Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
10. Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free
My relationship with Akron/Family is back and forth. With 2007's Love Is Simple, I fell in love with the spastic freak folk that fell in and out of chaotic improvisation. I looked into their back catalog, the phenomenal split with the Angels of Light, especially "Raising the Sparks," ignited a small obsession with this band. In 2009, I saw them at All Tomorrow's Parties as a three-piece, a big change from the 7-piece supergroup I saw at the Andy Warhol museum the year before. With Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, the group loses a lot of the magic of their previous albums. The percussive intro of "Everyone Is Guilty" shows promise, but the following tracks drift toward yawn-worthy territory. "River" has flashes of brilliance and then there are three tracks that lack any sort of surprise. Of course this album wouldn't be on this list if it weren't for tracks like "Gravelly Mountains of the Moon," almost 8 minutes of elaborate Akron/Family greatness. It begins with a crescendo of flute and french horn that builds into chaotic guitar feedback and lyrical harmony that made songs like "Raising the Sparks" so good. After this obvious centerpiece, it's hard to get excited until the final three tracks. "They Will Appear" has the contagious singalong ending that is hard to shake, followed by "Sun Will Shine" and "Last Year," the build up and the denouement ending, respectively. Though I love this band still, I feel like about half of this album could have been cut. Still, I look forward to whatever territory they're heading into next.
9. A Place To Bury Strangers - Exploding Head
Little did I know what I was getting myself into moving into Death By Audio. I had not even listened to A Place to Bury Strangers beforehand, but was instantly absorbed into the wall-of-sound lifestyle perpetuated by Oliver Ackerman and his custom-designed guitar pedals. With names like "Total Sonic Annihilation" and "Fuzz War," the pedals almost describe the feel of Ackerman's live show: epileptic lighting accentuated by massive amounts of fog, overwhelming ear-shattering guitar, projections of television static, and a pulsing drum and bass to drive each song. "Keep Slipping Away" could probably be the radio single, with its catchy riff and vocal line, but I think the best song on this album is the dark "Ego Death," loaded with enough noise to be a viable advertisement for Death By Audio guitar pedals.
8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors has one of the most unique voices and guitar styles I've ever heard. On his earlier work, he showcases these almost inaccessible time signatures and warbling that verges on annoyingly shrill. With Bitte Orca, it's hard to think he hasn't compromised for a more mainstream sound. Still, "Temecula Sunrise" doesn't subscribe to 4/4 time, and "The Bride" drifts around a steady tempo before breaking into a solid chorus, so they've stayed relatively true to form. Of course, this is before the Nico-influenced "Two Doves" ("These Days," anyone?) or the superb call-and-response of "Remade Horizon." Longstreth's trio of female vocal accompaniment has always added a refreshing alternative to his sometimes grating voice, and they show their full potential here. The stellar "Stillness Is The Move" is almost a Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera pop-diva single. Seeing it live, with Amber Coffman stealing the show away from Longstreth and showcasing an unbelievable vocal range, was jaw-dropping.
7. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
I've had a long relationship with The Flaming Lips, and like a long girlfriend, we've had great times and rough patches. The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots were the good old days. Psychedelic rock with catchy melodies, live shows with balloons and confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne in a giant hampster ball. It was too good to be true. Then came Zaireeka, which was a valiant attempt at something interesting. Then, as other bands entered my life, and the Lips released At War With The Mystics, I was almost certain our time together had come to an end. The hampster ball was old news, Coyne was recycling music, and they were playing "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" live, as if it were on par with "Do You Realize?"
Then came Embryonic, and like a romantic weekend together, the Lips and I were rekindled. Buried in fuzz and overprocessed drums, Coyne comes at his music from a different angle. It's like every song was recorded at max volume through iPod headphones but still retains the majesty of Coyne's voice. "Convinced of the Hex" and "See The Leaves" prod along like a 1970's Can album. Then there are spastic instrumental tracks like "Aquarius Sabotage" and "Scorpio Sword." Of course, with 18 tracks, there are a few that fall short. But by the time we get to "Watching the Planets," coupled with its shocking almost-porn music video, we know the Lips have outdone themselves yet again.
6. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
As a drummer, I was never a big fan of bands that keep the drummer subdued. I like loud, raw drumming that is in the foreground and as unprocessed as possible. Maybe that's why it took a long time for me to like Grizzly Bear. The slow tempo and mellow vocals started out as "working music" or "going to sleep music," and then I slowly, slowly started to really like this band. Veckatimest has a few really great songs. I don't think I have to talk too much about "Two Weeks" or "While You Wait For The Others," both amazing standout tracks that have received almost too much praise this year. I think the album closer "Foreground" made this album for me, a simple piano melody with a subtle bass drum. Or maybe it was the chaotic end of "I Live With You," or the bass-driven "Southern Point." If the whole album were as consistent as these tracks, this could be a viable #1 album of the year. I think there are still too many points where I just yawned and shrugged.
5. Jeff the Brotherhood - Heavy Days
"This will be your new favorite band," I was told when I moved into Death By Audio. Jeff the Brotherhood, by name and birth parents, are a guitar and drum duo from Nashville. With only three guitar strings and a three-piece drum kit, these guys manage to put on one of the most rocking live shows I've ever seen. Influenced by 1960's garage rock, Heavy Days is raw, catchy, and loud. The title track fades in with the sound of a swarm of bees and breaks down into an instrumental chorus full of crunchy guitar and syncopated drums. Sticking with the theme, "Heavy Damage" is a singalong that encourages the crowd to learn the words "I got so much to do/ Can't even talk to you/ Gotta go do a thing now baby/ We can hang out next week maybe." There's even a ballad ("The Tropics") and an instrumental complete with a metal breakdown ("Heavy Krishna"). The poppy "Bone Jam" would be almost cheesy if the lyrics weren't "I'm gonna grind your bones to make my bread." Closing the album is "Mind Ride," a slow, sludge-metal track that suddenly warps into double speed and repeats itself before catapulting into an ending smothered in wah-pedal glory. Catch this band live if you have the chance.
4. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
On the other end of the spectrum is Bill Callahan, or Smog, however you want to refer to him. He's been under the radar for quite some time. Monotone and short, he is almost talking more than he is singing. Still, he is never off-key, and he floats his baritone voice over beautiful compositions of orchestral strings and acoustic guitars. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle opens with "Jim Cain,"as Callahan states "I started out in search of ordinary things" and how he "started telling the story without knowing the end." The dark "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" starts out bitterly before morphing into a nonsensical chorus full of made-up words. "The Wind and the Dove" alters beautifully between major and minor chords while "Too Many Birds" is a simple 1-4-5-minor6 progression. Over both of these tracks, Callahan is singing about what he sees. As with much of the album, the songs are descriptive and mostly about observation of nothing in particular. The closer "Faith/Void" has a stroke of insight, as Callahan repeats, "It's time to put God away" in an atheistic anthem. If Callahan has accepted the fact that the void exists, maybe he's just become content singing about birds and trees. I'm perfectly fine with that.
3. Woods - Songs of Shame
Surprise, Brooklyn again. Woods have perfected a very specific sound: their entire folk band and creepy high-pitched vocals of frontman Jeremy Earl are recorded with super lo-fi equipment. It's to the extent that the band sings through old radio microphones when they play live. Earl sounds like he's singing into a tin can. The drums are barely audible, and occasionally a distorted guitar appears out of nowhere, strikingly louder than the rest of the instruments. It was so striking that I originally thought Death By Audio was testing out pedals the first time I played this album. Haunting melodies on "The Number" and "Down This Road" sound like eerie campfire songs, while the low fi rendition of Graham Nash's "Military Madness" bounces along like a 1940's transistor radio hit. "Rain On" is one of the best tracks on the album, a spiteful anthem showcasing the vocal range of Earl, his high-pitched melodies reminiscent of Neil Young. I think this album is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with this band.
2. Antlers - Hospice
Brooklyn's Antlers, fronted by beautiful lyricist Peter Silberman, were introduced to me by my roommate April back in February. Their third album Hospice tells the tale of a man meeting a bone cancer patient at a clinic, then falling in love with her, and eventually watching her die. "Kettering" starts the tale, as Silberman almost whispers the description of the hospital room and the hopelessness of the situation. His voice trembles as he says "I didn't believe them when they said there was no saving you." This album isn't all quiet, as "Sylvia" follows with an explosive waltz, a call for compromise, to "let me do my job." The metaphorical "Bear" is my favorite track, comparing the cancer to something that's "living inside your stomach" and has been "kicking from within." The wavering chorus alters between "We're too old" and "We're not old at all," a perfect description of facing death at an early age.
"Two" dates back to childhood, spending youth in a cancer ward and not eating. It follows Peter and Sylvia as they move to New York and are abandoned by their friends. It has the most optimistic chord progression with probably the most depressing lyrics. With Sylvia's death in "Shiva," the aftermath of "Wake" showcases Peter's depression in a depressing 8 minute anthem. As the melody from "Kettering" comes back in "Epilogue," we can feel the pain of the funeral, waking up alone, and the lasting memories of the hospital. Beautiful, depressing, almost too painful because it's true. Hospice is a masterpiece of 2009.
1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
Surprise! This album stands miles above the rest of 2009, a landmark for Animal Collective and a culmination of their entire careers, from Brian Wilson-esque lyrics to layered samples, to insane time signatures. Combine this with live shows utilizing giant projection orbs and huge sets involving a flowing ocean with sharks and tiki heads and you have one of the most innovative and creative bands of our time. I can't say anything about Merriweather Post Pavillion that hasn't already been said. Just listen to "In The Flowers" at about 2:30 and "you'd smile and say I like this song." The album doesn't let up, either. There's the catchy chorus of "My Girls," the driving pulse of "Summertime Clothes" and the 5/4 (I think?) verse of "Daily Routine" which gives way to a draaawwwnn-out lyrical ending. When seen live, this culminates into fifteen minutes of brilliant crescendos and cymbal crashes, a majestic centerpiece to the album.
Merriweather Post Pavillion could almost be viewed as our generations' Pet Sounds, the layered instrumentation and vocal harmonies that dubbed Brian Wilson the genius of his time has been modernized. Samples, both digital and analog, combine with reverb-heavy vocals to make a beautiful, layered masterpiece. This is miles away from the low-key abstract folk of Sung Tongs that brought Animal Collective their initial acclaim, and many will say they've catered their sound to a mainstream audience, but with progression comes change. Instead of recycling this style, they've managed to build upon it with each album. Finally, everything has fallen into place with an accessible album that doesn't compromise originality. Isn't that the most important thing?
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Rarely is there an artist buried in his own niche that is able to achieve commercial success in any genre. Someone that can enchant children and terrify adults. His films range from Batman and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Nightmare Before Christmas and Mars Attacks!. He's had tear-jerkers (Big Fish), biographies (Ed Wood), and musicals (Sweeny Todd). At only 51, Tim Burton already solidified himself as one of the most visionary, imaginative, and horrifying directors of all time.
His work is on display at the Museum of Modern Art from November 18th to April 26th. In addition to half a floor dedicated to his early sketches and short films, all of Burton's films, in addition to all of his influences, are playing during that same timeframe in the MOMA theatre.
I recently visited the museum for the exhibit and was blown away by the amount of early sketches on display. There were doodles from grade school, high school poetry, and his early short films he made with his friends. There were children's books, storyboards, and even a version of Hansel and Gretel playing in its entirety. Many of the sculptures on display were of monsters he had created in some of his sketches. Some of them were smaller than action figures, while others stretched across the room. Most had multiple eyeballs and a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. Everywhere we looked were tentacles.
From his films, we saw storyboards, sketches of characters, and even props used in the film. Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands towered above the props with footlong blades for fingers. In a glass container lay the straight razors from a recent throat-slicing barber film. The headless horseman's cape from Sleepy Hollow was draped over a far wall, ten feet tall.
Though we had been in the exhibit for quite some time, I felt like I could have absorbed much more. Instead, we decided to stroll through the rest of the MOMA, stumbling upon The Persistence of Memory, The Three Musicians, Starry Night, Christina's World, and Sleeping Gypsy. I was also introduced to a few great artists like Gustav Klimt and Sol LeWitt. On the top floor, there was an exhibit called Bauhaus, centered around a German design school. I think I'll go back and revisit this one, since it was almost as enthralling as Burton.
If you plan to visit New York and are looking for something to do, the Burton exhibit is on display until April. Get tickets in advance, because it's going to be crowded. Try to pick a day that's not the weekend, I'm sure it will be easier to walk around. And hell, if you're looking for someone to go with, contact me. I'd go see this again.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I recently received my Brompton bicycle from my place of employment. For those of you unfamiliar with the bike, it is a 16" wheeled folding bike. This video accurately describes the bike:
I had mixed feelings about this at first, but after the Thanksgiving excursion in Wilkes-Barre, I'm sold on the idea. It is not as fast as my beloved road bike, but for travel purposes it really can't be beat. I threw it underneath the bus and rode back to Wilkes-Barre. In my hometown, the aspect of riding a bicycle long distances (like my house to Wilkes-Barre) seemed unheard of in the past. Yet, I found myself traversing this distance almost every day of my holiday. Despite objections from motorists and even a stop at 3 a.m. by the police, I was overjoyed that I was finally able to get around my hometown without a car. This was probably the first time I came back from a holiday visit to my hometown without feeling bloated and lazy. I actually managed to get some exercise. Since I doubt I'll ever be able to find a replacement for my beloved Nissan Altima, and the idea of owning a car and paying for gas and insurance is not really desirable at this point in time, a bike will be serving as my main form of transportation. I look forward to biking the shit out of other cities and traveling a lot more with this bike.
Thanksgiving with the relatives was nice. Got to catch up with cousins and aunts and uncles. There was a huge feast, as usual. Much later, I got to partake in the vegan Thanksgiving with friends. Lots of jazz and wine and good homemade food. Got to talk to a lot of old friends and meet a handful of new ones. Between Common People Wednesday night in Wilkes-Barre and Panksgiving! Thursday night in Scranton, I think I managed to cover all bases in a little under three days.
You know, though I probably wouldn't go back and live there, I like visiting northeast PA on the holidays. There will always be a place in my heart for Wilkes-Barre.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
(I took the pictures down, for the courtesy of Brendan's artistic vision, but I'll post the final video when it's done editing.)
As awesome as this set looks, I'm more excited for the finished product and future endeavors by Brendan. We watched his 2009 Student Academy Award Winning film, Bohemibot, a futuristic sci-fi story about a man that loses his wife and child, as well as his hands, in a totalitarian takeover. Working in a sort of concentration camp in space, he copes with the absolute helplessness of this lifestyle and the grief of losing his family. When he meets a child prisoner sentenced to death, he works out a method of escape. Here is the trailer:
The music video will be for the song "Keep Slipping Away" off of Exploding Head. I can't wait to see the final video.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
This weekend in New York City was the CMJ Festival. The College Music Journal is a publication for the music industry and college radio stations, and their festival is one of the biggest industry-oriented events of the year, spanning across venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Basically, next to South By Southwest in Austin, TX, CMJ is where bands make their mark with the music industry, journalists, and record labels.
With all of the commotion going on this weekend, it was hard to pick and choose which shows were worth attending. Instead of planning out specific shows to attend, I decided to just roll with whatever was blowing through Death By Audio in a hurricane of activity. Out of Nashville, Infinity Cat Records was having a showcase on Friday night. Their headliner? Jeff The Brotherhood.
Two brothers from Nashville, Jeff plays a blend of psychedelic garage rock, similar to The Wipers or Sonic Youth. I make an effort to see them every time they come to New York, and every time it is an amazing show. This time, they played in the basement of the Charleston on Bedford Ave.
As a grungy basement with low ceilings and poor ventilation, the Charleston was the perfect venue for the Brotherhood. Packed in well past capacity, the crowd swelled with the music, almost overtaking the band. The low ceilings were attractive for crowd surfing, and almost twenty people watched the band from this vantage point, clinging to the ceiling pipes.
With all of the music happening this weekend, I'm sure there were other amazing shows and other amazing bands. In my opinion, Jeff the Brotherhood was the band to see at the 2009 CMJ festival. With 7 shows over the course of three days, I'm sure they'll get the press they deserve.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
My friend Joe, a PSU alumni and cameraman, has enlisted my help with a 24-hour film project. At 10 pm on Friday night, they receive a concept. They must write, cast, shoot, and edit a film to submit by 10 pm Saturday night. I'm in charge of the music.
For the last few years, a hobby of mine has been to score films. Since I tend to write things that around 30 seconds long, repetitive, and layered with different instruments, incidental music for films was always a perfect match for what I was doing. In an equally spur-of-the-moment recording session, I took "jealousy" (the only word we were given to work with) and wrote a bunch of rushed and kind of sloppy tunes and sent them over. At the end of everything, this stuff came out kind of interesting. Even when recording through a glove:
Shootout in the Wild West
Looking for Clues with a Magnifying Lens
Waiting On the Elevator
Once I get a copy of the video, I'll post the final version here. We'll see what happens.
Monday, October 12, 2009
It has been about two months since I first heard about the High Line, an old railroad that runs above ground on the west side of Manhattan. Overgrown and unused, it has been converted into a public park running from Gansevoort St. in the Meatpacking District (around 11th St.) up to 20th St. in Chelsea. The park opened in June, 2009. I finally got to visit it this past Friday, and have since walked the entire length of the public park three times. The walking path was installed in the center of the raised rail, and the benches were built right on the tracks. In places where the rail overlooks 10th Avenue, you can actually sit right over the road in front of a glass window.
While this is definitely a tourist trap (we were prohibited from entering a few locations on Sunday since they reached capacity, and waited about 5-10 minutes when we found a legit entrance), this is definitely worth checking out. It's an innovative idea, and transforms an unused industrial wasteland into a beautiful walking path with a great view of the Hudson River and most of lower Manhattan.
If you're looking for a relaxing activity in New York that is both free and full of photo ops - definitely visit the High Line park.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Everyone seems to be getting really excited for the upcoming Roland Emmerich movie 2012.
This movie bothers me on many, many levels. First of all, the limited knowledge I have about the prophecy of "2012" is not of global annihilation, but the end of an era of human consciousness and the beginning of a new era. It's a mass shift in thinking, and from what I can see, it may be away from materialistic and monetary values and toward human values and community. Goals that are driven by happiness and helping others rather than money and fame.
But enough about that, the real problem with this movie is Roland Emmerich's track record. Give Michael Bay some credit, even he doesn't have such a terrible line of movies:
By far the best movie Emmerich has made. Aliens invade. They destroy famous landmarks like the capital building and the Washington Monument. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum fight them off. Most memorable quote: "Welcome to Earth." I may be biased since I can't stand Will Smith's sense of humor, but this one is actually tolerable. Since it won the Oscar for best visual effects, this may have fueled Emmerich's "artform" of making a movie solely based on special effects and lacking any sort of plot.
HOLY SHIT THIS IS A BAD MOVIE. Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno take on gigantic lizard as it attacks Manhattan. Tanks and helicopters are decimated by said fire-breathing lizard. Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page capitalize with hit single "Come With Me." Creators of original Japanese Godzilla roll in their graves
Mel Gibson, enraged over the death of his son, leads an army of farmers and peasants to overthrow the king in 13th century Scotland....er 18th century colonial America. What's the difference? This is practically a remake of Braveheart. I've only seen an hour of this movie, but it was enough to get the point across.
The Day After Tomorrow
I will go on the record saying this movie is the worst movie I have ever seen. Every natural disaster teams up to finally take down the world as Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhall battle hurricanes, hail storms, floods, tornadoes, and infectious viruses. I wrote papers in college about how bad this movie is. A cruise liner sails through Manhattan. Wolves hunt the characters in a scene almost identical to the raptors in the kitchen from Jurassic Park. They run from the frost, as if it travels in a straight line, chasing them through the city and into buildings. The plot is SO horrible, I vowed to never watch another Emmerich film again.
I think the main focus is, don't be fooled by the media hype. 2012 is probably going to be a painfully terrible movie. Roland Emmerich should cease directing and stick to special effects.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
The new album is awesome. If this limited edition clear vinyl isn't enough reason to catch these guys on their U.S. tour, the music on it certainly is. A Place To Bury Strangers leaves tomorrow, and if you want to see an amazingly loud band, check them out at one of the following venues:
Oct 4 2009 8:00P
Johnny Brenda’s with Darker My Love & All The Saints Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Oct 5 2009 8:00P
DC9 with Darker My Love & All The Saints Washington, DC, Washington DC
Oct 6 2009 8:00P
Local 506 with Darker My Love & All The Saints Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Oct 7 2009 8:00P
Drunken Unicorn with Darker My Love & All The Saints Atlanta, Georgia
Oct 8 2009 8:30P
Club Downunder with Darker My Love & All The Saints Tallahassee, Florida
Oct 9 2009 8:00P
One Eyed Jacks with Darker My Love & All The Saints New Orleans, Louisiana
Oct 10 2009 8:00P
The Lounge on Elm St. with Darker My Love & All The Saints Dallas, Texas
Oct 11 2009 5:00P
In Store Performance @ Waterloo Records Austin, Texas
Oct 11 2009 8:00P
The Mohawk with Darker My Love & All The Saints Austin, Texas
Oct 13 2009 8:00P
Plush with Darker My Love & All The Saints Tucson, Arizona
Oct 15 2009 8:00P
The Casbah with Darker My Love & All The Saints San Diego, California
Oct 16 2009 8:00P
Echo with Darker My Love & All The Saints Los Angeles, California
Oct 17 2009 8:00P
The Independent with These Are Powers & All The Saints San Francisco, California
Oct 18 2009 8:00P
Doug Fir Lounge with These Are Powers & All The Saints Portland, Oregon
Oct 19 2009 8:00P
Crocodile Cafe with These Are Powers & All The Saints Seattle, Washington
Oct 20 2009 8:00P
Biltmore Cabaret with These Are Powers & All The Saints Vancouver, British
Oct 22 2009 8:00P
Urban Lounge with All The Saints & Laserfang Salt Lake, Utah
Oct 23 2009 8:00P
Larimer Lounge with All The Saints & Lion Sized Denver, Colorado
Oct 24 2009 8:00P
Record Bar with All the Saints and The Feverbell Kansas City, MO, Missouri
Oct 25 2009 8:00P
Firebird with All The Saints & Stella Mora St Louis, Missouri
Oct 26 2009 8:00P
Double Door with Dead Confederate & All The Saints Chicago, Illinois
Oct 27 2009 8:00P
The Mod Club with Dead Confederate & All The Saints Toronto, Ontario
Oct 28 2009 8:00P
Il Motore with Dead Confederate & All The Saints Montreal, Quebec
Oct 29 2009 8:00P
Bowery Ballroom with Dead Confederate & All The Saints New York, New York
Oct 30 2009 8:00P
Middle East with Dead Confederate & All The Saints Boston, Massachusetts
Friday, October 2, 2009
I think a lot about getting a serious job, one that I am motivated to do. I'm just terrified about the prospect of long-term commitment. I can't imagine rooting myself into a company right now. There's too many places to see and different environments to live in. I need a long-term personal project that can travel with me. Something I can work on constantly and be motivated to pour my heart into. I've had a few of those feelings throughout my life, and it's hard to pinpoint them, and what makes each one exciting.
The first and most obvious would be music. The reason I switched from chemical engineering in college to electrical engineering was based around music. I needed to know the science and technology behind music. Hell, I needed to know EVERYTHING about music. I learned to read music. I learned to play the saxophone, drums, guitar, and keyboard. I know major and minor scales and intervals. I know jazz and blues progressions. I can conduct a marching band in a few different time signatures. I learned to identify frequencies of notes. I can manipulate sine waves with Fourier Transforms. I learned how to fabricate sounds using resistors and chips. I can build a lowpass filter using equations. I can run a sound board for a live band. I know how to wire a stage. I know how a Shure SM57 microphone differs from a Neumann U87 microphone. I know how to record in ProTools and Logic Pro. I pretty much studied music composition, music performance, electrical engineering, sound design, audio recording, and live sound. The problem is, I didn't study any one area extensively. I got a sprinkling of everything.
So when do I really get excited about music? I can't say wiring a stage and running sound is very much fun. Playing the drums is a damn good time, especially when I can just beat the shit out of them and throw things into the crowd like I used to do. I've never had a more thrilling experience than playing drums in a band. It's the performance, the audience, the intensity, and the emotion all rolled into one. In high school, I was in the drama club. I had an obsession with performance. Even in college, every party I threw was sort of related to a performance. Setting the scene for an audience, themes, moods. I fucking loved it. In high school, every live show was different. We adamantly put on the best show we possibly could every single time. But at that time, playing in a band seemed like something that was done in high school, and then you “grew up.” Since that point, I haven't experienced that level of motivation and commitment to anything. I think this is part of the problem.
Okay, let's say playing live music isn't going to happen for the moment. Where else can I throw my energy? I'd say living at Death By Audio helped my trickle of interest in circuit-building into a formidable stream of activity. I'm building things I really only dreamed of before: amps, drum triggers, sequencers, oscillators. In college, these seemed very much out of reach. Something you created when you had years of experience in electronics. Seeing this self-built, self-taught collective of musicians run this business and design their own successful pedals is surreal. It's the perfect gasoline for the fire. I've just got to channel this random cloud of ideas into a freight train of action and I'll start pumping out creations. Of course, this doesn't really generate any money and it's more of a personal hobby than a profession.
What about math? I freaking LOVED math in high school. Physics, chemistry, calculus, bring it on. The challenge involved with math was what I needed. Puzzles that constantly needed solving. I got really excited about math. I'd say it was the mental equivalent of the physicality of drumming. I think I realized the difference between a theoretical school subject and the real world application of it during my second year of college. I had been balancing organic chemistry equations with glee for a year before I had to sit in a lab and use the actual chemicals. I realized there is no profession that just lets you solve math equations all day. You actually have to have some sort of real world application. So who gives a shit.
I'm a compulsive writer. I can find sparks of flair in my writing, especially if it's about a passionate subject. I can sincerely write my feelings with conviction and excitement. When I try to force things, however, it turns out really cheesy. Combined with this Kerouac-ian tendency to log my life's events, I've developed a sort of vague idea that I'm going to write a novel. Will it be about Wilkes-Barre? Will it be about New York? Maybe I'll just keep writing these essays and vignettes until I can publish my autobiography in a 1000 page tome.
I guess if I could get a job making lists I'd be content. I'll do that shit regardless. Top 20 albums of the year. Top 10 Quentin Tarantino movies. Top 5 sandwiches at the corner deli. I can't think of a single career where this is useful. Neither is my ability to memorize lists of up to 200 items. A professional list maker doesn't sound very exciting anyway. This is more of a bad habit than a useful trade.
I think a lot about the point of life and what people should be motivated to do. Growing up, I used to think it was about having lots of money or becoming famous. Then I thought it should be to just do something that makes you happy. Then I thought you should do something that makes other people happy. Then I thought I should try to change the world. Then I thought I should try to reach a deeper spiritual level within myself. Now I don't know what to think. The one thing I know is, I don't want to do nothing. I don't want to live a life of television watching or video game playing. I want to live my own life, not be entertained by someone else's. I'd rather produce than consume. I think a majority of our generation need to step up and renounce the lazy lifestyle we've drifted into. We have such vast knowledge and access to information that the possibilities are endless. It's an exciting time to be alive, and I'd rather spend it working toward a motivated goal than doing a repetitive, monotonous task.
That said, where do I stand? Maybe it's just more logical to not work with a company. With other creative musicians or electrical engineers, I feel like I could create something amazing. Will you provide me with an outlet to work on my passions? Will I have a reason to wake up in the morning, excited to come to the office and get started on a project? Will I go in early and stay late, just because I'd rather be working there than socializing? If the answer to any of these is 'no,' then maybe I wouldn't be a good fit for your company.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
In response to Pitchfork's Top 200 Albums of the Decade list, I have started to cultivate my own 100 albums. Unlike Pitchfork, however, I'm going to wait until the decade is actually over. Who knows what can happen in the final three months?
As a precursor to this list, I'm going to highlight a few albums that were staples in my adolescent life. I played these on my way to high school, with the windows down, and the CD's became scratched mementos of my life in the Wyoming Valley, Cafe Metropolis, the vista, and late nights at Denny's.
Bedford - Smiles Are The Batteries (1998)
The band that got me into local music. The band that would eventually become An Albatross. A Bedford show was something to look forward to a week in advance. My first band covered "Those Kneepads" when we were all learning our instruments. Lyrics to "Stay Stay Stay" and "The Sound and the Fury" were passed around study halls and drama club rehearsals. The one band that everyone in Wilkes-Barre loved, they were guaranteed to bring out a bigger crowd than almost any touring band. Smiles Are The Batteries was the highlight of their catalog, and one of my favorite albums of high school.
Brand New - Deja Entendu (2003)
Brand New ignited my transition from mindless pop punk and ska to a "deeper" sort of music styling. Deja Entendu still had the hooks and harmonies of a great pop album, but there seemed to be more under the surface. In fact, this band seemed a lot more talented than a lot of the music I had been listening to up to that point. I loved this album so much that I actually went to see Brand New in the midst of my mono spell, almost blacking out in the middle of the set. I also vaguely remember them punching a hole in the wall at Homebase during Grayzine Fest and pissing everyone off.
Cursive - The Ugly Organ (2003)
Tim Kasher's response to the media's reaction to the bitter Domestica, this album tackles the subject of art and forced lyrics and is almost a parody of itself. On the other hand, the haunting cello lines and angsty screams are pretty sincere. While Domestica is directed at his ex-wife, The Ugly Organ is directed at his critics. Kasher's voice is dark, and cracks with emotion as he strains to hit the notes. Until that point I had not heard anything that sounded so close to true artistic emotion as Cursive. Of course, I was only 17.
The Get Up Kids - Something To Write Home About (1999)
The first album I bought by The Get Up Kids, this is great from beginning to end. This was a windows-down, sing along album that was best played at max volume. The upbeat tracks like "Action & Action," "Holiday," and "I'm A Loner Dottie, A Rebel," were balanced with ballads like "Out of Reach" and "I'll Catch You." I actually made the trek out to NJ for one of their last shows (and was treated to a majority of this album) only to find out they've recently reunited. Blasphemy!
Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American (2001)
I remember downloading Napster for the sole purpose of hearing tracks from the new Jimmy Eat World album. "Sweetness" and "Bleed American" were the first two songs I ever downloaded. We drove out to the Gallery of Sound to buy this on the day of its release and every song resonated with an emotionally-charged 15 year old. Maybe not the most poetic lyrics of its time, but hey I didn't know any better.
Minus The Bear - Highly Refined Pirates (2002)
The vista was a clearing at the top of a mountain somewhere around Pittston, PA. It required about a 25 minute drive, around a large lake, then you had to park and hike about 10 more minutes to reach the top. Almost every drive through the pitch-black woods of Suscon was complemented by Highly Refined Pirates, a low-key, technical album from the former guitar player of Botch. The song "Monkey! Knife! Fight!" even had the lyrics: "We'll drive around the lake/Just a little too fast." This album seemed to be synonymous with late nights, the outdoors, and urban exploration that dominated my high school life.
Piebald - We Are The Only Friends We Have (2002)
This album was a lighthearted rock album, with silly songs about their van, drug-induced road trips, and stalkers. The lyric "Hey! You're part of it!" was adopted into the Wilkes-Barre subculture, and was written, carved, and spray painted onto almost any surface in the city. The riffs were catchy, and the vocals weren't quite on key, but for some reason this album stuck and remains a fun listen from time to time.
The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
The collaboration of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello was a whimsical masterpiece, combining Gibbard's soft lyrics with the digital beats and synthesized melodies of Tamborello. This was a great album for dates, late nights in downtown Wilkes-Barre, long drives through the mountains, or just driving in general. Although short-lived, I think The Postal Service lives on to almost the same name recognition as Death Cab For Cutie. This flash in the pan was a huge success of its time, before digital music was really mainstream.
Saves The Day - Stay What You Are (2001)
Saves The Day was probably my favorite band throughout high school. It was hard to pick between 1999's Through Being Cool and this one, but I think Stay What You Are had a longer lasting impact on my adolescent life. The leadoff track "At Your Funeral" had a pensive introduction about death before exploding into the typical pop punk that came with any Saves The Day track. Thick with emotional metaphors, the lyrics here seem a bit more intricate than most bands of this era. I'd even go so far as to say they're poetic.
Thursday - Full Collapse (2001)
I hated Thursday when I first heard them. Could not get into a band that utilized so much screaming. After a few listens, I was intrigued. They seemed to create a new genre of music that combined the emotional punk rock with metal breakdowns and heavier guitar riffs. Although their style would be exploited to the point of tortuously horrible bands, Full Collapse was a refreshing change from the music I had been listening to. "Autobiography of a Nation" was a critique of the Westernization of indigenous tribes. Instead of the sappy boy-girl troubles, Thursday sang about burning buildings, car crashes, and suicide. It was dark, it was heavy, and it was loud. Although I almost hate them in retrospect for creating the current eyeliner and vampire subculture that exists today.
Some of these will appear on my 100-album decade list. Mostly, I just wanted to reminisce a bit about some older music I haven't listened to in a while. It was probably sparked by the night we put on NOFX and Less Than Jake at Death By Audio. If you read through this, post some of your favorite high school albums. I'd love to rediscover some stuff I haven't heard in a long time.
Monday, September 21, 2009
The masked man that crashed our campsite in at night ended up staying up all night and drinking. When I wake up, he is sitting cross-legged in front of the citronella candle, hammered and rocking back and forth. As I watch, the candle catches the ends of his frayed dreads and his head erupts in flame. I dash out of the tent and grab a gallon of water and dump it over his head. Zac approaches me from the other side of the house.
"I called security. This guy threatened me this morning, and I don't want to leave him here with all of our stuff."
Fair enough. Security comes over. Yes, they know we're here. No, we're not allowed to camp here. They'll see what they can do about this drunk guy. They drive off. It seems like an empty threat to get us to leave, so I mosey into the country club for breakfast.
As I drink coffee on the patio and read, dumpsters are being wheeled past me filled with stuffed animals, crazy orange shag carpet, pieces of a huge orange lighting rig, animal costumes, etc. The Flaming Lips are loading in.
All day today, one of the side rooms of the country club is being run by the band/project Oneida. Artists are in and out of this room all day, performing with them along with insane projections and lots of awesome equipment. I pop in here occasionally throughout the day to catch a weird psychedelic jam and grab a drink.
With some time to kill, I think it might be a good idea to check out the sauna. I run into Nick and Joe in the steam room. We utilize the showers and spend some time in the sauna. This place is glorious. Refreshed and rejuvenated, it's time for the first band of the day: The Boredoms.
Performing 9 Drummer Boadrum, this is the best band of the entire festival. Nine drummers, eleven guitar necks, all tuned to different chords. This band is the greatest. I feel fantastic after their set, and I had not even listened to them beforehand. If you watch one video on this blog, make it this one.
A cigarette and a beer later and it's the next performance. Caribou followed as the Caribou Vibration Ensemble, featuring Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra.
I don't even really listen to Caribou, but they play an amazing show complete with horn section, multiple drummers (who at one point stand on their drums and play each others' sticks in the air), and an amazing solo by Marshall Allen.
It doesn't stop here! Deerhoof plays next with Martha Colburn's projections behind them!
Because my friend is interning for Martha, I am stricty instructed not to miss this one. Hyped up on alcohol and adrenaline, we bolt over to Stage 2 to catch the end of Black Moth Super Rainbow. A heavy synth and vocoder band, I'm surprised to learn that the singer spends most of his time close to the ground, so no one can see him.
Nick is really stoked for Menomena, performing next on Stage 2. With awesome percussion and an interesting utilization of saxophone, I am also intrigued by their performance. As it turns out, this is one of our letdowns of the festival, as most of their saxophone tracks and auxiliary percussion is played back as a sample.
At this time, we must meet Eric at the campsite to take him to the bus station. It's a fond farewell, and he gives us his cards for his business, Blank Action Productions. We see him off, and drive back to the country club.
We head back just in time to catch the end of Boris. It's a loud, smoke-filled noise performance. They're unbelievable live.
The countdown begins. Crystal Castles are entertaining, but I don't really listen to them. No Age is performing a Husker Du album. The only band left for me is the Flaming Lips.
In order to understand the Flaming Lips as a band, you need to understand the Flaming Lips as performers. Lead singer Wayne Coyne strives to make every show as much fun as possible, and sincerely cares that the crowd has a great time. He conducted singalongs for "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and "Fight Test" and even concluded the show with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." This is the second time seeing the Flaming Lips, and they are still one of the best live shows I've ever seen:
Overjoyed and exhausted, we head back to camp. With empty pockets and empty ATMs, the last night of the festival wanes away. We spend the last night in the lobby, listening to Bradford Cox of Deerhunter sing Neil Young songs:
Zac disappeared, so the last night was just Nick, Joe, and I. We ignore the warnings about camping and sleep one more night in our meadow, undisturbed by both security guards, and drunks in masks. I will definitely return next year.
I decided to go sockless and get breakfast with Andy and Zac. Andy and his friend Mike are both engineers with NASA in Washington D.C. They are traveling with Mike's younger sister, Jessie, who goes to school in New York. Andy was telling me how lax security had been last year. Even though no one stopped us from camping, or exploring the country club, or smuggling alcohol into the venue, or really much of anything, it was apparently much stricter than last year. He said they had rowboats available to go out onto the lake, and last year there were huge drunken crabapple fights in the middle of the lake. Despite all of this, it is still the least security I've ever seen at a festival.
During breakfast, we see Nick Cave wandering around the gift shop. Many of the artists are hanging around, waiting for the music to start. The first act of the day is Sufjan Stevens, performing his album Seven Swans:
We meet up with my friend Joe from college and watch Sufjan from the top tier. Although I'm not as big a fan of Seven Swans as I am of Michigan or Illinois, it is still a fantastic performance. Like I mentioned earlier, Sufjan's show is sponsored by the Kutsher's gift shop. Hence, the tye-dye. Over the next two days, I'd see more and more people wearing tye-dye Kutsher's shirts, as a sort of tribute or ironic statement.
Joe has a tent to pitch, so we lead him back to the creepy houses. Near one of the houses, we find some old charcoal grills. Too good to be true. Nick, Joe, Zac, and I travel to a nearby Wal-Mart for coals and some cooking supplies. Tonight, we'd feast!
Back at the country club, we pop in to see bits of Antipop Consortium and El-P. Our main focus, however, is the Akron/Family performance that is happening on Stage 2. Before they go on, we watch Sleepy Sun.
Another recommendation by Jamie (who actually left on Saturday, probably because she left her jeans on top of the tent), Sleepy Sun are like the Black Angels with outrageous percussion and a sultry female vocalist that everyone fell in love with. They turn out to be one of the biggest surprises of the festival, as I had never heard of them beforehand.
But, ah Akron/Family! Last time I saw them was at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, as a six piece freak-dance outfit. Today they are a three piece, but still have enough energy to ignite the entire room:
After two amazing bands, I need some food and a bit of rest. I watch a few songs by Dead Meadow, and then go out and sit by the lake for a bit. Animal Collective headlines tonight.
Deerhunter is playing right now, and I'm sitting outside the stage, a bit tipsy from whisky and beer. I go in and watch him a bit, but I am not a huge fan. I'd much rather see The Melvins playing on Stage 2, so I dip out alone and catch some of their set. Halfway through, Animal Collective is about to go on, so I jet back to the main stage to catch one of my favorite bands for the second time in two months:
A pretty similar set to the Prospect Park show I saw recently, I am not as blown away as my friends. Still a great cap on a fantastic day of music.
Nick, Joe, Zac, and I head back to the campsite to reunite with Mike and Jessie (Andy decided to skip the cookout that night). My friend Jane arrives with a few friends and we cook rice and beans on the charcoal grill, along with some potatoes. A random guy with a mask shows up completely trashed, not friends with anyone. We are convinced he's going to kill us in the nearby Rob Zombie houses, but he just drinks all of our alcohol and pisses everyone off. Eric shows up after the chaos and tells us he lost all his money gambling with Steve Albini. We head to bed around 5 a.m., with one more day of music ahead of us.
New York has been getting monotonous. Working, drinking, living in a loud, fast-paced hive - it's getting to be too much. Central Park, the simulation of nature, is preened and controlled and catered to satiate the city's desire for trees and grass. It's just not the same when you look up and see the CNN Tower. I need to get out.
Music festivals have had some pretty poor lineups this summer. I had no desire to attend the big festivals: Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, All Points West, they didn't impress me. I saw the lineup for All Tomorrow's Parties, however, it seemed too good to be true. Curated by The Flaming Lips? At a resort in upstate New York? Paradise. I bought a ticket immediately, without anyone to accompany me.
The plan is to get a ticket to the festival but no accommodations. I'd camp discreetly in the nearby forest and cook all of my meals over the campfire with rice and beans. It looks pretty foolproof. Now I just have to find someone crazy enough to join me.
Last year, when I decided to have a spur of the moment trip to Montreal, I ran into my friend Nick at a bar in Pittston, PA. I said I was leaving in the afternoon. He said he'd call off work the next morning and have everything ready to leave by then. So this summer, I was glad to know Nicky would drop everything and come camping on this crazy adventure. We get our supplies together in Wilkes-Barre, including a tent, sleeping bags, cooking pots and pans, some rice and beans, a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly. We're ready for three days in the wilderness. The night before, we spend a crazy night in Brooklyn exploring the Maze and getting some last minute supplies, and then take off the next morning for Monticello, New York.
The day before, I answered an ad on Craigslist for two people that needed a ride to the festival. So we pick up Eric and Jamie in the Lower East Side on the way out. Eric has been putting together an independent film and was working with one of the guys from The Jesus Lizard. He is also a former minor league baseball pitcher. Jamie is an actress in one of his films. They have flown in from Austin, Texas and are going to the festival for free as guests of the Jesus Lizard. They also have no place to stay, so we invite them to our camp, or whatever happens that night.
We arrive at the resort and are blown away. This is a literal country club - indoor pool, sauna, massages, a huge lake with patios all around. There are artist installations, an independent cinema, and a little gift shop that servs amazing coffee (Sufjan Stevens would later play a show sponsored by the gift shop - all of them wearing tye-dyed Kutsher's Country Club T-Shirts).
We meet three people from Washington D.C. and start talking about camping. They tell us to check out the meadow beyond the parking lot. There are some old houses out there that are abandoned, and tons of room to pitch a tent. So we decide to scope out the area.
Growing up in Wilkes-Barre, I have an affinity for urban exploration. Abandoned houses sounded way better than the early acts of the festival we find the open gate in the parking lot and wander into a surreal scene, like something out of a Rob Zombie movie:
The houses have been abandoned for at least 15 years. Some beds and dressers remain inside, but it's mostly plywood and rotting carpet. One of the houses even has a dripping faucet, into a sink filled with black water. Right out of a horror movie. We find our new friends' tent behind a house and pitch ours next to it.
Back at the festival, we decide to check out The Dirty Three. I had never heard of them, but Jamie insists we check them out. They turn out to be spectacular, with Nick Cave turning up to play piano. This is one of the most memorable acts of the day.
We explore a bit more and run into a guy named Zac who knows one of our mutual friends in Wilkes-Barre. We invite him to stay at our camp that night, since he also arrived without a place to go. If you've been checking out Brooklyn Vegan, this is around the time that photo was taken. Lots of reading and sleeping. Of course, we were just waiting around for Panda Bear.
Noah Lennox is one of the most talented musicians out there. Even solo, his angelic voice floats over his bizarre samples, locking you into some strange trance that is half primitive percussion and half futuristic electronica. The video screen behind him seems to convey a mood that matches each song. This is one of the best performances of the weekend:
Afterward, Nick leaves and I stick around to watch Iron and Wine. Alone, Sam Beam plays an amazing show and has me close to tears with nostalgia. The stage is set up like a ballroom. There is a large hardwood floor, and a few tiers that extend back, presumably for dining tables. I go back to the first tier and jump up on the divider. From my perch, I take in the entire set wistfully, drinking in the beautiful lyrics.
The Jesus Lizard are rocking, but we are exhausted. Eric would later reprimand me for not staying for the entire set. He and Jamie are soaked with sweat. We all retire to our tent for the evening. Nick, Eric, Jamie, Zac, and I all cram side by side in our tiny tent. Later, we hear our D.C. compadres come back, saying "They're asleep? What about a tent party?" Friday was just a warm-up. Tomorrow is going to be even better