Friday, August 17, 2018

Band Review: Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires is an Americana musician from Texas with a long career for her relatively young age. At 36, she has been playing professionally since the age of 15; more than half of her life.

I was not previously aware of her until hearing about some reviews for her new album, To the Sunset. Coming at this review with fresh eyes, it has been interesting to spend time on her four most recent solo albums, spanning from 2011 to today.

It is hard to imagine anything prettier than "Sloe Gin" and "Kudzu", from her 2011 album, Carrying Lightning. The songs are beautifully accented with violin, which Shires has been playing since ten.

Those songs are the ones I responded to the most while listening. I nonetheless appreciate an evolution over time as other styles and instruments have been incorporated. Guitar has become more pronounced - and more electric - over the course of the albums. To the Sunset's cover photo has a blurred and alien look. The opening track, "Parking Lot Pirouettes", starts with some distortion, and feels more plugged in than her earlier work. There is musical growth, which I appreciate.

There is still a continuity of feeling and heart, and a connection the past. "A Song for Leonard Cohen" is present, but knows its roots.

Shires has an interesting voice, resonant but also bird-like, somewhat reminiscent of Dolly Parton. Between that and violin and guitar, there are good combinations of melody and harmony.

There are several performances scheduled between now and September 30th, giving a good chance of catching Shires on the road. If that is not possible, it is certainly reasonable to check out To the Sunset, but it would be a shame to stop there. As an artist she has a lot to offer.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Band Review: Hightown Parade

Hightown Parade followed me last month. I am reviewing them earlier than I usually do, but that's how the schedule worked out.

There are currently only two songs available, but they are both really good. From the band's own description, one of the things they claim is "a vigorous dialogue between guitar and piano"- which is thoroughly established on "Choose".

Then you don't really hear the piano on "Silhouette". It doesn't need it because the guitars are fantastic, but comparing the two songs - and only having those two - makes you wonder where the band is going to go. Many good directions seem possible.

Overall I like the band's energy. It comes from all directions on instruments, but it is hard to overlook the intensity of Chris Payn on vocals. I get some flashes of a young Michael Hutchence, though I would not say that Hightown Parade sounds like INXS.

They do sound good, nonetheless, and worth keeping an ear on. They have several dates scheduled in England for November, available on the band's Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Honestly loved

A month and a half ago, someone told me he loved me and I told him that I loved him too.

There is a limit to the amount of detail I am going to give on that, but I will give some background.

We have known each other - without frequently being around each other - for five years. I was attracted to him but learned he was married so was mortified; both for not realizing it and then just for having the feelings. I worked really hard to get over that, and then when I could just like him as a person it was a relief. (He never knew any of that.)

Two fairly significant changes along the way included him getting divorced and my non-platonic feelings coming back hard. The latter had no influence on the former, but the former probably had something to do with the latter.

We happened to see each other twice within a few months, which never happens. The first time, although I did not confess love or anything like that, I did overshare and then felt really weird and stupid about that. In retrospect, I think the overshare - which was essentially admitting that my life is super hard right now - allowed him to also open up about his own problems, and that might be how we got to "I love you."

There is a lot that is up in the air there. We probably should have talked more that night, but it felt so heavy, and there was so much else going on, that there is still a lot to be said. There are a lot of obstacles, including but not limited to us both being at low points in our lives with lots of obligations and not lots of money and also about 2600 miles between us, so don't get too excited.

At the same time, I've had my fair share of euphoria with it. I can be doing many other things, mostly staying on track, but there is still a chorus of his name in my head. There is the memory of him saying "I love you." There is the concern sometimes that I said it back a little too immediately and adamantly. However, there is also the fact that as implausible as it was, when I was anticipating seeing him that night, among the many thoughts that went through my head was "You know, it's important for a lot of guys that they are first to say 'I love you', so you should let him go first." It hadn't seemed like an immediate need.

There is a lot to be figured out, and to think about, but what I want to say most at this point is really about me.

People who have been reading for a while know that I have really been trying to work on myself, and heal, and be better, and a lot of that has really started to come to fruition this year. I tend to believe that if the healing had not happened, then this could not have happened.

I don't mean to make any grand claims; I know that people with gaping holes in their self-esteem end up in relationships all the time, but I haven't. If me being open the last time that we saw each other allowed him to be open this time, I was only able to be open because of some of the things I'd worked through. And all of that progress is what allowed me to just reciprocate his love instead of possibly saying and definitely thinking "Why? Aren't you worried you can do better?"

(Which would be a terrible thing to say to someone you love who loves you, but it is a place that is mentally easy to go.)

My life started with a sense that there was something wrong with me, and at 14 it crystallized into understanding that I was fat and no one could ever love me, and especially if a boy seemed to love me it was a joke. I tried to compensate for that by being really good and helpful, but my main hope was that some day I would lose weight. None of the attempts worked, but I just wasn't good enough yet. Someday I would make it, and then I could have love and it would be okay. I loved people, but I kept my hope locked up and hidden, and repeatedly failed to lose weight.

At 31 I let my guard down and hope in, but I was wrong. The confirmation that the years of boxed up pain and fear were right made me want to die. Eventually I got to understand that was wrong, but believing it, and acting like it, was still really hard. It took me until 46. The real progress probably didn't start until 41, with depressed teen girls and the long reading list and My Chemical Romance. It's taken reading, and writing, and praying, and a year of selfies, and learning to let myself say "I hate" and be angry. All of that just to be able to say "I love".

I have had my fair share of doubts - "What if he just meant that he loved me as a friend?" And that would kind of suck, but it wouldn't break me the way the false hopes at 31 did. I am better now.

You cannot know how much it means to me that he told me he loved me in this state: broke, fat, and so utterly me. I have never been super cute, but I have been better looking than this. I have definitely been better off financially than this. The only thing to be into now is me. Somehow that is still worthy of being loved. I know it's right now too, though I still understand that not everyone gets it.

When I saw him in March, he asked me something that got me thinking, and I had some important realizations there. This time what he told me did too. Whatever happens from here, he has been good for me. I think I have been good for him. We could be friends.

And I don't want to be only friends; let's not have any lack of clarity there. But for while we are in this in between time, even if nothing else happens, I am happy that this happened. I love the euphoria, and I love the more practical realization of how much I have grown.

I am grateful for him. I am grateful for me. Soon I hope I can be grateful for us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My Twitter moment

Okay, it wasn't really my moment; I was just a part of the moment.

It started with a tweet in January from @_EmperorJustin_ (I don't know him): "Still haven’t forgiven Zooey Deschanel for what she did to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer."

It did get a fair amount of likes and retweets, and he pinned it, which may account for Joseph Gordon-Levitt seeing it and quote-tweeting it on August 6th:

"Watch it again. It’s mostly Tom’s fault. He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish. Luckily he grows by the end."

This resonated with a lot of people, but it is also something I had thought about a lot. I could see that Summer was being very insensitive and callous, but she had been honest about her intentions, and Tom was the one who'd said he was okay with casual. I added my two cents:

"It's true that he lied about being okay with casual, but I think a lot of people relate to that, hoping the other person will change their mind. It may be the realest thing in cinema that she doesn't."

That got a lot of traffic. To date it has 104 retweets and 2077 likes. That is huge for me. I think it was still around just 1000 likes when I got the Twitter moment notification.

For some perspective, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's tweet got 45000 retweets and 177000 likes, but also he has 4.2 million followers to my 1322 so the reach is completely different anyway. Part of what made it interesting for me is that I don't think there are any of my followers in those numbers. If they are, they are a small percentage. But that's the thing, the moment is about that thread and movie, not about me. (It is a bit about Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Currently there is a thing going on now where if someone has a tweet blow up, they will add a link to their Soundcloud, or if they don't have one, maybe they will promote a charity or something, because people are looking. I had just joked about that on July 30th, tweeting that I do have a Soundcloud but I wasn't sharing it yet because the protocol is to wait until a tweet goes viral. Ah, so this is what that feels like.

I still didn't share it. That is partly because I am not sure that the logic works out. Yes, a lot of people have looked at it, but by the time I realize it is happening it could be mostly over. If the momentum is still going, maybe more people will come, but them being interested in the one thing doesn't mean that it will carry over to other things.

(Also, at this time my Soundcloud has exactly three short songs that I did for the Music for Wellness class. At some point I hope to put up other things, but sending people there now is not likely to cause them to want to revisit it.)

What really made me interested in this moment - other than my normal tendency to notice something and be curious about various aspects (especially quantifiable things) - were the replies. I get that a lot of people relate to being more into someone, and hoping it will change; many likes were because of that. The other part, though, about how real it is that it doesn't work; that was more interesting. I didn't even realize how much I meant it until I typed it. That is not how we expect movies to work, especially when it's about a likable man in pursuit of his dream girl.

(A good reply from @_youngTenderoni has 865 likes and 14 retweets.)

There's a whole bunch there, including how dream girl sounds more natural than dream woman, yet man still sounds more right than boy. There are ways in which it might be perfect that the quintessential manic pixie dream girl herself, Zooey Deschanel, was cast as Summer.

For my own thoughts, I worried that forget the Soundcloud, I should post a clarification that I didn't endorse Tom's self-deception. I did not add any thing to it. That tweet did pretty well as was. I don't need to add anything to it, but I still wanted to blog about it.

What I am really left with in doing that is the importance of honesty in relationships, of course, but what is so necessary with that is to be honest with yourself. Tom certainly knew that he wanted a deeper relationship with Summer, but he also might have told himself that he would be okay with casual. It seems pretty clear that he did not stop to honestly assess how he would deal with the one-sidedness of the relationship. It allowed for great moments, and an awesome musical number, but there was also a lot of frustration and pain, and him being a real jerk on that other date.

It's not like it's off-brand of me to write about the need for introspection and honesty and really knowing yourself and then acting with integrity based on that. This still seems like a good chance to do it again. If you can know yourself and your needs and your limits, you can build a better relationship with someone else. If you can honestly know that the attraction you feel - no matter how intense - will not prevent some things from being miserable, then you can make honest choices about how to proceed. There can be less hurting of other people and less setting yourself up for pain. It doesn't mean there isn't going to be any pain, but it helps.

And tomorrow I shall write a little bit about where that has gotten me, not with all of the details but still with some juiciness.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Black Panther as political commentary

It was the giant vibranium deposit - from a meteorite - that allowed Wakanda to become so technologically advanced, but it was their geographical isolation that saved them from colonialism.

Hiding their advanced technology made sense as a way of keeping colonizers and others interested in exploitation out, but it had never occurred to me that their isolationism meant not interfering in the slave trade.

Honestly, that seemed to be more of a movie thing, as I believe in the comics the real technological advances did not come until the time of T'Chaka, T'Challa's father. Even if that can't be quite as long ago as WWII-era now (if you do the math), it would still be well after the Atlantic slave trade and most of colonialism. The movie implied that Wakanda had watched all of that and let it happen to remain protected, which at least for me gave kind of a sinking feeling. Still, you had a smaller and more recent example with Killmonger.

In the movie, T'Chaka's brother was in America, and was selling vibranium in order to fund Black liberation groups, putting Wakanda's privacy at risk. T'Chaka came to return N'Jobu to Wakanda, but he resisted and was killed. A young Eric (N'Jadaka) returned to find his father dead.

I suppose it is logical that this Killmonger would be against both the colonizers and the royal family. When dying, he asks to be placed in the Atlantic, along with those who did not survive the Middle Passage.

Understandable, but the path that has gotten him there has involved training with the CIA and sowing turmoil in many countries on the behalf of the government. His body is covered with scars commemorating his kills. His ultimate plan is destruction and chaos. After he takes the heart-shaped herb he demands that the rest of the herbs be destroyed. There is no plan of succession; a hallmark of fascist leaders. While he will gladly destroy many who have held back others of his race, there is no reason to believe that there is a plan for after that. It is ultimately nihilistic.

I can feel sympathy. His father's death was a great loss at an impressionable age. One of the things I hate most in the books is when Preyy (a leopard he has bonded with) dies. Killmonger had been on his way to something better, and it seemed like it could work until that relationship loss. No one doubts that he has suffered, but it has caused him to lose empathy instead of growing it.

(There is a good Atlantic article about this:

Unsurprisingly, this makes Black women his frequent targets, shooting, choking, and stabbing them, even the one who loved him. Mainly what I think of with him is that the master's tools cannot be used to destroy the master's house.

But for all his wrongness, it doesn't mean that the questions Killmonger raises are wrong. What is our responsibility to each other? How much do we put ourselves are risk to save others?

Sometimes those questions have difficult answers (though it is hard not to think that providing a home for the little boy they just orphaned could have been a good start). We have another example, though, with Nakia.

She is also against the isolation, but for her that means going and rescuing some kidnapped girls, and paying attention to a young boy among the kidnappers who may not be hardened yet. She starts with her knowledge and her abilities and goes to make a difference. She is also the one who rescues one heart-shaped herb, respecting tradition and hoping for the future while she does something concrete in the present.

It should be a completely obvious thing, but the world is turned upside down now, so maybe it isn't. Destruction needs to be healed, not amplified. Taking down tyranny can be fine, but has it ended misery, or are people still hungry, poor, and sick?

The traditional Masai greeting and response is an inquiry about children:

And how are the children?
All the children are well.

That can even be exchanged among childless people, because it's not about specific individuals, but that for things to be well, the children must be well.

To change what is wrong, that's a good starting place.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Band Review: Culture Abuse

This is my second band with a fuzzy sound this week. I would call it a coincidence, but both bands were recommendations, and the guys who recommended them have played together, so that probably makes it less surprising.

In this case, Culture Abuse was recommended by Gerard Way, but I remember seeing praise for their 2016 album Peach from many people (a sad reminder of how long some bands languish on the Recommended list).

Having listened, I totally get the praise for Peach. It starts in with an infectious energy on "Chinatown" (the band is based in San Francisco), moves right in to "Jealousy" - probably my favorite track - and stays strong all the way through a solid conclusion of "Yuckies" and "Heavy Love". Therefore it is not just that the individual songs are good, but also that the arrangement and the connections build well, something I always appreciate.

As good as Peach is, waiting to review Culture Abuse means that I can also include Bay Dream, which I believe is thematically stronger. Maybe it is just more personal.

The fuzz of the sound does make me think of some emo, but what it reminds me of most is punk. They would not be defined as punk based on tempo or reliance on a few simple chords. (At least I don't think so; my ear isn't really good enough to tell.) However, I feel a combination of sad subject matter becoming musically celebratory. Without being able to tell you that a single song sounds like the Ramones' "Beat On The Brat", that is what I think of: this sucks but we are all right. The need for that music never goes away.

I especially want to recommend "Calm E","Peace On Earth", and "Dave's Not Here (I Got the Stuff Man)", even though I think that last one is a drug reference.

I can really imagine fans of Weezer enjoying Culture Abuse, but also - and I'm probably only thinking it because of "Bluebird On My Shoulder" but that doesn't mean it's wrong - fans of They Might Be Giants.

Or, you know, fans of good music, but that's sort of unhelpfully broad.

Culture Abuse has tour dates starting September 7th. Check them out.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Band Review: Cooler

Cooler was recommended by James Dewees, whom I believe got to see them live in February.

The Buffalo-based indie-emo band has a 2016 EP called Phantom Phuzz, and that title may contain the essence of the band.

It's not just the use of distortion, though that is noticeable. It is also the way some songs trail off (especially on "Nostalgia"), and how sometimes things sound far away; there can be ghosts out there, and you may hear them in the songs.

That is not that the tracks sound particularly supernatural either. It is more a sense of past and memories and feelings that have been unresolved being pulled forward. There is pain, but it can be released.

I enjoyed the older tracks, but 2018's Buried EP is strong. I especially liked the title track and "Quadrillion". For Phantom Phuzz, "Metal Moths" is pretty cool.

One point of clarification: I was first directed to bass player Alley's Instagram, @coolermood, and initially thought that was the name. If you search on "cooler mood", you get led to a different Bandcamp page, for Philadelphia band Small Circle. (And hey, I might just end up reviewing them too, so it's not a problem, but the name of the band is this review is just Cooler.)

It's worth noting that while Buried  and Phantom Phuzz can be found in multiple sources, it looks like 1993 - with the pretty rocking "Stay" - is only available through Cooler's Bandcamp. Also, whenever I clicked play on an EP on Bandcamp, it would skip the first track, so click on the first track for complete listening.

That's all I've got! Relevant links are listed below.