Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top Albums of 2006 & 2007

Now that we have reached the final month of 2012, I have turned my focus toward my annual and, unfortunately, ever expanding need to share my favorite music of each year.  I've started making notes and am preparing to write about each release that moved me this year, and I am finding it difficult.  Not only is writing about music difficult and counter-intuitive, it can be frustrating.  It's frustrating, because I am not sure what my motivation is.  I am not particularly good at it, nor do I have any aspirations to be, but I do love the music and I have a strange need to both organize and document everything that I've purchased throughout the year.  Mainly though, I want to share the excitement and deep feelings that I experience from these songs.  I want to do my small part in spreading the word, despite my lack of eloquence and an audience. 

That takes care of the motivation part, but not the pain of actually squeezing coherent words out of me about this music.  Surprisingly, while at a crossroads the other day about whether or not to bother with the list this year, I ran across some old file that had two years worth of lists on it.  I think these were each posted originally on Myspace.  What really struck me is that it's clear that my dilemma is one that I battle each year.  2007's list is purely a list with zero descriptives about why I like those records, while 2006 is filled with them.  Strangely, it was this fact, along with some simple loose paragraphs describing my favorites of 2006 that kind of re-energized me.  I thought I'd share them here, as I go back to work on what was great about 2012.  All of these albums are still worth checking out, by the way!

Top albums of 2006

Overall, 2006 has been a crappy year for me. Sure some of my best friends went out and had some kids this year, but I also lost someone very dear to me. In addition, I quit my job and gave up any idea that I might one day feel healthy again. Even the Portland Timbers played like pansies. Normally, during times such as these, music becomes a powerful resource of inspiration and reflection for me, but this year has generally been a terrible year for music. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and less impressionable, or if I'm simply missing the boat on things, but I haven't bought this few albums in a year since I turned 14 (ever since I was old enough to whore myself out to some job in order to earn money to buy music). Don't get me wrong, I am certain that there are thousands of really cool things I would enjoy if I had exposure to them, but I am not discovering them as easily as I used to and I'm getting lazier. Be that as it may, there are always exceptions. Recently, I have been impressed by the Teddybears, the Silversun Pickups, the fun cover songs by Nouvelle Vague, along with all of the impressive b-sides from the singles (which I finally tracked down) off of the Editors first album from last year. Also, I can't forget my re-discovery of Containe's great 1996 LP Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards and the Cure reissues. Meanwhile, I look forward to tracking down new releases by the Rifles, Dina D'Alessandro, Emma Pollack, Springhouse, the Drakes Hotel, the Black Watch, along with a new one by Charlotte Hatherley – among many others. I have been doing this clichéd list of favorite albums for 20 years now and I'm not sure why. Somehow I get wrapped up in all of the end of year hype, and the needless categorization of an art form. My only criteria for ranking these are a subjective memory of what was most listened to. Because of this list, however, I am provided with a mini time capsule into what my life was like from year to year. I am also always curious what everyone else is listening to, so please feel free to share your favorites, comments or questions below or privately. I am always hungry to learn about what I'm missing. Thanks, and please, have a fun 2007.

1. The Lawrence Arms. Oh! Calcutta! (Fat Wreck Chords)

I may be getting older, but that does not mean that I'm ready to surrender myself exclusively to the draw of mellow adult-tailored acoustic/country folk subtleties as sponsored by NPR. I'm still really pissed off a lot of the time and I like to have music that relates to those moments. Unfortunately, I am not able to relate to the whiney, uninspired, derivative emo-fashion piss that passes for punk rock these days ($40 ironic t-shirts and $80 pre-torn jeans from Urban Outfitters do not make one edgy). Luckily, the Lawrence Arms returned in 2006 with their 5th full length album (they also have 2 split LP's and a singles compilation) along with a couple of trips through Portland. This trio shred it up in short bursts of addictive rock-n-roll crammed full of energy, passion, intelligence, and, most importantly, humor. They share the Midwestern sensibilities of the young and drunken working class Replacements, filtered through the ragged intensity of Unfun-era Jawbreaker. They have the drunken wisdom of experience that allows them to stumble upon poignancy effortlessly. None of this matters, however. All that matters to me are that the songs rock and cut through the bullshit. They inspire me to get my ancient, broken bones off my ass and go do something. I cannot get enough of 'em.
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2. Sophia. Technology Won't Save Us (Flower Shop/City Slang)

This 4th LP of Sophia's (along with a unique live one) is their best. It is a slick, smooth, and huge sounding record! Beautiful orchestrations surge and swell atop layers of guitars, sharp thudding drum work and some sub-sonic bass lines. Robin Proper-Sheppard's songwriting has achieved a perfect balance between his straightforward brooding grooves of the two 90's LPs and his mildly Goth flavored epics since. He could've easily overdone these songs, but instead they are powerful, catchy and to the point – like a Year After Year-era Idaho as performed by the so-called shoegaze days of Moose (please ignore my band marriage comparisons). "Pace," "Lost (She Believed in Angels…)," and "P.1/P.2 (Cherry Trees and Debt Collectors)" would all be massive world wide hit singles if I were in charge. Of course, I'm not, but hopefully they will make it huge anyway.
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3. Whysall Lane. Whysall Lane (Blackball)

Whysall Lane is the first project I've heard from guitarist/singer Richard Baluyut since Versus disappeared a few years back (I recommend starting with 1998's Two Cents Plus Tax for more on that great band). That's not all, however, the drums are handled by former Jawbreaker drummer (and hero) Adam Pfahler, and newcomer (to me anyway), bassist Mikel Delgado. The songs are constructed with simple sounding building blocks, allowing them to smolder like incense filling the air with intensity (sorry). This intensity evokes a noir atmosphere. The drama from each tune is palpable before the words are sung, but not immediately revealing. Because of this, the album took a couple of listens before flowering into something special, but once it did, this LP didn't leave the player very often.
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4. Camera Obscura. Let's Get Out of This Country (Elefant/Merge)

On the third Camera Obscura album, this Scottish group changes things up a bit by recording in Sweden. What they gain is an early 60's Phil Spector-ish "Wall of Sound" added to their style. As usual, these tracks are decorated with strings, organs, and trumpets filling out their sound, but then everything is pushed into the red during recording (a la the Concretes' "Say Something New" from a couple years ago). This technique adds a boost of electricity to the songs. Tracyanne Campbell's voice crackles with her typical dry wit and bratty ruminations on the downfalls of love. The best tunes here are the upbeat ones, but the quiet ballad, "Country Mile," managed to break my heart. Overall, it's a fun record that managed to garner me a surprising conversation with the cute record store girl, who complimented my choice, when I purchased it. Nice!
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5. The Long Blondes. Someone to Drive You Home (Rough Trade)

This one is a late addition to the list. I bought this one in Seattle on 12/29 and listened to it over and over during the three hour drive home. In fact, I have carried it around with me ever since! The Long Blondes provide endlessly catchy and mildly new wave(y) songs fronted by the detached cool seductions of the rich voiced Kate Jackson. I get the sense from these songs of a been there done that maturity (in attitude, anyway) played out in an overly dramatic fashion of early twenty-something's involved in fractured relationships. I never get tired of this stuff. I suppose touchstones would date way back to early Blondie through to today's Metric. I just enjoy the ride and hope they can continue to produce such effectively memorable melodies for a long time.
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6. Metric. Live it Out (Last Gang) - 2005

Here is the opposite story to the Long Blondes. I picked up this LP early last fall, and much like 2003's Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, it took me forever to enjoy it. I cannot explain why. Once I get over my initial indifference, I fall head over heels. Emily Haines' biting words are front and center throughout, but I found Jimmy Shaw's guitars to be a revealing highlight here. This album is less overtly new wave derivative of their last and it is all the better for it. This band has a lot to say and do and I think the best is yet to come. This is still a fine place to be.
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7. Charlotte Hatherley. Grey Will Fade (Double Dragon) - 2004

Charlotte recorded this album, while her now former band, Ash, recorded their 2004 LP, since she played guitar for them, but rarely got a chance to provide her songs to the records. This is her chance to show off. It took me a long time to get this one from '04, but the wait was worth it. Her playing is extraordinary and these songs are heartfelt and fun and full of busy energy. Her words are endearing and personable, like a close friend telling you a story over drinks. This is a perfect album for sunshine activities (as long as it isn't burning hot). She has a new LP out soon, so quickly grab this one and then we can discover what she has in store for us next.
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8. The High Violets. To Where You Are (Reverb)

Every year I need a band that can provide me with a so-called “shoegaze” flavored soundscape with pretty female vocals to soothe my weakening mind. They cannot make music that's too fluffy, or too intent on creating extended vistas lacking any hooks or direction. Portland's own High Violets filled this year's opening very capably. Their songs are just right. The guitar work buzzes and churns forward with an easy momentum and even though I don't know many of the lyrics, Kaitlyn Ni Donovan's vocal melodies make these songs memorable and downright catchy. Thanks!
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9. The Delgados. The Complete BBC Peel Sessions (Chemikal Underground)

The Delgados released their fifth and final album in 2004. They will be sadly missed, not only because of the strength of their songs, but because in the live setting they were unspeakably remarkable. This 2 CD collection of radio sessions is cheap and, for some reason, easier to find than all of their actual albums. This collection acts as a good retrospective of their history for the unfamiliar, while including a variety of covers and alternate takes adding value to the collector. Before this band came along, I never thought I would get excited and overwhelmed by indie rock backed by complex string arrangements and flute playing, but here you go. They will be missed.

10. Mojave 3. Puzzles Like You (4AD)

Wow. Mojave 3 hasn't dropped their folk-based moodiness completely, but this new LP rocks! The songs are short, upbeat rockers. In fact, the few slower numbers sound out of place on this collection. Kudos to them for trying something different and pulling it off so well. As always, my only complaint is that there aren't enough of Rachel Goswell's beautiful vocals here (get well!).
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11. Lambchop. Damaged (Merge)

I heard that this is the last Lambchop album. If so, they will be missed. Their quiet and unusual brand of country music is always an interesting alternative my normal tastes. Kurt Wagner's brilliance reveals itself in subtle washes that paint a realistic portrait of Americana that defies so many perceptions and generalizations. Besides, if they throw in the towel, that could put the 7,000 band members out of work.
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12. Decoration. Flippant (13 B Sides)

These guys remind me of a less frenetic Wedding Present during the days of the C-86 scene in the UK, or even the underrated power of Adorable. They have a knack for creating scenarios loaded with regret and remorse for relationship opportunities now passed (a personal past-time). This is nothing new, but these songs are like mini stories, whose impact are buoyed by tumultuous arrangements. This album collects b sides from their early singles and it's very strong. Still, I recommend their debut from last year Don't Disappoint Me Now, ahead of this one.
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Top Albums of 2007

Here we go again. New Year's Day. Another year older. Another Best Of list. These are my favorite albums of 2007 as determined by some imaginary perception of most listened to. None of it makes sense and it could be different any other day. Why, you may ask, is my opinion important? It isn't. That is why I won't prattle on and on about why I like these particular albums.

1. Editors "An End Has A Start"

2. Dina D'Alessandro "Is It Safe?" 2005

3. The Jealous Girlfriends "The Jealous Girlfriends"

4. Great Northern "Trading Twilight For Daylight"

5. Drakes Hotel "Tell Me Everything"

6. Fields "Everything Last Winter"

7. Emma Pollock "Watch The Fireworks"

8. Maximo Park "Our Earthly Pleasures"

9. The Long Blondes "Someone To Drive You Home" 2006

10. The Rifles "No Love Lost" 2006

11. Stars "In Our Bedroom After The War"

12. Young Galaxy "Young Galaxy"

13. The Pipettes "We Are The Pipettes" 2006

14. Dulcesky "Lands" 2006

15. Foundry Field Recordings "Prompts/Miscues" 2006

16. The Lodger "Grown-Ups"

17. Star "Devastator"

18. Trembling Blue Stars "The Last Holy Writer"

19. Various Artists "Love Goes On: A Tribute To Grant McLennan"

20. At Swim Two Birds "Returning To The Scene Of The Crime"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ocean Breathes Salty

He sat down on the bench beneath the coat rack. Various odors drifted around his senses from the jackets lined up above his head. Each jacket’s stench told a different story about its owner. He leaned his elbows onto his knees and dropped his face into his palms. He didn’t want to delve into those stories. Pain felt like it was going to rupture out from the middle of his back, or at least seep out through the hole in his left side. The pain was from pressure. The pressure was from old blood swirling around his insides from a long stretch of internal bleeding while on blood thinners during a disastrous hospital stay. He was dizzy from the pills he had taken. He began to shiver, as he attempted to regain his feet and return to work. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his hands as they struggled to retie the white apron around his waist. He heard a voice from behind him ask if he was okay.

“Well that is that
And this is this
You tell me what you want
I’ll tell you what you get
You get away from me”

Red and green cloud the pool’s alternating surface direction inside the bright white porcelain bowl. He managed a grunt of laughter as he thought to himself about how the colors were so festive. He tried to ignore the burn from the infection. He was unable to button his jeans, because his hands were shaking too much. The bandage wrapped around his abdomen had begun to unstick, so he tried to hold it in place with his elbow. The tiny rubber ball underneath the burgundy stained gauze that was connected to a tube that thrust deep inside of him looked like it was filled with Kool-Aid, but it made him think of knife wounds.

“The ocean breathes salty
Won’t you carry him in
In your head
In your mouth
In your soul
And maybe we’ll get lucky
And we’ll both grow old
Well I don’t know
I don’t know
I hope so”

Wrapping his arms tightly around each other, he allowed his head to fall against the stair behind it. His momentum shifted his weight across the steps into the wall. He couldn’t make the ataxia of his torso stop no matter how hard he tried to squeeze himself still. His teeth rattled despite his efforts to clamp down his jaw and arrest control of his muscles from the disease that had already eaten away his soul. He could’ve called out for help, but all he could think about was his impending death. It was past 3 am anyway. He didn’t want to wake anyone. He pondered the notion of his death and what it meant to him. Nothing came to mind, other than a sense of relief and the emptiness that he had always envisioned. He had learned less than two months prior that bleeding to death internally would be a good way to go. It was so relaxing to be slowly drained of life; to delve peacefully into a deep sleep and then never wake up. He did wake up though, and instead found himself sweating, shivering, nauseous and forced into a fallen position on a staircase due to crippling pain.

“Well that is that
And this is this
You told me what you saw
And I’ll tell you what you missed
When the ocean met the sky
You missed when time in life
Shook hands and said goodbye
When the Earth folded in on itself
And said ‘Good luck
I hope heaven and hell
Are really there
I wouldn’t hold my breath’
You wasted life
Why wouldn’t you waste death?”

He stared out toward the horizon. The low autumn afternoon sun still burned bright, if not hot. He considered how the tiny bumps for hills covered with tall trees to the west are blocking his view of the ocean from this vantage point. He had actually never seen the beach along this stretch. He had been to this little town hundreds of times, but never ventured anywhere beyond its two very modest golf courses, which lie just inland. He held his shirt up, as his friend worked diligently to reapply his stained bandage to his side and back. A layer of sweat from the activity and humid heavy coastal air made the bandage a liability. The third member of their group, who joined a few holes prior, asked if he could play through. They nodded and laughed at the circumstance. His pain and mourning have been tempered with determination and a realization at how much he wanted to keep fighting.

“The ocean breathes salty
Won’t you carry him in
In your head
In your mouth
In your soul
And the more we move ahead
The more we’re stuck in rewind
Well I don’t mind
I don’t mind
How could I mind?”

lyrics & title taken from Isaac Brock./Modest Mouse

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Breathing was difficult due to the fact that his face was pressed firmly into the side of the bathtub, while scalding hot water rushed through his lips and into his nose before trickling into the drain underneath his right ear. He was dizzy and felt paralyzed as his legs lay lifeless and crumpled underneath his body. He slowly moved his head to one side, because the flowing water coming down from the shower head high above was overwhelming his every attempted breath. His eyes clenched tight as he began to try and determine his whereabouts. That’s the moment when he felt the sharp stinging in both of his wrists. He carefully reached up to turn off the water using the old soap-stained faucet above his head. He realized that he had passed out after laying carefully down into the small white tub. Now he found himself fighting to open his eyes. The tub around him was stained red with blood, as was his chest. There on his back, with small drops of water taunting his eyes, he held his left hand up in the air. It hurt horribly. He examined the damage done. About an inch below the wrist were several small blackened marks with a circumference of red circles surrounding each scratch. Blood was still seeping out because of the water around him, but the coagulation had mostly closed the wounds. He laughed as he let the water and bloody mess drip onto his chest from his shaking arm before it dropped back down to his side. His arm felt too heavy to hold up. He once again closed his eyes. His face felt warm and tingling. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the loss of blood or from those pills he took before he had climbed into the shower. He smiled and was giddy from being lightheaded and the flushed feeling in his cheeks and he tried to go back to the warmth of the sleep he had just awoken from. His mind wandered to that evening a couple of weeks earlier when he had put a small cut in his throat in the shower. He watched his reflection bleed in the tiny circular shower mirror suctioned to the linoleum and found solace in the taste of his own blood. It was a small cut that only bled momentarily, but he enjoyed the sensation.


She couldn’t believe what she was doing. The car was burning hot from the defroster and heater blowing full bore for the entire trip – because of the cold and damp autumn evening. She was in a rattling and nearly broken down car loaded with her friends on her way to meet the guy she had been in touch with for almost two years through social media, email, and even good old fashioned letters, but whom she’d never met. She had always wondered if they would meet, but until recently they didn’t live in the same city. He had finally moved to the other side of town and she couldn’t put him out of her mind. He always seemed like a nice guy and she loved his writing style and the website he wrote for and encouraged others to write for. She always felt like he understood her feelings in a way she never could.

“I think this it!” Cindy shouted as she veered the car in the darkness toward a small apartment complex.

This snapped her out of her thoughts and intensified the pit that had been slowly growing in her gut since the moment this idea was forced upon her. Sometimes she hated it when her friends pushed her into action, instead of letting her be all talk and safe in her little womb. He would probably think she was a crazy stalker for dropping by unannounced like this.

“What was the number?” Cindy asked over her shoulder as she swung into an empty parking spot and slammed onto the brakes. The car whined and clanked when the front end scraped over the top of the small yellow cement block that protected the walkway.

She mumbled the apartment number to Cindy and announced that they really didn’t need to go through with this silly plan.

“Nonsense,” Rebecca responded with disgust. “We’ve come this far, you’re not backing out now”

The four of them sprinted through the heavy rainfall as they scanned the area for the correct place. Before she knew it, they were climbing three flights of stairs and Cindy was knocking on the door. All of them began giggling nervously and were shaking from the chill in the air.

“I can’t believe we’re really doing this!” Cindy blurted, suddenly losing her ambition.

There was no answer after 30 seconds or so. She took a deep breath to try and stave off some intense shivers that had her entire body rippling.

“I hear something in there, and it looks like a light is on in that window,” Mary smiled and pointed to their left. “Knock again!”

Cindy pounded on the door harder and several times.

The silence overwhelmed her, as they all held their collective breaths and listened closely for any sound from the other side of the door. A fog gathered above them in the stairwell as they all stood facing each other with curious looks on their faces. Time stood still. Finally, she croaked out that no one was going to answer and felt relief spread through her shoulders and down her back.

“Leave him a note,” Mary commanded.

“Yeah, let’s all leave him a note,” Cindy agreed. “I have some paper in my purse.”

All of them scrawled out quick silly notes in their bubbly scrawl, while she paused and watched them as all of the clumsy butterflies returned. What should she write? He would now know what they did. Whatever the case, she drew strength from the camaraderie of her friends and contemplated some words that she thought he might think were funny. She didn’t want to scare him away, because she had some genuine hopes for this guy, despite her terror at the thought of actually meeting him just moments prior. Again, she asked herself why she didn’t stay home instead of telling her friends about him. Then she wouldn’t be here now. What could she say on a piece of scrap paper that would convey her feelings to him in a way that he would completely understand where she was coming from? She shivered again and realized that she didn’t know what she wanted. Cindy gathered all of their messages and stuffed them into the jam a foot or so above the doorknob.


“Yo! Sup?” Jim shouted as he banged the door open and tripped over the decayed floor mat just inside. “Looks like you got some love letters out here.”

Jim’s ruckus at the front door startled him from a deep slumber. He was wrapped tightly under a blanket and curled in the fetal position on the couch with the TV showing the closing credits of the old B-movie Monster A Go-Go! which he had tuned to during the opening credits - at least his third unsuccessful attempt at watching this movie. He had been dreaming of warmth and sunshine. The kind of sunlight that he only had ever imagined could exist – a kind of warmth and glow that could burn away the darkness that was always enveloping him. In his dream, long shadows from several giant shade trees stretched across a bright green grass field as he strolled comfortably through the shadow lattice toward a bright blue ocean in place of the freezing grey water he grew up next to. He was groggy, but made an effort to lift himself up over the back of the old couch to see Jim and figure out what he was talking about. He could feel dried blood pulling at the skin and hair on his chest underneath his loose fitting concert T-shirt and squinted as Jim had turned all the lights on that he had turned off after his shower earlier.

Jim dropped a few softened sheets of torn scrap paper on top of him as he passed by on his way to his bedroom. He could see that the handwriting varied, yet all contained the recognizably bubbly handwriting of nearly all girls born after 1970.

“Shouldn’t you be out? It’s Friday night. I’m thinking of going to grab some brews with some dudes from work, you wanna join?” Jim asked as he ducked into his room.

He collected the notes together as he responded to Jim with uncertainty, but knowing Jim would not take no for an answer.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is It Safe?

I’m coming up on the 8th anniversary of my kidney transplant. If you know me, or have taken the time to peruse the nonsense I’ve been posting on here for the last few years, you’ll know how monumental that event was for me. However, I am not heading in to this year’s celebration feeling too hot. It all reminds me of the second and third years after the transplant. Once the huge high of receiving the new kidney and lease on life started to wear off, once the build up of a few years worth of terrible side effects from massive doses of steroids began to exact their toll, and once reality started to set in, I had a minor crash. When I first received the new kidney, they had me so hopped up on steroids (including rabbit adrenaline!) that just a few days after the surgery I was literally riding my IV pole throughout the hospital hallways like a skateboard with my hospital gown blowing free and loose in the breeze. The excitement of getting a second chance mixed with the brew of hyperactivity inducing drugs had me talking a mile a minute and nearly foaming at the mouth with excitement. I vowed during that frantic time that I would never waste my time again. Of course, within a few months I was back to my old work grind, living essentially as I had before, and instead of being pumped with energy, I was in constant physical pain from something called “avascular necrosis” (which roughly translates as ‘dead or dying bones’ - caused by the same drugs that were helping my body accept my new kidney), and exhausted all of the time. It was then that I truly realized that my big plans and ideas were not realistic. Life is a series of mundane activities broken up by occasional moments of excitement both good and bad, and in my case, after all the 27 (gulp!) surgeries and horrific medications that helped keep me going at all costs along with my increasing age, I was no longer physically capable of doing what I used to or longed to do. It was during that time around 2006 and 2007 that I was working to earn a living for survival, but had zero energy left over to do anything in life that I enjoyed. My life had become mostly a cycle of getting out of bed, going to work, and coming home to watch TV until I fell asleep - only to start over the next day. Does this pattern sound familiar? I think a lot of us have a similar discouraging pattern, but because of my vow and because of that second chance, it felt so acutely painful to realize that I was too exhausted and limited physically to feel like I could escape. It took me a long time, but I was able to slowly work my way to better health again and to finding more frequent moments of recreation – so much so, that this year, I made another unrealistic vow to try and do as much as I could to get out of my home and my shell and do. I can proudly say that I have! This year has been stuffed with adventures, road trips, a ton of live music, my insane LPGA marathon, and more, but I have once again found myself exhausted and frustrated by my total lack of energy and wondering if I will be able to climb back out of the hole again. What I find most depressing about all of this is the daily grind – the ease of falling so easily into the spin cycle of working every day and watching time fly by helplessly.

It’s no wonder then that the second album from L.A. based artist Dina D’Alessandro (Is It Safe?) has found its way back into my car’s CD player all summer long. I was first introduced to her music via Myspace, of all places, around the time that I was struggling with the dark spiral of the endless work grind of 2006. Back in the mid-00’s I would get 10 to 20 friend requests a week from different musical acts on Myspace (along with the multitude of “prostitute” requests from stock photo blondes claiming on my profile page things like “UR HOTT!!” despite the only picture available on my page being one of the mythic Bigfoot strolling across a clearing) and only sometimes did I actually bother to listen to the music from these artists. Thankfully, when I received this friend request, I was in one of those searching for new music mindsets and took a listen to the handful of songs featured on her profile. I believe it was then that I immediately clicked the link to CD Baby and ordered her two albums. I absolutely love them both, but it was her second offering that especially clicked with me.

2005’s Is It Safe? is absolutely a soundtrack for those of us who are not satisfied with the work a day world. D’Alessandro’s ability to capture the feelings of self disgust and frustration toward living the unfulfilling first world problem of the un-self-actualized life of a worker ant (the name of her music publisher, by the way) is profound. The opening song “Masquerade” was an instant favorite. Not only does it open with a quivering guitar line atop a bed of electric noise that rivals the best moments of A Flock of Seagulls (who she so expertly covered on her 2009 Beautiful Things album with an inspiring and energetic “Space Age Love Song” – my 2010 #16 pick – see review here), but it blossoms into a story of sitting at the office and pretending that all is well and good, while burning up inside with pain and turmoil (“I go to work and start my day / I make believe its all okay / but it’s not okay”). That’s not the only aspect that struck me immediately with this song, because the second verse brings in the element of serious health issues that I identify with, obviously, on a deep emotional level, as our character struggles with not only the dilemma of balancing work and life, but trying not to let physical limitations get in the way (“Disease is such an ugly word / A word I think they’d find absurd / but it’s not absurd / A word I’d rather not discuss / because I don’t like to make a fuss / deny it all the way”). The clincher for why this song speaks so heavily to me arrives in the third verse as Dina brings the story full circle, because part of the need to go to work every day is to get health care coverage and to make enough money to pay for mounting medical expenses, despite the potentially declining ability to work that extra amount needed to do so (“I can’t take it anymore / the desolation I ignore / I’ve got all these bills to pay / I’ll deal with it another day”). It is absolutely heartbreaking.

This album does not focus solely on this dark topic, but touches on it enough throughout to keep the emotional thread alive. The second track, “Dream the Day Away,” which is an amazingly catchy pop rock song with a fantastically catchy chorus atop layers of buzzing guitars, still finds us dwelling on a serious need for escape from “misery.” “Down Again” opens with a guitar riff that reminds me of the stratospheric edgy guitar majesty of the much missed early 90s UK band Adorable as it builds to another driving sing-a-long that finds Dina in a fighting mood and refusing to “go down again.” Before I lose control with my over analysis of the lyrics within, due to my extreme personal identification with these stories as I have interpreted them, I must point out that, aside from the minute long instrumental “Interlude” stuck fittingly in the middle, that this album is an upbeat thrilling listen. I don’t say this enough about the music I recommend, but this is fun to listen to! The performances are spot on, as Dina is backed by a tight rhythm section, giving her space to layer her stellar guitar work and the huge hooks that she writes out in front. Over all of these years and all of the listens (especially the last few months), I still find myself not only singing along while I drive down the road, but throwing in air drum fills, and wringing out feedback on my air guitar as I bounce around behind the wheel. There is not a dud in the bunch. If you take away some of the emotional impact of the lyrics, this album reminds me musically of the chiming beauty of an album that fellow Californians Julie Plug (In Every Corner) released back in 1998, one that is so endlessly likable and (sorry) adorable that it begs for repeated listens, or the non-Madchester inflected Darling Buds from the early 90s (i.e.: their amazing Erotica from 1992). However, D’Alessandro brings an added depth that makes this album an emotional rollercoaster, along with the amazing ear candy, giving her music a timeless feel. In other words, take my medical trauma colored lens interpretations of almost every song herein (aside from “Interlude” and “Everybody Loves You” – an ode to disingenuous trickster) with a grain of salt and give the album a chance to sink in and affect you in its own way. Having said this, I cannot finish this piece without mentioning the closing song “Silly Girl,” and its powerful return to the tragedy of the opener “Masquerade.” The song opens with the lines: “Hope I never see this place again / Hope I never need this place again / The world goes round me every day / As I sit here and waste away” and it is exactly the sentiment I have echoed time and again after leaving a hospital stay (or even the office at my job). Luckily, the opening guitar turns electric, a shuffle beat comes in and the lyrics offer a message of hope and support from an outside voice. It is the perfect closing song to a powerful album (these two song bookends also provided me with inspiration for an early blog post where I quote “Silly Girl” and steal the “Masquerade” title – which can be read here) that I highly recommend. Please go to CD Baby as I once did and at least give her a chance.

Unfortunately, I could not find a song from Is It Safe? on Youtube to post (oddly though this song has the cover art representing it), however, "Disappear" is a great song from Dina D'Alessandro's 2003 debut album Sweetness and Decency and is representative of her great music!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

End of Daze

The time has come for me to make a major decision and, as usual, I am indecisive. No matter what I do, I know that I will be unhappy with my decision. I could take the glass half full approach and think of whatever decision I make as a win, either way, but I dumped that glass over a long time ago.

When the Portland Timbers were resurrected and brought back to PGE Park (Civic Stadium) in 2001 after 20 years or so of dormancy, I became obsessed with the idea of going to every home match. After all, I have blurry, early memories of sitting in Civic Stadium during the 70s with the sun beating down, holding up a Timbers sign that my dad had made. On one side, the sign had a Timbers logo drawn on it by his professional artists’ hand, while the other side contained the then not so old phrase “Rip City,” for our very rare attendance at Trail Blazers’ games. I’d like to believe with my revisionist memory that at a few of those Timbers matches that I was chanting alongside my mom a chorus of “F-U! F-U-C! F-U-C- (you can guess where this is going)!” at the red bastard refs. I know better. My only real memory of the matches was sitting on the east side in the burning summer afternoon heat, blinded by the sun and pretty much distracted by anything besides the action on the field, like most kids under 10. At any rate, the announcement came that the Timbers would be brought back from the ashes in the spring of 2001, so Jeff and I prepared ourselves by playing as a team on Playstation’s FIFA 2K every day with the fouls turned off, until we were beating our electronic opponent by scores of 30-0. Then we would head over to the Matador on Burnside, drink some beer, and discuss the perfect bicycle kick and come up with our new soccer lingo. When the season finally came around in early May of 2001 against the dreaded Seattle Sounders (Shittle Flounders), 12,000+ fans were there to greet our long dormant rivalry with fire and vigor. My friends and I found ourselves sitting in the “Lucky Row,” (a practice they abandoned immediately after this match) so we were gifted with a bunch of free hot dogs and the Timbers crushed the Flounders 2-nil. All of us, well, most of us, were hooked (I don’t remember who all was there to be honest. I know I bought a huge pile of tickets at the box office the day prior.)! Then, a few weeks later, the A League Timbers beat up on San Jose, the defending MLS champs in a downpour. The team came out with fire - especially Sancho (“There’s only one Sancho! Sancho!”), our Trinidad hero, who was knocking opponents down on the shitty slippery field turf at Piggy and generally kicking ass and making life difficult for the supposedly superior opponent. That was the game where I fell in love with going to these matches.

From 2001 till a post-season “friendly” in 2010, I only missed one home match. That sole match was the first home playoff against Charlotte in September 2001 due to a kidney surgery that I could not postpone. I, along with my crew, became fixtures in Section 107 (the Shed) directly behind the north end goal. We were around with the Cascade Rangers through to the Timbers Army, as we would proudly hail the feverish power of the 400 strong that we would bring. I made every match, no matter what. That second season found me racing via Tri-Met from the dialysis clinic in the upstairs of the Red Cross building just over the Fremont Bridge to PGE Park to get to the match before the end of the first half. It didn’t matter that my blood pressure would only be 80/40 and that the bandages barely containing my bulging fistula was soaked red with blood. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t stand in 107 because I was too weak. I would be there with my friends and we would root on our team.

So, why is it that once the A League/USL Timbers became an official Major League team in 2011, has my passion dwindled? Why is it that I willingly gave away my ticket to friends every so often as the season wore on during that first season? Why is it that the dream I once had, so long ago, of a packed sold out boisterous stadium coming true hasn’t sparked more excitement inside me? I used to head to the box office before nearly every match to buy extra tickets for friends, co-workers, friends of friends, family, to bring along to the matches because I knew that once they experienced a match, and the pre and post game festivities, that they would understand the joy and the pure spectacle of being there. That’s all it would take. The “Oh, I don’t really like soccer,” excuse would never hold true. This is how the Army grew. It was all of us spreading the word and bringing the enthusiasm. It was Roberto’s hilarious Tales from the Shed that would appear after every match on the web with stories of the matches and occasional updates about his neighbor “Thong Man.” There was the ‘zine Ax to the Head, which would be dispersed at matches, which was also filled with humor and incisive wit. But mostly, it was those players who played with grit and passion and determination. Who could ever forget players like Gordon, Byron Alverez, the fast sprinting Alcarez, Lord Tennyson, Sancho, the ever-scoreless Brian Winters (who the Ax to the Head once proclaimed that he “is prohibited from scoring due to an ancient gypsy curse. Should he ever put the ball in the net, the country of Yemen would spontaneously implode.”), Napoleon, Tommy Potl, Fadi Afash, the poetic Scot Thompson (S-C-O-T! Scot with one T”) the ridiculous Chugger Adair and the now controversial GM Gavin Wilkinson? And, of course, there’s amazing and legendary Timber Jim, even though Jeff drank his beer at the Bullpen one time by accident. Who could ever forget the pathetic attempt at a mascot that team management tried to introduce for a few seasons - some sort of furry, sad beast that the Shed coined as the Monkey? It would quietly wander around aimlessly scaring young children before standing near the gang in 107, only to be chanted at threateningly with a “Chainsaw the Monkey” refrain. These were good times. We’ve seen our some of our cohorts work together to help the community, help each other through trying times, and even happy marriages come out of this scene. We’ve attended a match with a huge crowd as the starting point for Ryan’s Bachelor Party (6-1!), only to find ourselves back there a few nights later in our suits after his wedding for another match that ended with a rousing victory of 6-0!

Going into the 2012 season, after a personally bleak effort at supporting my squad, I decided to recommit myself. That first year the Timbers were an MLS team, I found myself with one season ticket in the Timbers Army/General Admission section. What I did not realize at the time of renewing then was that none of the core of my personal gang was going to join me for a variety of reasons. What I also didn’t realize, or consider at the time, is that with the stadium sold out for every match, I’d have to show up over an hour early to find a place to be. This was a shock to the system. I was used to showing up to matches just as the game was kicking off – wandering down to my spot with my close friends – and jumping into the fray. None of these things were a part of that first season. I felt like an outsider. Sure, I’d occasionally run into the old acquaintance from the early days, but only in passing. It was all too massive for me. I loved the thrill of seeing the old stadium packed and the newest remodel looked great, and I was excited that this was now truly MAJOR league, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much. I found myself handing off the ticket to co-workers fairly frequently, just because I didn’t want to bother anymore - thus, the recommit. This season, I grabbed the chance to purchase a second set of season tickets. I was able to now bring a friend with me to every match. The only thing is I still haven’t made every match. It has all been much more enjoyable and fun to share the experience once again, but surprisingly, it’s not always easy to find people free. Also, I seem to be much busier all the time. I have been out of town for a few games. I have chosen to spend time with family and friends away from town, when the opportunities have arisen, as opposed to scrapping an entire weekend (and that damn extra hour to hour and a half) just to go to a match. Besides, who wants to hang out with me that long – sitting around doing nothing and drinking really overpriced beer, while we watch the scoreboard count down from 70 minutes to zero, before resetting back to 20 more minutes? And I hate to say it, but how many more years can I get into chanting the same damn chants over and over after hearing most of them for the last 12 years? Why have I had to defend myself for not joining in on chants that I dislike or am simply sick to death of, while a bunch of self-professed “capos” stand facing the rest of us leading the endless chants without watching a lick of the match? Sorry, everybody, but I’ve been there and done that (and I’d rather not get into my feelings on the use of the word “capo”). Having the Timbers Army become an actual organizational entity in recent years, as opposed to the loose collection of oddballs and intellectuals it always was, has been fantastic in many ways. The charitable work that gets done is heartwarming and amazing, but much of the fun feels as though it’s been sucked out of it. It’s become politicized and cumbersome and somewhat unwelcoming at times. Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to the matches and live and die with every bit of action as it ebbs and flows up and down the pitch. It’s just that everything outside of the actual game has become more of a chore. Have I worn myself out? Has it been too many years of disappointment with the season ending results? Maybe that final USL playoff loss in the fall of 2010, after the Timbers dominated the regular season, when the team was wiped out yet again, took a larger toll on me than I realize. It was tough to take, as has much of this season.

It is time to think about renewing. My ticket guy has called and left messages, emails have been sent and I received a damn bill for next season’s total. It has a due date! I found this highly unnecessary. It was going to be an actual decision that I would have to make this season regarding renewing, but sending a bill certainly didn’t warm my heart or entice me to reach for my credit card. Now that the season tickets are three times more expensive than what I used to spend up through 2010 and now that I am stuck with a pair of tickets, turning that into six times the cost, I am at a crossroad. I could use that money. It is getting too expensive for me, especially if I am not going to be attending all of the matches, but I don’t want to lose my spot. There are supposed to be something like 6,000 people on the season ticket waiting list. If I drop out now, then I would be out of luck down the road. If this is a temporary lull in my passion for the games, I don’t want to lose my place when that fire returns to my gut. I am exploring finding some of my old cohorts to join me and take over that second ticket, but if this doesn’t happen, I think this may be the end of my days as a season ticket holder. It pains me to even think that, but it could be time.  I do not know why my desire for all of this has waned, despite my continual internal arguments for and against.  Maybe it is time to let someone else get their turn at the matches to experience the amazing display, while I tune in on TV somewhere instead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Disappear Here

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by music. There is simply too much and it has paralyzed me. I’ve not had the patience to listen to songs all the way through, because there’s so many more to get to. It’s hard to explain, but it has had me restless and unnerved for no particular reason. Oftentimes people who are aware of my inclination towards music fanaticism will ask me how I learn about new music. I learn of things the same way most people do, via word of mouth, from live shows, exposure from the internet, radio, TV, movies, etc, but mainly just by paying attention. I make the extra effort to remember when and where I first heard a really cool song and take the time to track down who performs it. Having said this, it becomes clear to me that oddly enough most of the music I’ve run across over all of these years has come from reading. When I was a teenager, music discovery came from the big magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin. I voraciously absorbed all of the music history and references and read every article and review no matter what. If I knew I liked a band, I would take note of who they were linked to, or compared to, and so on. Little by little by tastes both expanded and refined simultaneously and with it my need for resources expanded. While I was a weekly audience member of MTV’s 120 Minutes back in the 80s, and especially a fan of SNUB, which aired sporadically on USA late at night on weekends, and a consumer of the meek radio options locally (via cable from the bigger cities of Portland and Eugene from the Willamette Valley) such as Q105’s “New Music Hour” (Portland), and more importantly Sheldon High School’s (Eugene) public radio madness at KRVM, I was still discovering more from the written word and buying new music sound unheard. The UK weeklies such as NME, Melody Maker, and my big favorite, Lime Lizard, all became sources for new music news and exposure leading one of my high school English teachers (“The Barn”) to refer to me as an “Anglophile.” Though he was right, it was about that time that I discovered the American noises from the underground via Maximum Rock-n-Roll and local papers such as the much missed Snipehunt and Paperback Jukebox. Once I reached college, I moved onto the all-encompassing CMJ Weekly, a college radio trade magazine that included maybe a hundred record reviews to brand new releases every single week and came with a CD compilation of 16-20 new songs every month. But it was when I ran into the epic twice yearly MEGAzine the Big Takeover (go to and watch the “create or else” video and then subscribe!) that my music horizons exploded! In 1991, I had purchased a nice little CD by a New York band named Springhouse based on a positive review in the CMJ Weekly, as usual sound unheard, and I sent a self-addressed stamped envelope to the band’s mailing address on the sleeve for a copy of the lyrics. A few weeks later that envelope was returned filled with typed lyrics for the album that by then had become a favorite, along with a handwritten letter from the band’s drummer Jack Rabid, who also creates this magazine. The advert he included had a photocopy of the cover of his latest issue, which included the Pale Saints and the names of several other favorites splashed in print across it. I sent away for a four issue subscription. That was 21 years ago and I am still renewing every couple of years. For at least 15 of those years, it has been the biggest source for me for discovering new music and what I track down. Even though the ease of discovering new music on my own has become so much simpler in recent times, every issue still offers up at least 4-5 new artists that become a part of my world. Their CDs find a home on my player, I attend their shows when they visit town, and I look forward to what will come next. However, it was early this summer, while scouring through the last section of the newest issue when I started to feel pressure build up in my temples and a touch a panic set in. I was pouring through the hundreds upon hundreds of unique reviews by Mr. Rabid and several of his contributors of new music and I realized that at most I will be able to hear about 2% of this music. Since I have read this magazine for so long, I have gotten to know the tastes of many of these writers and I trust most of them, so it hit me that I simply cannot handle all of this! I looked over at my shelving that holds my CDs, and the boxes stacked all over my floor containing my records and lost my breath knowing that if I started listening to every single one of them once each starting now that I may not live long enough to get through them all. What the hell was I doing?!

It was then that I started looking closer at all of the album titles that have been shelved and often for too long in favor of whatever has come after. This is the dilemma of I struggle to straddle inside every so often. I am always in search of that new song and/or album to stamp its place on this time and become tied forever in the future as the soundtrack of the now. I have never wanted to become stagnant with my love of music. For years I have argued against people my age and older who claim that there’s “no good music anymore.” Well, damn it; there is great music every year! One simply has to make the effort to find it. I’ve never liked the idea of still listening to the pop hits from the 80s – the era I came of age in - on the flashback stations and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I have a fondness for much of that stuff because of their individual impacts on me positive and sometimes even negative. It disturbs me that those formats rarely venture out of the one to two hits per band realm. For example, I always loved Big Country, but can they ever play any song of theirs other than “In a Big Country”? Yes, it was their big signature hit in 1983, but it wasn’t their only hit and it is nowhere near their best song from a career of eight solid to great albums. And from there, why not play some selections and expose the masses to Stuart Adamson’s pre-Big Country post-punk outfit The Skids, because I am sure at least a few unknowing fans would be excited to learn about that? New music doesn’t always have to be actual newly recorded music, but discoveries from the past that can be revelatory and exciting – such as when I discovered the Skids way after the fact. Then I realized that most people could care less. So, I contemplate my own situation as someone who has a need to consume these details and histories with an endless hunger and my situation becomes distressing. It is impossible to hear all of the new music that I know I’d love and there are so many amazing songs and albums that I have ‘shelved’ for too long that I need to re-expose myself to. Thus the minor music panic attack. How could it be that I’ve gone over a year without listening to any albums by the Big Takeover favorite The Chameleons, or that crackling first LP by The Rifles No Love Lost, how long has it been since I’ve played that? Come to think of it, how many of these greats have been off the rotation for too long? After reading the latest issue of the Big Takeover I realize that so many of these came from Jack’s recommendation: The Long Blondes, Adorable, Compulsion, Leatherface, The Joy Formidable, Maximo Park, exlovers, Whipping Boy, oh and the amazing and completely overlooked Australian 1990s band Glide (this list could go on forever, but I’ve already written beyond my intended introduction by about a page).

                                                                                            Big Takeover #42

Glide was a multi-textured guitar band that survived for 9 years in obscurity, especially here in the US. They had one poorly distributed US release, 1996’s Disappear Here, which seemed to reach our shores sometime in 1998. It was that summer’s Big Takeover issue 42 - #3 pick in Jack’s Top 40 and here are some of his words at the time that inspired me to seek this out:

“Mixing in a nice breadth of styles that nod toward the Buffalo Tom/Man Sized Action/early Soul Asylum/late Husker Du thick, streamlined hum without the distortion (this is a cleaner, intentionally focused wall of guitar), the sounds of Disappear Here snare you from first play with their dynamite sonics (can’t stress this too much), and then holds the listeners hostage thereafter with the sheer talent, scope, variety, and well thought-out dynamics on display.”

Jack is speaking specifically of band-leader William Arthur’s brilliant guitar work, but his words ring true for the entire sound of the album. With an endorsement like this, I could not resist. I tracked down a copy via mail order from the label itself and was stunned upon first listen. Firstly, the production from Wayne Connolly is immaculate. He had done masterful work with my other Australian favorites Underground Lovers during the early 90s and this clearly continued his magic touch by wringing out the best balance of sound, where the dynamics of the complex arrangements reveal themselves naturally and each instrument is given a chance to shine.

The opening song, “You Were More Than a Trick to Me, Ray,” is a tour de force as it builds up with an acoustic intro before exploding into a messy waltz that drops us right into the middle of some serious turmoil. It’s a scrambled scene that winds up incredible tension right off the bat, before switching to a more straight forward 4/4 pounder that pays off with the ending repeated refrain of “I like that side of you” – giving us a breath of fresh air and the sense that there may be a positive ending to the drama within.

Much of this album feels like it is tackling the notion of imbalance within relationships from both sides of the coin. The second song, “What Do I Know?” tackles this topic with its opening lines: “You give me protection I don’t need / Too many connections I don’t see” atop a gliding and catchy as hell guitar hook that practically sings William Arthur’s chorus for him. This theme arguably appears in a few songs throughout. The first slow down on track three gives us this conflict within an imbalanced relationship, where it takes too much effort to maintain the original spark, and the effort to continue the charade finally peters out. The big and painful chorus gives us “I wonder why / You’re cracked and dry / You feel you need a worn out lie / See you flicker a worn down smile.” “Tangled” jumps right back in with the feeling from the opposite perspective of the need to end a relationship, but still feeling trapped by it. Again, the chorus has an incredible pay off both lyrically and musically as the “All I really want is peace and quiet / You batter me and leave me sore and tired” presents his feelings clearly despite “flipping like a fish gasping for breath tangled up in your net.” The inner turmoil is palpable, because it’s not easy to give up on something that one already has when there’s no guarantee of a better future. These emotions continue on yet another upbeat strummed shiny piece of musical genius on “Here She Comes” (“Arms around me tight / I’m tied too tight”). Finally, on the penultimate song, “Ripped and Stripped,” we get the redemptive payoff from the frustration with the most straight ahead rocker which gives us a clean break and ends the floundering coupling (“You never knew me / Now you’re nothing to me / and I’m not your slave”).

The brilliance of Arthur’s lyrics is that they are vague enough that one can punch their own experiences right into them. Everything I said above could easily be taken in another interpretation. The beautiful ballad, “Wrapped in Fingers,” for example, was a powerful song for me personally, as I once had a major crush use chorus’s repeated question “Would you ever hurt me?” on me out of the blue (story can be found here at Lose Your Illusion). The song took on a whole new dimension for me and breaks my heart every time I hear it. Initially, however, I interpreted the song as the lyrical offspring of Sugar’s nasty and murderous “A Good Idea.” Either way, the music is powerful and the soaring chorus lifts the listener up to the stratosphere each and every time.

The saddest part about Glide’s story is that while working on the follow-up to this album in 1999 (and an early EP collection: Shrink Wrapped Real Thing), William Arthur reportedly overdosed and passed away. This tragic and senseless passing robbed the world of this fantastic songwriter – a story that happens far too often and has become cliché in the world of rock-n-roll. In this case, the artist was never given a chance to find the kind of wide audience his talent deserved. There are three songs on Disappear Here that fully display his incredible talent and showcase not only the inner battle inside of him, but his ability to convey it like no one else can. There’s the previously mentioned stunner, “You Were More Than a Trick to Me, Ray,” the centerpiece, “Surfaced Euphoric” with its dragging introduction and take a breath chorus, before it plunges head first into the deep water of a dramatic dive of wild abandon. The lyrics close with “I’ve blown away every chance I’ve known / That was it – the only song I know” and indicate incredible effort and desperation. The third standout, among an album of stunners, is the closing track “Cradlesong.” This song gives us layers upon discordant layers of Arthur’s amazing guitar work on top of a shambling mess of a beat (the rhythm section of Jason Kingshott on drums and Andy Kelly on bass are excellent throughout – worth much more than this minor mention) wonderfully capturing the mess that he has portrayed throughout the album. The dramatics of the song lead into a slow peeling away of density and sound as the song marches its way to the inevitable conclusion (“Leave me with a chill when you waste a tear / Open my eyes now, blue and clear / Unclench my hands and disappear, here”) and carry us to a conclusion that leaves us with both a finality and a lingering curiosity of what might happen next. It is simply spectacular. This album never grows old and sounds as good today as it did when I first played it 14 years ago.

Hearing this album again after far too long puts my mind at ease. It makes me realize that no matter how overwhelmed I can get sometimes by the sheer amount of music to be heard in the world, I can always take heart in the fact that what I have already run across will find a way to endlessly amaze and empower me. Besides, over all of these years, due to the scarcity of Glide’s product on the market, I have always been paired with just this one fine example of their music. Tracking down their many singles, EPs, and two other albums has depended on an international money order to Australia sent to their manager and some seriously expensive prices, which has kept me at bay. However, recently, these songs have been made available via download at very reasonable rates, which I have taken advantage of. After so long, it is amazing to hear more music from a band that I have held in such high regard for so long. Please take my advice and find out for yourself. Check out their website for more information and for sound samples at

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wake (Part III)

I'm Awake Now

Chuck strolled down the sun-drenched sidewalk during the bright August late afternoon. His mind was replaying his day. He felt pretty good. He had to fast all day prior to having his blood drawn for some tests his doctor had ordered, but it never crossed his mind. Not having a lunch break at work kept him focused. He had worked with a greater purpose than usual and was efficient beyond what he had ever deemed necessary. He was inspired by the idea of leaving work a little early and getting over to northwest to wander around and enjoy the neighborhood. It had been a quiet and determined Friday that would hopefully end with some fun.

That night Team Torgo was set to congregate at the Gypsy for drinks and to plan about how to go about finding a sub for The Orange for the state wide tournament in September. He would not be available. The dream was to have Gordy join us, but the prevailing leader in the clubhouse seemed to be the borrowing of the overly intense and often angry Robo Bowler, but who would be the one to approach him?

Chuck massaged the bandage wrapped too tightly around his right arm and turned into Escape from New York Pizza. A slice of pizza would be a perfect springboard into the evening. He could head over to Music Millennium and check on the latest releases before getting down to the Gypsy and grabbing a drink or two ahead of everyone else’s post work arrival.

The brightness of the sun had him blinded for a moment as he walked into the pizza place. Once he gathered his senses, he looked to the counter to his left and scanned the options for slices. He always looked at each option carefully despite always ordering either a slice of cheese or a slice of pepperoni.

“May I help you?” a voice asked him as he focused on the different flavors of pizza in front of him.

“Um, yeah,” he hesitated, and looked around and noticed that he was the only customer; “I think I’ll go big and get a slice of the pepperoni and a medium soda.”

“Chuck? Hey, it’s been forever!”

“Sandy!” he realized too slowly.

“Oh, I forgot that you said that you’d call me by that name,” she said, as she rolled her eyes. “Did you donate blood today?” she asked, indicating the bandage on his arm.

“Sort of,” Chuck looked at his arm as he responded. He noticed that the hair on his arm was standing up. “It has been a long time. “I haven’t seen or heard of you all summer. What’s been going on?” Chuck couldn’t help but notice that Sandray looked better than he’d remembered.

“It’s been a rough summer, to be honest. Jason and I broke up just as I lost my receptionist job,” she told him over her shoulder as she placed a slice of pepperoni pizza into the oven. “I’ve had to find a new apartment and I didn’t have any income,” she added and slammed the oven door with a crash.

“Oh, no!”

“Yeah, no fun, but you don’t need to hear about it,” she smiled and blew her dangling dark brown bangs up with a quick blow from her lips. She walked around the counter and faced Chuck who was bouncing an empty plastic red cup against the palm of his hand. “What have you been up to?”

“Bowling and working, mainly,” he mumbled, realizing that there’s no way he can explain that for him he has had an adventurous and crazy summer, because it was full of moments that are more about running inside jokes that are not based in actual concrete events. His social life would be completely empty if he didn’t have his close friends who were willing to hang out with him. This suddenly depressed him. He couldn’t shake the realization that he was lonely and seeing the happily married, but still flirty Melissa at bowling every Sunday evening exacerbated his feelings of always being the third or fifth or seventh wheel when he was out and about trying to be a normal social person.

“What’s wrong? Bowling sounds fun. Are you in a league?” she encouraged.

“Yes, we just finished it in first place and now we’re going to move on for a state tournament,” he tried to sound enthusiastic, but felt like he was bragging about something that meant so little to him. The bowling was about being wacky and hanging out. He and the guys didn’t particularly care about the tournament. In fact, they were all dreading it, because the excitement of the league had run its course by the end of July.

“Your pizza!” shouted Sandray as she lightly touched his arm and the spun around back toward the pizza oven. She expertly used the paddle to toss his slice onto a whicker basket with a white piece of wax paper sitting on it.

Chuck wandered back to a table not far from the counter and she brought the slice out and set it down and joined him at the table. He couldn’t believe how much he had missed her smile. He could feel his heart racing and remembered that he had always tried to find a way to be alone with her, but it had only happened for a few minutes once before. This is what he had wanted to happen for the last year and he wasn’t sure what to do. He looked down at the pizza, but didn’t want to eat it. He didn’t want to make his inevitable mess in front of her. Instead he fiddled with his cup of orange soda and twirled it around nervously.

“How are Gary and Amanda doing? I’ve been meaning to stop by and visit,” she broke the awkward silence.

“Well, they aren’t doing well. Amanda has moved out. It’s been pretty rough.” Chuck explained and then added, “but you know how that goes,” realizing that she too had been through a recent break up. He didn’t know what to do with this information. He was personally glad to know that Jason was out of her life, but he didn’t know what she saw in him either. She seemed happier and looked brighter than he had seen her when she was with Jason.

“Hi, I was hoping to order some pizza,” a guy interrupted from behind Sandray. She quickly stood up and slid back behind the counter while rubbing her hands together anxiously into her apron. Chuck hadn’t noticed that anyone had come in. He took a couple of quick bites from his pizza and slurped down a drink of fizzy orange soda. He over poured and some of the sticky beverage slipped around the cup and his mouth and down the sides of his cheeks. He sheepishly grabbed a couple of napkins and wiped his face as quickly as possible, hoping that Sandray hadn’t seen him. He was breathing too fast and a surge of energy ran through him, causing him to vibrate. He couldn’t think of what to do. With his old social circle breaking apart and collapsing, he realized that this could be the last time he would ever see Sandray again.

A line began to form at the counter and another employee appeared from the back to help Sandy out. The sounds that had seemed absent before had all returned. The chatter of conversation and clanking plates and pans and the oven door opening and closing, along with the faint sound of Sonic Youth’s “Tunic” buzzing from a couple of speakers above. Chuck half-heartedly took a couple of more bites from his pizza and fiddled with the latest culture weekly, staring at the upcoming shows, but not really reading them. He was killing time, trying to find a moment when he could try to talk with her, but was losing patience. He could always come back in a week or so and try again. Maybe then he could have a plan and could ask her out.

With that he grabbed his stuff and tossed his napkin pile and half-eaten slice and tossed them into the trash, while placing the ice filled cup and basket into the brown bus tub. He slowly walked over to the few people still lingering around the counter and waved to catch Sandray’s attention.

“It was good to see you Chuck,” she smiled and nodded, before turning her attention back to the woman who was asking about ordering for her son’s baseball team’s pizza party.

Chuck waved in return and tried to force a smile through his clenched jaw. She did not see it. He lowered his head and stepped out onto the busy sidewalk. He dodged a couple of fast walking people and spun around and stopped on the far side of the walkway directly outside the pizza place. He knew this was a mistake. He needed to say more. He needed to at least try. With his luck, he would never see her again and would spend every Friday for the rest of his life hoping that Sandray would finally be back behind that counter to take his order. He walked back inside. Sandy and her co-worker both had their backs to the counter making a couple of fresh pizzas and one man was waiting to place an order.

“I’ll be right with you sir,” she said without looking up. She turned and faced the man waiting, but was looking at Chuck with her mouth open and her eyes looking curious. It felt to Chuck that this man’s order took forever as he stared at Sandy intently trying to be as patient as possible for the transaction to end. Finally, the man stepped aside and reached for his beverage cup, and Chuck jumped in front of Sandy.

“What brings you back?”

“Um, I wanted to ask you something,” his resolve immediately began to crumble as all of his hopes with her were now going to be decided one way or another. He went silent. The smile and look of expectation on her face melted him. She was amazing. She had been struggling and she still managed to make him feel good every time he was in the same room as her. Her presence had always lingered with him. He always felt boosted with an added enthusiasm for several days after simply seeing her in passing. “I was wondering if you’d like to go out sometime. If you like to grab some coffee and catch up.”

Chuck saw a flush of red immediately fill Sandray’s cheeks. He had embarrassed her in front of an unsuspecting public. He was convinced that she would say no. That she would be nice about it, but would now have to let him off easy. He knew how little of a prize he was.

“I’d love to Chuck! There’s nothing else I’d rather do!” she smiled brightly and began writing onto an order pad. “Here’s my number. Call me any time!” she added with excited enthusiasm. A guy that had come in behind this scene patted Chuck on the shoulder and said “Nice work, brother,” as Chuck reached for the sheet of paper.

“I’ll call you this weekend!” he shouted a lot louder than he had planned and stepped back out into the sunshine. He took a long slow deep breath in and exhaled for nearly an entire minute. Her electricity was inside of him. He walked deliberately and as calmly as he could across the street on his way to the record store. He couldn’t wait to join his friends.

Find Part I here
Find Part II here

Wake (Part II)

Deep Black

Chuck and the Orange sat down on the curved bench changing their shoes. They had both just turned 23 and decided to gather a few of their friends and join a summer bowling league. This was week one. If this May was a sign, then this summer might be a hot one. Chuck and Ryan, or as he had become known that week: the Orange, had grown up doing junior leagues as kids and thought it might be fun to do a short twelve week league for some fun. It was good for Chuck to get away from the increasingly suffocating scene of his normal routine, which often included Sandray and Jason on the periphery of his social life. It was too much for him to take. He needed to escape, in order to find a way to have fun and maybe meet new people. He had always loved bowling and with Harrison, D and Chris on the team, it looked to be a promising idea.

The league was mostly made up of older people, which surprised everyone at first. Gordy, a tall fat old man with huge bags under his eyes and a giant cigar dangling from his lips pounded by this rookie team and grumbled incoherently to himself as he carried two black bowling balls upright by the finger holes to his team’s appointed lane. Harrison overheard him grumble something again and then begin to wheeze violently, which caught the attention of everyone else. No one was sure if they needed to run over and prepare to enact CPR, or if things would settle down. It turned out that he was laughing and all was okay.

Everyone else having tightened their bowling shoes with the 1980s Velcro straps wandered off to buy several pitchers of beer for the first game, leaving Chuck to try and figure out how to enter in each player’s names onto the electronic scorekeeping system. The last time he had bowled in the small town he grew up in, scorekeeping was still done by hand. He was not sure what to make of this. Little by little the names went in. They had already decided on the team name and the order they would bowl in. He typed in TORGO for the team name. Torgo is the stumbling bumbling bellhop from the terrible MST 3K movie “Manos: the Hands of Fate.” Torgo looked like he had pillows shoved down his pants and stuttered odd things about “the master” as he bounded slowly through life. The Orange would be the lead off man, he requested to be Chin Ho or Wo Fat from Hawaii Five-O, but The Orange is the name he got for wearing an orange shirt one day – the same day we saw a man standing in a decommissioned telephone booth off of 39th Avenue with an orange crate placed over his head. D was an easy type in for the second slot. Harrison was often known as the Iron Fist dating back to a threat he made against Ox who had made him miss his chance to talk with the ravishing Julie Woo earlier that year so Chuck typed “The Fist.” He looked around and saw that Chris had come back from the bar or bathroom or somewhere and was commenting about the intense smell of Pine Sol that was making his eyes water.

“What do you want to be tonight?” Chuck asked Chris. He had only recently met him, as he was a friend of the Orange’s from college.

“How about ‘Doug E. Fresh?” responded Chris, as everyone else filtered in around the scorer’s desk.

“Perfect.” Chuck replied, as he typed in “Dougie.”

Chuck was set to be the anchor and he hadn’t thought of a name for himself. He looked over at Gordy in the adjacent lane, who was once again wheezing loudly. The alley had opened up the lanes for practice bowling and one of Gordy’s teammates had just missed a spare shot. Gordy shouted out “I’ll give you a T for Trying” and launched into another extended death defying throat clearing gasp for life. Chuck typed in “Gordo.” He glanced up at the screen above the lanes. Team Torgo was set to bowl against Steve, Mandy, Bill, Wendy and Tom from the Mike’s Café team.

Chuck stood up and took in the surroundings and felt strangely energized by the horrifically loud crashing of pins coming from all sides. It’s no wonder everyone that works at bowling alleys wear hearing aids. He glanced back at his new hero Gordy and started contemplating the idea of taking up cigar smoking. His teammates were all similar to him, but not as gregarious, or huge or loud. They looked to be bowling against a Filipino family going off as Team El Tigre. It would’ve taken at least three of their teammates to measure up to the sheer girth that was Gordy’s mid section. In the other adjacent lanes to their right, Chuck watched as a couple walked up to the lanes. They looked to be a married couple maybe in their early 30s, both of them clad in blue jeans and matching T-shirts. They were introduced to their much older teammates and began to get themselves ready. Chuck watched as someone typed Melissa up on the screen. He didn’t pay any attention to her husband’s name. He stood there with his mouth open and all the silly chatter and odd running commentaries from his teammates faded away. Melissa had shapes that Chuck had never seen in person before. It seemed as if all of her assets were always on the verge of bursting free and he silently rooted for them to do so. Her jeans were skin tight and starting to split just underneath her shapely backside. Her white T-shirt hugged her waist and was stretched beyond its means around her chest.

Chuck never did bowl a practice ball, as he watched Melissa without ever averting his gaze. He watched her roll her ball and it made him nervous and self conscious.

“There’s a hunger inside you!” Harrison screamed, as he slapped Chuck hard across the back. “Are you fired up? I’m fired up!” He shouted and they began a hand bleeding series of hand slaps over and over as the Fist repeated his fired up mantra.

Everything became a blur for Chuck and he began to sweat and become nauseous. He frantically rolled his first ball and scored a messy strike. He looked back over at Melissa who was leaning over and talking to her husband who was sitting on the bench framing their two lanes. Chuck felt like he was sweating pure testosterone, as he was struck with pure lust.

Another crashing strike flashed before Chuck’s eyes, as he heard a loud turkey call gobble from behind, along with shouts of “Annie Oakley” and “Blood in the water” all from his teammates. Chuck had opened with five straight strikes and all the shouting was gaining the attention of the other teams. Chuck turned around, essentially oblivious of what was happening. He saw that Melissa was smiling at him and he lost himself into a daydream of her running over to him and smothering him with kisses. He could feel saliva pooling up inside his mouth as he walked toward the back of the lanes high-fiving people all along the way including an intricate specialized celebratory greeting with D. He had lost the ability to swallow.

In the sixth frame, the rest of the team was riding the momentum. All four of them had rolled powerful strikes and it was up to Chuck to score a perfect star frame for the team and a sixth straight to start the league. He had never bowled six straight strikes before. He still had not. This time, he left the five & eight pins in the middle and quickly rolled a simple spare. As he walked off the lane, Melissa applauded his start and high fived him as he went by. Her husband was in the back buying some beer. Chuck stomped by his teammates and shrugged off their comments about dropping the mashed potatoes and slipping on spilled gravy and how there had been too much butter on the biscuits. He threw his shoes off and went outside into the warm dry air after a hot day. The evening had started to cool the edge off a touch, but it was still just as warm outside as it was inside the stuffy old bowling alley. He sat down against the side of the building, beneath the tiled figures of people-like shapes purportedly heading toward the entrance into the alley. He took a few deep breaths watched the traffic streak by and felt himself calming down a bit – at least enough to regain some composure.

After returning to the fray, Chuck managed to finish the two and a half remaining games without having to leave again, but was still driven to distraction by the presence of Melissa nearby. Team Torgo was on fire and Chuck led the way with all three games coming in above 200, easily the best bowling of his life. The real Gordy even wheezed his approval for the new Gordo.

Chuck felt his senses returning to him after he had watched Melissa walk out the door with her husband and with his friend’s and teammates all wandering around trying to decide what to do next. They had all piled uncomfortably into Chuck’s car, so they all had to agree about what to do. They’d all decided to grab a bite to eat at Sir Loin’s off of Sandy Boulevard, but there would have to be stops at bank machines and convenience stores for smokes and such.

Chuck turned the ignition and “Deep Black” by the Smithereens was still playing from the ride over.

“Deep black jealousy

Every time you look at me”

These were the first words they all heard and Chuck turned the volume way down.

By the time they reached their third brand of bank, it was Chuck’s turn to grab some cash. He stepped out and wandered up toward the ATM with his head down. He knew someone was getting cash ahead of him, so he wanted to look and act as harmless and possible. What he was soon to realize is that this person was Melissa from bowling. She smiled when she recognized him as well.

“Hey, fancy meeting you here!” she smiled. “Great bowling tonight!” She glanced over his shoulder and could see his teammates all standing around outside his ’83 Ford Ltd. Smoking cigarettes and attempting to figure out if Sir Loin would be open and if so, what exactly what we would find inside. She waved to them.

“Thanks, it was quite a surprise,” he replied, embarrassed.

She touched his forearm as she said that she looked forward to seeing him next week and trotted off to her car. Chuck watched her bounce all the way there in the dim twilight. She waved again as she sped off out of the bank’s parking lot. His teammates all watching her leave as well.

Chuck turned to the ATM and stuck his bank card inside the slot. It asked for his pin number and despite having had the exact same account since his mom had helped him sign up for a checking account when he was in the 8th grade, he could not think of what it was. He typed in the first thing he thought of. He tried another when that failed. He began to sweat again and attempted another set of numbers with futility after the machine had spit his card back out. This time it did not return his card. His three strikes were used up. He was now on record as a man trying to steal from his own account.

Melissa had wiped his mind clean.

Part I can be read here
Part III can be read here

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wake (Part I)

You Were Always More Than A Trick To Me, Ray

“I’ll walk you home!” he blurted with too much enthusiasm.
“Oh, okay, that would be great,” Sandray responded with a small smile.

Gary patted him on the back and gave him a creepy squeeze on the shoulder. He knew that this was Chuck’s big moment. Chuck had a serious thing for Sandray, but she was still with Jason - the dreaded Jason. No one could understand why she was with him. He was annoyingly self righteous and always a downer.

“Be safe out there,” Amanda added as she stepped out of the room. She was done, like that, for the night.

All of the goodbyes had been said and he was now alone with her for the first time. He could feel himself tense up, not just from oncoming nerves, but from the cold wind that blew in through the lobby from outside.

The night had gone better than he could’ve ever imagined. Not only did Sandray show up, but Jason had bailed early. Oh, he was a prize. He showed up after everyone had built up into a festive mood. Christmas lights hung from the frame of the window and around the tiny little tree standing near the front door. Candles, otherwise, lit the room. Gary’s sister had brought along loads of spirits with her and some of Gary and Chuck’s workmates had dropped by for the party. All Jason could muster upon his arrival was putting his skateboard in everyone’s way and going on a diatribe against those who drink alcohol and the hypocrisy of the Christmas holiday season. He ranted and raved about how there had been a low turnout at the rally he had attended that night, before he finally left early because he didn’t want to expose himself anymore to our party. Sandray made a small appeal to him to stay and they disappeared in the hallway for a few minutes, but she eventually returned without him. We were all glad to see him go. Jason had strong beliefs, which was fine with all of us, but it was more the way he went about sharing them that always managed to clear rooms.

“Tell me about your name,” Chuck urged.

“Sandray?” Oh, it’s an Americanized Gaelic name, or so I’m told. I never liked it. I don’t know what it means, if anything and I was always called a ‘Sand Ray’ in school growing up,” she laughed nervously, as the wind chill dropped from a sudden gust. “You know, like a Manta Ray? That’s why I go by ‘Ray’ – which is also what everyone called me growing up. It sucks, because it’s a man’s name, but I just gave up. I don’t know what my parents were thinking. My sister’s name is Carrie. I could never win.”

“I like it,” he found himself responding with tears lining his eyes. It must’ve been because of the wind. “How about I call you ‘Sandy’?”

“Thanks, that’s very nice, but that version has never stuck,” she allowed, before they fell into silence again on the empty downtown streets at 3 or so in the morning.

Though he hadn’t known what the night would entail on his way over, he could sense that Gary and Amanda had been building him up for ‘Ray.’ They knew how much he liked her, but he had given up on her the moment he found out that she was with Jason. Not only were they dating, but they were living together. Yet, there he had been, sitting on the floor cross-legged by the Christmas tree distracted between the work conversation of Rick, Gary and Chris to his left and the one between Amanda, Cindy and Ray to his right. This both thrilled him and made him extremely paranoid. He was doing his best to slack it off and be his general silly self-deprecating self and relaxed and to pretend that he was involved with the crazy work story nonsense going on, but Ray kept looking at him every time his name was mentioned in a story from the women to his right.

“How long have you known Gary?” she asked him with her shoulders hiked up and her hands buried deep in her coat pockets.

“Oh, forever. Since grade school,” Chuck shrugged with a roll of the eyes. He caught her for a moment out of the corner of his eye and marveled at how pretty she looked all bundled up in her dark navy blue coat and the big yarn hat pulled over her ears with her rosy cheeks peaking out over the matching hand-woven scarf wrapped over the bottom half of her face. It was then that he realized that he felt really comfortable with this girl. This was a rarity indeed, but there was something about her that put him at ease. He actually felt a rare twinge of confidence.

“That’s really cool,” she acknowledged and took a deep breath as she shivered from another breeze. “I’ve never been friends with anyone for that long. Amanda was telling me how loyal you are. I admire that.”

Amanda had too. In a strange moment, Chuck had heard her telling Ray about him and his loyalty and how genuine and nice he was, before leaning in from across the floor and patting a kiss on his unsuspecting lips. This caught him off guard and drew him reluctantly into the ladies’ conversation, though the work stories had suddenly taken on a renewed interest for him.

“Guess I’m like a dog,” he responded sheepishly. He wanted to tell her how he had been feeling about her over the last couple of months, since first meeting her. How does one encourage someone to dump their significant other?

They reached the outside entrance to her building a few blocks from where they had started their journey and he froze up, not sure what to do or say in this situation. This was the first time he had been alone with her and all he could manage was small talk. He had a dislike of small talk.

“Do you mind coming in with me? This place scares me,” she asked. She was right to be scared. He had never stepped foot into that building because it was so sketchy. He had known someone who also lived there and they would always meet up someplace neutral in order to avoid being inside that place.

She led the way as they walked swiftly through the dingy hallway, up a few stairs and to her apartment door.

“Well, here you are…” he drifted off, still hating small talk, but extremely guilty of it.

“Yeah, thank you for escorting me.” She smiled to him and then fumbled with a set of keys in her gloved hand.

The doorknob rattled from the other side of her apartment door and opened quickly. It was Jason and his grating voice greeting them before Chuck had had a chance to steel himself against his irritating racket.

“Hey, you’re finally home!” he grinned at her. She stood up on her toes and put her arms around his shoulders and gave Jason a kiss on the cheek. She took her place inside the doorway next to him so that they were both facing Chuck from inside their apartment. Chuck was still standing sideways. Ray was glowing. Her eyes were lit up, which was one of those things that he liked about her so much. She looked electric.

“I’ve always liked you Chuck; thanks for bringing her home safely,” Jason said and reached out to shake his hand like a father talking to his teenage daughter’s latest suitor. Chuck suddenly remembered the remnants of one of Jason’s previous rants about how the tradition of shaking hands is somehow tied with fascism.

“Fantastic!” Chuck mumbled sarcastically, while backing away down the hall and ignoring the outreached hand. He added a “Merry Christmas” for Jason’s benefit. He noticed Sandy mouth a Christmas greeting silently in return as the door closed.

Chuck turned and braced himself for the long walk to his car, hoping that it would still be where he’d parked it early that evening. The lingering vision of Sandy’s smile stuck in his mind. He wished he could see it more often and directed his way, but what was the point? He had been down this road before. It was time to try to forget.

This is the first of three parts. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures.... 

Part II can be read here
Part III can be read here