Life Soundtracks

Last week on the KSCU radio show The 80s Underground (podcast here), the DJ decided to play songs from the Top 25 albums of 1988 per a readers’ poll at the great college rock-themed blog Slicing Up Eyeballs.  And you know me, I couldn’t resist.  I just had to listen in.

Interestingly enough, hearing my favorite college rock year outside of the normal context (read: my ridiculously large mp3 collection) kind of put things in a different perspective.  I purposely didn’t look up the poll they’d done a year or so ago (which I of course took part in), so I was pleasantly entertained by not exactly knowing which song would come next.  It was a little jump back in time to my years listening to WAMH.

Back then, I used to have a lot of life soundtracks.  Certain albums or compilation tapes I’d listen to during certain times of the day, or certain radio stations and shows.  I often do the same thing while I’m writing; lately I’ve been listening to Beck’s Sea Change and Morning Phase during my Spare Oom couch sessions.

Thing is, I don’t have nearly as many of these as I once did, and I suppose in a way that’s a good thing.  I always have the radio or some music going during the work day, but I’ve long past grown out of attempting to forge a mood from the music being played.  I now listen to KSCU (a college station) as much as I listen to Radio BDC (an internet station) or KFOG and Live 105 (terrestrial stations).

Do I miss those days, giving myself a soundtrack as if I were the living embodiment of a Miami Vice or a Grey’s Anatomy episode?  Well, not really.  I just grew out of attempting to find the perfect sound to complement whatever I was doing.  It had gotten to the point where I was forcing the mood, and that’s no fun.  I’m still an active listener, mind you–certain songs will hit me just the right way and I’ll pounce all over them, like I did with that TV On the Radio track a few months back.

Life soundtracks are more of a passive thing now.  I let them pop up organically, by serendipity.  Just like life itself–sometimes it’s more fun to see what life (or in this case, a radio station) throws at you rather than trying to pigeonhole it into something it’s not.

Fly-By: Still Here, Just Busy

Hey there!

Sorry I haven’t been able to update at all this week…I’ve had an extremely busy few weeks with Day Jobbery stuff — training, office visits, and whatnot — which has put a bit of a strain on my writing schedule.  You probably know already that I hate it when that happens, but it is what it is.  The plus side is that the remaining time I do have for writing is not being wasted–I’m getting a lot of new fiction done longhand!  Woohoo!

That said–I’ll also be on a mini-vacation at the beginning of April, so I won’t be able to update then either.  SO!  This means that you will most likely be seeing the next update from me around 7 April or thereafter.

In the meantime, y’all play nice until I return!

Any Day is Record Store Day


John Cusack in ‘High Fidelity’


As you’ve probably figured out (or remembered from last year’s LJ missive), I’ve decided to give Record Store Day a pass from here on in, as it’s pretty much become the antithesis of what I feel about record stores.  I bring this up because it’s about that time of year, and the online music blogs are starting to talk about it again.

Back in the late 00’s, RSD was conceived as a way to celebrate the then-struggling record industry, a day for everyone to head over to their local shop, peruse the aisles and come home with some nifty deals and some sweet music.  I was on board for that, considering my own spending habits.  [Hell, just recently I was going through some old bank paperwork and found my checkbook register from 2003-4 — the number of times I hit Newbury Comics during that time was astounding.]  You can still find my 2008 comment in the Public Quotes section of the website (I’m the third quote down here).

Nowadays, I feel this celebration is less about remembering how cool record stores are, and more about that really cool collector’s edition 7″ (only 1000 printed!) of songs I have already but DUDE IT’S RED VINYL.  Really, I’m not kidding — check out the ‘special releases’ for this year.  And that’s just the US listing…other participating countries have even more, sometimes bigger lists.  Not to mention that it’s no secret that many of these end up on eBay at inflated prices before the sun goes down.

Now, I really hate to be cynical about this, I really do.  But last year when I went over to Amoeba to enjoy perusing the bins like I always do, I realized there was no way in hell I’d be able to do so.  The reason was that many of the outer aisles were blocked by an insanely long line of about four hundred people, arms full to bursting with the same collector’s edition purchases and not a single item from the bins. Others not in line were blocking the inner aisles, chatting away and comparing collector’s edition finds and other rarities they’d found over the years.  I gave it about twenty minutes before I walked out of the store, pissed off and emptyhanded.

I never do that.  Not at a record store.  I’ll at least have one or two items in hand when I leave.

SO.  I submit this:  Any day can be Record Store Day if you want it.

Heading to the local shop shouldn’t just be about getting the collector’s edition…not that I’m dismissing those, but I’m of the mind that music shopping isn’t just about getting that rare item.  It’s about finding that cd in the dollar bin that you’d completely forgotten about for a decade or so, with all the memories of that release flooding back to you from out of nowhere.  It’s about seeing what’s hot and what’s not.  It’s about putting those beat-up headphones over your ears to sample a few songs before you buy.  It’s about finding a nifty present for your sister or your husband or your mom or whoever.  It’s even about buying that tee-shirt of that band you’ve just fallen in love with.

And you can do that any time.  Hell, even if you don’t have a local record store you can get to (which, in all honesty needs to be rectified STAT!), head to the band’s or the label’s website and order the cd direct.  Donate to a PledgeMusic or a Kickstarter or a Patreon event, watch the band in the process of recording that album, and get a copy in your hands when it’s all done.  Check out some of the great no-label indie releases on BandCamp.  There’s a shitload of great sounds out there, if you’re willing to search for them.

Because really–it’s about the bands, when you get down to it.  The record store is where they sell their wares.  It’s where you’ll find what you want and need.  And you can do that any day of the week.


New Release Reviews

I know, I know…I promised I’d try to make this an ongoing series of posts, but alas, it’s kind of hard to review albums when the first quarter is more often than not a barren wasteland.

Okay, maybe not exactly a wasteland.  Just that the January-March season is often the slowest in the music world. I’ve heard many and varied reasons as to why, and each of them kinda sorta make sense, so I won’t bore you with that little distraction.

I won’t bore you with a distraction about my thoughts on the Global Release Day idea that’s been in the news day.  To be honest, I don’t have many thoughts on that anyway…the old Tuesday release in the US was basically to keep sales fair, but the internet has pretty much changed that on multiple levels, what with rush/surprise releases, instant reveals, single track offerings, and so on.  It’s a new zoo out there now.

Besides, over the last few weeks we’ve seen some pretty tasty platters drop!

Jellyfish, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk reissues
Rel. 1/20/15

I equate these two with my stay at Emerson College in Boston…the first one released as I was starting my sophomore year, the second when I was about to graduate.  A phenomenal band with a sadly short lifespan, Jellyfish popped up in late summer 1990 with their first album and an excellent Beatles-meets-Nuggets track called “The King is Half-Undressed”.  Bellybutton was a creative mix of equal parts XTC, Queen, 60s pop, and 90s Gen-X ennui.  The band itself had a stellar line-up: lyricist/singer/drummer Andy Sturmer (who would later work with Puffy AmiYumi and many other alt-pop bands), Jason Falkner (just out of the last 80s version of the Three O’Clock and later a respected solo performer), and Manning brothers Chris and Roger Jr (the latter would be a session keyboardist for everyone from Beck to Angels and Airwaves).  Jason and Chris would depart after the first album and tour and be replaced by two other session musicians.  They released one further album then went their separate ways.

For those curious, Bellybutton is the easier of the two to get into, as many of the songs are bright and very melodic with a hint of 60s and 70s pop nostalgia.  Spilt Milk is a different beast altogether…the alternapop sound is still there, but the sound is a lot darker and denser.  The two albums were recently reissued with a ridiculous amount of extra tracks and fascinating liner notes from the band members.  They’ve also been remastered for the first time since their initial releases, so the sound is crisp, clear and strong.


Black Rivers, Black Rivers
Rel. 2/9/15

I first heard of Black Rivers late last year while listening to RadioBDC.  I’d missed the introduction but thought…wow, that really sounds like Jez from Doves. Lo and behold, it was!  Fellow Dove Jimi Goodwin had released a solo album last year, but I hadn’t known the other guys would start their own side project as well, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear this track.  And you can definitely tell this is Jez and Andy Williams’ work…whereas Jimi’s is more pastoral and perhaps reminiscent of Elbow, Jez and Andy’s songs have more pop to them, more eccentricities.

Black Rivers is a much darker affair than the Doves’ canon, its lyrics (and videos) hinting at a more science fictional setting, perhaps a space opera of sorts.  They’re songs about loneliness in travel and in distances.  And in an unexpected but welcome twist, Andy and Jez perhaps hint at their pre-Doves past as part of electronic band Sub Sub–there are dark, swelling keyboards here that evoke early Thomas Dolby or the metronomic twitterings of Kraftwerk.


Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday
Rel. 3/3/15

I’m not gonna lie, I’m still an Oasis fan.  Some people can’t stand them, others think the only good thing they ever released was Definitely Maybe.  I’ve been a fan since “Live Forever”, even despite the fact that neither Gallagher brother owns a great singing voice. Liam’s was always nasal and snarky, and Noel’s was kind of lifeless and just that tiny bit out of tune.  Post-breakup, I gravitated more towards Liam’s Beady Eye project (read: late-era Oasis minus Noel) and felt Noel’s HFB project was promising, but hadn’t quite made it yet.

Three and a half years later, however, Chasing Yesterday ends up being a solid winner and an excellent album, even more memorable than either Beady Eye album.  He’s returned to his biggest strength — his solid songwriting skills — and he’s written some phenomenal tracks such as the singles “In the Heat of the Moment” and “The Ballad of the Mighty I”.  Musically he’s got a much stronger band here that hints at the more mature Heathen Chemistry era sound of Oasis (my favorite album of theirs), letting the music stretch its muscles and reach new points.  There’s even a bit of Pink Floyd-y prog going on with a few tracks, which actually works to his advantage.

All told, one of my favorite albums of the year so far.


Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Rel. 3/3/15

There are but a handful of bands and musicians where I will buy their album, regardless as to whether I’ve heard a track from it or not.  Porcupine Tree is one of them, and PT’s singer Steven Wilson is another.  A phenomenal guitarist and songwriter, he puts out beautifully crafted music just this side of prog rock (a label he himself dismisses, as his and PT’s sound does vary wildly from prog to metal to folk balladry).

Hand. Cannot. Erase. is a song cycle inspired by a movie called Dreams of a Life, itself a documentary about Joyce Carol Vincent, a British woman who had died of natural causes in her apartment in 2003 and had not been found until three years later.  Like the movie, the album focuses on a woman and her relationships with friends and family, personal and emotional distances, and how, despite how close one can be to family and friends, the connections are often more tenuous than people are willing to believe.

Wilson’s last few solo albums have all been excellent and strong, but often straying into different genres (his last few were more on the jazzy side), but HCE is almost a return to the forms he’s best known for.  The widescreen sounds of earlier prog-oriented PT (such as on 1999’s Stupid Dream or 2000’s Lightbulb Sun) make a welcome return here, though there are also hints of tighter, harder-edged intensity (such as from 2002’s In Absentia) as well.  Despite the dark theme, it’s filled with gorgeous sounds that you can get lost in.

I’m pretty sure this one’s going to end up on my writing session playlist this year.


No, this post is not about Elastica stealing the opening riff of Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” from Pink Flag.  I’ve already made my peace with that.

This is about social connection.  I was just thinking about this earlier this morning…I’ve had this nagging feeling for ages that there was an actual reason behind my wasting so much time refreshing my Twitter feed.  The obvious answer is that I like staying in touch with all my friends, especially now that they’re all on the east coast and I’m on the opposite side of the country.  But there’s got to be more than that.  I’m usually on top of my stupid occasional timewasting addictions — playing with my mp3 collection, watching YouTube videos, looking up what’s playing on the station I’m currently listening to — and I know that my threshold is about fifteen to twenty minutes before I automatically start guilting myself into getting some actual work done.

But what is it with Twitter that I keep wanting to update the feed so frequently?

I think I figured it out, and I wrote it down in my personal journal: Twitter today is lunch period back in high school.

It’s definitely got to do with staying in touch with my friends back east, there’s no denying that.  A lot of these friends are connected to my circle of friends from my junior year in high school, either directly or indirectly.  And back then, back when I was a spotty nerd weirdo wearing Cure and PiL tee shirts and having given up on trying to fit in with the popular cliques, the lunch period was the primary time I could hang out with said friends when we were in school.  I really looked forward to hanging with them, even if it was just for twenty minutes a day.

Sure, we’d cross paths in the hallway, or meet up during a study hall.  The occasional after-school get together and the weekend trips down to Amherst were a bonus.  Back then we didn’t have the instant gratification of social media on the internet — hell, my family didn’t have DSL until 2000 or so — so we made do with the moments we were given.

We never quite lost touch in those pre-social media days, even when we were no longer nearby and some of us were too broke to stay with AOL, let alone make a phone call.  We emailed, even snail-mailed each other occasionally, and I would even make a few roadtrips out their way on my vacations.

Live Journal changed that, when I reconnected with a large number of them on a social media level.  Then, a few years later, Twitter and Facebook made the contact more immediate, and it’s been like that ever since.

This social evolution took so many slow and deliberate steps that it’s just like anything else I do over a long period of time.  I don’t always notice the subtle changes and the current level I’m at.  So it’s not as if I’m stalking all my friends or have no IRL of my own…we’ve just been connected at a consistent level for so long, I don’t always notice why I keep refreshing the feed.  Passive addiction.

This lends itself to the ‘stupid timewasting addictions’ I spoke of earlier…I get into a habit of doing certain things that I don’t immediately notice if I’m overdoing them.  This is why I’ll also speak of ‘unplugging’, where I’ll just back away cold turkey for a while.  It’s not always due to the occasionally frustrating online conversations that pop up, or what have you; it’s just that it’s the only way I know that I’ll break those addictions and reset my life.  Plus, it’ll give me more free time for contemplation and working on the projects I need to work on.

I do find it interesting how, in this age of instant and continuous connection, the lesson we should really take out of it is moderation.

Musical Moments: Meeting a Favorite Band

So I found out the other day that one of my favorite bands of the late 80s, The Church, is going to be doing an in-store appearance at Amoeba here in San Francisco.  Most of you already know that their 1988 song “Under the Milky Way” is my favorite song of all time, so this little meet and greet is somewhat of a big thing for me.  If they play it live (I’d be surprised if they didn’t, considering it’s one of their signature songs), I’ll be absolutely over the moon.  I already have their new album, Further Deeper, which I downloaded straight from their site late last year, but I may just buy it again to get it signed.  I’m that much of a fan.

Meeting a favorite band or music is always an interesting experience.  I went to one or two in-stores back in my college days, but it wasn’t until I started working at HMV that I was able to get on the list, stick around and meet the band after local shows. I’ve gone to a few signings here in SF as well.  The guys from Travis are all wonderful, very friendly Glaswegians, and I had a really good long chat about recording and bass playing with their bassist Dougie.  The guys from the Verve Pipe were reserved but very nice guys (and Brian Van der Ark really is that tall!).  Karl Wallinger of World Party is a lovely guy and was absolutely tickled to see people there.  Then there’s the George Harrison moment, of course–the one time I was actually shaking afterwards.  There were a few others I’ve met, where they hid behind a bottle or a few beers, or where they felt just as uncomfortable as I did at that moment…those sometimes happen as well.

One of my favorite things about meeting my favorite musicians, especially once I got over being starstruck, is that they’re all the same as us fans.  They’re just regular people who are amused, maybe even a little bemused, that they have this kind of following.  Sometimes you can talk to them on Twitter or Facebook like you do your buddies, sometimes you’ll get to know them well.  Maybe not as close friends, but as acquaintances.  Your job is pushing paper, their job is writing songs and touring.  But the human interaction is the same.

It’s one of the many joys of being a music fan for me.  I don’t demand anything of them, though I may ask for an autograph if they’re willing. But I truly enjoy meeting them face to face, and thanking them for doing what they do, letting them know I love their art.

My Own Worst Enemy

I’ve been feeling frustrated lately and I know it’s my own damn fault.  I keep falling into my own trap of wasting time when I could be using it for creative endeavors.  Granted, I don’t always have the free time in between my Day Job responsibilities to sneak in some daily words, but it’s mid-February and I already see that I’m falling back into timewasting habits.

Mind you, I haven’t completely turned into a lazy-ass who dreams of being a writer but never quite gets there, never putting word to paper or screen.  I’m delivering some decent word count on the Walk in Silence project as of late.  I’ve also been having a lot of fun with my art, playing around with a comic version of A Division of Souls for my weekly art exercise (this isn’t top priority at this point, as my art still needs a hell of a lot of work).  And I’ve been doing a lot of guitar playing.

Boiling it down:  I have a lot of Best Laid Plans coming up against an easily-distracted mind.  There’s a reason I have multiple calendars and a whiteboard schedule…if I didn’t, my output would be much lower.  But it’s also a matter of finding the willingness to make good on those plans: I can’t just be “in the mood” or “inspired by the music I’m listening to” or whatever else puts me in the correct mindset.  I have to make myself want to achieve these goals, or else they’ll just remain Best Laid Plans.

We’re all our own worst enemy at times.  How do you combat it?  What do you do to clear those hurdles?