Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Train Rides Refresh The Grand Canyon

About 4.5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, but only about 100,000 make the trek to one of the seven natural wonders of the world by train. Doing so adds bookends to one of the most powerful and inspiring landscapes on earth.

Perhaps what makes both the entrance and the departure so unique is that it contrasts the immense size of the Grand Canyon with an intimate level of customer service. There is an authentic throwback charm to it all, one that is almost impossible to forget.

Why the best entrance to the Grand Canyon is Williams, Arizona. 

Williams, Arizona, has a history as colorful as any in America. Its downtown business district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. As such, and with a population of only about 3,000 people, it seems unlikely to change. Williams is timeless.

While there are other small inns and motels in the area too, most people taking the train include the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel as part of a bigger package. The hotel isn't historic but iconic. It was designed to resemble the century-old depot that housed the original Fray Marcos Hotel.

The rooms are well appointed, especially the 550-square-foot suites. For a modest upgrade, the plush couches (with pullout sleepers) and kitchenettes with an extra sink, microwave, and mini-refrigerator create a cozy, homelike atmosphere comfortable enough to consider an extended stay.

These suites are ideal for families. The only room larger is the Rail Baron Suite that was originally designed for former owners Max and Thelma Biegert. The 1,000-room suite features a living room, full kitchen, separate bedroom, and ensuite. It resembles a small short-term apartment with comfortable amenities such as leather furniture.

Many packages also include meals at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel  a buffet-style restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The buffets are augmented by made-to-order stations: an omelet station in the morning and pasta station at night. Dinners also feature a carving station and live entertainment.

The offering is surprisingly complete, given downtown Williams is a short two-block walk away. There are plenty of shops to explore, carriage rides, and a handful of restaurants that pay homage to different eras that make the town historic, ranging from its early days as a railroad frontier town to the road cruise culture that made Route 66 famous.

The package schedule that plays out in four days and three nights.

While there are many packages, the Canyon Discovery Plus is the most complete with two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and one night at the Maswik Lodge inside Grand Canyon National Park. The Maswik Lodge has a much more rustic, cabinesque vibe in comparison, but it is hardly noticeable given the surroundings. Most of the stay inside the park will be on the rim.

After checking into Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and picking up train tickets, a buffet dinner is included. After dinner, it is easy enough to walk to the small historic downtown area or retire to the signature bar in Spenser’s Pub. It dates back to 1887; handcrafted by George O. Spenser in England.

In the morning, guests are invited to leave their bags to be placed on the train before heading out for breakfast. Make it reasonably early because the railroad puts on a campy and comedic Western shootout before guests board the train. (The actors work the train too, so watch for them.)

The train provides a leisurely two-hour ride to the Grand Canyon, with attentive service and roaming entertainment. Some areas are remote enough for wildlife sightings.

After arriving at the Grand Canyon, many train patrons take prearranged bus tours along one of three expanses that make up the Grand Canyon. It's easy to pack light for the tour as guest bags will be waiting in in their hotel rooms when the tour is complete (and they will be picked up from the hotel room after checkout the next day).

The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel Rolls Over 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Sine the Grand Canyon deserves its own review (look for part 2 soon), suffice to say that an overnight stay will change any perspective of the park (even if you haven't planned something more extravagant like an overnight at Phantom Ranch). It allows enough time for one or two partial hikes into the canyon and ample time to visit most attractions around the rim.

The stay is followed by a late train ride back, dinner, and a late checkout after breakfast at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel again. For other variations in and around the Grand Canyon, visit top travel deals at While Williams, Arizona, is preferred for anyone who appreciates the historic side of the area, Flagstaff is also close by for a bigger city feel.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Hold Steady Has Teeth Dreams

The Hold Steady
Maybe the best thing about Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady isn't master storyteller Craig Finn kicking out middle-aged narratives about reuniting with old friends and looking back. Maybe it's the band's next evolution with the addition of Steve Selvidge, giving The Hold Steady a third guitar and a reimagined sound much different than when it included Frank Niolay on keys.

Indeed, Teeth Dreams has only little bits in common with the band's pre-hiatus work that led up to the musically sharp but relatively weak lyrics on Heaven Is Whenever (2010). And most notable about the change they seem to have undergone is that what used to be alternative with punk leanings now feels like band-backed blue collar rock and roll. The Springsteen influences are now hugely obvious.

He's not the only influence, mind you. The production work of Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, Rush) at Rock Falcon Studios in Franklin, Tennessee, is all over the album too. It makes the whole affair more accessible than anything the band has tried in the past, while also giving up more room for Finn to carve out some details that have always brought out the best of his work. 

Teeth Dreams is a melodramatic return and reinvention. 

When you add it all up, the reason Teeth Dreams really works as an album is because Finn really does make it feel like he has gone back to the Minnesota that he loves to source for stories. But in doing so, he and the band forward the idea that he is a different man than the one who left it all behind. 

So as much as a landscape we leave makes us who we are, so do the experiences we have in its absence, making any return to it less of a homecoming and more of a reconciliation as a stranger among the familiar. Much of Teeth Dreams feels like that. It's a stranger among the familiar, opening with I Hope The Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You. 

Frighten You has exactly the kind of lyrics one would expect from Finn looking back with one foot in the past and one in the present. It's a song about old friends who haven't changed so much and yet it still frightens him to think you used to have something in common. Or, maybe more precisely, it might frighten anyone you bring along with you.

Spinners is another such story, almost like looking in on a friend or former lover. In this is one, his story centers on a girl who tries to forget her heartbreak by getting back out there and doing things. But the solution doesn't lead to resolution. Sometimes it just complicates everything even more.

The Only Thing is another breakup song, but with its focus on the reunion long afterward as opposed to the split. The track is striking because it draws out the awkwardness of seeing someone again when all you have left between each other are some memories. Lyrically, it is one of the more overlooked tracks on the album.

In contrast, the balladic The Ambassador is another reunion track that feels significantly more bittersweet despite being tied more to a location than a person. It might even be that absence of the people who used to frequent there is so haunting as a memory. It's like revisiting an old neighborhood and not knowing anyone who lives there anymore. 

Teeth Dreams By The Hold Steady Echoes 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

After these opening tracks, there are no particular high points but there are plenty of highlights. Big Cig attempts to elevate the album back to a rocker. Runner's High has some decent riffs slipped in by Selvidge. And Almost Everything gives the album an acoustic moment before Finn breaks into his desperately epic 9-minute song Oaks, which gives the album's conclusion a fadeout completion.

You can find Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady on Amazon or download it from iTunes. Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady vinyl edition can be sound on Barnes & Noble. For tour details, visit Facebook.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thee Oh Sees Drop Another Fuzzy Nine

John Dwyer Thee Oh Sees
Describing Thee Oh Sees as an addiction is especially fitting for frontman John Dwyer (Coachwhips, Yikes, The Hospitals). He originally started the band as an outlet for his experimental home recordings.

It wasn't enough. One album turned into several and his solo performance with guests grew into a full lineup, with Brigid Dawson (vocals, keyboard), Petey Dammit (bass, guitar), and Mike Shoun (drums). They have their share of guest collaborators too with seven albums in six years.

Make it eight. Not five months after Dwyer said the band was taking a break (which made sense given the Coachwhips reunion and five straight years on the road), they broke out another album instead. It's a brilliant one too, enough so for the band to book a few festivals.

Drop is nine tracks of psychedelic fuzz rock bliss.

Featuring a few more musicians in the lineup, including Chris Woodhouse, Mikal Cronin, and Greer McGettrick to name a few, Drop is a well-composed studio album that oozes some acid rock oddities for inspiration with some well-timed distortions as only the Thee Oh Sees can do.

As their eighth installment, Drop ushers in a new appreciation for more mellow grooves. There are certainly some hardcore elements in the mix but most of this is all about placing new traction on the well-worn psychedelia genre. For all that is different, Drop feels instantly familiar.

The title track, Drop, is one of the more vibrant songs. It balances an incarnation of sixties visionary rock with early punk rawness. In the process, they create something instinctually fun and memorable.

Drop isn't the only track interested in hitting heavy and the hazy spectrum of garage rock at the same time. Penetrating Eye opens the album with a reverb cocktail. After a deceptively soft start, it shakes up into a heavy-handed guitar drone and laid back la, la vocals.

Encrypted Bounce has a nice free-spirited sonic sound, interrupted occasionally by some sharply plucked steel strings. Savage Victory keeps this sentiment at a much slower, more purposeful pace. The low-throated bursts of guitar and bass give the track a bit of a grunge effect.

Put Some Reverb On My Brother attempts to work the band out of this direction, but the tie-dyed pop of it never really grabs hold like the rest of the album. Drop does a better job breaking the album up and swinging into Camera, one of the more lyrically poignant songs that takes a stab at selfies.

King's Nose is an ambitious mix with some master strokes straight out of the seventies. The addition of strings and a baroque harpsichord makes the song sway while it winds up for another expected burst. That burst never really comes from the noisy and fuzzed up Transparent World nor the softly sung drifter The Lens.

Instead of ending on a natural high, The Lens seems to let the entire album close with a whisper. This isn't necessarily a bad thing given Dwyer's ability to harmonize with a lightness seldom heard in half a century. It conjures up vivid images of floating away for away for awhile, which touches on what the band wants to do.

Drop By Thee Oh Sees Lands 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Seven of the nine tracks resonate strongly enough to lift up two laggards on the album. While either will have an opportunity to grow on anyone listening to the album, top to bottom, neither one can stand on its own without the support of the surrounding tracks. Had they been, then Drop could have hit the nines.

Regardless, it's still an outstanding outtake from a band willing to march to its own beat while paying homage to a few bands who did the same. The album will make a great addition to any collection. You can download it from iTunes or order Drop from Amazon. You can also find Drop by Thee Oh Sees at Barnes & Noble and keep up with the band on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Green Columbus Gets Earth Day Done

It happens all around the world. Every month, people who work in the environmental field meet up at informal sessions known as Green Drinks. Most events are relatively informal, held to help people in the field establish contacts.

Today, there are more than 68 countries that have this organic, self-organizing group in at least one city. In the United States, there is at least one participating city in each state along with the District of Columbia. And in many states, like Ohio, as many as five cities have hosted Green Drinks.

The concept, which accidentally happened at a pub called the Slug and Lettuce in North London, unofficially began when Edwin Datschefski was having a drink with green design colleagues Yorick Benjamin and Paul Scott. When they noticed an enviro-minded acquaintance at a nearby table who was sitting with his own eco-conscious mates, they pulled their tables together.

While that doesn't seem like much organization, many people are surprised to find that what happens at Green Drinks doesn't always stay with Green Drinks. Sometimes it becomes much more.

How Green Drinks Inspired Green Columbus In Ohio. 

While Green Drinks informally started in 1989, the idea quickly spread around the world after Datschefski founded a website to help others establish events in 2001. And in some places, like Columbus, it wasn't long before Green Drinks wanted to do even more.

So in 2007, the Columbus group kicked around a few concepts to create a much more formal event that could change the way people see Earth Day. Specifically, they wanted to host a two-part event where people volunteered and celebrated not only Earth Day, but also what they had accomplished.

Their first event, Green Columbus, set a benchmark for 500 people contributing 4 hours of time each for 2,000 hours total. Two thousand hours is equivalent to one
full-time work year, giving the event added significance as an opportunity to volunteer an entire day in a year.

They accomplished much more during the inaugural event. More than 1,300 people put in 3,900 hours of service or the equivalent of two full-time work years. Since then, the event has logged about 55,000 hours of volunteer service planting trees, picking up trash, and establishing gardens.

This year alone, Green Columbus plans to deliver 12,000 hours of service at 150 different worksites with the help of 5,000 volunteers. These volunteers will then be celebrated at Columbus Commons as part of a full-day Earth Day celebration. The event includes dozens of booths and several live bands.

This year will also be the first of its kind to shoot for a zero landfill waste goal. Participating food vendors at the event will all use compostable or recyclable serviceware to make it happen. The hosts will also provide filtered water stations, making it easy to refill water bottles and reduce plastic waste.

Green Columbus 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 Green Columbus because while it might be a local event that happens in one city, it also demonstrates how Earth Day celebrations are not only scalable but service-oriented calls to action whereby people can think globally and act locally by taking part in sustainable service projects.

Much like Green Drinks was started in North London, Green Columbus is the kind of event that continues to spread because the only thing that sustainable action needs a group of dedicated people with the right vision and mission to make it succeed. How about you? Are you one of them?

If you would like to learn more about Green Columbus, visit the organization's website. To learn more about Green Drinks, which was responsible for bringing the right people together in Columbus, visit the site that Datschefski built. For another side of Earth Day, read A Billion Acts Of Green because everything counts.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Japanther Tries Instant Money Magic

If there is one quote that continues to resonate around Japanther, it was the one uttered by Ian Vanek three years ago. He laid it out well enough at the time. He and Matt Reilly were tired of writing for sad sacks and set out to have a good time.

Since then, the busy Brooklyn punk duo have produced albums with always more than a dozen briskly short songs that pelt audiences with positive vibes. It's all in good fun, usually delivered through a mid-tempo fuzz lens. Most punk lovers can't get enough, even if it increasingly leans toward pop.

Instant Money Magic keeps it on the quick.

Most tracks clock in at under two minutes. None of them come even close to the three-minute mark. But, unfortunately so, quick doesn't necessarily mean the same as fast-paced this time around. There may be some truth to the notion that Japanther is playing against the ropes when they step in a studio.

What seems to be missing at times is that old Japanther magic that earned them a viable cult following when they play live. People become excited because the band makes them feel that way. Instant Money Magic does it at times too, but mostly in rapid fire bursts that are slick but never stick.

Even so, some of the supposition that they turned a corner on Beets, Limes and Rice remains premature. Wiggman might be too slow and sober for its own good, but Dreams Come True (with an assist by the Puppies) turns out one of the band's best atmospheric punk fairytales.

The Puppies aren't the only ones to lend something to the album. The duo Total Warr picked up a 'featuring' credit on Guns, Guns, Guns (much like they did for Yellow Lighter). And in some quarters, they've also given up some thanks to Little Dave Merriman, Marc, and the Grumpies.

Where these of contributions begin and others end is hard to say. What isn't hard to say is that Japanther remains true to their art, especially when it means sharing some of the spotlight. It's not uncommon for them to share or showcase art and music from friends and fans to make things stick.

The song in the video, Do It (Don't Try), isn't nearly as conflicted as it sounds. It's all about doing things without thinking about it. The wisdom, subconsciously or not, was also once uttered by a short, balding green guy with a light saber. Japanther merely makes it more accessible.

Some of the other standout tracks include the sing-song Take Me In And Let Me Go, sharp and smart dedication of Vicious, and the surprisingly somber Song Of The Sun. All We Got Is Each Other captures some of the magic that is Japanther too. They can make the best of it even when they go without.

All told, the entire album plays out in less than 25 minutes. If there is any trick to it, it's that Japather never gives any one number enough time to drag. The only real downside is that not enough tracks really rise to the level of Do It (Don't Try), arguably the best track on the entire album.

What that means is simply this: Instant Money Magic isn't the best introduction to this band. Fans, on the other hand, will find it works well in entirety or alongside the band's incredibly massive archive of pop noise. Play it all at least once and play it loud.

Instant Money Magic By Japanther Rings 5.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While there aren't as many unexpected twists as previous outings, Instant Money Magic is still a fun 14-track album that showcases what the duo does best. They make music that sometimes means something at the least likely movement.

You can find Instant Money Magic on Amazon. You can also find Instant Money Magic on iTunes. For shows, check Facebook. Japanther is almost always playing somewhere. They have a good time too.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Daniel Suarez Uncovers The Influx

Influx by Daniel Suarez
The conspiracy behind the book is compelling. Maybe fusion power, genetic enhancements, and artificial intelligence have all been proven but kept hidden for the same reasons the federal government stepped in to save failing banks and auto manufacturers — disruption leads to chaos.

The premise almost feels right when framed by one of the most obvious discrepancies in scientific advancement. Are smart phones the most significant innovation since the moon landing?

The answer is most certainly not in Influx by Daniel Suarez. He envisions a world where cures for common disease, extended human life, and anti-gravity have all been discovered and then covertly covered up. The high tech society that seemed within reach in the sixties was purposefully scrapped.

Influx is a high wire adventure thriller for tech enthusiasts. 

Partly imagined and partly pulled more from science fact, Suarez tells the story of Jon Grady, a particle physicist who discovers a device that can reflect gravity. Even if the research takes years before it is applicable, the discovery will easily revolutionize physics and later everyday life.

Unfortunately for Grady, his discovery may never see the light of day. Almost as soon as the finding is verified, the Bureau of Technology Control (BTC) is quickly called to shut the project down and harvest everyone involved. The person who leads the extraction isn't a BTC regular but Richard Cotton, an anti-tech terrorist known for targeting small, innovative operations to prevent humankind from leaping ahead any further than the eighties.

Although the Luddite coverup seems plausible enough, the bureau has a far less noble purpose than protecting faith. It originally began as a Cold War tactic to prevent invention from falling into the wrong hands but has since spiraled out of control to become a rogue quasi government agency that believes social order can only be preserved by eliminating social, political, environmental, and economic impacts.

Influx is part prison, part espionage, and all techno thriller.

Once captured by the BTC, geniuses are generally given one of two choices. They can become part of the shadow agency and perfect their technologies or they can resist and find themselves in a prisoner program more dehumanizing than any other ever conceived. The latter is the path Grady takes.

Much of the first half is dedicated to his time in one of the terrorizing prison systems. The back half pits him and a handful of ill-equipped protagonists who slowly become aware of the increasing threat behind the fabric of complacency. Even the heroine Alexa, a genetically enhanced woman who was raised by the BTC, is largely ignorant of the bureau's deepest and darkest secrets.

A few more graphs about author Daniel Suarez. 

Daniel Suarez
Suarez makes the premise plausible by creating a rogue agency out of the Cold War era and then giving it additional justification for existence in the wake of a new Cold War. Two equally rogue and well-established splinters of the agency exist behind other unknowing host governments.

This additional threat is never really exploited or tied up by the end, but it does tell us that Suarez likes to leave room for sequels. Loose ends and errors are often forgiven because Suarez always does an excellent job at drawing upon his background in developing mission-critical defense, finance, and entertainment software.

Interestingly enough, he was self-taught in software development before retiring to his first love of writing. Suarez originally graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in English literature. Nowadays, he lives in Los Angeles and still enjoys console gaming, which grew out of his original love for pen and paper role-playing games.

Influx By Daniel Suarez Crosses Circuits At 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The book is a page turner from the opening chapters and throughout, with the technological speculations (and philosophical questions) being the clear highlight. While immediately enjoyable, two-dimensional characters, cliche predictability, and several story loose threads reduce the novel to a popcorn book — a fun, fast read that will likely be more forgettable than the technology that ties everything together.

Influx by Daniel Suarez can be found on Amazon. The novel is also available from iBooks and as an audiobook from iTunes. It is narrated by Jeff Gurner who does a fine job adding another dimension to Grady and an especially adept presentation of the anti-hero Cotton.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Afghan Whigs Do It To The Beast

Afghan Whigs
Rick McCollum may no longer be part of the Afghan Whigs, but singer-songwriter Greg Dulli still managed to pull off the improbable. With a little help from Dave Rosser, Jon Skibic and Mark McGuire on guitars, Dulli and bassist John Curley made the first Afghan Whigs album since 1998.

The album was largely unexpected only because Dulli does  fine with his abundance of side projects, most notably The Twilight Singers, which he has manned with a rotating stable of musicians like Mark Lanegan, Ani DiFranco, and Nick McCabe. But like many reunited lineups it seems, the Afghan Whigs couldn't confine themselves to a handful of shows in 2012. They kept playing.

In fact, it was during a post-show dinner that Dulli and Curley discussed the possibility of making another record. They started working on it two months later. They wrapped it all in December.

Do To The Beast breaks a different Afghan Whigs. 

News of the album might not have made it out so far in advance, but Bob Odenkirk broke the story on Twitter as soon as he found out about it. Dulli was playing golf with Odenkirk and his long-time friend Mike Brillstein, who mentioned mixing a track for the album. That's all it took.

Dulli had asked him not to tell anyone, but the deed was done. As soon as the label learned the news, Sub Pop Records stepped up on the first video in support the album, Algiers.

The video, of course, is an homage to High Plains Drifter. The idea of a spaghetti Western came to him almost immediately after he finished the track. The video matches the song's sense of melodrama.

Among the tracks, Algiers probably comes closest to sounding like a close cousin to The Twilight Singers. Most of the other tracks do not, building largely on where the Afghan Whigs left off years ago. The Afghan Whigs are a rock band whereas The Twilight Singers were created in response to the Afghan Whigs. Do To The Beast is almost a response to The Twilight Singers, full circle.

The opener Parked Outside is one of the hardest rocking songs ever recorded by the Afghan Whigs. It is propelled by a driving riff that clearly casts the album as less of a homecoming and more as of a evolution. Dulli proves that he is open to making this a restart with some equally savage moments.

But that is not to say he isn't open to other ideas. The wildly composed disco-infused and oddly sinister nomadic undertones capture his inventive nature on Matamoros. Listen to the track a few times because it is easy to dislike it on the first pass but relish it by the third.

More palatable on an immediate uptake is It Kills. The standout moment in the song, of course, is in the Huff-style orchestration with Van Hunt lending a howl to the song after Dulli asked him to do anything he wanted but without words. The howl isn't lost in the diversity of the album.

Lost In the Woods is a haunting centerpiece. The Lottery returns to the band's rock-centric roots. Can Rova comes across like an atmospheric dream. Royal Cream and I Am Fire also lend something to vital to the album when played in entirety.

Along with Curley, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, and the guitarists mentioned earlier, Cully Symington delivers some standout moments on drums. There are also several dozen cameos too, everyone from Dave Catching and Patrick Keeler to Ben Daughtrey and Alain Johannes.

Do To The Beast By The Afghan Whigs Hits 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Almost more than the Afghan Whigs, anyone who has an appreciation for Dulli will love this album. There are moments when all anyone can do is stare slack-jawed while taking in everything he manages to meld together.

Do To the Beast by the Afghan Whigs is available on Amazon or you can download it from iTunes. The vinyl release of Do To The Beast by the Afghan Whigs can be found at Barnes & Noble. The full tour schedule of the timeless Cincinnati-based band can be found on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Vamp Brings Retro Speakers Alive

The Vamp is gaining more ground in Europe and the United Kingdom than the United States despite its successful crowd-funding bid. The slowness of the pickup doesn't have much to do with interest. It has everything to do with availability. They've only been released a handful at a time.

The Vamp is a brilliantly simple solution to salvage conventional speakers by giving them a second life. The Vamp is a Bluetooth receiver of sorts that works hard to bridge modern technology with the quality and richness of the past.

"For me, reusing perfectly good technology makes sense," explains designer Paul Cocksedge. "Hearing the rich sound coming out of these older speakers in a new way is a delight. They are a part of music history."

Simplicity is in the design and the appeal. According to his pitch, all you really have to do is find, connect, and play. There is some truth to that because The Vamp connects by attaching a metal disc to the speaker and then attaching via magnet to the metal strip.

Of course, the metal disc sticks to the speaker. It connect to the speaker using an adaptor. One end features classic red and black wires. The other includes a plug that sticks right into the back of The Vamp.

Cocksedge has an answer for speakers with built-in wires too. In addition to the plug, The Vamp has a clamp for wires too. But what seems to be equally unique is that he took the entire design a step further by allowing almost anything to connect to it (even if you don't have Bluetooth) via a connector cable that works with both PCs and classic iPods.

With the crowdfunding campaign over, the studio has disallowed video embeds but the original video still exists. It features the Cocksedge walking through the steps in about two minutes. What's especially cool about The Vamp is that it powers up the speaker too, creating a surreal setting outside.

A few extra thoughts about The Vamp in progress. 

Although most backers have already received The Vamp and the little gadget that could has won an award or two, Cocksedge is still releasing it in limited production runs. That means you have to preorder The Vamp before the next run (which is currently expected to be this June).

AHAlife.comAfter seeing The Vamp in action, I was mostly impressed. While there are some limitations — such as the inability to sync two speakers to one or two Vamps for stereo sound — the sound quality is as good as the speakers.

Therein lies the sacrifice. The device delivers surprisingly warm sound via a vintage speaker, but you have to give up a little with the mono sound. Basically, the right and left channels are combined.

Cocksedge has said that he may try to tackle stereo sound one day, but it sounds unlikely. He is mostly of the impression that true stereo sound requires the careful positioning of speakers to denote any difference, which would destroy the charm of portability. It's a fair point but debatable.

A couple more graphs about designer Paul Cocksedge.

Paul Cocksedge
Paul Cocksedge Studio is an internationally-acclaimed design practice led by directors Cocksedge and Joana Pinho. The studio is based in London and has nurtured a strong team of collaborators over the last decades. The partners pride themselves on their unique reputation for thoroughly original and innovative design.

Most often, the team is hired by companies to solve design issues. For example, BMW invited the studio to design a new LED headlamp based on its proven track record to research the limits of technology, materials and manufacturing processes.

The Vamp By Paul Cocksedge Studio Sounds Off At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The technology is simple and smart, creating a no-fuss solution for vintage sound via any Bluetooth equipped device (and some non-Bluetooth equipped devices). The elegant design is striking in red, decent in black and white too.

Right now, the Paul Cocksedge store set the price at £49.95 (with tax) and £41.95 (minus shipping). You can only order it direct from the Paul Cocksedge Store, but we'll update details when it is more readily available. In the interim, expect more interesting ideas to come out this studio.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Slingshot Taps Classic Left Lane Cruiser

Left Lane Cruiser
Slingshot is a mesmerizing release for some fans of the Lt. Wayne, Indiana, duo Left Lane Cruiser. The album, Slingshot, was recorded long before the band was featured on the hit television show Breaking Bad. Only 200 copies were ever turned out after the session at Temple Recording Studio.

The production is nothing short of an incredibly raw, unpolished and somewhat muddled blues rock and roll excursion that has been lovingly remastered by Hillgrass Bluesbilly Records. The reissue is perfect for anyone wanting more than Rock Them Back To Hell delivered up last September.

Slingshot is part comedy, heaviness, and guitar licks.

With every minute of its underground production value apologetically intact, Slingshot sets up an all together more lively and aggressive pace for Fredrick "Joe" Evans IV (guitar, vocals) and Brenn Beck (percussion, vocals). And in doing so, the album proves what the band has said all along.

These boys really are inspired by Mississippi Hill country blues musicians. They sound like those kind of musicians on Slingshot too. It's the roughness of the album that gives it real charm — almost like finding an old painting by a master before they turned mainstream. Slingshot rocks.

With the filthy delta swagger still unbridled, Left Lane Cruiser opens with a cruising chug jam accented by howls about driving down the street and looking for something to eat. Don't Need Nothin' From Me is a dirty little ditty that takes in the reactions as someone slowly rolls by. And even if it isn't, it feels that way.

Rollin' is significantly more subdued in contrast. It captures the incessant buzz of deep South folk rock. It's slow, mournful, and lazy. The brooder touches on pains but never obsesses over them.

While Rollin' shares a bit of a foreshadow of where Left Lane Cruiser ended up, it is many of the other tracks that shed light on where they come from. The title track, Slingshot, does exactly that.

Left Lane Cruiser immediately follows it up with the more temperate Kentucky Fried Dickin' track. The arrangement is smooth and bluesy, with a whiff of wisdom tucked inside in its sparse storytelling. Its simplicity makes the switch up for the fuller Sleep Will Mend straight talk.

The vocals of Right By My Side get lost in the reverb at the halfway point. Shakedown is much sharper, a slow motion rocker that breaks into a swampy two-step. There is a bit of a story to tell, but Evans and Beck tell most of it with their instruments.

The album ends with the upbeat and playful Do You Know, the more provocative That Ass, and the near-barroom romper Huckleberry Twist. The latter can almost convince some listeners that the first half sounds more finished than the last, keeping in mind that the first half was as polished as a strip sanded bumper. The bottom half is all but rusted through.

Slingshot By Left Lane Cruisers Taps 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This is one of those rare cases where the ruggedness is so perfectly remastered that the album becomes a back-of-the-closet novelty to be shared some night that everyone had stayed up late. As the party starts to draw to a close, Slingshot yanks at the last little bit of life in it before the close. It's absolutely too raw to ignore.

Slingshot by Left Lane Cruiser can be found on Amazon. The remastered recording can also be downloaded from iTunes. Some of the tracks also appear on Gettin' Down On It. The band is currently on tour in support of Rock Them Back To Hell.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Button-Downs With An Affliction

Affliction Button-Down
There aren't many brands willing to give women's springtime apparel some ruggedness, which is why there is one series of button-downs that stand out this season. For the past several seasons, Affliction Clothing, once better known for women's baby tees and short dresses, has come around with something tougher.

The button-downs they make draw inspiration from country as much as rock and roll. Much like their men's line, the attention is often in the details, especially if you are willing to wade past the more predictable trademark emblazoned designs. These shirts are made to be worn in rougher settings, especially those that involve motorcycles.

Three rugged button-downs with an affliction. 

Some of of the shirts are largely straightforward like the Rock Out LS (above). Rather than carry any brands, the button-down adds its first layer of toughness with some stitched square panels down the front. After that, metallic stud embellishments adorn both the pocket and sleeves.

Affliction Button-DownDown the back, the shirt starts with another series of studs that taper away as they roll down the back.  The black, with the slightest sheen, comes across almost charcoal. Caring for it is easy. Machine wash cold.

Some of the patterns aren't nearly as subtle and they don't have to be. The Riding Wheels Woven is based on a classic Western button-down that gets completely renovated as West Coast motorcycle wear. They accomplish it with contrasting shoulder yokes and a few well-placed stud embellishments.

Affliction Plaid And LaceAside from contrast stitching and contrast lining, most of the action happens on the back. Emblazoned with something reminiscent of the Southern cross with well-placed studs, the shirt manages to reflect a harder edge despite being a bit busy.

The shirt, like most of those made by Affliction, is 98 percent cotton and 2 percent Spandex. The addition of Spandex gives the material its characteristic give. Just don't size down too much as all button-downs are meant to fit without being too snug against the buttons.

Some shirts, like the Westwood LS Woven, don't have any Spandex added. In fact, the 100 percent cotton shirt is slightly different than the rest because it adds a feminine touch with floral lace panels and shoulder yokes. It's a surprisingly smart combination.

The back of the shirt is decorated with one of the American Customs Motor Club designs. The roaring puma feels almost too pronounced, making me wish we could have seen one without even if it works nonetheless. The bottom line is most shirts aren't made with enough toughness but these three and about a dozen more are.

Tom Atencio is at the heart of design for men and women.

Affliction Clothing is fast approaching its tenth year as the manufacturer that made a business out of clothing with tribal tattoos, skeletal jewelry, and a toughness borrowed from mixed martial arts, metal, motorcycles. and muscle cars. Think about the brand as more under the radar than Ed Hardy but more accessible than Von Dutch.

The company itself was started by Tom Atencio, Todd Beard and Eric Foss. The three stepped outside of design industry standards and found an audience within the mixed martial arts crowd. The company is still evolving, especially as it has expanded its line for women.

Button-Downs For Women By Affliction Snap 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

When most people think about Affliction, they think about the marketing with fast cars, sultry women, and super-charged testosterone. But like most things, that is only part of the story. There are an increasing number of women who are just as tough as the men and Affliction is finding them.

Affliction continues to expand its global presence, opening stores in Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo, and Sao Paulo. You can also find them online, placing any orders from the company direct. To browse the newest additions to their spring line, shop Affliction Clothing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Label Society In The Catacombs

Black Label Society Press
Frontman Zakk Wylde and the Black Label Society like to muse that their ninth album is just the same as every album before it. They only had to change the song names and step inside the studio.

It's not true of course, but it's effective at inoculating them against any criticism that they haven't evolved enough. Exactly right. They don't have to evolve, even though the vocals on this album sound better than any other the band has put out. Wylde seems to have found the right harmonics.

If criticisms are valid, it might be that the album is too laid back. It's so laid back that it has an excellent feel overall but never becomes as memorable as some of their earlier work. Take it how you will, but bands like Black Label Society are allowed to make an album to add to their overall repertoire as opposed to always being a brilliant standalone.

Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is a sedated retro rocker. 

What really stands out on Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is that most of it is too soft to be considered proper metal. It leans much more toward classic rock, with an alternative vibe partly akin to grunge in the nineties and clean sensibilities in the seventies.

Sure, most of it has been refreshed to reflect the times. Perhaps the influences are just more apparent than ever before. Simply put, it's difficult to listen to My Dying Time without it conjuring up the names of several bands that came before Black Label Society.

My Dying Time is very listenable, even with its sparse lyrical contributions. The track is about making some bad choices, having a hard life as a result, and then being rewarded for it at the end of life. It's clearly not the lyrics that make it work as much as the world weary sound of it all.

Fields Of Unforgiveness has a bit of borrowed sound too. If not for Wylde's occasionally pinched vocals, it might not even be readily recognizable as a Black Label Society track. What does pin the song down to this album, however, is the theme. Many of the tracks are snapshots of the twilight of life and punctuated by the idea that the end of it will be the beginning of something else.

Both tracks are solid but not surprising. If you want to be surprised, skip down to Scars. As an acoustic-driven track, the song is one of the slowest on the album but it also captures the sentiment being expressed on the album perfectly: "Say your peace, for I'll be on my way. One last look, nothing left to say. As I turn my back, to walk away. I shall forgive, but I won't forget that day."

Similarly, Shades Of Gray carries a slow closer sound that will immediately be familiar to anyone who appreciates classic rock. It's different than anything else ever put out by Black Label Society. Even better, add the bonus track Nomad to any must-listen list.

Other highlights include the riff-driven Believe, the bluesy headbanger Damn The Flood, and the chug of Empty Promises. All of them are underpinned by what Black Label Society does best. They know how to deliver what their fans want and they deliver it constantly without much fuss or fretting. This is the band you turn to when you know exactly what you want — and that mean no frills or low and throaty rock.

Catacombs Of The Black Vatican By Black Label Society Buries 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Black Label Society is one of those bands that everyone struggles to put a number to. None of it is all that original or new or evolved or different, which makes it tempting to ding them. And yet, all of it is meticulously crafted and sounds exactly how it it supposed to sound. Overall, there really aren't any hits or misses, with Scars being among the most memorable because it stands so well alone.

You can find Catacombs Of The Black Vatican by Black Label Society on Amazon or download all 13 tracks (11 album tracks, and two bonus songs) from iTunes. Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is also available from Barnes & Noble. You can also catch this Los Angeles-based band on Facebook.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

John Updike Still Makes Rabbit Run

Rabbit, Run
Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom feels trapped in what he considers a second-rate life. His job, selling a kitchen gadget at a display table inside alternating local grocery stores, isn't going anywhere. His wife, who is pregnant with their second child, is what he describes as a mutt. His apartment is unkept, messed by a 2-year-old son whom he loves but is never picked up by a wife who is most often drunk.

It wasn't always this way for Rabbit, which is what makes his current situation so difficult to endure. He used to have a first-rate life as a star basketball player in high school. He set records.

The full weight of it hits him especially hard one day after coming home. The house is a wreck. His wife is drunk. His son has been shuffled off to grandparents. The car was inexplicably left behind. And the only person who seems to make sense is on the flickering picture of his failing television set.

"Know thyself, a wise old Greek once said. Know thyself. Now what does this mean, boys and girls?  It means, be what you are. Don't try to be Sally or Johnny or Fred next door; be yourself." — Mouseketeer Jimmy, Mickey Mouse Club

Who is Rabbit? He didn't really know anymore, but it certainly doesn't have much to do with the unbearable life he had been trapped into living. He decides to escape it and leave it all behind.

Initially, after telling his wife he wanted to get the car and pick up their son, Rabbit heads south. His impulsive idea is to find himself on a Florida beach. He gets lost instead, making it only as far as West Virginia. So he decides to turn back, but doesn't intend to go home.

PennsylvaniaHe visits the one person in Mt. Judge, Pennsylvania, who believes in him. Marty Tothero is his old basketball coach and the one person Rabbit expects will see him for who he is or maybe who he was.

Rabbit also expects Tothero to be somewhat sympathetic to estranged relationships. Although he stays with his wife, Tothero is notoriously unfaithful. He is sympathetic and dotes on him like a son, but is unsure how to help. He alludes to telling Rabbit to go home but takes him out on the town.

The two of them travel into the city and meet up with two girls. One of them is Ruth Leonard, a part-time prostitute of sorts who is overweight and aging, who hits it off with Rabbit. Rabbit hits it off with her too. And after making a point-by-point comparison between her and his wife, he decides to return the car to his wife and move in with Ruth.

The close proximity of his new residence, impending birth of his daughter, and the pursuit of the local Episcopal priest Jack Eccles frequently leads many to assume that the story is about the faith, love, or marriage. While those themes exist, the story is really about the emptiness people feel inside themselves and the devices they choose to fill it.

As a result, it often paints Rabbit as an anti-hero and someone to easily hate. But John Updike is a better writer than to make it so obvious. All of the characters, much like living and breathing human beings, feel an emptiness at their cores. Rabbit seems to be the only one who seems incapable of filling it. And for that reason, more than any other, most people want to punish him just like most of the characters in the book. Updike might as well have called this classic We All Have Holes.

A couple graphs about John Updike. 

John Updike
Probably best known for Rabbit, Run and the series that followed, Updike's character study and the highly distinctive prose he chose to tell it remains an extraordinary mark on American literature. Once exposed to this wry and intelligent voice, it is as difficult to forget as an echo.

Updike himself was inspired to write by his mother, who struggled to become a published writer. After graduation from high school as co-valedictorian and class president, he was fortunate enough to attend Harvard.

He graduated in 1954 and enrolled in the University of Oxford with a new ambition to become a cartoonist. When he returned to the states, he contributed to the New Yorker instead.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike Shakes A 9.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The novel is nearly perfect in every imaginable way as Updike manages to make an antagonistic protagonist accessible enough that readers not only feel sympathetic for the lout but also miserable for it. What is remarkable and significant about these emotions that he so adeptly conjures out of his readers it that he largely presents them as a mirror that only masquerades as someone so distant.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike is available on Amazon. The novel can also be ordered for iBooks or as an audiobook from iTunes. The latter is narrated by Arthur Morey who brilliantly fits Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom like the shirt he didn't want to wear. Rabbit, Run can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

EMA Seethes To Fill The Future's Void

When ex-Amps for Christ/Gowns member Erika Anderson released Past Life Martyred Saints, she was immediately put on a watch list for transcending all her sorrows and creating what some might call a heroic, harrowing, and confrontational confessional. There is no doubt. The debut was an intensely written and delivered triumph that will be long remembered.

The Future's Void will be as well, but for vastly different reasons. She doesn't surrender all of her grit and grunge. And yet, the dominant addition of electronica into the mix is as unexpected to hear and as deliberate as it was to produce. Every inch of this album is filled.

Anderson is nowhere near the place she was three years ago. The richness of the synth and addition of countless other instruments takes her the distance and permanently broadens her palette. The lyrics are illuminating against the gloom too. It's a warning against a wall of overexposure.

The Future's Void is complexly paranoid. She isn't alone.

“People ask me about themes of paranoia on the record but obviously I am not the only one with dystopian dreams of our plugged-in future,” writes Anderson about the void of a virtual future and before cataloging the risk of overexposure. "There are more cameras on you, more chances to be quoted saying something stupid, and more people out there who relish seeing successful people disgraced and dethroned."

It hasn't happened to her, she clarifies. But it has happened to some people. And all us, everyone of us, subconsciously wonder whether we might be next. The victims, it seems, are getting smaller all the time. You don't have to be a celebrity to be the big joke anymore.

The opening track on the album cuts to the allure of it. Satellites conjures up the wide openness of the net as if it is a gift to remove all those barriers, walls, and curtains. She conjures up the lyrics like a spell, but the instruments allude to the trappings of it. And so we run to it, like moths to flame.

It's a great introduction to the concept, even if it isn't the best song on the album. And while Satellites is stirring as an opener, it wasn't necessarily the best choice for an album teaser. So Blonde almost feels the same. The song opens up on overexposure, exploitation, and shame.

If there is a shortcoming here, it's much like Satellites. Anderson is giving us too much to think about before easing everyone into it. 3Jane would have done a better job at odd. It's a sorrowful song, but recaptures some of that complexly confessional spirit reminiscent of her debut album, only prettier.

From there, Anderson gets smokier with tracks like Cthulu, Smoulder, and Neuromancer. All of them pine away on the risk of giving up too much for the promise of getting more in return. And the downside? Not everyone is going to see the same return. Risk carries as many penalties as rewards.

There are other futures served up on the album, but the surprise track on the bottom half isn't 100 Years, When She Comes, or Solace. It's Drown, an eleventh bonus track that ties her album of paranoia together in a few few whispered lines. Haunting.

The Future's Void By EMA Blanks Out 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The inescapable melancholy of The Future's Void, particularly the willingness to take it as it comes despite the paranoid premonitions being proven right, makes it a daring if not dangerous album. In other words, what makes it sharp also makes it less accessible. It's hard to relate to it, even if we all see the same caution signs.

The Future's Void by EMA is available on Amazon or can be downloaded from iTunes. Barnes & Noble is expected to carry the vinyl edition of The Future's Void. Anderson's blog is also worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Only One App Is FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL Ship
With the Rebel fleet following close behind them, the crew of The Krestral must navigate their ship across several unfriendly sectors of the universe with a message that could save the Federation from certain doom. All three of the initial crew have names and the vaguest of identities, but that is ridiculously unimportant.

Most of them, if not all of them, are going to die. And when you are done staring blankly at the lifeless hull of your spaceship drifting in space or the flaming wreckage left behind by pirates, an entirely new crew will be randomly generated to begin the mission anew. Their chances to survive aren't any better.

Since every encounter is randomly generated, there is nothing to remember, repeat until you active perfection, or attempt to work around. It's an exceptional exploration against the clock game that plays as fresh the first time as it does the tenth time.

Faster Than Light plays like a native on the iPad. 

The Krestral begins as a stripped ship with light armaments. Its laser mostly relies on the same energy that powers the shields, engines, sick bay and life support. And while Artemis missiles require less energy to launch at a hostile ship, they are considerably more finite and hard to come by.

There are other ship systems to keep on an eye on too. Someone has to be stationed on the bridge so the ship can jump from one waypoint to another. Working sensors are critical to keep abreast of everything from bow to stern. And the ability to remotely open doors remains the best method of fire suppression.

During firefights, losing even one or two systems can be painful if not fatal. And since the battles play out in real time, players must use their limited crew members to balance conflicting priorities at best or sacrifice them at worst.

The space opera is alive and well with Faster Than Light. 

With permanent death (permadeath) at its core, the developers have done gaming a great justice in adding a layer of urgency to the experience. It creates an incentive to explore as much of each sector as possible despite the time pressure, leveling up the crew and upgrading ship systems in preparation for an increasingly dangerous onslaught of threats.

While many of them will become familiar — infected space stations in need of assistance, derelict spaceships that serve as decoys for private, well-armed rebel patrol ships on a perimeter search — all of them play out remarkably different. Yes, the mechanics are fundamentally the same but not the cosmetics. More than anything else, it's these subtle changes that make every encounter engaging and unexpected.

A couple graphs about the developers. 

Justin Ma and Matthew Davis Three years ago, artist-designer Justin Ma and programmer-designer Matthew Davis left the safety and security of an established game developer. They wanted to create something they could stand behind.

Inspired mostly by the storyline of Firefly, simplicity of Spelunky, and several imagination-based board games, the duo took a year off to create a singular-player spaceship simulation game. The result was a scrappy and roguish indie game that needed about $10,000 to finish the beta work, cover some business start-up costs, and pay their sound designer.

They raised $200,000 instead and the space opera game Faster Than Light went on to win several indie game awards and capture critical praise from a number of reviewers. Plenty of developers would have been satisfied with the initial success and dashed off to make new games. So far, Davis and Ma have mostly doubled down and migrated the entire game to the iOS platform.

FTL: Faster Than Light Jumps 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richer Scale. 

Although not as epic as Star Command, which resembles Star Trek more than Firefly, Faster Than Light is a surprisingly detailed yet straightforward space game that accomplishes everything it set out to do. It is mildly nerve wracking and immeasurably fun to hold the fate of the universe in brisk 30- to 90- minute segments. There is also a certain freedom with the linear trappings of a tight storyline.

FTL: Faster Than Light is now available for the iPad. The new interface is right in line with the desktop, even though it is played at a noticeably slower pace. The tap-tap-tap elements of the game also take some getting used to but the learning curve is relatively quick. You can also download the original FTL: Faster Than Light [Desktop] version from Amazon.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cloud Nothings Are Here And Nowhere

Cloud Nothings by Pooneh Ghana
Fighting off any urge to mature, Dylan Baldi and Cloud Nothings have tightened up their performance while muddying up their sound. Whereas Attack On Memory took the band out of Baldi's self-titled bedroom set, none of Here And Nowhere Else is done with ease.

Bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz have managed to coax out something not at all unexpected but somehow a welcomed step forward for the band. They skip out on its minimalistic rawness to fill every inch of breathing space with an eruptive squall.

Sometimes this leaves Baldi very little room to punctuate his vocals above the brawniness of it. But when he does, his vocals stack up on the wall of noise with an unflinching certainty. So while this isn't the same pop-punk production that began in his basement, everything about it keeps their Cleveland-based brashness intact.

Here And Nowhere Else keeps Cloud Nothings edgy. 

The powered up anarchy of Cloud Nothings wastes no time in setting a direction. Now Hear In opens with a throaty guitar before Baldi cuts to the point. "I can feel your pain, and I feel all right about it."

The no-nonsense track doesn't say much because there's nothing left to say. It's painfully obvious he wants to walk away, something the band makes especially clear as they pick up the pace of the instrumental toward the end of the song — walking away turns into a brilliant sprint.

The other must-listen track on the album comes in at the end. And it's made even more accessible by its video. Despite the punk undercarriage, I'm Not Part of Me masquerades as a bubble gum slumber party sing-along, complete with Rock Band instruments, squirt guns, and Ouija boards. It's good clean fun amid an album that remains delightfully scrappy.

Those two songs aren't alone among the must-listen tracks they bookend. Quieter Today talks about what it must be like to be in a band where everyone has a supermassive ego. It's raw and occasionally brutish in making the point — sometimes you have to shut up and listen.

Interestingly enough, the analogy isn't lost on the band. The whole social media era puts everyone on a pedestal to talk away their days — even when no is listening. This track breaks through some of it.

Psychic Trauma is a badly needed growler, with some especially sick drum work by Gerycz. Like many of the tracks on the Here And Nowhere Else, there is a remarkable build as the band continues to push each other faster and faster, raunchier and raunchier.

Psychic Trauma is likely the fastest, but it is Just See Fear that Baldi counts among his favorites. Along with an instrumental build, Baldi erupts into some signature screams. He almost has too much fun doing it, but not as much fun as screaming the word "swallow" on Giving Into Seeing.

According to Baldi, he didn't have a word to scream so he asked his French girlfriend what her favorite English word might be. He was happy enough to add it (but we're not sure if she received a writing credit). History was made either way. Just like that.

No Thoughts was one of the first songs written for the album. Pattern Walks clocks in at just under eight minutes. The track is really a band jam that meanders through several ideas because the end to the songs becomes a response to Wasted Days.

Here And Nowhere Else By Cloud Nothings Rips 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Scale.

Some critics were hoping for more for Cloud Nothings, but it's not clear what that might have been. Here And Nowhere Else catches the band in the present, where they are still at the top of their game and still challenging themselves to do more. It's hard to ask for more than that. Here is the right now.

You can pick up Here and Nowhere Else by Cloud Nothing from Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. It's clearly their most ambitious album and the one everyone will most want to see live. Fan reviews are consistently high, ranging from 4.5 to 5. We're right there too.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Drew Chapman Thrills The Ascendant

There are many ways to fight a war, but not all of them are obvious. The first shots fired in the next one might even go unnoticed despite real-life casualties — men and women who see their life savings disappear or their local housing market tumble or the dollar weaken as bond prices fall.

Other attacks might be slightly more obvious but equally untraceable. A virus could destroy the viability of a software company or a computer chip could short out the safety protocols at a major manufacturing plant or a mechanical failure might force a pilot to bring a flight in manually.

To the rest of the world, such events would come across as merely happenstance. They could be attributed to anything and everything, ranging from the natural course of market corrections to technical imperfections in software or hardware unless, of course, someone has the wherewithal to trace it back — someone like Garrett Reilly, a rising star on Wall Street because he has a knack for numbers.

The Ascendant by Drew Chapman is a different kind of modern thriller. 

Reilly was one of the first to catch the market oddity. Someone was selling off an extraordinary amount of treasury notes, flooding the market and driving prices down. Not everyone noticed it was happening, but Reilly did. There was a pattern to it, providing him a great opportunity to short sell the bonds and the future strength of his country's economy along with it.

Reilly has a gift. It was the same gift that led his former professor, Avery Bernstein, to hire him as a young trader. Bernstein didn't even have to be convinced. He had once given Reilly a clustering of algorithms test only to see Reilly score so well it defied credulity. And when Bernstein made him take the test again, monitored and in a locked room, Reilly scored even higher.

So when Reilly brought the bond selloff to Bernstein's attention, there wasn't much to talk about. Reilly had not only noticed it but also knew almost immediately who was behind it. Based on the firms employed to do it, the amount of bonds being sold, and intervals in which they were sold, he knew it was the Chinese.

For whatever reason, they were attempting to flood the market with debt in hope of making interest rates skyrocket and the dollar crater. It was the first shot in what some would think of as a war, not one that was fought with bombs and bullets but one fought online and across financial markets.

Once brought to the attention of the federal government, it was only a matter of time before it would attempt to recruit the first person to notice it. Reilly was about to be recruited to lead a new kind of special operations team — not the kind that work in the field but the kind who protect the virtual borders of the United States in between rounds of first person shooters and other games.

A couple more graphs about author Drew Chapman. 

Chapman is the kind of the writer whose work is better known than his byline. He helped write Pocahontas for Walt Disney Pictures and Ironman for 20th Century Fox. He also creates television shows for ABC, Fox and Sony. His most recent project includes an 8-part miniseries called The Assets.

Although he splits his time between Seattle and Los Angeles nowadays, Chapman was born and raised in New York City. His work history includes a little bit of everything. He was a reporter, bartender, bike messenger, and even a knish vendor at Yankee Stadium. All that changed when he moved to Los Angeles and began working in film production.

The Ascendent By Drew Chapman Decodes 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the character development only scratches the surface, Chapman brings a new kind of anti-hero to life. Reilly is gifted, apathetic and arrogant but somehow manages to become a protagonist anyone can appreciate. The plot and storyline development are as a sharp as the concept of a secret war.

The Ascendant: A Thriller by Drew Chapman is available on Amazon. You can also download it for iBooks or find The Ascendant by Drew Chapman at Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is narrated by George Newbern with a warm and casual cadence.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Manchester Orchestra Gives Up Cope

Manchester Orchestra
Andy Hull is back with his indie rock band from Atlanta. He brings along 13 tracks along with him, all of which possess restless tempos, sincere lyrics and effortless harmonies. Some of it will almost convince you that he has grown too comfortable with self-reflection.

No, Cope isn't as heady as previous outings but the topics are as bleak as ever. Most of them focus on getting over hardships and coming out on the other side of something. It's about being lost among the metaphors until you find yourself again. Hopefully you'll do it on your own terms.

The title track itself says it all. Cope is about coping with consequence. There is a cost, Hull sings with the wisdom of someone who knows, of living out some dream other than the one you ought to have been content with. He hopes it won't be but knows he could be living sad and lonely for the rest of it.

“Cope, to me, means getting by. It means letting go, and being OK with being OK,” says Andy Hull. “You can cope in a positive way when bad things happen or a negative way, and that blend was a big lyrical theme for me on this album.”

Cope is bigger than expectations. The song was written during one of the earliest sessions as the band began to work on the album. According Hull, they had taken to writing and demoing a new song every day and this was the song that charted the course for all of it.

The concept is big in that Hull stumbled across his tell-all lyric that if there is one thing he learns to let go, it is the way that we cope. What he means, succinctly enough, is that we don't have to cope with anything once we've let something go and moved past it.

As the follow up to Simple Math, Cope connects as a progression. In the previous album, Hull had borrowed both real and imagined pains as relationships hit an impasse. This one finds him wiser, wanting to let go of all those heartbreaks and bad memories.

Still, Manchester Orchestra doesn't let go of the darkness that surrounds any of it. As some people have noted, the band has gotten progressively darker over the years as Hull and company tackle new material. Opener Top Notch grabs onto that heaviness with thunderous roars and terse harmonics.

But that is not to say that everything is dark. Choose You has a triumphant radio-friendly quality about it. It feels almost joyful, an early break from crunched guitars, hammered drums, and pinched lyrics that want power more than purpose. It's about sticking with something after you discover it.

At the same time, it feels much more like a band album too, with contributions from guitarist Robert McDowell, keyboard-percussionist Chris Freeman, bassist Andy Freeman, and drummer Tim Very all contributing something to the composition. It's not that they never have before, but it just feels more we-centric in their decision make something brutally honest. Everyone makes a statement.

Cope is also an accessible album in that it's easy to listen to front to back. However, if you are only looking for the choicest tracks, gravitate to the elegant evenness of Girl Harbor with its soaring chorus, the addictive massiveness of Every Stone, and the unexpected strength of Trees. Along with those, Indentions is possibly the softest track on the album and See It Again is a great story teller.

The album also ends with two high notes. Never Really Been Another Way Out rolls out with an impossibly full sound. After The Scripture is a show closer, with nothing much more than Hull's vocals to keep your attention.

Cope By Manchester Orchestra Adds Up 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Cope isn't as haunting as Simple Math, but it's a much starker rock-reliant album. It also hints at how far Hull has come from being a 17-year-old kid writing down a few notes and lyrics in his bedroom. If anything is striking about Manchester Orchestra, it's how Hull has invited everyone to grow up with him.

Cope by Manchester Orchestra can be found on Amazon. You can also download the full album from iTunes or purchase Cope by Manchester Orchestra from Barnes & Noble. The band started touring yesterday this month in South Carolina and Georgia. Their upcoming shows in the United Kingdom are mostly sold out. They will be back in the United States on April 17.