This guy also uses a pitchfork

On how not to write

I know what you may be thinking when you see the title of this post. You may be wondering who I am to tell people how not to write. I know I’m not perfect when it comes to writing, but I like to think that I know a thing or two, particularly when it comes to writing about music. After all, I have been doing this for a good long while now.

I received an email about Lyla Foy‘s new album and it included this blurb by Stephen M. Deusner from Pitchfork.

“The result might be best described as a digital pastoral: sequences and synthesizers blending with live instruments to create the kind of introverted, outdoorsy reverie most commonly associated with acoustic folk. Foy’s songs are both lush and low-key, intimate and surprisingly intricate. She layers beats generously but carefully, alternating between buoyant (“I Only”, with its percolating intro) and bittersweet (“Only Human”, with its insistent snare tap). Except on the relatively aerodynamic “Feather Tongue”, which could easily be remixed into a throbbing dance number suitable for a meadow rave, Foy’s concern isn’t rhythm but texture and tapestry. The tempos are generally slow and rigid, which  fits the general atmosphere of the record and gives you a better opportunity to admire her craft.”

Take a moment to digest that. Yes, it has a lot of flowery language, but what does it really mean? Let’s start with “digital pastoral.” Whatever preceded that phrase, I’m willing to bet he lost a lot of readers right there. After all, who has any idea what a digital pastoral is…without having to scurry to the dictionary?

If, for some reason, readers were not lost at digital pastoral, I have to think that the next tripping point came at “meadow rave.” A meadow rave? What is that exactly? Look, I have to give the writer some credit for coming up with an original metaphor, but with how many people does a meadow rave resonate?

Here’s my biggest issue with the blurb. It is creative. I will grant that. But as a music writer, your job is to explain an album in a way that your readers can understand it without having to consult a dictionary. More to the point, it’s to encourage readers to go out and explore whatever artist you’re reviewing based on other things they may like. I read this blurb and thought a couple things. First, this review does nothing to help me understand what Lyla Foy is all about. Second, the writer made the review more about his writing style than the music, and that does an injustice not only to the artist, but also to anyone who decided not to explore the artist simply because the writer was so pretentious in his review. However, I’m not just here to complain. I’m also here to offer a solution. If you want a more concise review of Lyla Foy, try this on for size: Lyla Foy’s music is what would happen if Kate Bush collaborated with Stereolab. Granted, if I were writing a full review, I would write more than that. However, I just said in one sentence – with no flowery language - what the writer couldn’t manage to say in an entire paragraph.

 

Frames by Teenage Gluesniffers will be available soon

Trashy Tuesday: Teenage Gluesniffers

Teenage Gluesniffers is an Italian punk band (from Milan) that first made its introduction to me with its previous EP, which I reviewed in the 12th issue (March 2013) of the magazine. I liked the bands energy and the classic snotty punk sound that the band put out. Well, the band is back with another EP and the snotty sound is still there. So is the energy. This band isn’t interested in making pop-punk ballads, just songs played loudly and at a blistering tempo.

“The Raven” is an excellent song. It moves along at the tempo I’ve come to expect from this band, and then it reaches the bridge, in which the sound shifts a bit toward metal while someone narrates part of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. At 4:10, this song is practically a marathon for Teenage Gluesniffers.

“My Armageddon” is another great example of the furious energy of the band. This song doesn’t slow down for a second. It is just 2:57 of rock that will make you pump your fist and sing along.

Frames is not available yet, but you can hear some tunes by this band on Bandcamp. If you’re a fan of punk, you will love this band.

 

Sing along if you don't wnat to do your job anymore.

Take ‘Er Easy Thursday: Hot Shorts

Welcome to another edition of Take ‘Er Easy Thursday, loyal reader. You’ve almost made it through another work week and your reward is a tribute to a man who doesn’t believe in work. An’ I’m talkin’ about The Dude here. The Dude…in Los Angeles. He’s high in the running for laziest worldwide, and that’s just one of the things we find so durned innerestin about him.

Now, if you’re a Dudeist, maybe you already live a life full of driving around, the occasional acid flashback…you know, the usual. However, if you’re not that lucky and you still have to go to a job every day, know that you’re not alone. There are many Dudeists out there who don’t have the necessary means for The Dude’s life of leisure. Still, we probably think every day about leaving our job and never going back.

 

Hot Shorts has written an anthem for us called ” I Don’t Want To Do My Job Anymore.” I mean the title says it all, but of course you can’t have a song that’s just a title. Then the band comes up with a line like “I’m not even that good at it.” Can I get an “Amen”? My only beef with this song is that it’s too short. But then, work – even when it’s recording a song – is hard. Which is why we celebrate The Dude. Who am I to blame the band for a short song about hating work when it says everything it needs to say? Because after all, any criticism I might have about the length of the song is just – like – my opinion, man.

Well, that about wraps ‘er up. Until next time, you take ‘er easy. I know that you will.

Mass Solace is available now

Incognito pick of the week: Blondstone

Eastern France is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think about heavy rock bands. However, our pick of the week is just that: a heavy rock band from Nancy, France.

Blondstone is a band that might be hard to classify into a category smaller than just rock. I suppose you could file it into the doom rock category, or some subset of that. And it does have some elements of doom. But it also has elements of groove rock. For a great example, just listen to “Oulala.” The bass line in this one will get you moving for sure. This song kind of reminds me of Deep Purple, especially since it is punctuated with some screams that would make Richie Blackmore proud.

This band isn’t afraid to change tempo pretty dramatically even within one song. In “On Your Own,” the verse is pretty groovy, but then in the chorus the band gets both faster and louder. I imagine that experiencing this song live would be pretty interesting. I imagine that in the chorus, a circle pit would form and bodies would start slamming into each other.

This band also dives a little into psychedelic sounds, especially in “Daze Me.” The instrumental breaks in this song sound a little trippy with some fuzzed-out guitar.

However you want to classify it, Mass Solace is a really good rock album. Like any good rock album, this one begs to be played loudly. Seriously, don’t be concerned with your neighbors. Crank the volume as loud as you can handle it because this is rock n roll, baby! And you know what they say, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old!” Mass Solace is available now.

The Smokin' Burnouts: music for Hell's cocktail lounge

Trashy Tuesday: The Smokin’ Burnouts

The Smokin' Burnouts (pretty much) had me at hello

The Smokin’ Burnouts (pretty much) had me at hello

You know in Jerry Maguire when Renee Zellweger says “You had me at hello.” Well, The Smokin’ Burnouts (from Austin) came pretty close to that with the introductory email sent to me. Why? Frankly, because The Smokin’ Burnouts is a great name for a band. It brings to mind those miscreants from high school who would gather under a tree (or wherever) and smoke.

I went to the band’s ReverbNation page and was immediately greeted with the raucous sounds of “Hill Country Express.” This is a bit like a Johnny Cash song…if it were performed by some combination of Supersuckers and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. It’s kind of a menacing tune that is equal parts rock n roll and rockabilly.

http://www.reverbnation.com/thesmokinburnouts

And if you think that’s menacing (trust me when I say I mean nothing negative by that), just listen to “Route 666.” About two minutes into the song, the band borrows a riff from AC/DC’s version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” Aside from that, I’d say that this sounds like the perfect song for Hell’s cocktail lounge.

If you like your rock n roll loud and fast (and perhaps a little evil), check out The Smokin’ Burnouts.

 

The Adventures of Cap'n Coconuts is available now

Mondo Monday: Frankie and the Pool Boys

The Adventures of Cap’n Coconuts showed up in my PO box recently, along with a few other releases from Double Crown. The album is introduced this way on the Double Crown website: “And just who is “Cap’n Coconuts”? Simian spy turned Hollywood cad, now a bouncer at a bar in San Francisco? Or star of a 60’s TV sitcom that apparently only Pool Boys leader Ferenc Dobronyi remembers. ‘He was my muse for this record. I wanted to write instrumentals that evoked the feelings that I get when I remember the music of my early childhood.’”

I’d say that particular mission was accomplished especially in the first song. It feels very much like a cartoon theme from the 60s. It’s a lively tune with a vibraphone part that would certainly get kids moving if it were part of a TV theme.

I wouldn’t say every song fits that description. The beginning of “Ripley in Love” sounds a lot like “Psych Out” by Satan’s Pilgrims. This song has sort of a spy feel to it. At some point in the song, it has a sort of Spanish feel…almost as if the spy who is the subject of the song is traveling through Spain.

Frankie and the Pool Boys didn’t fall into the trap that a lot of surf bands find…namely making every song sound pretty similar to the one that precedes it. Every song on this album has it’s own little twist from exotica (“The Golden State”) to the aforementioned spy sounds to a little swing (“Manx!”). If you want the perfect setting for this album, try this on. Make a pitcher of rum punch, sit on your patio with a couple friends and crank this album. It is the perfect soundtrack for sipping rum drinks on a sunny day.

rum_chata

The Merritts of Mixology: RumChata

Carin Merritt is our resident mixologist. You’ve seen her column The Merritts of Mixology for more than a year in the magazine. In this edition, she discusses a relative newcomer: RumChata.

Writer, mixologist, birthday girl

Writer, mixologist, birthday girl

For the many who have dared experimenting with multiple combinations of liquor vs. body chemistry, finding a “new brand” of alcohol can be quite intriguing, if not necessary. For this reason, in the drinking world, stiff drinks tend to have stiff competition.

In my 26 years of scientific studies, I have found that: whiskey makes me angry, tequila makes me hyper and naked, I’m still not old enough to accept drinking gin, and still not quite classy enough (Who’s to say I ever will be? That’s a different story for a different day.) to sip slowly on a single-malt Scotch. In a nutshell, my efforts to distinguish flavors and guinea-pig effects of specific liquors have – nine times out of ten – resulted in nights that I may not remember and should not speak of or repeat.

blaaaaaarrrrgh

blaaaaaarrrrgh

Most new brands of alcohol are aimed at college-aged people - those still naive and wide-eyed enough to try the unknown without reservation. Jager bombs and Fireball whiskey are two examples. While they do make for fun nights, they are usually ordered in multiples among rowdy groups and result in blackout nights. As I get older, fads become less appealing. So does throwing up and losing my memory. This time around, I want to see a new brand with a little more to it than how easy it goes down and how quickly it negatively affects my motor skills.

It may be shocking then, that I would like to highlight a liqueur that can be considered the next “it” brand.  I know, what a hypocrite, but let me explain. This new kid in town is called RumChata. It is derived from the Mexican/Spanish drink horchata, which originates from Egypt where the chufa nut was mixed with cinnamon and sugar to create a milky-colored drink. When it was brought to Mexico, rice was used in place of the chufa nut.

RumChata mixes spiced rums, cinnamon, vanilla and a variety of other flavors. It is also made with homogenized cream, which allows for it to be stored at room temperature. It is creamy and smooth, and can be used for a variety of purposes. At a little less than 14% alcohol, it can be used as a replacement for cream in coffee, milk for cereal, and a dairy replacement when baking. Homemakers, this is your excuse. I like to add it to the aforementioned Fireball (1 part each) to create the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shot. I solemnly swear that the shot does in fact taste just like the cereal.

So, although RumChata is fairly new - originating in 2009 - I still vow that it is a worthwhile ingredient to keep in your liquor cabinet. RumChata isn’t here to compete with your beloved Patron or knock you on your ass after just one drink. It is here to compliment what you already know, add a little extra spice to your life, and be there when something exotic is missing.

Mike Espinach discusses dubstep, Skrillex, and more

Misadventures with Mike: The Art of Art

In this edition of Misadventures with Mike, Mike Espinach discusses the growth of dubstep, the rise of Skrillex, and the value of art. Look for another new edition of his column in the summer issue of Incognito.

The Art of Art by Mike Espinach

It’s odd to think and know that things can be done without authenticity these days, particularly in the realms of art. Now with the advances of technology, it’s only natural for anyone to be a “bedroom producer” overnight, which is absolutely a positive. Giving people creative means is a beautiful thing, especially considering the fact that being a musician has its hefty expenses.

However, it is scary to know that whatever new and alien styles are forged, they will undoubtedly be copied, and to much lesser dynamic value. An example that comes to mind is the advent of dubstep into the mainstream. Dubstep started out in the UK, an expansion of Dub music from the likes of King Tubby, into something a bit more sinister – hitting harder, using new advances in digital bass technology, and a confident minimalism and precision. Now of course this saw an expansion in the sound palate, with producers like 16-bit, with chainsaw synths, horror-movie samples, and overdriven bass. Their remix of “The Blank” is the closest you’ll get to Kung-Fu in the form of sound, so quick and precise it begs relistening, and dancing.

skrillex-ultra-2014As dubstep grew in popularity, it was only a matter of time before it made its way Stateside. This both pushed it from anonymity to stardom, as well as exploiting its formula to sell you TVs and cars. A notable contributor to its popularity is the artist Skrillex, who makes dubstep tracks, but the bright-neon poppiness and American thick distortion to make it raveworthy. I enjoyed his first two EPs immensely. It hit hard, got me amped, and was catchy as hell in a glitched-out fashion. Usually I find out about new artists rather quickly, before they head out to big name festivals like Coachella, but I was late to the party on that guy. His rise was METEORIC. Before I knew it, he was touring with a stage setup akin to a spaceship, or syncing up with an on screen-robot on Titanic LED screens. Skrillex and dubstep had arrived.

With the accessibility of his music, it was only a matter of time before his style would be copped. To avoid bashing on certain producers, I won’t name names, but it’s safe to say they exploited the shit out this new formula for pop music. And that’s exactly it. It became pop music. What started off as a stony bounce from the UK – built out of minimalism and complete dousing of reverb -turned into something bright, shiny, and wrapped in a bow to show your grandma.

Before I knew it, an electronics mogul was using dubstep in their commercials to sell Go-Pro cameras.Car commercials, football commercials, you name it. The music has oversized bass synths, hard kicks, even harder snares, and yes, the DROP. The drop, if you have not been enlightened to it, is a staple of every recent dubstep song. After a euphoric build, it comes crashing down with massive bass lines and an attack of synths. If you are a molly-infused raver dancing in the desert, this is an ideal situation. Bass DOES feel good, but the art of it is what I am concerned about.

Dubstep now appeals to us like a Michael Bay movie does. “OOOOOOoooohhh…explosions!” exclaim the captivated masses.

Now, we live in a capitalist society, so it’s natural to assume that business owners and corporate heads are going to direct their marketing toward what the kids like. I can just visualize 12 dudes and ladies sitting in a boardroom, all dressed in suit and tie with a PowerPoint pitch going on. The enthusiastic brown-noser at the helm of the meeting has venn diagrams and bar charts showing the top 40 Billboard charts alongside a video of a dude kayaking.

Yes, you know its going to happen. Big bass drops and pencil-pushers awkwardly bop their heads, believing they’ve discovered the Rosetta Stone for making a few bucks, or more likely millions. Then they eat catering from PF Chang’s and listen to horrible Soundgarden-rip-off bands on the way home. I know, I seem bitter. I am in a sense, but this is completely expected of anything successful. It will spawn imitators.

As a musician, I must say that imitation can be an utmost form of flattery as there are so many artists out there who push the envelope or whose music is just classic on its own. It’s natural to have influences, for they are the ones who got you into creating in the first place. But there must be a point where you see them as teachers, and you must take their lessons to forge your own path.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin

I have heard that famed electronic surrealist, Aphex Twin, has a library of tunes that he will never release as he does not want them to be imitated. Creating something unique, of value, and intent IS art. Of course, value would be subjective to the listener or artist for that matter, but the authenticity is what hopefully shines through. You may not be a fan of jazz, but Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s works were pure art, with direct vision and precision. There was intention there, to create a musical world to dive into and be lost in, not just the fodder for a weekend bender.

monuments_menPerhaps my recent viewing of The Monuments Men inspired my thinking on this recently since the value of art was the whole premise of the movie. I enjoyed the movie not just for its entertainment and historical value, but the fact that it brought the essence of art into the fore-front. These guys are literally risking life and limb for statues and paintings, however these were beautiful pieces that were one of their kind, and true achievements in human skill. The time it must have taken to sculpt Michelangelo’s David boggles my mind, and is a true testament to human will to make something of that precision.

It makes me wonder how essential these pieces were to defining a period of time for history to look back on, and it honestly is very important. It worries me to think that the calling card thirty years from now for our recent era of music is a picture of four dudes wearing neon shorts and tanks, covered in raver bracelets and tattoos. You know that once a style has been dubbed “Brostep,” something has turned in a bad way. No matter how shiny and bright, I doubt my grandma would ever approve of that shit.

The Lonely One is available now

Mondo Monday: The Volcanics

On a recent trip to my P.O. box, I found four surf CDs from the good folks at Double Crown Records. (If you’re a fan of surf music at all, Double Crown is a label you should get to know.)

One of the CDs I found is The Lonely One by The Volcanics. Now, a lot of surf music can be kind of mellow. If you’re expecting mellow at the beginning of this CD, prepare to be surprised. This album begins with an explosion of sound called “Kanack Attack.” The rumbling rhythm at the beginning of the song is a bit like a punch to the gut. Then comes the guitar, which is just amazing. This is the kind of thing that makes guys wish they could play surf guitar.

You know in those old beach movies where a surf band sets the tone for a beach party? Well, The Volcanics provide music for a different kind of party. If you were hosting a kegger and you wanted it to have a surf theme, “Keg Party” would be the song. To put it another way, just imagine if the guys of Delta Tau Chi hired a surf band instead of Otis Day and the Knights.

This album is filled with songs that will get your head moving (try “Del Rey” for instance), whether you’re sitting in your cubicle or driving to the beach to catch some waves. If you’re a fan of instrumental surf, this will be a welcome addition to your collection.

Outlaws Still at Large is a great read. Get your copy.

Outlaw country can run parallel with Nashville: an interview with Neil Hamilton

Neil Hamilton is the author of Outlaws Still at Large, a book that explores the roots of outlaw country as well as the modern incarnation of it. By phone, he discussed the process of writing the book, the common thread of the subjects of the book, and where the outlaw movement goes from here.

What compelled you to write the book?

I guess kind of the meeting of two developments. One was my love for the music. The other was the passing of my mom and the personal crisis I went through there. And really the desire to find some meaning for going on for another day. I started the pursuit of this music that I like. That’s it in general terms.
When I was searching for something to get me through another day, I started listening to outlaw country music. I had already been a fan of that music during the Waylon Jennings-Willie Nelson period. Then it kind of died away and I had not really been aware of the resurgence. I started listening to a couple different artists – especially Jackson Taylor. I said to my wife, “I like this guy’s music. I’d like to go hear him play.” He was playing in Houston, which is about a six- or seven-hour drive west of here. My wife’s sister lives there so we decided to drive out there and see his show. At the end of the show, I approached Jackson Taylor and asked him for a photograph to be taken by my wife of me and Jackson. My wife mentioned that I’m a history teacher at a college and write history books. He said, “I love history!” That led us to going to the back of the bar and just talking and exchaning phone numbers. The next day on my drive home, I received a call from him. He suggested that I write a history of outlaw country because nobdy had done it before. That led more directly to the book. Although it wasn’t going to be a complete history. It was going to be about my interactions with a number of artists.

How long did it take you to do the interviews and compile everything?

The whole thing from start to finish was about two years. That’s the traveling, the interviews, the transcribing, doing some research for the historical sections, and drinking whiskey.

What was the common thread among all the artists you interviewed?

The commitment to play the music they want to play regardless of whether it’s an audience of 50 or 50,000. I don’t think it made to much difference to them. I’m not trying to say that they didn’t want to make some money. They were more often likely to make the craft than to change it to widen the audience. That sincerity held them together whether they’re more rock-influenced our Hank Williams-influenced.

For lack of a better term, they’re all misfits. They didn’t want to be stuck in some Nashville writing gig.

They’re all critical with what’s happening on the Music Row scene – some more critical than others. You’re right. They did not want to be in that situation. They did not want to be creating pop music. I think another thing that bound them together whether they’re influenced more by Hank Williams or rock, they were all deeply schooled in traditional country. And they want to protect that and continue that influence.

The whole thing with Music Row is not new. How is Nashville different now than when the initial outlaw movement occurred?

I agree with you. Nashville wants to sell a lot of records. They’re not concerned with deviating from the roots of country if it makes them money. I think what’s a bit different is that the outlaw movement in the 70s gained enough of a foothold and a following that Nashville thought, “Maybe something is going on there where we can make some money.” People like Willie and Waylon were able to get onto the major record labels like RCA. The outlaw movement today is vibrant, but also very splintered. I think it’s just the nature of the times. We have so many sources. I think it’s hard for a couple alternative artists to gain the foothold that Willie and Waylon did back in the 70s. There’s so much more out there as far as musicians and outlets.

When I spoke to Billie Joe Shaver, I asked if he thought he would make it if he were starting in Nashville today. He said he didn’t think he would.

Again, I’m not trying to say they’re trying to live lives of poverty, but they’re not really hungry to make it in Nashville.

Who did you learn the most from when you were writing the book?

Musically, I learned the most from Jackson Taylor. He has so many different influences: Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, punk rockers, and it was early in the project when I spoke to him. He kind of showed me the ropes. I don’t know if he hrealized he was doing so, but he showed me the ropes. In terms of personality, I was drawn to Wayne Mills. He was a different guy in his compassion for others. He would do things for others before he’d do them for himself. He loved being in this book, and was concerned for its success, but not for Wayne Mills. He wanted it so it would help everyone.
Elizabeth Cook because of the experiences she had in losing her mom. It was a similar experience to what I had. I learned a lot from Dallas Moore about perseverance. He is constantly on the road and constantly working, and upbeat. I very seldom see him down. He’s always enthusiastic. His perseverance, energy, dedication, and optimism really impressed me.

Where does the outlaw movement go from here?

I was just thinking about that the other day. There are so many cross-currents at work. There are so many talented musicians out there that don’t want to be a part of the Nashville scene. I think there is a really good niche for outlaw that can be vibrant for many years to come. The problem is demographics. Outlaw plays largely to a white male audience. We have a population in this country that’s becoming more and more diverse. Outlaw is going to have to face that. That is an obstacle to widen the base. With all the outlets out there, it’s pretty vibrant. I don’t think it will ever supplant Nashville, but it can run parallel to Nashville.

Outlaws Still at Large is available everywhere.