Friday, August 18, 2017

Band Review: The Felix

The Felix began as a studio project for two lifelong friends in Manhattan.

That's what it sounds like. There are a lot of the synthesizers and remixing that you get with one person tooling around in the studio, and a moody style that is very young and sophisticated and Manhattan.

That sounds like criticism, but as The Felix is, it works. The music is perfectly pleasant to listen to, and the hook from "Coming Back" lingers. That lingering is helped by the band's eight tracks containing three versions of the song, but some of it is musical quality.

My main problem is that altogether none of it amounts to much. I listen, and it's fine, and other than remembering a refrain from a song I have now listened to at least eighteen times, it hasn't meant anything to me.

It does to them. Based on their write-up, these are songs about personal feelings, and creating with your friends is great. However, to recommend the music, I would need to hear more depth. For what I hear, I recommend them if you like house music that you can't dance to.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Band Review: Guilt Ritual

Guilt Ritual is a hardcore band from Western Massachusetts.

There is not a lot of personal information on them available -- some first names without which instrument they play -- but my understanding is that the Travis is Travis Guin, a Twitter connection. Although we did once casually agree to form a band together when I turned 50 (2022), I support his not waiting until then to make music. That's why I am reviewing Guilt Ritual.

It is easy for hardcore to end up feeling like an assault, but this is not a problem with Guilt Ritual. One way they succeed is by keeping tracks at punk-length; you can listen to the entire Cured of Life EP in just over eight minutes.

It does not hurt that the guitars are played very well. There is intensity and force and even darkness, but the journey is a short one and that keeps it invigorating instead of exhausting.

I'm not sure how that will work out in shows. A short set is desirable for a lot of opening bands, but there will have to be some sort of balance for longer gigs. The band is working on that now, with a some shows set for the fall and a new record coming out, so this is a great time to pay attention as a fan.

Or a participant. They are looking for a drummer. If you are a drummer in Massachusetts or Connecticut, it's something to think about.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Queen Sugar: Nova and Charley

One part in my letter to my brother and sisters was specifically about preparing for life. The neurologist, while acknowledging that diet and exercise can be helpful for our mother now, stressed that your level of cardiovascular fitness during middle age is more important. I shared that with them, and at least two are taking it to heart.

In a way, all of it is preparing for life; we will need to deal with these things because we will continue living. Our flaws will get in the way, and some of our strengths will help, though conflicting strengths could get in the way too. People can be so complicated.

That's why I want to talk about Charley and Nova, as portrayed by Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Rutina Wesley.

I have great compassion for Charley, but it is kind of an older, backward-looking compassion. It was painful watching her freak out when the machinery jammed, falling apart as she tried to clear it manually. It was a testament to how tightly wound she is too. Many people have acknowledged her need for perfection, thus her need for control, but it being on the table did not fix it right then.

The things I have liked about her the least have always been about her trying to stay in control of situations, but I also can't blame her. When you believe that everything has to be perfect and look perfect and that it's on you, how can you believe the people telling you that the jam is normal and temporary and not a big deal? Everything is a big deal!

It warmed my heart to see her wearing her hair a little more naturally in the most recent episode. That is a believable touch; not a huge change, pretty much an experiment, but still a slight letting go. I care about her character for all of that.

I am also past it. There are so many things that I have already let go in the name of openness, and I don't miss any appearances. She will still be strong and smart even when she no longer worries about perfection. She could even be more effective. She will certainly be happier. I want that for her, but I probably have more to learn from Nova.

I have been amazed at Nova's ability to help others. That has included her facility with the cards when Ernest was in the hospital and couldn't speak. She helped him communicate, and she sprung into it seamlessly. She is there for teenager prisoners and old ladies with health problems but no cars and new mothers and nephews. She is so good at it.

She also is kind of bad at relationships, and pulled $10,000 from the farm's account without giving anyone a heads up.

I understood her desperation to get Too Sweet out, and I have at times done something without asking because the answer was likely to be "no", but I could not have done that.

I've wondered if she could have asked Charley for the money. When Charley found out, Nova said she would get it back, and that should be true with a bail bond. Charley might have agreed, but it is hard to imagine Nova asking, thus allowing the possibility of "no". Is Charley the only control freak? Or is it not exactly that with Nova?

At first I thought maybe Nova's sense of responsibility to a greater cause made her not good at a personal life. Things I have heard about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Cesar Chavez made that seem like a real possibility.

If that were true, Chantal could have been a good match. They are both totally committed to causes, and initially it was fun. However, even at the very start when they were only agreeing to a phone call, my instinct was that it could never work, because Chantal was so pushy. It imposes a level of constriction that was never going to work.

Maybe Nova is better off being unattached, but Robert keeps popping back up. Is there room in her life for a relationship? If she would have to give up some of her pursuits for a relationship, would the relationship be worth it? And certainly giving up who she is as a person wouldn't be worth it, though giving up some of her service might be, except how much of her identity is made up of her service? I think she was more passionate with Gavin, but there were many more obstacles; can Robert be enough?

I relate to those questions. There are some that I haven't really had to answer before, and I probably can't answer now, but I still need the answers. I need to know myself well enough to answer honestly.

So while I in no way have the physical confidence of Nova (or those biceps!), she is the one I relate to best. She may be the one who can teach me the most.

Last week I wrote about how art helps (and hurts), and that's really what this week has been about too. I have been studying and learning and growing, but sometimes I need a new perspective, and that can come through art. Stopping and processing it every now and then is necessary.

I think I have written enough about Queen Sugar now. There are still many scenes and moments that have mattered. They may come out at other times, but I don't know. Many things come in, and not everything automatically goes out. Next week I may be back to writing about my insides, or the outside world might intrude. Things happen.

Two band reviews, one travel post, and one provident living post before I find out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A death in the family, via Queen Sugar

I am currently working on a pilot set at a small women's HCBU. A lot of the shows that I had been watching have concluded lately, and I realized that I wasn't watching any dramas. Past television viewing counts for something, but it is good to have some connection to what is current as well.

I had heard good things about Queen Sugar and was already a fan of Ava DuVernay, so that seemed like a good starting point. As luck would have it, all of the first season was being rerun right before the start of the second season. I set the DVR to record and started watching.

It is a well-written and performed drama in many ways, but it hit me harder because of where my life is right now.

If you haven't watched, Ernest Bordelon has some good land for growing sugar cane that he has not been able to farm for two season, largely due to financial issues. His death brings his three children together as they try to honor their inheritance.

(This is a gross oversimplification, but it gets you started.)

Initially I thought it might be about an ailing parent rather than a lost parent; when Ernest first collapsed I thought he was gone, and then when he was in the hospital I thought, okay, he can get better. Maybe it was foolish to hope.

From that point on, there were many things felt deeply while watching the siblings navigate the death. No one tried to hurt anyone, but they kept managing.

You might think going through the personal effects quickly is doing them a favor, but maybe one of them needs that experience as a way to connect and grieve. A family member with more money might want to handle the financial part, but not comprehend the need of the others to pay an equal share. There can be deep disagreements about how to manage the funeral. There can be deep disagreements about what to do with a shared inheritance.

For every time that they hurt each other, they supported each other too. When they stood together at the funeral home, and sat together at the funeral, there was strength and support and unity. One of the best parts of watching the show is watching them strengthen those connections.

Other things have come up. It recently came out that Ernest had also been working as a janitor, which he had not told his children. The timing, with when and how it hit, hurt. Nova picked up his effects, consisting of work gloves and a picture of Blue. That created an image of her father killing himself with overwork to support his grandson while his son was in jail. A new revelation about a second will hurt her while she was still processing that.

I won't say that the show is the only thing that helped me write to my siblings; my aunt's death and a visit with the neurologist influenced that too. I do think it was the show that made me feel the importance of communicating now the most.

We have our own flaws too, and no one has committed to anything, but at least they have been asked. What will be of most comfort to you? Is there anything you want to say to Mom or do with her now? Anything you want to ask? Are there personal items you know you will want?

It was also a chance to prevent surprises. I assumed everyone would know the financial realities, but that was an assumption. That information is out there now. With all of us around, our mother has had less opportunities for secrets, but there can still always be things that someone knows but not everyone has heard. Let's get that out in the open now.

I do know that one of my mother's worst fears before was that we wouldn't stay close after she was gone. As tempting as some aspects of that could be, it's probably not best. Not falling that way will require communication.

We don't have an Aunt Vi to push us to work things out. We'll have to make it work on our own.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The men and future men of Queen Sugar

I had already been planning on having multiple posts about Queen Sugar this week, and that one of them was going to be about the men. I just didn't think it would come first.

I relate more to the women. I could probably write a single post each for Charley and Nova, and there is a whole other post about family dynamics that is coming. Still, today we will focus on the men, and the boys, and the impressions and emotions that I have had with them.

I'm not writing about Remy, Prosper, and Hollywood. My love for them (especially Hollywood) is uncomplicated and pure.

It was first noticing the love that everyone else had for Blue that started to scare me. It would devastate so many people if something happened to him.

I started having those thoughts in the first season, but with the new credits for the second season, there is a scene of Blue running away from the camera, so happy and carefree, and this sense that it can't last.

That was when it flashed back to me what Nova had said about Too Sweet, the teen she was trying to get out of prison. He was only in there on trumped up charges and a lack of means for paying for bail. I don't have the exact quote, but she asked how many Black boys can get to be his age and still have the nickname "Too Sweet". There are too many things that happen to harden them.

I suppose it made sense that it was going to touch Micah first. He had grown up relatively sheltered, but I still saw over and over again that he feels things deeply and silently. It shows in the liquid eyes of Nicholas L. Ashe, but in those pauses where we read his feelings in his eyes, Micah has always stayed silent. When he was arrested and terrorized, of course he would not be able to talk about it.

When Micah did finally tell his story, it was the first time I have cared for Davis. Adultery is a sore spot for me, and I am not particularly fond of liars. I do believe that things like that affect the quality of love you can give.

Despite that, I had not doubted that Davis loved his son. To see it there in the physical tension in Timon Kyle Durrett's body - to see how badly he wanted to physically destroy someone for hurting his son - and to see the helplessness as he realized that all he could do was comfort Micah, yeah, I felt that.

That only really leaves Ralph Angel, as portrayed by Kofi Siriboe. He has been the hardest.

One of the first things we see him do is rob a store. We then immediately see him being tender with his son, Blue. We also quickly learn that he stole the money not because of a pressing need, but so he would have something to offer, first to his aunt, then to his father, neither of whom had asked for it.

Ralph Angel is wrong-headed a lot, and that is frustrating, but it has also struck me how broken down he has been, over and over.

Things go wrong so easily. Getting a warehouse job recommended by your parole officer should be a success story, until it results in getting cheated by being sold infected seed cane, and then being dragged into a stolen goods operation run out of the warehouse. Getting out of that involved getting physically beaten and fired. How can you stay too sweet?

When something goes right, Ralph Angel's smile is pure grace. For that I keep hoping that other things can work out.

Ralph Angel has been wrong-headed a lot, but he is also consistently caring and supportive of Blue. He is a loyal friend. He does love his family. He probably has the most to learn, but as he does learn it, his life gets better. The next lesson appears to be learning that someone can love and support you and still love and support others, and have other responsibilities. He will be better for knowing that. Learn what is real. Let the other stuff go.

I thought I would start with the family dynamics post - that was the aspect that struck me first and drew me in the most. Instead, Charlottesville happened. Raw emotion could lead many places, but one place I ended up was a discussion on Facebook trying to explain racism, and how it is not about feelings, but structure.

That is an important discussion to have (even if the only real result is getting told I am angry, wrong, and racist against white people). Racism is poorly understood, and taking down the systemic racist structure would eventually do a lot to fix the bad feelings, though doubtless with a lot of emotional turmoil on the way.

All of that is true, but the feelings do matter. It matters that the structure breaks hearts and spirits and kills hopes and dreams. You can't fix it by focusing on feelings alone, but the feelings do matter. The pain, and the chance to heal that pain, is why fighting the structure is so important.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Band Review: Sunsleeper

I like it when synchronicity comes into the blogging.

Recently I posted New Found Glory's "Head On Collision" for the song of the day, and saw many comments on the video crediting the song for naming the band All Time Low. That phrase is in the song, but it is also from David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes", which I had always thought was the source. (It seems to come up in multiple songs as a subversion of the concept of an all-time high.)

That happening may have caused me to pay more attention when I saw a Sunsleeper track called "Break or Bury", which sounds like a reference to Dashboard Confessional's "Hands Down".

I don't know that it is; "Hands Down" is famous for being Chris Carrabba's happy song, and "Break or Bury" is more of a downer. A connection is not impossible, because Sunsleeper refer to themselves as "emo".

Actually, they call themselves "emo rock", and there is a harder edge to the guitar than many of their forebears have used. The music is otherwise low-key and unpretentious, but with themes of loneliness and nostalgia (so pretty comfortably emo).

Perhaps none of this matters much, but it was interesting to get an emo band to review as I am going through a long stretch of daily songs from bands mentioned in Nothing Feels Good. (I started in March and it will probably go into October.) Even as I study its past, emo continues to have a future. That includes that Sunsleeper will pop up in the daily songs from reviewed bands after I finish the Nothing Feels Good  songes.

I also like that even though Sunsleeper is from Salt Lake City, their one official video - for Break or Bury" - contains some nice shots of Oregon's Multnomah Falls.

It just feels like everything is connected and it all works out. I suppose that attitude is more folk than emo, but there are Weezer and Jimmy Eat World songs that work for it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Band Review: Jeff Barbare

On first listening to Jeff Barbare, he sounds a little strange.

Based in Quebec, Barbare often sings in French. It is possible that - rather than him actually being strange - I could just be reacting to the different language, but I suspect it's a little of both. Barbare's style often sounds experimental and improvisational; "Dinosaur's Goulash" sounds especially unformed.

Despite that, there is often something inviting in the music, usually due to the funky bass lines and sometimes to the enthusiasm of the delivery. Based on those criteria, my favorites were "Jackie the Cat" and "Au Local".

I can't think of any specific bands where liking them would be a good indicator that you would be interested in Jeff Barbare, but if funky and weird sounds at all intriguing, you should check out Jeff the Barbarian.