Mistakes is a new single from Italy-based artist, Ed Golfo. It’s actually his debut release, but you’d never guess from listening to it, as this song’s very well written, polished and professionally put together. The complex and dynamic electronic backing music has been compared to artists like Daft Punk, but it also gives off a somewhat retrofuturistic “Buck Rogers” vibe. The tape recorder on the album cover hints at the vintage inspirations of Golfo.
Contentwise, the song concerns itself with how mistakes “can weigh people down” but ultimately the right path for each person will reveal itself. The vocals have a lot of processing, but it is mainly done to give the voice a robotic, synthesized quality for artistic effect, rather than for pitch correction or EQ reasons. The track also contains what I believe is a spoken word sample from Alan Watts’ The Inevitable Ecstasy, Part 9: The Aversion to Death, which really accessorizes nicely with the song’s underlying message. Above all, the tone of this song is fun and uplifting. The backing music is fantastic and I could totally picture myself (and many other people) dancing to this.
Oh God is a new single from Canadian-based band, Peace Spirits. This beautifully performed and spiritually satisfying song aims to help people find their peaceful center. Featuring religious sentiments expressed in their purest and most sincere form, the music is carried by truly stellar vocals and backed by a theatrical backing sound. This is powerful and moving stuff. The lyrics never veer into preachy or judgmental territory. Rather, the song consistently promotes a message of kindness, hope and goodwill throughout. OH GOD was written by singer/songwriter Kyla Lynn Vezina. The production is very professional, creating an atmosphere of cinematic quality. Laszlo Koós is credited on bass guitar, and drummer John Lovaghy provided additional backing vocals. Oh God by Peace Spirits is a free download that is available to anyone through Bongo Boy Records, here.
T R A V E L S is a new single from Los Angeles based artist, LEHUA. A collaborative effort with her associate Brock Liles (Tombstone), this song is the second release off her three-track, self titled EP. This avant garde song features experimental beats and propagates a desolate Saturnian ambiance. The vibe is positively mechanical, in a sense that the music literally sounds the inner machinery of a haunted moonbase. It’s what one would imagine an astronaut or space colonist would hear in the background while conducting their daily experiments. An unpredictable collage of samples, sythns and totally unidentifiable noises, T R A V E L S is brimming with eerily delightful atmosphere. I’m not gonna lie, there’s a little bit of uneasey suspense in this jam as you almost feel like a creature might jump out at you at any moment. Bottom line is that T R A V E L S is darkly uncomfortable, artistically interesting and pretty cool.
Released on Aquamarine Records, Mockingbird is a single from Alpha Cat (the professional moniker of longtime indie icon Elizabeth McCullough). The song is from Alpha Cat’s current album, Thatched Roof Glass House and features a host of well- known, seasoned musicians with impressive credits. Just to give you an idea, it was recorded with the assistance of Fred Smith (Blondie and the band Television), guitarist Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams, John Mayer), Reggie McBride (Elton John) and Chris Butler (The Waitresses) on bass, Jason Harrison Smith (Albert Lee, Kelly Sweet, Ian Andersen), co-producer Jon Mattox and it was mastered by Brett (Cosmo) Thorngren.
Described as a “dreamy ode to individuality” Mockingbird has an organic and ethereal sound, with elements of indie folk and alternative. It’s refreshing to see such musical craftsmanship in an indie song. It’s like if you were to give a musical project “major label” level talent and excellent production values, and the track somehow managed to retain its sincere, artistic essence (while also sounding good). Bright vocals and sparkly, note bending guitars carry much of the action, but the drums are notable for their natural sound, a rarity in the age of heavily (over)processed backing beats. The singing on here is way more advanced than what one expects for this type of music. I mean, really just stellar vocals. There’s emotional depth, there’s passion, there’s sensitivity, etc. Don’t try this at home kids. Dealing with the subject of individuality and celebrating “being yourself,” Mockingbird presents these ideals in an empowering fashion, utilizing poetic and nature metaphors. These messages and motifs radiate beautifully throughout this recording, which aboves all bears the fruits of of artistic perseverance.
Quantum Helix: Fractal Galaxy is a new album from New York based, artist, Menes Rebazzar Kedar. This multi-dimensional musical odyssey transcends traditional categorization, blending hip hop, soul, blues, electronic dance music and rock. The beats are often fast paced and futuristic, like something out of the Terminator, while Kedar’s vocals are dynamic and soulful. Some tracks like Ya Never Know give off a surprisingly groovy rock and roll vibe. Most of the songs have a high octane and spirited youthful energy, contrasted with a mellow intro or mid-track interlude. As a whole, Quantum Helix: Fractal Galaxy strikes me as a creative and imaginative epic, really a grand project that the artist put a lot of thought into.
This contemporary classic from over a decade ago remains one of my favorite tracks from Los Angeles based dreampop duo, Magic Wands. As far as I know, there are two versions of this jam: the original and then the one which actually appeared on the EP (Aloha Moon.) Both are incredible, but I prefer the original for some reason. It’s slightly more minimalist and haunting. It has more of that vintage cassette sound and slightly deeper bass…though that may just be my imagination. I love the lyrics of this song, especially the chorus (Our love is blue..all hearts are blue…) which really resonates with me and corresponds with my longstanding abstract identification with the color blue. This song really does capture the spirit of its subject matter, teenage romance, which is conveyed with strikingly accurate realism. Maybe it’s kind of pathetic that I still relate to these kinds of emotions and relationship dynamics as old as I am, but listening to this track will re-awaken the forsaken madness of youthful passions in listeners and lovers of any age.
When an obscure musician going by the name of “Y. Bhekhirst” released Hot in the Airport in 1986, perhaps he thought it might lead to fame and fortune. Indeed, though it may not have arrived in the form he expected, he has if nothing else, achieved a significant level of infamy from a moderately sized cult-like following of individuals, both amused and intrigued by his music. I suspect however, that he would not have predicted that the search to uncover his true identity would be the inspiration for a novel by Ben Arzate. The Story of the Y is that novel.
Maybe I’m low maintenance, but even just an earnest story about a researcher/reporter following a trail of clues through Mexico in a quest to solve the riddle of who “Y. Bhekhirst” really was would have been satisfying to me. The gritty and tedious work of going through files, questioning locals and piecing together evidence would have been interesting enough for me. As a hobby, I have been involved in the Zodiac killer research subculture for many years, so this sort of thing is right up my alley. For those of you who require something a little more tantanlizing, you’ll be relieved to know that Ben spices up the story with elements like brutal cartel violence and various supernatural phenomena. The basic gist of the plot is that an aspiring young reporter travels to Mexico with some friends (one of whom happens to be a ghost in a record) to locate and interview Y. Bhekhirst. I won’t spoil much of the rest for you, but let’s just say that when they arrive there, all hell breaks loose. The story had a somewhat Tarantino-esque feel to it, in that a group of characters starts off on a rather mundane quest and suddenly find themselves in a world of gruesome violence, torture and other freaky shit (along the lines as films like From Dusk Till Dawn.)
Ben Arzate has a very unpretentious writing style. He seems to have no use for the elaborately poetic, John Updike style prose when contextualizing scenes and describing settings. He narrates scenes in a very “matter of fact” way. I noticed this before when reading his book of short stories, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, but could not tell at the time if this was characteristic of his actual style or a gimmick which was unique to that particular collection. This deadpan, no-nonsense approach makes for a breezy read and keeps the action easy to understand at all times. Ben is also very consistent throughout the book. It has a very cohesive and slightly polished feel, unlike so many indie “novels” which convey interesting ideas but are haphazardly thrown together. The Story of the Y is just the right length. Many budding young writers for some reason feel compelled to write 400 page epics their first time out, but Arzate keeps this thing short and punchy. You could probably read the whole thing in just a couple of hours. I actually read it in the bathtub over the course of maybe 6 or 7, thirty minute hot baths (and managed to do so without significantly ruining the pages of the book.) One last thing I must note (SPOILER ALERT) is that Ben wisely avoids “selling out” on the ending, keeping things ambiguous in a way which will prevent the book from potentially seeming painfully dated at some point in the distant future. I don’t really have a final “verdict” on The Story of the Y. It just isn’t that sort of book. It’s a well written, low-key adventure novel that’s entertaining, intriguing and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
For his part, Ben has been slowly transforming from a prolific reviewer into a prolific writer of his own original (and growing) body of work. If he keeps cranking out material at this pace, I guarantee that everyone will be hearing a lot more about this guy.
Originally published in 1995, “The Gleaming Crest” was my first poetry chapbook (you can read more about it here.) Written while I was still in high school, this obscure literary gem from the 90’s deals with themes of adolescent angst, grandiose dreams, romance and coming of age. It’s only about 35 pages, but worth picking up a copy since it’s basically vintage at this point. The book is available from Amazon, but there are also quite a few copies floating around in locally owned book stores, record stores and random shops. It’s a great book to have sitting out on a coffee table if you want to get strange looks from guests who come over.
The Blankz continue to crank out quality releases at an impressive rate. Their latest is Getting Over You a two track single, which also features a song called Barfly. One might expect a song called “Getting Over You” to be a dreary and sappy romantic number, but in fact this song is energetic and action packed. It does in fact deal with the theme of getting over heartbreak, but in an upbeat and triumphalist kind of way. The sound could be described as “pop punk,” but musically these songs are much more sophisticated. This band more or less has its own style which combines golden age punk authenticity with genres like new wave.Getting Over You features a killer organ/synth bridge about two-thirds into the song. What’s interesting intellectually about this track though is the way love is described in terms one would normally use to describe experiences with drugs. With lyrics such as “when your love was pumping through my veins and “once I had you in my brain” we get the sense that getting over this particular instance of love is the equivalent of finally making it out of the withdrawal phase of having to give up any kind of vice. The language is very clinical, thus further illustrating his growing detachment from the failed romance.
Barfly deals more with the creatures of the nightlife and their hunger to keep busy (“gotta find something to do!”) and find reprieve from the drab day to day and mundane punching of the clock. Even the term “punch the clock” evokes imagery associated with the most boring and soul crushing jobs…the ones where you can’t wait for the day to end so your actual life can begin.
Both of these songs are musically phenomenal and the production is excellent. The Blankz are quickly becoming one of the most prolific bands in Arizona. I’ve reviewed several of their releases now and have been impressed every time.
[Fran and Stephen are observing from the roof of the mall]
Francine Parker: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
– Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Barenaked Ladies’ One Week was a popular, chart topping hit. I remember driving around Tempe in the fall of 1998 listening to The Edge 106.3 FM, and it seemed like this song was on the radio every 5 minutes…sometime between songs such as Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta and Third Eye Blind’s How’s It Gonna Be? These songs were heard many times on trips to and from Blockbuster Video (as well as Hollywood Video) to rent and return erotic thrillers, midnight outings to Denny’s, lonely drives to North Phoenix, my job at Abercrombie and all the rest.
One Week was one of those cheesy songs that I would have never admitted to liking but knew the words to and would secretly enjoy when it came on. It wasn’t passionately hated enough for me to like ironically, the way I later did with boy bands and Vitamin C, it was at least preferable to rapcore, a genre which I loathe to this day. In 1998, I would have complained about all the music on the radio sucking except the oldies station. This seems laughable in the context of today, when nearly every pop song is processed gibberish. In hindsight, we didn’t know how good we had it!One Week has the feel of a relic from a much more innocent and carefree era. It might as well be 100 years ago and a different country. The plethora of pop culture references in the lyrics are characteristic of Generation X works made at what Bret Easton Ellis refers to as the “height of the empire.”
Watchin X-Files with no lights on,
We’re dans la maison
I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one
Like Harrison Ford I’m getting Frantic
Like Sting I’m Tantric
Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy
I remember thinking these lyrics were so dumb, but not because I was opposed to the idea of cheesy pop culture references in songs. It’s just that the particular items referenced weren’t things that I personally was into. I did after all, write a song about Michael from Melrose Place. To revisit and paraphrase that memorable line from 1978′s Dawn of the Dead, such things had an important place in our lives.
I felt as though I owed it to Barenaked Ladies to write something about One Week, given how much enjoyment this jam gave me in 1998. 20 years later I can finally admit it.