Friday, February 28, 2014

Skaters Have A Stake In Manhattan

On any given week, a band like the Skaters may or may not be covered. The decision doesn't have much to do about the band. It has to do with everyone else and what they might being putting out.

Skaters new album, Manhattan, caught a good bounce this week. They are a solid band with considerable talent (and have even been known to shred now and again). And they are also part of a struggling sub-genre of holdouts who produce proficient noise pop but without the usual urgency.

There is some good and bad to this approach. It catches your attention with the space they fill for a few minutes. And after that? It's easy to forgetaboutit. Maybe too easy.

Skaters make Manhattan to establish home.

If Manhattan does anything, what it does best is give the band a chance to plant its flag firmly in New York. That wasn't always the case for these guys. Technically, the band came together in Los Angeles when singer/songwriter Michael Ian Cummings met English guitarist Josh Hubbard.

One year later, they split the distance difference and landed in New York. There they added drummer Noah Rubin and bassist Dan Burke. And then, shortly after signing with Warner Bros., the band laid down some songs about people they met in Manhattan when they all worked as bartenders.

That gives Miss Teen Massachusetts about as much roots as the band. Somebody inspired it.

The video came together with the help of Chilean-American director Danilo Parra, who came up with the video direction after the band expressed a desire to steer clear of a young love story. The inclusion of a psych ward clearly breaks that, creating a story based much more on disconnection and isolation.

Miss Teen Massachusetts is one of a handful of brilliant tracks on album. The video just adds to the allure, making it more than an unrequited love song. It also makes the much more direct track — Deadbolt — all the more of a contrast. Deadbolt is a cop paranoia pop song with a catchy chorus.

The whole of it is probably too subdued and confused, which fits with the hit and miss of this album. The opener One Of Us might have made a better album promoter. While there isn't much to the two-plus minute track, the builds give it a more convincing lift off.

Other standouts on the album include the slow motion Austin favorite I Wanna Dance (But I Don't Know How), half-hearted hardcore experimental Nice Hat, and the closer This Much I Care. Skip the square-peg Band Breaker, boring To Be Young In NYC, and low energy Fear Of The Knife. While some might appreciate the diversity, it sometimes feels like everyone is trying to figure out where Skaters fits.

Nobody needs to figure it out. It's painfully obvious that Miss Teen Massachusetts is the hero on this album, along with four or five support songs (if you include Schemers, which left me on the fence). What else does anybody need to know? Nobody needs to see diversity when there is already the making of a smart and sometimes unsettling alternative pop-rock band.

Manhattan By Skaters Sparks 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Keeping in mind that 3.8 here lands somewhere around 6.5 elsewhere, it seems clear that Skaters have a good thing going if they can figure out where exactly they are going. For a band that got its start with a handful of experimental songs and covers from the Pixies, playing a little looser could help fire the band up to stay above neutral.

You can find Manhattan by Skaters on Amazon. You can also order Manhattan from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Skaters are currently on tour. Catch their schedule on Facebook,

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Adam Sternbergh Is Shovel Ready

Shovel Ready
After New York City marginally survives a terrorist attack, most of its wealthy denizens become citizens of the world and escape to other trade centers. Behind them, they leave a squatter's paradise — prime real estate that sits empty and waiting for someone to break in and change the locks.

It can't be done to just any apartment, of course. A few wealthy people remain after finding another way to escape the realities of a city falling in on itself. They "tap in" to a sophisticated virtual reality, a place where they can balance their time between making money and playing out wild fantasies.

Some find the allure of it so fulfilling that they rarely "tap out." They hire people to take care of their bodies while their minds live out whatever reality they find most appealing. Some might even define the experience as a waking dream, except shared by anyone and everyone who taps in with you.

Shovel Ready is bleak near-future noir. It's as dark and sunburnt as it comes.

At the heart of the story is Spademan, an anti-hero who trades in his pre-atrocity profession for a much more lucrative one in a post-atrocity world. As a garbage man turned hit man, he moved from cleaning up people's trash to cleaning up other people's problems — specifically other people.

He is not without some values. He has rules. He doesn't want to know the reason. He doesn't want to deliver messages. He won't kill anyone under the age of 18. It makes everything easier because Spademan likes to think of himself as a bullet. The people who hire him call and pull the trigger.

Shovel ReadyOne call. One name. One wire transfer. One quiet disposal. It isn't even very difficult for Spademan. With so many of the marks being rich men and women laying in bed, it only takes a box cutter.

It isn't until Spademan is paid to kill the daughter of a high-profile evangelist that he starts to bend the rules. He didn't mean to start bending them. He just wanted to make sure the girl was really 18.

What he finds is that she turned 18 just a few months ago, shortly after becoming pregnant. And depending on who Spademan talks to, the father could be anyone. It could be the girl's boyfriend whom she had been caught sending risqué photographs to. Or, it could be the girl's depraved father, a monster who uses the cloth to hide his dark and dirty secrets.

For the first time since his wife was killed in the initial attack, Spademan finds he has to make a choice. He can finish the job or clear his conscience. But to do either, he has to do it in a way he never intended. Spademan must navigate the wasteland that is now New York and tap into a world made almost exclusively by his adversary.

A few graphs about the Adam Sternbergh.

Adam Sternbergh
Adam Sternbergh is a former editor-at-large for New York magazine and journalist for GQ, Bloomberg Businessweek and The Times of London. Currently, he works as the cultural editor of the New York Times Magazine.

He wrote his debut novel in his spare time, much like he is busy writing his second Spademan novel. Although he was born in Toronto, he currently lives in Brooklyn. It's not uncommon to find highbrow thinking served up alongside lowbrow despicable. And Sternbergh likes to serve it up like that.

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh Digs 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

For all the choppiness at times, Shovel Ready still wins as an in-depth character study. There is no question that Sternbergh successfully gets inside Spademan's head to make him look like a real and living person. New York almost feels the same way at times too. It's all too real at times, right down to the dark humor his characters expend to make it bearable.

You can find Shovel Ready: A Novel by Adam Sternbergh on Amazon. The novel, Shovel Ready, is also available from Barnes & Noble or can be downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is on iTunes and read by Arthur Morey, who some people will immediately recognize for his distinct voice and memorable contribution as Lem Jukes in the First Formic War series.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Skating Polly Packs A Punk Punch

Skating Polly
Stepsisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse never planned to start a band. It happened naturally, starting out as an impromptu jam session that evolved into Skating Polly. Five years later, it's almost impossible to believe it was an accident.

Nowadays, Mayo and Bighorse are being propelled by the same names that inspired them — Exene Cervenka, Kliph Scurlock, Rosanne Cash, Sean Lennon, and Mike Watt (to name a few). Some days it seems everyone who touched or was touched by 70s punk or 90s alternative rock wants to urge the largely self-taught musicians forward.

"The musicians we’re most inspired by are the ones who keep on going and going, who devote their entire lives to coming up with new and different stuff," says Mayo. "A lot of times at our shows people will come up to us and tell us, 'Keep on doing what you’re doing, don’t ever stop’ and we’re just like, ‘Yeah—we weren’t planning on ever stopping.'"

Fuzz Steilacoom catches the duo in a new maturity.

Gone are innocent vocals dishing out lyrics beyond their years. Those have been replaced by increasingly smoky voices and aggressively played instruments, with Bighorse on guitar and Mayo on her hybrid basitar. (Both can play drums and piano.) Sure, the arrangements retain much of their minimalistic beginnings, but with a much fuller sound.

The result is a vitality that continues on unhindered across all 11 tracks. On the front end, it almost seems as though Mayo and Bighorse have relied too heavily on distortion and fuzz to fill up their arrangements until you realize there is much more to it.

The girls might tap some inspiration from legendary bands that create punk and alternative rock, but inspiration is where it ends. While some tracks have a familiar aesthetic to them, they also have equal parts originality. They're often primal and punched up.

Alabama Movies is a growing up bad girl attitude song that invites sing-along punk chants. The lyrics hit a surprisingly broad age range, appealing to both a younger crowd and those who merely remember what it was like to be younger. The brilliance of that kind of track is in giving it a stronger shelf life. It's something you'll play again in ten years with equal fondness.

After Alabama Movies, Scummy Summer brings in some over-distorted early Weezer inspirations. The effect might cause some concern that the duo might have overproduced the entire LP until they bring it back down to earth in Ugly. The angry and sometimes snarling tune is driven by an unrelenting bass groove and deflective contempt.

The brashness of the album carries on with Break Your High, Lily, and Van Gogh with a slightly diminishing rate of urgency. As the the duo slows down, the air begins to clear and the music takes on a more minimalistic and animalistic feel. Even when it slows down, the lyrics are poignant and biting.

Other standouts on the album include the bash-and-take-a-breath structure of Play, the distant and confined introduction to Blunderland (before it erupts into a bigger song), and the long-play near- theatrical and experimental A Little Late. Even Dead Friends and Your Honor, which aren't among the stronger songs on the album, have redeeming B-side qualities to them.

Fuzz Steilacoom By Skating Polly Grinds Out 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Overall, these Oklahoma natives are such a novelty that it is easy to understand why their heroes have taken to cheering them on. There are times when Skating Polly revives an energy that is sometimes lost by bands trying to push the envelope or produce something that might cross over. This duo will have none of it. And we're glad to hear it.

You can find Fuzz Steilacoom by Skating Polly on Amazon or download it from iTunes. The band is currently on a sporadic collection of engagements. Check them out on Facebook.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Drakesbad Guest Ranch Takes It Back

It might be the exclusiveness of a single season that makes Drakesbad Guest Ranch so appealing. The ranch won't see its first visitors until June this year. And by the time these initial guests arrive, anyone thinking about reservations might look further ahead. Next summer already seems inviting.

The simple truth is that even if you do have reservations, things might change. The June 6 opening is contingent on weather. So is the October 13 closure. Some guests don't mind a conditional arrival because the stay makes everything worth it.

The lodge itself has only six rooms, each with a double bed plus a rollaway or twin bunk beds. Or you can stay in the cabin, annex, duplex, or bungalow (19 units total). The sizes and rates all very slightly, with the most noticeable difference being electricity. Most rooms do not have it. And you don't really need it.

The Drakesbad Guest Ranch takes you back in history.  

Kerosene lamps light most rooms at night. It's part of the historic and environmentally-conscious rustic feel of the ranch. It also helps visitors take in the place as if it is from another time.

No, none of it is as rustic as the accommodations that Alexander Sifford set up in June 1900. When the ailing school teacher from Susanville first arrived on the site with his wife and son, the only one there to greet them was Edward Drake, owner of the famed soda waters of Drake's Spring.

The couple loved area so much that they bought Drake’s Hot Spring Valley from Drake outright. Eventually they renamed it Drakesbad (Drake's bath) and operated the ranch for two generations. The remote guest ranch became legendary with camping and meals for 50 cents, hot spring baths for 25 cents, and pasturing livestock a nickel a head.

Even after the 1916 Congress established the Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Sifford family stayed on as caretakers until finally selling the property to the government. Since, the National Park Service has leased it to various concessionaires. California Guest Services has held it for 36 years.

Inside Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The park itself is well known for its smoking fumaroles, wildflower meadows, mountain lakes, and volcanoes. Much of the park feels incredibly unexplored and undiscovered.

There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails that pass by active hydrothermal areas like the Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell. There are several ranger-led programs and summer itineraries for guests. (There are winter activities too but the ranch remains closed.)

In addition to backpacking and hiking trail loops, there are dozens of educational adventure workshops, nature photography excursions, geological discoveries, and an amazing array of birding opportunities. Along with these park amenities, the ranch hosts a few of its own.

Several hikes (including the 90-minute walk to Boiling Spring Lake) can be taken right from the ranch. Swimming is even closer, with soothing hot mineral springs located a few steps from the cabins. There are several fishing areas in the park, and the ranch leads several fly-fishing excursions too. And, even more remarkable, the ranch is home to several of the most affordable horseback riding rates in the state, starting at $50 for a one-hour, self-guided tour to half- and full-days rides for $190.

As a real working ranch, you can make arrangements to bring your own. Boarding with feed is only $37.50 per day, about what it costs for overnight parking in some urban areas. And if that doesn't work out, then ask about archery and social starters.

Overall, this is an adventurous vacation for long hikes and horseback riding during the day and relaxation around a campfire at night. There are no room keys. And all meals are family style. Meals are included with the rates.

The Drakesbad Guest Ranch Ticks Off 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

To niche to even be a tourist destination, Drakesbad Guest Ranch is one of those getaways you will talk about forever. While it might be too rustic for some people, those who thrive outside without always being wired up will love it.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch in California is located northeast of Chico, California, and northwest of Reno, Nevada. It is deep in the park, miles from any urban encroachment. You can place reservations directly with the ranch or visit  top travel deals at for other excursions to northern California.

Angel Olsen Burns Her Fire Brighter

Angel Olsen
Raised in St. Louis before relocating to Chicago, Angel Olsen originally cut her teeth performing scores of indie folk songs inside Missouri coffee shops during her teenage years. And after that, she set out to put down records with like-minded musicians, namely our favored Bonnie “Prince" Billy.

On her own, Olsen is equally formidable. Her second solo LP is a full-throated exultation with bold, wavering melodies that rumble along in unexpected directions. The relentless thread of the album explores heartbreak, travel, and transformation, much like the personal journey she took before writing it.

Burn Your Fire For No Witness is recklessly raw and reflective. 

With all the self-assured angst of someone who has just lived it, Olsen tells us when to leave, when to love, and when to dance our away out of any nagging troubles. She does so intimately and convincingly with one unsettling and heartfelt reflection after another.

One of the first videos to be showcase the 11-track album is Hi-Five, a brooder about loneliness with an uneven country twang. She shudders and wails before eventually finding her center as she sings about bringing two lonely hearts together. They get stuck on each other.

The surreal quality of Zia Anger's video direction only adds to the vagabond quality of Olsen's near vintage sound. The only downside, perhaps, is that Hi-Five doesn't provide any real insight into her range or work, relying instead on her psychedelic folk elements.

Likewise, the other track that received an Anger video treatment is Forgiven/Forgotten, a psych pop-rock ballad that dances on the edge of forgiveness but still manages to leave you wondering. And therein lies of magic of Olsen's songwriting.

Whereas some songwriters write up sad situations with an upbeat angst, Olsen does the opposite. Forgiven/Forgotten hits you like a self-induced truth that masks the deeper wounds left by whomever and for whatever reason. Like Hi-Five, it's slow but much more unnerving.

Despite the video choices, Olsen isn't a one-speed songwriter. Since adding drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist Stewart Bronaugh, most of her material has a much fuller sound than her initial offerings. And even though many tracks flutter along, songs like High & Wild and Stars hint at a different portrait.

High & Wild is a slow burn vintage rocker that carries a psychedelic ribbon in a different direction. Stars thumps along with its fullness, giving Olsen a platform to lay down her feelings until there is nothing left. In contrast to those two, the opener Unfucktheworld highlights richly emotive lyrics — this time about lost love and the feelings of isolation that come with it.

In sum, Burn Your Fire For No Witness is a raw album that lays bare the best of Olsen's self-expression. She isn't afraid to share her soul, no matter where it might take her — soaring higher when she finds someone or lower when that someone lets her go and breaks her heart again.

Olsen's Burn Your Fire For No Witness Unsettles 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Angel Olsen seems to have found a better path for her evolution as an indie folk artist experimenting with a more haunting and often brooding garage rock assembly. Burn Your Fire For No Witness, in particular, is the kind of the album that continually grabs your attention and makes you look up, think about, and then settle back into it again.

You can find Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen on Amazon. You can also order Burn Your Fire For No Witness from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Olsen is currently on an aggressive tour schedule through June in the United States and Europe. For details, visit her Facebook page.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Frank Coates Whispers About Africa

When Dan Sullivan signs up to fight the Boers at the turn of the century, he finds much more than an adventure in British East Africa. Between the horrors of war and the men who run it, it isn't long before the young Queensland drover decides he has had enough.

He deserts the army with an intent to start over and old Bill Freeman turns out to be the right man to help him do it. Freeman, who had originally invited his son to join him in Africa to start a farm together, immediately discovers a taste for something much different than plowing fields.

In the golden era of the great white hunter, Freeman believes the time is right to start a safari. He also believes that Sullivan's experience in the bush and with a rifle could give him an edge. Freeman doesn't care that Sullivan is a deserter, mostly because the boy proves early on that the decision was something other than a lack of bravery.

A fictional expose at a dangerous time in history. 

Freeman and Sullivan get a good enough start together, attempting to entice rich big game hunters to Africa. And as partners, Sullivan spends considerable time with the Freeman family, including the young and impressionable granddaughter Liz Freeman, who develops a crush on him.

But well before she can make her affections known, tragedy strikes the family and forces Liz to return to Australia. The separation sets both of them on different paths — with Sullivan attempting to keep the cash-challenged safari afloat and Liz attending college and attracting new suitors.

All of this changes again with the outbreak of the Great War. Sullivan finds himself running the safari on his own. Liz sees her engagement to an Australian-born German broken so he can enlist and prove his loyalty to the British Empire.

Unattached and unwilling to live with her grandmother any longer, Liz sets out for Africa again. She expects to reunite with her remarried mother and reconnect with Sullivan to relieve him of her grandfather's safari. When she does find him, these two old acquaintances discover something has come between them.

Overall, the novel provides an interesting glimpse of complicated old-world nationalism in the early 1900s and the wilds of Africa. There are also scores of scenes and passages that Coates convincingly brings to life, even if they sometimes lack the cohesion of a novel (beyond being a series of linear happenings). At the same time, the story brings dozens of socio-political issues into perspective even if they aren't always presented with a clear sense of purpose.

A couple of graphs about author Frank Coates. 

Much like protagonist Dan Sullivan, Coates was born in Australia and ran away to Africa. But that is where many of the similarities end. Coates, who was 45, joined the United Nations in Nairobi. Later, he transferred to the shores of Lake Victoria and married a Tanzanian of the Nyamwezi tribe.

The experience was life changing for the ex-Telecom engineer. Although he had worked in both Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, he never felt more at home than he did in Africa. When his contract with the United Nations ended, he found work as a consultant in countries from Kenya to Swaziland and from Mozambique to Botswana. He returned to Australia years later and started his writing career.

Whisper At Dawn By Frank Coates Hunts 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Whisper At Dawn is a well-written novel despite its uneven storytelling. Overall, the challenges can be largely attributed to Coates never truly deciding whether the story belongs to Liz or Sullivan. Likewise, his presentations of Africa and Australia are lopsided, with one described in lavish detail and the other left bleak in comparison. One wonders if he would have better served the story by staying with Sullivan and Africa throughout, which is where his most passionate passages prevail.

Whisper At Dawn by Frank Coates can be ordered from Barnes & Noble. You can also find the novel on Amazon or download the book for iBooks. The audiobook is available on iTunes and is narrated by David Tredinnick. Tredinnick does a fine job with telling. He gives the story the tone of an afternoon reading.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bootstraps Steps Out A Self-Titled LP

After Jordan Beckett formed Bootstraps in Los Angeles with Nathan Warkentin and David Quon, the trio took to making an unorthodox introduction. Rather than playing exclusively in bars and small clubs, they started producing songs that were featured on NBC, ABC, FOX, and the CW.

The soundtrack exposure eventually paid off with a re-introduction to actor-writer-director Sam Jaeger (and college friend), who asked them to write a few songs for the film Take Me Home. They obliged, spending several days in the studio and tracking songs the old-fashioned way — recording them live while the picture played.

As impossible as it sounds, this old school tracking method worked with the help of Richard Dodd (Kings of Leon, The Raconteurs) and Skip Saylor. And one of the many awards the independent film went on to receive was the Naxos Award for Best Film Music at the Nashville Film Festival Awards.

Bolstered by this early success, Bootstraps stepped back inside the studio to produce their own debut alum, which was released by indie artist supporter Redeye distribution. Ever since, the band has received ample attention and accolades, leaving some to wonder if the story matched the hype.

Bootstraps puts out a self-titled album that ends speculation. 

For those who already know Bootstraps, the self-titled album is a re-release of their debut in 2012. But what some fans might not know is that the music has been remixed and remastered, making the re-release a better reflection of where the band is headed.

Some tracks, particularly those showcased on shows like Private Practice, Betrayal, and Parenthood, suddenly feel even more cohesive. The album, from start to finish, is reminiscent of those rare releases  that can be slipped into a car stereo and left alone for awhile. It makes sense. Beckett wanted to make a road trip record from the start.

Most of the album rolls along with folk, rock, and country influences. It opens with Road Noise, an atmospheric, cymbal crashing arrangement that can easily be accompanied by coastal highways. And this in turn gives way to Sleeping Giant, which is a reminiscing and reflective song that showcases some of the soaring harmonies that have become a Beckett trademark.

Both tracks lay significant groundwork for one of the band's best known songs, Oh CA (one of six from the film), which draws a parallel between landscapes and relationships. The song has a majestic quality to it, despite a hint of desperation in the lyrics. While there are better songs on the alum, it's impossible to deny their talent.

Other standouts include the sentimental Nothing On You, the haunting confessional of Haywire, and the honesty of Wild Moan. Expect others to cite FortyFive among the top tracks on this album, mostly for its harmony.

Despite the number of times that it has been covered, the remastered version on the re-release seems to create too much distance between Beckett and the listener during the verse. He makes up for it in the chorus, but it's clear a little less polish and studio effect might have been appreciated here.

If you are looking for a seventh track, Guiltfree is more accessible in how it is mixed. Conversely, a few lines fall short of the introspective qualities of other songs on the self-titled album. Then again, that's not to say the album doesn't work as a singular body of a road trip escapism.

The self-titled album by Bootstraps, if anything, will feel like a soundtrack for their lives, especially those moments when it is time to move on no matter what is left behind. Beckett makes it easy enough. As a songwriter, he seems to have a natural gift for writing about specific moments but then obscuring them enough to let anyone fill in their own details.

Bootstraps' Self-Titled Album Travels 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although the self-titled album is a remastered re-release, most tracks were improved in the process making the revisit worthwhile. Supporting the album also increases the potential to get the band back in the studio to produce some new material — maybe something that moves them beyond California.

You can find  Bootstraps' self-titled album on iTunes. You can also find Bootstraps by Bootstraps on Amazon. The movie Take Me Home, which includes six of the ten album tracks, is also sold there. Follow the band's updates on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spring Is In The Air Aussie Style

With snow still on the ground in some parts of the States, some people might think it is too soon to get on about spring. It really isn't. Spring is only a few weeks away and some parts of the country have already warmed up.

In fact, one collection from the design-savvy label Shabby Apple makes everything feel even warmer. With Australia serving as its inspiration, Shabby Apple created what it calls an Aussie Afternoon Collection, which is a little bit vintage, a little bit rustic, and always open for layers.

The Aussie Collection is all about blending rugged with sophistication.

Most of the collection accentuates the simple, with four strikingly simple one-piece dresses that capture a range of regions. The Morning Dew Dress to the right makes for a good example. It's a radiant eyelet lace dress that gives off a touch of playfulness without ever looking fragile.

Made of high quality cotton and fully lined, it is inspired by a retro style that once graced the Australian outback. The best aspect of the design is that it lands somewhere between casual and dressed, making it easy to wear in the afternoon and into the early evening with the right top.

For something more pragmatic and a little less elegant, the Russel Wrap Dress retains the charm of the outback but with a cut that gives it a casual, classic look. The eyelets along with the bow in the back are important to keep the entire look from becoming too schoolmarmish.

Too add more snap for urban outings, Shabby Apple selected a comfortable stretch taffeta blend and pulled together a graphically bold ensemble with hints of the sixties. The same holds true for the Sydney or Bust Dress, a refreshingly vintage dress that will take someone from spring into summer. The flared trumpet skirt is especially striking for the times.

Along with these dresses that are Southern California sharp as much as they are Aussie inspired, Shabby Apple also added a few tops that can easily be worn with a skirt or as something to dress down the entire look with something rugged.

The denim shirt is meant to lend even more casual charm with sleeves that roll up effortlessly to the elbow. There is also room to leave a couple of front buttons unsnapped, allowing the shirt to to be tied up in the front.

Aside from the denim, Shabby Apple suggests a henley-style shirt with scoop neck. It also features darling buttons down three-quarters of the front and camp-style pockets. It can be worn tucked like a shirt or out and cinched at the waist like a tunic.

A couple more graphs about Shabby Apple.

The Shabby Apple story has been told here a few times before. But what I haven't mentioned is its three pillars of design — that everything is vintage inspired, workplace empowered, and socially conscious. And that's pretty cool.

Shabby Apple picked these three pillars because its founder believed that the fashion industry seems to have forgotten that fashion can make women look both beautiful and powerful. They ought to know. The company is more than 90 percent woman owned and only partners with organizations that are willing to give women micro loans around the world and safe working environments.

 The Aussie Afternoon Collection Runs 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This classic collection came together while adhering to the belief that dresses need to stand on their own without any assistance from cardigans or slips. There is some truth to that if you want to keep the look simple, straightforward and powerful. Less is often more in warmer climates.

You can find the complete Aussie Afternoon Outback at Shabby Apple direct. Materials and prices vary, with this collection being among the most modestly priced. The collection ranges from $48 tops to $82 dresses.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Grey Gordon Is An Emerging Artist Pick

Grey Gordon
Fort Wayne native singer-songwriter Grey Gordon might not have a full-length debut out today, but he will. No Sleep Records asked him to step inside the studio after his most recent EP, Still At Home Here.

The five-track Still At Home Here was released last May by the same label. It was one of several singles, demos, and EPs Gordon had put out since 2011, but the first with No Sleep. The debut album will have a host of firsts too. It will be the first time Gordon will have the support of a full band.

But aside from the excitement of finally achieving his dream to make music for a living, Gordon says the only real difference between having a label and not having one is the support and exposure. They are helping him reach an audience in Europe, one he never thought he would find.

Still At Home Here was a solid singer-songwriter EP.

Still At Home Here isn't necessarily the hardcore 5-track someone like Gordon would be expected to make with its razor sharp songwriting and lonely acoustic bent, but it does capture some of his Straight Edge spirit and early influences. The sound is similar but somewhat stripped back from his Sleepless EP, which first caught the attention of Chris Hansen.

“Truthfully, I couldn't be more shocked when Chris approached me about signing to No Sleep, but I'm obviously beyond ecstatic to be putting out this upcoming EP with them,” says Gordon. “It's an incredible honor to get to be involved in something I've appreciated as an onlooker for the last few years."

The material crafted by the well-spoken, straight-talking songwriter hasn't changed. He writes about regret, depression, and the occasional political riff. The first track breaks from those themes with a tender testament of loyalty and the familiar. It's a long haul coming song, possibly inspired after some long touring treks.

"I'm really happy with how this came together,” said Gordon. “The whole idea was hatched and executed within the span of a week. We wanted to do something simple as opposed to overly conceptual."

Marrying the lyrics with shots of his daily life in Indiana, 500 Miles makes for a tempered introduction. There are more stirring tracks on the album, but it seems clear everyone wanted to present the person behind the music. With the exception of needing some more bass and volume, mission accomplished.

Even so, the better track to give a first listen to is the title track. The track, Still At Home Here, gives up a glimpse of the artist's timeless alternative and emo leanings, sharing a story of maturity despite some dullness.

Broken Vows is another great track, opening on a low note as he tells an ex-friend all the reasons their relationship was over. Lifestyle choices will do that, especially when the convictions are as tightly wound as Gordon's. While some listeners might be turned off by the judgmental nature of the track, Gordon saves the song by making it more accessible for anyone who had to tell a friend to kiss off.

Old Houses brings in some folk influences to tell of another disappointment in love. Recovery wraps up the EP with a rare moment of clarity about life. It isn't a downer like many of his tunes, mostly because there are some surprisingly hopeful chords to accompanying the acoustic strum of his guitar.

Still At Home Here By Grey Gordon Sets Up 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Though it all, Gordon has a voice and temperament that can easily benefit from the support of a full band and amped up volume. While it might be anyone's guess what a full-length album will bring in the months ahead, it's a pretty safe bet it won't be as relaxed as one of his most enduring EPs.

You can find Still At Home Here by Grey Gordon on Amazon. The EP is also on iTunes. After his next recording session, Gordon is expected to slate dates for an upcoming tour. Stay up with him on Facebook.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cradles To Crayons Recycles Possible

While visiting the home of her sister during a Christmas vacation, Lynn Margherio was more than happy to help out. So when her young niece needed just the right outfit, she volunteered to dig through through her dresser.

What she found instead was inspiration. Somewhere near the bottom of one drawer, Margherio found some tops and bottoms with price tags still on them. They had never been worn, but it was clear they were already a size too small.

Something similar happened a few days later at her brother's house. She was helping another niece and nephew with an art project in their play room and, very literally, had to step over all their toys to get to the table where the pair were working with glitter, stickers, and markers.

The children, she discovered later, weren't interested in most of it. They tended to gravitate toward a few favorites and always ignored the rest. And it wasn't long after that when these experiences began to merge into one amazingly worthwhile idea.

What if everything we didn't need could find someone who did?

Two years later, Margherio founded Cradles To Crayons, a nonprofit organization in Boston that provides low-income and homeless children (ages 0-12) with essential items they need to thrive at home, school, and play. It provides these essentials by connecting communities that have with communities that have a need.

They accomplish this mission in three different ways, with the first being to collect and temporarily warehouse new and gently-used children’s goods that are donated by individuals, families, and businesses during several drives held by interested community groups.

Once the toys arrive, volunteers inspect, sort, and package all the donations into individualized packages that will be given to children who have specific needs and placed an order through any number of social service agency partners. As soon as the request it met, the partner agency picks up the package and delivers it directly to the child in need.

To date, the organization has hosted some 800 clothing, toy, and school supply drives managed by 24,000 volunteers who delivered 55,000 individual packages to children in need at or through some 300 different social service providers. Best of all, nothing shared is wasted. Everything is cherished.

The organization doesn't just serve the Boston area anymore. It aims to serve more than 305,000 Massachusetts children. But they are not only confined to the Boston area and greater Massachusetts. Cradles To Crayons was duplicated in Philadelphia by Jennifer Case in 2006.

After tapping into the generosity of her friends and neighbors in support of Hurricane Katrina, Case later learned there was a critical need right in her own backyard. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the nation's ten largest cities, which means nearly 130,000 children live in poverty.

A couple more paragraphs about Lynn Margherio.

Lynn Margherio
Margherio wasn't a stranger to community service. As Executive Vice President of the William J. Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative, she had helped launch and build President Clinton’s program to assist countries in the developing world to plan and implement large-scale HIV/AIDS care and treatment programs as part of her 20-year career in business and public policy consulting.

Between this unique operational experience and advising  Fortune 500 companies on growth strategies, competitive positioning, and investment/acquisition opportunities, she understood what it would take. She visited shelters and health centers, asking if they had the resources to help families meet basic needs like clothing and then started calling schools and community groups to see if they would be willing to collect these badly needed goods.

The reaction was uniformly positive. So Margherio commandeered some extra office space at the consulting firm where she was a partner, lined the space with shelving and plastic bins from Home Depot, and started going from school to school in a rented truck to collect other people's stuff. Today, Cradles To Crayons has its own warehouse.

Cradles To Crayons Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick.

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

We chose Cradles To Crayons for two reasons. Not only does the nonprofit organization inspire communities that have to help those communities that have a need, but the model has also been successfully duplicated in a second city. It would be an amazing story to see another Cradles To Crayons open too.

In the interim, you can help either Cradles To Crayons program in a number of ways. If you live in Boston, you can donate your new and lightly used items for children or volunteer. And if that isn't possible because you live someone else, you can always send gifts too. Or, to help support children in Philadelphia, you can learn more here. Both C2C locations welcome corporate engagement too.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Meg Myers Sings In Shadows No More

Meg Myers
While there are plenty of pop idols that try to act bad and get attention, Meg Myers dispels the need for antics by writing provocative and gloomy tracks that get under the skin. The emotion-laden tracks get your attention with rattling rockers and then quickly descend into the after effects of life.

There is no question that Make A Shadow is a five-song set that represents her mastery of the craft and the diversity of her range. The result is an alternative pop sound that easily snuggles up against the darkly tinged undercurrent of indie rock influences.

Make A Shadow reinforces the rawness of Meg Myers. 

Make A Shadow kicks off with the direct and seductive single Desire. After a series of passionate and even-paced pleadings, Desires drifts into some atmospheric tenderness before guitars change the tempo and bring the track to a fitting climax.

The guitar solo makes the song memorable, even if the genius is the songwriting. While any other singer could have made the song crash, Myers manages to make it intimate and meaningful. It's especially fitting how she lays out what she wants before asking "how do you want me," over and over and with insistence.

The guitar wrap up on Desire also becomes the perfect introduction for her briskly paced Go. It opens with a few plucky guitar notes before moving through an opening verse and coastal punk-inspired lyrics. There is significantly more attitude in Go than in the opener.

The contrast between the two tracks make a case for dark pop in that it tends to avoid exploitative themes and centers on empowerment. In one song, Myers is willing to share all of herself. In another, she is ready to build a wall or cut out all together.

The title track, Make A Shadow, doesn't pull punches either. The track is thunderous in its brighter pop chorus and restrained in its darker indie verse. In creating this sort of arrangement, it lands right where she wants to take it — playing from the shadow as opposed to the bright glare of a spotlight.

Even so, it seems unlikely Myers will remain in the shadows for long. Heart Heart Head carries some unnerving emotion as she sets the song up for three-quarters of it before wailing away in its climax. She screams hard enough to purposely crack her voice. And yet, somehow it works.

There is no doubt her fans will love it, even if I was more impressed by the bookend at the bottom. The Morning After is a compelling confessional, with acoustics making the song impossibly memorable. Nobody has made a better denotation song this year.

As much as I like her Los Angeles-based rocker roots, the fragility of The Morning After feels like seeing Myers for the first time. For a minute, the cityscape she now calls home felt farther away than where she was born and raised in Tennessee. She isn't so raw around the edges anymore. And the rawness that is left has been kept on intentionally.

Make A Shadow By Meg Myers Blinks 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If you appreciate strong singer-songwriters who evoke the spirit of femme fatales, then Meg Myers is well worth a listen. Even better, she is only getting started. Her first album, Daughter In The Choir, caught me unaware when I first heard it but her new material proves her potential.

You can find Make A Shadow [Explicit] by Meg Myers on Amazon or you can download the EP from iTunes. Mostly, Myers has been playing residency shows in and around Los Angeles. I expect that to change soon. Look for an upcoming tour listing on Facebook.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matthew Mather Adds Atopia Offshore

Atopia Chronicles
With the world facing overpopulation and diminishing resources, the initial marketing campaign to seek a solution could have said anything and still succeeded. The world's first artificial island owned by a corporation was set afloat in the Pacific Ocean and invited two classes of people to populate it.

The first class included the world's elite, wealthy families looking to escape the crush and clutter of the struggling world. The second were talented, gifted individuals that helped manage and maintain the sovereign city-state it had become overnight. But that wasn't the only marketing pitch for Atopia.

From day one, Dr. Patricia Killiam had always envisioned Atopia as the launching point for something better — a program that creates a virtual reality so complete and conniving that the population's wildest dreams and self-gratifiying wishes can be made real with a mere thought.

Atopia discovers a breakthrough that bends the mind.

If you can imagine living in the world but having your perception of the world altered to censor advertising and annoyances, then you've imaged an introduction Atopia's first scientific export. Killiam and company have created a software program that blends virtual reality and the real world.

The program enables you to augment your perception. But more than that, people can use it to interact with the world around them — with computable data readily available in their visual cortex — or invent entirely new ones that transform a small apartment into a lavishly appointed estate.

Or perhaps, you want something more. The program can help you be two or more places at once by giving your primary perception the experience it wants while your material body takes care of more mundane tasks via a secondary proxy. It can transport your mind to any place on the planet, step inside someone else's real time experiences, and simulate children to prepare you for the real thing.

Aside from the immediate practicality of it all — giving the brain everything it wants without the need for increasingly scarce resources — the program slowly begins to unlock one profound application after the other. And it doesn't take long to appreciate that if someone has an infinite number of possibilities to change human perception then it will eventually change humankind.

Told as a string of interconnected short stories from a number of characters and unique perspectives, Matthew Mather does a remarkable job at easing into a new, fantastic, and frightening world of altered and immersive realities. Most of them teeter back and forth between dream and nightmare.

A few more graphs about Matthew Mather.

Matthew Mather
Science fiction inspired Matthew Mather so much that he pursued a career in technology. From his first job at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines, Mather went on to found one of the world's first tactile feedback companies. Along the way, he worked with a variety of other start-ups, including computational nanotechnology, weather prediction systems, and social intelligence research.

Five years ago, however, he found himself drifting back to the place he started — imagining the future with the masters of science fiction. Except this time, it was his imagination that would create a near future world of altered realities.

The Atopia Chronicles By Matthew Mather Imagines 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There is something not quite likable about any of the characters Mather introduces and the way he introduces them — short stories that only somewhat adhere to linear time — works most of the time. But where these failings and occasional typos might otherwise make a book boorish, Mather's near-future imaginings and societal challenges are all too predictive to pass up. It's a must read.

You can find The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather on Amazon. The book is also available at Barnes & Noble or you can download it for iBooks. If you are concerned about occasional errors, the audiobook reads over them with a cast of six narrators, each taking up different characters and chapters to bring additional life to the story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Temples Build On Sun Structures

Led by singer-guitarist James Bagshaw and bassist Thomas Warmsley, the Temples are still building a vintage audience since their start in Kettering, Northamptonshire, two years ago. The fans they do have include the likes of Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher, who really want the throwback band to succeed on the United Kingdom scene.

Part of the appeal is that the Temples toss down tunes that capture the mystique of the 1960s with the kick of modern instrumentals and studio mixing techniques. The result often includes some interesting guitar tones and organ interludes, backed by dream-laden and hazy vocals. It will feel immediately familiar and entertaining, even if fewer tracks would have satisfied most people.

"Psychedelic music has always been forward thinking," says Tom Warmsley. "It's so easy to fall into that kind of revival band thing, but our aim is to reference these things and bring something completely new to it."

The way they aim to accomplish this is taking a song like Sun Structures and channeling old imagery and Eastern religion to talk about something contemporary. The composition adds a near-surreal effect to the title track, making it inviting and haunting at the same time. And that's the point.

The band began out of a mutual love for music and mysticism. These are four musicians who share an affection for the writings of Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley. They appreciate that the Byrds were less accessible than the Beatles for a reason. And that Kenneth Anger films really were cinematic manifestations.

Keep In The Dark is one example. The pop bounce presents as a near perfect contrast to the thin but some dizzying lyrics of walking into a forest somewhere, laying your head down on the dirt, and fading off to sleep. It invites something supernatural.

Still, Keep In The Dark, doesn't necessarily have the punch of Shelter Song, which opens the album. It's one of those tracks that some people will wish had more companions on the album. It's one of the few tracks that doesn't necessarily take the band's quest for perfection too seriously. It's a fun and trippy pop take on psychedelic rock.

Shelter Song was originally one of the first singles released by Heavenly Recordings in 2012, but makes for a great opener on an album from their new label, Fat Possum. Had the album contained more tracks like the opener, the Temples might have found less resistance from other reviewers.

Instead, the Temples keep the energy alive on the title track and mildly spooky Golden Throne before slowly transitioning into increasingly soft psych pop ballads like the heavily sweetened and somewhat lethargic Mesmerise. While lighter tracks are part of the overall cosmic journey, too much drifting begins to feel passive and a little less interesting.

Fortunately, there are few more tracks that save the show. A Question Isn't Answered breaks up the bubblegum bubble with some heavier blues influences. Test Of Time and Sand Dance bring in some heaver textures when they are needed most, saving the album from becoming too monotonous.

Sun Structures By The Temples Shines 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

It's difficult to think of the Temples as a throwback band because they're clearly working to move beyond that moniker. At the same time, you have to wonder about their psych pop and passive leanings, when even the most modest levels of action seem to suit them so well. What's the difference? One direction will ultimately feel like a show whereas the other feels permanent.

You can find Sun Structures on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. The vinyl edition can be found at Barnes & Noble. The band is currently on tour in the United Kingdom and Europe, with plans to land in the United States by way of Vancouver in April. Find their full schedule on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pebble Aims To Skip Ahead In Time

PebbleThe developers of Pebble know it and so do you. Its days could be numbered unless its innovative timeline is continuously cut in half, ahead of rumors that every tech brand on the planet will be developing a smart phone connected watch or some other sort of wearable technology.

So far Pebble is trying to do just that, unveiling a next generation watch that attracted some attention at CES earlier this year. The difference? The new Pebble is Pebble Steel, which is a highly fashionable next generation approach to wearable technology. And there are certainly some tradeoffs with the design.

The most obvious transitions and transformations are surprising. Just like the name implies, the new design is made of stainless steel. It comes with the latest round of Corning Gorilla Glass. Its buttons are also made of tactile metal. And it now comes with a 5 ATM water resistance rating, which water tested to 165 feet (showering and shallow water swimming, if you want to risk it).

Pebble Steel keeps ahead of innovation at a price. 

That price is $100 more than the original Pebble watch, which is especially tricky because the biggest improvements are more fashionable than functional. In fact, there are already a growing number of apps that can be switched on and off the watch.

The downside is that they are the same number of apps as the original (eight) and some of the fitness apps have had a harder time sticking with the transition. The again, that might make some sense — the style isn't very indicative of a sports watch even if some of the hardware makes it more rugged. Even better, the ruggedness takes up less space.

The new body is smaller and the software has been improved. Original Pebble owners will be happy to discover they haven't been left out. The new firmware update works with the original watch too.

There is some improvement to the display, but not much was needed. Pebble calls its LED an e-paper display, which doesn't have the clarity of e-ink technology but beats out typical LED devices. For Pebble Steel, the display improvement is mostly tied to the new tricolor LED.

Why everybody liked the original Pebble design from day one. 

Pebble was a breakthrough in that it used Bluetooth technology to provide some hands-free smart phone functions like checking notifications, volume control, and an interface with select apps like fitness programs and location information. That was the idea — extending smart phone functions.

There was plenty to like about it too. Like the new stainless steel models, it also has a 5 ATM water resistance, some optical hard coating for display protection, and an efficient charging expectation to last 5-7 days between changes.

People who bought Pebble weren't the only ones excited. Developers were too. They still are. Along with the introduction of the Pebble Steel, Pebble has promised to launch its own app store with hundreds of apps designed to work with iOS and Android.

It's a smart move, especially because Pebble seems to have taken a page out of the Apple playbook. The only thing capable of holding off hardware innovations other than hardware innovations, is creating a functionality gap by owning more apps. In other words, even if someone launched a smart phone today, it would take considerable effort to match the might of pre-existing Pebble apps.

Most of the apps are free, even if the new centralized app store reminds me of the early developer days on Apple. Designers jump in with some crazy ideas and novelties and it's up to you to find the real gems. With the new store, all the apps can be found in one place (which beats surfing the net).

Pebble Steel Ticks Up Another Notch At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Pebble Steel, much like Pebble, is most suited to people who want to play with the latest twist in technology. There isn't any question that this little crowdsourced concept remains the leader in what will one day be a crowded market. The only real downside to owning one now is that innovation will demand a new product every six months to a year.

You can purchase Pebble Steel direct or you can look for any number of original model deals on Amazon. For comparison purposes, you can always check out the Samsung Galaxy smart watch, which has left someone people wondering if it was a solution placeholder. Pebble Steel, by the way, is only being sold in small batches.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Water Liars Have A Folk Punk Aesthetic

Fresh off the success of their second album Wyoming, Water Liars strutted straight toward the nearest studio to lay down a third album. This time around, the Mississippi alternative band with a folk punk aesthetic cut to the core of their musical center with a self-titled study in contrasts.

Water Liars teeters back and forth between fast and slow, loud and quiet, hopeful and dreadful. While the theme of the album is all about love and redemption, it is often blood soaked and weary, with a haunting collection of songs that will leave you stirred and unsettled.

“It is a record about trying to live and love and earn a living in times and places that don’t make it easy on anybody,” says frontman Justin Kinkel-Schuster. “It’s about trying to handle the bad times that nobody escapes and take care of the good times as long as they last."

It's a painful and prideful album that comes form the outskirts of America — places where people live their lives the way they want. And in doing so, even when it doesn't feel easy, they get it right.

I Want Blood is the third track off the album, adding a new level of world-weariness to Kinkel-Schuster's troubadour vocals. At the same time, he makes it aptly clear that he is ready to take on whatever the world wants to throw at him.

In doing so, he captures what makes this such an amazing album. If this band ever attempts to do anything, it's that they want to tell stories about the way life is in the world around them. And because they live in urban centers like Los Angeles, New York, or even Chicago, we quickly pick up that there is a different America that we don't always hear enough about.

Their home and the choice locations they play while on the road represent people who have guts, guilt, and a great capacity for love. Sometimes this requires the trio to take a slight turn toward county but they never dull their edge in doing so. It adds even more authenticity to their music.

The self-titled album rolls along with an alliterative country edge.

The album opens on a much harder note, however, with a big guitar, bass, and drum punch. Cannibal digs into asking whether the taste of love makes you feel like a cannibal or a vampire. The band follows it up with a heavy-handed open for War Paint before the track settles into a somber drawl.

Other standouts include the country lullaby Swannanoa, the rollicking Ray Charles Dream, and the contemplative conclusion Turn On Me. Trolling Bells is worth a listen too. In it, the band keeps alive its alternative leanings in its guitars but rolls out the vocals in deeply relaxed, addictive heaves.

Originally a duo, Water Liars added GR Robinson on bass shortly after their successful second album. Prior, Kinkel-Schuster and Andrew Bryant had skipped a self-titled album and produced Phantom Limb out of Pittsboro, Mississippi, in 2012. The addition of a dedicated bass deepens the sound even more, creating a new and much welcome moodiness in the material.

As the band explains it, there is something about coming from the South that automatically attunes someone to rough things. Even if the songs are not autobiographical in nature, almost all of them rely on a kernels of truth. And although many of them exist with a tinge of darkness, Water Liars don't play to the darkness as much as they help people move through dark times to find redemption.

Water Liars Self-Titled Album Rolls Over 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Dark times are part of life. Even the original friendship between Kinkel-Schuster and Bryant occurred during a time when the two were not necessarily happy and were looking for a change. They found it in a unique connection that gave them the ability to deliver a rare and beautiful package of songs.

You can find Water Liars on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. You can also find a vinyl release at Barnes & Noble. For the band's extensive tour schedule, visit Facebook.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sue Monk Kidd Invents Some Wings

There has been significant buzz about The Invention Of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It is the story of two women, only one year apart in age, who find themselves bound together in the early 1800s.

The first is Hetty "Handful." She is an urban slave who lives on the wealthy Grimké estate in Charleston. The second is Sarah Grimké, who is the eighth of fourteen children that make up a prosperous plantation family in South Carolina.

The two of them are brought together on Sarah's eleventh birthday when Sarah is given ownership of the then 10-year-old Handful. Handful was born in slavery on the planation as the daughter of a talented seamstress. She is given to Sarah as a handmaid who will sleep in the hall outside Sarah's door and tend to every whim.

Sarah takes no joy in having her own slave. Her first thought is to set Handful free. When her mother threatens to reclaim Handful as her own and give her harsher duties, Sarah retracts her wishes and looks for other ways to defy her parents. She gives Handful uncommon liberties and secretly teaches her to read.

The Invention Of Wings is a caustic and claustrophobic imaging of history. 

Based in part on the real life story of Sarah Grimké, The Invention Of Wings chronicles the journey of an early abolitionist and feminist who emerged out of South Carolina. Handful is also based, in part, on a real slave that was given to Sarah.

Kidd notes that the real Handful did not survive childhood, but the author's ability to imagine what might have happened had the slave matured is plausible. In many ways, the real story of Sarah is even more extraordinary than the fictional story. It is reasonably well documented.

What Kidd does make clear is that Sarah becomes sensitive to the expectations and limitations placed on women as well as the morally reprehensible defense of slavery in America. In doing so, the author constructs a transposition of the two girls as they become women.

As Handful is afforded more liberties along her costly and tragic path toward freedom, Sarah increasingly becomes a prisoner of her own convictions. And all the while, Kidd purposefully explores the paradoxical position of slavery from varied perspectives.

From an individual point of view, she imagines that Sarah struggles to reconcile why additional liberties do not produce willful obedience and gratitude. On the societal scale, she details how slave owners make themselves prisoners to their way of life, always looking over their shoulders in fear of an uprising or convincing themselves that the pursuit of opulence must be matched by barbarism.

A couple of graphs about Sue Monk Kidd. 

After graduating from Texas Christina University with a degree in nursing, Kidd worked as a registered nurse and college instructor. While attending a writing class, she wrote a personal essay called Guideposts. It would eventually be reprinted by Reader's Digest.

Later, she would write her first novel. Since, The Secret Life Of Bees (2002) and The Mermaid Chair (2005) have both received critical acclaim and have also been adapted into screenplays. While she has published other books since then, The Invention Of Wings is her first substantial novel in years.

The Invention Of Wings Flies To 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

At the hands of Kidd, The Invention Of Wings is a remarkable story, told from the alternating perspectives of two distinct voices. If there are shortcomings, it is mostly the handling of a conclusion that reads less like it is racing toward a climatic resolution and more like a protracted postscript that fades into the background. By most accounts, the original is better than the book club version.

You can find The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd on Amazon. You can also download the novel from iBooks or order a printed edition from Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is available from iTunes and is narrated by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye. The two narrators add even more distinction to each woman's point of view.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

We Are Augustines Raise Augustines

We Are Augustines emerged out of nowhere after the three-year hiatus from music that followed in the wake of the band breakup. The first album they produced was the single most powerful resurrection of a music career in 2011, and perhaps this decade, going on to earn best indie album of the year.

Originally consisting of Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson as a duo, We Are Augustines added Rob Allen just prior to the release of their debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships, which covered several difficult, personal, and painful subjects dominated by the deaths of McCarthy's mother and brother.

Somehow, despite the deep reflection, the music remained hopeful in its ability to heal. And, at the same time Rise Ye Sunken Ships rose up, it also raised expectations as even fans began to wonder whether the three-piece could measure up to such a landmark debut.

Augustines self-titled release rolls on as an extension Ships. 

Dropping "We Are" from their name, Augustines have found a measured middle ground in neither attempting to rise above their sensational debut nor surrendering any of the band's indie-alternative-folk roots. Instead, Augustines have put together a dozen tracks that further clarify and enrich their sound.

The next chapter for Augustines is both a continuation and a fresh start. It doesn't lose any sensibilities in the process, even if represents three years of growth as opposed to a lifetime of experiences. Here, it's easy to hear the promise of a positively charged album after the agony.

Whereas Rise was the silver lining on a dark cloud, Augustines is the sun of a new day breaking through to warm your face. The theme is inspiration from start to finish.

Nothing To Lose But Your Head punctuates this promise, screaming out how it feels when the worst is behind you. The dues have been paid. The ascent after taking a chance becomes the triumph, all the while adding the full weight of Allen's percussion for the first time.

That's not to say that everyone will be pleased with the sonic soundscapes that have replaced some of the dust and grit that was so additive in Rise. The distinction is especially apparent in Cruel City, which has some Graceland bounce to it. The entire album, thank goodness, does not.

After starting off with a percussion-led sliver for a minute or so and then moving into Cruel City and Nothing To Lose But Your Head, Augustines shift gears and re-ground themselves with the reflective Weary Eyes, Americana-rocker Don't Look Back, and stirring Walkabout.

Other standouts include the singalong Now You Are Free, the sentimental The Avenue, and the rousing hum of Highway 1 (Interlude). All of them make a great complement to Rise, which creates a bit of paradox.

Sanderson and his bandmates are right in that, musically, Augustines has a much richer and dynamic sound. But where it can't really compare to Rise is in the depth of the subject matter, making the new self-titled album feel like a one-trick pony at times. As such, while there is nothing wrong with calm or hope after making it through to the other side, it is difficult to sustain an entire album on that one snapshot.

Augustines Ease Into A Self-Titled Album At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With two successful albums to lean on as part of their extended repertoire, Augustines will only make the band stronger during live performances. It's a superb extension that reflects what the band has taken away from audiences after three years of touring. And while they are not married to struggle any longer, they seem oddly married to avoiding it.

Augustines can be found on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or order it from Barnes & Noble. The band is currently on tour along the West Coast before sweeping south across Texas. You can fund their full schedule on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pontiak Sheds Some More Innocence

After their first year off from producing an album, the Carney brothers are looking to ease back into the music with an 11-track set of heavy Southern-laced rock, with just enough squall and sludge to keep things interesting. As an album, Innocence is anything but innocent as the trio tears down neo psych-rock in great big thunderous slabs.

The title track tells much of the story, twisting along with tightly written commands of wandering the streets wasted. It churns along like a slogging head-spin, capturing the mood of having drunk too much. They do it effortlessly without wasting a single chord.

Innocence slugs along with monsters and psychedelic imaginations.

Perhaps the best thing about the album is how it balances up a back and forth between big frenzied guitar tantrums and those mellower, more relaxed moments that stretch out longer than the time stamp suggests. Tracks like Lack Lustre Rush will take some people back with big arrangements and understated, inviting vocals while Ghosts will convince the greatest skeptics with an arrhythmic guitar and beautifully played bass line.

There isn't any question that Van (guitar-vocals), Jennings (bass), and Lain (drums) have a great time in the studio. One even gets the impression that the three of them just stand around and until one of them breaks the silence to ask what does anybody want to play next.

Before you know it, somebody settles into something like It's The Greatest because it feels like a break after all of the aggression and tension released with Ghosts. Or maybe it just feels like the right progression, much like anybody might decide with a bunch of friends on a Friday.

No, there is no certainty if it happens that way at all. It just sounds like it. And for the most part, it works. Even if Noble Heads, for all its melody, doesn't do much to move the mood forward and Wildfires packs an unexpectedly relaxed brother track that hints of indie pop (but cast in their familiar heaviness).

Surrounded by Diamonds attempts to rouse the stoner-fuzz back into wakefulness but doesn't necessarily have the energy to succeed. It comes close with the wail of a guitar but Van pulls the punch of vocals, leaving you a little lost before Being Of The Rarest regains some traction.

That leaves the Shining, which is a dizzy, head-spinning gem and probably the most unrated track on the album. Darkness Is Coming presents itself as the closest thing to a ballad these brothers have got (and that ain't saying much). And the album wraps up with some badly need fury and flurry in We've Got It Wrong.

It's in listening to that last song where much of Innocence makes sense. Or maybe, more exactly, that knowing this music is made by three brothers who grew up on a farm in Virginia makes sense. It's clear that even when their music doesn't challenge your senses, it's still a joy to listen to because they have this unyielding connection to each other that comes across so well in their music.

This is the real deal in that they don't need computers to lay down great studio tracks. It's not the only DIY portion of their production. They design their own artwork. They film their own videos. They make their own documentaries.

Innocence By Pontiak Skids Along At 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

All in all, its organic approach from start to finish makes for some magnificent noise, even if the brothers seem too comfortable in their collusion to make great music. In short, the album isn't their best even if it has some of their best tracks. But it isn't really bad either, making it your call to cherry pick three or chill to the whole thing.

You can find Innocence by Pontiak on Amazon. You can also find the album at Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. For tour information, check them out on Facebook.