Friday, May 29, 2015

Band Review: Dr. Something

Dr. Something is the solo project of Alison Dennis, whom you may also know from her work with The Piping Hot Love Engines, Coney Island Cartel, and All I Feel Is Yes, previously reviewed on this site under their former name, Hot Apparatus.

Alison is also a coworker, whom I know outside of music review. She once tweeted about a certain song title (the final track on Puppies Are Nature's Rainbows), with a word in it that garnered a lot of attention. I had to take exception, due to the profanity, but she assured me that it really raised the hit count.

I believed her, but having now listened to "Sh**splosion at the Lloyd Center Macy's " I have to say I am most impressed by the universality of the song. Not only has anyone who regularly rides public transportation had a time when the need for a bathroom was desperately urgent, but in this area the Lloyd Center Macy's is a prime destination for that, based on its accessibility and proximity to light rail. It has seen many a 'splosion.

There is a definite local flavor for Portland Metro Area residents, with frequent Tri-Met references, but the emotions and experiences are relatable outside of the region. Everybody can understand nausea, and unsatisfying relationships, and being reminded of art by something you see in nature, even if that does not always turn into a short biographical sketch of landscape artist Marvin Cone. Who wouldn't hear the title "Crying in a Cubicle" and not feel recognition?

(Possibly someone who has never worked in a cubicle, but my point stands.)

Obviously there is a sense of silliness that may come through in the titles. There is humor there, but a lot of it is simply because these songs incorporate the mundane in a way that corporate pop often chooses not to.

It's not unheard of - I distinctly remember Menudo having a song about the shopping mall - but the rhymes and lyrics were as cheesy and perfunctory as you'd expect. For Dr. Something, just because you are singing about the cat getting into your food is no reason not to add unexpected vocabulary or lilting rhythms. She will refer to something as Mahlerian and she will not be wrong.

The Dr. Something bio page refers to "silly folk pop". That's a pretty good description, but I will sum it up as beautiful and deeply strange.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Band Review: Tales Untold

After I reviewed This Good Robot, I had this nagging feeling that if my former classmate, sketch comic, actor, and DJ Ted Douglass were in a band, it would be that band. He agreed they were close, but really, it would be Tales Untold, with whom I was unfamiliar. That made it necessary to check them out.

They're really good.

This Portland, Oregon (via McMinnville) band list themselves as pop rock, but recently that implies a lack of substance; that is not a problem here. I detect a folk influence, which manifests as a mellow feeling. They are more pop than the Traveling Wilburys, and less classical than ELO, but I believe Jeff Lynne would like this group.

(And fans of This Good Robot probably would like them, but they might be a better fit with Science.)

I found thirteen tracks on ReverbNation. I found references to other songs that I could not locate, but the band was active at a time when digitizing everything wasn't happening. There may be a lot of music out there that isn't online, but "Going Out Tonight", the one track that seems to have a fan video on Youtube, is in fact on Reverb Nation.

It is also a really good tune, so I strongly recommend checking it out.

My favorite was probably "Too Good". Please note the way the guitar wails, and then how the different instruments layer together to build a rich sound. It can be easy to get caught up in the emotion and not notice the skill, but it's there.

They have a good selection overall. Some tracks, like "Sister Satellite" and "Matahari" sound more exotic, and faintly psychedelic. Many of the songs bring in additional instruments, "Circus Freak" brings in animal noises, and it does sound like the circus. Mainly, the songs just rock.

Overall, Tales Untold is a good find. Their page says they are back from hiatus, so this is a good time to catch up.

I could only find two active URLs for now.

Related links:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Becoming a writer

I disconnected from my body because I hated how it looked. I'm not recommending that; it's just what I did.

One thing that made it easier was finding that I had non-physical things going for me. I had been pretty sure that I was smart all along, but there were ways in which it did not seem to pay off.

I don't mean just that it doesn't make you popular, but I could see a lot of areas where smart wasn't enough. I could never think of good science fair projects. Through TAG we would get exposed to what at they time they called Olympics of the Mind and now (I believe due to trademark issues) call Odyssey of the Mind, but the things they did there baffled me. I have never needed to do an egg drop, which I feel is a lucky break because break is exactly what that egg would do.

Essentially, I knew answers to questions, but I had no practical applications. Fortunately, we got exposed to many types of endeavors, and at least one stuck. When I was going through old photos for the Throwback Thursdays, I found some other things that I had been holding onto, and almost forgotten.

In 1984 I entered a Saturday Academy writing contest, and did well.

Mainly this gave me a T-shirt, which I never wore, but it also gave me feedback.

"Your Alien story was a favorite of the judges for the way you used dialogue between Angie and her mother."

"We hope you continue to write funny and imaginative stories."

"I hope she keeps writing stories."

"Well written & easy to follow."

I hope I write better than a sixth grader now, but those are still some of the things I hear.

The next big coup was in 1987. When we were studying The Canterbury Tales, everyone had to write a sample prologue and five characters (we did not write any actual tales). Then one of each student's characters, and one prologue was chosen for a book. I can't remember if it was student votes or teacher selection. My prologue was chosen.

Looking back now I cringe at the awkward rhyme schemes, and the fascination with brand names that I gave my Yuppie character. I mean, she probably would have been into brand names, but I may have picked the wrong ones, or oversold how shallow she was, so there's that. I feel the same way about the prologue, actually, but everyone thought it was the best. That still feels kind of good.

That wasn't the only encouragement. I remember my English teacher the previous year, Mr. Cowles, was very encouraging. We had writing journals, and I would start new story ideas that would be all exciting, and then they would fizzle, because it was always rebellion but then when you get into the actual mechanics of revolution things fall apart. There were so many music videos with oppressive regimes that you fought by singing and dancing that this sort of plot was kind of inevitable until you get more life experience.

What he could see, though, was good invocation of a character or a mood, and that those skills can eventually go somewhere. And I remember him paying attention to other students too, and asking questions about where they were going to go with it, and I know I'm not the only one who still writes, so I'm grateful for that.

With writing I knew there was something I could do, and it was rewarding. It taught me things about myself. It still does.

Is it irrevocably linked to my nerdiness? It might be. When someone asks me about a new idea, I hear myself geeking out about it. I can't stop it, but I know I'm doing it.

That is how I became.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No more good pictures

I am not quite to the halfway point of my Throwback Thursday pictures:

The last good one was already posted. I'm not sure which that one is. The Santa one is okay, but the one in the Redwoods is not horrible. 

After that, from the 5th grade TAG picture forward, there is not a photo of me where I don't notice and hate how fat I look.

I know that's not necessarily what other people see. A lot of people liked the TAG picture. 

I liked my pictures before first grade. I thought I was cute. I wasn't positive, but people would respond positively to the curls sometimes, and I liked looking at old photos. After I started school, and was told that I was fat, I started being nervous about pictures. I wouldn't like new school pictures at first, but I could go back the next year and think it hadn't really been so bad.

After that, whether it was because the adultery had happened and that sent some shock waves through the family, or because other teasing had built up, or puberty gave me a reason to be more self-conscious, I don't like how I look in pictures ever.

The inner voice wonders why I tucked my shirt in, or why I wasn't wearing bangs to cover my enormous forehead, or marvels over how even my hands look fat. One of my older sister's friends made a beaver joke about my teeth many years ago, and even though my smile gets more compliments than any other physical attribute of mine, I think of myself as buck-toothed so sometimes my teeth bother me. Still, it's mostly the fat.

One thing I hate about the TAG picture is that it's where I really see the resemblance to one of my aunts. I have been told many times that I look like her. I do not find this flattering. But one thing I can see is that I am not relaxed. I am concentrating, but there is also that tension that became a thing any time there was a camera around because I am so ugly in pictures. So maybe my aunt's problem is just that she was never happy. I mean, there can be some satisfaction in looking down on other people, but it's not really joyful.

And for all of the lack of self-esteem and discomfort with photos, I wasn't unhappy all the time, but cameras make me unhappy. They still do.

Of course, that's why  I'm doing this. If I keep forcing myself to post the pictures as they become even fatter, I have to get used to that. When I transition to doing regular selfies, I will have to get used to that look. I mean, other people do not hate the way I look, though it could just be that they're less invested.

Anyway, here are some pictures that I didn't use, but thought about. I didn't want to use too many studio portraits because they seem kind of artificial.

I think this one kind of looks like the Gerber baby.

Actually, my understanding was that at the Wilsonville school parents could bring younger siblings on picture day and get packets for them too, and that's why we were able to keep up with the pictures pretty well.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sidetracked by a superhero

I should refer back to something else as a lead in. When I was writing about "Grimm", and when I was thinking about writing some spec scripts, I repeated that they always say that you shouldn't submit a script for the show you want to write for, but instead submit one for a similar show. I had seen that more than once, and the reasons given made sense.

In Showrunners, two of the people profiled ignored that advice. Maybe they had never heard it. Steven DeKnight submitted a spec script for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and ended up writing on several Joss Whedon shows before becoming the showrunner for "Spartacus". Ronald D. Moore sent a spec script for "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to "Star Trek: The Next Generation", and worked on that and "Deep Space 9" and "Voyager" and other things before reviving "Battlestar Galactica".

Perhaps if you are good enough at it you can ignore advice, and perhaps advice being repeated a few times doesn't make it good. I mention it because other advice I have seen is that you just write one thing at a time. If you get a great idea in the middle of something, you finish that something first before going after the next great idea.

I know other people ignore it. One of the television writers I follow, Akela Cooper, always seems to have six or seven writing projects going on. This is important, because even though I totally intend to be focused on screenwriting now, I am getting into a comic.

It's because of the MOOC.

Part of studying the history of the rise of superheroes in comic books is creating your own. I was having a hard time getting to it. First of all, the assignments are given via PowerPoint slides, and they only release one week's worth at a time, and I had to upgrade PowerPoint, and some of the slides are less than user-friendly. I do have that set up now. Then it was just a matter of a character I could live with.

There are several things that came together. One of the 6 page screenplays I wrote in October was for a comic I have in mind, with depressed teenagers who love music and start a band. When I was thinking about it I was thinking about my teens of course, and I wondered if I should bring in issues like eating disorders and self-harm and mental illness. It didn't feel right for that one, but it seemed like something I could do later.

Another source of inspiration was Gerard Way. He recently changed his Twitter handle to "Goth Claudia". The name stuck with me, like, "Yeah, I remember her." At least two of his friends have also changed to names apparently representing 1994 alternative selves, so that may be a thing. (Theme Park starts in 1994.)

So I was thinking about those things, but the person that was taking shape was more Emo than Goth, but that kind of led to her power. What if she could throw emotions at people? Take a bully and throw the anguish they are causing right back?

It's not that super a power. I mean, she won't defend the earth from an alien invasion. She might be able to interrupt a crime in progress, but mainly it would be a very personal thing, trying to help people.

I'm afraid this makes my work on her altar ego very lackluster, because she doesn't really need one. At this point, people aren't aware of what she is doing when she does it, and her scale is small. Teenagers hide so much anyway, a secret identity would be redundant.

I got concerned when we had to tie our hero to a mythic deity. Because of the Gerard Way song "Maya the Psychic", it totally made sense that Claudia would have Mayan ancestry on her mother's side (and that her mother had some psychic ability as well). Looking at the Mayan pantheon, the only good fit was Ixtab, the goddess of suicide. I don't want to make suicide an option. Too many teens look at that too much anyway. Claudia can't do it or glorify it. But in other ways it was a fit. She might not try it, but she's thought about it.

Ixtab ended up completing the look. She has a black mark on her cheek that represents decay. Claudia has a bruise that won't heal. The rope around Ixtab's neck becomes a necklace for Claudia. The bracelets Claudia wears are familiar to a lot of hurting girls.

I worry about how triggering this could be for some readers, but I also believe it can be helpful. Coming out of Family Ghosts, with Allison and Sarah they were both healing, and what I know from what's coming up is that they are going to become very powerful in different ways. They needed to heal first. For Claudia, it's finding her power that is going to help her heal.

It will change her. She will become more aware of other people, and that's going to lead to a desire to interact more and not be so withdrawn. Her nemesis will exploit that, but there will be growth.

I can see her getting to know her mother's family. Part of her problem is a lack of connection, but she does have a heritage and a history. Going to the Yucatan could be transformative for her.

We needed to specify her vulnerability - she is a teenage girl; she is all vulnerability. She will miscalculate how much she will affect someone and feel guilt over that. She will not always exercise good judgment. Her arch nemesis is a good looking teenage boy who took the same experimental medication, only he was abused instead of neglected so he is a sociopath. She is full of vulnerability! But that's not all there is to her.

So, I need to work on this. I believe I can work on both it and the screenplays that are coming up. Today I just did a sheet of dialogue that would be about three pages of panels. That gives her background right until her counselor recommends the pills. A page of script a day, plus drawing whatever is in the assignment, should be manageable.

I believe we will be drawing a confrontation with the nemesis for the last week. Frankly, she will lose their first one. I guess I should draw the last one instead. I'll have to see what it says.

For now I have only drawn one picture, but it's her. And I still feel like I draw like a 14 year old girl, and it's inadequate, but there's still something there. I recognize her. Claudia King. Code name Emo.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Band Review: Loose Logic

Loose Logic is a hip hop artist (Ian Westbrook) from Orange County.

I find him musically more interesting than most hip hop artists. Check out the intro to “Cali Dreamin’”, the keyboards on “Enemy”, and “Ava’s Song” in general for some good examples of that.

He also has something to say, with deeply personal songs about love lost because of that person’s self-destruction, and the changes made by having a child.

Those are points in his favor, but it also makes me more aware of how much is possible. Working through these issues feels like it should lead to somewhere higher, but I am bothered by the continuing drug references, the apparent lack of compassion for the lost love, and the frequent vulgarity, especially in “Shake That”.

That being said, those things may not be issues for other people, especially hip hop fans, because this is ultimately done well.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Band Review: The Orion Correlation

I have been thinking of The Orion Correlation as Hammy Havoc, but Hammy Havoc does multiple things, and The Orion Correlation is the musical side. I am including links for both to be more complete.

The Orion Correlation plays crossover electronic rock. Beats are catchy. The tracks are not strictly instrumental, but when there are words they tend to be simple and not the main focus.

I generally enjoyed listening. My favorite track was probably “Horns Of A Heart”, but the Divine Debris EP covers a fair range of sounds and plays well together.

There is also another EP featured on Soundcloud, Asplosion. While there are only two tracks, both are versions of something you have heard before. “When You’re Gone” is okay, but his version of “Moonlight Sonata” is one of those rare tracks that makes me want to commit violence. (It did not help that it was almost thirteen minutes long.)

I don’t love the original version, as I feel it hovers between boring and grating, but the electronic components really amplify the grating. I did listen to it my customary three times, and it never grew on me. So, if you love the original, it might be worth checking that track out, but otherwise I strongly recommend skipping it.

If you like electronica, you will probably really enjoy Divine Debris, and should check it out. It is available on Spotify as well.