Musings and Eats with Mikey

Musing #83
January 9, 2012, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Musing

Another Year, Another Dollar

Busy, busy, busy.  My mind is racing and all I can do to keep up is spit these words out on the screen.  After having an excellent New Years Eve (and not so fun New Years Day of recovery), I stepped back into the office and it was off to the races.  I’m not really complaining about the hecticness, its just after the slowness of December and the holiday season, it takes some adjustment to get back into the swing of things.

It is 2012 and I have noticed two things thus far this year.  One, people love to sue people, but have the decency to wait until after the holidays (does that say something good or bad about humanity?).  Now, this doesn’t go exclusively for lawsuits, as a lot of clients who were holding off on transactional work are now also gearing to go.  So this is a good thing, as an up tick in business is a great way to start off the new year.  But, yeah, people just seem rearing to go from day one of the new year.  The second thing I noticed is how unbridled optimism is quickly detoured at the first sign of failure.  To be clear, this is pretty much referring to new years resolutions (and by new years resolutions, I mean my new years resolutions).  I woke up January 1, pumped, ready to make life anew.  This was the year I was going to go after the things I want, no regrets, no surrender.  In my head, I was optimistic, enthusiastic even, that things were gonna be different, things are going work out my way this year.  Yet, of course this was just foolishness.  Just as quickly as I was ready to change my whole approach to life, I quickly revert back to over thinking every situation, going into my typical investigative mode, rather than just going for it, without thought.  Needless to say, when the investigation turned out sour, I quickly retreated, rather than saying fuck it and going ahead with my original (and albeit more enthusiastic) plan (essentially causing the meeting of someone awesome to quickly be soured by an interested third party basically saying it wasn’t going to happen).  Anyway, the point being New Years resolutions are dumb, because you can’t just change over night, but the year is still young and there is still time for change (it will just takes some work).  And so I remain optimistic (though a little less unbridled).

In other news, 2012 has already started to challenge 2011 for the year of reunions of bands that presumably would never get back together (such as Slapstick and Kid Dynamite) with the announcement of both At the Drive In and Refused appearing at this year’s Coachella Festival.  While it is cool that At the Drive In are going to play again, they were not a hugely important band to me.  I mean I like them for sure, but for me, not a must see band.  Refused on the other hand is just crazy.  Refused was hugely influential on my style of drumming when I was playing in a band, and their record The Shape of Punk to Come, was not only brilliant, but was exactly what its title purported it to be.  The funny thing I have found about great bands that are hugely influential (and basically game changing) is that they usually usher in an era of terrible bands who are highly influenced by them.  In my opinion this was seen before with Nirvana and all the terrible grunge rock that was post-Nirvana.  For Refused it was similar, but with the whole post-Refused era of screamo bands.  So the question becomes: is the greatness of one band worth the damage their predecessors do to music after the bands ultimate demise?  I think the answer is yes, because where time will forget the crappy bands that came about because of a truly great band, the great band can stand the test of time, and therefore it was worth the temporary damage.  That is just my thought on the subject.  As to the actual reunion of Refused, I am very surprised they actually are doing it given the position the band members have taken in various interviews in the past.  That being said, having just done a reunion with my own band from ten years ago, I completely understand it.  Putting all pretensions aside, it is just plain fun to get together with friends who you used to have a great time on stage with playing songs and play a few of those songs for old time sake.  As for Refused, I would love to see it.

Soundtrack: Tom Waits – Innocent When You Dream (off Big Time)


Musing #82
December 15, 2011, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Musing, Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Favorite Records of 2011

With the year ending, it is time to recap my favorite records of the year.  I like to go with the term “favorite records” as opposed to “best records” of the year, because I just want to give insight into the records that I really enjoyed this year.  Music is subjective, so who am I to say what is the best?  Plus so many records come out each year that there are usually some I haven’t had the chance to even hear.

2011 saw some great music and what follows is my list of my 20 favorite albums released this year (amongst other things).  I find it difficult to rank records in a particular order, but basically every album on this list is one I really loved and listened to a lot, and the number rankings mean very little.  That being said, the few records at the very top are the ones that I thought were the best of my picks.

1.  Frank Tuner – England Keep My Bones (Epitaph Records)

This year is the year I discovered that I love Frank Turner.  I had heard some of his songs before, but this year is the year I really paid attention to what he was doing (mostly from the EP he released last December called Rock n Roll).  Lucky for me, he also decided to release this new record.  Frank, who hails from England, is amongst the great new young singer/songwriters.  With a background in punk rock and a sound that mixes folk with rock n’ roll, Mr. Turner finds a way to make extremely meaningful and well written catchy songs.  England Keep My Bones is little more polished then his last record, but there is not one bad track on this album (even the acapella “England’s Curse” is good).  Though Frank Turner is not doing anything particularly new with his music, what sets him apart from the rest is the passion you can hear in every song he writes and records.  Suggested for fans of Chuck Ragan, Bruce Springsteen, and The Gaslight Anthem.

Favorite Tracks:  “I Still Believe”, “If Ever I Stray”, “I’m Disappeared”

2.  Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti- Records)

Well it has been a good seven or so years since the great Mr. Waits has put out any new material, and as usual, it was well worth the wait.  Bad As Me delivers what Tom Waits does best, which is make music that is strange, yet familiar.  It’s the sound of the underbelly of the city, the homeless, the wanders.  If you are a fan of Wait’s music, you know what to expect.  This time around, he delivers shorter and more focused songs with an eclectic mix of sounds.  This year has been the year I have been diving deep into Tom Waits’ back catalog, and this album stands among the best of his work.  Suggested for fans of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, blues and rock.

Favorite Tracks:  “Get Lost”, “Bad As Me”, “Everyone’s Talking at the Same Time”

3.  Cults – S/T (Columbia Records)

There has been a lot of “buzz” around Cults this year and this debut record proves that the buzz was well deserved.  With a sound that is equal parts rock n’ roll throwback (similar to She & Him) and reverb laden indie pop (think MGMT) Cults were able to create a record that was the perfect sound for the summer.  The record creates a laid back light and airy vibe, but the songs are so damn catchy that they get stuck in your head.  Suggested for fans of She and Him, M.I.A., and MGMT.

Favorite Tracks: “Go Outside”, “Oh My God”, “Bumper”

4.  Portrugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud (Atlantic Records)

Proturgal. The Man have been around for a while now (putting a new record almost every year) with a sound that started as progressive rock and has melded more with psychedelic rock.  Though in the past I have listened to their records, I have never been super compelled by their albums (though they are pretty great live).  This record on the other hand, really does it for me.   While at first it may seem that all the songs sound fairly similar, after a few repeat listens you notice the nuances and genius to each song, as its catchy hooks get ingrained in your head.  I have heard a lot of people compare this record to Ziggy Stardust era Bowie, and I think that is a fair assessment.  Suggested for fans of David Bowie, MGMT, Rx Bandits.

Favorite Tracks: “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living)”, “Head is a Flame (Cool With It)”, “So American”

5.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO Records)

Louisville favorites My Morning Jacket returned this year with one of their most cohesive and brilliant records to date.  With a mix of all the sounds of their past records, but in a way that pushes forward their sound, My Morning Jacket have found the right balance of bringing that big sounding rock n roll to their country folk esthetic.  The album was recorded mostly live, with minimal overrdubs, in a large gymnasium, which allowed the band to capture more of their live sound and energy.  As to be expected from the band, top notch songwriting and Jim Jame’s golden voice is what set these guys apart, and they only seem to get better with each record.  Suggested for fans of M. Ward, Lucero, and Radiohead.

Favorite Tracks: “Wonderful (the Way I Feel)”, “Circuital”, “Holdin’ On to Black Metal”

6.  Childish Gambino – Camp (Glassnote Records)

This has been a big year for comedian Donald Glover, who is the brainchild behind Childish Gambino.  While it would be easy enough to write him off as just another actor turned musician/hip hop artist, Donald Glover has the talent to back it up when claims “why does every black actor got to rap some / I don’t know / but I’m the best one”.  Though this album is obviously heavily influenced by the sound that Kayne has been putting out the last few years (almost to the point of being derivative) the cleverness of Gambino’s rhymes is what takes this far beyond being just another copycat act.  Of course, being a comedy writer (30 Rock, Community) gives him a bit of a leg up in the cleverness department.  On top of the that, the record is almost entirely self produce, which is impressive as the beats and sound of the record is pretty damn good.  Suggested for fans of Kayne West, Jay-Z, and Kid Cuddi.

Favorite Tracks: “Backpackers”, “Heatbeat”, “Fire Fly”

7.  Feist – Metals (Interscope Records)

Leslie Feist hit it big a few years ago after her song “1234”, from the album the Reminder, was featured in an iPod commercial.  It seems like this record is a response to the success that was thrown upon her.  Less upbeat then her last record, this more dense and complex record may take a few listens to really fall in love with.  That being said, all the elements of a great record are here; good songwriting, beautiful melodies, complex guitar sounds often juxtaposed against a more simplistic musical background.  While the album at times can feel dark, at the end of the record there is sense that you have been let into Feist’s world of thoughts and sounds and have come out completely satisfied.  Suggested for fans of the Swell Season, Broken Social Scene, and Neko Case.

Favorite Tracks:  “How Come You Never Go There”, “The Circle Married the Line”, “Get it Wrong, Get it Right”

8.  The Horrible Crowes – Elsie (Side One Dummy Records)

Side projects are a tricky thing to get right, especially when it is more then just a solo album.  On the one sense, you don’t want it to just be a repeat of your main project, on the other, you don’t want to stray too far from what people liked about you in the first place.  Brian Fallon (of the Gaslight Anthem) and his collaborators were able to find the perfect balance on the debut from the Horrible Crowes.  While it could be said that a lot of these tracks would not feel so out of place on a Gaslight Anthem record, an album by Gaslight with the majority of these songs on it would be pulling that band pretty far from the direction in which they started.  Here we have what could be described as mellower versions of the type of songs Fallon has written for Gaslight (heavy Springsteen influenced rock n roll) with some interesting notes thrown in (like the clear Tom Waits influence).  More than anything though, this record cements Fallon is as one of the great up and coming songwriters of his generation, who will likely be around long after his main act, or this side project, disappear.  Suggested for fans of the Gaslight Anthem, Tom Petty, and Tom Waits.

Favorite Tracks:  “Behold the Hurricane”, “I Witnessed a Crime”, “Ladykiller”

9.  Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground (Side One Dummy Records)

With his third full length, it seems that Chuck Ragan (formerly of Hot Water Music) has found his “sound”.  This is not to say Chuck has spent the last five years not knowing what he wanted to sound like, as his first two solo releases were quite good.  It just seems like this recording finally best represents his sound.  It is both raw and has the energy and passion of his live show, which makes sense because on this record he has chosen to be mostly just accompanied by Joe Ginsburg (on bass) and Jon Guant (on fiddle), who are his live band.  Of all the punk rock singers turned folk troubadours, I think that Chuck has the most authentic Americana sound, one that really throws back to the heart and soul of American folk/country music.  There is just something about the mix of his voice, his songwriting, and his bit of bluegrass sensibility that really does it for me.  Suggested for fans of Bruce Springsteen, Hot Water Music, and Austin Lucas.

Favorite Tracks:  “Nomad by Fate”, “Wish on the Moon”, “Valentine”

10.  M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute Records)

My interest in M83 was sparked after I saw a teaser for this record that was shot almost like a trailer for a Malick film.  From that I decided I would check this record out.  My understanding of this band is that they are from France and the main guy pretty much writes, arranges, and records everything mostly himself.  With this record, M83 finds a way to create lush dreamscapes with a throw back to 80’s pop.  This is the type of record you put on with your headphones and just allow yourself to drift away.  The 80’s sensibilities really bring this record to life, making it more than just a floaty ethereal record, allowing the songs to get stuck in your head.  Suggested for fans of Phoenix, the Sounds, and LCD Soundsystem.

Favorite Tracks: “Midnight City”, “New Map”, “Reunion”

11.  Man Man – Life Fantastic (Anti- Records)

Man Man is a strange band and Life Fantastic is a fantastically weird record.  With a sound that is like Tom Waits fronting Oingo Boingo, Man Man is able to create an album of catchy tunes using all sorts of interesting instrumentation (think xylophones and lots of percussion).  The songs and lyrics can be weird at times, but they will get under your skin and stuck in your head.  This record is both fun and really well done.  It is nice to see a band taking the risk of being  truly unique and succeeding so well with it.  Suggested for fans of Tom Waits, Oingo Boingo, and Talking Heads.

Favorite Tracks: “Piranhas Club”, “Steak Knives”, “Life Fantastic”

12.  Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man (Asian Man Records)

Another best of list and another Andrew Jackson Jihad album making the cut.  Andrew Jackson Jihad has been at the forefront of the folk/punk movement with his brutally honest lyrics, and Knife Man is his most realized (and possibly best) record to date.  This time around, AJJ goes even further away from just being an acoustic guitar and stand up bass, with much richer arrangements and production value (though this has been teased a bit on the last record).  At first this album may not quite click, but after a few listens, when all the nuances come to life, one can fully appreciate what AJJ brings to the table.  The songs are catchy, well written, and actually say something.  Suggested for fans of Against Me!, Fake Problems, and Chuck Ragan.

Favorite Tracks: “Big Bird”, “People II 2: Still Peoplin'”, “Sad Songs (Intermission)”

13.  William Elliot Whitemore – Field Songs (Anti- Records)

Could there be any greater name for this record than Field Songs?  William Elliot Whitemore’s latest effort is a real nice collection of songs that are best described as just that, field songs.  This record is modern day dust bowl folk record that feels very authentic (possibly because William Elliot Whitemore actually lives on a farm?).  These songs are protest songs for the working class modern day farmer set to the musical accompaniment of guitar and banjo.  Suggested for fans of Woody Gutherie, Chuck Ragan, and Bob Dylan.

Favorite Tracks:  “Field Songs”, “Everything Gets Gone”, “We’ll Carry On”

14.  Dead to Me – Moscow Party Ante (Fat Wreck Chords)

This is the only real punk record I felt good enough to make my list.  San Fransisco’s Dead to Me has had a different line up on every record, yet every record has been great.  This is probably a testament to anchor member Chicken’s perseverance more than anything, but I’m glad they have kept it together this long.  A little more straight forward then their last record, Moscow Party Ante is a straight ahead punk with the spirit of ’77 and all sorts of catchy hooks.  The vocals are buried a bit in the mix, but once you listen to it a few times you get whats going on and its great.  Suggested for fans of The Clash, One Man Army, and Rancid.

Favorite Tracks:  “The Trials of Oscar Wilde”, “The Evolution Will Be Tele-Visualized”, “Dead Pigeon Tricks”

15.  Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resit (Don Giovonni Records)

Jangly female fronted indie rock is what I have heard used to describe Laura Stevenson and the Cans.  While that is some what true of their sound, what sets them apart from other similar acts is the voice and cleverness of front women Laura Stevenson.  Mix those qualities of Stevenson with her backing band, the Cans, and their mixture of strings and horns with straight forward indie guitar (and some punk rock influences) and you get a great little record with some great tunes.  Suggested for fans of Regina Spektor, Tegan and Sara, and Christine Fellows.

Favorite Tracks: “Master of Art”, “Caretaker”, “The Healthy One”

16.  Jolie Holland – Pint of Blood (Anti- Records)

Jolie Holland’s unique voice and her mixture of jazz and folk music has set her apart as one of the best female singer/songwriters in the game.  That being said, her last couple of records have been somewhat lackluster, with a few good tracks here and there, but on the whole not too consistent.  Pint of Blood is true return to form for Holland, with its cohesiveness and great tracks all the way through.  The sound of the record is a bit of Escondida mixed with the Living and the Dead.  Beyond the solid songwriting, the great lead guitar work gives the songs just the right texture.  Suggested for fans of Neko Case, Audra Mae, and Jenny Lewis.

Favorite Tracks: “All Those Girls”, “Wreckage”, “Little Birds”

17.  Mates of State – Mountaintops (Barsuk Records)

The catchiest record of the year goes to Mates of State (I think they win this one almost every year).  Nothing too groundbreaking on this record, but Mates of State bring their usual brand of super catchy indie-pop tunes.  This time around there is a bit of an 80’s synth influence on a few tracks, but all and all a fun time.  Suggeseted for fans of Tegan and Sara, Los Campensitos!, and Slow Club.

Favorite Tracks: “Palomino”, “Maracas”, “Mistakes”

18.  Lemuria – Pebble (Bridge Nine Records)

Lemuria’s sophomore full-length shows a great deal of progression and maturation.  This album takes what they learned from their first record, Get Better, and builds on it, in terms of the songwriting.  The sound of the record is a bit slowed down, with a heavy late 80’s, early 90’s indie rock feel (the Pixies come to mind).  This one takes a few listens to get into, but afterward one can hear both the catchiness and the delicateness of the record.  Lemuria has found its sound and moved successfully from being a punk rock band with some indie sound to being an indie rock band with some punk influence.  Suggested for fans of Jawbreaker, Tegan and Sara, and the Pixies.

Favorite Tracks: “Wise People”, “Different Girls”, “Durian”

19.  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (Saddlecreek Records)

After a long hiatus from making records under the Bright Eyes moniker, Conor Oberest is back with an album that seems like the perfect album for Bright Eyes right now.  Though it is a little more polished then previous releases, the songwriting is top notch and the album is the most cohesive the band has put out in years  The songs are smart and catchy, and exactly what I wanted from them at this point in their career. Suggested for fans of Cursive, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and Bob Dylan.

Favorite Tracks: “Jejune Stars”, “Approximate Sunlight”, “Triple Spiral”

20.  Slow Club – Paradise (Moshi Moshi Records)

Though less folky than their debut release, this UK duo know how to make some sweet music together.  Their voices play off each other so well, and the passion and energy really comes through on the record.  More of an indie rock sound with some folk influence, then a folk record, this record takes what they have done in the past and expands on it.  More electric guitars, but still poppy and cute.  Suggested for fans of Mates of State, Mumford and Sons, Los Campensitos!

Favorite Tracks: “Two Cousins”, “If We’re Still Alive”, “Where I’m Waking”

Honorable Mentions:

Jay Z and Kayne West – Watch the Throne
Casio Kids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Marachi El Bronx – II
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Tegan and Sara – Get Along
Wilco – the Whole Love
Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do
Paul Simon – So Beautiful, So What
Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

Favorite EP of 2011:

Look Mexico – Real American Spear It (Adeline Records) – This EP is awesome, and I can’t wait for them to follow it up with a full-length.

Favorite Live Shows of 2011:

Frank Turner / Andrew Jackson Jihad – The Glasshouse – October 11, 2011
Rx Bandits farewell show – The Glasshouse – August 6, 2011
Slapstick Reunion / Slow Gherkin Reunion (Asian Man Records 15 Year Anniversary) – San Francisco – June 16 & 17, 2011

Favorite Record of 2010 That I Didn’t Discover Until 2011:

The Wild – Everything We Needed (Asian Man Records)

Most Anticipated Records of 2012:

Not too much has been announced, but I’m looking forward to new albums by these artists in 2012:

Lucero, Good Old War, John K. Samson, Look Mexico, Gaslight Anthem, Against Me!, Cheap Girls

2011 Mixtape:

Side A:

1.  Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Caretaker
2.  M83 – Midnight City
3.  Porturgal. the Man – Got it All (This Can’t Be Living Now)
4.  Childish Gambino – Fire Fly
5.  Cults – Go Outside
6.   My Morning Jacket – Wonderful (the Way I Feel)
7.   Andrew Jackson Jihad – Distance
8.  Mayer Hawthorne – Finally Falling
9.  Mates of State – Maracas
10.  Feist – Cicadas and Gulls
11.  William Elliot Whitmore – Field Songs
12.  Audra Mae and the Almighty – I Won’t Grow Up

Side B:

1.  Frank Turner – I Still Believe
2.  The Horrible Crowes – Behold the Hurricane
3.  Dead to Me – The Monarch Hotel
4.  Bright Eyes – Approximate Sunlight
5.  Look Mexico – Arrest? I Don’t Feel Like I’m Under Arrest
6.  Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
7.  Jolie Holland – Little Birds
8.  Man Man – Piranhas Club
9.  Lemuria – Pleaser
10.  Chuck Ragan – Come Around
11.  Slow Club – If We’re Still Alive
12.  Tom Waits – Get Lost

Listen to the 2011 Mixtape on Spotify

Musing #81
December 4, 2011, 8:53 pm
Filed under: Musing

I’m Back …

It is now nearing the end of another year and this blog has been pretty absent from activity in the past few months.  The lack of activity (the last post was in August) was intentional for the most part, but slightly unintentional.  As life was getting busier and busier, I decided it was a good time to take a break from feeling some sort of obligation to update this blog.  Now life hasn’t really gotten that much less busy (well maybe slightly), but I feel like it is a good time to start updating the blog again, at least here and there.  Also, being the end of the year, it is about time to do my favorite records of the year post, but that will be the next post, this one will be one about catching up.

So whats been going on?  Whats on your mind?

Well those seem like appropriate questions, so lets get into it.

Occupy Wall Street.  Everyone is talking about it, so I might as well give my two cents.  While the media often casts the movement (and I’m using the term movement loosely) in a some what negative light, I feel like it is about time that people start fighting for some semblance of sanity and reasonableness in this country.  I mean even Thomas Jefferson famously said that the people should start a revolution every once in a while to persevere liberty (I know that’s not the exact quote).  Now I know it is hard to figure out what exactly the message of this movement is, and I agree that it is the biggest problem of the movement, but there is a real great article by Matt Taibbi in one of the recent issues of Rolling Stone Magazine that explains why it is okay that they don’t have a focused message quite yet.  In the article he comes to the conclusion that although there is no focused message, the movement it self is basically sending the message that people are fed up with the direction the world is going and they want something different, and further they are aware that they might not have the answers to fix the problems, but they are looking for some new options.  I think this is a good assessment of the situation.   Things are not going well right now, and we need to figure out how to make the middle class stronger, because at the end of the day, they are people that fuel the economy (it is simple mathematics, they are the consumer class).  Not to wax too political or anything, but it is nice to see the majority opening their eyes to the fact they are being pushed around by the minority.

Also, its nice to see Fat Mike from NOFX getting involved in the movement, as punk rock has always been about fighting against the oppression of the rich, even though Mike is now part of the 1%.  It nice that he still remembers his roots and it is encouraging to see him amongst others support it in a real way.  Here is a video:

Life passing us by.  Lately I’ve been thinking about how we get so distracted in doing things, that we are often not completely engaged in the things we are doing.  Now I know at first this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but stay with me for a second.  This weekend I saw the film the Descendants, the new George Clooney vehicle (it was really good, I recommend it).  In the film there is a scene where Clooney is having a small gathering at his house to tell all his friends and family that his wife, who is in a coma, doesn’t have much time left.  The thing that stood out to me in this scene is that Clooney’s character is so busy dealing with the procedure of dealing with his wife’s illness, he never takes the time to fully engage the situation and deal with it on an emotional level.  Now why is this something I have been thinking about?  Well a couple of things.  One is the recent passing of my grandfather.  Similar to Clooney in the movie, it seems like the people in the family who are the most effected by his passing have been the ones who are doing/did everything related to the “family matters”, and because they are so busy handling things, there is a slight detachment from the reality of the loss.  Now in situations like this it may be a good thing, as the distractions may help guard us from the heaviness of the grief.  Then when we finally deal with it, more time will have passed and maybe it will be slightly easier.  But who knows.  The other situation that this applies to, and the other reason I’ve been thinking about this, is that last weekend the band I played in during high school (Better Off Dead) played a 10 year reunion show.  Now by all measures the show was a complete success.  With only three days of rehearsal we were able to get the songs sounding as good as they did ten years ago, and then we were able to put together a party with around 100 people at my parent’s house and played a great show, raised some money for charity, and everyone really seemed to have a great time.  Now this is an assessment of the event that I have taken mostly from what people have told was their experience.  I on the other hand, sort of missed it all.  See, I was the one orchestrating the whole thing; it was at my parent’s place, I set up all the equipment, I was running the soundboard, recording the show, dealing with the other band, and making sure the party was going smoothly.  Basically, I was extremely busy the whole time.  So I was there, but I wasn’t really there, and I did not get to experience it like everyone else.  Now in this case, the distraction wasn’t guarding me from anything, but instead it caused me to miss a lot of the enjoyment, leaving me to wonder if although it was a success, I completely missed out.  I mean there was a huge build up to the event, with months of preperation, but when it was finally all said and done, it felt extermely anti-climatic for me.  That being said though, I had an amazing time the three days before rehearsing with the guys and hanging out and playing the songs again, so don’t feel too bad for me.  At the end of the day, my conclusion is that sometimes we need to just slow things down and take everything in, for good and for bad.  We only have one life to live, so why not experience it for everything it offers you?

Alright, I think that was a good start to bringing this thing back to life.  More to come …

Soundtrack: Tom Waits – Satisfied (off Bad As Me)

Musing #80
August 7, 2011, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Music, Musing | Tags: , ,

Farewell, Old Friends

A few months back, Rx Bandits announced after 15 or so years, they would be embarking this summer on their farewell tour.  Whether or not this would be the end of the band, was not entirely clear, but surely the band was going to enter into the “hiatus” status (which is often code for, we are breaking up but we want to leave it open ended enough in case we want to get back together at some point) and would not be playing for the foreseeable future.  Though this was sad news, as the world would be losing one of the best live bands playing music today, it did not surprise me, as year after year of relentless touring takes a toll on a band.  Nonetheless, Rx Bandits are one of the few bands that have had a major impact on my life and they will be missed.

My story with Rx Bandits (or “RxB”) starts sometime in 1996 or 1997, and a compilation called “Hey Brother, Can You Spare Me Some Ska” (or at least I think that is what it was called), put out by the now defunct Vegas Records (big ups to Jon).  On that record was a song by a band called the Pharmaceutical Bandits called “Teenage Idol”.  It was the typical ska-punk song of the times, as ska and ska-punk music was the music of the moment in the mid-90’s, and especially in Orange County, CA.  The song was catchy and I took note.  This song would again end up on numerous compilations (the main venue for finding new bands back in those days) and quickly became ingrained in my head, and the head of many others.  Then, I believe in 1998, I caught a glimpse of Pharmaceutical Bandits live at the Ska Against Racism show at Oak Canyon Ranch, but to be honest, I don’t remember much about seeing them at this show.  The first real show of theirs I went was a free show they had at what was then Blockbuster Music in the Irvine Spectrum.  Their first record “Those Damn Bandits” had just been released and they were shooting a music video for “Teen Idol” (a music video that to my knowledge never saw the light of day).  There are two things I remember about this show.  The first was that this was the first time I was ever floated at a show (I think I was probably 12 or 13 years old).  The second was that their performance caused such a ruckus that it ended with people throwing cds off the shelves and stomping all over them and then the store’s manager freaking out, yelling at people, and breaking a plastic cd tower over his knee.  Needless to say, this was the last free show that the Blockbuster Music ever put on (but to be fair, they went out of business pretty shortly after).  I’m going to be honest, the first few times I saw Pharmaceutical Bandits, I wasn’t that impressed.  Their songs were good, but their live show was sloppy.  After this show, I had little intention of buying their record or going to see them anymore.

Back in the mid to late 90’s, in Orange County, there was actually a strong music scene.  Because of this strong music scene, I came across Pharmaceutical Bandits whether I liked it or not, as all the local bands would play all the same shows together.  Luckily for me, this changed my opinion of the band.  As I saw them more, the better and better I saw them become live.  After awhile I was really starting to dig them.  Lucky for me, my friend Dane was the cousin of the sax player, so I was able to get hooked up with a free copy of their first record.  When I finally listened to the first album, I thought it was great and wish I had been on board earlier.  Nonetheless, I was on board now and I continued to see a lot of the band at the local shows.  Eventually, they put out a second record, “Halfway Between Here and There”.  I remember going to the cd release show and the band announcing that Chain Reaction had actually filled the venue beyond capacity for the show.  By this time, they had changed their name to Rx Bandits, and had become a solid live band with good tunes.  They weren’t my favorite band at the time, but I was definitely into the music.   Anyway, the story kind of goes on the same for awhile, as I saw them a bunch, either cause they were playing with bands I wanted to see or because I went to see them.

Then in 2001, the band released “Progress”.  This is when everything changed.  The band started to push music forward and became more than just a Sublime meets the energy of Less Than Jake band.  I started to hear influences of Refused and math rock.  Sure there was less “ska” and “punk”, but they were doing something new and different, and this was exciting to me (as well as many others).  On top of this, they were doing it with precision and with great lyrics.  I recall a time when the record had just come out and the band I was in was driving to the recording studio to record our first album and we were just blasting it all the way to the studio, it definitely pumped us up for the recording session.  This was the point I, as well as some of my friends, started to see RxB every time they were in town.  At this point though, they were a nationally touring band and were playing far less in Orange County.  To that end I remember driving up to the Hollywood Palladium to see them open for New Found Glory, just cause we thought it was cool they were playing such a big venue.

A few more years went by, and right after my freshman year of college, RxB released “the Resignation”.  This album blew me away.  Gone was the ska and the punk, replaced by a sort of post-punk with horns that had amazing lyrical content and melodies, and was completely forward thinking.  Still this remains one of my all time favorite records.  Not only was it a great record, but it was super influential on the music I was making in the band I was playing in.  Also at this time, RxB’s live shows became insane; explosions of sound, great energy, and a new jamming element made their live show a force to be reckoned with.

Basically the story continues in a similar manner.  The band continued to play great shows that were inspiring as a musician, and as a person, and I saw them as much as I could.  They put out two more records, both pushing the envelope musically and doing something new each time.  Though “the Resignation” is still my favorite of their records, “and the Battle Begun” and “Mandala” are both great records that I also love.  Because of this and their live show, which only got better and better (despite losing the horns), I tried to catch the band every time they were in town.  Though my interest in the band has waned slightly in recent years, I still loved going to see them live, as they still put on one of the best live show out there.

Last night I experienced their second to last show (possibly ever), which was at the Glasshouse, their last one being up in San Francisco for some reason (and I also saw them on Wednesday in Long Beach).  For this show, they brought some friends along to play horns and played one of the best sets I have ever seen them play.  It was groovin’, ferocious, happy, and sad, all at the same time.  The band sound amazing and it truly was a great last chance to see them play.

I spent the last 13 or so years of my life being a fan of RxB and I saw the band more than 25 times.  It is rare that I find something so compelling to stick with it this long.  I grew up with this band and it felt like they would always be around.  But all good things must come to an end.  What I take away from this experience is that great music can truly be made without the help of the mainstream music industry if you believe in what you play and continue to push the envelope by challenging yourself in the music you are playing.  But more than the great music and memories of the band, I will take away all the great friendships I have made through their music.  The number of people I have connected with because we both understood what RxB was all about is more than I can count.  I have made great friends because of this band and their music.  Even more so, being in a band that was playing music that had influence from RxB, led us to meet other bands in a small niche that were also playing music influenced by RxB.  These bands became good friends, from many different places, and have made me some great memories.  Some of these friends have also led me to hang out with the RxB guys on occasion (and by hangout I mean, play shows with their side projects or be at the same parties, not that they know me in anyway).  In a small way there was a family of bands that were connected to RxB and we were lucky enough to be on the fringe of this circle (bands like GDB, the Return, Facing New York to name a few).  The point being that this band has fostered a community of people that appreciates a culture of good music and honest things in life.

It has been a great run and I hope to see RxB return some day with something new and exciting (whether it be new projects or more RxB).  If not, it is okay, because the memories and music have already been more than anyone could ever ask of a band.  So with that I say thank you Rx Bandits and farewell.

Musing #79
June 20, 2011, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Music, Musing

“the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” – Mark Twain

So I have returned from a short trip to San Francisco.  The main purpose of the trip was the Asian Man Records 15 Year Anniversary Festival, a celebration of a record label that has been very important to the underground music scene during the past two decades.  I took the trip with my good friends Stu and Grant.  While we were up there, we also had some time to explore the city and hang out with some old friends.

We rolled into town, over the Bay Bridge, around 10pm, and made our way to the Bernal Heights neighborhood, the place where we would be staying for the next few days.  After we got settled, we went out to a local bar called Knockout to have a few drinks and catch some live music.  Of particular interest was a singer/songwriter named St. Christopher, from Lincoln Nebraska.  He played some aggressive blues rock with a stomp box (sort of in the vein of Mike Ness).  His songs were very typical, but his showmanship was great, and it made for an entertaining night.  The next morning, we got up, ate some breakfast, and then went for a hike up Bernal Hill.  When we reached the peak, we could see the entire city.  It was pretty epic.

After the hike, we meet with our old friend Matt and headed for the Sutra Bath House Ruins.  From what I understand, Sutra Bath House was a giant public swimming pool that was destroyed in the earlier 20th century by either a fire or earthquake (don’t remember exactly).  The ruins of the bath house remain and you can walk around on them.  It was a pretty cool little adventure of exploration.

That night we attended the first of three shows that we planned to attend which were part of the festival (I think there were a total of 10 shows).  Our old friend Mike met up with us and we headed to Slims, the venue.  Now Mike, Matt, and Grant used to play in a band with me back in high school called Better Off Dead.  We used to all go to shows together all the time back in those days (listening to Asian Man Records bands and such).  This was the first time we had gotten together in the same place in nearly 10 years, so it was pretty cool little reunion of our own, and it was kind of a funny how after about an hour together, it felt like no time had passed.  That night’s show was the biggest of all the shows, because Mike Park was able to get the infamous Slapstick to reunite for this one night only.  But first the show start with one of Mike Park’s bands, The Chinkees.  Back in the day, The Chinkees only played 5 shows in America (most of their shows were overseas in Asia for some reason) and we were all lucky enough to attend one of those five shows.  Anyway, it was fun to see the band again, with their organ driven punk ska sound.  Halfway through the set, a drunken Matt Skiba (singer of Alkaline Trio) got up on stage and danced with Mike Park through a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Bankshot”.  The band sounded pretty good for not having played in 9 or so years, but it was clear that they had not played these songs in a long time.  Next up was Mu330, who have been defunct for the past 5 or so years.  We had seen these guys a number of times back in the day, and that night they sound tighter then ever as they played through a set of fan favorites.  It was a lot of fun seeing them again.   Next up was the band that everyone had come to see, Slapstick.  Slapstick, from Chicago, existed from about 1993-1996, and members of the band have gone on to be in bands like Alkaline Trio (Dan Andriano) and the Lawrence Arms (Brendan Kelly).  Like many in attendance that night, the band had broken up before I had ever had a chance to see them, so this was a real treat.  After a short wait, the band took the stage and ripped right into their first song.  The band sounded tight, with very minimal mistakes.  Clearly they had rehearsed for this reunion and were taking it seriously (even if Brendan Kelly, the singer, kept making fun of how immature the lyrics to the songs were).  The show went off without a hitch, with the exception of a drunken Matt Skiba stumbling on stage and saying a few inappropriate things (see below), and the band played the majority of their 25 song discography.  All in all, it was an awesome night, getting to see bands I used to love as a teen and getting to hang with the friends I used to go to show with back in those days.

Slapstick – drunken Matt Skiba/ 74 Fullerton

After staying up all night the night before, we got moving around 11am and had a little breakfast at the Squat and Gobble (I recommend the chorizo burrito).  After eating, Grant and I ventured to the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate park to check a new exhibition on Picasso.  It was a very nice and expansive exhibit, with over 110 pieces that ranged through all different parts of Picasso’s career.  I’m glad I got to see it, and it gave me an excuse to go hang out in Golden Gate park.  After a light dinner of sushi, we headed to Thee Parkside to see Slow Gherkin play a reunion show.  When we got to the show, Monkey was just finishing their set.  Next up was Unsteady from San Diego (I believe this was a reunion for them, but I don’t know enough about them to confirm this).  They were alright, their songs all kind of sound the same to me, but they did play the one song of theirs that I really like (“Bad Attitude”).  After Unsteady finished, Buck O Nine took the stage.  Another band I used to listen to back in the day, and it was fun seeing them play.  After that, Slow Gherkin got ready to play.  Now back in high school, we used to see Slow Gherkin every time they came town (they are from Santa Cruz, but Orange County sort of became a second home to them).  They broke up about ten years ago and I have missed them, as they used to put on the most energetic live show of any band I have seen.  They blasted on to the stage with “Slaughterhouse” and the crowd went crazy.  Suddenly I was thrown back into a moment, something I hadn’t seen or felt in a long time, like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time.  It was like it was ten years earlier, nothing had changed.  There is just a certain energy that this band brings to the live show that makes you have to dance and just have a great time.  So that is what I did.  I loved it.  Seeing Slow Gherkin again just brought me back to a special place and feeling that has long since been gone, and I am grateful to have been able to experience it one last time.

Slow Gherkin – How Now Lowbrow at the reunion show

The next morning we got up and went to the Bottom of the Hill for the only matinee show of the festival.  The Broadways (Brendan and Rob’s band after Slapstick) were playing their one and only reunion show.  Before they took the stage, there were three surprise openers, but we only got to see the last one, which was Bomb the Music Industry!.  Unfortunately the sound mix for them was terrible and made the band sound horrible (when in fact they are a pretty good band).  The Broadways then took the stage to play some political punk rock that hasn’t been heard live in years.  Most of the show Brendan was laughing at the fact that when they actually were a band nobody cared about them and that this was probably the biggest crowded they had ever drawn.  Regardless of how small their following was, or still is, the kids who came out to see the show loved it.  Though the band did not sound quite as rehearsed as Slapstick, they still played pretty good and it was great getting a chance to finally see them.  After the show we had a good pasta dinner at Emmy’s and then took it easy for the rest of the night, as we were pretty burnt out at that point.

The next morning we began on our journey home.  On the way down, we stopped at the Winchester Mystery House (which was interesting, despite our lame tour guide Nick) and Casa de Frutas.  After some horrendous traffic in LA, we made it home around 7:30.  All in all, a pretty good little trip.

Musing #77
May 3, 2011, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Musing

This is what is currently on my mind:

Bin Laden is dead. Well I guess this has probably been on most people’s minds the past couple of days. Now personally I think his death was a good thing symbolically (as I don’t think it will change that much that quickly) but what this has really got me thinking about is whether he, or Al Qaeda for that matter, is still relevant. It seems with the recent uprisings in the middle east, there is a fundamental rejection by people of the region of the things that the extremists stood for. I know recently an Al Qaeda spokes person responded to CNN, who was making similar allegations, and said the uprisings are in fact the opposite and are in fact making room for extremist regimes to come in and take over these parts of the middle east. This response from Al Qaeda basically stunk of desperation, like the CEO who tells everyone that business is great in order to keep stockholder confidence, while the whole time secretly hoping no one will notice that he is dumping all his stock and strapping on a parachute. From the outward appearance of the situation it seems like there is a fundamental shift away from the oppression of the past and an openness for a more modern society. Whether this means the people want democracy or not is difficult to tell, but they want a change, that is for sure, and it is hard to believe that what Al Qaeda has to offer is the change they are looking for. That being said, it is just hard to see how Al Qaeda can have any relevant impact on the world these days. Sure they can still (and probably will) kill people senselessly, but to what endgame? What would that even accomplish at this point? This is not saying the “war on terror” is by any means over, but it certainly is not the same boogie man it was a mere ten years ago.

Speaking of ten years ago, I was watching the Colbert Report and Colbert made some joke about returning to pre-9/11 times. This got me thinking about how things were before 9/11, and how it seems that life will never go back to how it was. Maybe it felt so different just because I was young, but at the time, the world just seem much more innocent then it really was. Since then it seems like the world has gotten more crazy. Maybe it has always been crazy and we just had our eyes closed to it before 9/11. Maybe I was just young and naive at the time. Either way, it makes me wonder if we are better off knowing the reality of the world we live or living in blind ignorance. Though the illusion of safety was comforting, I think life is more fulfilling when you are living in the reality of your surroundings (yes I just made two album title references in one sentence; can you find them both?).

On an unrelated note, I have been thinking about why we always want the things we can’t have, and when we get those things, we often realize we don’t actually want those things. While this is not true of all things, when it does happen, it seems like a lot of time and energy was wasted for nothing. What is it that makes us psychologically think that things we can’t have must be things that are great? I don’t have any answers on this one, just been thinking about it lately.

Also been thinking about how I have been buying waaay too much music lately. Mostly it is because Amazon offers digital downloads for so cheap. Unfortunately, consuming so much music makes me give that music much less attention. So I’m listening to a lot, but I’m not really listening to many albums a lot. In the last two weeks I have picked up: Etta James – At Last, Cheap Girls – My Roaring 20’s, Violent Femmes – S/T, Silversun Pickups – Swoon, M. Ward – the End of Amnesia, Booker T. – Potato Hole, Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues, Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1, Thursday – No Devolucion, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band & the Del McCoury Band – American Legacies. So I have a lot of good stuff to listen to. Maybe I should slow down and focus on less music. Or maybe I will never learn . . . .

Soundtrack – Bob Marley – War/No More Trouble (live)

Review #55
April 25, 2011, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Musing, Reviews | Tags: , ,

Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resist (Don Giovanni Records) 2011

This week sees the release of Brooklyn’s Laura Stevenson and the Cans sophomore album, Sit Resist.  I really enjoyed Laura Stevenson and the Can’s last record, appropriately titled A Record, and when they announced they would have a new record out this Spring, I was very much looking forward to it.  Then a few weeks ago, at South by Southwest, I had a couple of chances to see the Cans live.  They played some tracks off this forthcoming record, and I was then even more so looking forward to it.  Luckily I did not have to wait long to check it out because right after I returned home from Southby, they put up the pre-order for the record with an immediate download of the record (three weeks before it’s release).

Three weeks later, with the record being released tomorrow, I have been listening to the album almost non-stop.  Oddly, when I first started listening to the record, it did not grab me in the same immediate way their last record did.   This record felt a little different, with vocals a little more buried in the mix, and certain richness (and less raw) in the sound.  The songs were a little more complex and a little more subtle.  Slowly but surely though, the record grew on me and got stuck in my head, and under my skin.  Laura’s sweet, but often subtly haunting, vocals and smooth melodies are what sets this band apart from other female front bands with that jangly indie rock sound.  Accompanying Laura is a great bunch of musicians (the Cans) who provide the perfect mix of rock drums, guitar, and bass with accordion, horns, and string arrangements, to paint the background and set the right tone for Laura’s vocals.  On top of it all this is the cleverness of the songwriting, that finds a way to feel both polished and raw at the same time.  This is a great album that I am really enjoying, and I’m completely satisfied with it.  Standout tracks include the indie pop rocker “Master of Art”, the Jolie Holland esq “Care Taker”, the bouncy “The Healthy One”, and “the Wait”.  That being said, give this album some time and you will be enjoying all the tracks.  I recommend it for fans of Lemuria, Regina Specter, and Tegan and Sara.

Here is Laura Stevenson and the Cans performing I See Dark (as part of the Nervous Energies Sessions):