Monday, September 28, 2009

10 Great Albums From High School

If you know me at all, you know I've been making lists since early childhood, and music lists have always been the most dominant. I would wake up in grade school to watch MTV's top 20 videos of the week (pretty much how I started listening to bands like Soundgarden, Radiohead, and Green Day). In high school I started the "Top 100 Songs of the Year" list, and eventually followed with lists of practically everything.

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

All Tomorrow's Parties - Sunday

"Dude, your fucking hair is on fire!"

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.

All Tomorrow's Parties - Saturday

It has been raining all night. Inside the tent is wet. All of our shoes are wet. Andy, one of the guys from D.C., wakes me up with the statement, "Who left their jeans on top of the tent? Man that's going to suck."

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.

All Tomorrow's Parties - Friday

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You Are Here (The Maze)

I know, I've been away for a while. I've actually been spending the last few days at Kutsher's Country Club for the All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Lots of awesome bands, crazy creep campsite, outrageous paradise in upstate New York.

But more on that later. For right now, during the entire month of September, the Death By Audio show space has been converted into a giant maze:

You Are Here (The Maze)

Bands are playing in a few nooks of the maze every night from now until October. The night before ATP, I saw Knyfe Hyts, and the next night (though I missed it) was A Place To Bury Strangers.

If you're in New York or you plan to visit, you should stop by DBA and navigate the maze.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Health Care

There's been a lot of hubbub lately about the new health care bill and it's been translated into "communism," "death panels," and all of this other nonsense from, you guessed it, the ignoramuses of America. Take this video, for instance:
Can there be any room for a centrist at a health care reform town hall meeting

I'm on the fence about this health care plan myself, though I'm in full support of ANY health care plan. I think we can all agree that we need a massive overhaul in the current system. If you don't think so, I'd like to know why. As one of the uninsured, I can assure you I've heard enough cases in the past few years to argue your point. For example:

-A friend of a friend broke his collarbone skateboarding, and couldn't afford to get it taken care of because he was out of a job at the time.

-A friend had her appendix burst and was almost not treated because of confusion in her health care plan

-At least four people I know have bad credit because of outstanding medical bills (in the tens of thousands). They're just waiting for seven years because the credit rating will disappear. (How Medical Bills Can Wreck Your Credit)

Another thing that bothers me, is that people between 20-25 without insurance are not even considered "uninsured" by Blue Cross. Here is a statement released concerning the percentage of Americans uninsured:

"Nearly 6 million were what Blue Cross called "short-term uninsured," meaning people who are either between jobs or are just entering the work force."

This is from a fact-check session on

Health Care Fact Check -

So even though probably 75% of college graduates are "short-term uninsured," Blue Cross doesn't consider this a problem because, you know, what are the chances?

The thing with the new "public option" is that it is going to be so much cheaper than private practice that doctors are going to be "forced to compete and lower their prices" and I believe there is a provision for malpractice insurance built in as well. Is the government plan going to be THAT much more affordable? If so, is it going to be as good a quality as a private practice? Under the public option, you cannot select your own doctor or specialist (see link below). It also seems that private plans with high deductibles are going to be obsolete as well. So, it might almost be better to be uninsured from 20-25 than pay somewhere around $2500 a year, when it would typically cost about $800 for the average twenty-something to be treated.

You'll Lose Five Key Freedoms Under Obama's Health Care Plan

A few months ago, my friend referred me to an organization in New York that provided low-coverage plans for freelance artists and musicians for about $65 a month called Fractured Atlas. Unfortunately, they were forced to freeze their NYC enrollment because of eligibility problems with freelancers. So once again, independent artists and musicians, or anyone between the ages of 20-25, are not going to be covered.

There's got to be a way for younger people to subscribe to high deductible plans for a low price. Obviously there's no need to pay such high prices for such scarce treatment, but if I happen to break my collarbone, I don't want to have to make a choice between setting it myself without treatment or a $6,000 medical bill.

Anyone else have an opinion on this?

Thursday, September 3, 2009


We got a few new chips in the mail here at DBA. One of them is the CD4017BE decade counter sequencer chip. Using this with one 555 timer as the clock, and one 555 timer as a voltage controlled oscillator, we can produce a simple oscillator:

I can't wait to get this thing into an enclosure.

On a separate note, the band True Womanhood has been recording an album, and played a pretty awesome show at Death By Audio last weekend. Opening for them were the equally amazing French Miami.

But I think the band that put on the biggest spectacle was Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt

I know it's pretty dark. If you go over to Brooklyn Vegan (I'm returning the favor), you can see some more pictures of their performance. For costumes and dancing, great. For music, pretty blah. Interesting show to watch though.

More shows and effects to come!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dolphin Slaughter in Taiji’s ‘Cove’ Suspended

If you haven't had a chance to see The Cove, a 2009 documentary about dolphin slaughter off the coast of Japan, you should track it down. Pretty gruesome stuff. However, everything seems to be turning around with the film's publicity, as shown by a recent article in

Dolphin Slaughter in Taiji's Cove Suspended

Ric O’Barry reports that the horrific annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji has been suspended due to publicity from the film, The Cove.
September 1st usually marks the first day of the year for the brutal killings, but for the first time the Japanese media has arrived in Taiji en masse, causing the local fishermen to pause while the world takes notice.

O’Barry has been trying to raise awareness in Japan about the secretive dolphin slaughter that takes place in the small fishing town of Taiji for years, but the Japanese media has refused to cover it. Until now.

“Today is September 1st, the first day of the dolphin slaughter season in Japan. But when I arrived today by bus from Kansai Airport with media representatives from all over the world, the notorious Cove from the movie was empty. There were no dolphin killers in sight. So today is a good day for dolphins!”, wrote O’Barry today in a report for the activist social network, TakePart.

He also said that when the Japanese police arrived, they merely shook his hand and told him they there were not there to support the “dolphin killing fishermen”, then left.

Despite all of his trials in the town, O’Barry believes strongly that Taiji can change its shameful image. He hopes to show the media around the town tomorrow, to encourage a more positive view of its people and potential. O’Barry sees an opportunity to turn the disgraced town into a place where dolphins are cherished rather than slaughtered. In time, he thinks Taiji could become a model for dolphin activism and education, raising awareness about dolphins much in the same way that Nantucket, once the center of the whaling industry in the U.S., has changed its image by stopping the killing and marketing to whale-watchers instead.

Even though the media is finally taking notice, keeping the movement alive over time will still take a great commitment from those who care about dolphins. You can help by donating to the Save the Dolphins Coalition, which you can do at

Amazing, the power of film.