Monday, December 31, 2018

Top 15 of 2018

2018 has been an eye opening one for me with regards to music.  It started out simply enough, new releases creeped into my subconscious the first few months of the year, but then I learned about DKFM – a “shoegaze” online radio station.  This linked me to a ton of new music via their regular playlist and especially from their wonderful weekly shows such as: The Shoegaze Collective, This Radiant Hour, Muso Asia, Somewhere Cold Radio, and the highlight of my listening week: When the Sun Hits (and the brand new show Drowned in a Sea of Sound).  These shows, along with weekly listens to Louder Than Bombs, The Big Takeover Radio Show, The Kitchen Sink, and Emmas House Music, have broadened my musical scope ten-fold.  I don’t think I’ve devoured new music like this since I was in my early twenties.  It’s been an exciting whirlwind and incredibly overwhelming.  Just as I settle into a flood of new purchases, I am on to the next batch. 

As is tradition, I am going forward with an annual favorite releases of the year, with the caveat that for the sake of brevity there are many that could be on this list that are not.  The ones that have made the list are all in alphabetical order and not ranked.  Also, I will keep my jabbering out of it.  Each of these releases speak for themselves and I invite anyone and everyone to take the time to sample music from each of these remarkable artists.

Cheers to a great New Year!

the black watch Witches!

Collapse Delirium Poetry (ep)

Endless White Flow West To You

flirting This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me (ep)

The Goon Sax We’re Not Talking

Habitants Habitants

Jetstream Pony Self-Destruct Reality (ep)

Kill The Moose To The Moon and Back (ep)

Last Leaves Other Towns Than Ours (2017)

Lowtide Southern Mind

Oxy Fita

Sharesprings Paraparlor

Soft Science Maps

Tender Age Becoming Real Forever

Wild Meadows Wild Meadows

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Echoes (an attempt to DJ an 80s high school dance)

This story was assigned by a friend to be an intersection with a far superior, fully realized story.  This is like a 2nd unit production for a movie – a story done in conjunction to the main production as filler.  Yet, having said this, it was fun to try to get back into writing short stories again, and though it is completely superfluous, I thought I’d share it with anyone who has the inkling.

Not sure how I got into this.  I had sworn off doing music for dances.  Yet, here I was, leaving school on a Friday afternoon and needing to get prepared for a dance.  It was another misty day.  Misty and windy.  My car, a white rust bucket, was squeezed between Mark’s grey Sundowner and Simpson’s blue Jetta (also known as Blue Thunder).  I’m not sure how I was ever able to get into the car after school, because they always pinned me in when they arrived for school in the morning.  I drove a hand-me-down Buick Apollo. It was identical to their flagship Skylark, but for some reason was known as Apollo. My dad’s step-mom kept it in pristine condition for years until she gave it to my dad in ‘78.  My mom drove it for a short while once we moved to the coast, but then it was mostly left to sit in the driveway until I was old enough to try to revive it so I could drive.  The coastal air quickly turned that spotless car into a rusted out hunk of scrap metal.  There were holes in the floor, where mushrooms would sprout in the fall.  The doors were nearly ready to fall off.  Every time I opened the driver’s side door, its weight would cause it to drop and debris would sprinkle the ground.  My friend Gary had long ago coined the car “Squashed Yogurt on the Road,” which had evolved to simply “Yogurt.”

I slammed the door into the side of the Sundowner pick-up with no concern of leaving a mark, and did my best to squeeze my thick torso into the small opening and behind the wheel.  I could hear loose objects moving around inside the door.  I slammed the door shut and tried to settle in.  The seat was damp, but not as bad as it had been that morning after an overnight downpour.  I turned over the ignition, shifted into reverse and without looking, scooted back out of the vice grip the Yogurt had been wedged.  I stopped to reach over and hit play on the cheap boom box lying flat in the passenger seat, shifted into drive, and pulled away from the school – passing the twenty miles per hour sign on High School Drive, which had once again had been altered by spray paint to kind of read “80.”  The warbled strains of acoustic guitar from the intro to Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s “Only Dreaming,” wheezed out of the player before finding its bearings.  I had clearly cued this song up upon arrival that morning.  Essentially, I had been playing it over and over for weeks.  That grinding bass lead, the gruff vocals, and the lyrics of self-loathing all felt real and true to my 17 year old heart, while I pined for a girl who I would never summon the courage to talk to.  My lack of self-confidence would prevent me from doing so.  I had never really had a girlfriend up to that point, so I assumed that my first would be some kind of one-sided mess where I willfully allow myself to be used and mistreated.  “My arms around you / put me down / In such a special way.”  This was definitely going to have to be on the dance playlist later.

As I drove along Highway 101, heading home, the mist had become too heavy to continue to drive without windshield wipers.  They had stopped working at the end of summer, but I learned to drive without them pretty well.  The blurring lines made me imagine that reality was shifting and that I was either tripping or simply losing my grasp of things.  In this case, the mist and wind had made it too much of a hazard.  I pulled off the highway in a weird wooded area just north of Nelscott, where the sand and gravel place sat.  That place was always a mystery.  It didn’t seem big enough for them to continually mine sand or gravel from.  It always looked the same.  A pile of gravel with some trucks sitting around.  Never any activity.  I let the tape continue to play the rest of the Nothing Wrong album at a volume which was way too much for the cheap speakers to withstand.  It was a shame.  There was a cassette deck attached to the underside of the dash, but it was unusable.  Years prior, in the brief time my mom drove the car, she had stuck one of my brother’s mix tapes into the player.  It was named “All My Best.”  A Memorex that came in a case with an L-shaped hinge that lifted to free the tape.  Back then, these tapes came with tape head protectors – little white nodules that kept the reels from moving.  Well, she put the tape into the player with those nodules.  This did not end well, being such an old and fragile player, bought and installed in the summer of ‘78.  I’ll never forget my excitement when my father came home one day with the cassette deck installed and three tapes: Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like an Eagle, Roger Whitaker’s All My Best (clearly an inspiration for the title of my brother’s excellent early 80s mixtape), and something awful from Jimmy Buffett.  The mysterious part is that beside my mom once commenting that she liked Roger’s voice which she heard on TV advertising one of those album collections, none of these artists were particularly interesting to anyone in the family, including my dad who made the selections.  These would be our soundtrack for a weekend road trip to Roseburg.  Steve Miller was okay.  We all thought the hit song was decent.  Roger made us joke about TV sold music collections from Slim Whitman and K-Tel, as well as the various amazing gadgets from Ronco, and my class would sing some of these songs for the music portion of the day at my elementary school.  Jimmy Buffett?  It was awful!  None of us could take it.  We had to switch to AM radio.  Why didn’t he buy the Blondie, which we all loved?  Why not some Pink Floyd?  Why not the Kraftwerk that he played at home?  Or Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, or The Beatles?  I suppose it was because all those albums were at home on vinyl.

Once the mist lessened enough to get back on the road, I realized that I had to get some gas.  The only station in town that sold regular LEADED gas was the old Franco.  It looked abandoned, but if you pulled up to the tanks, a wandering eyed old man would emerge from the empty building where he would be perched atop an overturned bucket, and pump your gas.  He would always mime something strange with a toothless grin, in this case, he pretended to squeegee away water from the front of his eyes.  I asked for five bucks of gas, my last five bucks, and turned the tape over to start The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane.  I had purchased these CDs together and immediately copied them onto tape so I could hear them in the Yogurt.  “Was There Anything I Could Do?” was definitely going to be on the playlist.

After the gas adventure, on the road again, I caught police lights in my rearview.  This had become a tradition.  The gas tank opened into the rear of the car, under the license plate, and since the plate hinge had long ago rusted out, the old Franco man would always fail to re-attach the plate, so it was visible.  This would generally get me pulled over.  The traffic stop only took a few moments.  Oddly, the fact that I had non-functioning windshield wipers was not a concern.  There was an odd dichotomy with how the local cops dealt with us teenagers roaming around a boring small town.  There was an element of harassment, because they were constantly pulling one of us over for minor or simply perceived infractions, yet when they did nab a carload of drunk kids all carrying open cans of beer, they rarely did anything but give a warning and dump the open containers.

The Ski Club asked me to put on this dance.  I do not know why.  My only provision is that I get free reign to do whatever I want.  Which was granted.  I was never sure who all belonged to the Ski Club, but I doubt many of them were involved with this misguided decision.  It was Lance, my longtime friend and classmate, who asked.  He was also quarterback of the awful football team, the point guard on the equally bad basketball team, and a star golfer on the oddly state title dominating golf squad.  I suppose with that, he garnered some kind of super powers.  After the last couple of dances I DJ’d junior year, I was done.  The effort of toting the tunes, my turntable, and CD players around was too much and after the dance earlier that spring, my CD player went dead and two records were broken.   The shine had worn off.  The first dance I did went swimmingly.  It was a fundraiser for my sophomore class.  A couple of seniors that year tutored me on setting up the speakers and the sound board.  Both seemed dubious of my decision to also connect my home stereo consoles to the board, but they obliged.  Everything I played that night seemed to go over well.  I ignored requests for Bon Jovi and Europe in favor of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Front 242, The The, Julian Cope, The Smiths and The Bolshoi.  Even when I played an epic fifteen minute version of the Communards’ cover of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” for a dance contest, the floor was filled and people were having a great time.  Meanwhile, the dance where my CD player died was full of struggle.  I couldn’t get the speakers to sound good.  No matter what adjustments I made to the connections and on the soundboard, the speakers only expelled painful vibrations.  Waves of sonic pain.  When I played Nitzer Ebb’s “Murderous,” the few people who had come, fled to the school’s front hall, or simply left.  Only Kurt stayed in the gym to high kick his way around the room, while I tried to figure out what was going wrong.

This time, I requested the dance take place in the multi-purpose room where our tiny drama club would perform their one play a year.  It was also our lunch room.  A smaller room meant, I could bring in my own tower speakers as well as Mike’s, who was also set to bring some dry ice for atmosphere.  We coined the dance “Echoes” and I made fancy posters that utilized photocopied album covers and shiny silver tape for borders to give people an idea of what would be in store.  Not only would they be hearing the Cure in place of Escape Club, but it might be Faith or Pornography Cure.  They would hear Joy Division instead of New Order.  They might hear Bauhaus or Tones on Tail instead of Love and Rockets.  I was excited to play something off the new Sonic Youth that I picked up at Driftwood Mac’s the prior Tuesday.  Could I get away with something like “Silver Rocket” and its middle section of two or three minutes of pure feedback, or would it be another noise to drive people away?

I had become accustomed to working every Friday night, but took this one off to DJ the dance.  During my senior year, I decided to forgo all extracurricular activities and work essentially full-time at the pizza joint in town.  I had played basketball all of my life, but it had become a grind.   I wanted to start earning and saving money for college, which turned out to be code for spending more and more money on records and CDs.  Friday nights were long, because we would get extremely busy with the influx of tourists coming to our decrepit coastal town looking for a fun weekend on the beach away from home, and then late in the evening many of my schoolmates would trickle in and take over the corner booths and divvy up an order of jo-jo’s amongst six to ten people and smoke cigarettes and drink Pepsi’s often filled with smuggled alcoholic swill.  As long as we had “customers” we would stay open.  It was bittersweet.  It was good to see some of my friends, yet they were keeping me at work.  The pizza joint's parking lot was a mystery to me.  I know that high schoolers would congregate out there as a meeting point, or just to hang out, but every so often some kid would come in bloodied from a fight looking for help.  It was bemusing.  I never knew what was going on out there.  All I know is that Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock-N-Roll” was likely playing on the jukebox for the 456th time that night and Whitesnake or White Lion was blaring from the little stereo blasting from the dough room in the back.  All I wanted to do was get home, shower off the pizza stink, and watch my late night music video shows and then listen to music on my headphones until I mercifully fell into a fitful sleep.  I wanted to escape.  A piece of me wanted to be a part of the party scene, but a larger portion wanted to be alone.

At home, I was filled with a deepening dread as I began the process of taking apart all of my stereo components to take to the dance.  I carefully bundled cords – including the 100 foot speaker wires that I had purchased for this dance.  I dusted each component and made sure each was secure in a box.  I envisioned them all catching fire at the school.  I lugged the giant speakers into the back seat of the Yogurt and made sure they were protected from the elements by wrapping them in towels.  As I selected what CDs and records to take, I began to panic, seeing my room bereft of its central shrine.  When I bought my stereo a couple of years earlier, it was a huge event for me.  It was the entirety of my savings.  All that mattered to me was finding a sound system worthy of the amazing music I was ravenously consuming.  My musical lexicon had expanded a thousand fold in the last couple of years with aid of this stereo and I could not get enough.  The idea of not having it made me queasy.  Same with the music.  Would the dance end with me weeping over a pile of scratched and broken discs?  Would some be missing their sleeves, or just simply missing?

Like my new attitude with school, I had made no concrete plan for the evening’s playlist.  All of my life, I had made an effort with school.  I had always managed to get good grades, but always felt like I lagged behind many of my friends.  For my senior year, I’m not saying that I had given up, instead I decided to not try so hard.  What I learned is that I was a terrible note taker.  I would get so busy trying to keep up with the lecture that I really wasn’t absorbing the lesson.  Having stopped taking notes, or really reading from text books, suddenly, I began exceeding.  I was acing tests and scoring well with my assignments.  It was a strange new confidence.  The only thing I had ever felt confident about in my life was with my music choices.  All I needed to DJ that night was a few songs in mind to be a beginning, middle and end.  The rest would come to me by feel.  I could barely talk to girls, or anyone else for that matter, but I could match songs together until the end of time, or at least until two tomato boxes from work full of records and CDs ran out.

Setting up in the Multi-Purpose Room went as anyone could expect.  Mike was late and so was everyone else who claimed they would be there to help.  I began the task of setting up the speakers.  Since Mike wasn’t there with his pair, I placed mine in the corners nearest the entrance and as far from the stage as possible and traced the cords along the walls back towards the mixing desk.  I decided to drag two of the school’s surprisingly powerful monitor speakers out from oblivion and add those to the mix.  I set those up along the walls on either side at about the midpoint of the room.  Mike’s speakers could go by the stage whenever he decided to show, along with the dry ice.  If he decided to show.  I didn’t know Mike well.  He was a friend of friends.  I had worked with his older brother at the pizza joint.  The main thing I knew about Mike is that he seemed to get into a lot of car accidents.  A lot.  Yet, he always had a pristine grey Nissan Sentra.  It never made sense to me.

One thing I’ve learned when setting up this kind of equipment, nothing works at first.  I had everything jacked in, the mixing board’s sound meters jumping, but no sound.  A few random lever adjustments and plug checks and POP – the sound came blaring out.  It was New Order’s “Temptation,” which always gets my adrenaline going.  I began jumping around the empty space both out of sheer love of the song and to gauge the sound quality for the dance floor.  This was about the point when Mike and Trevor arrived, each lugging a speaker into the room to witness an awkward, overweight, acne-ridden teen with a nightmare mop of hair bouncing around the empty room.  My heart missed about three beats and my face flushed with embarrassment at being startled, while I tried to pretend that I wasn’t dancing around, but instead checking out the speaker connections.  No one said anything.  We quickly hooked up the last pair, then Mike brought in the dry ice score.  He prepared us for disappointment.

Considering that we spent nearly every cent of our meager budget for the dance on this big dry ice plan, it was sad to see how few of the little chunks of the stuff we could scrounge.  As the start time approached and a few people began to hover around the periphery, we decided to activate the blocks with some lukewarm water in a tray underneath a chair near the room’s entrance.  A tiny bank of fog swirled around beneath a chair and nowhere else.  Trevor ran to find a fan.  Meanwhile, I turned out the lights, and realized that we had nothing planned for a light show of any kind.  No colors.  No gels.  Nothing.  It was just dark, save for the hallway light entering via the front hallway, and a couple of stage lights where the mixing desk stood.

There was a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling not too far out from the stage, so I jumped up onto the stage, or really clumsily climbed, and searched for a way to point one of the stage lights towards it.  Trevor and Mike went in search of lights.  We had about ten minutes before the official start time.  A couple of teachers as chaperones made an appearance: The Barn, the 10th grade English teacher and The Hippy, one of the two science teachers - both of whom I actually traded mix tapes with on occasion.  I’m certain they were curious as to how this “Echoes” thing would pan out.  The Barn let us into a closet off the stage that had a couple of light stands with colored gels.  We quickly set those up in the room to illuminate the dance floor.  Trevor did yeoman’s work getting the lighting to be presentable.  It almost looked as if we had a plan.  We had been friends and neighbors ever since he moved to town just as High School began.  He would soon star as Charlie Brown in the play that would be produced later that school year.  He was the anti-Charlie Brown in real life: outgoing, confident, two time student body president, successful at reaching goals, but he made his performance work. 

I was drenched in sweat and beginning to grow anxious about this entire event.  It was time to start the music, and besides the two teachers and Mike and Trevor, there were only two or three other people milling about just outside the doorway.  I hadn’t even begun to cue up potential songs for the night, though I already had decided with a strange dedication that I would open with Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan.”  It was a decision I made because it did not seem like a good one.  An old croaky man crooning a story of intrigue over a lukewarm dance beat.  The vocals are way out in front of the music, which sounded dated at the time of release.  Yet, this was Leonard Cohen!  I needed to educate, although I’m sure that thought never crossed my mind.  Leonard was a legend.  While many of my peers had been hungrily buying up CD reissues of bands like Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, I had been discovering Cohen, the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, old David Bowie, and as many of the post-punk bands inspired by these artists.  But most importantly, Cohen was still creating new tunes to enjoy.  Besides, if the song went down in flames, hardly anyone would be present.  In order to check the sound again, I wandered back out onto the floor, and nodded to a few recognizable people coming in.  It was Celeste’s gang and their two hanger’s on: the photo-negative twins – Ox and Nolan, who reeked of cloves.  This was when I noticed that the dry ice fog that had been keeping the atmosphere creepy under a folding chair had completely dissipated before the conclusion of the opening song.

A few songs in, once I got to the Swans cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” people started to fill the room and everything became a blur.  I do not remember much from then until a technical issue about three quarters of the way through the dance.  I remember being out on the floor a lot – paranoid that things sounded bad and dancing around so it would look like someone was interested in this music.  There were a handful of obligatory requests.  I politely declined most of them, using the excuse that I did not have what they wanted to hear.  If they produced a cassette version, I would continue to decline, because I intentionally did not bring a tape player.  My hatred of pre-recorded tapes was at a peak.  That night I did play a request for Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Seven Seas” from Todd, who appeared out of nowhere, and who had graduated the prior spring.  I hadn’t seen him since.  He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back.  He was wearing a black trench coat, which smelled of pot, and intoned slowly: “Seven Seas.”  I winced from the booze that travelled ahead of his words.  Then, he was gone.

While I was setting up a stretch of Creation Records singles to play, all of which I had found in the city the prior weekend, I received another request.  This one came from Kate.  She approached hesitantly, so much so, that I wasn’t sure if she was actually coming my way.  She was a part of Celeste’s group of friends, who included Gary’s younger sister.  Even though she was younger, she seemed worldly to me, and it turned out that she would become a seasoned traveler.  I knew nothing about her.  She was the host sister for an exchange student and at some point I think she dated my friend Trevor for a brief period, but none of us ever talk about that sort of stuff.  Instead we’d make grand schemes to conquer media, to tie 100 foot pieces of kelp to our cars and cruise Wayside, or to walk through town in dresses and motorcycle helmets carrying around giant wooden silverware wall decorations at 3 AM to the grocery store to harass our biology teacher who works there.  This willful ignorance and my self-imposed isolation made most people seem more experienced and interesting to me.  I always felt envious of those who did things, whether it turned out well or not.  I was always too afraid to take risks. 

As I transitioned from the live Rank version of “London” by the Smiths into House of Love’s incredible “Destroy the Heart” single, Kate leaned over and shouted “Do you have Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation?”  I responded with a smirk and an affirmative nod.  “Would you be willing to maybe play “Teenage Riot?” she continued.  I nodded again.  Of course, I would!  This request became a flash of inspiration.  I’d never heard the comparison before, but the guitar sound that opens “Teenage Riot” always reminded me of the sparse early recordings by the Cure.  I began to shuffle through one of the CD boxes for Seventeen Seconds and my new, but already broken CD case of Daydream Nation.  As “Destroy the Heart” abruptly stopped, a brief moment of quiet filled the fairly full room before me.  Then the massive treated beat of The Cure’s instrumental “Three” filled the space.  Ox and Nolan started stomping their feet along.  It’s a shame the dry ice experiment failed, because it would’ve worked well at that juncture.  I nudged the volume up a touch just as the song gained a bit of momentum before it ended with a powerful repeating sonic pulse that I wanted to vibrate everyone’s teeth and ribcages, as the quiet opening of “Teenage Riot’ and Kim Gordon’s disembodied voice intoned some kind of one-sided argument about who is “it” in a game of tag.  The next record had already been lined up: My Bloody Valentine’s “You Made Me Realize” would be next. 

This stretch was magical.  This was why I agreed to DJ.  This was the narcotic that infected me to always want to share the intense feelings that music generates inside me.  I wanted others to experience this same rush.  Kate was dancing with a big grin on her face.  Her friends were all out there.  A smattering of mine were on the scene: Simpson, Trevor, Mark, Lance fresh from the football game, and their respective girlfriends.  Even the girl I had a crush on appeared in the doorway.  She was definitely one of the reasons I had agreed to do this.  A lame effort to get noticed.  To impress.  She looked around for a moment, heard the blaring squall of not very danceable feedback, put her fingers up near her ears, leaned over and said something to her friend, and then disappeared.  Fittingly, this was when things turned.  The sound suddenly cut out in the area of my speakers.  I panicked and ran to them, as if my children were in danger.  I had no song in the queue.  Sure enough, my speakers had stopped emitting sound.  I checked the cords.  They were still in place.  Sweat poured into my eyes as my body temperature increased by about 100 degrees.  The music was off.  The only sound was that of multiple conversations at once.  I kept looking at my speakers.  Back and forth.  Distraught.  Wanting to kick everyone out like at a party when the parents get home before expected.  That was when some fumbling came from the other four speakers and Lance’s voice boomed out, “How’s everyone doing tonight?!”  He rambled on like a radio DJ for a few moments as he introduced a live version of Big Country’s most famous song “In A Big Country” from my trusty dusty copy of the double LP Vertigo Sampler.  I’m not sure if it was the damp windswept weather, but for some reason, Big Country was nearly a universal favorite among my schoolmates.  I cannot recall how many times someone would ask if I could record that live version for them.  All of my friends wanted it, but as time passed I was often approached by someone I didn’t know, or never communicated with.  With his sudden turn at cheesy radio DJ, Lance saved the night.  The show went on a bit more, but I was mentally done.  I unhooked my unresponsive speakers and took them out to the car one by one, swaddled like infants, before heading back in to finish playing music until the allotted time ended.  People began to trickle out.  Making post-dance plans – either looking for somewhere to party or for some privacy. 

Mercifully, the time came to shut it down.  I closed the night with the frenetic Peel Session version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  Yes, again.  Only a few people remained by that point.  By the time I finished putting things away and gathering my stuff near the front entrance of the school, no one was to be found.  I propped the door open with one of the tomato boxes, pulled my car up to the drop off circle, loaded the car, and headed home to the tinny soundtrack of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s Chris Reed singing through gritted teeth that there’s “Nothing Wrong.”

“Feeling Good, Feeling wrong
Holding out, holding on
There’s a lot to do, lot to say
Just so you can have today
Party here, party there
No one ever really cares
If you’re holding out, feeling strong
Tell yourself there’s nothing wrong”

Thank you DJ MC Fresh for making this happen.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me

This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me

When I listen to this debut EP from flirting, I get the feeling that I could be in the audience of some neurotic abstract five act play.  I imagine different people on stage each performing their own separate yet deeply intertwined monologues, each lit by a different colored spotlight.  This is completely unfair, because if you’re anything like me, this description sounds like an evening in hell.  However, I really like what flirting is offering despite the strange performance art visions this collection generates in my limited mind.

Flirting’s debut single, “Wouldn’t You,” from 2016 is much different with its dreamy and hazy atmosphere, while this new EP is much more spiky and unusual.  This would be Funny reminds me of 90s Aussie’s Frente! if they had written songs full of confused disaffection instead of sunshine and happiness.  There is a similar LIFE to these five songs though, despite the difference in subject matter.

The EP starts off with “Yum,” which is a bit schizophrenic.  There are many parts to this epic song.  A quiet guitar intro, alternating verses of anxiety-ridden spoken word from both male and female perspectives, culminating with both voices at the same time.  It is really a mess and yet it is quite intriguing.  What the song lacks in hooks, it makes up for with its inherent identifiable drama.  It’s exciting!  “Peppermint,” the single, on the other hand, is a very catchy number - still infused with some unexpected peaks and valleys that are very much unique to this band.  It is also a simultaneously defiant and kind break-up song between two people with differing mindsets regarding their relationship.

The melancholic (and musically dreamy) “Lilac” is a beautiful song that perfectly captures the loneliness and feeling of impending madness from insomnia and the resulting inability to seek help in those desperate moments (“It’s 3 AM/, though won’t you pick up the phone/ and tell me/ it’s all in my mind”).  The closing song, “In the Dark,” meanwhile, manages to brew up some serious menace.

To be honest, this is one of the more difficult releases I’ve attempted to write about over the years.  I really like these songs and the potential of flirting going forward, but they are damn difficult to describe.  They tap into that part of my brain that loves The Sundays, Standard Fare, and the afore-mentioned Frente! – all bands that flirting’s sound can hint at, yet they are nothing like any of them.  What I do know is that I identify with these songs.  They speak to me.  See if they speak to you too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Flow West to You

Endless White
Flow West to You
(Taihe Music)

When I was a kid in the early 90s falling head over heels in love with music, most specifically, the “shoegaze” coming from the UK, I never thought I’d see its influence permeate so strongly 25+ years later all over the world.  I mean, seriously, we all may now think of Slowdive, Ride, and Lush as hugely successful bands garnering rave reviews and sold out shows, but that is only in recent times.  Though they received a couple of years’ worth of heavy coverage in the British music weeklies, they were quickly and actively dismissed as passé – in favor of the next big scene.  The term shoegaze was meant as an insult.  Giving these hyper-creative artists the brush off, essentially because they weren’t full of headline grabbing rock-n-roll wankers attempting to be needlessly provocative.  They were all about the sound – that oh-so wonderful sound.  My experience with this music in the Pacific Northwest is that there shows were marginally attended, their music was not given any local airplay or exposure, there was really only one record store that actively stocked the newest releases, and most people were simply unaware.  These days, those British weeklies no longer exert a huge influence, the record industry has been completely revamped, and aside from a handful of artists, music is fragmented and narrow-casted to the point that no one really knows what’s out there beyond their own streaming playlist.  Somehow, despite its brief window of exposure so many years ago, the wonderful influence of these so-called shoegaze bands of yore has fed into a burgeoning worldwide scene today.

Endless White are a four-piece from China and their brand of dreamy guitar pop sits comfortably with the greats of that original foregone era.  Though, I’m not big on hyper-specific music genre classification, I would say that Endless White are not a classic shoegaze style band, Endless White channel that dramatic ebb and flow of the best dream pop music, while evoking large doses of the rainy day reflection of the early stuff by The Sundays, or maybe that great album by Just Handshakes (Say It) from five years ago.  Flow West to You is Endless White’s debut album after a previous EP back in 2016.  I know nothing else about them, but that isn’t important.  What they’ve created on this collection is a group of amazing songs that elevate me to higher plane of existence. 

The album opens deliberately with the band’s title track, “Endless White,” which sets a somber and intense mood.  Repeated reverbed guitar strikes above a skittering beat act as an introduction before settling into a nice groove that lays the groundwork for the transcendent vocals of Zhang Wanyl.  Meanwhile, the next two songs are the most straightforwardly shoegaze tracks, “Slow to Crush,” Wanyl channels her upper register and floats her dreamy voice into the mix of soft splashing cymbals and crashing guitar fuzz (not too dissimilar from what we’ve heard so far from the new Belgium band Slow Crush), while the spacious “Daylight Burnt Down” is unbelievably heartbreaking in its beauty. Its chiming guitar lead leads us down a reflective path before exploding into a dramatic fiery crescendo and then closing quietly, unresolved.

Endless White perform with such passion.  You can feel the emotion in the notes they play.  The greatest example of this is the brilliant “A Lost Dog Story.”  I immediately fell in love with Wanyl’s voice on this song.  Her warm, yet reserved delivery matches the forlorn reflective stroll the song presents.  This is a case where I long to know the lyrics, though I can feel its longing sadness permeate every note performed right down to the casual drum pattern.  Another standout is the heavy “Nothing to Regret,” which slowly builds to an exciting and explosive conclusion.  On the penultimate track, Endless White take on the ancient Scottish hymn, “Auld Lang Syne,” – that song we’re duty bound to sing as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve – and it fits right in.  Theirs is a rainy version with a tasteful two minute introduction before bursting into that classic refrain amongst a soaring din of amazing sounds.  Elsewhere, “Some Other Life,” acts as a default pop single due to its crisp and tight melody.

My only complaint with the entire album is with the closing track, “Hit By Me.”  It’s not the song itself, which is a  jaunty sounding ending to an epic set of songs, with Zhang Wanyl’s vocals pushed further out front than elsewhere, and includes a fantastic mid-song transition.  However, the song fades out at what feels like a random point.  It feels a bit of a cheat to conclude such a fantastic album.  Please let this wonderful record flow its way into your life.  It is remarkable.


Here is a video someone made from Endless White's debut EP.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Have you ever had one of those songs that you absolutely can’t get enough of come into your life?  It happens to most of us.  A song you play over and over again for days and weeks.  What are some of those songs?  Think about what was happening in your life during that time.  Did the song play into those circumstances or was it simply an ear worm that burrowed its way into your mind?  How often does this happen to you?  For me, it happens a few times a year, but some of them are more memorable than others.  One that especially stands out is the song “Cayman” by Mira. 

As the year 2000’s spring turned into summer I found out, first via a continuously intensifying never ending headache and then by a doctor’s diagnosis, that I had a rather large brain cyst expanding inside my brain stem (see first warnings signs story here: Road to Nowhere).  Even though the neurosurgeon told me that if I hadn’t have scheduled the MRI and follow up appointment with him that the rate of the cyst growth would kill me within a couple of months, my surgery to remove said cyst wasn’t scheduled for another six weeks.  It was during these six weeks that my life became very strange.

Having something the size of a large navel orange in the center of your head does unusual things to a person.  Besides the constant intense head pain, I began to lose feeling on the left side of my body.  Not complete paralysis, but that “my leg’s asleep!” kind of tingly numbness.  There was also a slow change in perception of colors.  Blues became yellows, greens became purples, and a lot of colors became a pale pink.  I began to crave certain chemical smells.  I began to crave the bowling alley/bus station bathroom smell created by things like generic label Pine Sol, and dirty ashtrays.  I also managed to get the hiccups for nearly two weeks without letup, which wasn’t as bad as it would seem.  They made me laugh a lot while in the presence of others.  It was impossible to get out an uninterrupted sentence, but I just kept going.  Sleep was tough, but necessary to find any kind of relief.  The other ways, I managed with the pain was to walk all the time.  It was hot out, but I had to keep moving.  It was golf too.  Even though I needed help getting the ball out of the hole (I would fall down when I bent over), it was one the rare times I felt fairly ok.  The activity must’ve been enough of a distraction to keep the pain slightly under control.

Music, my usual go to source for comfort, was not much help.  I had a difficult time focusing.  I have always taken time to listen to albums, not as background music, but as the only focus – with headphones.  This was tough to do with that throbbing beast in my head.  Also, the sounds often became grating and hard to manage, which was a nightmarish proposition that I could not comprehend.  There were a couple of exceptions.  The breezy “Bringin’ Me Home” from Mojave 3 being one.  The other was “Cayman” by Mira.  I came across this song via the Italian music magazine Losing Today and its pretty solid companion dream pop CD compilation Painted Dream II.  Surprisingly, I have no recollection as to how I ran across this magazine.  Maybe I bought it through, or Parasol Mailorder, I’m not sure.  What I am sure is that I would listen to “Cayman” sometimes six or seven times in a row each time I fired up the old sound machine and I did not remove that song from my player until weeks after I had the brain surgery. 

There is a poignant power in the music of “Cayman.”  It builds dramatically, yet effortlessly.  It soars and glides, but is given great depth with its pounding drums and swells of buzzing guitar.  Regina Sosinki’s shining vocals fit the soundscape perfectly.  Besides being an epic song, I’m not certain why this one in particular was, not only one of the only songs I could manage to listen to peacefully, but the only one that was truly therapeutic during that time of my life.  A single song, which seems to be about a cat, managed to guide me through six plus weeks of unbearable pain and excruciating anxiety, better than anything else. 

Later that summer, I finally purchased and enjoyed Mira’s self-titled debut album, along with their other two albums (and one rarities compilation), but it was the endless plays of “Cayman” during the summer of 2000, and hundreds of times in the years since, that will always be of great comfort.  I have never grown tired of this song.  Thank you.

Mira "Cayman"

Monday, September 10, 2018

Jennifer She Said

During the summer of 2014 there was a big local news story about a woman who went missing.  A late 30s wife and mother of two young kids.  The story was riveting as it unfolded.  She was last seen buying a few small items at a pharmacy and filling up her car’s gas tank.  If I remember correctly, there were some clues that she might’ve been spotted in the San Juan Islands area.  Every day, each local news channel had reporters on the various scenes with updates – treating this as a likely abduction.  Then, a couple of weeks later, she was found near her car on a secluded country road in Yamhill County not terribly far from where she went missing.  She had committed suicide.  Because of the personal nature of suicide and the media’s strange way of covering suicides, the coverage abruptly ended the day her body was discovered.  The media generally chooses not to cover suicides of everyday people to protect the rest of us from getting any untoward ideas and the privacy of the people involved, yet they don’t seem to have any problem sensationalizing celebrity suicide.  I’m not certain that I can be critical though, because it’s a tough and touchy subject. 

All suicides are sad.  It is horrible that someone reaches a point where that becomes the only solution to what is ailing them.  There was something about this woman’s suicide that hit me in an especially profound way.  Her disappearance was sad and scary, but learning that she was the cause of her own disappearance filled me with a surprising empathy.  Almost a jealousy.  I’m not sure why her particular story resonated with me, nor do I know much beyond the superficial coverage that was provided via the local news outlets, but it hit me deeply at the time and continues to this day.  I mean, she seemed to be living the dream, right?  By all accounts, she came from a solid family, had a husband and two young kids and apparently were financially stable.  I will not speculate as to why this was not enough to keep her from taking her life.  I know from the results that it wasn’t.

There’s a part of me that feels a kinship with her.  Every few months I drive through the country roads of Yamhill County and though my childhood self would’ve never believed this, I find a certain solitude there as I pass through on my way to and from the coast.  Every so often, I take different roads to see different sights and explore the landscape.  Every so often, I pull off at one of those mom and pop highway mini marts that sells live fishing bait to see if they have three foot long pepperoni sticks, and fresh homemade jerky.  Sometimes I stop somewhere to get out and absorb the quiet solitude of the tall fields, the rolling hills, and the hum of the breeze blowing through them.  My mind drifts to thoughts of moving to a small house on a small lot in one of the small towns like Yamhill, Carlton, Dayton, or Sheridan and becoming some sort of writer by day (HaHa!  I know, right?  One can dream.) and maybe pouring pitchers of beer and soft drinks at the local pizza joint a few evenings a week.  I think the idea of running away from my daily reality is what makes this so appealing.  Sometimes the mental and physical pain reaches a point where the idea of lying down to sleep a deep never-ending sleep in one of those remote fields on a warm sunny day to never be found again feels like the only acceptable option.  There’s a peace in the idea that I struggle to find anywhere else.

The devastation to this woman’s family has to be overwhelming.  It is impossible to recover from such an intense and unexplainable loss.  Like so many out there, I have lost friends and acquaintances to suicide.  Suicide is characterized as a selfish act where the victims are the survivors.  In this case, one wonders how her husband and children have coped and continue to manage.  She had people in her life that rely on her every single day and she left them.  Perhaps from her perspective, she saw no better way.  Her internal pain may have overcome her need to fulfill her obligations.  I am not one to cast judgements about her decision.  I am familiar with a self-hatred so intense that you feel like a dark cloud in your loved ones lives.  That they are better off without you.  At least in my case my life has been lived so much in isolation, there is no one that relies on me.  At most, I am someone who is okay to hang out with on occasion.  Let’s grab a beer.  Let’s get some din-din.  Let’s go see a show.  Otherwise, I’m a bit of a burden with my history of health issues and the resultant help I need sometimes financially or day to day care taking, because I am incapable of managing on my own.

We’re all only here for a relatively short time whether we choose to end our lives at a particular point or not.  Why do so many of us live lives that make us unhappy?  Why are so many of us wired to be unhappy no matter what the circumstance?  I found out while typing this that today is World Suicide Prevention Day.  I realize that this is not a ringing endorsement for staying strong, but please, if you are not feeling like you can go on.  Believe me.  I understand.  There are lots of people who understand and are willing to listen.  Please reach out for help, instead of making a decision you cannot undo.  Let’s all try to figure out ways to make our lives better.

Monday, September 3, 2018


Why do we like what we like?  I’m sure there’s all kinds of scientific studies out there that try to explain the phenomenon of taste, but I’m too lazy to do research, and the way things are now, what good does it do you?  Facts and science and reason just get in the way.  Why does it seem easier to explain what we don’t like than what we enjoy?  This time of year, I find myself thinking about reasons a lot.  As I go on to enjoy my annual immersion into the LPGA visit to Portland, I seem to need excuses to provide to people as to why I enjoy it all so much.  I’m not sure why, because I don’t need to justify it, but I try and try.  Perhaps I’m self-conscious, because even the majority of my fellow volunteers at the tournament and the amateur golfers we caddy for don’t follow the LPGA, or attend the actual tournament itself, which I do not get.  These people get a chance to meet bright and talented LPGA stars and they have no interest in coming out to see them perform in the heat of competition.  Most of the people I know don’t understand my love of it either.  It generally brings out bemusement or just a blank stare if I begin to explain how much fun I think attending the tournament is.  This is the highlight of my year!  I have gone on and on about it on this site for several years, and once again I begin to contemplate my motivations and question why I like what I like.  Why do I love it so much?  I don’t particularly enjoy playing golf anymore, and yet, I can’t get enough of walking around a course for 8-10 hours a day watching it and going on an emotional rollercoaster pulling for the players I like the most.  Speaking of which, I think I’ve found a potential new favorite golfer: Robynn Ree.  She’s a rookie on the tour and the Cambia Portland Classic was the first top 10 finish in her young career.  It was her restless energy, that she was wearing what seemed like gear from my High School, Taft High in Lincoln City, Oregon, (orange skirt, black top, and black golf hat with an orange T), and that she seemed to be occasionally drinking from Capri Sun pouches during the round that drew me in.  Capri Sun?  I haven’t had one of those since like 5th grade.  I didn’t know they still existed.  I remember not liking Capri Suns, yet I was so excited that she pulled one of those weird foil pouches out of her golf bag before teeing off on the 15th hole.  Why?

Robynn Ree

Back in High School, when I was about 17, I discovered the old TV show “The Patty Duke Show” on the Nickleodeon Channel’s “Nick at Nite” rerun fiesta.  I’m sure it was delirium setting in, as I had reached a high point of insomnia by this age.  I was attending school, working essentially full-time, watching late night music programs like “120 Minutes” and “Snub,” as well as classic reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” and “Mister Ed,” and listening to music all night on my headphones.  It was during one of these mixed up nights, maybe after trying to read Johannes Kepler’s Harmonies of the World for a school report (mistake), I developed a crush on Cathy Lane, the identical cousin.  If you are unfamiliar with this show, it stars Patty Duke as both a crazy American teenager and her identical cousin who is, I think, supposed to be Scottish.  None of it makes sense, nor does my fascination for the show.  The opening to the show promises all kinds of wacky hijinks that would ensue from such an insane concept clearly born out of serious alcoholic binges from the creative team, but is actually quite subdued and a little sad.  But Cathy.  I had no time for Patty and her hot dogs and lack of control.  Cathy was my girl.  I often felt heartbroken by episode’s end, as she never seemed to find the right boy, while Patty always had suitors, aside from her whiny steady Richard.  The crush went so far that I even sought out and read Patty Duke’s autobiography in-between stabs at assigned reading by Homer, Aristotle, Aristophanes, and a bunch of other old guys for school.  Getting intimate knowledge about Patty (or Anna) and her twisted childhood did not change anything: it was Cathy Lane I liked, not the two Patty’s.  But why?  Why did I like that character?  I know it was Cathy that kept me watching the show, but why?

The assumption is that we like what we like because of the pleasure we receive from whatever it is.  Yet, we all know it’s much more complicated than that.  It’s not so clear cut.  Why do some of us enjoy things that scare us, or burn our mouths, or cause us pain?  Plus, like a small curious child, one can keep asking why to every justification a person can provide.  It can keep on going and going.  Personally, I don’t think we need to know why we are all drawn to our particular interests, though it can be fascinating to ponder.

Around this time of year, back to school time, many many years ago, I will never forget moving into my dorm room for a second year at college.  It was very early evening and time for dinner in the horrifying campus dining hall.  I slowly wandered down the stairwell, loudly humming Kim Deal’s falsetto vocal part from Pixies’ “The Happening” (“Beneath the Skyyyyyyyy…”) because of the perfect acoustics, while wondering about the non-appearance of my new roommate for the school year.  I went outside and feeling unready to face the dinner and being overwhelmed by the warmth of the evening, I sat down on the steps on the side of the dorm building across from the University Center where the meals were generated.  While sitting there pondering the state of my life, I spotted a girl standing by an outside table enthusiastically telling two rapt people some sort of story.  I could not hear the conversation, nor did I know who any of these people were, and I could not take my eyes off of this story teller.  Her eyes were alive with energy.  Her gestures bold and her smile engaging.  All other activities around me faded away.  It was as if my heart and blood pumping through my veins had left my body and were now under her command.  I’m certain I must have been blocking the way for others coming in and out of the door.  Everything but this girl was muted and pushed aside.  I became filled with electricity and nausea and paralysis.  Time stopped. 

I’m guessing most, if not everyone, has had that kind of moment at some point in their lives, where we are so suddenly stricken by another that everything else melts away.  Why?  What is it that makes this happen?  I encounter women that I find attractive for a myriad of reasons nearly every day, yet I’ve only had a couple of moments like this in my entire life.  It’s good that it doesn’t happen all the time, because nothing would ever get done.  Is there some sort of underlying understanding that we intuitively are drawn to within people that makes them that much more alluring?  In this case, I was right.  This woman is a great person full of amazing traits who I cheer on from afar to this day.  But what about when these things go horribly wrong?  What we like often leads us into serious trouble like addiction and abusive relationships.

Sometimes it feels like we’re all puzzle pieces finding ways to connect by using our list of likes as the connecting points.  Unfortunately, unlike in the movies, we don’t seem to be very good at it, because there are too many sides to our shapes .  It’s not so easy to make connections.  We all find ways of complicating everything.  When I mentioned that I was trying to conclude a piece about why we like what we like with no conclusion to Alexandra via text she suggested that it’s all Voodoo.  I’m inclined to agree.  I don't think it would make any difference if we all knew what truly makes us tick and why.  We'd still all do what we do.  I do not have any idea why I like what I like, nor do I know how to live a life where I like most of what I do.  One might think that I'd have learned how to do that by now.

This song seems especially apropos and highly recommended:

Holiday Flyer "Movies" 1999

"Could it be that we're just empty
And we're looking for something to take up space
It's so frustrating"