.

When he took the infamous poster, which featured the stars and stripes of the American flag recast as a swastika, to an anti-war rally at Berkeley, reactions were mixed. Allen Ginsberg called it paranoid. The Anti-Defaminaton League thought it might be anti-Semitic. But is was promoter Chet Helms who saw something else.

He saw an emerging concert poster artist, even if Wilson considered drawing something that everyone in his family could do well. Helms went on to pay Wilson as little as $60 for short runs of 300 posters. Today, surviving posters such as Tribal Stomp sell for as much as $24,000.

Wes Wilson became the father of psychedelic rock posters. 

While psychedelic rock posters with freeform lettering became commonplace in the 1970s, Wilson had set the tone of them in motion in the 1960s. As he tells it today, serendipity interrupted all his plans and he began creating art for the masses, much of it inspired by Art Nouveau masters.

His work became so sought after that Bill Graham hired him the minute he saw one of the famous Open Theater posters. The two of them worked together for a spell until Graham realized Wilson was copyrighting his work. In the end, it was the contract that ended their friendship because the 6 percent royalty seemed fair to Graham until he realized he sold 100,000 posters.

In addition to those he sold, Graham used to accumulate and store material in newly minted condition, always having faith the posters would eventually be seen as works of art. That work, including the work of Wes Wilson, is now owned and managed by Wolfgang's Vault.

Some work, such as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band postcard, is listed for $20. Other work, such as the Sin Dance tour poster (featuring The Grass Roots, The Sons Of Adam, and Big Brother) lists for $1,900. Often the value is determined by the bands, art, and rarity.

A couple more graphs about artist Wes Wilson.

Wes Wilson was born in 1937 and a native of Sacramento, California. Interestingly enough, he was not interested in art as much as the nature and the outdoors. He studied forestry and horticulture at a small junior college in Auburn, California, until dropping out in 1963. His first poster was self-published two years later.

The timing was right in that an alternative culture was emerging and Wilson became caught up in it. The deeper he immersed himself in the work, the more he became inspired by great artists like Alphonse Mucha, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele and eventually Alfred Roller. The work progressed until finally reaching its height in 1966. He stopped working for Graham in 1967.

In 1968, Wilson was surprised to learn that he was to receive a $5,000 award by the National Endowment for the Arts for “his contributions to American Art.” The award recognized Wilson as a leader of the psychedelic poster scene, opening his work to be profiled in such major magazines as Life, Time, and Variety. In 1973, he and his family relocated to a cattle farm in the Missouri Ozarks.

The Art Of Wes Wilson Prints Up 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The techniques that Wilson brought to the forefront still inspire poster artists today, filling the space with free lettering and beautiful repeating patterns. In addition to the vintage posters that helped define an era, Wilson produced some extraordinary watercolors and other original art that can be found on his site. They include posters for Graham, Family Dog, and others.

You can find some of his work for sale on his site. Conversely, many of the posters he designed for Graham and the Fillmore can be found at Wolfgang's Vault. Along with Wilson, the vault manages and sells posters, shirts, and photographs that were locked away by one of the most important promotors in San Francisco.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Roman Remains Recasts A Duke Spirit

Roman Remains
Hearing This Stone Is Starting To Bleed for the the first time can be especially mesmerizing if you know it was produced by two long-time alternative rockers formerly known as The Duke Spirit. Now, recast as Roman Remains, Liela Moss and Toby Butler have stumbled onto an eclectic and frenzied mix of electro, dance, and industrial.

Stumbled might even be the right word given that neither of them could see making such an album two years ago. They were too busy working as The Duke Spirit, continuing a slow and steady ascension that spanned almost a decade. But the band wasn't affording them much freedom.

"I'd been wanting to experiment with different writing methods, specifically on electronic instruments, for some time but wasn't sure where to begin" explains Butler. "Then I bumped into friend Simon Byrt (co-producer) and talked about what I wanted to do."

The two of them started working on some ideas together at Byrt's studio in London and Butler eventually discovered something without so many limitations. It felt like busting open a hundred doors and finally having the chance to look behind them all, he said.

Meanwhile, Moss was continuing to expand her range too. For the first time in her career, her obscure and beautiful words could be laid across a different kind of music. The result was an entirely new tableau of music. And as a first look from their upcoming debut album, Zeal, This Stone Is Starting To Bleed speaks volumes about how she has managed to fit it all together.

Although the track leans toward more fiery and frenetic pop, the alternative arrangements and haunting lyrics are still largely intact. Except, in this case, they seem to be intact with a broad range of sounds, instruments, and percussion.

'The words are born out of my favorite experiences of the last two years or so, many spent travelling and outside, with me in a pretty observant and aware frame of mind," says Moss. "[They are] from Los Angeles where you see all that orange and purple bougainvillea caress the sharp edges of those crooked cement sidewalks, to steep glossy mountainsides in the Himalayas where I spent a month last monsoon."

It was in those places that Moss put headphones on and started to compose lyrics that fit within Butler's instrumental framework. Sometimes, it was listening to his banging electronic vignettes in random places that would inspire something deep within her or billowing all around her.

"You can't miss out on the metaphors that all the terrain and colors provide," she says. "It's a cornucopia but the shit and glorious untamedness is there too. I've fallen out of love with the city and just want to cut loose over some open spaces."

There might be a bit of irony to her meaning. While many people look upon electro, dance, and industrial as urban components, Roman Remains see them as an opportunity to become more feral. What is especially worthwhile about that direction for the band is that they've always sounded better untamed than when they tried to constrain themselves.

Even on Bruiser, it was their beatific ferocity that provided the high points of their musical arsenal. Both co-producer Byrt and mixer Damian Taylor (Bjork, Austra, UNKLE) have helped them do exactly that. It brings together Moss and her earthy, sometimes sarcastic spirit and some unpredictable swerves and skittishness that Butler has wanted to bring to life for a long time.

This Stone Is Starting To Bleed Bangs 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This Stone Is Starting To Bleed transcends into a genre of its own making. It's shakily bass laden and psychologically trippy — breaking up the monotony of too much imitation.

You can pick up This Stone Is Starting To Bleed by Roman Remains from iTunes. The band also quietly put out the Energy You EP without the benefit of tying it to The Duke Spirit. It provides even more insight into the upcoming album Zeal, even if This Stone Is Starting To Bleed is the only track that will make it onto the 11-track album due out in March. You can also find the single and Energy You EP on Amazon.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Points Of Light On A Day Of Service

Although the civil rights movement of the 1960s was a struggle for many — both black and white, side by side — Martin Luther King, Jr. has come to symbolize it. The reason is largely tied to his I Have A Dream speech, which was synthesized portions of earlier speeches that captured both the necessity for change and the potential for hope in American society.

But in doing so, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't just speak to and for African-Americans. He spoke for all people, distinguishing himself from others who called for revolution over reformation. He believed, as some people do today, that in rallying people together, as opposed to pitting themselves against each other, we would work together as a community.

This idea, that life's most persistent question might be "what are we doing for others," has become the central focus of MLK Day, which honors his ideas and accomplishments. This is a day that calls on people from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to the most pressing national problems. It's an American holiday, but the sentiment ignores borders and barriers.

How The Points Of Light Becomes A Beacon For Service. 

While there are many organizations that work together to mobilize volunteers, Points Of Light has grown into one of the most successful to connect people and their power to create positive change in the world and their communities wherever those needs are greatest. The organization grew out of a vision shared by George H.W. Bush during his inaugural address in 1989.

"We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light," He said. "We all have something to give."

In response, the Points of Light Foundation was established as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. And since then, it has merged and partnered with some of the nation's strongest volunteer advocacy programs in the world, including the National Volunteer Network, CityCares, and the HandsOn Network.

Since then, Points Of Light has grown to further develop action networks that engage people as positive changes agents, develop civic incubators to nurture new forms of civic action, and develop programs that specifically address national needs along with the needs of individual communities. But through it all, the organization is tied to the original idea that the thousand points of light can create a beacon.

Although much of its work is sustained throughout the year, its beacon burns brightest on days like today. It's not uncommon for Points Of Light to mobilize as many as 203,000 individuals to serve in honor of the MLK Day of Service, including the President of the United States and First Lady. Along with them, Points of Light also trains and activates more than 4,000 volunteer leaders supporting more than 2,700 projects across the nation. It engages 7,900 veterans and military families too.

There are many ways to volunteer. You can start here.

The amount of good these people do has a high impact because it empowers residents to find innovative, sustainable solutions for their local communities. Because of this approach, the number of programs and initiatives are as varied as the people who live within them, ranging from community gardens to neighborhood watch programs in high-risk residential areas.

Combined, this amounts to more than 32 million hours of service from more than 4.3 million volunteers. In any given year, they work together to complete as many as 260,000 service projects not just in the United States, but also in 20 different countries all over the world.

Points Of Light Is A Good Will Pick From 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 Points Of Light to expand the inspiring story of the Martin Luther Kin, Jr. Day Of Service. Not only does Points Of Light make a difference on days such as this, but all year long across all ages, races and ethnicities. To find out how you can become part of the Points Of Light or one of the 77,000 partnerships it has developed since its inception, visit the organization's website.

As one light, joined by thousands, you too can make a difference in the world by volunteering your time and serving others. This year, Points of Light is working to reach more than 50 million people annually and access more than 1 million projects with the help of 10 million people who use their time, talent and money to make big changes.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Dead Weather Open Up Enough

The Dead Weather
The thunderous union of Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Jack White (The Raconteurs), Dean Fertita (Queens Of The Stone Age), and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs/The Greenhornes) is forecasting a third album for The Dead Weather early next year. The band, which was founded as an accidental side project in 2009, put out two back-to-back albums before shuffling off to do other work.

Initial whispers of The Dead Weather return started up again when White said he was writing new material last July. The first pair of singles were released this week with Mosshart dominating the vocals in one and sharing vocal duties alongside White in the other.

Open Up (That's Enough) fires up some storm clouds. 

The single Open Up (That's Enough) is clearly the more temperate of the two tracks. Mosshart roars on about a near apocalyptic image of the world, tittering on the brink of having hope and losing it.

The haunting and broken track opens with bleakness, Mosshart asking "Have you noted the rivers and the clocks? They're not moving. What about the birds you stuck on your ceiling? Chirping."

The composition lands somewhere between being atmospheric and an all-out rocker, setting a dark and disquieting tone for the track. The verse is a testament to the state of things and the chorus is carried off as a call to action.

The second song, Rough Detective, isn't nearly so heady. It's a much more playful track, with a dueling duo between Mosshart and White. All in all, it's a crazy, catchy cat-and-mouse song about a detective and his mark. The track builds steadily before becoming a full-on freakout, which will easily play to the onstage chemistry between Mosshart and White.

These two tracks will be the first in a steady series of two-set singles until the band releases a full album's worth of material, including several album-only songs. The other element of their release plans is to sell exclusive 7-inchers of each two-set single pressed onto a striking yellow jacket vinyl.

From the onset, White has said that the band wanted to do something different than anything they had done in the past. While both tracks do take on a certain roughness, some Dead Weather and White signature sounds are unquestionably obvious.

Overall, the band is still attempting to plunge deeper into ragged and sometimes sleazy rock and roll experiments. In this case, it seems that there might be a little less blues influence and a little more theatrics (at least on the second track). The sound is fuller, with tighter overlaps and an exceptional sampling of what can be done with stereo sound. Bluetooth speaker enthusiasts will clearly miss out.

In case you ever wondered, The Dead Weather was initially conceived during a Kills-Raconteurs tour. White was losing his voice and asked Mosshart to come out and finish some of his songs. At the end of the last song, White and Lawrence asked her to make a 7-inch with them. Fertita just happened to be sleeping at the studio where the three of them showed up to record. True story. Maybe.

Open Up (That's Enough) Burns Down 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Anybody who likes The Dead Weather ought to be bullish on the new release and promise of more material to come. It will be interesting to see how all the songwriting shakes out this time around. Each of them wrote songs for previous albums. They all collaborated on most tracks, both on the road and in the studio.

Open Up (That's Enough) and Rough Detective are available on Amazon. You can also find the two-set single on iTunes. White, who continues to fight for the production of tangible music, would prefer you pick up physical copies from The Vault at Third Man Records. Check Facebook for updates.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dan Simmons Rappels The Abominable

The Abominable by Dan Simmons
The fastest controlled descent down a steep rock face might be to rappel (abseil) but Dan Simmons uses this technique in fiction too. It's the fastest way to become lost in The Abominable: A Novel. All you have to do is grab hold of a rope that feels real and then descend into his alternative reality.

The telling of this tale might start in the present, but the story takes place in 1925. It purportedly comes from a collection of journals kept by Jacob "Jake" Perry, a travelogue author whom Simmons professes to have interviewed before writing The Terror in 2007.

Perry, apparently impressed with Simmons' handling of The Terror, willed Simmons his personal journals in the hope the author might find a new story to tell. Simmons claims to have obliged him, polishing them up before pushing the manuscript onto his skeptical publisher.

And if it were true? Then everything written about the historic expeditions to Mount Everest would have to be revised, including who the first climbers were to reach the summit well before 1953.

The Abominable is an epic mountain adventure thriller. 

In more ways than one, the most unfortunate aspect of the novel is the title. In calling it The Abominable, many readers pick it up with the expectation of finding yeti. So let's clear it up. 

This isn't a novel about yeti. And while the yeti have their place in the book, they are not cast as adversaries for the young protagonist Jake Perry. He has plenty of other challenges to worry about. 

Instead, this is a novel about an unrecorded expedition that took place between the Mallory-Irvine expedition in 1924 and Ruttledge in 1933. It is organized by Richard "the Deacon" Davis as a recovery mission to find the body of Lord Percival Bromley, a British nobleman who has gone missing on the mountain. American Perry and Frenchman Jean-Claude Clairoux are invited to join him. 

Funded by his grieving mother Lady Elizabeth Marion Bromley, the objective of the alpine-style assault proposed by the Deacon is not meant to shoot for the summit. It's meant to recover the body or personal effects of her missing son and provide closure. And yet, it seems intentionally unspoken and painfully clear that the Deacon has a secondary objective. If he and his two friends find themselves and their porters or sherpas within reach of the summit, they will ascend it.

As massive as the mountain, the novel plays out in 672 pages and three acts. But that's not what makes it long. The first two acts are especially detailed, informative, and frequently repetitive in order to lend credibility to this found fiction thread as the polished writings of a travelogue writer.

In sum, you can see what Perry sees, know what he thinks, and understand what he does. But it really isn't until the third act, when the author shifts his writing style to capture a never-before-recorded conclusion, that you experience it with him (outside of a few tenuous exceptions prior to the third act). Is the long wait worth it? Not if you expect Simmons to slide into the supernatural. This novel is an intriguing thriller of another kind, with consequences that eventually intersect with the fate of the world.

A few graphs about author Dan Simmons. 

Dan Simmons is best known for his science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels, with the Hyperion Cantos being among his most mentioned work. But even before the Hyperion Cantos, his work had been recognized. His first novel Song Of Kali was a World of Fantasy Award Winner. Carrion Comfort earned him several awards, including the Bram Stoker Award in 1989. 

One of the most interesting aspects of his career was the break that came at the hands of Harlan Ellison. The short story The River Styx Runs Upstream won first prize in a Twilight Zone Magazine story competition in 1982. Prior, Simmons had worked in elementary education (and continued to do so until 1989).

The Abominable By Dan Simmons Scales 6.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Abominable is one of those rare books that is sometimes difficult to appreciate until the last page. There are times it feel tedious in its detail and plodding in its pace. But looking back on it after its completion, it feels impossibly complete and as real, if not more real, than any historic account. 

The Abominable: A Novel by Dan Simmons can be found on Amazon. You can also download it for iBooks or order the novel from Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is narrated by Kevin T. Collins. The ride will change any preconception you might have about mountain climbing, especially historic climbs before technology made doing the impossible more plausible.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Drenge Likes To Play At Bloodsports

Since 2011, the two-piece grunge/post-grunge band Drenge has been touring the UK countryside. They already put out a 12-track debut there, one that is still finding its way stateside.

Their break on this side of the pond came about late last year. Drenge had locked in spots opening for breakout bands like Radkey and Deap Vally and then played the iTunes Festival 2013 in London. Shortly after, their single Bloodsports was featured on advertisements for the television series Misfits.

Although the release has been lagging behind several months, the single Bloodsports and its accompanying B-side Dogmeat have finally come ashore. If either track sounds familiar, it's only because both were mastered as part of a live iTunes Festival outtakes EP with five of the band's best aggressively crude and sometimes brooding songs.

Bloodsports has given Drenge an auspicious entrance.

Consisting of Eoin Loveless (vocals/guitar) and his younger brother Rory Loveless (drums), Drenge originates from Castleton in Derbyshire but had more or less taken up residence in Sheffield. Like many two-piece bands, they aim to surprise people with a riotous stage presence that can be felt through the speakers.

They like to deliver almost everything they play relentless and raw, without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's who they are and they make you believe it, with studio sessions that are as stark as their live sets.

But it's not just the unbridled passion that makes the music they produce memorable. Drenge brings together grunge, blues, and sludge to make their own post-grunge sound.

Bloodsports comes across like a post-breakup monotony song with the breakup lasting for a mere two lines. Then the track descends into a backup trance of sorts, filling time until she comes back or something better comes along. Who are you going to bet on?

The verse is ferociously cold before drifting into its frenzied riffs. The lyrics are crisp and uncluttered, the instruments drone on and then explode. It makes for a great introduction of what is yet to come.

The B-side (second on their debut alum) Dogmeat is equally callous. Although some people describe the sound as harsh, the music just rolls along. The angst is in the writing more than the delivery.

Both Bloodsports and Dogmeat are among the earliest tracks laid down by the band. They wrote most of their material over a year and a half and recorded it chronologically. So the debut, due out in the States later this year, includes a self-contained evolution. The last tracks are newer.

In listening to the entire album, there is a richness that grows out of the rawness. You can even hear some of it in the live  iTunes exclusive. Those tracks include Dogmeat, Bloodsports, Nothing, Backwaters, and Fuckabout. (Backwaters was written before Nothing).

The last track, Fuckabout, is surprisingly subdued, one of the best yet from the Loveless brothers. The lyrics are as sharp as anything they had written previously, but the composition captures the depth of their talent. It's one of my favorite songs and ensures a revisit when the debut LP is rereleased in the United States.

Bloodsports/Dogmeat By Drenge Fire Up 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Drenge keeps the surge of duo rock acts alive with two biting tracks from their debut album already out in the UK. With the band already in the studio laying down more material, expect a promising career from these uncompromising artists who were never looking for a career in music.

Bloodsports/Dogmeat by Drenge can be downloaded on iTunes. The 5-track live session from last year's iTunes can also be downloaded there. You can also pick up a debut import from Amazon. They have a few shows lined up in the US before heading home the long way via Australia. Tour dates are listed on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sound Cylinder Sharpens Up Sound

Sound Cylinder
As one of the smallest portable speakers out on the market, Sound Cylinder makes sharing smart phone, tablet, and laptop videos and music a snap. The speaker clip provides several ways to share — attached to the top, sides, and bottom (with a portable kickstand) — or on its own.

Like most modern portables, it mostly relies on Bluetooth connectivity. But unlike most portables, the Sound Cylinder by Definitive Technology is remarkably iconic with its aluminum and magnesium construction. The cylindrical design also lends something to its mystique without sacrificing sound.

Sure, it doesn't have enough power to fill an entire room. But it is easily loud enough to expand your viewer or listenership. Specifically, the Sound Cylinder is a 2.1 channel bi-amplified audio system driven by two front-firing 32 mm mid-range/high frequency drivers and a 43 mm woofer driver.

This might sound small, but the sound isn't small at all. And considering it takes no time to unfold the retractable kickstand and set your smart phone or tablet in the clamp, this little speaker serves what could be its primary purpose well.

The Sound Cylinder is a great travel companion. 

With my primary speakers at home being Sonos and my favorite beach rugged rig being the Braven BRV-1, Definitive Technology seems to have done a great job at delivering something in between. The Sound Cylinder makes for a great hotel room speaker. Set it on a desk or dresser (or hold it in bed) and anyone in your room can watch or listen to whatever you have worth sharing.

Sound Cylinder
I can also see this as a smart choice for house guests or teens. It more or less turns a tablet or laptop into a desktop stereo or television rather than confining them to a life with ear buds and headphones.

The battery life is more than suitable. Definitive Technology estimates 10 hours. That seems about right, but I haven't tested this with a timer. Suffice to say that a full charge ought to cover an evening. If you want it to last longer, keep your volume in check.

Another nice touch by the designers at Definitive Technology is adding a 3.5 mm audio input jack as an optional alternative to Bluetooth. The jack connects easily to any non-Bluetooth audio source. As a long as it has an analog output jack (standard headphone jack), you can connect the device.

A few words of caution to reset expectations.

While the kickstand is one of the features that makes this speaker so convenient, it does require a stable surface. If the table or shelf you set it on isn't stable, you've placed your tablet at risk. One bump could send it sprawling.

Conversely, it makes for a surprisingly good presentation speaker if you happen to be holding the tablet up for someone. Or, as shown above, it enhances the sound without adding much weight.

Sound Cylinder
For laptop owners, of course, the kickstand isn't an issue. The speakers mount to the top of the screen, which is how the Sound Cylinder was initially designed to work with all devices. (I suspect the kickstand was added as an after thought. It's a good idea, but you're responsible for the stability.)

Another consideration is that the beauty is in the portability and not the power. Considering my BRV-1 has 40 mm drivers and a 70 mm subwoofer and isn't a powerhouse, I expected the Sound Cylinder to perform somewhere south of that.

The Sound Cylinder By Definitive Technology Raises The Bar. 

Where the speaker shines, however, is freeing someone up from headphones and expanding the sphere of listenership. That said, it does exactly what it set out to do — deliver wildly portable sound in a very stylish way without sacrificing sound quality. Mission accomplished.

Definitive Technology started developing better sounding speakers around 1990. The Sound Cylinder is one of its latest designs. You can find the Sound Cylinder on Amazon. Shop for it direct. It retails for about $200.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Polar Bear Club Sings A Death Chorus

Polar Bear Club
Some people were ready to count the Polar Bear Club out, but the latest outing by this one-time post-punk band is anything but what the album's name implies. Death Chorus is a change in direction for these Rochester boys, especially vocalist Jimmy Stadt, and not a funeral procession.

The album is punk at its core, even as the band experiments with an alternative rock/pop sound. The change up, much like the revised lineup, has given the songwriting team of Stadt and guitarist Chris Browne more flexibility. It also keeps Stadt in the game much longer, with vocals that don't strain his voice after almost a decade of loud and gritty vocals.

Death Chorus is a more casual and caustic punk. 

The breakthrough for the band on Death Chorus is in the writing. Whereas some people were taken aback by the opening single, Blood Balloon, it turns out to be a catchy opener that realigns the band toward something stronger.

The track itself might sing volumes about California, but it is really something nostalgic about upstate New York. For all the West Coast bleakness, Stadt admits it's more him than where he might be. The most telling line belts out "Romanticizing the past while the future is in full collapse." You can't go back because what you remember isn't there anyway.

Expect that kind of thinking all across Death Chorus. Despite the pop of Wlwycd, the song is as dark as it comes. The whole of it is all about tearing down the hope and expectations that others want to put on you. There is even a certain level of resentment tied up into it.

Stadt has never dug deep for such unnerving material, asking cheerily why he should live when he could die. Let the question echo in your head for awhile. It's less of a death wish and something more demanding, asking how dare those people expect great things after they found broken dreams.

In the face of such a big transition, the lyrics land like a hammer. Even for anyone who claims the Polar Bear Club has stepped out too far with a familiar pop-punk sound, it's clear they aren't listening closely enough. Besides, there are plenty of songs that serve up Stadt's timeless yells and howls from time to time.

For Show drops Stadt into a lower range and a dizzying pop-punk ballad. The mid-tempo stomper might even make it one of my most favorite tracks on the album. The lyrics are haunting and the delivery showcases almost everyone, especially Steve Port's drum work and Patrick Benson's guitar. The contribution on bass is more subtle, but outstandingly present.

Other standout tracks include the nostalgic Graph Paper Glory Days, upbeat When We Were College Kids, connective Twang (Blister To Burn), and the driving album closer Saw Blade. Upstate Mosquito is something of a surprise too. It's not just about a mosquito. It's about not having regrets, people who think the past is either better than it was or worse. They also poke fun at people who remove tattoos.

Not everything is immediately likable on Death Chorus (and some people might argue that nothing is salvageable, which is crap). But even where there are some missteps like the overly theatrical Siouxsie Jeanne, fans will find something in the lyrics of every song to sink their teeth into. For me, Chicago Springs is like that. It ties into other tracks on the album but felt listless as a standalone.

No matter. The bottom line is that Death Chorus is clearly more infectious than anyone would have guessed, anchored by solid writing and solid compositions. It's worth checking out.

Death Chorus By Polar Bear Club Survives 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

I've always found Stadt and Browne to be at their best when they look back. Reflection, introspection, and nostalgia make up their most memorable tracks. What makes them so apt at it is their ability to reconcile everything.

You can find Death Chorus by Polar Bear Club on Amazon. The album is also available for order at Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Polar Bear Club is currently working on its 2014 season. For updates when they break, visit the band on Facebook.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Wirth Cauchon Lights Nothing On Fire

There is a brutish rawness to Nothing by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon that not everyone will appreciate. And then it is coupled with dense and heavy writing, making an otherwise short novel feel deceptively long. It's contemporary fiction that emulates Kerouac, but with none of his freedom.

Wirth Cauchon writes about characters who are trapped instead. Much like being near a Wyoming forest fire, the air inside Nothing is dark and thick with smoke. The lack of quotation marks makes it all the more claustrophobic. And the people who populate it live on the fringe of society, stuck inside their own self-absorbed existence.

Wirth Cauchon teeters back and forth between two. Ruth is a self-exiled twenty-something from Minnesota, living in Missoula, Montana, on some dwindling reserves and the generosity of friend Bridget. James is a wanderer who stole his stepfather's gun and a wad of cash to track down his biological father.

Neither character is likable, but their authenticity is like picking a scab. 

The story takes place in Missoula during the fire season. The eminent threat of a fire closing in on the town sets the tone of the book. There is the constant throb of an ever-present threat that everyone tries to ignore. Maybe they will be evacuated. Maybe they won't.

The same can be said for the throngs of people they encounter: thugs, drunks, junkies, and outcasts. Any one of them could blow up at any time, but everyone tries to ignore it because they belong to the same make believe tribe.

At the open, Ruth and James have never met. She is going to a party with her friend and toxic partner. He is on the outskirts of town, taking a breather at a bar before trying to track down his father. It's there that he hitches a ride from two girls traveling to the same party.

The scene doesn't have any of the magic or enthusiasm of the beat generation at the jazz bar. Most people at the party are strung out, prisoners of their own poisons and always at risk of spiraling out of  control or having an overdose. But nobody cares. The music is loud. The air is hot. And for a few hours, nobody has any cares in the world — even if they ought to.

While their initial meeting is a miss, it establishes a familiarity that will eventually bring Ruth and James together. The linchpin between the two is Bridget, someone James has an intense interest in because he recognizes but can't place her.

The second time they meet under different circumstances, James and Ruth have a connection. While both have a saccharine chemistry between each other, they also have other agendas. Ruth sees him as a possible way out from under Bridget. James sees her as an gatekeeper to the girl he really wants to meet for longer than a few fleeting and drunken minutes, but not for the reason Ruth thinks.

A quick couple of words about author Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon.

While the writing can be distracting at times, especially as it takes a few paragraphs to decipher which narrator is telling the story at the opening of each chapter, Wirth Cauchon makes up for it by opening her characters up for psychoanalysis. They feel real with one exception. They think too much alike to be different people.

The author herself is currently pursuing her PhS in English, cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. She earned her masters from the University of Montana. In 2010, she received a fellowship for her manuscript, Nothing, which is her first novel.

Nothing By Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon Burns 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Both brilliant and bothersome at times, Nothing is a promising debut by an author to watch. It reads like an important first book even if it makes you work to appreciate it. But at the same time, she gets the people right. They are in the world and lost to it.

You can find Nothing by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon on Amazon. The novel can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or downloaded for iBooks. Expect a challenging read, but a compelling glimpse into the world of modern drifters, outcasts, and nobodies.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pixies Give EP2 A Hexe And Some Love

Black Francis
For anyone wondering what happened to the series of mini-releases promised by Charles Thompson a.k.a. Black Francis on the heels of EP1, the second installment arrived with the new year. The Pixies released EP2 direct to few thousand fans and wished them a happy New Year on Jan. 3.

The briskly written email includes a few links before quickly closing with "La La Love you." It's simple. It's effective. And it's a much more settled tone than EP1, foreshadowing EP2 as a kinder, quieter, and more contemplative grunge. It's a calm after the 4-track sad and storminess of EP1.

Like the first set, it's another part of something bigger. All four tracks fit in nicely with the preceding four, while approaching the music from a different part of the prism. The sadness and angst is gone, replaced with uplifting witchery.

That isn't the only thing that has been replaced. Kim Shattuck (The Muffs, The Pandoras) is gone, replaced by Paz Lenchatin (A Perfect Circle, Entrance Brand, Zwan). Although she is touring with the band, it's not her bass on EP2. It was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales in October 2012.

EP2 by the Pixies breaks a with Blue Eyed Hexe.

Opening with Blue Eyed Hexe, the Pixies down pedal into a repetitive and seductive old school rocker. One, two. One, two. Joey Santiago attributed the swagger to producer Gil Norton, who gives the track its beguiling undercurrent.

The song is inspired by a tale from the northwestern United Kingdom. To tell it, they use a witch-woman who happens to have blue eyes. Hence, a blue eyed hexe.

Magdalena is more atmospheric, a possible companion to Indie City in terms of the way it flows. The lyrics also tell a story that flow counter to the mood established by David Lovering's Moog pedals.

Greens And Blues is different. Black Francis basically wrote it as a show closer so the band didn't always have to end the show with Gigantic. While the songwriter admits he could never write anything that could replace Gigantic, Greens And Blues was his attempt to write something that musically, emotionally, and psychologically sits in that place.

"As with all my songs, I would prefer people add their own interpretation to it. But, in this case, let’s just say that we had done 'Gigantic' as the closer for many years at our reunion shows and it worked really well," he said. "But I could see that we were going to grow weary of that and I felt like we basically needed a better 'Gigantic.' [It's] really more of a 'good night' song."

The EP2 closes with Snakes, with Black Francis coming up with an idea to use a slide guitar to emulate a snake. It wasn't easy, but the band eventually came up with something they like.

It makes for a near-perfect EP closer as the bookend opposite of Blue Eyed Hexe. Snakes doesn't enchant, but it does mesmerize. It plays like a warning while being sonically hypnotic at the same time. It's arguably the best track of the four, but all are must-have tracks for any Pixies library.

EP2 By The Pixies Settles Into 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

EP2 doesn't have the same connective prowess of early Pixies material, but there is a progression that moves the band off EP1. It is tracks like Snakes that will remind anyone that the Pixies are masters. Mix either EP into your Pixies play list and they fit right in, with one exception. They all play well as standalone tracks too.

EP2 is exclusively available from the Pixies website. The EP is a digital download, which is included as part of several different bundles. The premium comes with a limited edition 10-inch vinyl. You can also download the EP from iTunes. They band played a spontaneous warm-up show on Jan. 7 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sanuk Slips On A Spring Yoga Sandal

Most people already know the story behind Sanuk, but it still brings a smile to my face. Sanuk is the sandal and shoe company that was started in a backyard shed by Jeff Kelley, an old surf industry aficionado.

As the story goes, he came up with this unusual idea to make sandals out of indoor-outdoor carpeting as opposed to standard material. That's all it took-- one great idea that caught on in Cardiff By The Sea before migrating south to San Diego and north to Los Angeles.

It didn't take long for his concept to expand either. Kelley was all about what feels great on feet. Even his soft mesh sandals were inspired by an accidental encounter with a floor mat in a foreign taxi. His feet brushed up against it once and he immediately had the idea to incorporate it into his next sandal.

Sandals made from yoga mats add crazy comfort. 

But my favorite sandals aren't made from comfortable mesh. They are made even softer because the footbed is crafted from a real yoga mat. The idea was so solid that Sanuk won its second Footwear Product of the Year for it in 2010. The honor was well deserved.

When you combine the yoga mat top sole with Sanuk's subbed sponge outer sole, your feet feel better on the beach or on the boardwalk. The straps holding them on are comfortable too. Sanuk straps are textured and woven and wide and flexible enough to hold firm without pinching.

Sanuk Sling
While some straps are made with leather, vegans will be happy to learn many Sanuk sandals are not. In fact, one of my favorite women's sandals with a yoga mat top sole is strapped on with a two-way stretch knit sling.

Sanuk doesn't make the sling for men, but it might be an interesting idea if it did. However, there are other options. Some feature jersey liners on the inside of the strap. Others include wearable textiles that hold to your foot without rubbing against it.

Other offerings from a company looking to redefine footwear. 

As Sanuk continued to grow, Kelley never confined it to sandals. His next innovation was marrying his sandal bottoms to a shoe upper, creating what he calls a Sidewalk Surfer.

The idea came to him while walking up and down stairs to the beach, which is when ordinary shoes seem to be the least effective. By offering up a sandal bottom, people plant their entire foot on a step. It's not just simple, but a real solution for anyone familiar with beachfronts around La Jolla.

Later, the Sidewalk Surfer was redesigned again to accommodate cooler climates. The very first all-weather shoe, called the Skyline, included Sanuk's patented sandal construction but this time with a waxed canvas hi-top. There is even an interior stash pocket in the shoe for whatever.

Sidewalk Surfer
Technically, the Sidewalk Surfer is still considered a sandal, slip off or not. They have a sandal bottom, which makes for a very comfortable fit. Socks are optional. The only caution is on slippery surfaces, where sandals have never provided much support. The exception to this rule is the Skyline, which has a much deeper tread.

Most of the shoes are modeled for casual wear but a few designs offer a more formal look. Some new designs also feature hand-crafted hemp uppers, which are also very cool. Even so, the best way to be introduced to Sanuk is with a sandal, especially those that cushion your feet with the softness of a yoga mat.

Yoga Mat Sandals By Sanuk Score 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Yoga mat sandals might sound overtly California given they were inspired by beaches. But I wouldn't count them out as a wearable sandal anywhere. They are especially apt for all those outdoor occasions on the fringe extreme — beaches, lakes, easy trails, skate parks, rock concerts, and the like.

There are several places you can find Sanuk sandals, including the company direct or from Becker Surf, which is the world's largest online surf store. In addition to Sanuk, Becker Surf carries several other brands of footwear to compare. Side by side, it makes the Sunak story even more compelling.