Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Here's Where the Story Ends

“Please strip down to your underwear and put on this gown,” the lovely young nurse’s assistant stated flatly as she swung the curtain closed at the foot of the hospital bed.  “Put your clothes in this bag,” she added.

I sat on the side of the bed and flung my new slip on shoes into the wall near where I had left my cane.  I began to wonder if I should put the cane somewhere else, as I suddenly became fearful that I would lose it here. I balled up my wet socks and stuck them into one of the shoes.  My feet had already been drenched with sweat, despite only having them on for the previous half hour or so.  It was inside-oven-hot outside, even though it was only mid-April and only mid-morning.  Plus, for some unknown reason, I have been retaining fluid like I was still a dialysis patient.  My ankles looked like an elephant’s. 

I attempted to fold my pants and shirt, but my left hand was not cooperating.  Ever since the stroke last Halloween, there has been no signs of improvement on that front.  I actually do practice my Occupational Therapy exercises nearly every day, but to no avail.  My fingers fumbled around behind my neck in a feeble attempt to tie the tiny back side open gown.  My left thumb seemed to dart back and forth of its own accord, getting in the way from the simple task of securing the gown.  I started to sense sighs and impatience from the outside of the curtain as I struggled unsuccessfully in the shadows, so I stretched my right arm out to pull the curtain open and requested help.

“You can tie the gown first and put it over your head,” the nursing student was clearly exasperated as she moved in behind me and pulled the strings quickly into a knot.

“Good idea!  Wish I‘d thought of that,” I responded.  I still cannot tie a knot!

“Lie down on the bed,” she commanded as she walked around the bed to the computer terminal, whose keyboard hovered over my left shoulder.  She placed a brand new, apparently disposable blood pressure cuff onto my left arm and asked me to state my name and date of birth, as the cuff automatically began to squeeze my formerly fistula’d left arm so tight I could feel my pulse pounding in my ears.

I looked up at the nursing assistant who was leaning over me with a stethoscope listening to my heart and lungs.  She was likely half my age.  How did I get so old?  It wasn't that long ago that I remember so vividly coming to after my first surgery and seeing a smiling nurse leaning over me, looking like a Madonna Wanna-Be.  I closed my eyes and concentrated on the hum of the air ventilation system and the hushed voices coming from the five other beds filled with people either returning from or preparing for an endoscopic ultrasound like I was.

“Please state your name and date of birth,” came the startling voice of the nurse, who was running this little wing of the old hospital.  She had replaced the young girl who was now observing from the foot of the bed.  “Have you been out of the country in the last thirty days? Have you been in contact with someone who has been out of the country in the last thirty days?”

I felt a few quick slaps on the crook of my right arm.  Another nurse was preparing to insert an IV needle.  She studied my arm closely.  Holding it upright by my hand and smacking it in different places.

“Why are you here today?”

Beep.  The nurse on my left stretched her laser gun across my gut to scan the barcode on my right wrist which I dutifully held aloft.

Slap slap slap.

“Have you ever had this procedure done before?”

Slap slap thud.

My limp arm fell back to my side.  I could a hear a few strips of tape being pulled and ripped and stuck onto the bed’s railing. 

“Have you had any recent hospitalizations?”

“Ready for a poke!”

The poke reminded me of the sudden stabs by the massive dialysis needles they used to slide into my arm three times a week.  Not like the mild sting from the labs I had drawn the two previous days.

“I see you’ve been on dialysis; did you get a transplant?”

“Hmmm.  I’m not getting anything.”

She slowly moved the needle around in a search for my vein.  The poor vein all of the needles are initially aimed for.  It’s no wonder it rolls away from any sign of danger.

Snap!  The nurse undid the bright orange rubber band she had used to tighten around my arm.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Brintha, I will be doing your procedure today.  Please tell me your name and date of birth.”

Slap slap slap.  The nurse began smacking the back of my right hand.

“Have you ever had an endoscopy before?”

“These all look like valves to me!”

“Have you or someone you’ve been in contact with been out of the country in the last thirty days?”

“A little poke!”

An intense burning sensation radiated through my hand.  I opened my eyes a little and looked at the nurse moving the needle around the back of my hand.  No blood was appearing in the tiny tube on the opposite end of the needle, which felt like molten lava being spread evenly onto my hand with a butter knife.

“So, the procedure will take about an hour…”

I closed my eyes again.

“Can you cup your hand?”

“We will spray some nasty tasting goo into your throat…”

“There it is!  Hold your hand still!”

“It will numb your throat, but you may still have a sore throat afterwards.”

“Can you keep your hand in that position?” the nurse asked as she taped the IV needle in place.

“We will be looking at your pancreas.  There are some cysts in there…”

“There you go.”

“If anything looks odd, I will take a biopsy.”

The voices began to fade away.  I felt completely empty – devoid of emotion.  I started to think about an early teenage crush I once had and how I felt sick to my stomach all of the time – not just when she was around – but all the time.  Oddly, not so different from how I felt at that moment.  I wondered if this would be the last of this hospital shit for a while, or just the beginning of another long stint.  Like that long ago crush, I somehow knew that nothing good was going to come from this.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Red Returns

Red Returns EP
(Test Pattern)

I’ve not yet had the privilege to see Sacramento four-piece Desario live, but with this terrific new EP, I feel like I’ve been transported into a small dark club hunkered down near the stage completely entranced by their exciting sound.  I’ve already loved their first two albums for some time now and their tight detailed twin guitar interplay has continued to grow on me, but these four new songs feel a little different - a little more urgent and alive.  Where those first two LPs (2009’s Zero Point Zero and 2012’s Mixer) were very cleanly recorded, this recording is grittier.  It’s a mild change up, as they have not lost their knack for stellar guitar melodies from John Conley and Michael Yoas, but now new drummer’s Kirklyn Cox’s pounding is more dynamic and upfront, and the bass-lines crackle like you’re seeing Mike Carr pluck the strings in person.

The EP opens with the timeless sounding “Fallen,” whose chorus, rides atop a burbling bass-line, feels like it’s been a part of my list of favorite all-time songs for years.  Conley’s, always calm and friendly vocals do not betray the turmoil and increasing intensity that the music describes.  It’s a wonderful combination.  Meanwhile, “Capture” opens with a wistful and longing guitar line that harkens back to The Ocean Blue’s incredible “Drifting, Falling.”  The upbeat “Down Among Them” may be Desario’s shortest and most direct song, and much like “Fallen,” the song increases in density and urgency as it progresses.  Finally, the closing, “Red Returns” stretches out a bit, as it details the desire to rid oneself of all memories, contact and feelings of a former or about to be former love (“erase me from you”).  The pounding bass drum beats like a broken heart fighting to go on, as Yoas and Conley exorcise demons and jam out between verses. 

Desario have managed to subtlety tighten their already solid foundation and release their best collection yet.  I sure hope that there is a full length album on the horizon, because I cannot recommend this enough. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


There is a young gal who volunteers at the non-profit I work for who has become my hero.  I do not know what issues she’s had to deal with specifically, but I do know that less than two years ago she was in a motorized wheel chair.  She would struggle with one hand to control the levers that operated the chair and she would arrive with her fellow classmates in a bus from a local High School – all under constant supervision.  I was often in a position to provide tasks for these students, as part of their volunteerism/therapy.  She was always the quietest, as she seemed to struggle to communicate, and she was seemingly the least motivated to get involved.
In the spring of 2014, I was invited to a graduation ceremony for many of these students.  I found myself overcome with emotion, as the teachers and administrators gave out awards and certificates to these kids and told stories of their burgeoning independence.  It was touching to learn about their strides and efforts made throughout their time at school.  It made me realize, more than ever, not to take anything that I do have for granted.  But then, of course, I kind of forgot.

Last Halloween, I experienced a hemorrhagic stroke.  The genetic disorder Von Hippel Lindau (VHL) that I’ve written about in these pages numerous times before ( like here) was the culprit.  I had a small hemangioblastoma that decided to burst, which, while wandering the streets, trick or treating with some friend’s kids, caused a major headache, nausea and an inability to walk without drifting sideways.  Of course, I did not know this at the time, nor did I seek medical help for a couple of days – thinking things would improve, which is strange since I was with a close friend when he had a stroke and I’ve seen the horrific damaging effects of a brain hemorrhage on my brother.

After Halloween, things got much worse.  First, I had another brain bleed and it wasn’t long before I lost the ability to walk at all, while also losing control of my left side.  I spent much of November and December in the hospital and half of January in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. 

During these extended hospital stays, my life became centered around very basic things.  Did I have a bowel movement today?  Can I touch my nose and touch my doctor’s index finger alternately with the index finger of each of my hands?  Can I stand without holding on to something for support for 30 seconds without falling?  You get the gist.  I found myself super excited and incredibly nervous when my physical therapist had me walk a few steps without aid and I was able to do so.  I found myself overcome with a huge swell of emotion when I was able to stand and touch my left foot to a step and return it with actual control and without violently falling to my right like I had every previous time.  These tiny victories were the only things that motivated me and continue to keep me going to my weekly physical therapy appointments. 

Once again, I am now able to drive.  I am able to walk with the aid of a cane.  I am able to shop for groceries and make my own simple meals.  I can do laundry and kind of clean my apartment and myself.  Everything takes more effort than I could’ve ever imagined prior to the stroke, and it all takes a lot more time than it ever used to.  My left hand seems to continue to do its own thing, which is a constant frustration, but I am getting by.

I see that same young gal volunteering at work a couple of times a week now that I am back at work.  She continues to come in, except these days she comes in on her own.  She has progressed so that she stands on her feet and uses a four-wheel walker, in place of a wheelchair, and she travels to and from the work place on the regular bus completely on her own.  She is always bright and cheery and outgoing and she now does projects that take fine motor skills without hesitation nor does she ever show frustration.  She is amazing!  She has gained so much independence and has achieved so much in such a short amount of time.  She is such an inspiration, as she continues to gain her independence, and she has taught me so much.  I can only hope that I progress and achieve as much as she has.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Art of Telling the Truth

Magnet School
The Art of Telling the Truth
(Shifting Sounds)

It was way back in 2013 that I was introduced to the smashing two song single “Fur & Velvet” from Austin, TX four-piece Magnet School (#26 from 2013’s best of here).  Thankfully, the band continued their diligent work and did not disappear on us, because The Art of Telling the Truth is an outstanding collection!  In my review of “Fur & Velvet” and the menacing crawl of the dangerous sounding instrumental “swandive,” (both included on the LP) I referenced the heavy twin guitar attack of the Swervedriver, which I still stand by, however, the production and the soft blending of the exploratory guitars of Michael J. Wane and Mark Ford remind of Ferment-era Catherine Wheel, which is about as high of praise as I can offer.  Yet it’s the cranking rhythm section of Brandon Tucker and Erik Conn that ground the intertwining guitar melodies and layers of controlled feedback.

This is not necessarily what one would normally expect from a Texas band, but these days with the great shoegaze focus of Fort Worth record label Saint Marie, and bands like Austin’s all over the map Ringo Deathstarr, to the promising postpunk of the debut EP from Dallas’ The Hourly Radio (going back like ten plus years ago), I guess one never should pre-judge.

I love that there are three instrumentals among these ten songs, because Magnet School’s strengths lie in their ability to paint a vivid and exciting picture with their music alone, yet songs like “Fur & Velvet,” the opening “We Were Golden” and the rainy melancholy of “British Monuments” are all sing-along catchy.  Meanwhile, the soaring “Irresistible Lie” and “So Long to the Heavens” (both of which bring to mind Camden’s debut Reel Time Canvas from the turn of the century) find the vocals down in the mix, not rising above the fantastic arrangements.  The penultimate song, “Red Giant,” is a down tempo number that has explosive turns, all while seemingly overstating the importance of a fierce breakdancing throw-down (not really sure what’s going on, but it’s still one of my favorites here).

If you enjoy dreamy guitar rock – with an emphasis on the “rock,” then this album should be most pleasing to your ears.  It is available in three different colors of vinyl as well, so pick up a copy while supplies last and be sure to play it loud!

Magnet School "British Monuments"

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Go Team No Hope

Midway Still
Go Team No Hope
(Bitter and Twisted)

It’s albums like Midway Still’s latest (Go Team No Hope, their sixth LP, due out March 18th) that keep me going and the very reason why I love music so damn much.  This band inspired me back in the early 90s with their brand of punk rock, which was more in favor back in the post-Nirvana haze, and now, almost 25 years later, they’re about to unleash their best album yet! 

In fact, when I listen to the frenetic opener, “Wicked World,” I feel like I could be that hopeful younger kid rocking out to “Wish” or “I Won’t Try” back when turning thirty seemed a world away (not to mention forty).  It’s refreshing!  Yet, at the same time, many of their songs are written for the older, the downtrodden, and the hopeless.  There’s no reason why we can’t pump our fists, play air guitar, and try to bounce around to instantly memorable kick ass songs like “Where’s Your Sunshine?,” “Hey Summer,” and the momentum gathering “Can’t Take It,” where drummer Declan Kelly goes about beating his drum set into submission (How does he do it?  My arms get tired just thinking about it).  The odd “Insect Limbs” reminds of SST era Dinosaur Jr, as bandleader Paul Thomson adds a layer of strummed acoustic guitar to the mix to lighten the sound a tiny bit inside the din of buzzing electricity.  Plus, like on their last album (2012’s Always Ends), there are two absolute stunners: the ultra-catchy “Only time Will Tell,” an earworm that I never want to lose, and the sharp and stuttering “Don’t Walk Away.”  “Only Time Will Tell,” along with the sort of ballad, “Next Life,” and the closing ode to the lost people of the world: “Go Team No Hope,” would all make excellent feature songs in an updated John Hughes flick, where the protagonists are still trying to find their way well into middle age.  Actually, scratch that, this album is better than that – the whole freaking thing should be played on repeat any time one needs to turn the volume up to 11 and let loose.

I say this about a lot of criminally overlooked musicians, but it amazes me that Midway Still aren’t more well known then they are.  Music this good – this addictive – should be heard and enjoyed by the masses.  Dive in now before they decide to disappear on us again.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trees Touch Skies

The Icicles “Trees Touch Skies” EP (Microindie)

After releasing an unusually dark, yet spectacular, album with 2012’s Renegade Parade (my #7 pick for best of 2012 – see here), the Icicles return with an EP that we were all hoping would be an LP.  Luckily, the wait for new music from them was worth it, as these new songs are all outstanding!  They’ve managed to capture the more nuanced and melancholy feel of Renegade, but with more of their previous pop song appeal.

The opening song, “Phrases,” has a guitar melody that sounds straight out of Will Sargeant’s cannon (Echo and the Bunnymen) best creations, and then we are welcomed by band leader Gretchen DeVault’s friendly voice and some fantastic backing vocal harmonies.  Then we go right into this collection’s title and highlight song, “Trees Touch Skies.”  I hate to pull out more comparisons, but this song sounds like a lost single from the Pale Saints’ amazing In Ribbons album. Another brilliant guitar lead from Rebecca Rodriguez, and beautiful keyboard washes make this uplifting song so memorable and stunning.  “Think About” arrives with a smooth shuffle beat, some creepy sounding keyboards and someone spurned and not yet ready to let go of the anger – reminding of the underrated Heart Throbs, until the unexpected trumpet solo near the song’s end.  The EP sort of concludes with the aggressive “Outside In,” which I would imagine could be a great show stopper in a live setting.

There is an additional demo included (“Steal the Covers”), as well as 
a radio broadcast with a brief band interview and the new songs played acoustically, which are very nice, but it’s the core four songs that have my hopes up for more new music on the horizon and forces me to recommend that you give this EP a listen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Let Our Hoax Eclipse

Drakes Hotel “Let Our Hoax Eclipse” (DH Music)

From the opening tape hiss, programmed drums, and deep throbbing bassline, this new Drakes Hotel album feels classic – like a lost classic post-punk album from the likes of For Against or Comsat Angels, but no, it’s pretty recent.  The fifth Drakes Hotel album was released in November of last year – two years after their amazing Love’s Not Lazy EP – but I am just getting around to writing about it now, because of losing three months of music enjoyment due to health issues.  What a welcome collection of music this is top return to!  This collection is tight, urgent and inspired and their best work since 2007’s Tell Me Everything.

Have you ever left a concert – all energized and amped – to an unknown album being played as exit music on the big speakers with too much bass and wondered to yourself if it may be the best thing you’ve ever heard?  This could be that album.  The first four songs are sheer brilliance lyrically and musically, but it’s not until the album’s middle point, where things slow down a little and we are treated to “Scuffed Hips” and its chorus beginning with a soaring “In that space between us” that the narcotic appeal truly sinks its teeth.  Amelia Drake’s spectacular and otherworldly vocals are as haunting as the dark lyrics, while Chris Y’s guitars are as complex, layered and strikingly catchy as ever.  This is a cohesive and timeless collection high-lighted by the Kitchens of Distinction reminiscent “Nothing of Comfort,” which is utterly beautiful.

I am so thankful that under heard artists such as this Midwestern couple continue to make such inspiring and exciting music.  Now let’s reward them for their efforts with a much larger audience.

Drakes Hotel "Nothing of Comfort"