Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Favorite Records of 2019

Not feeling especially nostalgic at the moment, despite reaching the end of another year - another decade.  This list is comprised of my most listened to records of this past year.  There are many other deserving releases that I'm neglecting, which is never easy for me.  Here it is nevertheless.  

Moving Panoramas In Tune

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Wayside Wonders

Kenny was like the Fonz.  You know, the Fonz from Happy Days?  The cool guy, who was small, yet seemed tougher than everyone else.  He was cool.  Kenny was just a kid, as I look back on it now – maybe 19-20, but for a fifteen year old getting into his first ever job, he seemed to be in complete control.

Kenny was the dayshift/prep manager at Gianelli’s Pizza.  I had joined the coveted Saturday afternoon shift as the dishwasher.  I had heard about Kenny, but had yet to work with him.  I generally worked evening shifts after school or weekend nights.  I had just tied on an apron to start my shift and was scrubbing a few random leftover dishes from the previous night to run through the machine.  Kenny came around the corner, in faded Levi’s, and the black Gianetti’s t-shirt, hopped up on the counter next to me, propped his feet on an empty garbage can, revealing worn black Converse high-tops.  He had a Frusen Glädjé ice cream container in his hand.  Remember Frusen Glädjé?  It was the copycat fake Scandinavian fancy ice cream trying to horn in on the other fake Scandinavian ice cream, Häagen-Dazs.  It came in a pint sized plastic capsule container.  Kenny popped the lid off with the thumb of the hand he was holding the capsule with, while twirling a spoon with the other. 

“Did you eat a nutritious breakfast?” Kenny said without looking at me.  I assumed he was talking to me, since no one else was around.  I nodded my head side to side.  I had literally been in bed asleep 30 minutes ago, before rolling out of bed, getting dressed and walking the mile or so to work.  He poked the spoon into the container revealing a quiet crunch and scooped out a small bit of cereal into his mouth.  Between chews, he continued: “I expect everyone to be ready to go.  Get yourself one of these.”

That is where my training began.  Every moment with Kenny contained teaching moments.  Not all of it made sense at the time, and a lot of it still doesn’t make sense, yet I still feel like those lessons are still to come to fruition 35 plus years later.  Being the Saturday dishwasher really meant that I would be doing prep for the evening rush.  Saturday nights were the busiest and we would have to prep the cheese, the pepperoni and salami, cook the ground meats, and slice the tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and green peppers.  Everyone helped with prep, but dishes were light duty during the day, so it was mostly up to the dishwasher to get this stuff done.  I learned these trades from Kenny.  He was a master.  Everything he did oozed quality.  He was neat, efficient, and in his hands, all of the prep work was immaculate. 

I remember him showing me how to use the slicer.  He fastened on a big heavy metal tube and we poured about 10 pounds of raw yellow onions inside and turned the switch on.  The thing jumped to life with a stutter and then jolted violently back and forth.  I was terrified.  He tightened a knob on this jerking monstrosity to adjust the thickness of the slices.  We would collect the booty into a tub, seal it when full and date it.  Eventually, my intimidation with this beast wore off.  When slicing onions, the air of the entire restaurant would fill with that eye burning toxicity.  Often I would handle the run off by approaching the slicer with a makeshift blindfold.  It feels incredibly stupid in retrospect, but after learning the trade from Kenny, I had an intimate knowledge of that machine and total confidence.  It was like Jedi training.  I could mentally feel the machine.  I only learned years later that a 15 year old should not have been working the slicer at that age, nor should any of us been working 75 hour weeks during the summer like we often did. 

The stove tops near the slicer would be on simmer all afternoon cooking ground beef or sausage, which we would flavor with seasonings when ready.  Every so often, someone would have to check the meat by throwing the massive pot on the floor, and mashing and stirring the brew.  The meat mashers became our guitars.  Whatever horrible songs would absolutely blare from the one speaker transistor radio out of the dough room was generally emitting from KSKD 105 (an early Top 40 station with no DJs, which then became the hair metal leaning Top 40 station Q105), if there was a guitar solo, someone was likely performing it on the meat masher.  Kenny taught us the importance of this.  To be an effective performer, one could not simply put their hands in position and move their fingers around.  One had to play with passion.  One had to contort their face with pained expressions accentuating each note.  It was important to look like you mean it.

The dough room was an isolated long hallway that was parallel to the front kitchen, which was out in the open public area.  The dough roller would make a lot of each size of pizza dough and store them in a two-sided refrigerator, so the pizza makers could grab them from the other side.  They worked the day shift.  I never knew who the dough guy was, but he was cool.  He had long sweeping bangs, wore surf shorts and band t-shirts, wore a lot of those fluorescent colored rubber bracelets around his wrists, which were all the rage in my mind, and was always covered from head to toe in flour.  He reminded me of Peter Zaremba from The Fleshtones.  He and Kenny would nod to each other occasionally, but otherwise, they never seemed to communicate.

One of the things I appreciated most about Kenny is that he wanted everyone to know how to do everything.  He would spend the time to make sure you were comfortable at each stage of learning.  When I was taught how to put together a pizza, it was simply having me learn all of the toppings for the combos on the menu.  The business had no limitations for toppings.  We didn’t weigh ingredients or count pepperonis or anything like most places.  People just piled on a lot of stuff and the result would often be a mess leading to a pizza that would have burnt crust and a doughy middle.  Kenny taught moderation.  His skilled hands would wrap around the pizza and each effort would be a perfect balance of toppings and little to no run off.  He guided the toppings onto the pizza looking like a potter working the wheel.  He was an artist.  He insisted that we shout orders and commands randomly.  He had seen a restaurant TV commercial that had all of the chefs shouting back and forth with urgency – likely displaying the busy yet smooth running kitchen.  Know what you’re doing, and look like you mean it.

Over at the ovens, it was the same thing.  Kenny had the ability to cook the pizzas to the perfect crispness and taught us what signs to watch for that would signify when a pie was ready to pull.  More importantly, Kenny took me aside out at the ovens one afternoon and showed me what to do during any downtime.  There are some open minutes after putting a pizza into the oven.  Again, our kitchen was up front.  The crew worked away right behind the counter where the customers placed their orders.  The wall by the ovens displayed pans representing all of the pizza sizes available.  Below these was a stool – about knee high.  He put one foot up onto the stool and leaned into his upraised leg.  With his arms crossed casually over that leg, Kenny looked out towards the counter and did a subtle one finger wave and a head nod.  It gave me chills.  He looked like a movie star hero.  Kenny was teaching me how to do this.  It took a lot of practice, but I began to get the correct nuances.  This, he taught, was the proper way to acknowledge our fans.

It didn’t take long to become a devoted disciple of Kenny’s teachings.  As my skills increased, the training led to more excursions.  One afternoon, Kenny took Nick and me outside and had us lug a 50 pound bag of onions up and down the hillside out front of the building by the Gianelli’s sign.  The landscaping was more fitting to the high desert with its red lava rock and big sagebrush and Idaho fescues, than what one would generally see on the constantly damp and dreary coast.  This military style training wound up bringing in a few curious customers.

As the Christmas holiday neared, Kenny had Nick and me out on the roof of the building stringing lights.  The slippery roof was incredibly hazardous with the coastal wind whipping us around and blasting the driving rain into our faces.  As I look back on it, it feels like maybe Kenny was trying to kill us.  It felt different at the time.  I was terrified of heights, but he instilled in me a confidence that I didn’t know I had and felt I could accomplish anything.

On another outing, Kenny, Nick, and I, suited up in our Gianelli’s shirts, took a handful of pizza pans down to the beach access (D-River Wayside) and tossed them about like Frisbees.  When not engaged in some sort of acrobatic diving catch, we would employ the casual ‘stud’ wave to any curious on-lookers.  The local kite shop, who employed teenagers to fly kites on the beach as advertisement, were getting annoyed at our invasion.  We were a curiosity who were taking attention away from their wares.  We began planning to make our own t-shirts, as we were now known as the Wayside Wonders.

Late one Saturday afternoon, as our shift was winding down, Kenny was sitting on that counter where he liked to eat his morning cereal, he looked exhausted.  He was tussling his hair and taking deep gasping breaths.  This was about the time that Kenny announced to us, that he was packing up his young family and moving to California.  It was an uncomfortable emotional moment.  He continued to look spent as he described to us all of the effort he had put in to this job.  “Sometimes you tell the day, by the bottle that you drink,” he continued.  After a beat, we realized that he was mimicking his favorite music video: “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, which was the ultimate example of how to look like you mean it.

I continued to work at Gianelli’s all through High School.  Things were never the same after Kenny left.  Several months after he moved away rumor had spread that he had become the head chef at some fancy restaurant in the Bay Area.  This was no surprise to any of us.  All of us who had learned from Kenny tried to keep the teachings alive, but it didn’t translate.  None of us had the Fonz-like charisma.

A couple of years later, one busy evening, I was working the ovens and standing out by the size display pizza pans and a fan.  I was lost in thought.  I looked out at the building crowd hanging around the front counter queuing up to place their orders.  A pretty tourist girl with a Slippery When Wet t-shirt and tight jeans with slits cut into the thighs caught my attention.  She was looking at me, even though I looked like a few discarded clumps of leftover dough balled together, rolled through some pubes, and stuffed into an Echo & the Bunnymen shirt.  I locked my gaze on hers and gave her a slight nod, along with a little finger wave.  She smiled. 

* Wayside Wonders drawing by Arlon Gilliland

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Center of the City Lights

Silver Bars
Center of the City Lights
(Shifting Sounds)

Writing this recommendation has been slow coming for me.  First of all, I absolutely love this debut album from this Austin, TX four-piece.  I’ve wanted to share this for several weeks now, but every time I sit down to write something, I get lost while listening and get nothing done.  The good part for me is that I keep hearing these incredible songs, and every time I listen, I come away with a new favorite song.

Shifting Sounds Records is sure building an impressive roster with releases like this one, Honeyrude’s incredible debut in 2017, and the gritty Magnet School.  Texas has become a hotbed for dream pop with an aggressive edge.  Much like Honeyrude, this debut feels and sounds like the work of seasoned veterans at the height of their powers.  In addition, both bands portray some of the most impressive and expressive soaring guitar work I’ve heard since I first heard the Chameleons back in the 80s, or maybe Chrome era Catherine Wheel.  Guitarists Ken Hatton and Paula J. Smith are on fire here.  Each song is highlighted by absolutely scorching hot leads that lead to descriptions such as: stratospheric and captivating, as well as intricate cascading picking that evokes images of the shimmering falling embers from a colorful explosive firework high in the sky.   Meanwhile Smith’s lyrics are thought-provoking and her lead vocals are unique and unassumingly alluring.  I do not mean “unique” in a takes some getting used to sort of way, but in a haven’t heard a voice like hers before sort of way.  This even truer when bassist Stephen Thurman lends his vocals seamlessly to hers, creating an intriguing melding that is wholly its own sound.

The LP kicks off with the slow burning “Pulse,” which is one of those particular majestic songs that would shine both as the perfect introductory song or the big dramatic closing finale.  In this case, as the intro, it does an incredible job at setting an intense mood and to foreshadow the amazing journey we’re about to embark.  Next up are the two pre-LP singles: the remarkably addictive bitter indictment of “Lost You to L.A,” which contains some serious moments of cranking revelation spurred on by the propelling rhythm section of Thurman and drummer Johnny Wilkins, and then there’s the redemptive “Last Crash Landing,” containing a guitar passage in the chorus that I’ve found myself humming eternally since I put this record on the turntable for the first time.  “Marching Song” concludes side one with a slow intro that comes on like the sun creeping its way over the horizon before building increasing tension to an explosive conclusion.

The second side begins with the heartbreaking epic “Green Trees,” before melding into the mid-tempo beauty of “Emergency,” which evokes the effortless gliding principles of prime Abecedarians.  “Put on Your Face” brings some up-tempo fire to side two with an elevating chorus.  The album closes this collection with the brilliant “Slowly but Surely,” and it’s smooth comforting electric warmth.

Luckily, the digital version of Center of the City Lights has two additional songs!  These are no throwaways.  In fact, I can’t get enough of the ‘what’s the matters’ of the verses “Get Comfortable,” as well as the instrumental grind of its chorus.  The second album finale, the melancholy “Spirit Guides,” is another spectacular highlight with a lot of great lines like “kingdom come is a moving target.”  This definitely one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.  Please consider discovering this great new band!

Silver Bars "Lost You to L.A."

Friday, September 13, 2019

Don't Feed the Bear

I often wonder what other people are listening to, when I see someone dancing around behind the wheel of their car, or wearing earbuds as they make their way around a walk, or run, or sit at a desk in a cubicle.  This includes the players I cheer on at the LPGA event I attend each year.  Especially this year.  Almost every player warms up before her round with earbuds on (in?).  Are they listening to DKFM, like I am when I go for walks around the nature park on my way home from work?  I would imagine that the music choices run the gamut from K-Pop, to hip-hop, country, maybe good old retro 80 and 90s music, or whatever passes for top 40 these days.  In my mind, they would be listening to the brand new New Model Army album to prepare for competitive battle, or something both quietly intense and calming like the latest from Slowness - like when I used to play New Order’s “In A Lonely Place,” or the twisted tragic turmoil of the Cure’s “The Kiss,” or strangely, “Welcome to the Boomtown” by LA duo David & David – in order to pass the down time before basketball games during my mediocre school sports career.

Everyone that knows me, knows that I love attending the Portland Classic golf tournament each year.  It is a highlight that in many ways keeps me moving forward – keeps me trying – so I can return the following year.  This year, keeping in mind that I would continue to follow my favorite players around the golf course from hole to hole, I decided to splurge and purchase what were called “Champions Club” passes for all four days of the tourney.  These passes would allow me access to the grandstands behind the 18th green, unlimited food and beverages, and V.I.P. passage into surprisingly nice porta potties.

Every year, after the tournament, I write about my experience with a little coverage thrown in.  This has been going on since 2012, and I am finally ready to stop trying to convince anyone else of the incredibly entertaining merits of this experience.  Instead, I will simply tell a bit about the week, simply in order to try to sort it all out.  It’s been a couple of weeks since it all went down and I’m still not sure if I can.  Now that I’m back fully immersed into the horrific work grind, it’s all fading rapidly.

To be honest, my annual vacation week did not start out great.  Every year I volunteer caddy for two Pro-Ams on Monday and Wednesday.  These are tournaments before the actual tournament, where corporate big wigs pay money to play a round of golf with one of the pros.  This money then goes to charity.  As a volunteer, I caddy for one of the amateurs.  It’s fun for me, because I always get to meet a pro, see them play up close and marvel at their ability, as well as walk a golf course from the fairway I will likely never be able to play.  There have been several moments where I have laughed to the point of hysterics out there – hearing the banter between a player and her caddy, or with a subtle jab at some of these corporate blowhards who are trying to show off.  This year the Pro-Ams were poorly organized.  There was a lot of uncertainty since a lot of people who were registered were not on the list.  Little things were not in place like water to drink, or napkins for the meager food spread, or any kind of set up for checking in.  The people in charge were confused and unprepared, which doesn’t make sense, because this has been happening pretty flawlessly for years.  Though this summer has been mild, the volunteer days were marred by miserable heat.  I was actually worried about my health out there.  For that matter, nothing went quite as planned all week leading up to the tournament.  Everything was off-kilter.  Nothing bad, but all my plans were changed or canceled last minute, and I was in a funk.  I guess it was fitting that it carried over into the caddying event.

Luckily, once the tournament began early Thursday morning, everything fell into place.  I had a group of players I was excited to see in person teeing it up at 8:10 AM and off we went.  Thus began four days of the fun emotional rollercoaster watching great players struggle and triumph as their rounds progressed.  I was discouraged watching Morgan Pressel play really well tee to green, yet she could not buy a putt.  Her putts all looked good, but none of them would drop.  As each hole passed, her frustration grew, and you could see the rest of her game start to crack.  It was not to be her week.  I did almost witness an ultra-rare double eagle in person, as Jeongeun Lee6 hit her second shot on the par 5 fifth hole to about six inches.  The ball slowly rolled by the hole, always looking like it was going to drop.  For the third year in a row, I watched Amy Yang play up close.  Though she struggled in the first round, she shot back to back six under rounds to get in the mix by the final round.  Unfortunately, that final day was rough.  She was off to a slow start, but then went on a great run on the front nine.  Then came a short missed par putt on the 8th hole, and a bladed chip shot on the 9th that led to a double bogey.  This erased her previous progress and she went into a stall the rest of the way – finally finishing in a tie for 20th.

When I wasn’t strolling around the grounds of Columbia Edgewater, I would find refuge in the Champions Club.  I had spent all that money, so I had to take advantage.  On Saturday, I stopped in for lunch as I came around the turn while following Amy’s round.  They were serving unusual looking enchiladas.  I grabbed a plate and silverware, place a little salad on there, then some sort of bean mixture, and then struggled a bit with the lid of the chaffing dish that kept the enchiladas hot.  There was no place to put the lid aside and having deficient control of my left hand, I was struggling.  This was the moment that a really old white haired man wearing an all red outfit nudged me aside, scooping another couple enchiladas onto his plate, pronouncing “These things are way better than they look!”  I was dumbfounded as I held the lid.  It took me some time before I realized that I had just been assaulted by the Bob from Bob’s Red Mill – wearing the same gear he wears on all of their promo pictures.  He was correct.  The food was really tasty!  I never saw him around after that. 

Later, after Amy finished up her round – going from a tie for 63rd to a tie for 10th - I returned to the luxury of the Champions Club, retrieved a beer, and watched all of the remaining pairings finish up on the 18th hole.  It was really cool.  They also had the television coverage playing up there, so we could keep up on action on other holes.  During some down moments, I was exchanging text messages with a handful of different friends who somehow put up with my occasional golf course updates, when I happened upon a GIF (in search of something else) of a chained bear attacking someone.  For whatever reason, I could not stop watching it, nor could I stop laughing.  The harder I tried to suppress the laughter, the worse it got.  Tears streamed down my cheeks, and the older couple sitting to my right moved to the row in front of me.  I laughed harder.  The guy to my left, who had been making small talk with regarding the golf, got up and left.  Soon there was a bubble of space surrounding me, and the laughter came on again.  This went on for some time, at least until I became emotionally overwhelmed by the rousing cheers for some fantastic shots into the 18th green, as we were witnessing some amazing golf being played.

I don’t know what to make of any of this, but by tournament’s end, the week was no longer off-kilter.  I was feeling thankful for the experience and excited that the tourney came down to a final putt from this year’s champion, Australian, Hannah Green.  I had rooted for her to win the Women’s PGA title while watching on TV in the spring, so was happy to see her succeed, and sad that it was all coming to an end again.  Along the way, I met a fellow fan, Alex, who said to me that this is his favorite week of the year.  That he takes the entire week off from work to be able to see his favorite players, and he thinks that the LPGA is the best event to see in person.  Weird, right?

One of these days, one of the players I follow around all 72 holes will breakthrough with the victory, so I can take full credit.  The soundtrack will be provided by David + David.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Right Now

I’m not sure what is wrong with me.  It doesn’t matter how old I get and how many years pass since moving away from the small town where I grew up, every time I go through those seven “miracle” miles, I become the same angst-ridden teenager anxious to get out as fast as I can.  When I was in High School, I used to drive around that dreary town, blasting tunes as loud as I possibly could, so I could emotionally shout along to the lyrics as some sort of primal scream therapy.  I wanted so badly to get away.  I wanted so badly to start a new life full of cool adventures and worldly pursuits that the incredible music I loved so much was educating me about.  I felt trapped, like so many of us do at that age.

The problem is, I still feel trapped, and somehow it all becomes amplified when I drive through that terrible town.  I revert back to cranking the volume on the stereo to blistering levels.  There is no loud that is loud enough!  I think this is part of the reason why I like many of the bands I do.  When I was that restless teenager, I developed a fondness for screeching feedback, atonal tunings, and explosive instrumental drama combined with doom-laden and nihilistic lyrics.  These things were like a defensive shield to keep people away – a warm cocoon of noise to keep me safe.

Luckily, I don’t return very often, and when I do it’s mainly to pass through.  That’s when the windows go down, the volume goes up, and my imagination seethes with images of the streets ripping apart behind me from the sonic waves of epic noise emanating from my shitty car stereo system.  I can almost see the poor passersby bracing themselves to stay upright – showing concern as their teeth rattle to the brink of shattering.  Meanwhile, the automobiles around me are swerving uncontrollably from the rippling roadway and their windows crackling under the intense pressure.

The last time I drove through that dreadful coastal town, I had just started playing the Blankenberge album More.  The first few songs are absolutely breathtaking with their sheer insistency, drama, and yes, passages of explosive sound.  These are songs that for me bring a huge well of emotions surging to the surface simply from the music alone.  The reality is that instead of the handsome dude in the sweet ride cruising through town with a destructively powerful sound system playing music that is literally too cool and powerful for anyone to handle, I’m a fat older guy, on the verge of damaging the speakers of my 15 year old car, that cannot handle the volume of the distorted music playing that no one around will notice at all.

Like I said before, I’m not sure what is wrong with me.  Other than some family medical issues, which would’ve occurred no matter where we would’ve been located, my upbringing was pretty stable and generally happy.  I have a handful of really great friends from that town that I cherish, along with a lot of fun experiences to remember.  It’s the reminder that when passing through that town, I’m really no different than that teenager was.  Just a lot older, less healthy, and a lot more easily frustrated and confounded by everything.  It makes me want to break everything apart and start from scratch.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Ex Voto

Ex Voto
(Earnest Jennings Record Co.)

When I first happened upon New York City’s Versus demo tape in early 1992, I immediately loved it and wrote about it in the old photocopied ‘zine days of This Wreckage.  At 21, and with a pretty limited lexicon of music history, I said this about them:

“The dual vocals of guitarist Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups, along with the bouncy drums of Rob Hale give you an inkling of the best early X songs – with a little of the gentle Go-Betweens thrown in.”

Not sure I would use the same description/comparison if running across them now, but I cannot really argue with it either.  It was that same year, most of the songs from this demo started popping up on 7” singles and compilations on indie labels around the country, and thus began my collection.  I’ve been a devoted fan ever since and have followed most of the band members’ other musical projects over the years (The Fontaine Toups, The Pacific Ocean, +/-, and Whysall Lane), including legendary NYC band, Flower, the band that Richard and Rob were fresh out of back when this demo appeared (Ex Voto was recorded by Flower’s Ian James).  The thing is, I’m not sure they’d ever made a great album!  Versus have a plethora of incredible songs, but, in my opinion, the albums were always a bit spotty.

Surprise, surprise, then that they reappeared this past May with an EP, Ex Nihilo, that is truly inspired, and now nine years after their last LP, comes their best full album, Ex Voto!

This collection is captivating from start to finish.  Versus sound re-vitalized and more energetic than ever.  “Gravity” and “Moon Palace” the one - two punch of the openers set an exciting mood with catchy melodies, lithe playing, and some existential lyrics.  “Gravity” finds Richard asking his significant other “Does the story end the way you want it to?” and “What is left behind when the spirit’s gone?”  It seems as though he is ready to move on, but not sure how to end the dead end relationship (“I can’t seem to say, I no longer love you”).  There is also a feeling of overcoming the mundanities and trials of everyday life and love and finding solace with oneself.  In this case, it almost feels like this new start is from some sort of apocalyptic event, and our narrator is finding strength and courage to find hope by letting go of the past (“I don’t know where I’m going / I don’t know and I don’t care”).  Next up is the mid-tempo floater, “University” (which includes the great lyric: “paradise lost but we are alive”) eases us into the busy “Mummified,” whose long intro includes excerpts of some kind of movie dialogue, that I can’t quite make out or place, but reminding me of second and third album Jawbreaker.  Once we get to the song, we see every member of the band featured beautifully with slashing guitar work, and crashing drum work from the other two Baluyut brothers: James and Edward, while Richard and Fontaine trade off verses vocally and share the sing-along chorus.

Side two opens with the interesting “Baby Green,” which opens with a plastic sounding drum machine pattern and a New Order-esque bass fill.  The song actually reminds me of New Order’s “Every Little Counts” in feel, but this is much more complex, and interesting and fully fleshed out.  The blunt sounding “Atmosphere” comes on full tilt next, as Fontaine urgently asks “Have you ever felt that way before? / Have you ever felt a weight you can’t ignore?”  “Atmosphere” bleeds nicely into the orchestral pop song “Nothing But U,” which is a nice brief reprieve from all of the intensity up to this point.  The epic “Re-Animator” closes things out perfectly with an explosive final half.

This album, along with the EP from earlier this year, have been quite a surprise!  A welcome return to a band achieving new heights after such a long absence.  This kind of thing gives me hope that maybe one day I too can get better at something.  Maybe.  Don’t hold your breathe.  Instead, go out and buy this record!

 Versus "Gravity"

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Nothing Happens Here

Soft Blue Shimmer
Nothing Happens Here ep
(Disposable America)

I’ve been procrastinating writing this forever.  I think it’s because of my constant self-doubt about why I write about my favorite music.  It all feels so useless, especially since I’m not very eloquent, and as has been said before “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  In other words, it’s difficult to explain the sound of a song, especially without relying too much on pigeonholing artists by comparing them to others.  I generally attempt to describe the music’s impact on me personally, in hopes of enticing the one person who might read far enough to think “hey, this seems like something worth listening to!”  Unfortunately, despite being really excited about a lot of the new music I’ve been encountering, it has not translated into words that I feel do these fine artists justice.  But, I can’t seem to help myself.  As I’ve said elsewhere, when I hear great music, I want to shout out my love of it to the world!  I want to play it loud enough for everyone to hear and get the same kind of magic out of it that I do.  Sometimes I think that perhaps I should simply write my record synopses with simple phrases like: “This rocks!” and leave it at that.

Nothing Happens Here is the debut EP from the L.A. band Soft Blue Shimmer and I absolutely love it!!  There you go.  This is where I should stop, but I won’t.  These five songs are so magically tuneful and enticing that I cannot stop listening to them.  Like the chorus from the wonderful “Fruitcake,” my advice is to let each song dreamily work its way into your subconscious – “crushing like a wave.”  Lyrically, the songs all tie together with a theme of missing a partner who has departed and our narrator pining over their memory.  The languid “Dream Beam Supreme” presents the battle to fall asleep when the mind won’t stop ruminating over that certain lost someone, so, vocalist Meredith invites that person to join her in her evasive dreams to dance.  Next up is the upbeat blast of energy that is “Shinji.”  This song really gets me going.  There’s something about Meredith’s calm vocals (I’ve been deliberately repeating “I’ve been feeling more” over and over in my head lately during stressful parts of the day), juxtaposed with the crashing cymbals and twin guitar drive of the music that is stunning.  Back on the unbelievably perfect pop song that is “Fruitcake,” we find Meredith in fear of dwelling on the sadness of losing her former partner and trying to avoid being alone with those thoughts.  A feeling I’m sure a lot of us can relate with – at least I sure can.  In this case though, it all goes down easier with such a spectacularly hummable song.  “Chamoy” also mines this territory beautifully, as the memories linger (like chamoy sauce?) dangerously and with a healthy bit of bitterness (“I thought I would miss that / the feeling of missing / of something I thought I knew / but I’ll never miss that / the feeling of leaving / or the scent of you in my room”).  The dramatic closing song, “Happier Than Mitsuru,” finds us getting a little fed up with these memories, and possibly ready to try to move forward (“try to remember / but I / often forget that / I can’t / keep seeking people from the past”).

These five songs are loaded with sadness, but are so damn enjoyable to listen to!  I cannot decide which song is my favorite, so I have to play the entire thing from start to finish, and then, I have to play them all over again.  This young band has completely caught my attention.  I cannot wait to hear more! 

Soft Blue Shimmer "Fruitcake"