Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 40 of 2011 Part I

The hardest part about writing about music is that it's nearly impossible to say anything that makes any sense. Instead one is left with a bunch of repetitive adjectives that may or may not connect the reader to the actual music that's being described. In this age of information, it's so easy to find even the most obscure new music, that it's easy for people to check stuff out without spending money or really with that much of an effort, so that's helpful...which is nice.

Another year has passed and it's time for me to aimlessly post my list of favorite music releases of the year. The only reason I do this is because I have this burning desire to share my love of this stuff!  Plus, like so many, at times like these, I like to reflect on the events of the past year, and even though the best music is timeless, it's also the way I keep track of events in my life.  I remember what I was doing when I was listening to certain songs.
Since I'm so long-winded and there're so many releases here, I have chosen to break the list down into 4 parts of 10 releases and I'm going for the American Top 40 Casey Kasem style, so we'll start with 40 and work our way to the # 1 pick of 2011.

Happy New Year!


40. Telekinesis
 12 Desperate Lines
(Merge)
This is my first exposure to Michael Benjamin Learner’s music. He definitely takes major cues from early period Death Cab for Cutie here (no surprise with Death Cab’s Chris Walla producing and playing along for this second album) – just check out “50 Ways” or “Dirty Thing” for a sample. It could be a lost track from Death Cab's We Have the Facts. There are also clear influences of the Teen Beat label’s vision of dryly recorded new wave and the bass-lines throughout would not sound out of place on an Unrest, or Flin Flon album. Check out the new wave bass line of the standout track “Please Ask for Help,” or the sing-along chorus of “Car Crash” to see that this guy can write very addictive tunes. I haven’t heard Telekinesis’ earlier work yet, so I do not know if there has been significant growth away from their/his influences, which could be important, but the influences are sound as far as I’m concerned. This is a solid cohesive collection that is worth a listen.
(telekinesismusic.com)




39. Radiohead
King of Limbs
(Ticker Tape)
Radiohead have reached a level of exposure that I am not especially comfortable with. It’s become more about their aesthetic then their music these days. I appreciate that in 2000 they radically changed their sound and direction with Kid A, and even more so with Amnesiac (which King of Limbs most reminds of), but everyone knows that their best work came during the mid 90s with The Bends (a huge creative leap forward from their debut) and their peak OK Computer in 1997. Whether it’s their fault or not, since then they’ve been stuck in a media blitz which obfuscates their music with their supposed politics and message. Having said that, they have done some pretty great work, if not as solid as their “rock” phase, but their last LP 2007’s In Rainbows found them regaining their strengths. King of Limbs is a bit of a step back or sideways. These eight songs are built on complex sounding drum loops and various electronics with Thom Yorke putting his patented creepy moan over the top. Lucky for them, they have serious talent, so it all sounds pretty good – save for the terrible Casio keyboard sound effects that distract the opening “Bloom.” It’s the final four tracks that rate the real attention. “Lotus Flower” makes an obvious single choice with its actual dance-ability, while “Codex” is a moving piano driven ballad that lingers like a bad hangover. “Give Up the Ghost” is a strange folk/electronic hybrid that is oddly effective, and finally the closing “Separator” finds a sing-along chorus with Yorke harmonizing against himself. Not sure how this rates in their lexicon, but it’s worth an actual listen, as opposed to listening to everything that gets said about them.
(radiohead.com)


38. Death Cab For Cutie
Codes and Keys
(Atlantic)
Death Cab have made it to album number seven and now third on a major label (not that that means anything anymore) and they are finally truly showing the tell tale signs of a band that needs a break. While this is their biggest departure from their now signature sound, and I give them ample credit for that, it feels heavy and distant. Their music has always been about intimacy and the small things in life, while this new album is bloated with useless electronic trickery and is way too slick for its own good. It’s in the songs that remind of more of their mid-period work (like back to Transatlanticism) such as the single “You are a Tourist” and the title track that are the catchiest and strongest of their new direction. “Monday Morning” and “Underneath the Sycamore” also show signs that these guys are still breathing. Overall, this is a bit of a letdown, not because of lack of songwriting chops, but because this doesn’t feel like they were fully invested in its making. It’s still worth a listen.
(deathcabforcutie.com)



37.Soft Science
Highs and Lows
(Test Pattern)
When I first fell head over heels over Holiday Flyer back in the late 90s, I never thought I’d be chasing down all the various projects that now defunct band would be involved with. There's the California Oranges, Desario, and well, here’s another one. This one finds vocalist Katie Haley (Conley) leading a band with former members of the offshoot California Oranges (among others) and mining similar territory. The album alternates between very catchy pop numbers featuring Katie’s sweet voice and some shining guitar based melodies and more dream-like atmospheric or dare I say shoegaze-y numbers (more like early Lush). The opening trio of songs are an immediate highlight, with the short, pounding “When Will You Come Home,” the stratospheric “Closer to Me,” and finally the rocking “Something to Go on.” Don’t miss out on “Better Be Good,” “It’s Right ”and “No Sanctuary” or my favorite catchy tune “Take it Back.”. Just track this thing down and try and keep up with all the Holiday Flyer alumnus projects out there – you won’t be disappointed, or better yet, start out with the old HF albums and work your way forward.
(facebook.com/softsciencemusic)



36.The Radio Dept.
Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 (2 CD)
(Labrador)
I know very little about these Swedes. We sold all of their music on our old Entangled Records website, but I only heard a track or few here and there. I did always like what I heard, but was never sure if it was enough to delve further. Along came this collection early this year: two CD’s for the price of one, and singles which should represent their best tracks, so I decided to give it a try. I am glad I did, because these 14 songs definitely live up to my high expectations of the melodic Swedish pop scene. These tracks span their entire career and find them moving from in-the-red low-fi numbers that remind me of my days listening to Spare Snare and the like to an almost Pet Shop Boys sound (“The Worst Taste in Music”) to a more balanced fully realized sound of their now mature selves on the newer material such as the amazing “Heaven’s on Fire,” the strangely dubby “Never Follow Suit” and the lyrically strong “The New Improved Hypocrisy.” Of course, I also bought it because they cover the Go-Betweens classic “Bachelor Kisses” here. The B-sides are okay, but not essential. They are mostly sketches and experiments that are really of interest to fans only. This will definitely lead me to check out more of their previous work. (theradiodept.com)




35. Moscow Olympics
Cut the World (reissue)
(Happy Prince)
In 2008 this Philippines 5-piece released their debut 7” and mini album before disappearing off of the radar. This reissue of their early and only released work reminds us all why they were such a find a few years ago. These kids were clearly heavily influenced by the work of the Sarah records stable from the late 80s and early 90s. The music is mixed in a mid-fi haze of atmosphere, while the winsome vocals are barely audible. This isn’t merely a revival of that Sarah sound though. These songs feel a bit heavier and are driven a bit faster and edgier. It’s an interesting angle they take. One that puts the listener in a sleepy trance at first, but over time the details start to shine through exposing an entire new light on the premises. Thank you to the Japanese for keeping the light directed towards this valuable release and check out the first new music from Moscow Olympics with their recent mp3 “Keeping the Avenues Open.”
(facebook.com/moskva80.com)




34. Mira
The Echo Lingers On: Demos, Outtakes and Rehearsals
(Projekt)
I was smitten with this band when I first heard their song “Cayman” in the year 2000. During that summer, I had a giant brain cyst that was making life increasingly difficult due to a never ending severe headache, numbness and a near constant case of the hiccups. Only a few things kept me sane. One was taking long fast walks, the other was golfing, which somehow eased the head trauma and nausea - though not the odd colors I was starting to see and the balance issues I was experiencing – and lastly, listening to the soaring voice of Regina Sosinski and the dramatic dream-like build and release of Mira’s “Cayman.” If you haven’t heard Mira’s blend of kinda gothic, ethereal, and shoegaze, then I would suggest starting with their debut self-titled album which includes the amazing “Cayman.” Next I would recommend you stop off at their third and final full length, 2005’s magically recorded There I Go Daydreamer, which includes their single “Window Seat” and sounds like its being performed right in front of you. This CD is a limited edition collection of some of Mira’s demos and such and is definitely for the old die-hards. Some of this is pretty sketchy what with rough live rehearsal recordings and some unfinished demos. However, the first four songs include their debut EP from way back in ’97 Something Ventured and it is well worth the price of admission alone! Throw in the added bonus of the surprising short pop nugget “For Now” that did not make the final cut of the debut and I found this to be a nice listen.
(mira.nu)




33.The Black Watch
Led Zeppelin Five
(the Eskimo Record Label)
John Andrew Fredrick’s band the Black Watch has now been grinding away around the fringes of the music scene since 1987 and never have they broken through towards any sign of exposure (other than a near miss with 1994’s career highlight Amphetamines, which is only notable because it could be found by the multitudes in used/cut out bins all over the record shops back then). This is a major tragedy! Fredrick is an English professor and would probably be horrified by my attempt at writing this (or any) review, but I will sing his praises anytime. This curiously titled album is the 11th full length album from TBW (the 10th for me, I have not yet found their debut) and please don’t be fooled by the name, because this is nothing like Led Zeppelin. If one were to reference a “classic” rock band as an influence, the obvious one would be the Beatles (whose “It’s All Too Much” is covered as the album closer – re-titled “Weirdly”), since these songs are streamlined pop songs full of vibrant melodies and hummable hooks. This album was released as a limited release on New Zealand label in 2010 (see obscurity reference above), but has finally been issued here on Fredrick’s own label. I highly recommend you take advantage of its availability, because this is their best work (among a discography of consistency) since maybe 1999’s King of Good Intentions. There are hit single possibilities all over the place with such songs as the hyper catchy “Emily, Are You Sleeping?” Or check out the mid tempo relate-able “Like in the Movies” and the magical “Earl Grey Tea,” which I think features lead vocals from recent guitarist Steven Schayer. I hope they continue to give this music thing a chance, because there are a few of us out there that welcome the new music every few years.
(myspace.com/theblackwatch)



32. Brittle Stars
Occasional Appearance
(Fastcut)
In 1999 Shelf-life Records released the quiet debut album by Florida’s Brittle Stars. It is the quintessential album of the entire Shelf-life catalog. It was also the only the only album they released (aside from a remix and obscurities collection), which is incredibly sad, because their soft mix of New Order and OMD electronics combined with the reflective sense of The Sundays was a perfect one. These are subtle songs that really should be heard by more people, but I think they prefer to be off to the side on their own, which is how I like to listen to such beautiful songs as “Tripping Me Up,” the momentous “You Went in Phases,” “May,” and the closing title track.  This is so good that Japanese label Fastcut has decided to release this album with a few extra tracks from the remix LP tacked on with nice packaging. Unfortunately, it has only been released as a limited edition, but hopefully this magical music will stay alive through word of mouth. This is my part.
(can be found at tonevendor.com)



31. Dark Captain
Dead Legs and Alibis
(Loaf)
Dark Captain has abandoned ship on half of their name. They may have dropped the too wordy addition of ‘Light Captain’ from their title, but their sound remains as consistent as ever. This doesn’t stray too far from the sound of their surprising and flawless debut Miracle Kicker. This is complex sounding music. Each song is built on top of busy repetitive drum percussion patterns and intertwining acoustic guitar lines that are almost too much for the mind to comprehend. It’s best to focus on the whole of their sound then the intricacies that form it. The simultaneous vocals of apparently all members of the band create an easy welcoming vibe into their dark world. When they find a groove with their unique sound, the results are really stunning as on “Submarines,” the fluttering “Right Way Round,” and the final open spaced “Flickering Lights.” They’ve added more layers of instrumentation throughout this album, but their biggest flaw may be that the songs start to sound the same with too much exposure. Much of this is to blame on the shared one voice vocals, which leaves less room for emotional inflection. Also, the sheer busyness of their sound can wear one down after so many songs. However, their sound is a great one and this is being nit-picky. Maybe their niche should be with EPs instead of LPs, just so we (me) slow thinkers can focus our attentions without so much effort. Start with Miracle Kicker and see if you like that before coming here.
(darkcaptain.com)


Please tune in next time for the next installment of the Top 40 0f 2011!



links: Top 40 #'s 30-21
                     #'s 20-11
                     #'s 10-1






Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Dead Part of You

I paced around the back of the tee box slapping my shitty driver over and over against the dew slathered ground. Back at the Shan, where the golf nightmares never cease; the first ones out of the gate after a late night and a restless fit of sleep. This is it. The inaugural Grudge Match. Ryan and I challenged Eric and Wirtz to a straight battle over 18 holes naming it a Grudge Match. Ryan and I had worked ourselves into a frenzy, during a conversation one evening, where we went from thinking it’d be a good idea to get us all together for a round, to deciding that we’ve always hated them and that we must defeat them. The only problem was they are both much better at this wretched game than either of us – especially me.

“What are we playing for? What are the stakes?” Wirtz asked as he stretched out his back by bending over and burst the button off his pants. “Anybody got a safety pin?”

This course is terrible. And by terrible, I mean difficult. We’ve all played here so many times and I’ve hit a bad shot from every square yard that encompasses the property. So many bad memories, and yet I keep returning. This morning, I had been startled from a dream where Tiger Woods was being interviewed after a round here and all he could do was shake his head and say that he shot a 102. You’d think that would make me feel better, but I know it’s all a lie.

“I don’t know Wirtz, I’m not playing for money,” Ryan chimed in as he and Eric laughed at Wirtz’s struggles with his pants. “You guys are going to win, so I’m staying out of that game.”

“How about we play to the death?” I suggested sternly from my post at the far end of the teeing ground, before returning to my circling and pacing.

“Woah! Uh, no.”

“You afraid?”

“Let’s play for blah” Wirtz suggested as he put his bleeding index finger into his mouth to stop the drop of blood that he had exposed from the tip of the safety pin that he had used to fasten to his pants. I use “blah” because no one remembers what he actually suggested; a word I misheard as “souls.”

“It’s settled then, we’re playing for souls,” I decided as I adjusted the long sleeve mock that I was uncomfortable in, but found necessary in the heavy misty coastal morning. “Whoever wins gets to keep the souls of the losing team.”

“What?” Eric looked around, irritated. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

“I don’t have a soul,” Ryan proclaimed and therefore agreed to the terms.

Wirtz was simply distracted by his pants. This would not prevent him from hitting the ball further off the first tee with his 5 iron than I could hit my best drive. And it went on from there.

This is how I lost my soul.

I spent hours in the little examination room that doctors have, yet again. This time I was there to get the results of my CT scan from the prior week. Still I was asked to sit on the familiar little wax paper covered butcher block in my underwear shivering. As usual, the wait was long enough for me to “read” three entertainment magazines cover to cover. And as usual, the doctor spent all of two minutes with me. At least half of that time was spent tugging on my tender gonads. All in all, fairly routine. The only anomaly is that the scan discovered several breaks in my ribs. To look at this closer, he ordered detailed x-rays to be done and sent me to his scheduler guy to set that up.

The scheduler guy seemed awfully curious about my injury. Way more curious than my doctor. He asked if I had been in an accident. I told him I couldn't think of anything that would cause my ribs to break. He suggested that maybe I’d angered "someone" enough to lead "them" to beat me in my sleep causing us to laugh conspiratorially.

After my sinister forced laugh in response, I felt disturbed. Why would this be funny? Why would I want to treat someone so badly that they would want to break my ribs while I sleep? Of course, none of this matters, since I do not have anyone around to break my ribs during my sleep. Maybe I should've taken his jab as a compliment. It is rare that someone assumes that I’m in a relationship and not as someone who is falling apart both physically and mentally.

I stood in the kitchen leaning against the counter’s edge opposite of the oven. The light that illuminated the parking lot outside beamed some residual glare through the white blinds. With the black and white bands of shadow striping my T-shirt, I tried conjuring up an ugly version of the “American Gigolo” movie poster image. I failed to reach ugly, so I took a deep breath and grabbed my keys and headed out.

It had been one of those evenings. It was a Friday, and I was filled with restless energy, but there was nothing to do that felt right. There were no appealing shows. All of my area friends had plans with their significant others or were working. Generally, I’m okay with a night off, but staying in and watching a movie or listening to tunes with the headphones wasn’t in the cards. Every attempt to relax had already been thwarted by twitching legs and an inability to focus.

I screeched out of the parking lot in the floating old maroon Ford and turned the stereo up as loud as I could get it. My destination was to hit downtown, but I knew that it would prove a pointless journey. The late summer had been a warm one, and this night was no different. I pushed down the windows and opened the vents to get some airflow moving inside the stuffy car that had been absorbing heat all afternoon. I could feel drops of sweat drawing a line down my spine and my head start to pulse with irritation.

At each light on the way to downtown I sped off the line like a teenager so I could cut off the cars in the other lane. I was acting like a dick and feeling like one too. My mind had reverted back to High School and maybe beyond. I was back on Highway 101 cruising Wayside and looking for unsuspecting tourists to mess with. I didn’t care about anything. Everything was stifling oppressive and overwhelming.

The slow drift through the downtown streets unveiled exactly what I knew I would find: couples my age wandering the streets half-crocked in groups of four or six instilled with a boozy fearlessness and obnoxious demeanor. This could’ve been what I was doing if I ever had the guts to try and make time with potential mates and I looked on with a small bit of jealousy at the laughter and closeness they were all sharing. The rest of me filled with rage. This was the last thing I wanted. It reminded me of those early days at college; wandering around the campus on a Friday night being intruded upon by drunken idiots, while I tried to figure out how I ended up having to step over a passed out body and side step a puke filled urinal just to take a leak.

Outside the Lotus, everyone in the velvet roped off line looked toward my car as I stared them all down. My stereo blasted the high end chiming guitars and breathy harmonies of my favorite Swedish band Popsicle. In reality, the music was so loud that it had become a wash of white noise that was drowning out the laughter, chatter and thumping of the nightclub they were all waiting to access.

At the next green light, I abruptly turned the car left and made my way back out of the downtown grid. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing down there other than fueling my frustration and wasting time. I was tired of this night alone and wanted it to end. I hated myself because I knew that I would do nothing to try and avoid nights like this in the future. I sped back out toward my box and felt the emptiness of the rows of streetlights that were illuminating other apartments along the way. I especially noticed the ones with a single visible light on inside. It made me realize that I was experiencing the fate of many and it made me feel emptier.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sick, Sober & Sorry

The sun shines down upon the front door of Harrison and Sara’s condo with an increasing intensity as the day nears noon and the freshness of the summer morning air burns away to stifling. A demented menagerie of summer related items litter the sidewalk. A pink flamingo leans against a tree about 15 feet up the walk, while a kiddy pool sits in the middle of the sidewalk impairing the travel of anyone who may happen to pass this way. Two folding lounge chairs are set up against the building in front of the pool. There are two young and attractive girls that move towards this mess.

“OMG! There are so many hot guys around here!” the brunette with tight fitting jeans and a tank top tells the blonde excitedly. “Two words for the guy back there: Buns of Iron!”

“Don’t you mean four words? Abs of Steel!” retorted the blonde as she reached down to adjust her short shorts. “These guys are everywhere and probably rich too!”

“I LOVE SUMMER!” both girls shout in unison and begin to giggle.

Their dialogue ends as they reach the plastic pool blocking their path and they begin to navigate around it in silent contemplation.

Suddenly Harrison rockets through the screen door in the attire of one of his alter egos: King Summer. He’s sporting a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, mirrored sunglasses, a Panama hat, a neon green zinced nose, Ocean Pacific long swim trunks and pink striped flip-flops. He’s carrying a huge fishbowl of green liquid, that overflows with tiny umbrellas and exotic fruit, which he extends outward like a chalice. He clears his throats for an announcement.

“KING SUMMER HAS ARRIVED!”

The brunette nearly stumbles into the pool from shock. The blonde girl grabs her hand and shouts “Run!” as they tear off up the sidewalk, almost running into Chuck who is approaching the condo from the opposite direction. Harrison continues to stare into the blue sky as if he is waiting for a response to his announcement from the heavens.

“AND IT IS A WHOPPING DEL SCORCHO HERE IN DOWNTOWN PORTLAND!” Harrison continues his announcement to the neighborhood. He holds his pose for a few moments longer, before his eyes start to dart around with concern. “That was your line.”

“Why?” Chuck asks as he reaches Harrison’s side. He is wearing casual black shorts and a silk shirt that is identical to “The Daddy,” a shirt that played a vital role in the prior evening’s activities.

Harrison plops himself onto one of the folding chairs, careful to balance the huge glass in his palm.

“AND IT IS A WHOPPING DEL SCORCHO HERE IN DOWNTOWN PORTLAND!” he repeats with a bit less enthusiasm and is once again met with silence. “And?”

Chuck looks down at Harrison and sees his own reflection in the sunglasses. “What are you doing?” he asks and turns toward the direction the two hot girls ran off to. “Did you do something to them?”

Harrison uses his mouth to blindly search for an unseen straw amidst the jungle of fruit in his fishbowl. His nose knocks several items off the rim and then he gives up the effort.

“KING SUMMER DECLARES THE ARRIVAL OF…” he holds his free hand out by way of introduction.

“What are you –“

“OF!” Mr. Summer emphasizes again.

“Prince Celsius,” Chuck finally responds nearly inaudibly.

Harrison, satisfied, leans back into his chair, “AH, YES, KING SUMMER’S ONLY SON, PRINCE CELSIUS!”

“You got a beer or something?”

“BEER? ROYALTY DRINK NOT SUCH AS THAT! THE WENCHES HAVE MADE SOMETHING ELSE FOR THE PRINCE!”

“Were the wenches the ones who went off running?”

Harrison, ignoring the question, carefully sets down the drink and leaps into the condo. He continues his monologue inside: “KING SUMMER’S DEL SCORCHO EL ESPECIAL!” Chuck hears him, puts his hands on his face and begins to nod his head side to side. “YES, FOR THE PRINCE! I WILL GIVE HIM YOUR LOVE, MY LADY!”

“If only this could be blamed on heatstroke,” Chuck mumbles to himself.

King Summer returns to the sidewalk with another leap and another giant fishbowl glass. This time the liquid inside is a deep red with nearly half a pineapple floating within.

“COME AND JOIN ME BY MY SIDE! RELISH THESE JUICES OF PARADISE!”

Chuck begins to fumble with the other folded chair still leaning against the building. No matter what he tries, the chair will not unfold. He is clearly getting agitated. “Fucking chair!” he shouts as he slams the still folded chair against the pavement.

“You have to get into character,” Harrison tells Chuck in his real voice. “That is the problem with you. It is all about the character!”

“Okay, how about this character?” Chuck starts with a threatening tone, as the chair unfolds itself. He immediately sets it down next to Harrison and sits down, as he continues: “I’m Prince Pissed Off and my minions will Del Scorcho your stupid ass!”

“You’re missing the point. This is all about the screenplay.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right. You mean the one without the plot?”

“So much negativity,” Harrison waves the back of his hand at Chuck, who has spilled some red liquid on “The Daddy.” “Look at how many movies have been made without a plot. It’s all about the characters. They are the movie! No one cares about whatever Steven Segal’s motivation or purpose is. Don’t mess with the cook! Come on! Hell, people will pay ten bucks as long as he is beating ass. They’d pay more if his next nemesis turned out to be the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show.”

“So, I’m seeing King Summer versus Segal. Who can make the worst drink?”

“Herdy Ferdy Foo,” Harrison waves his fingers around as he loses himself in his Swedish Chef impersonation. “Fine!” he shouts as he regains focus, “Bitch all you want, but the bottom line is that I am right and you are scared.”

Chuck ignores him and adopts a deep announcing voice: “Segal. King Summer. Taste the wrath. It’s not fear, but reality!” Chuck gives it up. “Okay, I agree, there have been some big box office hits that have no actual plot, but…”

“What? Then with the right characters we can have a big, plot less, box office hit too. Good characters are what people go to see. All we need to do is find them.”

“What? The people who would watch that shit?”

“No, you jackass, the characters. Characters are where it’s at. Without memorable characters, it doesn’t matter how good the story is.”

“Good point. So where do we find these new friends of ours? I hear 7-11 has some solid characters on sale now! Not only that, but with the purchase of a new character, you can get a free Thirsty Two Ouncer and a Big Grab of Chipsssssssss!” Chuck trails off.

“I think we know some people, who might know some people,” Harrison says as he stands up.

“Alright, fine,” Chuck concedes as he stands as well.

The two begin to head down the sidewalk in the direction the two girls had sprinted off to earlier, leaving the summer wreckage behind them with their drinks still in hand.

“Sara is going to be pissed about this mess,” Chuck points out, now several yards away from the debris.

“Nonsense, she appreciates our art.”

A skateboarder winds his way around King Summer and Prince Celsius after building up an enormous burst of speed. Unfortunately, his efforts to avoid those two left him distracted and he hits the pool at full speed and crashes over the top and onto the hot cement.

“No, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t.”

“She will awake from her slumber to find us missing.”

“And hope that we’ve been abducted.”

“And realize that the muses have claimed us.”

“Praying that we never return.”

written with Jeffrey Piering

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summerside




My mind is scrambled. My skin has been baked and my lips are as dry as the crackled desert floor. My calves are tight from being stretched out on the sides of hills and from not getting any rest. I have blisters covering my heels and toes and I have avoided eating an actual meal for days. This is the aftermath of my summer vacation and it was more than worth it! This week I went back to my regular life and my stressful job and my vacation came to an end. What did I do for my summer vacation? Not that anyone cares, but this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve taken a week off from work for a vacation. My vacation times have always been a day or two wrapped around a weekend, or more often sucked up by medical issues. I am thankful that I have had the luxury to take that time off to recover from some pretty difficult moments, but I have never considered a month off from work after a kidney or head surgery a vacation. When I scheduled this particular week off back in January, it wasn’t in order to fly to some exotic tropical location, or to go to some theme park or Las Vegas, it was so I could attend the Safeway Classic LPGA event here in the Portland area without the distraction of work.


Yes, you read that correctly - the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Every time I tell anyone about it, the reaction I get is something between a bemused smile and an uncertainty if they’ve heard me correctly. I have been a fan of golf since I was introduced to it as a small kid playing pitch-n-putt golf at the old Washington Park par 3 by the zoo and a television spectator of the game off and on since Jack Nicklaus’ riveting Master’s win in 1986. I remember trying to make putts into an overturned coffee mug set strategically around the house and putting down stairs, and off of walls, while the pros took care of business on our old incorrectly colored Zenith TV, which blinked in the background.


Why the LPGA? It is currently, the only professional golf event that comes to our area (besides now the reborn this upcoming weekend Peter Jacobsen event, which is just for fun more than for competition) and after my years of watching golf of any kind, I had started to get to know the players of the LPGA. It went from a good thing to throw on TV if I needed to take a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon, to finding myself drawn into the excitement of the competition. Of course, my interest grew when I developed a crush on the young up and comer Leta Lindley when she was fighting for a win at the women’s US Open in the mid-90s (more on her later). Now I had a player to follow, and over the years, I’ve grown especially fond of many for a variety of reasons – making the LPGA TV entertainment that I seek out, if I am going to be watching sports on a weekend afternoon.


After finding ways to not go to the Safeway Classic for so many years (this year was the 40th anniversary of the Portland event), last summer, over the weekend, I decided to take advantage of the free passes that someone gave to me, and trek out there. At first, I was a bit reluctant, since I couldn’t convince anyone to go with me, but once I was there I was astounded. So excited, in fact, that I wrote a thank you email to the LPGA a week or so after the event. Here is an excerpt:


“This experience was really rewarding and entertaining. I’d like to pass along my compliments to everyone involved in putting on the event. There was a palpable sense of enthusiasm amongst everyone that I encountered throughout the event from the volunteers to the players. It was a nice change from what seems like an increasingly jaded sports world. I have attended countless Trailblazer basketball games, some Seahawk games and I am a season ticket holder for the soon to be MLS Portland Timbers here locally and yet I have never left any of those experiences – not just happy with the inherent drama of the competition and competitive spirit – but with such a sense of community. On that Saturday, my game plan was to witness each group make their way through the 11th hole at Ghost Creek and then follow the final group in to the clubhouse. I have played Ghost Creek a handful of times and have been killed by that hole every time, so I thought it might be an entertaining spot. While there I saw the players interact with the fans casually and comfortably, while making golf look way too easy. It was incredible to see! I remember being especially touched when I witnessed Paula Creamer, a big star on the tour, who was clearly frustrated with her putting and fighting hard to make the cut, still take the time to talk to a young fan and sign a golf ball for him. She did this despite storming away irritated at another missed putt towards the next tee box. I could go on and on, but I will close, simply by saying that I thank everyone involved and will be doing my part to spread the word that these girls do rock and so does everyone behind the scenes! Next year, I am planning on taking much of that week off from work, so I can see more fantastic golf and will encourage everyone I know to take some time to join me!”


Here I was, about to take my week off. I had considered going to the golf course early that Sunday morning to volunteer as a caddy for the Pro-Am tournament scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, or even as a caddy for one of the players who do not use a regular caddy. However, instead I was invited to attend an amazing birthday event for my friend Ann in Boise, Idaho. It was a farm dinner, served outside during a beautiful sunset on a warm evening in the company of wonderful people with good wine and unbelievable food. What a start to the vacation!




After that quick weekend jaunt, I returned home to make a bit of progress with getting my apartment in order and getting my little car to stop sounding like a World War II bomber. With these things taken care of, I was set to attend the pro-am. With that, I was able to get up close to the players while they practiced on the driving range, and practice greens. I was able to see them prepare their strategies for several of the holes, as they mapped out yardages and the breaks on the greens. I was able to see Brittany Lincicome smash some drives way past her male playing partners; Paula Creamer turn from intently trying to figure out possible pin placements for the upcoming tournament, to casually sinking a birdie putt for her team and celebrating with them; then watch recent major champion Stacy Lewis describe to her amateur playing partner, in her Arkansas via Texas drawl, how best to play the hole they were on; and then watch defending Safeway Classic champ Ai Miyazato smile her way to a 30 foot putt on the 8th green. This is also the spot where I saw my old favorite Leta Lindley give what looked like a quick chipping lesson to a woman lucky enough to play in this event, who then hit her ball to within a few feet of the cup from about 60 yards away. After that I was off to play some golf of my own with Ryan and we had a blast! I regaled him with my bizarro observations of my morning with the ladies and did my best to learn from the little tidbits I picked up.


The next morning was the start of the tournament, so I raced out to the course to catch the first tee time just after 7 am. I watched favorite after favorite tee off and start their tournament with great hopes of winning the big prize on Sunday. However, after seeing Leta Lindley in person for the first time the day prior, I decided I was going to follow her and her playing partners around the course for the entire 18 holes. Leta has had a win in her career and a few close calls in some major championships, but she is not a high profile player. In her 16 or so years on tour, she has taken the bulk of two seasons off to have and take care of her children. She has always been consistent enough to grind out enough high finishes to keep her playing privileges on the tour, but has always been quiet, unassuming and under the radar. This was reflected in the fact that I watched her play 34 of her 36 holes over the first two days of competition and was often the only person standing nearby as a spectator – clapping my obnoxiously loud clap and trying to will all of her putts into the hole. The lack of spectators around her and her playing competitors saddened me, especially since the attendance for this year’s event was an all-time record of over 88,000 people – though somewhat understandable since none of these particular players were in contention after the first round.


Speaking of that first round, Leta, finished and made her way to the official’s tent to sign her scorecard, after a rough 18 holes of 7 over par (after a very promising start to her round). I found myself, after a quick trip to the porta-potty, standing in front of her as she headed to the locker room. I wanted so badly to talk with her. I wanted to let her know that she’s been my favorite golfer for a long time, but I panicked! She looked in my direction, seemingly recognizing me as the guy who clapped so loudly from under the trees every time she did something great. She smiled, despite being upset with her performance. I stared back blankly and she passed me by. I didn’t know what to do! I have never been one to be star-struck and I haven’t asked for an autograph since I was a like 9-10 years old when Jon and I would go to the Blazers rookie games and get autographs from the new players, Jack Ramsey and always the chatty Bill Schonely. I have picked up a few autographs from authors and musicians since then, but only when I am buying their product in a store or at a show when the artist is in the room. I didn’t especially want Leta’s autograph (so happy to have it though!), what I really wanted was to talk with her, but how else could I do that without seeming like a stalker?


That evening, after watching another group of players make their way around the course (no one can tell me that watching golf live isn’t the most active of all spectator sports!), I felt sick with myself. How could I let Leta pass me by without saying a word - without letting her know that she was so inspirational to me when I would watch her play golf on TV while sitting in my dialysis chair back during those dark days? This was especially true after seeing a clip of an interview with her, where her positive words helped shift my focus during the early days of my life without kidneys from simply trying to survive to striving to feel strong enough to get back out on the golf course and do my best to enjoy those moments. And these are things I achieved! In fact, despite losing much of my strength, flexibility and stamina, my golf game improved during this period of my life. I committed myself to watching her play the second day and rooting her on to a better day of golf and a chance to make the cut. Making the cut is vitally important to those who are not familiar with golf. In these tournaments, the field of around 150 players gets cut down by approximately half – the half with the best scores, while the rest are invited to exit. What this means, is that those roughly 75 players have no chance of making money for that week. This is extremely harsh when one factors in that these players often have to pay their own travel and lodging expenses. Golfing is not necessarily as luxurious as it may seem for the casual observer. I witnessed a young player, who was fighting to earn her first paycheck ever on the LPGA, bogey her final hole after she found water with her drive. She was reduced to tears as she realized that a par would’ve put her inside the cut line. It can be a brutal game and unfortunately, after 36 holes, Leta, who fought to a very solid one over par 72 in her second round (once again in front of an audience of mostly me), came up one stroke short of the cut line after barely missing a chip for birdie on the difficult finishing hole. I was heartbroken, while she put on a tight-lipped smile and again went to sign her scorecard knowing that she had no chance of earning a dime after traveling all the way from Florida.


When I found myself, once again, in front of her on her way to the locker room, I was again reluctant to say anything - even though I had vowed to myself that I would not freeze up again. But how does one approach someone who has just missed out on such an opportunity? The season is nearing an end and maybe she needed that paycheck to keep her playing status going forward, along with all the other important reasons that we all work to try and earn a living. In other words, I was afraid to bother her at what might’ve been a very frustrating life moment. It’s not like an NBA player missing a buzzer beater that brings a loss. That guy still gets paid and paid a lot more than these women do (I'm sure she's fine, but I am amazed at how little many of these talented women get paid as compared to their male counterparts). Yet, there I was mumbling a warbled “hello” to this woman, asking her for an autograph, and feeling like a little kid. She graciously agreed and seemed genuinely touched when I informed her that she has always been my favorite player and that it's been an honor to follow her impressive career. She apologized for her poor performance and thanked me for my compliment. I know that she would’ve allowed me to talk about all of those things I mentioned earlier about her inspiration to me and all that sappy stuff, but I didn’t want to take up anymore of her time. I settled that matter and was late for the Timbers game, which had just started and I was 20 miles from the stadium!


The tournament ended the following day with an exciting playoff resulting in a win by Norwegian Suzann Pettersen. An impressive final day comeback and someone who deserved some good news, since she had a friend pass away on her last week and also had reportedly gone to school with that guy who killed a bunch of people in her home country. She was easy to root for. Christine was kind enough to join me for the long walk around the course in the hot sun watching a bunch of golfers she doesn’t know, play a game she doesn’t know much about. I cannot say in words, how excited I get about attending this event. I used to imagine mashing up all of the tumors and cysts and cancers together into one big gooey disgusting ball that have haunted me and my mom and my brother and everyone else over the years who have been burdened with them and bury it deep under the earth’s surface out of harm's way. In this case, I wish I could physically infect people with my adrenaline and enthusiasm for this stuff. It is so fantastic! Yet, now the future of this tournament is up in the air, as Safeway’s sponsorship deal has ended. They could renew, or some other corporation could take over as the title sponsor, but if this event is lost, it will truly be a tragedy. This is the longest running event this tour, besides the US Open, and one of the best attended. The LPGA has been hit hard by poor governance in recent years and the terrible economy. They have been making positive strides, but this would be a terrible blow to lose this event and a terrible blow to my new favorite time of the year.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

la lune



Swallowing down a burning taste of cancer and cringing from a rusty throat. Two plastic tubes dangle from a hole just above the heart without use and panels of several IV lines stretch out from the neck. An itch on the tip of the nose reveals what feels like a wire hanger unbent and then shoved into the right nostril and down through the back of the throat and on into the stomach. On the other end, another tube runs from the hanger into a bag hooked to the side of the bed. The bag is beige with a chunky viscous. The left arm is wrapped tight in bloody gauze and is throbbing to escape. The chest is trapped underneath a weight of monitors and tightly wound bandages making breath difficult to draw in. Wires and tubes strap the body down from all corners of the plastic bed, which somehow are keeping track of proof of life on one of the boxes with lights on the periphery of the room.


“A little drumming boy
Is beating in my chest”


Lights flash and scream out alarms, while feeble beeps come and go or jab at an annoying constant rate without consequence. A television shows a blurry figure dancing to the hum of quiet static in front of the moon from above. It is the only distraction from the various intense aches and stabbing stings taunting every second.


“Is this a competition?
I’m definitely winning
Because two by two
They came through
And one in every one
Fits a million”


Is this an experiment or simply organized torture? Is this worth a potential extension of life, or is it an extension of a nightmare? Choking down regret and questioning every decision and every move along the way. Is this all there is? Sensory deprivation is the only way to survive this moment and the moment after that. It is disorienting and disillusioning, but the only time that the pain is somewhat bearable. Maybe someday this will all end. In the meantime, it’s best to keep it all inside. Carry it to the grave. Pretend that everything will be alright and that it’s all worth the effort, while knowing that none of this matters. This is potentially how we could all find ourselves sooner or later.


“You keep on holding back
Can’t break it to yourself
That your life means nothing
But the fear’s making sense”




song lyrics: Sons and Daughters.

Monday, July 18, 2011

We Don't Need Nobody Else


Chuck leaned his arms heavily against the shopping cart as he prepared himself for a long wait in line. No matter which line he ever stepped into at a store, he always found the slowest moving line. He found himself behind the old woman who has to write a check and fumble through thousands of outdated coupons, which will cause a debate and more problems. He sighed as he scanned the tabloid headlines, uncertain who most of the people were. Had he become that out of touch? He then looked to his right and checked out the candy offerings in case the snickers bars were on sale. When was the last time they were available as four for a buck? No matter what the price, he still considered buying a couple. His next glance went to the poor girl working the register. How often did she have to deal with these arguments about incorrect coupons and fine print and how she’s not trying to rip people off?


Chuck was startled when his eyes went from this young woman’s nametag (he liked to use the checker’s names when he thought of it) to her face. Not only was her name Sarah, but she looked so much like Sarah from back in the day! She couldn’t be one and the same Sarah. There’s no way. This girl’s too young and that was what 15 years ago that he last saw her? His thoughts immediately drifted back to when he last saw Sarah. It must have been during the summer of ’96. He had been on his way over to Gary’s place with a new mix tape. The tape was a break-up compilation with a bunch of bitter one-sided love/hate songs. On his way, Chuck, stopped at a bagel shop to grab a snack, knowing that he and Gary would lose themselves to conversation and most likely not get any dinner. That was when he last saw Sarah. She was a girl that he had had a crush on a couple of years earlier, but she had been living with her boyfriend at the time. But when she had split with that guy, she disappeared from the outskirts of his little social circle. Yet, here, after months of not seeing her, he ordered his plain bagel with plain cream cheese, and she seemed to be reciprocating his serious interest in her. She smiled and chatted and asked a lot of questions and then followed him to a table. She touched her hair lightly as he mumbled stuff that had happened to so and so. She bit her lower lip and grinned as he made self-deprecating comments and tried to bite through the tough bagel without spurting the spread all over himself. Later she followed him outside, touched his arm and told him how great it was to see him again after so long. He then headed to Gary’s place in a daze.


That had been a crazy summer. Work had been busy all the time. He had experimented off and on with working second and third jobs. He couldn’t really remember much else. Were they still doing the summer bowling league? What about that tape? What was on there? There was most certainly the Kitchens of Distinction song “Now it’s Time to Say Goodbye,” which later became Gary’s anthem from that mix. Oh, and Animals That Swim’s “50 Dresses,” and Whipping Boy’s “We Don’t Need Nobody Else” – a song with lyrics like a short-story detailing a clearly messed up relationship. Wasn’t that when he and Gary jokingly argued about the lyrics? Something about the woman in the story putting bees or beans in her hair? Maybe they made a joke out of mishearing the lyrics, because of the uncomfortable violence in the song and, at the time, Chuck was feeling too good to be the outraged guy who needs to tell his friend that his ex sucked and he would be better off without her. He was bathing in the possibilities that seemed to open up when he ran into Sarah earlier that day.



“Sir! Sir!” this new version Sarah was trying to get Chuck’s attention. “We can clean that up for you. Don’t worry about it.”


Chuck looked into Sarah’s beautiful brown eyes as he stood frozen over a broken container of salsa that he had dropped between his cart and the conveyor belt. He felt overcome with regret. Why hadn’t he asked for the other Sarah’s phone number? He was always letting these chances pass him by without ever realizing it until long after the events had happened.


“I’ll get someone to clean that up. It’s okay. Do you want us to get you another salsa to go with those chips?” this Sarah asked, as if she needed to talk Chuck down from a ledge.


He stared down at the pile of crushed tomatoes with juice spreading out along the tile below and saw his heart smashed on the floor. He suddenly felt old – like really old – and helpless. He was now the person holding up the grocery line because of incompetency. All of the Sarah’s were gone. That sense of possibility and hope and excitement of all the Sarah’s had been lost a long time ago and he knew it.


“No, thanks, Sarah, I don’t need any salsa,” Chuck quietly replied. “I’m so sorry. I’m really really sorry,” he emphasized as he swiped his cards and tried to hurry up the transaction.


“It’s okay! These things can happen to anyone!” Sarah smiled brightly.


“Thank you for everything,” Chuck said with emphasis as he stumbled away.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Boring Story


   It’s still dark outside, as it is every morning I go to work. I climb onto the crowded and blaringly bright Max and keep my focus on the floor. I’m wearing sunglasses, which are irritating, but the only way I can possibly partially conceal the wreckage that is my face. A face that feels like it’s creeping out over the top and the sides of the frames. People clear a larger space than is necessary for me, as I try to settle into an open corner by the door on the opposite side of the one I entered on. There are no open seats. I felt humiliated yesterday, so I stayed at home. This morning, I don’t feel anything.

---


   Everything was all smiles and giggles. Halloween at the dive strip club we wound up at after about 10 other stops around downtown, and I was standing behind D as he talked with Kat backstage. Kat was our stripper a few minutes before. The stupid turban from the borrowed tossed together costume I was not trying too hard to pull off kept falling off my head. I fiddled uncomfortably with the fake taxi ID badge stuck to my chest as I tried to figure out where the others had disappeared to. I mumbled something to D about how Kat wasn’t going to come to the party that we had heard about happening over off of Belmont. What? Oh, she is coming? Great. Whatever. I stumbled out into the cold damp air outside to find the rest as the house lights came on for closing time.

---

“Oh, you’re such a cutie! What do you do?”
“Hey, Shan, surprised to see you down here…”
“We’re heading to that party we heard about when we were over at the Paris…”
“I’m doing some consulting right now…”
“What are you up to tonight?”
“Looking hot!”
“Can I get a smoke?”
“How long have you been a stripper?”


   The voices from multiple conversations faded into the late night air as I strode forward beyond the rest. I lit a cigarette and felt my throat burn. Where was this party again?


   “What the fuck are you gonna do about it?!”

   I turned my head, as I heard more shouting. There were suddenly a lot more voices, a bunch of voices, yelling in indecipherable accents. I saw Jeff surrounded by a bunch of thugs. What happened to D and Ryan? Kat and Shan? I was several blocks ahead. I sprinted back trying to figure out what the hell was happening. Jeff tried to defend himself from the attackers, but he was severely outnumbered and wearing a catholic bishop’s robe, which constricted his movements. Stupid Halloween.

   Down he went, just as I arrived swinging wildly and randomly at the crowd. Too late. I felt a crack on my right knuckles before finding myself grabbing onto a couple of these attackers in some thoughtless effort to pull them down with me as hit after hit crashed across my face. Then I heard a voice above the din, the gang ran away and all became quiet, which urged me to scream obscenities at the cowards running away from us.

---


   An older woman keeps staring at me. I don’t know what she sees, but I can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she forms some kind of explanation for why I look the way I do and how I’ve invaded her life. Maybe she could simply ask me. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Maybe it’s the whiskey I had to drink before heading out this morning. I turn my attention back to the floor of the train and try and forget about anyone around me. I’m simply a man on his way to work.


---


   “What happened tonight?” the nice nurse asked me in emergency.
I tried to form words to answer, as I spot Ryan over her shoulder with a grin on his unscathed face, “I, uh, I’m not sure.”
   She was pressing a giant Q-tip around my eyes and it stung to an extent that I started feeling woozy and nauseous.
   “We were jumped by a gang of Russians,” Ryan interjected.
   “What time is it?” I asked.
   I was trying to remember what his stupid costume was. It was gone now. What happened to the turban? Why was D’s laminated bloody picture still clipped to my shirt?
   “How’s Jeff doing?” I asked no one in particular, since no one responded to my last question. The sound of my own voice was muted like it was coming from somewhere else.
   “He’s conscious now. He’ll be okay, honey. He’s getting X-Rays, which is where you’ll be going when we’re done getting these stitches in,” the nurse let us know.
   “What time is it?” I tried again. I noticed that I could see the shadow of my own face closing in on my peripheral vision as it swelled.
   Ryan left. The nurse soon followed.
   “The doctor will be in to put those stitches in shortly dear,” she told me over her shoulder.
   Sometimes I believe that I am destined to spend most of my life waiting around in examination rooms like this one. I belong here. My disease has been dormant for a few years now, so I needed to find a new way to get in. I laughed and fell back onto the flat gurney.


---


   I adjust the sunglasses as I walk down the crooked sidewalk in an effort to get them out of the scarring the frames have settled into. Time for work. When I phoned in ‘beaten up’ yesterday, I’m pretty sure that it created more questions than it answered. In my defense, I could not see, and the nurse had recommended that I not go in. She was very nice. I liked her.
   “What the -?!” I shout, startled. A rogue sprinkler suddenly sprang out from the recently rolled out grassy knoll next to me spraying my legs with a focused intensity. I stop and glance at my wet pants and begin laughing because the water attack avoided my crotch. I remove the sunglasses, as the first sign of daylight creeps over the reflecting glass of the miles of business park mazes I work in. “I expect these attacks during the summer,” I scold the sprinkler head, “but not in November.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

When We Were Young

A typical night at the packed Gypsy in Northwest Portland leaves both Chuck and Harrison standing amid the smoke, chatter and fellow patrons searching for a place to stake their claim. They are positioned in the main thoroughfare between two booths with drinks in hand, yet having no adequate place to set them down. Chuck is a Whiskey Sour man, whereas Harrison prefers the more classic Bloody Mary. Patrons pass in front of the two as their dialogue begins.

“This is…big,” Harrison says with hesitation in an effort to create drama.


“Not really,” Chuck flatly responds.


“Huh?”


Chuck shifts his cold drink to and fro trying to find a place to set it down. “Mardi Gras? Yeah. St. Patty’s Day? You’ve got my vote. Valentine’s Day with Tracy Lords’ classic cinema? That was big.” He gives up his efforts.


“Not the gathering. Besides, the date with the Lord wasn’t big; it was expansive – bordering colossal,” Harrison tries to clarify.


“Don’t forget illegal. Those performances were during her carded at an R age.”


Harrison’s brow furrows in confusion, “Well, I’m sure everyone else was 21. Or, at least 18.”


“Besides, it’s Lords. Plural not singular,” Chuck asserts, contentedly takes a sip from his drink, and then continues. “There is only one Lord, you heathen pedophile! Jack Lord!”


“Are you going to try and duck destiny all night?” Harrison shouts with his arms upraised with frustration.


“Duck destiny?”


Harrison places his hands out in front of him as if directing traffic to make his point. “Yeah. Duck. Destiny.”


“I have no idea what you’re alluding to. At first I thought you were talking about the crowd, so I was stating that it really isn’t that big compared to other nights. But, in reality, you were clearly setting this whole conversation up to spiral off into some strange tangent.”


“We need a table. That way you are sitting down,” Harrison responds as he waves down Linda, a waitress common to the pair.


“Why are you pregnant?” asks Chuck as Linda approaches with a look of worry on her face.


“I’m getting killed here Banister! What is it?” an exasperated Linda asks.


“He’s pregnant.”


“No, I am not! He’s dodging inevitability.”


"I thought I was ducking destiny.”


“I don’t have time – “ Linda begins with mounting irritation.


“We really need a table,” interrupts Harrison. “Something huge has come to pass.”


“If you two summoned me over here because you are starting another religion, I swear to God I am going to scream rape.”


Chuck looks worried, “Please don’t swear.”


“What?!” Harrison exclaims trying to regain Linda’s attention. “No, that’s not it at all.” He takes a sip from his drink and gets a stick of celery stuck on the rim of one of his nostrils. “But since you mentioned it, why didn’t you ever convert?”


Linda turns away from the two boys and inhales to scream. Harrison extends his hand to try and gag her, but stops when his drink begins to spill. “No! No no no no no! Please, I’m going to write a little something on a piece of paper here that says ‘25%’ gratuity.”


Linda looks at Harrison closely. “25%? I thought that was our standard. It sure is when Sara is around. Where is Sara, anyway?”


“She formally declined to join us,” Chuck interjects.


“Linda?” the bartender shouts to her with his hands aloft from behind the wait station jammed full of drinks.


“What if I scribbled out that silly number and wrote in a big 3-0?”


“Where is Sara, Harrison?”


“She formally declined – “ Chuck begins again.


“I heard you the first time Chuck!” Linda interrupts. “I was asking Harrison.”


“Um, she has come to the conclusion that it is best that we pursue our endeavors and dreams without her company,” Harrison responds to his drink as if in reverence to someone departed.


“And, in her conclusion, lots of adjectives were used, such as, insane, juvenile, and absurd. I think I may have even heard a retarded cast into the mix at one point,” Chuck affirms as he looks over his shoulder at the angry bartender calling for Linda.


“Two words: Three and zero,” Harrison waves the imaginary piece of paper around like a bad salesman.


“Alright, I swear…” Linda says as she beelines to a table, followed slowly by the boys, where a couple is discussing their day in the close quarters of a booth. In front of them on the table is a plate of appetizers and a fruity fishbowl drink. Unfortunately, there is enough room at the table for four people. Six, if you squeeze.


Linda addresses the couple reluctantly. “I’m sorry, I’m going to ask that they join you for a moment. We are getting their table ready right now.” The couple looks rightfully confused as Harrison and Chuck approach without so much as a sign of recognition of their presence. The bartender continues his calls for Linda. She adds a disclaimer while staring at the boys: “This will only be a minute and you won’t even notice that they’re here.” Linda makes a three and a zero with her hands toward Harrison as she rockets towards the bar.


The table rattles as the two settle in. The giant drink between the couple capsizes spilling along the boyfriend’s hands and shirt. Linda, like Lot, does not look back.


“Shit!” exclaims the boyfriend.


“This is much better,” Chuck exhales – oblivious to the carnage a few inches away from him.


“Oh yeah,” Harrison agrees, as they both set their drinks carefully down onto the wobbling table. They are ready to engage in conversation.


“Here honey,” the girlfriend swipes at her boyfriend’s wet shirt with a napkin.


“Okay, I’m sitting,” Chuck licks his finger and extends it upward to check the wind before continuing, “The world is still spinning. So what’s so big?”


“I’m so glad you asked,” Harrison grins. “We are film aficionados right? From the whatever’s till now, it doesn’t matter; those scribed lives fill voids in our existences.”


“There are many voids. Oh so many voids,” Chuck glances over at the boyfriend when he hears him groan.


The boyfriend takes the napkin from the gal and carefully jabs at his shirt, “Christ! It’s all over!”


“Then let’s fill those voids and while we’re at it – I don’t know – maybe our wallets!”


“Looks like Tide country,” the girlfriend uncomfortably laughs.


“So, what? Become actors?” Chuck asks with mild annoyance at the notion.


“It looks like I’ve been shot!” the boyfriend shouts at the entire room.


“Are you insane?” Harrison asks incredulously, “I can’t act.”


“Oh no, that’s not the silk daddy is it?” the girlfriend responds to her boyfriend’s clear dismay.


“You would be a terrible actor wouldn’t you?”


“This is the silk daddy!” sobs the boyfriend as he shrinks his shoulders.


“You’re ducking again,” asserts Harrison distractedly. He turns his attention toward the bar and spots Sean and Dorian.


“The Daddy is ruined!”


Sean and Dorian, precariously carrying pints of neon yellow liquid, approach the table expectantly. “Sup?” Dorian asks.


“Sup, dudes? Slide home,” Chuck and Harrison respond in unison as the each scoot closer to the couple on each side, so Dorian and Sean can slide into each space at the outside end of the booth.


“The intricate and expensive fibers of the Daddy will never survive this!” the boyfriend continues to sob.


“What the hell?” the girlfriend mumbles and crosses her arms.


“What are you freaks up to?” Sean asks as he twirls his drink between his thumb and forefinger just above the table.


“But this is the Daddy!” the boyfriend pleads for understanding.


“Welcome to the future,” Harrison dramatically pronounces to his cohorts and anyone who may be within earshot.


“What is this?” asks Dorian as he drains his pint. “All I got from the email was: ‘Meet at Gyps. Stop. You’ll be there anyway. Stop. Probably drunk. Stop. This is big. End transmission.” So, hit us with the line.”


“We are the writers,” Harrison begins moving his hands around in a Vogue motif, “and as you slept, dreaming of Molly Ringwald – "


“No,” Sean urgently interrupts, “I never dreamt of her.”


“Ally Sheedy?” Harrison asks Sean still miming in sheer stupid vanity.


“Naw, never into brunettes.”


“She was tight until that dandruff thing,” adds Dorian.


“Freeze frame. Flakes are el natural. Otherwise, she would be a Disney chick,” Harrison continues the tangent and his gestures.


“What?!” Dorian shouts confused.


“Oh, you know damn well, Scully. Those Disney chicks aren’t real.” Harrison retorts amazed, while finally giving up his flailing arms and hands. “They’re bought, built, all on a program – "


“CGI can only go so far Mulder,” D argues.


“Tell me, have you ever touched one of them? No?” Harrison turns to the others for help. “I didn’t think as much.” Sean and Chuck shake their heads in agreement, or simple indifference.


“Come on Daddy!” the boyfriend shouts as he shakes his shirt in an effort to revive the original color and dry it out as quickly as possible. “We need to get to the drycleaners stat!”


“You lived in L.A. for 14 years,” Dorian addresses Harrison, “and you’re telling me you never saw one of them in person?”


“Pasadena. And, never once.”


“Oh, that’ll help,” the girlfriend sarcastically groans before sucking on the one remaining straw sticking out of the nearly empty fishbowl.


“Once, when I was young, I saw Dorothy Hamill skating,” Sean adds. “Wasn’t she hot once in the 70s?”


“Like, hot always,” affirms Chuck to the palm of the hand his face is leaning on. “Mary Lou was the bomb back in ’84! I swear most of America wasn’t sure whether to eat out of, frame, or hump the box of Wheaties she was on.”


“Daddy? Daddy?” the boyfriend cries out to his failing shirt.


“Listen. We’re doing the screenplay. And I mean THE screenplay,” Harrison returns to topic.


“Screenplay?” the gang responds in unison.


“There you go. Stretch it a little more. That way, maybe everyone will pay more attention to the wrinkles than the stains,” the girlfriend tells her boyfriend.


“That’s it boys! This eagle has finally stopped doing whatever the fuck he was up to prior and landed.”


“I get it. One small step for you and one gigantic step for our kind. Kudos,” adds Sean.


“What’s up with the attitude?” the boyfriend finally responds to his neglected date.


“C’mon dude! What the fuck are you talking about?! That’s ridic!” Chuck pounds the table.


“No, the eagle is right! Think out of the box. Multimedia, mass exposure, internet, action figures. The soundtrack will debut at #1 with a bullet. MTV will be touring our cribs….” Dorian continues to list addressing no one in particular, “my spa will be filled with Cristal…how can I afford such luxury?”


“I know we can do this.”


“Seems like you care more about that stupid shirt than me,” the girlfriend states, as she’s now shifted most of her attention to the boys.


"D’s right about the box,” Sean adds, “hey, they said we couldn’t fly, and I’m certain some people plummeted to their deaths, but those silly Wright Brothers did it. 'Cuz you gotta have faith.”


“10 car garage, a private plane…well, I guess that ends our tour…” Dorian stammers, as he returns to the conversation.


“That’s what I like to hear. I am sick and tired of this can’t do shit. How could Brian Bosworth star in an action movie and get away with it? And worse, we all sat around watching that crap shouting ‘Boz! Boz! Boz!’ What’s stopping us?” Harrison shouts before taking a deep breath.


“But this isn’t a shirt. This is the Daddy?!” the boyfriend whines as his defense.


“Whatever bros,” states Chuck, clearly not convinced.


Dorian looks at his empty glass and then at the bar, “This place is past tense. Let’s motor. Besides, the Oak is about the start.”


“What’s happened to this place?” Sean agrees.


“The Oak is what’s happened to this place? Everything was cool until they added the oak.”


“Look! Here comes Helloween!” Chuck points to a male in his late 30s or early 40s crossing through the bar towards the other section where an announcer is beckoning all to partake in karaoke 80s night. This guy is hardcore hair-metal enthusiast. He proudly sports a cut off baseball T-shirt from Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood tour, ripped jeans, big big hair and the same kick ass attitude he had back in ’82. If only the body had remained as fresh as his love for the genre of metal. Patrons watch and also point, while some of the younger ladies in attendance wave to him for some God forsaken reason. He is so damn uncool. They are clearly too young to understand how uncool he is. So much so, that he has become cool.


“What’s wrong with all of you?” Harrison jumps back on point. “We’re talking about THE screenplay. This could be the Ben Hur of the new millennium and all you’re worried about is the Oak!”


“I know Kevin Smith. Maybe he could offer –" the girlfriend begins to the boys.


“I need to get drunk,” Chucks cuts her off.


“Let’s hit the ‘Balt,” suggests D.


“Who the hell is Kevin Smith?” the boyfriend’s voice cracks.


“We need to stay and hash this out,” demands Harrison, sensing he’s lost his audience, as Helloween has begun to wail the opening scream in “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns n Roses.


Everyone else nods in silent agreement.


“Fine, but you guys are picking this one up,” he commands as he waves down the scrambling Linda.


“D’s all over this action,” Sean offers, “he’s got a Jacuzzi boiling over with Cristal.”


“Did you screw him?” the boyfriend jealously continues.


“Someone is going to pay for this and somehow I have a feeling it’s going to be me,” Chuck worries aloud.


“I got it C-Note,” D offers.


“I’m not talking about the bill.”


Linda approaches cautiously. She addresses the couple who are no longer facing each other: “Well, I have some good news for you two. Your guests’ table is finally ready.”


“Cancel it. Just tab me and these three,” Dorian gestures to Sean, Harrison and Chuck. “We’re out.”


The boys all stand and stretch nonchalant aside the booth, while the girl slaps her now ex-boyfriend. “Go to hell!”


“Oh dear,” Linda worries to herself as Helloween continues to shred his voice to the siren screams of Axel Rose and the girl runs towards the exit after the departing boys.


(written with Jeff Piering)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Murmur


I have never been a big fan of R.E.M. They maintained on my music periphery during the 80s, when I purchased their albums up through 1988’s Green. Aside from a few singles since then (their last release I purchased was the fantastic 1996 single with Patti Smith “E-Bow the Letter”), I haven’t been interested, nor do I own most of those older albums anymore. In fact, I don’t even hear their newest music anymore. They have managed to reach a place in the pop music hierarchy where they are so well known that no one bothers to promote their music. I am guessing that this is a shame. At any rate, I have just spent the morning reading the 33 1/3 series (Continuum) book about R.E.M.’s debut 1983 album Murmur - before "Losing My Religion" was played 4,000 times a day and before the nightmare that is "Shiny Happy People". Firstly, this series of books is fantastic, if you are unaware, I heartily recommend you rush out and find some titles you're familiar with. They are small (generally between 100 & 150 pages) tomes that are specifically about certain rock and roll albums. I have read maybe two dozen of them and they all take a different angle: from Joe Pernice’s amazing novella for The SmithsMeat is Murder to the oddly technical and mostly unreadable book for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Most of the books break down a bit of historical context for the artist at the time of recording, behind the scenes snapshots of the recording sessions, and so on. So far I have purchased only the books for albums that I know and love and have used the books as a tool in many cases to rediscover said album. In this case, I don’t think I’ve listened to Murmur from start to finish since 1988, so hearing it again after reading extensively about it was refreshing and it brought back some fond memories. The book is very well done, but this isn’t about that book or that album specifically. This is about the idea of the album (an idea that could be in serious jeopardy) as heard without preconceptions and unfettered by our media’s race to find the next big thing.

Having said that, I will begin with the first tangible memory I have of the album Murmur. I believe it was the fall of 1985, freshman year of high school, when Wil and I took off in the afternoon and wandered down from the school on the hilltop to Driftwood Mac’s on the south edge of Taft. As mentioned before, in a previous post “Vertigo,” these were my discovery years for music. I was just starting to earn spending money of own and finding ways of learning of new music aside from the stale radio play lists of contemporary hit radio. When Murmur was released in 1983, I’m sure my favorite records were by Men Without Hats, Thompson Twins, Men at Work and the Hall & Oates best of. Two years later, I was sitting next to Wil on the rotting bleachers of the old Taft High football field, which had long since been abandoned, looking at his freshly purchased vinyl copy of R.E.M.’s Murmur and reminiscing about when Steve was on the football team playing on that very field. We were amazed at how in just a couple of years what was once a destination for many of Lincoln City’s town folk during Autumn Friday nights, was now a forgotten overgrown and muddy shadow of its past glory (or shame in the case of Taft’s football history at the time). We compared how the otherworldly cover of Murmur – its grey wasteland covered in kudzu – was fitting for our location at the time - as the Oregon coast’s version of the kudzu plant may as well be the unstoppable tendrils of the blackberry bushes that had already nearly engulfed that field. After sitting and studying this mysterious album and discussing our developing likes and dislikes with music (among other things), we found our way back to his house, to his basement room to listen to the record. I will never forget that day, because of the time spent with my friend, and because of that discovery of hearing something new to us and different from the norm and the purity of hearing music with no expectations.

Things have changed drastically from those days. Then, being from a small town, exposure to new music was almost entirely based on word of mouth, or the odd music video that might’ve appeared on WTBSNight Trax or USA’s Night Flight on Friday nights (I don’t know why, but we didn’t get MTV, when they still played music videos, on the coast till late ’87). We couldn’t hop on the computer or phone to hear what so and so sounded like any time we wanted. We didn’t know what most of these artists looked like or where they were from and in some cases what they were going on about. This made these albums our lifelines. They defined us in many ways. We listened to every song on these albums because we didn’t know when the next great mystery would come along. It’s so much easier now to find whatever music we want to nowadays and part of me has a serious jealousy. I used to work so hard to find the artists that I wanted to hear, as opposed to the ones I was forced to hear on constant repeat on the radios that blared from all corners of my little world. How cool would it have been to hear one of the cool kids talking about “this new band” Husker Du and to be able to hop on the net, listen to a sampling of their songs and upon loving them, as I do, owning the songs within minutes? Even though these things happen for me now, I cannot comprehend that experience when I was 13 or 14. I most likely would’ve stolen my parent’s credit cards and driven our family into financial ruin.

Now that we can so easily pick and choose what songs we like, whenever we like, the concept of the album has declined. It is still alive and may be alive to some extent indefinitely, since bands will most likely continue to record and “release” to the public a grouping of songs that reflect their most recent efforts. But the importance of the sequencing of tracks and the ebbs and flows of that collection is vanishing. Why bother, when the potential audience can simply snag the one song they know and move on without hearing anything else? A lot of the mystery is gone and so is some of the fun.

I’d like to invite anyone that reads this to share your favorite memories of discovering new music and how it impacted your life.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top 25 of 2010


Happy New Year everyone! 2010 was a really solid year for music and I hope you all take the time to expose yourselves to some new sounds. These artists are all worthy of attention.

1.The Joy Formidable
A Balloon Called Moaning
“Popinjay” 7”
“I Don’t Want to See You like This” 7”
(Black Bell)

This debut mini LP from Welsh trio The Joy Formidable has sent a rush of adrenaline through me this year that has not ceased! This is truly a breath of fresh air and why I will always be one who seeks out new music. These highs are too hard to stay away from! Somehow TJF have captured in this crudely recorded – yet still majestic and full sounding set – a combustible mix of early Catherine Wheel, Compulsion and the dreaminess of such purveyors as the Cocteau Twins! But mostly, these kids rock and they bring it. The tiny front woman cranks out guitar lines that rival the best of the post-punk greats and coos over her own din. She is a revelation. Yet she is counter balanced by the swift and busy pounding of drummer Matt Thomas and Ritzy’s significant other Rhydian Dafydd on shredding bass. There are no moments on this rollercoaster ride that aren’t fucking amazing - “The Last Drop” and “Whirring” being the highlights of highlights.
The “Popinjay” single from this summer continues their winning streak of a nice start/stop chorus, but a non- essential B-side. While the new pre-LP (their The Big Roar is due out in about 3 weeks! Holy shit yes!!) “I Don’t Want to See You like This” single (still a non-essential B-side) could be the song of the year! This song benefits with a full, no HUGE, sound by coming from a proper studio and apparently major label backing (Atlantic), meaning they may be a bit easier to track down. Please do that!



2.Thrushes
Night Falls
(Birdnote)

2007’s Thrushes debut LP Some Come Undone is a favorite of mine because it is comfortable. Its warm electricity has been like a soft blanket to wrap myself in when I’ve needed it over the last couple of years. This Baltimore foursome portrayed a gentle blend of sounds that harkens back to the shoegaze days of the late 80s and early 90s along the lines of Slowdive crossed with Pyschocandy era Jesus and Mary Chain, or Black Tambourine. For their second offering, Night Falls, they have continued with this basis, but exploded with some added energy and urgency! Opening with the stellar “Trees,” vocalist Anna Conner proclaims that she’ll “make you cry” atop a wash of splashing cymbals and barely contained drive. This is one of the songs of the year! While their debut lingered in a misty and vague beautiful haze, Night Falls lands with a direct message full of broken hearts and bitterness and buzzing catchy tunes.



3.Standard Fare
The Noyelle Beat
(Bar None)

A ramshackle affair! This spirited collection surprises by evoking the best bands of the so-called C86 Brit indie-pop scene and yet sounding unbelievably current. This three-piece are masterful at capturing the thrill and drama of crushes and fresh love. Emma Kupa’s vocals are the highlight here. She sings with an exuberance that finds her stretching for heights that she may not be able to achieve, but is all the more brilliant for it. Guitarist Danny How, whose playing is lithe, clean and joyously loose, takes the lead voice on a couple of tracks here and is not outdone – as his “Edges & Corners” is a two plus minute burner. Would like to see these guys do more duet numbers such as the back and forth high point of “Nuit Avec Une Amie,” but this is a minor grump, because what is here is fresh and fun as hell! Phenomenal debut! More please!



4.Trembling Blue Stars
Fast Trains and Telegraph Wires/Cicely Tonight Volume One
(Elefant)

This is reportedly the final TBS album and that is a shame, because this collection (an album and a seven track EP) may be their best. Robert Wratten has left the legendary winsome Field Mice in the dust, the experimental Northern Picture Library (a personal favorite) after only one album, and now his longstanding Trembling Blue Stars are finished only to be revered as influential years from now due to their heart on sleeve quiet reflection and delicate perfection. Some of these tracks would make their greatest singles (“My Face for the World to See,” the Cath Carroll sung “The Imperfection of Memory,” the downbeat “Half-Light” and the stellar “Cold Colours”), but the 11 tracks on CD1 are cohesive and flow together like the soundtrack to a really cool movie. On the second disc we see a bit of house cleaning possibly, as it includes some instrumental ambient pieces, a cover of the Dream Academy’s “Not for Second Prize,” the return of Anne Mari (of Field Mice/NPL) to lead vocals on “The Lowest Arc.” However, CD2 fittingly closes with a hidden track titled “No More Sad Songs,” a perfect epitaph for one of the great bands of the last 15 or so years.



5.The Corin Tucker Band
1,000 Years
(Kill Rock Stars)

It’s about time! After lamenting Sleater-Kinney’s disbandment in 2006, I have been waiting anxiously for some Corin Tucker material - hoping she would grace us all again with her insightful and emotional music. Yes, she is best known for her in your face banshee wail from those S-K albums, but we’ve always known that she’s a powerful lyricist with a penchant for tackling big subjects with a one on one individual slant. She does so here winningly! Her solo debut (with major help from multi-instrumentalist Golden Bears’ Seth Lorinczi & Unwound’s Sara Lund on the drums) is as personal as can be with ranging subjects of missing her husband (“Half a World Away”), battling depression (“Dragon”), the unnamed crisis of an old friend (“Riley”) and the damage of losing ones means of a living in the touching “Thrift Store Coats.” Her vulnerability is expressed so poignantly throughout and we’re all the better for it. And with a less forceful set of songs than those of her old trio, we are given a chance to hear Tucker’s full range as a singer. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another 4-5 years to hear more material.



6.Bad Religion
The Dissent of Man
(Epitaph)

30 years man! 30 years! Bad Religion celebrates 30 years as a recording entity this year with their 15th album. It’s hard to believe. And to be honest, though I always like their albums, they have had a serious case of diminishing returns over the last 15 years. This new one felt the same at first too. However, after repeated listens, it became clear that these 15 tracks really feel like the proper follow-up to 1993’s Recipe For Hate. Stylistically more diverse (check out the return of the pedal steel on “Cyanide”), they prove that they are still hard at work trying to improve and progress. Besides, who can resist a band whose words are so incisive and educational on top of some of the best double time punk rock riffs ever put to tape? Happy Anniversary guys.



7. The Secret History
The World That Never Was
(Le Grand Magistery)

After their fantastic debut EP from 2008, The Secret History finally unleashes their debut LP and it was definitely worth the wait. Much has been made of their story. Darren Amadio and Michael Grace Jr. (principal songwriter) are holdovers from the much talked about NYC band My Favorite. In this setting, however, they rely less on an 80s synthesized sound, and more on expansive and well thought out full band arrangements (augmented with piano, strings and horns) to give this a more classic and timeless sound. Helping with this move are the cool lead vocals from Lisa Ronson, the striking daughter of the famous Mick Ronson (guitarist with David Bowie as a “Spider from Mars”). Lyrically, Grace’s songs haven’t strayed far from his past, as they are filled with Catholic image laden scenes of runaways, outcasts, the broken hearted and rock-n-roll hoodlums. These songs are absolutely hook-laden gems that strike a need to sing along upon the first listen.



8.Leatherface
The Stormy Petrel
(No Idea)

A year full of surprises - not only is Leatherface back, but original guitarist Dickie Hammond is back in the fold where he belongs, alongside Frankie Stubbs. This album is not their best (look to ‘91s Mush, ‘93s Minx and ‘94s The Last), but it's so welcoming to hear these two intertwine their guitars with such deft touches. Hammond’s staccato fills are so warm and lush against Stubbs’ rhythm work. This is their eight LP overall and first since the 2004’s middling Dog Disco, so it’s additionally welcoming to hear Stubbs’ roaring and heart wrenching voice howl its way through 12 new tracks. And new is the key here, because they are not revisiting their past here. They belt out a downright hit with the soaring “Never Say Goodbye,” and surprise with the fleet-footed shuffle of “Another Dance.” Other standouts include the early Police sounding “God is Dead,” the odd “Belly Dancing Stoat” and the amazing “Diego Garcia,” which puts a personal feel on the island’s shameful history. This is like receiving a long letter from a long time friend you haven’t heard from in a long time.



9.Northern Portrait
Criminal Art Lovers
“Life Returns to Normal” 7”
(Matinee)

Much has been made of Northern Portrait’s similarity to the Smiths, and yes, this five-piece from Denmark do have a striking resemblance to those Mancunian legends. There’s the energetic, intricate, and tasteful guitar work driving these catchy tunes and vocalist’s Stefan Larsen’s pleading Morrissey crooning (with a touch of Roy Orbison when he goes falsetto). The comparison doesn’t simply stop with the sounds either. These songs are filled with self-deprecating underdog lines that can bring a smile to one’s face or help one wallow in their misery. This debut album (on the heels of 2008’s great twin 4 track EP’s) is truly worthy of a listen. They do need to find more of their own voice, but this is a solid foundation to start with and, hell, I cannot stop listening to it! What could be higher praise for a record recommednation?
As for the 7”, “Life Returns to Normal” is a nice example of their sound pulled from the middle of the LP that captures their melancholy essence in about four flowing minutes. The non-LP B-side is a cover of “Some People” from the UK’s massive pop superstar Cliff Richard.



10.Defiance, Ohio
Midwestern Minutes
(No Idea)

Defiance, Ohio has won me over again! This is their fourth LP (third for me) and it continues to showcase their thinking man’s punk rock with serious folk leanings (the band play violin, cello, piano, banjo, upright bass, and mandolins, along with the basics). Sonically, they remind me most of early Camper Van Beethoven, but with a lyrical bent that is heavy on how our society is unfolding before us and how that can affect us individually. It can get a bit political at times, but never preachy. They come off as earnest and curious as to how we’ve gotten to where we are at this point and it is contagious. “The White Shore,” “Hairpool” and “Dissimilarity Index” all touch on cultural segregation and our self-imposed limitations and numbness from media overload. It’s a lot to tackle in short catchy tunes, but they do it and they make it lively and fun! This is heartfelt stuff that makes you think and fires you up.



11.Midway Still
Note to Self
(Boss Tuneage)

Wow! I would’ve never imagined that I’d be hearing new Midway Still material again. After loving their first two LPs from ’92 and ’93, it seemed that they were gone forever like so many of their brethren from the UK punk revival of that period (Leatherface, China Drum, Mega City Four, and Drive). Midway Still were maybe the closest to fitting in with the Nirvana craze during that time they were never able to capitalize on those comparisons. I always thought those were lazy though. Midway still’s shredding and LOUD guitar work felt more in common with the heaviness of My Bloody Valentine (who they’ve covered) and the propulsion of Bob Mould’s work in Husker Du. Yet, here we have 12 new Paul Thomson songs to enjoy and they sound as fresh and ass-kicking as they did 17 years prior. Welcome back!



12.Young Galaxy
Invisible Republic
(Paper Bag)

Young Galaxy has gone through quite a transformation since their very good 2007 debut for venerable Canadian label Arts & Crafts. Since then, they have split with that label and the duo of Stephen Ramsay (ex –Stars) and Catherine McCandless have expanded the band to a four-piece. Gone are the slow-building shoegazing epics from the first LP (reminding and Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Engineers). Enter in some bolder upfront downright danceable songs. The swirling layers of sound remain, but they are more for background atmosphere, while beats and basses guide this hip-shaking collection to the dance floor. There’s a bit of an 80s quality to these rhythms, and I have to admit that though I miss where they were going on their dream-like debut, I really like the sound of this. Hell, the track “Dreams” is worth the price alone.



13.Killing Joke
Absolute Dissent
(Spinefarm)

Another 30 year anniversary is celebrated this year. This one is a major shock too, because this new Killing Joke album finds the original lineup from their hallowed first two LPs reuniting for the first time since 1982! Twenty eight years is a long time, however, these guys are as fierce and potent as ever. It’s so welcoming to hear Paul Ferguson’s tough but absolutely swinging drumming style back in the fold. It all fits so neatly with Geordie’s signature guitar scrapings, Youth’s relentless basses and of course Jaz Coleman’s unmistakable growl. This is a band that was at the forefront of post punk, industrial, goth and even punk music. They have done it all and it’s so good to find them releasing another classic this late in the game.



14.Lanterns on the Lake
“Lungs Quicken” EP
(self released)

This is the third self released CD EP from the UK’s pastoral Lanterns on the Lake. I discovered them after hearing a few amazing songs from their previous hard to track down Greenspace configuration and learning that they were now recording under this name. Luckily, I am now on their mailing list, so I send them my dough when they let me know something new is out and about. This is my favorite EP yet. “Lungs Quicken” is a gentle builder and begins with what could be the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings and ends with the band slowly adding touches of atmosphere as the beautiful vocals plea for her lungs to work as she seems filled by a subtle urgency for survival in difficult times. This reminds me of the non-country moments of Rubber Rodeo. This would be a great 12” single, as the warmth of vinyl would really give this an added depth. “Sapsorrow,” and the short ambient “Cello Song” round out this short collection in fine style. This is definitely worth tracking down.
( http://www.lanternsonthelake.blogspot.com/)



15.Exlovers
You Forget So Easily 10”
(Chess Club 2009)

I was a bit late to the game on this one, as I only managed to get this hard to find 10” vinyl EP about a year ago. These five songs are worth the effort. The title track is as likely to get stuck in one’s head on the first listen as any song out there, and that’s a really good thing! Same with the equally spirited jangle of “Just a Silhouette,” or the straight ahead rocker “You’re so Quiet.” The remaining two songs are acoustic ballads that evoke the greatness of Elliott Smith. They remind me of fellow UK popsters Fields (with their simultaneous male/female vocals!), if they decided to drop the inclination of reaching towards the epic and simply went for 3 minute catchy nuggets. This is fantastic stuff and finally they are due to release an album in 2011!



16.Beautiful Things
Dream World
(Summerside 2009)

This band is clearly driven by the L.A. singer/songwriter Dina D’Alessandro, whose previous two solo albums captured a crisp and clean pop rock with a 90s Brit-Pop slant. Her last offering, 2005’s Is it Safe?, was a personal favorite, as it dealt with a kind of hurt and disappointment that living with health issues can cause. This Beautiful Things debut does not change her stellar sound a bit! We’re still blessed with songs that bridge the gap between sounding best on a sunny summer day, or on a cold lazy reflective day. This album sonically reminds me of Richard Butler’s (Psychedelic Furs) late 90s Love Spit Love’s second album Trysome Eatone. D’Alessandro’s lyrics here have a definite slant towards dreams – both sleeping and waking – that gives this collection a sweet cohesiveness. This is a truly underrated artist who writes and records very solid and tremendously addictive songs. Also, check out her overdriven cover of A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song.”



17.Emma Pollock
The Law of Large Numbers
(Chemikal Underground)

Former Delgados front woman graces us with her second solo LP since that great band’s sad farewell. Where 2007’s Watch the Fireworks felt a bit like Delgados-lite (still high praise), this one named after a mathematical theorem is like its title - much more angular and difficult. Things can at times feel clinical, but over time, the precise playing and production reveals a warm hearted center that finds our heroine reaching new heights of creativity and a clear separation from her old band. Warm yourself in the glow of the twin piano bookends “Hug the Piano,” the pounding “Hug the Harbour,” and the touching “House on the Hill.”



18.Lloyd Cole
Broken Record
(Tapete)

It seems that roughly every 10 years or so Lloyd Cole emerges with his best work. In 1990, it was the appearance of his flawless self-titled debut solo album (after years with the Commotions). In 1999, he ended that decade with The Negatives, which didn’t leave my stereo for months. Now, he hits in 2010 after several years of basically completely solo (and a bit forgettable) releases and silence, with this Nashville tinged beauty Broken Record. Here we find him working with much of the crew that made his solo debut 20 years ago. Back is the muscular drumming of Fred Maher and the keyboards of former Commotion Blair Cowen. Back is the full band and lush production with the deepest bass tones and a richness and clarity that suits these catchy as hell tracks. He’s back and cooler than ever.



19.Eux Autres
Broken Bow
(Bon Mots)

Brother and sister duo Heather and Nicholas Larimer return with their third LP (that I know of) and are now augmented with a third member (drummer Yoshi Nakamoto). This addition allows them to expand their neat little pop songs and give them added adornments. Remaining are the nasally passé vocals of the siblings that somehow work in favor of adding depth to their sneaky lyrics. Broken Bow feels inspired by the classic folksy moments from old Bruce Springsteen (covered here “My Love Will Not Let You Down”) crossed with the early 90s Slumberland noise pop bands like Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine and Henry’s Dress. This is a fantastic sound, but unfortunately, either the recording and/or the mix are fairly poor here – dimming the shining songs’ impact. This is a minor flaw that cannot keep this one from repeated listening.



20.Sambassadeur
European
(Labrodor)

Anyone that knows me knows that I love the Swedes. Musically, they seem to take the best pop moments from the US & UK scenes and boil out the frivolous bits and condense everything to the tastiest morsels. My love affair started in the early 90s with the powerhouse loud dreamy guitar bands Popsicle and Easy, but has expanded over the years to include the lush full arrangements of bands like Sambassadeur. This is their third offering and subtly their best yet. The opening “Stranded” goes from a slow classical sounding piano to a propulsive pop number adorned with a magical string arrangement and Anna Persson’s rich voice. And so it goes from there. It’s a comfortable stretch of simple sounding songs filled with layers and layers of tiny details and finishes with a Tobin Sprout cover (“Small Parade”). I think anyone who likes Camera Obscura would really dig this. Check out my beloved Swedes.



21.Versus
On the Ones and Threes
(Merge)

Another unexpected return in 2010: Versus reappear after 10 years away. They were one of my consistent stalwarts of the 90s – from the moment I received their demo tape in 1992 all the way through to their swansong Hurrah in 2000. Many are hailing this new collection (their 5th official LP) as maybe their best one yet. I am not ready to go there, because I have a soft spot for the glossy Two Cents Plus Tax. However, On the Ones is a grower. With each listen more nuances and subtleties uncover themselves and I am finding that what was once a lukewarm welcome back has become a rebirth of why I loved them all along. Listening to it again at the moment has it sounding even better than the last time. Let’s hope all of these successful comebacks stick around.



22.Tracy Shedd
EP88
(Eskimo Kiss)

I have always had a quiet respect for Tracy Shedd’s straightforward and clean songs. I have always sought out her records when she releases one, but then kind of forget about her until the next one comes along. This year saw the release of a 10” vinyl 5 track EP by her and cohorts. This one finds her returning to her piano roots. Apparently, she grew up with some serious skills on the piano but abandoned it for writing songs on guitar all these years. The change back to piano is noticeable and these tracks seem built on a more solid foundation. They feel lasting and timeless. It’s a moody grouping here that is stunningly pretty and reflective and melancholy.



23.The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
“Say No to Love” 7”
“Heart in Your Heartbreak” 7”
(Slumberland)

These NYC pop upstarts graced us with two vinyl singles of new material while we anxiously await their sophomore LP effort. Their progression is apparent from the get go. These recordings are fuller, smoother and cleaner productions, yet they are still based in these guys’ ability to write the most effortless youthful sounding melodies heard in years. Both singles are excellent and make the anticipation for the new LP all the higher.



24.Swans
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
(Young God)

Swans are back! This may be the most shocking return of the year. Michael Gira had proclaimed the Swans as dead on their final live release in 1998. Yet, here he is again, with some of the old cohorts and it is devastatingly and convincingly a Swans album. The Swans’ darkness and bleaker than bleak words are accompanied by an ever evolving sound, but one that is, as always, unmistakably their own making this a strong claim this is not some cash in reunion. There is a beauty in what Gira has always put together in the many incarnations of this band, but what I think has often been overlooked is that there is a certain sardonic quality to his words. Yes, they are serious as all get out, but you can almost see him grinning as he sings of setting all the world's lairs ablaze in the most straightforward track on the LP “Reeling the Liars in.” We also hear, who I’m guessing is Gira’s young child singing a duet with Devendra Banhart in “You Fucking People Make Me Sick,” which is as disgustful as it sounds. Oh boy, this is brutal and scary stuff – just like we hope for. I shouldn’t love this stuff, but I can’t help it.



25.Various Artists
Auteur Labels: Independent Project Records
(LTM)

This is what I wrote elsewhere about this compilation earlier this year: “This release features the fantastic US label Independent Project Records founded in Los Angeles in 1980 by Savage Republic co-founder Bruce Licher. This 23 track compilation spans the history entirely (notice the clear gap from ’96-’08) showcasing its varied assortment of artists and their amazing groundbreaking sounds. I first ran across this label in the mid-to-late 80s when I picked up Camper Van Beethoven’s landmark debut Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985), featuring, of course, their quirky single “Take the Skinheads Bowling” (included here). The next time I ran into the label was when I found the debut LP from Nebraska’s For Against’s Echelons (1987). It wasn’t until late 1990, while away at college that I encountered a For Against release on the label which absolutely changed my life. The first in IPR’s series of 10” colored vinyl only releases featured some unreleased and experimental tracks from this amazing band. This “Archive Series” debuted with the promise of a new installment every other month which could be had via subscription. These records were interesting, thought provoking, and most importantly, entertaining, but the bonus was the fantastic artwork that made up these special records. The records were numbered and pressed in an old fashioned letterpress printer and looked otherworldly. They provoked the imagination and upon arrival would send me off to stereo to absorb every nuance of these incredible products. These records expanded my horizons and exposed me to what felt like a special secret world.”