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Naruto is (c) Masashi Kishimoto, of course

Thanks for visiting Walk in Silence!

This is the official blog for my obsession with music: listening, collecting, creating, playing, and everything in between.

Walk in Silence is named after the first line in Joy Division’s lovely song “Atmosphere”, which got a hell of a lot of play on my Walkman during my senior year in high school. As you may have guessed, I have a certain affinity (read: rabid obsession) with the college rock of the late 80s.  Also known as post-punk, modern rock, alternative, indie, and all sorts of other labels.  I always have tunage going at any given time of day, whether it be from my collection, a stream, or a radio station.

I’m also an obsessive music collector.  I started collecting at seven years old in 1978 and I haven’t stopped since.  Currently my collection is almost all digital, and I own about [REDACTED*] mp3s, all ripped and/or downloaded over the last twenty or so years.

* – Let’s just say it’s a metric crapton of music and leave it at that.

I also have another blog called Welcome to Bridgetown, which is where I talk about my long-term career of writing.  I’m a self-published author writing primarily in the science fiction genre, but I have been known to write other kinds of fiction as well.  WtBt is where I also talk a lot about the writing craft and pass on any knowledge I learn, as I like to Pay It Forward.  You can find the blog here.

I wrote a few SF books I call The Bridgetown Trilogy, which are also under a larger umbrella called The Mendaihu Universe.  They can be found in e-book form at Smashwords!  They can also be found as trade paperbacks on Amazon!  Please check out the Buy Stuff tab above for links!

My blog schedule here at Walk in Silence is Tuesday and Thursday, with the occasional fly-by or extra post.  I try to post them first thing in the morning, but they may run a few hours later if there are scheduling issues.

Please enjoy!

Fly-by: Relaxing

Sorry for the fake-out there, kids…Outside Lands took a bit more out of me than I’d expected. Going to take it a little bit easy this week in an attempt to get back some of my energy.

Meanwhile, have a listen to a shoegaze deep cut that pops into my head now and again. Then listen to its ambient reworking by Global Communication.

I should do an overview of both bands. Chapterhouse was a fantastic Britpop/Shoegaze band that didn’t get nearly all the love it deserves. Global Communication on the other hand may be known more for their remix work and their solo outings under their own names (Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard), but their ’73:14′ album is an ambient masterpiece.

It’s been a hell of a weekend.

Music is most emphatically not an escape from reality for me. It’s an anchor to keep me sane, to help me focus any depression or aggression into something positive like my own creative outlets. It’s there to bring me back to a calm place, so I can focus on tough issues with a calmer mind. It provides me with inspiration when I need direction.

(This track’s excellently pro-immigration and anti-racist, folks — the hand gesture in the video is done as a fuck-you to the white supremacists out there.)

Favorite Albums: Oasis, ‘Heathen Chemistry’

Oasis is a band you either love, or love to hate. I’ve been a fan of them probably since hearing “Live Forever” on WBCN way back in the day (I love how it starts off with its slow, slinky drums before Liam Gallagher’s northern sneer kicks in). And those who are fans have their own particular favorite record of theirs…the fans-from-the-beginning will of course sing the high praises of their 1994 debut Definitely Maybe, and the majority will agree that 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is indeed a fine album. They will also most likely agree that 1997’s Be Here Now is a bloated and self-indulgent mess. And…yeah, all their other albums tend to be seen as leftover table scraps.

Heathen Chemistry from 2002, however, is a band finally deciding to mature. By this time, bassist Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan, guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, and drummer Tony MacCarroll had left the band, replaced by ex-Ride bassist Andy Bell, guitarist Gem Archer and drummer Alan White. The ever-feuding Gallagher brothers were the only remaining original members. Perhaps the newer line-up was a plus, as it changed their sound considerably. Heathen Chemistry sounds like a band finally taking themselves seriously and it contains some of the Gallaghers’ finest songwriting.

The record kicks off with first single “The Hindu Times”, a strong rocker similar to those from Definitely Maybe with an added nod to psychedelia, with a noted sitar-like riff from Noel. Unlike their previous records, this sounds a hell of a lot less like posturing and more like an honest love song.

It’s followed up by interesting deep cuts “Force of Nature” (a boozy Lennonesque blues track featuring Noel on vocals) and “Hung in a Bad Place” (a boisterous two-chord rocker) before hitting gold with the powerful and lovely ballad “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”. It might be yet another nod to their heroes the Beatles — this one definitely has a 1967 Pepper feel — but it’s a gorgeous song and one of their best. I sometimes wish they’d play this rather than “Wonderwall” on the radio!

It’s followed immediately by what would end up as the fourth single from the record, “Songbird”, and the first single written by Liam instead of Noel. It’s a short and simple semi-acoustic ballad that has perhaps a bit of REM in there, but it’s a nice track and shows that Liam’s songwriting had improved vastly over the last few years.

And to fill out the first half of the album, Noel comes back with a fantastic track and third single “Little By Little” — a double-A side with a later track we’ll hit momentarily — and it’s a deeply personal one compared to their previous songs. It’s one of Noel’s best to date, and one can tell he put is all into it.

The second half kicks in with a brief instrumental interlude, “A Quick Peep”, written not by a Gallagher this time out but Andy Bell. It’s like a miniature entr’acte before we’re brought back into the sunshine glow of yet another Beatles nod, “(Probably) All in the Mind”. Intriguingly, this song sounds a bit more like late-60s Stones than Beatles, despite the obvious title reference to Yellow Submarine and the White’s drumming nod to “Ticket to Ride”.

It’s followed by “She Is Love”, the other half of the above-mentioned double-A single, and it’s another powerhouse track from Noel. It’s a nice acoustic track that is not only devoid of any of the trademark Oasis swagger, it’s full-on that trademark Oasis psychedelia and full of heart and joy.

Next up is an amazing song written by Liam that definitely should have been a single. It’s dark and brooding, and while the lyrics and subject matter may be a bit simple compared to their other more well-known songs, it’s nonetheless a stellar track that helps finish out the album.

The last song (plus its hidden track “The Cage” at the far end) is “Better Man”, which feels like another stab at post-Beatles Lennon, especially during his Some Time In New York phase. It’s grouchy and full of sloppy, crunchy blues guitar. It does feel a little bit like an afterthought but it’s actually a perfect final song for the album as it helps end it on a positive, uplifting note. It’s the band closing out the record on a loose, freeform jam that makes the entire record worthwhile.

*

I wouldn’t say Heathen Chemistry is Oasis’ best album, nor is it the most perfect one, but for me it’s their most consistently enjoyable. It was a step in the right direction for them, one they needed to take after working on the same classic sound over multiple records. The new style was hinted at with 2000’s Standing On the Shoulder of Giants, but that particular record felt more like a transitional one than a thorough evolution. This was Oasis growing up, and it fit them incredibly well.

It shows even now in the brothers’ solo output; Noel’s latest work with his High Flying Birds moniker shines with his stellar songwriting chops, and Liam’s work both with Beady Eye (essentially Oasis sans Noel) and on his own is just as strong. They may still be the same quarreling brothers who can’t be in the same room without eventually throwing a punch (their verbal snipes at each other on Twitter and elsewhere are often quite hilarious), but that hasn’t gotten in the way of them remaining fine musicians.

We Are All One

When the world brings us down or drives us crazy, we try to find temporary reprieves to help us recharge so we can face it again. For me, that reprieve has always been music. It”s helped me find clarity when my brain and emotions are in overdrive, it’s inspired me to find new ways to face tough situations. (Not to mention its near-constant ability to inspire my writing!)

One of my favorite ways of taking this break over the years has been watching the music videos of World Order. It’s the brainchild of musician/goodwill ambassador/former mixed martial artist and kickboxer Genki Sudo. Their visual style is that of business suits and robotic movement, hinting at the stereotype of the lifeless Japanese businessman. The music itself is pop-idol dance, but it fits their visuals so perfectly that it’s hard not to love them.

Their videos are always such a joy to watch; they’re clever and creative, and they always provide a positive message even in the face of adversity, which happens to be Genki Sudo’s motto: We Are All One. Enjoy! And stay for the end of the videos, as they nearly always leave us with a nice easter egg.

Bonus: I do love that they even wrote a song about a certain “leader”… 😉

Synthpop Has Returned and I Am Here for It

I should have seen the signs when Davey and Jade from AFI decided to plug in their old-school synths and create Blaqk Audio and have a minor hit with “Stiff Kittens” back in 2007. It’s equal parts darkwave goth and emocore and it sounds like they’d been mainlining their 80s Belgian techno.

Considering I grew up listening to the original stuff on college radio back in the 80s and loved it, I of course gravitated to the new waves of New Wave each time they splashed ashore. They may not have been giant surges, but they always tended to stick around in one form or another.

For a while we saw a number of bands with a form a lazy dreampop like Small Black, or the splashy sound of Bear in Heaven, or the cinematic widescreen of M83:

(Mad props to them for channeling Akira in this particular video, by the way.)

We’ve also seen an uptick of the synth-duo band dynamic, such as Tanlines, MS MR, Bob Moses, and Public Service Broadcasting:

And of course there’s the one-man synth performer Robert DeLong who plays every instrument himself, often all at the same time, many of them consisting of kludged-together video game consoles and joysticks:

Synthpop seems to have finally gained more ground over the last year or so, as I’ve been seeing an uptick of records by performers and bands with a love for that classic 80s synth sound. Many of them are even channeling some of the more obscure goth and darkwave bands such as Xymox, Red Flag and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry such as Drab Majesty and Boy Harsher:

I’m drawn to this sound partly because of its spot-on retro inspiration, but also because it’s exactly the kind of stuff I’d listen to during my writing sessions. I’m about to create another playlist for Mendaihu Universe Book Four (Songs from the Eden Cycle Vol 6, if you’re playing along).

Some people may see this synth sound as sterile, or just another alt-rock hybrid, but I’m here for it regardless. It’s fun, it’s moody, and it’s creative. And I’ll be honest, I wish I had the money and technical mind to buy me one of those synths and record my own stuff. For now, though, I’ll stick with grooving along to these albums on my headphones at the gym or at my PC in Spare Oom, waiting for more.

Favorite Albums: Green

REM’s first release for their freshly-inked deal with Warner Bros Records, having moved on from their indie years with IRS, usually gets passed over due to the albums surrounding it: 1987’s Document features two of their biggest commercial hits, “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”, and 1991’s Out of Time features “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People”. What does 1988’s Green have, though? It’s a bit disjointed (on purpose), it’s a shift away from their classic pastoral folk sound (on purpose), and even its lyrics are less obscure and more understandable (again, on purpose). But it’s a hell of a fine album with some absolutely stunning and gorgeous tunes from start to finish.

REM has always worn their politics on their sleeves (this particular album contains a recurring theme of environmentalism), and in the release of Green was actually timed to coincide with the 1988 Presidential election with a brilliant promo postcard sent to record stores and radio stations:

While the ’88 election may not have finished the way they’d hoped, that didn’t stop them from continuing to use their voice for progressive reasons. Though this particular album may not be as overtly political as some of their previous releases, it certainly did bring issues to light by revising how they wrote their music. Singer Michael Stipe had requested the band “not write any more REM-type songs” in order to change their style.

As was becoming habit, the album kicks off with a lively, upbeat pop song, literally called “Pop Song ’89”, welcoming the listener to tune in and have a bit of fun. The video for the single (released in May 1989 and directed by Stipe himself) is goofy fun, featuring four topless dancers — including himself. When MTV asked to censor the video for airplay, he cheekily responded by providing an edit with black bars on all four bodies.

It’s quickly followed by another uptempo rocker, “Get Up”, which seems to actually be about asking someone to get up and out of bed. [Wikipedia states that in the late 90s, Stipe told an audience that this is indeed the case and was about bassist Mike Mills, who had been oversleeping during the sessions.] It became the fourth single from the album, and while it didn’t dent the charts, the video did start the career of one CalArts student named Eric Darnell, who went on to be a successful director of several CGI-animated movies like Antz and Madagascar.

Next up is a change of pace, hinting both at their earlier folk sound and later mandolin-heavy sound, with “You Are the Everything”. It’s a simple love song, but it’s a gorgeous one, and one that I’m pretty sure I used on a mix-tape to my then-girlfriend some months later.

Returning to the upbeat pop sound, they return with the fun and goofy “Stand”, right up there with “Can’t Get There from Here” as proof that the band definitely has a sense of humor. It’s such a chipper song that it’s hard to take seriously — even Stipe cracks himself up at the end of the video. This would be the second single from the record, and still gets airplay to this day.

It’s followed up, however, by a one-two punch of darker, more somber songs to finish up the first side of the record, with “World Leader Pretend” and “The Wrong Child” — both songs that at first listen seem to be about other people, but in actuality are about the narrator. One focuses on the inner turmoil of breaking down self-imposed barriers, while the other focuses on the outer turmoil of social acceptance. Both are about the strength needed to change and accept the self despite its physical and emotional obstacles.

Side Two kicks off with one of my favorite REM songs and the most overtly political song off the album, “Orange Crush”, and the album’s first single. It’s powerful and relentless in its energy, even during the breakdown halfway through. It has a deliberately mixed message, seeming to be pro-military while consistently reminding us of its horrors (the title refers to Agent Orange, used as herbicidal warfare in Vietnam).

It’s followed up by another song that uses this deceptive messaging to great effect: the positive and upbeat “Turn You Inside-Out” may sound like a fun rocker of a track, but its lyrics barely contain its bile. Its message seems to be “I could make your life really fucking miserable right now, but I’m going to be the better man instead.” During a stop on their subsequent tour, Stipe would dedicate this song to Exxon, whose Valdez oil tanker had struck the Alaskan coastline and spilled thousands of gallons of oil.

The record comes to a close with three deep tracks that have their own special charm, starting with “Hairshirt”, with its tender message of remaining human in the most adverse of situations. [This seems to be about Stipe’s methods of dealing with fame and privacy; he would later have a conversation with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke about this very thing, inspiring Yorke to write “How to Disappear Completely”.]

It’s followed up with “I Remember California”, a surprisingly post-apocalyptic tale of a west coast decimated by rising oceans and climate change. It’s haunting in that it’s not so much about the destruction (or even the destructive powers), but the sadness about What Used to Be, through the eyes of someone who can no longer return.

The record ends on an unexpectedly high and positive note with an upbeat untitled song (officially called “Untitled Eleventh Track” on some discographies) where, at the end of the day, despite its struggles and frustrations, we are all here for each other. [It’s been said that drummer Bill Berry thought the drum pattern for this song was so stupid he refused to play it; guitarist Peter Buck fills in instead.] The song does seem a bit like an afterthought or an epilogue, but it does help bookend the album quite nicely.

I remember listening to this record a hell of a lot during my senior year in high school. I also remember quoting many of its lyrics on the blackboard in my first period Humanities class (a friend and I often wrote a ‘quote for the day’ before class started, and the teacher didn’t seem to mind at all). I would see them on tour in early April 1989, with Indigo Girls opening up — thus introducing me to yet another fantastic and long-loved band. The album has always stayed with me over the years as their most accessible and enjoyable from start to finish. It pretty much cemented my love for the band. It’s not their most popular, but for me it’s their most solid and most adventurous work.