Friday, April 28, 2017

Band Review: Mikey Reaves


Going back to early recommendations, Mikey Reaves was recommended by Parachute, one of the bands that played at the concert that inspired my first five music reviews.

Parachute knows Reaves because he has worked as a guitar tech and tour manager for them. Outside of that, Reaves works as a producer, songwriter, engineer, drummer, and mixer.

Because he does so much, it may not always be clear what his role was on a specific song. I will also guess that if you get a chance to see him live it will probably be as a drummer.

It may also mean that you get a wider range of musical styles. Much of it is country-tinged; not surprising as Reaves is based in Nashville.

I particularly enjoyed his work with Emily Hackett, whose songs like "Bad Weather" and "Worth the Weight" were beautiful and emotional. That being said, there were also several songs about beer. For added perspective, there is also a very short piece from a very young Reaves, "Jungle". Lots of musicians start young, but there isn't always evidence.

I enjoyed listening, and it was important to have a break in the gloom after yesterday's band.




Thursday, April 27, 2017

Band Review: Frightened Rabbit


Frightened Rabbit was the very first band recommendation I wrote down, before I was even tracking bands in a spreadsheet. They were recommended by Daniel Pearson, whom I reviewed back in March 2013.

Obviously it's been a long time. One reason for the delay is that I saw they had a lot of material, and it was going to take a lot of time to listen to them all, even though the preliminary listening seemed promising. In scheduling reviews, I have not been great about remembering to include recommended bands along with the bands who follow me, but I would work in others and still not get to them.

I give this unnecessary prelude because while I believe Frightened Rabbit is a good band, I did not enjoy them. The extra hours spent listening made that worse. If I had only listened to two albums' worth I would feel better, but that probably shouldn't be held against them.

There were two factors that combined with the length. One is that it felt like a lot of unnecessary profanity. That doesn't bother everyone. It doesn't always bother me as much as it did this time. Actually, it felt appropriate for a Scottish band, except that I associate Scottish profanity with rowdy good times. Frightened Rabbit is so gloomy.

Again, that doesn't always bother me, but here it was hour after hour of gloom, sometimes livened up by unnecessary profanity.

It didn't have to be this way. Among their songs, "The Woodpile" especially shows their ability to build in emotion and drama. They can do that. They have a pub band sound - which can be used for good times - and they were doing it for years before Mumford and Sons.

Therefore, regardless of my frustration, it is completely reasonable to check out Frightened Rabbit. I do recommend doing it in short bursts, especially if you're experiencing down times in your own life.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Consuming


Two books from the long reading list were very similar in theme:

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketer's Schemes by Sharon Lamb

Both were about the marketing that is done to young girls, preparing them to constantly be buying goods and services.

Packing was much longer, so had more information on types of merchandising. Even for relatively young girls there are lifestyle magazines and novels that are actually catalogs, and many toys have web components that provide the opportunity for more brand association and more shopping.

(I'm sure parents of young girls have a much better idea already.)

Packaging was also more scholarly, which has value, but Cinderella is a much shorter and more engaging read. Both pay attention to the psychological effects, though I think Orenstein has a better grasp. Neither was able to offer much in the way of solutions than awareness: know about this, discuss it sometimes, but they are still going to want these products.

Although we have not covered them yet, when we get to The Feminine Mystique and The Beauty Myth, those also have a lot to do with marketing, so there are ways in which they all go together. I am also more aware now of how consumerism is incompatible with environmentalism. It is hard changing things that systemic, so it's a concern.

But the point I will leave with today - I think it came from Orenstein - is a claim that the focus on dieting and weight loss started around the turn of the century. Previously preachers had tended to focus on greed, but as many people were doing really well financially, that became less safe to condemn. Gluttony was also a deadly sin, and about taking more than your share, so it made a good substitute.

That indicates that before, people thought of body size as more like height or hair color - maybe some variations were more popular, but there wasn't pressure to change it.

Now there are many products and services designed to help you change your body size, but it is still almost as difficult to change as your height. (At least changing hair color has gotten much easier.)

The almost guaranteed failure of the products combined with the likelihood of the consumer blaming herself makes it an almost perfect business. Yes, you have to make your offering more attractive than the many competing offerings, but there is still a strongly motivated market.

There are plenty of problems with that, but it's interesting to think that it could have all started as a dodge for ignoring the destructive behavior of capitalists right around that time that "robber barons" and "gilded age" were entering the lexicon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Smile!


When my mother's dementia started, at first it was just that she wasn't taking in new information; she still knew all of her past.

More recently there has been a split, where she sometimes thinks there is another home and another set of twins. She misses her home and her youngest children and worries about them, even when she is in her home with them.

It doesn't help that we only have very old pictures available. The most recent family portrait is about twenty years old, but most are older than that. My mother looks at pictures of my sisters when they were ten and twelve and is not confident that these forty-year-old women are the same. My sisters weren't even blonde yet when they were twelve.

It's because we all hate having our pictures taken. We mainly wish we were thinner, though we might also wish for more hair or less hair or smoother skin. That last family portrait was taken after my father left, and it was a way of affirming that we were still a family. Maybe my sister-in-law pushed for it. I know she said we would take the next one when someone else got married - just one more reason to avoid marriage!

(This aversion to pictures among the family is also why pretty much every adult picture we have of my brother contains his now ex-wife.)



I knew it would be a hard sell, but I thought we needed to take some new pictures for Mom's sake. We were getting together on Easter; let's just take a few. No one fought me too much, because we love Mom. There was still some feet dragging when the time came, but everyone pretty much cooperated. I can see where a professional would do better.

My favorite picture was not posed. I was getting Mom and Maria into position. Honestly, I was snapping to create a feeling of there being no point in resisting, so just smile and pose. This is not a good picture, and it is blurred, but I feel it captures something.


I did get a regular picture with Maria, but then Julie got in, and the old pictures that confuse Mom are of the three of them. We decided on this group shot. I like it.

 Julie took my picture. I was a little horrified about the size of my arm - is it really that big? (Some of that's the angle, but it is big now, isn't it?) Still, we have to keep going. This is for Mom.


Then came my biggest challenge.


"Can you smile more?"
"That will take a lot of work."

I started trying to tell jokes, but I was taking too long to set them up. If I had been capable of suddenly expelling any gas loudly - regardless of which end it came from - that would have done the trick. Of course, when he does laugh, he moves.


I probably spent too much time on that one. The battery was starting to get low, and Mom was getting a little tired of smiling - the downside of being the only one in every picture. Still, I kind of feel like this captures something too.


So that's my family: flawed, frustrating, and funny.


I can't rule out that we should do an actual portrait again at some point. My brother does intend to get married again, probably. If we do, do I trust the professional to be able to get him to smile? Do I make everyone eat a lot of fiber before we go? That poor photographer!

We'll work something out.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Seeing the good in myself


Being able to see the good in myself was fairly high up on the Wants list. I am happy to say I  have made progress there.

I am less happy to admit that I am not sure how it happened. I don't really remember working on it.

There have been two areas where I have noticed it. The more general one is that when I have failed to live up to my expectations and start beating myself up mentally, I have to stop; no I am not really stupid and a bad person. There are obstacles that aren't my fault. There are things that I do right. It's not that I don't still want to improve, but I am not a monster. Honestly, I'm not sure that vicious self-recrimination was ever particularly effective.

Also, a few weeks ago I had posted the What are you asking blog post, and I knew I needed to give some credit to Sid (the college friend I mention in it). I tagged him and he responded...

"Thank *you*, Gina! It's so flattering you would associate me with such an insightful piece. Thanks for years of friendship!"

My first thought was that it wasn't that insightful, but I hedged on my hedging. If he thought so, maybe it was.

We have been down this road before, where I think all the people I hung out with in college were so amazing, and then they say things back that sound as if I was also amazing. It becomes this very warm and grateful moment, but there has always been this question about whether they even remember how annoying I was. I mean, I was, right?

That has been part of a larger pattern where I have had great associations through school and church and neighborhoods, with people who seem to enjoy my company and appreciate me. Despite all the many kindnesses, I have always felt on some level that they were just being nice.

  • Yeah, but they would do that for anyone.
  • Yeah, but they don't know how I get sometimes.
Yeah, I am starting to see it doesn't work that way.

I do not know why I am feeling the difference now, rather than only trying to come at it mentally.

I know that I recently went through a round of checking on people who I have known to be at risk. Usually I just respond to things that I see, but sometimes I am more proactive, just in case. There were some good exchanges, and some people are doing a lot better. That would be affirming anyway, but I have read that when you attempt to build someone else's self-esteem up, yours gets built up as well. That could have had an effect.

Also, if my focus has been more on my weaknesses, it has been in more productive ways, with a focus on scrupulous honesty. Maybe I am just open to seeing everything now, good and bad.

Maybe it matters that the selfies helped me get over some of the rough areas with my personal appearance.

Otherwise, perhaps I should just view it as a miracle. I know my weaknesses, but they do not exclusively define me.

I am smart and caring and loyal and tenacious. I am strong. If I am not always successful in being good, I am nonetheless committed to being good, and for good reasons.

Sometimes things work out.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Band Review: Tantric


It wasn't actually Tantric that followed me, but bassist Scott Wilson. He does some bass-related merchandising on his own, so I am including his specific links at the end as well.

(And let me say, links are important, because the immediate search engine results for "tantric" focus heavily on sex and yoga.)

I had heard of Tantric before but never listened; I ended up really enjoying them. Singer Hugo Ferreira brings a layered richness to the vocals, blending warmth and pathos. I suspect I would have better ways of describing it if I were a coffee drinker.

The rock is generally straightforward and strong on guitar, but they incorporate some interesting departures as needed. There is effective use of more orchestral elements on "The One", and the intro to "Love Song" reminds me of Hendrix.

I especially appreciated "Mourning", and while covers of "Let It Be" are never necessary, theirs is good enough to justify itself.

It feels like they would be easily enjoyed by Alice In Chains fans, and possibly better for the couples among those fans. There is plenty of pain in their music, but not without the ability to enjoy love.

I suppose that's helpful if they want to live up to their name.




Scott Wilson


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Band Review: Midnight Kicks and Prophecy of Sound


I sometimes combine bands when I have more than one that isn't giving me a lot to work with. That is the case this week, but the ways in which the bands are lacking are very different.

Obviously every band needs to make their own decisions about priorities. My advice may not be needed or welcome, and I know that.

That being said, I have reviewed over 430 bands and still counting, so I have seen some things.

Midnight Kicks is a four-piece band from Chicago with a Twitter account and a Youtube channel. That channel has three covers.

One thing I can't do is fault their musical taste. They cover Green Day and Fall Out Boy. I am not familiar with the third band, Sugarcult, but I like their version of the song.

It is enough to give me an idea of their aesthetic and their playing ability. Based on that I find Midnight Kicks likable. However, the lack of any original songs is glaring.

To be fair, there is nothing wrong with hanging around and learning to play songs together. It looks like they are having fun. Playing mainly covers doesn't even have to be a weakness, because it could work well for booking dances and corporate gigs.

Still, when bands follow me on Twitter, I assume they are trying to build their fan base, with a purpose of either touring or selling music or something like that. If that is the eventual goal, it is probably better to get some more material online before starting to follow potential fans. A lack of material makes the contact more likely to be a dead end.

If Midnight Kicks only wants to share that they play music together and you can watch the videos, that's not completely unreasonable - it's just a good idea to be clear on goals as you get set up on social media.

The band's delivery is fun. They work with a low-tech setup - two acoustic guitars, bass (electric) and percussion via box - but that should be easily portable and they bring a good energy to it.



Prophecy of Sound has a completely different issue. They are ready to sell. Their sole Facebook link is for their store, and they have a CD you can buy or download via iTunes. There is simply no way of telling if it is worth buying.

Each video is only a promo. The Soundcloud files are promos. There does not appear to be any option for hearing a complete song before spending any money.

I completely understand concerns about giving everything away, and why some artists don't want to use Spotify. I do not accept that it makes sense to be this stingy.

Even if you don't have the budget for an actual music video, it should be possible to do a lyric video - or even a simple sound file with the cover art - for at least one song, ideally three. That way it can whet the appetite of potential buyers, and give them a reason to be invested emotionally before you expect them to invest financially.

There is one Youtube video that seems to have a short segment from each song on the album. That may seem adequate, but I have been fooled by brief clips of songs that sounded good before, later to find that the rest of the song was bad enough to ruin the segment that initially attracted me.

The moody vibe that comes through from the Prophesy of Sound samples may be something that leads to a great album, but it is not enough to act on.