Friday, November 29, 2013

Band Review: Bon-Bon and Buried By Tomorrow

As I indicated in an earlier post, I have been worried about this weekend, in terms of whether the reviews will really get read. For the Fourth of July weekend I made sure to write about British bands, thinking that it would be a normal day for their fans, and I think it worked out okay. This weekend I did the negative review, and I have two bands that I was not sure how to handle, so I am combining them. I became aware of both when they followed me on Twitter.


I have been holding off on reviewing Bon-Bon because she only had one song. Previously the minimum number of songs for any of the bands has been 3, with 5 being more common. I thought perhaps I could do a bunch of single song bands together, but she was sort of the only one. So, I thought I could do her today, and she suddenly added a second song on the 25th, which is getting some attention. I am sticking with the plan, but now I have doubts. I guess I can always return to her if there is suddenly more.

In the two songs on Soundcloud, there is a sort of a retro funk vibe, possibly some Amy Winehouse influence, but not as obviously indebted to the 60s. Technically "She Don't Want To Know" is listed as indie pop, and "Lois Lane" is listed as Lo-fi Pop. The accompaniment is interesting, but at times it seems to overpower the vocals, so could probably benefit from better mixes.

Buried By Tomorrow

Buried By Tomorrow had the usual five songs, and I listened to them some time ago, and then as I started the write-up, I discovered they had broken up. That week required some scrambling, but I still got two reviews in. I wasn't sure what to do about Buried though. It did not feel right to skip them, but was there a point in covering them. Therefore, they end up on today. Their EP Even The Dead Can Dream is still available on iTunes and Spotify.

Buried By Tomorrow was a hardcore/metalcore screamo from Quebec. They had some pretty good range to them, with a delicate instrumental in "Intro", and then moving right into the grows and aggression that is expected of screamo on "Every Smile Tells A Lie", but without completely losing melody.

It's not exactly my genre, and I am more aware now of how triggering their album cover can be than on my first round of listening, but I find myself disappointed that they are gone. I think there was some real potential there. I hope the individual members move on to other things.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Salome and Portland Opera

I'm afraid my criticism is more of the director, Christopher Mattaliano, but focusing on Salome, which I saw November 9th, will help me make my point.

My history with Portland Opera goes back pretty far. I remember reading a review for Rigoletto in the early '90s and really wanting to see it, but I couldn't afford tickets. When they produced it again shortly after I started working at Intel (this would have been '97 or '98), I could.

I went and I loved it. The music is amazing, I appreciated the sets and effects, and it was exciting to be a high culture event, Portland-style, where some people dress to the nines and some really don't. I ended up subscribing, and for a while I was subscribed to the opera, the ballet, and White Bird. After an amazing first season with White Bird, I started liking it progressively less, and gave up that subscription, but I stayed with the other two and was pretty satisfied.

In 2003, there was a great arts shakeup in Portland. Much was made of the fact that the symphony, ballet, and opera were all changing at the same time. Also, much was made of the new directors being Christopher Mattaliano for the opera and Christopher Stowell for the ballet, and okay, it was Carlos Kalmar for the symphony, but that's still a C-name, and also in 2000 Portland Center Stage got a new Artistic Director named Chris Coleman.

That was very interesting, but I didn't think of it as more than interesting, because I had never realized the impact of an artistic director. I started to notice it more with the ballet. I saw changes in the styles and even the physical types of the dancers. It went from reminding me very much of James Canfield to looking more like Stowell. I liked Canfield better. It wasn't that Stowell was bad at all, but he was not as compelling to me.

I don't go to the symphony or plays that often, so I don't have an opinion on their changes, but I really started to hate the opera.

It took a while. I would say that Mattaliano's first season looked very much like the previous director's last season. Yes, the first one would have been pretty much arranged by his predecessor (I can picture him, but I can't remember his name), but even the season after that still seemed pretty normal, but somehow less moving.

Things were colder and uglier. I blamed post-modernism. The voices always sounded good, but the staging did nothing for me, and I realized I could hear beautiful voices on the CD, and much more cheaply. I let that subscription go too. I never would have thought of it again, but I have a friend who loves opera, and can't find anyone else willing to go with her, so periodically she talks me into one, and each time I get more irritated with them. Salome was the worst.

I'd read the Oscar Wilde play that inspired Strauss years ago, so I had some familiarity with the characters and plot. That may have made some of the disappointment worse, but I would still have been pretty disappointed.

For the setting they chose revolutionary Cuba. I'm not sure correlates exactly with Jerusalem under Roman-installed Herodians, but that wasn't the problem.

One problem was Narraboth's knife. He is going to kill himself with this knife. Showing the knife can give some foreshadowing, but he was moving it around in the air as if he was mesmerized by it, when he is supposed to be mesmerized by the off-stage Salome. It was so over the top, like, "We get it! He has a knife!" It was as if they inverted Chekhov's gun - this is going to go off before the end, so we need to really fetishize it at the beginning, or the audience may be confused when he dies. How did that knife get there?

At least we knew what they were doing there. Two other things were more puzzling. The opening characters in the play are The Young Syrian and The Page of Herodias. The Young Syrian becomes Narraboth, and The Page just becomes Page. She looked like Honey from Doonesbury. China was going through some similar changes, but they are still two different countries. I suppose this could have been to make her appear more separate from Narraboth, but since he was the Syrian, it would have made more sense to make him look foreign. I don't think it made sense to make the page the fish out of water.

So that was off-putting, but then you see Herod in a coat with enormous sleeves that give him some trouble. I think this was to indicate that he was not up to his role, and as other characters mention how cowardly he is, and he does get himself in over his head later. I guess that makes sense, but with both of these issues, it is too distracting. Changing the setting, or details with costumes, or visual cues like that should enrich the performance without distracting from it.

One other change that kind of bothered me was that the page was female. I assume that would be a change that Strauss made, possibly to balance the vocal parts, or possibly due to unwillingness to have someone who was clearly homosexual. That was kind of important in the play though.

The page's love for the Syrian was not the key relationship in the play, but it was part of the overarching theme of unfulfilled longing and the destruction that it brings. Everyone wants something that they can't have. If they get their small desires, it only leads to more trouble.

The Syrian does get Salome to pay attention to him briefly, when she is trying to see Iokanaan, but she grows obsessed, he cannot bear it, and he kills himself. Salome wants to the Iokanaan, and does, but it stirs up things within her that she cannot bear, and leads to her own death. Herod wants to see Salome dance, and gets that, but then she requires something that terrifies him, and all his other desires for Salome end up crushed. You could argue that his desire for Herodias only brought him censure and a new coveting for his niece and stepdaughter.

Where the other characters seem at best foolish and at worst venal, the page in the play is the one character who seems able to see beyond his own desires. He is still tortured by them, and there is a feeling that it is harder it is not merely that his love is obsessed with someone else, but that his love would never even think of him that way, and he cannot even confess his love openly. Perhaps the page was a stand-in for Wilde himself, but he was the character that I felt the most for.

The gender switch may take away some of the anguish, but there is still a lot of anguish and fate and doom, and tortured, beautiful language, and that was the real problem with the Portland Opera performance. Salome is not opera buffa, but it felt like it, with the knife and the sleeves, and Salome's eventual death being by a lot of paper falling on her. I know effects can be hard, and Cuban soldiers don't carry shields like Roman soldiers, but still, it just looked silly, and it should not have been silly. And I haven't even mentioned the fake blood! I realize that on stage you have to make things bigger than you would on film, so it carries to the entire audience, but you can do that without descending into camp.

The potential was there. Soprano Kelly Cae Hogan really did a great job. You saw her make the emotional progression from an idle young girl only a little bothered by her creepy stepfather, to having new feelings stirring within her, to going crazy and cold. She hit all the right notes, on multiple levels. There was nothing silly about her, and I appreciate that, but it was just not enough.

After it was done they announced a Q&A session with Mattaliano, and I immediately thought of three questions. What were you thinking? Were drugs involved? Has a more avant-garde city made an offer for you yet?

The rest of the audience seemed to like it. They got the traditional standing ovation, which I know is kind of a cliche about Portland, and I usually think it's snobby to criticize that, but when the show feels that bad, I get it. At the same time, arts funding is going down in general. That could be largely a financial issue, because times have been hard, but a lot of the people who were supporters of the arts should be rebounded by now. It's a concern.

I love that Portland has opera, symphony, ballet, and theater, along with all the writers and rockers and artists. I don't mind that sometimes things are more modern. Under the previous regime there was one more off the wall selection each year, and that was okay. I didn't exactly like The Cunning Little Vixen, but I don't object to the idea of broadening the idea of what opera is, and the very modern staging made sense without being too distracting. The green neon circle represented the circle of life; okay.

I just think Mattaliano has really questionable taste, and when there are hard decisions to make about how to convey the meaning and the passion and the intensity of the story, that he stumbles over and over again. I thought The Flying Dutchman was hitting bottom, but I was wrong.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide For Grieving My Chemical Romance Fans

Despite the passage of time since the breakup, the fans' grief remains palpable. If you have loved ones among the afflicted, you may find that asking what they want produces the same answer over and over again: "For MCR to get back together!" (Do not be surprised if they incorporate the MCR cover of "All I Want For Christmas", or sob, or both.)

While the band members are working on various projects, not all of these are easily accessible as gifts, and there may be some feelings of 'Oh, I get it; you want to make music, you want to be in the studio, just not together!' Again, it has all been very emotional, but their music still lives, and music itself still lives. I've compiled a list of five albums released this year that may be enjoyable for the bereaved.

I have written about each of these bands at least once, but this is in the context of being for My Chemical Romance fans. Most of them should be available via Amazon, iTunes, and normal outlets, but I will indicate if there is a specific source.

Burials by AFI

This is an excellent band. While their sound and themes are not strictly similar to MCR, they are not incompatible either. There is a skill and depth and emotion, and they have so much already recorded that if the recipient responds well, they can spend a lot of time going over the catalog.

Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 recently (November 15th)  tweeted "Greater Than 84 on the new AFI album is my super jam. Please repeat it into my brain over and over ad infinitum." My two favorites were "A Deep Slow Panic" and "Heart Stops", but I had felt like "Greater Than 84" and "17 Crimes" might be more integral to the album, so I don't know. Uncle Mark is very wise.

Gold Tattoos by Farewell, My Love

Farewell, My Love is newer than AFI, but they are similar in that while they don't really sound like MCR, they work well with them. The band often mentions MCR in the list of those whose fans might appreciate them. They also mention Black Veil Brides, Falling In Reverse, and Get Scared. I can't vouch for any of those, but as an MCR fan, I like Farewell, My Love a lot.

Because this is a relatively young band, you can get in on the ground floor. The band follows followers on Twitter, and checks their mentions. They are pretty responsive. It is totally possible to meet them, and they will tell you to believe in yourself and follow your dreams.

Gold Tattoos brings in my favorite songs from the previous EPs, seems to be bringing everything together under a theme about the contents of a mysterious chest, and gives us a chance to hear drummer Chad Kowal sing on "Paper Forts". All the members are likable and charismatic and good, but I feel like the gooey-centered heart of the band is Kowal, and that track is really special to me.

No Country For Old Musicians by Reggie and the Full Effect

Yes, James Dewees has done keyboards for My Chemical Romance for years, and that might be reason enough, but also, he does have participation of other band members here. And the key attraction for a grieving fan on this album is not that you will hear some righteous guitars, see that the song features Toro or Iero (or both!), and think, "Yeah, that's what I'm talking about." That does happen, but I think the most comforting thing is the speaking voice of Frank Iero.

I have mentioned before that I find Ray's voice very soothing, but Frank has this kind of Zen quality that I'm not sure I fully appreciated until this album. You hear him on "Robo Fonzie Meets Frank" and "We Make a Breakfast", and there is something so guileless and positive about him, even as he is being called a Guido. There may be a pang, but there will be enjoyment too, and there is a lot to cheer up a sad person on this one.

On a side note, does "Guido" only mean Italian back East? I thought it specifically meant the orange and trashy ones, like "chav", and I know Frank's not a chav. Anyway, I know there has been a lot of Reggie this past week, but I think that's everything out of my system now, until February. Probably.

Exiled from Bear Country by Revenir

On my initial review of No Country, I was careful not to dwell on the connections between Dewees and My Chemical Romance, because every project should be able to stand on its own merits. I have carefully done the same with Revenir, but this is the time to talk about it.

Revenir drummer Matt Pelissier is the original drummer from My Chemical Romance. That has brought some fans to him, and that's good because Revenir is a great band. They are so approachable and accessible and just there for their fans. It has also brought him some harassment and stupidity, and he does not like talking about it.

So, I will make a few points. One, moving forward, and concentrating on the current projects, is appropriate and healthy. Two, there is no reason to hold it against anyone. I've been looking at a lot of bands over the past couple of years, and lineup changes are pretty common. Since these often happen with young (immature) males in the heady world of rock, there are often hurt feelings. It's still not reason to hold it against anyone. (And I say that as someone who does hold a grudge against Pedicone for stealing.) There is room in my heart for both bands, and I know I am not the only one.

(A third point could be 'Don't be stupid to bands or band members, but that will probably be its own post someday.)

Anyway, my point is that Revenir is a great band, and you should buy their record. They do not have a label yet, so may not be available everywhere, but you can buy Bear Country through Bandcamp:

Save Rock and Roll by Fall Out Boy

It is fairly common for MCR fans to also be FOB fans, and this album has been out the longest, so the odds are high that the fan you are shopping for already has this one. However, I could not exclude it. These two bands are friendly with each other, and Fall Out Boy is the band that knows how to get back together after years and side projects and will be able to offer helpful advice on the subject. Therefore, Patrick Stump's voice is the voice of hope. Maybe some of us have known that all along.

Honorable mention goes to the All-American Rejects. They are also friendly with MCR, and compatible, but people don't seem to make the connection in quite the same way that they do with Fall Out Boy. So, while their most current album, Kids In The Street, is already over a year old, this might be another option.

Happy Holidays and, as always, support your local record store!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Responsible writing

Recently a friend linked to an article that generated some discussion. It was about why they should not make a Wonder Woman movie. Most people did not want to agree, but they found his points interesting. I commented as well, and I said that I knew it sounded silly, but he used too many adjectives.

That was my overriding thought, so that was what I needed to post, but that was not the end of it for me, because I could not stop thinking about that. Okay, I don't tend to throw out a lot of adjectives, but if that's someone else's writing style, is it fair for me to criticize it?

It wasn't just adjectives either; there were other issues with language usage. It was the adjectives that stood out because the problem was that there was a lot of language for not much content, and then I understood. I'm kind of rusty on my rhetorical terms, but this is what I call bombardment.

The writer did not have a strong argument. I'm sure he thought he was right, but probably in the actual writing it started to fall apart, and there was an attempt to fortify by puffing up. It may not have been conscious.

Really, how it came across is that you shouldn't have a Wonder Woman movie because there is nothing to her. She is merely the token female, made sexy for the male gaze (she dresses trampy!) with all those curves, but then they will have some 90 lb waif play her, and no one is going to connect to the Greek mythology background, so that would just be a waste of money that you could use to make art films.

Okay, she is the Smurfette/Ms. Pac-man of the Justice League, who will be the wrong body type, and even if Thor makes it look like mythological backgrounds can be a part of a successful movie adaptation, Greek mythology is totally out (cough Percy Jackson cough Clash of the Titans). Wonder Woman is not needed both because she does not challenge the patriarchy and because the patriarchy will not allow the movie to be made in the right way, so they should use the money to make more movies like Fruitvale Station - like they did with the Green Lantern budget!

He is right on one point; it is completely possible that the studios would make a stupid movie. This happens frequently, even with good source material, but that's a reason to re-examine Hollywood, not to turn down specific source material. Wonder Woman has had her ups and downs, but there is a good character there, and the possibility of a good movie. My post isn't really about Wonder Woman though.

I use bombardment pretty frequently. When someone is sounding particularly bad - maybe suicidal, maybe just down on themselves - then sometimes that is the tack I will take. I will throw out so many compliments that they can't refute every single one. Or I will mix it up, with something about my own experiences, and how it can go for them, and reminders of good things, and then some affirmation. I do this because they are upset teenagers, and thus generally quite skilled at contradicting everything, but if I can slip in enough good things that they forget to refute every single one, the one left can grow.

We are using similar tactics, but I am careful to say only things that are true. Most would see right through it if I didn't, but more than that, lies don't help in the long run, and I am trying to do something good.

Getting back to yesterday, I think music is vitally important, but music journalism probably is not. The one Vice article was dated March 30th. The Reggie Kickstarter ended April 19th, over goal, and now the album is available and the tour is happening. This post will probably have no impact on whether or not a Wonder Woman movie happens. So, why do I let this bother me?

Part of it is that these techniques are used for writing about everything, including politics. There is a distressing amount of ignorance out there, and it would not be possible if people were committed to honesty. They may be some news outlets that work actively to mislead, but now you have other news outlets who feel it is not necessary to point lies out. Maybe only Chuck Todd said it, but the attitude seems to be spreading:

I believe that having good information is important for making good decisions, and I don't think there should be so many obstacles to getting it. This is a problem. That post calls it out as laziness and indifference. Those are problems, and they are bigger problems than they look.

For example, it really felt like the subtext to the Wonder Woman post was "Don't make that movie because girls have cooties." There are people who are bad misogynists and chauvinists, but there are also people who have unrealized cases of it, and when we don't examine how this plays out, it is perpetuated. We make movies with male heroes because females will watch the male, but not vice versa, and that sounds like dealing with the existing condition, but it is also casting that condition in concrete, with all of the accompanying ramifications.

Honesty is also important on a personal level, and it is more than just not consciously telling lies, but being committed to truth, and to not being lazy or apathetic. I suppose when Holden Caulfield rails against phonies, he has something like that in mind, but once he has labeled everyone else a phony, how accurately does he see anything? How trenchant does his own self-examination become?

With blogging, it can tend more toward journalism or more toward a diary, but both of those are areas where they are tarnished if they are not honest. Even with fiction, writing should be honest; in this situation, this is how things would go. This rings emotionally true. Fables and satires make up stories but they do it to illustrate truths.

Yesterday I read a post about someone who was leaving New York because of the wizards. It was fantasy, but it made true, relatable points. A few weeks ago there was a piece about someone feeling hostile to liberals, that conservatives were calling brilliant, but it was just using a straw man argument (I do know the proper term for that one), so it was feel good for them, but dishonest.

I will acknowledge that these articles have been valuable to me. That process of feeling that there is something wrong about them, and chasing that down, comes with insight. There are already lots of opportunities for that. Perhaps writers should focus on putting really good material into the world, and then we can do our soul-searching over politics or the environment or our families. That's actually what frustrates me the most about the media now - there are so many important and real things that they could work up a lather over, and they could mobilize people to make a real difference. That is not what's happening.

For my examples, I don't care that they have different tastes or opinions. Taste in music and books and movies is highly subjective, but that does not absolve the reviewer of the responsibility of being fair, even to the stuff he hates. I disapprove of meanness in general, but in this context I don't really care all that much. If the desire to be nasty is the reason that the content is so sloppy, that might make it a little worse. And, I do care that they don't respect the readers or themselves enough to think critically and write cleanly and actually do something valuable with their writing.

I don't know much about this side of things, though, so I am going to try it out. I was concerned about this week's band reviews, because with the holidays they might get ignored. Also, there is something (musical but not a band) that I have been hating. So, I will write a negative review on Thursday, and see how that feels. That way, none of my regular bands get a bad date, probably not many people will see the bad review, and I will truly be serving up a Thanksgiving turkey. Wednesday, though, will be once more about music, and will once more mention Reggie.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bad Music Writing

I had mentioned how some people get negative about crowdsourcing. Some of them make good points, and leave me with mixed feelings, thought the doubts are usually more about specific projects than the concept in general. However, there was one article that filled me with unalloyed hate. It was on

This was interesting to me, because the last article that filled me with hatred was also on Vice. Disliking music writing has been fairly consistent for me, but it is usually just vague irritation or maybe disgust. This was rage, and once again, I only knew about the article because the musician criticized mentioned it.

I will put links to related blog posts at the bottom, but the ones I am thinking of are long, and cover a lot of ground, so I will sum up. The first time, Brian Fallon tweeted a link to a Vice piece on the Gaslight Anthem that was vicious, but also where the facts did not track, and I was bothered by the lack of responsibility that came with the bile. The second article was so similar, that I initially thought it was the same writer. Allow to explain how it came about.

I had a Skype call with James Dewees because of the Kickstarter. Actually it was a Skype concert. I haven't done a concert review for that, but it was pretty cool. He asked me to choose three songs in advance. I knew two for sure ("Take Me Home Please" and "Mood 4 Luv"), but I was torn between "Get Well Soon" and "Congratulations Smack + Katy" for the third. I said he might know if one would be better for this type of performance.

He only replied with the time for the Skype call, so I did not know what to expect, but he had done a completely new arrangement of "Get Well Soon", and I thought, "Wow, he really did think about this."

So that was cool, and I mentioned a little last week about how good he was about the frequent Kickstarter updates, and all of the things that were good about following that, but then also we got to talk. I had questions about music, because of my emo research and the way "Summertime" has haunted me, and I was curious about the Kickstarter. As we were talking about that, he asked if I had seen the Vice article. I hadn't, and we didn't really focus on it, but I was curious and looked it up later. Behold rage number two:

There is just a lot wrong with it. Certainly the initial feeling is that you are criticizing something I like, and I take umbrage. And you know, maybe nastiness begets nastiness, because the author mentions being in a band himself at one point, and I remember thinking that the stench of his own failure was getting into his writing. This is perhaps unfair; he may have never really tried to go pro.

Again, it is written from a fairly uninformed point of view, but it leaves things vague enough that pointing at specific issues becomes difficult. The author doesn't know the music, but he throws in a crack about pensive girls with lip rings. It gives a negative impression, but with hardly any factual basis. He thinks he remembers girls like that wearing the shirts. How much does that even mean?

It is that general viewpoint of contempt,  throwing in words like sad-ass, when it is not particularly sad. There does seem to be some research specifically for the purpose of confirming the impression, but not for actually understanding it. I don't think restarting Reggie and the Full Effect is equivalent to restarting the career of James Dewees, because Dewees always seems to have multiple projects going on. He started writing the songs in Los Angeles, but for the Kickstarter he was in New York. I think that means he was still working for My Chemical Romance when he started on the concept. That's not exactly down-on-his-luck.

Initially I also thought he had the wrong numbers on Velvet Underground sales. The figure he gives is almost certainly wrong, but that's a hard number to nail down, so fine, but I think there are other points that are more important.

One is the complaint about the price, because it could be done so much more cheaply. Well, the MSI Kickstarter (which I also backed), was three times that much. (I remembered the amount, but I looked it up anyway, because I could.)

Yes, Dewees has made records for much less; I'm sure MSI could have made theirs for less. That's one thing about having been in the business for a long time and working on different scales though. They know better than anyone what they need to do to produce the record they have in mind, and how to get that done.

If someone has been part of the DIY movement at one point, why should they have to stay there? If someone has a label, but has creative differences with the label, and they don't have a contract forcing them to stay, should they stay just for tradition? Those are really stupid ideas, that don't show a lot of understanding about the artistic process, which seems like it could be valuable for someone who covers the arts, only they are not limited to that. Policastro has articles about sports, transportation, and the Boston bombing, and Pappalardo has a similar mix. Somehow that seems worse.

The best thing I have read on Vice was written very carefully. It was a piece on Corey Feldman's attempt to be Hugh Hefner, basically. It was very sad - tragic, really - and deserved mockery, but Feldman had final approval on the wording. It worked perfectly. The situation spoke for itself. Embellishment would probably have weakened it, possibly causing misplaced sympathy or distracting with inaccuracy. There might be a lesson there.

I know James Dewees is not losing any sleep over the article. I'm pretty sure Brian Fallon is doing okay too. I am bugged, and while I am bugged as a fan, I think I am bugged more as a writer. So, I'll be spending more time on that tomorrow.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Music Review: No Country For Old Musicians by Reggie and the Full Effect

Reggie is a ninja.

That was my first thought upon listening to his new release, No Country For Old Musicians. That was what I tweeted, and that will be the thesis statement around which this review is built.

A review does seem in order. I already did a general review in April, and I will see the concert, which should lead to a concert review, in February, so it could be overkill. However, the April review has been getting page hits lately, which I suspect is because of the new release, so there is interest. Also, I want to talk about it. I did the Kickstarter; I am invested in this!

So the first ninja thing about Reggie is something that I have kind of hit on before, in that while on the surface things are very silly, there is serious talent and skill and effort beneath. Because of this, he can catch you off guard. Yes, this is one musician (James Dewees) with a lot of friends playing around and having fun, which is great, but that is not all it is.

What this leads to is that maybe you are smiling and having a good time, and there is nothing wrong with that, but then you find yourself later singing about wizards throwing apples at you, without having expected that result.

Again, I am familiar with his work; I should know that it goes like that, but first you hear the song on one level, and then it hits you later - that is a perfect Run DMC beat; that was some pretty righteous shredding there, and those keyboards!

It was actually more impressive having followed along with the Kickstarter, because there were lots demos and previews, and yet with as much as was familiar, it still sounded so different. I remember the demo for "Sundae, Booty Sundae", but then hearing the polishing and refining that goes into it casts a new light on everything. It makes me appreciate the studio process more, and the process of moving from the conception of a song to the final presentation of a song more, but also there is Robo-Fonzie, and wondering what would happen if he met Henry Winkler.

There are those things sneaking up on you, but there is another stealth level as well, which is that there always seems to be something that packs an emotional punch as well. And sure, you would expect it to be "Disregard", because the title totally implies that it could go that way, and it has those haunting melodies. But no, the one that caught me, completely off guard, was "Kanji Tattoos...Still in Style???". It went right to my heart, and I did not know what hit me.

So you may think that when James Dewees is in black it is because of his musical roots, or practical considerations like how it is slimming and hides dirt, but maybe he's just a ninja.

No Country For Old Musicians is available through the usual spots, like Amazon and iTunes. Also, you can find tour dates at

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Band Review: All The Apparatus

I first became aware of All The Apparatus through their Kickstarter:
I can't remember who forwarded it to me, but it was probably Josh. Anyway, without knowing much about them, it was an interesting idea, and so I did kick in some. That is why, along with the CDs, I got the thank you note that made me tear up. It says...
"Gina, We are so grateful for your donation. We played to new crowds across the country and you made it possible! Love, All The Apparatus"
My overall role was pretty small, actually, but I appreciate that they appreciate it, and it does give me a sense of investment, and then I had their music available anyway, so why not review them in this special giving and crowdsourcing week?
I will say that there are probably ways in which they could have a more effective online presence. Their self-titled album is on Spotify, which can be helpful, but there are three potential Twitter accounts, and I think they are all legitimate. There is a main web site, and a Facebook page that are a little more informative, though I don't think either has a complete listing of events, as I thought I saw that they were playing Pirate Fest somewhere else, and I cannot confirm it via either site.
My first impression was that they remind me a little of the Polyphonic Spree. Some of that is the larger size of the ensemble, and a wider range of instruments. They would not necessarily be included in the list of old-timey bands ( but there are some similarities.
In addition, there is that mix of whimsy and exuberance, where album art may involve giant robotic cats, sea creatures, and Portland landmarks, but where it will also veer into darker territory. Often the darker songs are kind of light as well, but personally I have a really bad reaction to "Hat Trick", though that may be largely related to the memories it triggers of things I have read.
"Hat Trick" aside, most of it is very easy to listen to. "The Wolf Song" and "The Aeronaut" are especially lovely, and I like the Portlandian spirit of "Let's Go Ride Bikes". "Pancho Villa" is pretty funky, and then a lot of it feels more aligned with folk.
They very much have their own thing going on, and that is great. They could probably be more efficient in terms of promotion, but if that's not a priority, that works too.
Music is available via their main web site and iTunes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


A week ago I showed off my collection of T-shirts, some of which have come from crowdsourcing participation, but that is not all I get.

Sometimes there are stickers, patches, CDs, books, and comics. And there are many things that don't get photographed easily, like downloads, Skype calls, and having your name on a shirt worn by an ultramarathon runner.
I have seen more criticism of crowdsourcing than of the Rolling Jubilee, perhaps because it is better known. I will write more about one of those criticisms Monday, but my experiences have been very positive.
My first experience came through Indie Go Go, with a fundraiser for Dear White People. I liked the trailer they already had, I appreciated what they were trying to do, and I had just gotten a bonus. Combine that with the chance to have a character in the movie named after me, and I could not resist.

I don't know how prevalent it had been before, but I suddenly started seeing projects everywhere. I have participated in two others via Indie Go Go, and at least one through Go Fund Me, but the bulk have definitely been through Kickstarter.
What struck me most the first time is that this is a way to make dreams come true. In the arts it can be really hard to get funding, because so much of the industry wants guaranteed returns. Well, in this case you are often getting guaranteed returns. Part of the Mindless Self Indulgence Kickstarter was the recording process and manufacturing for their new album. Many of the participation levels involved getting that album. It provides the audience while demonstrating its existence.
So I could see the practical aspects right away, and I could also understand the concerns that some people who should be able to find funding in other ways were taking away from those with less options.
I do get that, and plenty of people have written about why it is horrible that the Veronica Mars movie or Zach Braff or James Franco should turn to Kickstarter. I'm not sure I have anything to add there. The ethics and merits of each individual project may not be exactly equivalent to other similar ones.
Ability to complete the project is an important consideration. Right now, if I started a drive to fund my first movie, I would not get enough participation, and honestly that would be fair because I do not have enough experience to even adequately calculate how much money I would need for it, or take that amount and use it effectively. I know one drive that shorted himself on funds for distributing the pledge perks, but is making it work. There is a lot that goes into a successful campaign.
However, I still keep loving the results, over and over again. What I did not realize until later was the sense of involvement and ownership that comes from being a backer. The perks are nice, but those campaigns that use the updates well build a sense of community and anticipation and pride even. This thing that I have helped fund is awesome, and I am glad it is happening, and glad that I took part. Two of my most touching souvenirs are not regular perks, but I have a thank you card that came with a CD, and a Halloween card that came - well technically it was part of a perk that I  had not chosen, but I had paid extra and he upgraded me, but there's this gratitude thing going on, and I'm sentimental.

One of the books showing, Life Begins At Incorporation, by Matt Bors, is not actually one that I participated in. I think I learned about the project after it was done. But I have bought the book, and enjoyed it, and it exists because of crowdsourcing. 
If it is not obvious, I lean towards the creative projects, but it is more than just art. The ultramarathon was a fundraiser for a program that uses a race to improve relations between local people and lions in the Ewaso Nyiro ecosystem in Kenya. There is creative thinking in there, even if it is not art.
Again, this is not something that is tax-deductible; this is not charity. And yet, it can still provide that warm feeling, depending on the project. There is a wide range.
It's a good way of giving.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Rolling Jubilee

I should probably clarify something from yesterday; I did not have anything against the Batkid story. It hit me in a way that was more intellectual than emotional, which I would not necessarily have expected for that kind of story. I feel like some of the thoughts that came from that were productive, though, so I think it worked out.
Where we are going with that this week focuses on that bit about people still being pretty okay with giving to sick kids, but maybe not to others. Today I have seen this:
There is another article with a subtext of judging the poor, which I think I will sit on for a while, and just go right to talking about Strike Debt.
I first became aware of Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee last year. Rolling Jubilee started on November 15th, actually, so we have just hit the anniversary.
The sites are worth visiting, but basically they pay off bad debts.
I had not really known about this, but when companies think that they cannot collect on a debt, they will sell off the accounts, for pennies on the dollar. The new owners can then work on collecting the debt. If they are successful, they have made a profit, minus the costs of collections.
There is also association with the Anonymous movement, and a desire to change the system overall. Purchasing this debt, and then canceling it, is working within the system, but there is talk of working against the system too.
It would be easy to look down on this. After all, people should have to pay for what they get, and honor the responsibilities they take one. I actually do know a family that lived above their means via consumer debt and then planned to declare bankruptcy to get out of it. I don't know whether they were able to do so successfully, because a judge still has to approve that, and it's not as easy as it looks, but yes, I know there are people like that. That is not all I know.
I also know that medical bills are the biggest cause of US bankruptcies. You can decide not to get that new television pretty easily, but deciding not to get chemo, or insulin, or that broken leg set is a much more difficult choice:
I know that during my personal economic downturn, with a lot of moving things around, and some help from family and church, and every temp job I could get, I only had one month where I could not pay a credit card bill. Since the overall period ran from September 2008 through August 2010, that was pretty good, really, but I was still suddenly getting eleven calls a day.
And, these are not bankruptcies anyway. These are accounts that are late, and the collection calls are coming. For me that was an amazingly demoralizing time, and what makes it amazing is that all those negative responses and missing responses to all of those job applications had delivered a pretty heavy blow to the morale anyway, but it had not, in fact, reached rock bottom yet, because the collection calls still sent it further down.
You can have a reasonable debate about what is wrong with the system and how to fix it. In this current arrangement, we have the original lenders losing most of their investment, the debtors still being pursued, and third parties profiting off of all of that misery.
What I am struck by is the beauty of the rolling jubilee. You get nothing in return for donating - it's not even a tax write-off - but someone, somewhere is freed. A weight has been lifted. That is grace. It is not a coincidence that there is a biblical reference in the name, or that the Bible is against usury.
With $633,180 they have abolished $14,734,569.87 of debt. Instead of harassing calls, there are letters letting them know that they are free, because strangers cared and had kind hearts.
That is beautiful. That is so good.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Some thoughts on Batkid

I was not initially as moved by the Batkid story as most people. I wasn't against it, and I am grateful that I have not seen a lot of people snarking on it or criticizing it. Somehow I just ended up being more analytical about it than emotional. It could have just been the day.
My first thought was some amazement at how much they put into it for one person. Normally you would expect something like a ride in the Batmobile, or a visit from Christian Bale in character, or something like that. Someone got extra creative, and got buy-in, probably with some snowball effect happening, and then it becomes a thing.
And I quickly realized it was not just a thing for one person. You can have it turn so big because so many people wanted to participate, and those people are thrilled to be participating. That's a good memory for them. Then it goes viral, and other people smile and get choked up and care, and that's a good thing for them. It looks like it is something that will also help other children:
So here we have people coming together, and kindness, and inspiration. I think one reason there hasn't been a lot of criticism is because the recipient of all this effort is a sick child, and that's a fairly safe area. Otherwise, it is more common to see things like this:
Well, there's actually lots of examples of people being heartless, and I don't want to get mired in that. Instead I want to make two related points.
One is that kindness makes us feel good, and it makes other people feel good. Even very small acts of consideration can have a big effect, and lead to gratitude and other kindness. That's the way to go.
And the related point is that there are a lot of opportunities. We're getting into the holidays. There was just a typhoon, and tornadoes, and a mine collapse. And yes, there are points we could make about global warming now, and industry regulations and the economy, and they can wait. There are also points we could make about how inspiring comic books can be, and that will probably happen too.
For now, just take a look around you and see what you have to contribute to the world.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Band Review: Sail By The Stars

Sail By The Stars was actually up for review two weeks ago, and I realized it sounded so similar to the other band Jocelyn, that the reviews would bleed too much into each other, so I bumped Sail By The Stars out. I didn't notice until this week that Sail By The Stars also has a song that echoes a musical phrase found in "Love Drunk" (Boys Like Girls). Clearly, I made the right decision in separating them.
(In this case, the phrase pops up in "April Showers Bring May Flowers".)
That being said, listening to them two weeks apart, they sound fairly different. Sail By The Stars does not veer into country at all. It is the solo project of Josh K, and he describes it as sunny pop/rock. That sounds about right. Often acoustic, there is a little bit of a folk feel at times, but very much via pop, with songs based on relationships.
I don't know that I would have come up with "sunny" on my own, because there is often a plaintive feeling, but the tone is generally optimistic, and always earnest. I think fans of Owl City would appreciate the music.
The primary shortcoming is a sense of sameness from one song to another, with similar subject matter and vocal patterns. Part of this may be a natural result of the band consisting of a single person. There may be some similarities to Dashboard Confessional too, actually, but Sail By The Stars is definitely more sunny than that.
Music is available via iTunes.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Band Review: Coming

I love doing band reviews, but have been a bit frustrated with myself lately in how often I apologize in the review, or at least feel like I should apologize, for not knowing enough to do a better job. I am in the same boat here.
Coming opened up the AFI show, but by the time I got to the venue they were already done. I felt bad about that, so I went to their merch table and although I originally only intended to buy the cassette, they had a deal for getting that and the vinyl. I am not able to play it, but both had download codes, so I think I have their entire discography on my computer now, and that is pretty much all I have to go on.
Coming just doesn't seem to have much of a web presence. The download site is for multiple bands, and a search found one site that appears to run off Tumblr. I did not find any Twitter or Facebook.
And, judging a band solely by their music is pretty reasonable anyway, but I would feel more confident if I had seen them live, and I like being able to refer interested readers to more on the band. You can definitely buy Lonely and Destructure digitally through Bandcamp, so that's a start.
They're worth checking out. There is definitely an aggressive edge to their music, and that includes the vocals, which are at least reminiscent of "screamo", but it feels like there is a greater variety of musical influences. Sometimes that means there is a funky bass line on the intro, like with "Swallow". It doesn't dominate, but there are elements to the guitar sounds in "Pure" and "Thoughts" that reminds me of early rock, like Dick Dale or Link Wray. Then you have "Headcase", which starts with a very basic drum intro and throws in some guitar that feels very unique and modern that I do not know how to describe.
That is just Destructure, but you get a similar mix on Lonely. There are some tracks that seem to have some retro elements without sounding old-fashioned, like "Slip" and "Repeat", and then "Lonely" starts with a basic drum track and becomes something that sounds like nothing else. I feel like "Slip" is reminding me of something I can't put my finger one, but that has some interesting sounds too.
So, as is normal, I feel like I am not saying enough, and can only repeat that they are worth checking out. And I know they would not be to everyone's taste, but still, they are worth checking out.