Ben Arzate – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye


Ben Arzate is something of an enigmatic figure in that he is fairly prominent within edgy alternative political and literary circles but almost never expresses opinions on anything other than his analysis of people’s books. What does he actually believe? Who knows. If we are to follow the clues in his own books, we come no closer to unraveling the mystery except to infer that he might believe that nothing really matters, and one is better served in these turbulent times by taking refuge in the world of transgressive fiction, quietly amusing ourselves with the everyday horrors of contemporary life.

A while back I reviewed Ben Arzate’s brief poetry chapbook, which I found to be rather promising. So I was excited to read his new book of short stories, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye (published by NihilismRevised, 2018) because I knew it would be longer and have more meat to it (insert that’s what SHE said joke here.) What he excels at brilliantly in this book is in creating characters which behave and communicate realistically within the ridiculously absurd, exaggerated and often sci-fi situations they are placed in. He subtly shatters our idealistic and romantic notions by revealing just how mundane, unremarkable and pathetic our lives really are…in any context.

A prime example of this is the story, The Arranged Marriage. In recent years, arranged marriages have gained a resurgence of support and idealization among fringe reactionaries of the “trad” variety, which view them as a solution to “the incel problem” among many other so-called societal ills. Yet in Arzate’s The Arranged Marriage he depicts what I believe a contemporary arranged marriage would actually be like. Lisa and Michael are forced into an arranged marriage by their respective enthusiastic parents. The young couple agree to go along with it without much in the way of protest or enthusiasm. The couple’s conversations are filled with apathetic, intentionally uninspired strings of dialog such as the following:

“Are you looking forward to going to the
carnival?” I asked Lisa.
“I guess,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.

This is the way people in forced relationships really do talk to one another, regardless of whether the “forced” relationship itself is literally due to familial setup or it’s just two people that happen to be dating but aren’t emotionally invested in one another. They’re just going through the motions.

A relatable story for me is The Country Musician, which relays a tale of a struggling country music artist named Hank in rather realistic, unromantic and less than heroic terms. This isn’t That Thing Called Love.

Hank put the five songs on the Internet.
After a year, each has less than 300 plays. None of
them have gotten any plays in the past month.

This is what being a contemporary indie music artist is actually like. You release an album. A handful of people buy it, but ultimately no one cares except for maybe a few weirdos and lonely e-girls that have crushes on you. You put songs on Soundcloud and sort of promote them in a half-assed way, but they barely get any plays. You mail copies out to important people and record companies, and occasionally someone is interested but nothing happens. At some point someone important will express some interest in your music and offer you something, but only on the condition that you radically change it in ways which are incompatible with who you are and antithetical to your artistic vision. In Hank’s case, a record executive offers him a record deal but wants Hank to record a reggae album instead of country:

The executive tells Hank that he liked his
demo, but country is out. He says that reggae is
the next big thing.
Hank tells the executive that he likes
reggae, but he does not play reggae. He plays
country. He also says he is not black and not
The executive tells him that it does not
matter that he is not black. There are white
Jamaicans. In a voice that sounds like Santa
Claus, he says that Hank just has to do a fake
Jamaican accent.

Almost all of the stories are written in this style of dry, deadpan prose. It’s clearly by design and emphasizes our drab, mechanical, stop-motion animated lives in clownworld. Most of the stories in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye have a weird horror/scifi component to them. The story with the same name as the book’s title concerns a house that physically gets cancer. Admittedly, this was one of the more horrifying and grotesque stories for a hypochondriac like me to read. The best way I could describe the stories in this book is that they remind me of the vignettes in 80s-90’s shows like Tales From the Darkside and Monsters, minus any preachy moralizing, important life lessons or poetic justice. I chose those shows to compare the book to specifically rather The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, which were often trying to lecture or teach us something about how to make the world a better place. Shows like Monsters only did that to a lesser extent and mostly just aimed to creep out the viewer.

Despite their intentionally uninspiring form and low-charisma characters, these short stories are surprisingly engaging. I didn’t find any of them to be boring or lackluster. The objects and “living” physical backgrounds often take up the slack themselves morphing into lively characterizations. There is plenty of imagination here and some stories may have a life outside this book. The Arranged Marriage in particular I feel has the potential to be developed into a novella or short film. The stories in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye often end abruptly and without a satisfactory resolution, much like our lives usually do: A man makes a plate of chips and salsa. He sits down on the couch to watch the football game. The game is a blowout, and the team he is cheering for is losing. He is not enjoying the game. During the third quarter, he suffers a heart attack and dies. There are a few chips left on the plate, but most of the salsa got on his shirt. A neighbor finds the man’s body the next day and calls the morgue to tell them there’s a dead body. While he is waiting for someone to arrive, he sees the plate of chips and decides they might not be too stale, so he eats one. (This is not an actual story in the book. I just made it up by the way.)

That’s how our lives actually are though and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye both horrifies and entertains by briefly taking us out of our depraved world of delusions so that we may cringe and laugh at ourselves and everything around us.


SEDA – Deserve


Wonderchild is set to be released this month. It’s a new 7 song EP from “SEDA,” an R&B/Pop & Latin artist from The Bronx, NY. The lead single for this upcoming EP has already dropped. It’s called Deserve and is available on Spotify. If there’s one thing that’s evident from this track, it’s that SEDA can actually sing quite well. Unlike so many artists in this genre, SEDA’s voice comes through bright and clear, without assistance from a bunch of vocal processing and autotune type effects. You just can’t fake it with this style of singing. If you’ve got it, it’s apparent immediately, as it is on this recording. Musically, the song is very minimalistic and ambient. It’s SEDA’s emotive vocals amidst an echoey, dreamlike mix of piano and light synths. This isn’t a club jam. It’s more like music for a romantic, candlelit dinner, with the song invoking a soothing atmosphere. You can tell that someone put their heart into making this recording.

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Bye Bye Banshee – Deathfolk Magic – EP

ByeByeBanshee - Deathfolk Magic EP Cover

Don’t be fooled by the title of Bye Bye Banshee’s new EP, Deathfolk Magic. There’s nothing horrifying about this recording. It’s actually quite beautiful and cerebral. It’s pleasant pacing and calm demeanor are accentuated by the sparse yet enchanting vocals of songwriter, Jezebel Jones. These peacefully poignant songs approach the subject of death abstractly with a kind of minimalist, meditative mindfulness. My favorite song on this release is Skull Rattles which contains the artists premonitionary declaration upon death that “graymatter don’t matter no more” and was simply “a temporary condition.” Intellectually I find this album to be pretty engaging, and musically I found myself entranced by it. This is neo-folk music at its finest.

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InCrest – The Ladder The Climb The Fall

InCrest - LCF

The Ladder The Climb The Fall is the latest album from InCrest, a Danish grunge-rock trio. With a sound that takes it’s influence from the early 90’s golden age of alternative rock, the album manages to capture that essence completely, while still leaving enough room for the band to have a distinct musical identity. One might not expect that a Danish band could emulate the Seattle sound so convincingly, but InCrest has done just that. The Ladder The Climb The Fall often alternates between grunge and hard rock, sometimes blending the two. The opening track, No Second Chance has a peppy kind of “speed grunge” feel to it, in contrast to some of the dreary, dragging pace and whiny tone that’s often associated with lighter alternative music. The faster pace songs on this release remind me a bit of stuff from groups like Rollins Band. It’s cynicism and commentary but with balls. After the opening song, the album settles into a more conventionally paced heavy grunge style with Nightcrawler, (a song which boasts an excellent, attention grabbing guitar intro.) This is actually my favorite track of this release and from a quality standpoint ranks right up there with the top hits of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (though it’s probably not going to get the same level of exposure and recognition.)

InCrest 1

One criticism that’s often (usually unfairly) leveled at grunge bands is that they’re less skilled at playing their instruments, and that this is masked by the heavy distortion. That’s certainly not the case with InCrest. On this album they give a polished performance, displaying a lot of artful musical detail and precision timing. Even the vocals are right on point. The final song on the album, Neversleep is a good example of the softer, delightfully detailed musicality the band is capable of. One final note is the production quality on this album is major label tier. This is not some lo-fi, Sebadoh styled kind of obscure, indie art project (although I love that stuff.) In the right place and at the right time, this music would be on the radio and the band would be giving jaded performances in stadiums.

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The Interplanetary Acoustic Team – 11 11 (Me, Smiling)

The Interplanetary Acoustic Team - Cover

It was a pleasant surprise to discover that “The Interplanetary Acoustic Team” isn’t a bunch of dudes sitting around playing acoustic guitars (not that I’m all that opposed to that sort of thing.) In fact, they describe themselves as “a group of musical explorers whose mission is to listen to the stars, to record the deep gravitational waves rolling across the wide sweep of time, the voices carried on those waves.”

Their debut album, 11 11 (Me, Smiling) is a creative tour de force. Incorporating collage, retro-futurism, obscure sampling, groovy synthesizers, space ambiance, and occasional guitar, vocals and who knows what else, this album is nothing short of an avant garde, cerebral masterpiece. Others have likened it to the sound of a Kubrick film such as 2001, A Space Odyssey, however, to my ears it’s more reminiscent of soundtracks from late 70’s, early 80’s scifi films, such as Saturn 3(music by Elmer Bernstein) or maybe the movies of John Carpenter. It’s like an arthouse version of Buck Rogers. This music is very meditative, almost entrancing. While listening to this album I wanted to line up my crystals on the carpet, close my eyes and see if I could open a stargate portal through my third eye…

I’m not sure if they used all analog synths for this project, but they certainly have captured the best of “the analog sound.” There’s lots of warmth and just the right amount of tape hiss in these recordings. My favorite songs are the title track, 11 11, and also…Islands in the Cosmos. I’d love this album even on aesthetic grounds alone, but unlike so many avant garde, experimental musical creations, the music on 11 11 (Me, Smiling) is actually extremely pleasant to listen to and very good.

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Terry Milla – It’s Bangindo


Terry Milla’s It’s Bangindo is more than just a geniously titled hip hop track. It’s a lively, piano driven jam with enough going on musically to keep the listener engaged the whole way through. The song features both male and female vocals, with Terry leading the way with rhymes and “Flossy Mae” providing some excellent accompanying hooks. Her expressive, emotive delivery gives the song some dramatic flair. According to Milla,It’s Bangindo “is about the music being dope even if it’s not on the radio.” True enough, but I would also add that it deals with the drive to get things done and the frustration in waiting for others to come through and get the ball rolling. Some people are just “always on” and rather that wait for everyone else to finish doing the hokey pokey, they have to just move forward and do everything on their own. Anyhow, It’s Bangindo is a solid jam and marketable. Terry Milla strikes me as a fun going, entertaining performer that takes care of business.

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God Analog – Possibly


Possibly is the latest release from San Jose based band, “God Analog.” Despite the name, “God Analog” is a rather humble minded musical group consisting of Adam Days, Christian Jaeger, and a guitarist simply known as “X.” Their sound is like if you were to combine Depeche Mode, Marilyn Manson and some ’00s hipster garage band like The Faint and manage to make it all blend together cohesively. While, the band may have started as a bedroom musical experiment, Possibly demonstrates that the group can achieve label-tier production quality. Seriously, whoever mixed this did a hell of a job cause it sounds smooth and crystal clear. There is a lot of stacking and layering going on in this track, but the best sound always seems to be brought out.

Christian Jaeger’s mid-to-high pitch vocals are easy on the ears, while the lyrics oscillate between emo yearning and jaded disillusion, with Adam’s backup vocals rounding things out. The backing music is driven by drums, guitars and a variety of snazzy synths which contribute to the ambiance and give the song a little more moxie. Anyway, these guys are tremendously talented. It’s kind of disheartening to think how hard of a road bands like this have to get recognition, but the potential is there.

Harmless Habit – Fronterror


Fronterror is the latest EP release from a rock outfit called “Harmless Habit.” It’s tough to pin this group down to a particular genre. It’s basically metal / hardcore but since there are a million subgenres that doesn’t really tell you much. The band seems to blend rock’n’roll styles from the 60s-90s. Their new EP, Fronterror, could best be described as a mix between alternative punk, classic rock, glam, and even screamo. The title track reminds me a lot of the kind of music you’d hear on late 80’s, early 90s horror movie soundtracks (think Night of the Demons, Return of the Living Dead 2, etc.) Other songs like Freakshow display more of a pop punk feel. The most classic rock sounding track in my opinion is Damage Control, which is also my favorite on the album. Production wise, this release sounds nice and warm, and everything in the mix is right where it needs to be. Musically, the performances are very polished. These guys aren’t faking it. Some great technical guitar distortion on this EP, and the vocalist can actually sing. I went on the band’s Facebook page, and a lot of people seem to have become fans after seeing their live shows. That’s a good sign.

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C-Will 2 copy

Veteran musical artist C-WILL121 is an architect of what he dubs “New Vibe Music,” a genre which fuses future, soul and hip hop into new niche sound. He has a few new summer singles that are floating about out there on the airwaves.

Stuck offers an ambiance that’s both somber and upbeat at the same time. Stylistically, it’s vaguely reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it on, only with a more modern and futuristic backing beat. The song combines a rather uplifting musical tone with lyrics conveying the metaphoric distress of feeling “stuck” on a desert island (within a romantic context.) Stuck makes good use of harmonies and layering, with everything sounding where it should be in the mix.

Your Portal is easily my favorite of theses singles. It features some killer, spacey synths and has a very minimalist vibe. It isn’t just a boring, straightforward beat. There are a lot of changing bits and pieces, and perfectly timed, tiny musical components are added throughout. This is a solid dance track, but more importantly it demonstrates C-WILL121’s level of creativity and penchant for the avant garde.

Change Your Mind also comes equipped with some impressive synth hooks, almost sounding like early 90s video game music at times and tropical surf music at other times. The overall tone is slightly brighter than the other tracks. I think this song could also be released as an instrumental version, which would make a great commercial jingle or film soundtrack piece.

C-WILL121 definitely has a knack for composing interesting songs, and I have to admire his willingness to explore new creative angles and fresh sounds.

His full length album, Music Hero (which includes the above tracks,) is scheduled to be released December 7, 2018.

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Leo Salom – Time to Spare

Time To Spare

Time to Spare is a new single from Leo Salom, a DJ/producer who divides his time “between Rome, Italy and Los Angeles, California.” Time to Spare is a medium paced dance track with a light ambiance and quite a bit of musical dynamicism. There are a lot of elaborate, somewhat unexpected transitions and vocal layerings in this song, as Leo manipulates the sound effortlessly. He could have gotten way with just having one steady beat and playing it lazy with stylistic monotony…and the song still would have been pretty good. Impressively he utilizes breaks and transitions to transform different parts of the track into substantially different musical components, which he manages to piece together in a manner that doesn’t seem forced or awkward. Indeed, this is a very slick production. It’s energetic party music but very ambient and calmly cerebral. Time to Spare is dance music for club-goers of a slightly elevated consciousness. If I had to make one mild criticism, it’s that the words of some of the vocal samples can be difficult to understand. It doesn’t really matter though, because this kind of music is intended to be more abstract. It’s promotes a certain carefree, vibrant state of mind, and in this case, it is very well done.

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