The 12 Tracks of Christmas

This year, I've pulled back a bit from writing here. It's a combination of time and such and such. There are numerous reasons. None of them excuses, but each excusing me from one post or another. Now, it is the holidays, and since I didn't get around to a Best of 2012 list just yet, I have just this simple gift to bring (parum pum pum pum). In a world where malls and stores and offices have been churning out Christmas and Holiday classics since the week after Thanksgiving, we need a good list, comprising the less-schmaltzy (though I did include Paul McCartney), the less classical (although "Christmastime is Here" is so good it made the list. The holidays in a minor key!? Fuck yes.) and the less irritating (but Kylie Minogue's "Santa Baby" manages to carefully mitigate that weird "little girl" aesthetic normally ascribed to the song so it made the list).

With those exceptions, and more, I present to you The 12 Tracks of Christmas. I hope to have provided you with a delicate, intelligent journey from the brightest childlike aspects of the holiday, to the deeper, sadder implications of a world that's made bright once a year as a tradition, but never kept bright all year long. Also, there's some Jesus stuff in there too. Poor pagans. They were partying on the Winter Solstice for generations and then post-Jesus scribes just had to F with their shit by claiming the Christian savior's b-day was right around then.

Happy holidays and tons of love from me and Gas Lantern Media. Listen to the list, embedded below, or hit the Spotify link.

Love, Nate


Image by epiclectic via Flickr. Creative Commons: Some rights reserved.
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Sufjan Stevens + Various Artists - Chopped & Scrooged

Tired of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and trying to live on the holiday edge through the tired strains of "Jingle Bell Rock"? I know I am. I know a very special person who'd back me up on it too. In the past, indie musicians have provided us with some delightful Christmas albums. She & Him put out one that relies on nostalgia as much as invention. Some of my favorite tracks of all came from Saturday Looks Good to Me, including a great cover of the classic "Blue Christmas." And then there's Sufjan Stevens. His recent 5-disc Christmas release Silver & Gold bounds artistically from melodic beauty to utter drug-trip chaos. Turns out though, Sufjan wasn't done there. Though any fan of Stevens' sprawling career know that he doesn't go long without recording, creating, dramatizing and philosophizing. So, as an early Christmas gift (perhaps a Hanukkah present to Stevens' mensch fanbase?) he has released Chopped & Scrooged, an epically enjoyable mixtape of Christmas themed hip-hop and rap.

The album features the likes of Heems, The Pro Letarians, Kitty Pryde, Electric iLL and DMA and Oreo Jones. What comes to pass are 9 inventive, fucking excellent rap tracks that sometimes related directly to the coming Winter Solstice-turned-Christian-turned-Retail-turned-Tree-related-Sex-Pose holiday. Track 2, The Pro Letarians "Dreamcatcher" is a phenomenal track. And the album hits another powerful high point with "Black Christmas" a song that seems to be half-irony and half-bold statement of the difference between the holiday for the races. The fast-paced "Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling" is a brutal treatise on the shopping season, the economy, and occasionally doing things to Santa with one's balls. "Xmas In The Room" is a playful, boastful sex call to Olde St. Nick featuring a synth-repeated refrain of "come" by New Orleans based rapper Nicky Da B. Kitty Pryde's "Implants and Yankee Candles" is delightfully lo-fi, quippy and quirky. And the beautiful "Blue Baktun" features Stevens most prominently with synthy down beats and slow rhymes by Electric iLL. The closer "Xmas Woes" is excellent too.

If you are tired of the traditional Christmas. If you are tired of the '70s and '80s rock-Christmas of Paul McCartney's "Christmastime" and that shit that Geldof and Band Aid put out there back when it was cool to thank the maker that Ethiopians were starving instead of you, then Chopped & Scrooged is, in fact, for you. Check it out below. Or just download it here. It's free... the way joy and cheer are supposed to be.

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Hitchcock's 'Rope', Romney, O'Reilly and 21st Century Conservative Rhetoric

After this Tuesday's 2012 presidential election, in which Barack Obama carried both the electoral college and the popular vote, Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly was heard to say:

“The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things? The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”

O'Reilly's assertion that people "feel entitled to things" mirrored Mitt Romney's fateful fundraising dinner video strongly enough that it's impossible to consider this a simple coincidence. It now feels like a piece of the Republican-Far Right-Conservative platform that seems to insinuate: We, Republicans are better people. We are good people and anyone who disagrees doesn't just disagree with our philosophy; they are actually morally-lesser, evil, people. Of course, that's not the official party line, but in the desperation of an election night when all of the conservative forecasts were proven to be grossly incorrect, it was the go-to excuse.

This philosophical belief that a group of people (in this case those who are religious, conservative and Republican) are better than another has a historical partner in Nietzsche's Übermensch (the idea that an individual would transcend basic humanity to become something greater). Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party once co-opted the concept, applying it to the notion that there was such a thing as a "master race" of better people who deserved to rule and enslave the Untermenschen, or lesser people.

O'Reilly, Romney and Rope

The parallel here is difficult to ignore, given both Romney's and O'Reilly's assertions that a percentage (nearly, or exactly half) of Americans just want the world handed to them. O'Reilly's continuation that the "traditional America" is no more, establishes a hard line on who is better and who is lesser. America is traditionally known as a land of prosperity, a land of freedom, and a land of morality. To so cavalierly declare the death of that concept is to assert that we are descending toward a land of poverty, captivity and immorality. And in turn, that the bad people, the lesser people are destroying the master race.

In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock released Rope, a film about two wealthy, just-out-of-college white men who murder their former classmate in a luxurious Manhattan loft. These young men, both educated and intelligent, carry out their murder because they subscribe to the idea that there are two classes of human being. There are the advanced, better people, and there are those who are lesser, who waste their lives simply by living them. Fueled by that idea, they decide that they're not only right in murdering their classmate, but that murder is an art that can be perfected and undertaken for one's own amusement.

Their former professor, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, waxes on the idea over dinner, toying with it philosophically, more as a thought exercise than as a prescription for real world behavior, stunning and revolting other guests at the films' dinner party. But, upon discovering what his former students had done, he renounces the concept, and falls into a chair to contemplate the terrible results of espousing it at all.

Do we learn from history?

Rope runs on the very same perception of superiority that lined Mr. Romney's fundraiser comments, and O'Reilly's post-election rant. Whether either man believes their own words in their hearts does not matter because just as Jimmy Stewart's character believed he was only performing a thought exercise, the truth is that there are people who are listening. When men in a position of power, whether a journalist with a large viewership, or as a politician/businessman, or college professor casually note that one half, or 47%, or any number of human beings are of a lesser quality, a lesser class, and are implicitly evil, there is potential for impressionable minds to take those words as truth.

It is one thing to assert one's own views and desire, even demand, that those views be respected. It is another thing to assert that those views are the morally better ones. Rope was a morality play and warning to people in 1948 that while World War II had ended three years before, the cruel, manipulated philosophies of that era would not be put down completely with military force alone. To hear and see remnants and pieces of those disgusting rationalizations alive and breathing in the United States 67 years later is a clear sign that the thought war remains unfinished.

One of the beautiful things about this country is our freedom to hold and espouse our positions and philosophies and beliefs, but we have a responsibility to humanity to learn from ways that mere ideas led to genocides, racism, sexism, and hate. Hopefully, no one takes Mr. O'Reilly or Mr. Romney seriously at their words. Hopefully we are a nation intelligent enough to separate an argument of superiority from the carefully nuanced truths about real human beings. But it's sad to know that in some ways we still haven't learned from history.
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The Monks of Mellonwah - Neurogenesis EP

A haunting blend of poetic, metaphor-laden lyrics, and slow-burning (sometimes flashing) guitar licks mark the titular track of The Monks of Mellonwah's second EP. Neurogenesis is surprisingly delicate, careful and easy-going despite the driving drumming and powerful vocals. At times, The Monks, a four-piece Alternative Rock band based in Sydney, feel like a coffee shop outfit, relying on strong musicianship and carefully crafted rock songs, all built around an epic riff or two, rather than the pure bombast of a stadium band. Vocalist Vikram Kaushik has a syrupy, syncopated delivery that recalls Red Hot Chili Peppers and Incubus, and Joe de la Hoyde (backing vocals/guitar), John de la Hoyde (bass), and Josh Baissari (drums) provide a well-formed sonic universe around Kaushik's words.

There are problems with comparisons, too. On "Neurogenesis," the title track, and "Neverending Spirit," the Monks feel a little too much like Incubus and the Chili Peppers. These songs, while proficient and enjoyable, feel slightly recycled. For those of us, like myself, who was of remembering age in the 1990's, they feel unoriginal. Now, unoriginal doesn't mean bad, clearly, and these songs are both good, but they don't grab the ear the way a couple of later tracks do. "Kyoto" a bordering-on-post-punk piece, is unrelenting in the best ways. It builds and ebbs and flows with precision. It also has a sense of vulnerability. It's a song about doubt, and each lingering guitar note feels like a yelp caught in the wind. "You Shine," is my personal favorite. It's plodding nature, and multiple digressions into atmospheric guitar and echo just plain feel good. What's clear is that The Monks of Mellonwah have some of the lyrical spirit of Fleet Foxes, and the skill to back it up.

Whether or not the Monks go on to continue the California-Beach-Alt Rock that they emulate in their first two tracks, or expand into a broader, more eclectic mix of theatrics and post-punk, remains to be seen. With Neurogenesis, which you can check out below via their SoundCloud, they've established exceptional writing, arrangement and musicianship. The band is working on their debut album right now, and are touring the U.S. this month, December (tour dates below), and then again in February/March of 2013. Give them your ears. They greatly deserve it.

Neurogenesis by Monks of Mellonwah
Nov 15 @ LA Music Awards, Avalon Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 16 @ Witzend, Venice Beach, CA
Nov 17 - 24 - Recording tracks for new album
Nov 25 @ Whiskey a Go Go, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 29 @ Garage Inc, San Bernardino, CA
Nov 30 @ TRIP, Santa Monica, CA
Dec 01 @ Jose's Underground, Monterey, CA
Dec 02 @ Brick & Mortar, San Francisco, CA
Dec 03 @ Old Ironsides, Sacramento, CA
Dec 06 @ LIT Lounge, New York, NY
Dec 07 @ The Room, Brookfield, CT
Dec 08 @ BSP Lounge, Kingston, NY
Dec 09 @ TBA
Dec 10 @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY
Dec 11 @ TBA
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The Walking Dead - "Walk with Me" and "Killer Within"

Last time we visited AMC's The Walking Dead, things all seemed to be falling into place. Rick and our sturdy band of survivors had secured themselves a safe home base in the prison, and even succeeded in saving Hershel's life. Only Michonne and Andrea were truly left in a state of utter and complete doubt. Even the writing of the show had reached a new height; a delightful, potent, minimalist near perfection. In "Walk with Me" and "Killer Within" the writing gets even stronger. The story twists in pleasing, thought-provoking and complicated new ways. Unfortunately, that means the peace for our characters is once more irrevocably disturbed. And this time, pardon my callousness to previous events in the series, the death toll is far more heartbreaking.

Walk with Me

"Walk with Me" does a beautiful thing. It demonstrates the maturity and creativity of the writing staff by introducing The Governor and bringing back Merle, while never forcing them to cross paths arbitrarily with Rick and the survivors. For one episode, we see the world through only Michonne and Andrea's eyes. The decision creates a sort of newness that the show was missing. No matter how much we love Rick, Daryl, T-Dog, Carol, Hershel, Glen and the rest, we have also spent a little too much time together. Viewers want to see more of the picture, especially in a world that is so different from the one in which we live. The zombie apocalypse loses some effect when it means we only watch the constant suffering of a single group. So, "Walk with Me" opens with a helicopter crash.

The crash, proof that others are alive, shows that all is not lost. Confusion, though, rages through camps and groups all over Georgia, at least. The Governor appears while picking through the helicopter with a group, and that's when we're reintroduced to Merle. What's exciting is that "Walk with Me" introduces a new world, a sort of parallel universe. The Governor has a town, full of followers, that he treats as much like a society as a model train set. He will defend this thing with all costs, but his ruthlessness is boundless. And by the end of "Walk with Me" we know exactly what kind of man he is. And do you know why? Because the writing team spent an entire episode creating him, playing him off of a couple people we know (and not the cynical, world-weary Rick, but the more trusting Andrea). That's a service. That's the biggest proof that The Walking Dead is coming back strong.

Killer Within

In "Killer Within" we only receive a few asides and glimpses of The Governor's secret personal dystopia. Instead, we're back with the usual team. But the cold open is one of the most tense and well thought opens the show has ever done. A mysterious stranger, from within the prison, sabotages Rick and the gang's hard work, opening them up to an attack. What's better is that the attack takes almost 15 minutes to happen. We see the sabotage, but even I had moments thinking that maybe the open was a flash-forward... I was effectively lulled into a state of comfort. When the first horde starts coming up, toward a walking-with-crutches-and-still-weak Hershel, I thought I knew what was coming.

I did not. T-Dog goes down. And perhaps most tragically, Laurie, in child birth and then at the zombification-preventing hand of her son, Carl. But, the tension. My god, the tension. This show finally found a setting that worked for it. The early episodes, nestled in the skyscrapers and tight spaces of Atlanta, were tense because there was no where to turn, despite all the shelter. The prison is even better, flooded with darkness, and growling alarms, it's clear that there's no where to go. The writers gave Rick and the survivors strength to start the year. Then they gave them shelter. And now, in one swoop both were taken in the most brutal way possible. This show is good, again. And only getting better.
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The Walking Dead - "Seed" and "Sick"

My personal love-hate relationship with AMC's The Walking Dead is well-chronicled in this space. Every bit of cache and artistic license the series earned in its spectacular first season was quickly spent in the second. Of course, even Season 2 had its high points, hinging entirely on the plotlines involving Shane and Rick's decaying friendship/relationship. The tension and brooding and carefully plotted losses of innocence throughout Season 2 were powerful, but not enough to redeem an off-balance, dialogue-overloaded mess that always felt inconsistent, preachy, chaotic (in the worst way), and insecure (as in not sure of itself, rather than the expected insecurity of a zombie apocalypse).

To redeem Season 2 some more before we move on, let's observe The Walking Dead through the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief. Season 1 focuses on Stage 1: Denial. We watch Rick try to find civilization, going to great lengths to find the humanity that he believes must still exist ("This isn't happening everywhere!"). The initial survivor group bonds and lives life almost exactly as they would on a camping trip, until the fateful attack. They go to the CDC hoping for a cure, or a solution. Society for the survivors still exists in Season 1. They're in denial. Season 2, we transition to Stage 2: Anger. While still trying to deny the reality, by taking refuge on Hershel's farm, who is himself locked in Stage 1, anger emerges among the survivors. Shane's anger overwhelms him, he exists Denial, and lands firmly in Crazy. Rick's anger releases in small bursts that slowly remove his Denial and his humanity. The reason Season 2 was so mediocre, was because only Shane and Rick made the jump to Anger. Everyone else kept coping with denial in an endless loop.

In Season 3, at least through episode 1 and 2, "Seed" and "Sick" respectively, Rick is firmly in Bargaining mode (Stage 3) and the rest of the group wavers between that, Anger, and Depression. In "Seed" Rick leads the group in an efficient, steady attack and clearing of a prison, their new chosen home for strategic purposes. Rick is no longer denying that his situation with Lori, or that of the world, is something that can be fixed. Instead, he's willingly risking his life, and the lives of his people, to make the steps he sees necessary to reaching a safe place for Stage 5: Acceptance. Is he in Denial because he believes he can still keep them safe? No. Rick is running on instinct now. If something happens to someone, like Hershel, he's not thinking anymore, he's not weighing options, he's not hoping for the best. He's just making executive decisions, like leg removal. It's not about people anymore, it's about survival, or not, but it won't be about hope.

Rick's new mindset is even more evident in "Sick." He takes out two survivor prisoners, and while there's a moment when he appears to feel about it coming to this, he does it without negotiation. His mind is made up. The world is shit. Other people are shit. His only job is to make sure that as many of his people die of old age as possible. Beyond that, there is no bargaining. But Rick's not the only reason that The Walking Dead Season 3 is starting so well. He's not even the main reason. The key is in the writing. For most of "Seed," no one speaks. And "Sick" while more dialogue-heavy, is still light by Season 2 standards. Why's that important? Well, in a world when humanity is dwindling and dying out, language becomes a precious commodity. In a world when making noise can lead to your demise, language becomes a dangerous commodity. The bottom line is that no one needs to talk anymore. They all realize that they're not talking their way out of it. Language is a tool of peace. Communication is something we do daily because we're not fighting. In a world that's all fighting, there's no point in pleasantries, philosophizing, or expressing your dreams.

As Season 3 advances, the previews have already shown a world with more civilization and more conversation, but hopefully it will be as spare and careful as the words in these first episodes. I'll be back in two weeks with more. Go watch the show(s).
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Shameless Self-Promotion: The Devious Crump

Announcing, possibly the greatest mixed-media children's book available in digital formats for people of all ages created by me, Gas Lantern's Nate Ragolia: The Devious Crump is a picture story, told in stunning words and images. Originally finished in 2009 - 2010, this beautiful little tale is available now in iTunes, Nook Bookstore and Lulu.com for only $5.99. It tells of the titular Devious Crump, a squat, pointy little monster that hypnotizes people and animals to steal from them. He's a mischievous little bugger. All seems well and good in the Crump's friendless, thieving little world until the day he tries to steal flowers from Jean Elamoo and discovers that not only is she immune to his magic, swirling eyes, disguises and tricks, but she also hides a secret that could lead the Crump to his untimely demise. Oh what will become of that Devious Crump?

Normally, I'd shy away from writing about outside creative projects, but the Crump is something that I'm quite proud of, and hope to share with readers who love original, off-kilter art, and a cute, storybook-style narrative. I submit it for your digestion and hopeful approval. Check out some pages from the book below, and consider giving it a shot. Or, maybe just passing it along to a child-ful family near you. Thank you, and I promise I will never promote in this space again... until there's something new to promote. ;)

All words and images Copyright Nate Ragolia 2009 - 2012
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Why the Superhero Resurgence in Film and Culture has Everything to do with our Unstable World

In the last 10 years, beginning with Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man, the U.S. cinema scene has thrived on reboots, redesigns, launches and adaptations of comic book superhero stories. Batman Begins reimagined the Batman franchise, and via Christopher Nolan's genius, the Dark Knight Saga has completely altered the way that comic book movies are held in popular culture. These are no longer films for children, or for a fringe set of basement-dwelling, sun-allergic nerds, these are films for families, for dates, for everyone in equal portion. Marvel's Iron Man came out in 2008. There were two Maguire Spider-Man sequels. Then Thor, Captain America, and this Summer's phenomenal The Avengers. There were three Incredible Hulks, a pair of Fantastic Four flops, Green Lantern, Daredevil, Elektra, and an abysmal Catwoman. Oh, and Punisher, Ghost Rider, and all those X-Men films, et al. All in all, this decade of superhero films has been 50/50, as any group of similar films will be considering the issue of true directorial talent. In 10 years, there have been nearly 30 superhero movies released, a substantial spike.

Of course, part of the interest is the age of the viewing audience. More people who attend movies, and are willing to pay theatre prices are in their late-20s, 30s and 40s, and grew up with comic books as a standard personal entertainment staple. There's also technology available now to make comic book special effects possible, without relying on animation alone, or on the hokey cut-and-paste overlays of the '70s and '80s. But these factors aside, superhero cinema is actually just a stand-in for the traditional action flick. Like Rambo and Die Hard and Lethal Weapon before them (all products of the mystery and fear of the Cold War), these superhero films exist as a sort of adventurous safety blanket for an America that remains unsure about itself, its future and role in the world.

Since 2001, this country has become less and less sure of itself. The world is different. The globe is different. But, superheroes represent a constant, simple, wonderful struggle: Good vs. Evil. While we cannot get clear answers about who the good guys and bad guys are in our real world, we can escape to a place where those answers are clear cut, appropriately costumed, and scored and lit for effect. Even a complex character like Batman provides us with no real question as to who is good and who is bad. We might question motivations for those actions, but the side to root for is clear. Spider-Man makes that even easier, with a cartoonier, softer hand. And then when we arrive to an epic like The Avengers, well we just love the exhilaration of knowing that no matter how bad shit gets in the fictional world, a band of good guys with the answers will clean it up and everything will be fine.

Captain America with its self-aware patriotism drove that very point home, though I don't know how deeply it resonated with all audiences. When our backs are up against the wall, either literally, or just philosophically, we need a hero, and we love to imagine that there's a magical Answer-Man out there who will look, smirk, and charge head-long into our problems. We know, at our core, that there is no easy answer. That scares the shit out of us. The idea that problems are so complex that no one person could solve them, even with superpowers, is a devastating one, but it's the truth. Superheroes are our national answer to the complexities of international relations. We should be able to look forward to years of reboots and rewrites and relaunches. There will be another Flash, and 100 more Wolverine movies, ending with Hugh Jackman shuffling in robe and slippers, Admantium claws at the ready, down the mutant nursing home hallway, and I look forward to it. In a scary world, the best gift we can make ourselves is the gift of joy.

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Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits

If you were as sad as I was to hear that Wolf Parade was no more AND if you were devastated with the Meh and Blah natures of Spoon's Transference, then I have a delicious vial of snake oil that will cure what ails you and turn your privates into your own personal ideal. (Hey we don't make judgements as to what privates are the best privates around here.) Divine Fits! This new super-group, at least in indie circles, features Britt Daniel, icon voice of Spoon, Dan Boeckner formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and Sam Brown drummer of the New Bomb Turks. The result is an album A Thing Called Divine Fits that perfectly walks the line between Spoon and Wolf Parade. Both Daniel and Boeckner hit the mic. And both the syncopated, ratcheting quality of Spoon and the dissonant, rumbling, scratching guitars of Wolf Parade live in harmony.

"My Love Is Real" is incredible and "What Gets You Alone" washes with feedback while marching at high speed. "Would That Not Be Nice" hearkens back to Girls Can Tell. The chaotic, synthy "The Salton Sea" may not be instantly pleasurable, but infuses each writer's weirder leanings. Not the best track on the album, but as a centerpiece, it breaks the album up well. "Baby Get Worse" channels Apologies to the Queen Mary. It's really fucking good. Like, dampen your previously mentioned perfect privates good. And both gents sing on it. The acoustic "Civilian Stripes" is another beautiful anthem, potent and thoughtful in its lyrics, but even more poignant in its simplicity and clarity.

A Thing Called Divine Fits brings two unique, instantly identifiable, and brilliant singer/band leaders together. The result is a complete, quality and instantly lovable album. The side-effects include some phenomenal harmonies between two notably strange singing voices, and a healthy dose of straight rock that works well with strange, experimental, elaborate arrangements and odd instrumentations. All this fancy talk really just goes back to what was noted previously. This album is so good it will dampen your private parts, priming them for the ultimate pleasure. And it's music to your ears too. (The album streams below. Listen to it. Wait. Listen. To. It. Thank you.)

- Nate Ragolia

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On Stage: The Book of Mormon

That's right, yesterday, due to the civil and delightful sharing of my buddy Chris, I saw The Book of Mormon, live on stage in Denver's little Broadway, the DCPA. I entered this show with high expectations, largely fueled by the generally exceptionally high opinion of the show shared by reviewers and fellow viewers. I was only partially, like less than partially cloudy, more like scarcely, disappointed. The performance, which hits all the usual South Park marks of swearing, satire, well-meaning-but-misguided-people-doing-something-absurd-and-offensive, and careful jokes about AIDS, is enjoyable throughout, and/but, it also fills a traditional musical role easily and somewhat un-daringly. It is limited by its medium, and by the stage and time-constraints, but The Book of Mormon doesn't challenge "the musical" the way one might expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In a season in which I've seen The Addams Family musical and Bring It On! the musical, The Book of Mormon doesn't feel radically different. It differentiates itself primarily on the dialogue and lyrics, but that's where the challenge seems most to end.

The songs are good, but not great, and the traditional musical style compositions/standards tone breaks only for two excellent scenes: The "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" which rocks out to show not only some hilarious contrasts in what Hell could be and the Hell Mormons conceive of, but also to demonstrate that an electric guitar solo is probably the most religiously threatening musical act man can create; and "Joseph Smith American Moses" wherein a play-within-the-play occurs (likening The Book of Mormon immediately to Hamlet) and the cast plays themselves playing themselves catering to a visiting Mormon leader. Otherwise, the songs are very traditionally "musical," which is by no means a bad thing, but considering Parker and Stone's history of bringing similar music to South Park, there was part of me that expected them to push it a little more, to be more clearly self-aware of singing, or the obvious narrative structure.

There's also some epic allusions to the nerdiest of pop culture references, especially well done because they make allusions to different (vague as not to spoil) behaviors themselves. The dreamy, voice-over fueled opening sequences that set the stage with a little historical information on Mormonism was great. They satirical challenge of missionary work, spreading religion to foreign lands, and racism were potent and well-created. But the play felt unbalanced, and perhaps this is just a complication with the medium that I'm now noticing, in that the first half was both more challenging to the standard form and slower in pace, while the second half was expeditious and less daring (aside, of course, from the "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream".) It's not laugh-all-the-time-until-you-cry-and-ejaculate funny, but it is exceptionally well done. As an introduction to Broadway and theater, it is palatable for all people familiar with, but not addicted to, South Park. Perhaps that means Parker and Stone's next play will push the limits further, as they've demonstrated with the show. If they do, the lines for that play will be longer and even more rabid.
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5 Songs About Abstinence

Music, by its nature a passionate performance of rhythm and vocalization often finds sex, as its subject matter, whether overtly or obliquely. For a bit of fun, I decided to try to find some songs about abstinence. Of course, as noted above, there's something absurd about creating a song about abstinence because music is an art form. Art has always been inspired by beauty, and one of the most direct, universal forms of human beauty lies in sex. Most of music is about coupling. Most musicals are about coupling. And while in many cases, the direct subject of sex may not come up, that doesn't mean that the allusion is there. So, let's look at 5 songs about the opposite of sex.

5 Songs About Abstinence

  1. "Abstinence" by Temple of Venus - Actually a quality track by the British pseudo-prog-pop act. This song captures the feeling of thirst that abstinence likely creates, as well as the potentially connected depression. Slow, sullen vocals take their time with every lyric because, well, if you're already waiting on one thing, why rush the music too?
  2. "Feu d'Abstinence" by Suarez - There are a surprising number of songs about abstinence by French acts. This one, another break up style track, is a classic bit of joyous, jangly propositioning. In breathy lines, Suarez's protagonist seeks to break down the abstinence wall between him and his love. It's pretty sharp, a sweet, childlike and honest request to "go all the way." It just sounds better because it's in French.
  3. "Addicted to Abstinence" by Sodom - The thrash/black metal German trio spends most of the song evoking the rending of viscera and the frailty of the body. In a harried two minutes plus, Sodom lists numerous other ways that one can be penetrated, violated, opened, split or spill fluids, sprinkling the title lyrics in as the chorus. For Sodom, it seems that an addiction to abstinence leads to homicidal, destructive tendencies. They could be right...
  4. "Abstinence Redux" by Cindy Cornelsen - This comedic little bit takes direct charge at stories that kids at the Saddleback Church who began having anal sex to avoid losing their virginity to vaginal intercourse. The song never approaches a form of commentary, and it's not particularly funny, but the school-age sound and chipper Disney songbird-esque vocals add to the fun.
  5. "Abstinence" by Talein - This is the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner find of my search. Evangelical Christian R&B artist Talein doesn't even bother to tell a story about what having sex could do to a child. Oh no, instead, she goes straight at it with a clinical gym-teacher-awkwardly-saying-chlamydia inflection. After explaining what bad comes from sex, Talein turns the song into a bland one-sided argument that if you have sex you will have abandoned God, and that demons will inhabit your soul. It's beautifully alarmist and absurd. And it was released in 2010.
 And here they are in embedded form! Enjoy!

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Vices I Admire - 2012 Sampler

First, an apology is in order. I was out on a long whirlwind trip to see relatives, including my elderly (95) grandfather. Those trips always remind of a few things. Thing One: We do not choose our family, but we love them anyway. Thing Two: There's something valuable about the idea of living a long life, but I wonder how much we obsess over the idea when we're younger, forgetting that those people who have reached "long life" might not be as happy as we believe they should be. Thing Three: I have a very nice life of my own that is worth enjoying for every single second of it. In any case, I have been away from this space for a little while, focusing on the comic, but I will never let Gas Lantern go because the music means so much to me. Also, it has afforded me some great inside tracks to incredible bands like Vices I Admire.

With hints of The Killers, but with Hot Fuss lyrical coherence throughout, Vice I Admire is a hidden gem. To boot, they're from Denver, my incredible home city. In short, this band fucking kills at everything. In a song like "Sweetest Girl" David Curtis's vocals growl while giving away a bit of vulnerability that makes the lusty narrative and Madonna/Whore complex story depth. Mickey Dollar on guitar shreds beautifully, angrily and sensually at once, and Dan Battenhouse's bass lines are hearty, driving, and leading. The drumming via Mark Towne, create a controlled chaos that's brain-rattling and energizing. This is driving music. This is also Queens of the Stone Age/Foo Fighters/so much more. "Kiss Kiss" sounds dangerous, but never lost of its pop sensibilities. Whispered backing vocals create a call-and-response that's haunting. The crawling guitars frighten and entice.

The band, according to their website, met at CSU up in Fort Collins, but this point, today in 2012 may well define them the most. They are Colorado's next big act. They just are. The music is refined and potent. These songs will stick in your head. They will make you move. They aren't cock rock, they aren't stadium rock, they are super-garage rock, vibrant and fiery. There are even shades of Prince in songs like "Heartbreaker." And the potent rattling march of "It Is" can give way to a more casual, softer feeling too. I hate to make broad declarations about music, but there's really no downside here. You'll find male confusion, sexuality, loss of self, rediscovery, powerful calls for revolution, and all of it with perfectly crafted melodies and arrangements. They get heavy and a little overwrought in places. "Poor Boy" felt a little too frantic, but amid the rest of the mix, it's not a failure, but a digression.

Holy shit. Listen to it here. Then think about offering Vices I Admire something and buying it.

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Band to Watch: Marmalade Sky

Bristol, UK's Marmalade Sky blends the rocking frustration of The Hives, The Kinks, and subtle hints of art/post-punk outfit Art Brut. They specialize in inflammatory, declarative lyrics and raging, infectious, crunchy guitars. As a result, Marmalade Sky captures the frustrations and volatile energy of youth well. The dirty, unadorned arrangements and compositions are fuel, as much as entertainment, for outcries against spurned love and homogenization of culture. The band also lashes out for complete cultural upheaval in "Rebelling Voices," but lyrics somehow the lyrics here are little too on-the-nose. They do their best work when the messages are more subtle, as in "Showmen" and "Work Till I Die." In both cases, a truly addictive riff, and catchy melody elevates the songs to what they seem to want to be, a sort of fiery post-punk. Both of those are anthems, and good ones. Damn good ones. With "Rebelling Voices" the anthem is there, but it seems too intentional, written to be something, rather than a powerful outburst.

That said, Marmalade Sky comprising Dan Warren (vocalist), Luke Mayo (guitar, vocalist), George Shelton (rhythm guitar), Mike Wilcox (bass guitar) and Jay Ham (drums) has some excellent, at times tongue-in-cheek insight to offer as well. The great "British Boy" is a lyrical masterpiece with vaguely Smiths-esque irony infused. Two versions are available on the band's SoundCloud page, and of the two, I favor the acoustic, where the lyrics resonate longer and the instrumentation is more lush and divergent. "Shaking Bars" is another winner, and the vocals really shine, with rowdy, stilted affectations. It's pure rock and roll. The kind that creates a combination desire to create and destroy... or more simply, fuck and fight. "I'm A Fool" is more power-pop and very reminiscent of the Kinks' stuff in the '60s. It's simple, direct and bold in the way that bold was bold before envelopes were pushed to great perimeters of explicitness. Really, it's refreshing.

Watch this band. Check out the videos embedded above, and hit up Marmalade Sky's SoundCloud page. Heck, "like" them on Facebook while you're at it. If they keep creating new music, some really, really cool shit is going to happen.
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Maudlin Magpie - Two Maple Keys

With shades of Bright Eyes, Denver's Maudlin Magpie's album Two Maple Keys opens with a somber, self-aware, story-telling hush. "The Garden" is an ornate, quiet track that feels like Spring or Autumn, a season when life is coming from nothing or beginning to resign itself to an end. As an opener it serves as an introduction, first to singer Jason Horodyski's voice, and second to an album wide tone that's poetic, beautiful and at times devastating.

Not to worry, things get brighter, louder and more lush over the course of these thirteen tracks. Importantly, even as the sound increases in volume and complexity, it never loses its intimacy. This is not a stadium rock album, nor is it even a stadium folk album (think later-career Neil Young sans Crazy Horse), but it's not as easily reductive as a coffee shop album either. Maudlin Magpie feels close, physically and emotionally. There's is a sound of Simon and Garfunkel, purposeful and lost at the same time. Don't confuse "lost" for a failure here: it's a point of success. Where bands like Fleet Foxes create epic, sweeping, brief narratives that feel sent down beside the unattainable manna of Heaven, Maudlin Magpie is very much of this earth.

"A Faint Light" exhibits incredible harmonies with Horodyski and Robin Walker whispering melancholy to one another. "Sunrise Cafe" has a similar elegance. In fact, Two Maple Keys is a treatise on elegance. Even as its quiet, philosopher's tone may discourage some, it's a soundtrack for the thoughtful person. If you imagine yourself walking through the rain, with the sun barely breaking through the thick clouds, soaked but smiling, that's the feeling this album creates. "The Wind-Up Bird" plays that role perfectly, contemplating time and space and life, but the highlight of the album for me is "Naomi's Song," a brilliant piece of call-and-response reminiscent of Stars.

At times fiery, but often beautiful reserved, Two Maple Keys is as much a book of poetry as an album. These songs would best accompany the aforementioned rain storm, or a nice quiet living room of friends with a bottle of whiskey as the centerpiece. The arrangements are gorgeous and often haunting. The vocals are smooth with subtle jagged edges that elucidate a quiet underlying urgency. And there's a lot of heart here, bleeding, pumping, fighting to live and love. If you aren't listening to this, you should be.

There is a release party for this album on Saturday July 14 here in Denver.
You can listen to the album via ReverbNation, here.
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ZAHAR - Untitled EP

Technically, this is a collection of tracks performed by a high school friend of mine. Honestly, it's really well done. ZAHAR is a genius of intellectual, poetic rock that builds from simple guitar riffs and plunking progressions into a sort of furious anger and emotion that's undeniable. This collection has shades of Weezer's power pop moments, the grinding force of Led Zeppelin's most heavy songs, and elements of speed metal. It's a hard music to truly qualify. Finding a name for it that isn't reductive is the most difficult task. ZAHAR weaves so many elements together, creating genuine pop melodies covered with blade-loaded armor plating. Since this isn't an official album, or even an official release in the traditional, "My album dropped" sense, it's a compilation that requires notice. Either way, these songs will rile you up. And you won't be sitting around after you've heard them. Word has it, there will be more songs coming up soon, too.

Check it out here: https://feedbands.com/zahar
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Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots A UFO

Really, our friend from the It's A Thing! podcast, one Mr. Jared Horney should be writing this review. I am aware of, at times love, and often enjoy the work of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices (henceforth, GBV), but Jared is an expert. He has regaled me with tales of Alien Lanes, explained the band's unique origins, defended and decried Robert Pollard's prolific ubiquity, but most of all he has shared his continuous passion for this band with me time and time again. GBV is the consummate indie band (Pavement aside). They used Lo-Fi because they had to, not for an aesthetic. It has led us down some interesting paths. A year ago, I gifted Jared a Robert Pollard card (on his Facebook wall) wherein Pollard exclaims, "I've been guided by voices to wish you a Happy Birthday." Pod-comrade Mikey recently created an amazing Game of Thrones throne of swords parody image featuring Pollard atop a throne of liquor bottles for Jared as well. This is the kind of fandom, not fanaticism, we're talking about.

Jared should be writing this review. I know that I love me some GBV, specifically the numerous times that Pollard struck gold. However, I find myself less interested in the times when he strikes only granite. I am not a staunch defender of the catalog, but I do love the work ethic. Hell, I envy it. I have olde school Bible sinned because of how much I wish I was like Robert Pollard. Oh well. With Class Clown Spots A UFO, the band's second reunion album of this year, we receive a bounty of 21 new songs. That makes 42 this year, which may actually be a sign of a slow down for GBV, but then, who's counting. On Class Clown Pollard's voice is more clearly at the forefront. The songs are peppy, poppy, and energized. This is some of GBV's best work, actually. The title track is exceptional. "Keep It In Motion" and "Billy Wire" are both wonderful. And it's only with a few minor exceptions, 2 - 4 perhaps, that Class Clown represents a must-have album, for indie rock lovers and GBV fans. The '60s vibe of "Starfire" is enough to sell you right there.

But there's a problem. A minor one. But one that is ALWAYS a problem for GBV. The songs are great, but often too short. And that means you barely get a taste before they're over. It's, at times, like listening only to the previews of the tracks. This is what Pollard does. It's the cost of admission. We accept it because we cannot NOT accept it. Still, Class Clown feels like an appetizer often. A really fucking good one. Maybe it would be too rich to eat as a meal. Maybe that's the issue. There's such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Check out Class Clown Spots A UFO below via Spotify:

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Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Yeah, I put the whole title up there. Beat that, various media outlets. Anyway, from now on, I'll refer to Fiona Apple's new album only at The Idler Wheel... as is the style at the time. Apple's first album since 2005's Extraordinary Machine came highly anticipated. That anticipation was bolstered by her NPR interview in which her eccentric genius finds oratory crescendo in simple answers about her creative process. She says, I'll paraphrase, that she doesn't have a plan; she just writes music when music happens. It's the ideal of a young person wishing for the muse to motivate them. Muses' existence aside, The Idler Wheel... delivers. It's a casual, dark and chaotic collection that pushing the boundaries of experimentation while still maintaining Apple's signature sexual growling vocals and jazz-informed piano.

Apple feels a bit symbiotic with Annie Clark's St. Vincent here. And they've followed a similar career trajectory, though Clark's to less popular renown. Both artists tapped into a new style, a new way of approaching a traditional medium. Apple changed jazz and the Lilith Fair-style lady-rock that was waxing and waning in the last half of the 1990s. Clark took a guitar-centric indie scene and flipped rock over, infusing it with dark tales, divine haunting nightmares of sound, and lyrical directness. Both Apple and Clark managed to keep their pop sensibilities too. The point of this aside though, is that Apple has cultivated a similar dark place to Clark. At times, The Idler Wheel... feels like a dangerous, demonic music box, chiming away pleasantly while planning your demise when you turn your back.

Apple has always been a mature and direct lyricist. And that hasn't changed either. There are no wispy metaphors or dances. Apple belts "I don't wanna talk about anything!" in "Johnathan," a song where Apple wants to dispense with discussion and just be with the titular man. The Idler Wheel... is dangerously exceptional. It is indirect. It is at times, on the first listen, disarming and abusive. But it grows on you like a fine, beautiful ivy or Virginia Creeper. If we have to wait this long for Fiona Apple to hear her muse again, it will be a hard wait, but with these results, it's one of undeniable value.

Listen here via Spotify:
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Notable Text: The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

When are we most ourselves? Chuck Klosterman's The Visible Man proposes that the sole deciding factor is whether or not we are alone. In the text, Klosterman's antagonist/protagonist/mouthpiece called only Y__, espouses a theory that boils down to say: Who we really are is who we never show to the world. It's an intriguing take on the Jean-Paul Sartre philosophy of Existentialism, specifically as demonstrated in his play No Exit. For Y__ and The Visible Man, "Hell is other people" is the utter, complete, scientific truth. Only when we are alone can we be ourselves. The complication, of course, comes because Y__ uses a sort of cloaking technology to observe people in their own homes* when they are alone and "actualized." Klosterman is careful, extremely, to avoid giving us too much insight into the way the cloaking works or even what we're supposed to take from the philosophy that Y__ pushes on counselor Victoria Vick through a series of phone and in-person therapist visits. Most of the time that careful cloaking of the truth within the text works wonderfully, but at other times it detracts from the essential pace and satisfaction-factor of the story. As a result, The Visible Man feels a lot like an essay collection by Mr. Klosterman, full of digressions that are on and off point, some completely analogous, but always elegantly worded. And there's the pop culture references, too. Natch.

The concept and its essential components make this book a quick read. I won't deny that it took less than a week to read, and I found myself in marathon sessions just foaming to find out what would happen next. Y__ spies on, "studying," a few people and each of these short stories, essentially those of watching people in their natural habitats like animals and remarking on their behaviors, were excellent. Klosterman takes his time, crafting lush, but not overly dramatic or overly mundane pictures of real lives. There's the lonely single guy who leaves work just to go home and do nothing on the internet all night. There's a girl who exercises all the time. A boy who talks philosophy with his friends. And more. In a way, it feels like a Richard Linklater film on par with Waking Life, where nothing happens, but through observation and contemplation we learn a lot. Except, in The Visible Man, a lion is occasionally set free into the scene, completely surprising the contemplative characters within, and destroying lives. It's really incredibly suspenseful and complex in a delightful way.

The wheels come off because of the direction Klosterman chooses to take the narrative. Seemingly only because the book could never end without some kind of forced change of course, Klosterman's Vick begins to fall for Y__ and vice versa. It's cliche, and we know that Klosterman knows that it is, but the cliche never becomes self-aware, beyond acknowledging itself. And rather than being a choice red herring, it drives the final pages of the book. Endings are important, and The Visible Man didn't go to a place that agreed with its initial tone. What starts as a thorough, thoughtful case study-cum-thriller becomes bogged down in half-hearted romance and rushed actions and explanations. The excellence and darkness written into the first 3/4 is definitely enough to demand reading this book, and perhaps disappointment won't strike every reader the way it did with me, but as with any mystery (and this novel is one), there's great risk in resolution, no matter what it is.

*I believe there's a section in Klosterman's Killing Yourself To Live, or another of his essay collections, in which he talks about his habit of looking into other people's places, specifically when he had an apartment that looked into one of a young woman. He mentions that he's not a voyeur, but that he is just fascinated by how people live in very patterned ways. It felt, to me, to be the essence of this story.
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Words On Film: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's highly-anticipated new flick Moonrise Kingdom is, as several people have summed it up, "a gateway to fall back in love with Wes Anderson." The director known for stylized costuming, colorful sets, and innovative shot selection, doesn't win with this movie because of any of those things. Sure, they help, but what makes Moonrise Kingdom special lies in its heart. Anderson had that heart in full form in The Royal Tenenbaums, where aging patriarch Gene Hackman reconnects with his family and with his ability to love and live fully. Personal growth and acceptance, the regaining of self-esteem and humanity underline every aspect of that film, covering love and life and death in heavy, but never heavy-handed doses. That ideal fell off some with the The Life Aquatic, getting stuck behind style. And while it came back in force with The Darjeeling Limited, it wasn't quite the same. And it was more confined to the REAL problems of adults, which, let's face it, we're more and more reticent to face on film since we have to face them ourselves.

With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson does something amazing. He shows us that as kids we strive to be adults, and as adults we forget what it's like to be kids... with the exception of the Khaki Scouts leaders. Sam and Suzy spend most of the movie acting the way they think they would if they were grown ups. Their experiences together are framed by their desire to be in love and to be treated like people, rather than children. Even the film's one major action sequence is framed by children trying to be what they think adults are like. Boys pretending to be men. But then, isn't that what a Scout organization is all about. It's an excuse to stop playing and start "surviving" even when in either case the root of it is human experience and intuition. So, as Anderson's child characters are busy reaching toward their perception of adulthood, all the adults are miserable in their own ways.

Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand all have their own kinds of misery predicated on their focus on their perceptions of adulthood. Being career focused, being lost in love but dedicated to another, being browbeaten and being responsible for leadership but complete unsure about how to go about it. Essentially, the adults are the kids, but they don't know it. The kids want to be adults and they shouldn't. Instead, our wonderful cast of brilliantly designed and written characters battle what they know to be right. Love. It's love that drives this film, both of the other and of the self. And Wes Anderson's underlying message seems to be, love each other, and more importantly, never stop being a kid. Kids follow what they want. Kids are actualized. Kids even pretend to adults that are more interesting than actually being an adult could ever be.

See this film. Don't miss it.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #19 - "The New Sterility"

Oh that's right, Mikey got married and that means something amazing! New digs for the It's A Thing! studio. Are they in an abandoned supply closet that's porpoise-adjacent? No. Not really. But yes. Turns out that they use this here podcast to promote chastity in Catholic nuns. Who's cool now, Minnesota Archdiocese? But if you thought this show was gonna start low joke wise and get higher, imagine this: A great Kraken of shellfish madness released from the briny deep of Mikey's ass. But don't worry, those were noble revenge farts. And if you listen you can find out why! And how! There are tunes by the epic Japandroids, The Police, and other stuff Mikey has heard while doing domestic things. In his backyard. If you're wondering what to do with birds, go no further. The Clash makes an appearance too. Jared talks about walking around. And how the right soundtrack creates a strut in your step, and how people with GIANT GOLD SHOES tend to clump more than strut. Also, don't miss the joke about Mikey's latest ailment. It's a doozy.

And that's right, I'm listening (I'm Nate) but are you? (Well, if you get that reference at all, then you did, or are, so it's almost as if I'm talking to you from BEYOND THE GRAVE*!)

*None of us is currently dead. Sorry for scaring you.

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Amerigo Gazaway - "Rosebud"

Adept and politically charged hip-hop artist Amerigo Gazaway has a frank, honest and direct way with his lyrics. I brought you his anthem for the Occupy movement in this space a few months ago, and now he has tackled a far more delicate, far more divisive (sadly) issue. Gazaway offers up this tribute to Trayvon Martin. It's title is "Rosebud." Despite the sadness and really unbelievable mindfuckery attached to the incidents in Florida, this track serves up the same honesty and clarity. Sure, there's anger there. With due cause. And there's a lot of sadness there too. But most of all, Gazaway's incorporation of Sharon Van Etten, and his powerful reference, comparing Martin's young death to the life he could have lived through Orson Welles'  "Citizen Kane" is impeccable. It's a sad song, an angry one, and a good one. Watch the video.

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New Hands - "Tulips"

Hamilton, Ontario's New Hands is a band to watch. Their new track "Tulips," currently available for a listen through their bandcamp site, is a delightfully glitchy, charm fest blending some of the ornate character of Beirut with the full sound of better known electronic bands like Crystal Castles and Caribou. The wistful, dark, but never depressing track expresses itself through stout, aggressive beats, atmospheric cymbals and brilliant echoes. And above all else the track has that strong catchiness that allows any band to catch fire. Take a listen below, then visit their various points of web presence below.

Be sure to check out "This I've Heard," below in the SoundCloud box, and then check out the rest of their channel.

This I've Heard by New Hands

New Hands on Twitter, on the Facebook, on SoundCloud.
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Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

The time that has passed since the last post in this space is utterly, terrifyingly, digustingly lamentable. There's a crazy pile of excuses I can validly make, including blogging actively for the Beanstalk Foundation and moving. Still, it's time we get back to it.

So, in returning to GLMedia, let's talk about a piece of modern day nostalgia. In the school of Raphael Saadiq, Jamie Lidell and Mayer Hawthorne, a school predicated by musical appreciation of the past. This movement, I call it that because it extends across generations, is unique in that it changes incredibly every day while remaining the same. Lidell's soul crooning takes on a campy, sweet, but realistic vibe. Hawthorne injects a certain world-weary brutality into his aspect of this new-retro-rock-soul. Saadiq maintains the poppy fun of the style while bringing listeners to tears with stories of epic betrayal. And now, Michael Kiwanuka arrives on the scene with his debut album Home Again. Kiwanuka actually came to my ears via my pal Max during the end of last summer, when the artist had only a handful of EPs and sundry tracks and covers. And although this album is now two months old, it's definitely to be considered one of the MUST LISTEN albums of 2012.

See, Kiwanuka's approach to the new nostalgia is folksy, intricate, elaborate and lush. He is Bill Withers and Otis Redding gifted with incredible production and access to what feels at times like an infinite selection of backing players. Horns, strings, keys, guitar, drums... name an instrument and Kiwanuka puts it to exceptional use. There are waves of sound, giant Perfect Storm-style walls that roll and crash and splash over each and every track. And all the while, Kiwanuka's voice beautifully rolls out lines and phrases, like velvet wrapped in silk over a seal. (No, not Seal. A seal.) If you miss this album, you'll kick yourself. And it's on Spotify, so, c'mon. 

Key Tracks:

  • "I'm Getting Ready"
  • "Home Again"
  • "I Won't Lie"
  • "I'll Get Along"
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Beach House - Bloom

Even, if you're not familiar with Beach House, Baltimore's dream-pop super duo, there's a good chance you actually are. The band, whose incredible 2010 album Teen Dream, demonstrated the full realization of their carefully crafted, catchy melodies, and whispering, hazy style, caught light fire, meaning you probably heard it somewhere. Teen Dream was an album securely focused on the experiences of youth, whether love, joy, lust, passion, exclusion, depression, doubt or fear. The key with that album lay in the lyrics, dancing around specificity with elegant metaphors and carefully concocted moments of symmetry to entangled love and loss, friendship and ostracization in the ways they really exist. We seldom feel clearly in youth, as teens, and we rarely feel clearly in dreams. It's muddled, muddy, complex and confusing. And when I heard that album, as a 28 year-old, I was blown away.

Two years later, we receive, like some bountiful gift from the maritime home our National Aquarium, Beach House's newest, Bloom. The emphasis here is on growth and realization. The songs are lush and full, vibrant, growing into exploding poppies of color amid a stand of green bulbous soon-to-bes. The band's signature sound hasn't changed much, and that's a very, very good thing. Beach House manages to do what you want, what you expect, and thrill with every riff and progression. I couldn't have told you, when reading the announcement for this album a month ago, what I WANTED Bloom to sound like, but they delivered it. Perhaps it's a lucky commentary on the nature of music, that when we expect great things we are likely disappointed, but when we have a certain unconditional love for the artists, they deliver sans pressure. This Bloom far exceeds any version I could have imagined. It infuses, like a fine vodka, some more obvious tones of the 1980s, as so much of music does as we march toward the center of this new decade. But it's the mood that carries it, like with Teen Dream, which excelled at making you feel whether you broke down the lyrical poetry within or not, Bloom uses the vocals as an instrument not just a conveyance for cliches.

Bloom addresses love and loss, the drifting apart of friendships and more. But even as a few of the tracks near the end of the album mesh together and stand alone less, it's definitive Beach House. The sound can be very homogenous at times, but it's more about a mood than about separate tracks. It's a journey within the dreamy cloud of unclear, but entirely intense and wonderful feeling.

You can listen to Bloom through NPR's First Listen for a limited time. I suggest you do it.
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The Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch passed away today. It's a sad day, capping a sad week, with Junior Seau's death earlier. A moment of silence for a great musician and a contemporary genius of hip hop. I can't eulogize him properly... but Paste does a great job. (http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2012/05/adam-mca-yauch-1964-2012.html)

And now, my two favorite Beastie Boys' songs, and favorite tracks of my youth:

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10 Songs About Silence

In a sort of self-effacing nod to the lack of writing in this space over the last month, I thought it'd be fun to do a post featuring songs about silence. Of course, it seems like an immediate disagreement of terms to have a song, something inherently noisy and evocative, about the utter lack of sound. Luckily, the tracks below do a great job of capturing the unsettling nature of silence, and perhaps even the peaceful aspects, in their meandering strings of chords, vocals and beautiful tones. Since this is the Future, I've created a Spotify playlist featuring each of the songs I've mentioned, so feel free to listen along. Watch out, here comes the breakdown!

The List

  1. Simon and Garfunkel; "The Sound of Silence" - Let's start with the obvious shall we? While it's one of the most disputed songs, even finding the 42nd spot in Blender's "The 50 Worst Songs Ever" list, it set the tone for songs about quiet, and disquiet. Yes, it's a schmaltzy 20-something, "no one understands mine or the world's pain" track, but it's hard to argue it's impact on culture.  
  2. Depeche Mode; "Enjoy The Silence" - Again, here we are with a wanky song about silence, but one that's also insanely fun despite it's ultra-direct mopey approach to the subject. "The Mode" were at the top of their game on Violator
  3. Exitmusic; "The Silence" - The common theme among songs about silence is the tone and energy. We're not talking about uplifting stuff here. Still, Exitmusic's "The Silence" finds a way to be both lilting and complex, but also catchy, especially with a fondness-generating chorus filled with swelling guitar wails.
  4. Crystal Castles; "Year of Silence" - If you know Crystal Castles, and I know you do, you know that they're never silent, or even particularly downbeat. Even on "Year of Silence" the band creates a dense veil of sound so thick that you can't think through it. In a way, the song creates silence because it overwhelms all sound, but more on that in a bit...
  5. Pavement; "Silence Kit" - The post-Joe-Cocker doing "With A Little Help From My Friends" style in this cowbell thumping Pavement track is a red herring because the philosophical ilk of the songs lyrics is what touches most on the theme. It's a song about shutting out all the shit, and also demolishing music, and also... masturbating.
  6. John Cage; "4'33"" - The ultimate song of silence, Cage's exercise in listening to the environment and considering all things music chases the very thing I was hinting at with the Crystal Castles' track. In actually silence we hear too much, but with the fuzzy tone of Cage's experiment, we hear our thoughts and begin to question the very nature of listening, to music, and otherwise.
  7. PJ Harvey; "Silence" - This track takes a more traditional approach to the silence concept. Spare and delicate, Harvey crafts a poetic lyrical environment that's both tragic and beautiful. And it deals with the dark inside hope for silence, even among the world and people we love. Silence is freedom, and a prison.
  8. Matisyahu; "Silence" - I know, the titles are creative here. Matisyahu's slow, beautiful, strum-light song about quiet is one of the best to listen to when seeking a sense of peace. Like Harvey's (above) this "Silence" is its own environment, obsessed with destroying distractions and mistakes, to find a silent place of peace.
  9. Portishead; "Silence" - Another title that's right on the money. But Portishead's version of silence is the most haunting, and not in the emotional way. Instead, the vibe feels dark and ominous, even as the track slowly builds, there's an impending sense of doom. It's invigorating, but also terrifying. The beat is a build up and when it cuts out and the lyrics begin, there's no doubt that this silence is the worst kind of all.
  10. Mazzy Star; "Mary of Silence" - We'll end on a slightly more chipper note. Mazzy Star's "Mary of Silence" has a similar darkness, but this time it's much more sensual, sexy and dangerous in the good way. If something of the horror genre is about to happen, it's going to be in the seductive vampiress variety. Or a hot, sticky, sweaty drug trip.
Thanks for enjoying 10 Songs About Silence. Again, you can find the Spotify playlist here: Songs of Silence
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What's It Mean?: "Somebody That I Used To Know."

What's It Mean? may take off as something bigger, where we discuss the meanings of songs, and not the versions of explications that come from SongMeanings.com, etc. Let's get a little academic and have fun with it. But mostly, this idea is born from the insane popularity and over-play attached to the Gotye song "Somebody That I Used To Know." At its heart, the track seems to be a sad lament on lost love, and even if you Google around, you get some common theories that avatar Gotye is sad, and avatar Kimbra tells him that "they broke up for reason, so stop being hung up on me." The text is deeper than that, though, and far more sad.

Our main character, Gotye for all intents and purposes, is singing to an ex, about how she left him and now treats him like they never happened. He opens the song saying both that he "felt so happy [he] could die" in the previous relationship, but that he also felt "so lonely in your company" and that "that was love and it's an ache [he] still remembers." It's a complicated 4-line stanza. He's already establishing himself as an unreliable narrator. Gotye never really loves the woman he's singing to, and admits that without admitting it, right away. He was happy, but lonely, as if he was only really dating a simulacrum of a person to begin with. And the final line is an admission that love is imperfect, but that he has also idealized love to such an extent that it's a concept, rather than a dialog between two people. Right away, we can argue that Gotye's avatar here is unsympathetic, and perhaps a bit of headcase.

In Stanza #2, he ups the ante on these concepts. Love is "a certain type of sadness" that he becomes addicted to. It's a drug, not a dialog. It's a torture of sorts, like a lashing administered upon himself like he's an ascetic monk. And it was always "resignation," a sort of pathetic acceptance that he wasn't going to find someone else. We have to remember here that this is HIS perspective, so it's not objective. Now, imagine how you'd feel if your significant other said that they were resigned to be with you. That's shitty. That's being told, essentially, "I can't do any better, so oh well." It's a kick in the fucking teeth. And even as Gotye says that they decided they would still be friends, he's "glad that is was over." Those aren't the words of a sad man. Those are the callous words of someone who never loved where he was, and then has the terrible audacity to complain about how his actions led to equal and opposite reactions. It's a serious moment of psuedo-sociopathy.

When we break into the chorus, the catchy, wonderful chorus (And don't get me wrong, I love this song. It's beautiful, but I'm arguing, misunderstood.), Gotye cries out that while he didn't love her, and she made him sad and lonely and addictive, and don't forget, "resigned," that she didn't have to "cut [him] off" from her entirely. He doesn't want to be treated like a stranger, either, or to think that she changed her number, but there are two big things. First, why if you felt lonely, sad, addicted, and resigned, would you want to hear from that person again. And two, why are you calling someone about whom you can say such things. Maybe some would argue that love is that complex, and yes, I agree to a large part of that, but he should be SURPRISED. And that's the tone of chorus, pained surprise.

Then Kimbra stops by to offer the female perspective. She tells him how he "screwed [her] over" and left her obsessing that it was her fault. Clearly our protagonist is an asshole, or at least a case can be made that his callous interpretation of their relationship, combined with her frank heartbreak, means that he wasn't really in it at all, and isn't a good guy. The kicker comes when Kimbra sings the "You said that you could let it go/ And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know..." part. She's saying, right there, that Gotye's avatar was talking about his ex, before her, his previous ex, when she and him were together. He never let go of the woman before her, and it destroyed them. And now, he's repeating his destructive pattern of only loving the gone and unattainable, instead of loving the here and now. It's really difficult for me to even conceive of a case where Gotye's character is a good guy here. He seems at total fault. And frankly, it's devastating to consider that he'd get back out there and do the whole thing again to another woman.

Because he repeats the chorus, and that sentiment about feeling ditched and left behind by his former paramour, but it's done in such a way that it's clear he's not listening to Kimbra's advice, or her feelings. He's a relationship Chernobyl doomed to repeat over and over and over again. And that's the song. Disagree? Drop some comments below. If nothing else, let's have a little dialog because I don't want this to be one-sided. And as I said, "Somebody That I Used To Know" is a great song. And while it will be destroyed by radio overplay, it's a huge sonic bright spot in this still young decade. Dig. And that's for hanging out to find out What's It Mean?
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