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"