Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lamenting a Lack of the Eclectic; A Preface to a Record-Review.

I never would have thought, prior to leaving Arizona, that I would be spending a clear and cold New England winter evening sitting on a spot on the bank of Manchester’s Lake Massabesic familiar to me for mostly forgotten reasons from years past, lamenting the local lack of certain types of musical acts that I had taken a bit for granted for the time that I was in Phoenix.

To be rather blunt, some conversations with varied musician-acquaintances in New England since my return have not proven terribly optimistic. It seems that the musical situation in these parts has stagnated quite drastically; for all my digging around to see what’s new and what various players are up to, it seems that nearly every act falls into one of three categories, none of which I can seem to get particularly excited about.

There’s a peculiar sort of distinctly “American” (*cough* redneck) shout “metal” that doesn’t seem to exist to the same extent anywhere besides here. This sort of thing is mostly perpetrated, apparently, by musicians who were playing in bands heavily influenced by Korn and The Deftones back when that sort of thing was viable, and, in an act of collective panic when nu-metal proved outmoded, added a dose of influence from Slayer and Pantera for the sake of “credibility” so that they could claim (in a naive bout of angry irony) “Hey look, we play real metal now”… this is something that I could rant on for pages, but I‘ll spare you, with just the reminder that, if you look at its history and formative influences, Heavy Metal is a distinctly European phenomenon. I know, to legions of guys who are much larger than I am with Kerry King goatees and tribal tattoos these are fighting words. Oh well.

There seems to be a bizarre revival of mid-’90’s-Boston-style tough-guy hardcore and street-punk, played mostly by guys who were a bit too young to have been terribly involved in those scenes the first time around (I mean, I was pretty young when I was listening to the older guys lament about the good-old-days, and I could have baby-sat most of this new crop…), with some acts and performers who have apparently been hanging on through the last decade and are now seeing their popularity unexpectedly resurface (the number of recent “reunions” that I’ve heard about by bands that I saw at CafĂ© Savoi and The Elvis Room when I was fifteen boggles my mind).

…And then there’s the glut of bands playing a cookie-cutter form of “screamo” that passed its flavor-of-the-minute lifespan at least two years ago. You know the type… whine, scream, whine-whine, scream…octave-chords, octave-chords, breakdown, octave-chords, breakdown, breakdown… Slanty-hair, girl-pants, white-belts... you know the cliches, you get the drill.

(Of course, I’m leaving out the “I was on a music-based reality-TV show a year ago and now I play acoustic cover-songs to drunks and draw big crowds who think I’m a ‘celebrity’” phenomenon… This is by far the most disturbing to me of all, but it’s a different cultural animal entirely that needs a much wider scope to tackle adequately)

Add to this what seems to be a near-complete lack of consistent or reliable venues, lack-luster and clique-ish crowds, etc. (sound familiar, Phoenix? These seem to be national concerns right now) and I’ll admit that I’m in no particularly educated position from which to review the state of the “scene” around here, as I have yet to get wind of any shows or performances that sounded even remotely worth attending, or any new act worth giving a listen to and getting excited about. (If anyone in my readership feels able to help me out in this regard, I’m all ears… but I’d prefer to steer clear of anything that falls formulaically within the aforementioned categories, which, I know, makes your task considerably more difficult.)

In short, what the New England music scene north of Boston seems to be lacking right now is the emphasis on ecclecticism that I earnestly felt was in the air in the area when I left a few years ago. There was a time, in fact, shortly before I left Manchester, when I might have even complained that a potential problem with the state of New England music was that everyone was trying a bit too hard to be different, to the extent that most of what was going on was almost "artsy" to the extent of being unlistenably abstract. I am utterly confused as to how things have apparently headed in such a polar-opposite direction in such a relatively short period of time.

These thoughts lead my mind to early scribbles in a “blogs to write” list that I jotted down when I first started posting here.

When I initially thought to review it, “This is My Boomstick” by Phoenix’s “The Stiletto Formal” was a bit closer to being a “new” record than it is now. I kept putting it off, however, as new ideas found their way to my pen, and thus this page, faster.

At this point, it’s a bit late, but seems a pertinent undertaking, if based on my personal present local-music-woes, if for no other reason.

…to be continued.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More Asbjorn music, and Portishead fan-geek-ery...

Alright, so...

In my last entry, I pretty much blatantly ASKED you to call me crazy. I requested that my readers psychoanalyze a recent dream that I had, and the only responses that I received were from a couple of people that know me personally extremely well. The rest of you are slacking. You almost passed up an opportunity to tell me I'm as off my rocker as you think that I am. But it's not too late. I'm still curious. Let me know what you think is dancing around in my subconscious.

In other news, as more notes of continuation of my last entry...

Shortly after I posted last with recent updates from music projects affiliated with the Asbjorn Poetry and Arts Collective, Nat Ward's Aperture project posted a set of new dark ambient electronic tracks to their page. Definitely solid mood-music and atmosphere and texture tracks well worth checking out.

In broader musical news, after a rather questionable decade, things are starting to look up. Retrospectively, of course... but after cultural situations spend a time falling backwards, sometimes it takes looking into the recent past (a point prior to things going awry) to move into what is to (positively) come.

Yes, I sound like a fan-geek. Yes, this is old news in the music blog-o-sphere.

But, as I see it, this is one of my only massive cultural weak-spots. The only issue on which I AM, admittedly, a bit of the fan-geek.

That's right, I'm talking about Portishead.

If you haven't heard, they're back.

Here are some videos of new songs from their recent All Tomorrow's Parties appearance.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Strange Dreams and Music, Music Out of Strange Dreams...

I have finally gotten around to establishing an online presence for the acoustic/ eclectic-folk songs that I've been dabbling in for years and am just now starting to focus more of my musical attention on. So, check out my new music profile on Myspace, listen to the songs, add me, and leave some feedback.

What's up on the site right now are merely some extremely rough mixes for the sake of the songs alone, and most is not even, honestly, terribly "new" material. In fact, the only track that's actually "new" is the first one on the player, "The Substance of Logic." It is dedicated to someone who would have heard it prior to now, had she bothered to open the package that I sent her. The second song, "Symphonies and Dorian Dreams," was briefly debuted on the LeVautourEnsemble site a couple of years ago (when it actually was a "brand new track"), but I soon realized that it was not nearly "electro" enough for the record that I was putting together for that project. The other two songs currently on the player ("The Box" and "13.5%") were composed and recorded shortly after I moved to Arizona, about four years ago. Both require some lyrical tweaking and new recordings, but what I have will have to serve as sufficient examples for the time-being.


In other musical news from the Asbjorn Poetry and Arts Collective family...

I have added a spirally, surreal instrumental jam called "The Pits are Deep" to the Myspace player for the Phoenix lineup of The Green Sea.

I added two more tracks from the LeVautourEnsemble record "...whose wings are a dull reality..." to the player for that project for free download.

I tossed a couple more tracks from Ashes of Frost's 2001 "release" "Mysts of the Iced Morn" up on the retrospective profile for that outfit.

Wes Hopeless, my principle collaborator in the Phoenix lineup of The Green Sea, has added a new song to the profile for his electronic project, Entropy 33.

Jacob The Dandy has recently added a new track called "Expletive, Expletive" to his iSound player that's pretty neat.

In other news, I had a very strange dream last night that I can't seem to get out of my mind. I was on some sort of "family vacation" (although I don't recall any members of my family being present). My car was stolen, converted into a convertible, and used as some sort of a suicide-bomb on a cul-de-sac. Meanwhile, I was left to care for a baby that wasn't mine, who quickly and before my eyes began to age and grow. She rapidly became a toddler, a cute little girl placing her hand in mine for protection, ad then a competent, well-spoken, smart and well-mannered young woman, pulling herself closer into me as she aged, kissing me, as we walked together, still hand in hand, toward the burning wreckage of my now-topless little white car.

Go ahead, psychoanalyze me. I personally have no idea what this means.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

This Smirk Is What I've Worked For; a bit of a warning to aspiring musicians and artists.

I’m vaguely recalling that there was once an individual with a vanity license-plate featuring a reference to a song by a band that I was in. There had, to the best of my recollection, never been an official studio-recording of that song.

I think that it’s a good idea to always bear in mind (particularly for musicians, artists, and public personalities of various sorts) that with a change in time-period, time-zone, or both, these sort of reflections quickly change from accolades and rungs on an imaginary ladder to “success,” into mere anecdotes, tales, and quips fun to tell at parties that part of you is always sincerely doubting that the listener completely believes.

As soon as I hung up conscious attempts at musical “success,” my persona apparently changed from “musician” to “eccentric storyteller” nearly overnight. I feel, in many regards, that both are valid, and are skins that I’m fairly comfortable in. From a critical perspective, I am often immensely pleased that, more often than not, most of my listeners, when I begin to ramble about my experiences, don’t seem to care in the least whether what I’m telling them is true or not. The entertainment-level of the perceiver is fixed prior to any question of the probability of the account is registered.

From a more personal level, however, this can be a bit frustrating. As much as my critical stance involves a disintegration of the separation between fact and fiction and the past assumptions of the “necessity” of trying to define one, in the less academic and quixotic parts of my mind I still find myself categorizing things in more structured terms of “reality.” “These things have actually happened to me,” “I’m making this story up on the fly,” etc; These are boxes to place various anecdotes in, that I still make some effort to get across to people that I’m relating stories to.

As I think about this, and reflect on my current balance of amusement and frustration, my mind can’t help but turn as well to what was running through it back when I was accruing the tales that I now relate to nonchalantly disbelieving listeners. As I said before, these things did, at the time, feel like stepping-stones. These were genuine accomplishments that were (hypothetically) to lead to continually larger and more notable accomplishments. We were climbing the ladders. In fact, at one point or another, I feel that I’ve climbed these ladders in just about every slightly-sideways, not-quite-completely up (but definitely not down) direction that “music” has to offer. And in retrospect, many of the rungs along the way WERE, in fact, quite notable, and emblematic of what other versions of the ladder, at other times in my life, would have been happy to call “success.” My “bragging-rights,” if this was at all the purpose of my story-telling (which it is not), are vivid and diverse. I was legitimately, “truthfully,” and passionately engaged in procuring the next rung as soon as I had leapt over the last, and believed in the validity and purpose of doing so with rarely a flinch.

After my flinches at the climb and its purpose became drastic enough that I felt like I was having a seizure, however, these anecdotes and accolades look very different. For all the work put in, for all the “success” achieved that I (and so many others) believed was worth fighting for, what was truly purchased? What remains in the end?

Stories. Tales. A medium that blurs fact and fiction, and demonstrates that, in a larger scheme, the reasons for making the distinction aren’t terribly compelling or necessary.

The thorn, however, is that the story bears a very different sort of substance and grit if it’s being related as truth, no matter how skilled the constructor of a blatant fiction may be. Therefore, what I gain from my past attempts, earnestness, and success is the irony of being able to tell a compelling tale with the confidence of the legitimate memory that can only truly come from having physical experience with the substance of the story, to more effectively point out that the storyteller’s truthfulness is not, at the end of the day, terribly relevant.

What I have seen with my eyes in the physical aspects of my life (what I will refrain from calling “reality” in admission of the problematic nature of that term) has made possible the confident smirk that plays on my face when I tell you that it pleases me that you don’t care at all whether the license-plate that I speak of was ever actually stamped out of physical metal. In truth, much like all of our past ambitions, it really doesn’t matter. It does, however, shape the way we tell our stories, and that is the largest “success” that we could ever hope to achieve.

In other news, I suddenly realized that, sitting behind a laptop by myself in a crowded pub in Manchester, NH, presenting an out-of-state ID for my drinks, a couple days prior to the first-in-the-nation primary, I am probably assumed to be a young campaign-worker, a traveling politico of some sort, as I gather that everyone else in the room is. I also realize, that if I'm asked, saying "I'm a writer," or even worse, "blogger," doesn't exactly get me off the hook. I can't say that this doesn't amuse me immensely, as it couldn't be farther from the "truth"... but in some ways, it's at the same time as "true" as any other identity I could choose to tout at the moment. So, sure, I'm a traveling politico. My politics and reasons to travel are just a bit skewed from those of the rest of the crowd.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Gimmicks, Grimy Glitz, and Chaos, remembering Stych, Part 2.

“You got- something to say, don’t need …” Ben bellowed at the crowd, who were most likely by this point closer to disgusted and annoyed than anything else, in a baritone-ish delivery that wasn’t quite talking, singing or yelling, but had elements of all three, and definitely wasn’t rapping either. He teetered on the edge of the stage, like a giant version of the Roadrunner, catching himself repeatedly to prevent a fall, just before the Coyote (the rest of us spasming on the stage behind him?) could catch up and push him over the edge. As he “sang,” his hands kept in continual motion; stealing hats from audience members and placing them on the heads of unsuspecting girls at the other end of his enormous wingspan, tossing out torn pages of ridiculous gimmick-porn mags, obscenely taunting the dancers that we had brought to occupy the cages that this venue happened to have perched on the corners of the stage. A devilish smirk stung across his face the whole while.

Later in the show, I thought that it would be a good idea to attempt to enter the cage with the dancer that was closest to my side of the stage. I forgot, however, that I was wearing a guitar around my neck, and needed room in front of it for my hands to move in order to continue to play it. Naturally, despite my somewhat diminutive size (Ben often jabbed at me between songs with derogatories implying in creative/ offensive ways that I was pale and malnourished) I got stuck. I found myself in the entrance-way to the cage (which, for those of you who’ve never had the privileged and enlightening experience of being on the performing end of a stripper’s apparatus, is basically just two of the bars that are spaced ever-so-slightly further apart), attempting to continue playing, while trying to figure out if it was more feasible to get in or get out. Meanwhile, the dancer decided that, rather than help me, it would be more entertaining to continue dancing and laugh at me, and draw the crowd’s attention to my plight. We had, after all, brought her and her companion along for the purpose of entertaining the crowd, and with that purpose in mind, I can’t begin to claim that she made the wrong decision. After the song concluded, I was able to remove myself, only by removing my guitar and edging it out first, while Ben stood making mock head-scratching gestures between me and the laughing crowd. “You know, I’m not typically the type to complain that strippers are too thin, but… when that kid can’t fit into the cage, the openings might just be a bit too small. Hell, look at him. He turns sideways, he disappears!”

Ben jumped across the stage to the edge closest to the bar. “This next one’s dedicated to the bartender jerk with the pompadour that we can’t seem to distract away from him god-damn game of nudie video-poker. I heard that he’s an Elvis fan.”

“Want to listen to the king? YOU look like an Elvis fan…” The little girl’s voice on the sample ripped through the crowd (yeah, you guessed it, the name of the act and samples throughout the show were lifted and modified from the most inappropriate source that could have been chosen; a Disney cartoon intended for children, which also happened to strike a strange resonance with our caricature-ish front-man), and we launched into what was probably the noisiest cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” ever attempted.

From certain angles, this act could possibly have been ridiculously entertaining. For the same reasons, from absolutely every angle this act was just absolutely ridiculous. The thing was, to at least a couple of us involved in the project, that was completely the point. Stych wasn’t shock-rock, that game’s been done. We weren’t trying to be over-the-top, or support any sort of initiative to bring physical entertainment back to music. To some of us, Stych was mostly an experiment in the validity of incoherent gimmicks, a foray into the absurd, a performance-art pastiche of conflicting elements of how entertainment is currently sold and marketed (even the music itself was composed of countless elements that were intentionally ill-fitted for each other, absurd change-ups, and gimmicky dance-riffs stolen from genres that were completely not what we were selling ourselves as). The members who weren’t completely on the same page in this regard only added a validity and earnestness to the endeavor that couldn’t have been accomplished had we all been concept-artists dealing in the art of gimmickry, intentional revelers in the ridiculous.

And, hell, most of all, the chaotic (and absurdly loud) experiment that we called Stych was more fun than most of my other musical endeavors that had “legitimate” musical aspirations (but, prove themselves, in retrospect, not much less gimmicky) combined.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gimmicks, Grimy Glitz, and Chaos; recalling the strange and short-lived mess that we called “Stych,” part 1.

Fumbling around with my guitar this morning, I stumbled onto a set of riffs that I hadn’t played or remembered in a few years.

A corresponding mental image struck me. I was crouched behind a set of unnecessarily-large speaker cabinets, wearing a big black Stetson-style hat, a black bandana pulled ranger-style over my face, and my matte-black power-strat with glittery silver letters of the word “Doom” propped on my shoulder like a frontier rifle.

A sample from a Rowdy Roddy Piper film spilled far-too-loud over the house P.A.

“I have come to kick ass and chew bubble-gum.”

“du-du-du-dutu-du.” I protruded from my shelter in a burst of silver smoke, aiming the deafening sound-bullets from my headstock into the confused and laughing crowd.

“…and I’m all out of bubble-gum.”

“du-du-du-dutu-du.” I stepped further onto the stage and out of the fogger’s blur, still cradling my musical rifle, targeting now Nat Ward, who stood bouncing and rocking with his fretless bass on the edge of the stage, clad in black besides the giant rubber Woody-Woodpecker head that he wore as a hat, and Ben Spellman, a large man taunting the crowd explicitly with his microphone, bobbing the two giant, multicolored antennas of hair that protruded from the front of his head.

“Oh my god,” a female voice on the sample shrieked.

“du-du-du-dutu-du.” I let my guitar sling itself down to the extent of the strap, and took a backwards dive, chest-level left-foot first (late-’90’s Boston pit-boss fashion) into the front rows of the crowd.

“bang!” I bounced my way back onto the stage.

“du-du-du-dutu-du.” My weapon was faced at Taco Dave this time around, smirking at me from behind a triggered drum-kit, surrounded by absurd stacks of the speakers and sub-cannons that were connected to it, a robot on some sort of audio life-support, as I lunged towards him in time to have mounted the speakers and be romping over the top of his kit by the time he hit his hi-hat twice and I dove back onto the stage as we launched into the frantic verse riff of the song Full Storm.

(…to be continued… if anyone out there happens to have digital-copies of images or videos from this or related "experiments," they would prove appreciated contributions, as I currently have nothing of the sort.)

In other news, I finally have some promotional graphics for this site that you'll start seeing around. Here are some examples, which I am willingly, as always, subjecting to the general criticism.