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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!

It’s a petty argument, I know…

…but I just quit following a few music blogs that I’ve been following for quite a few years.

Why? Because they and many of their readers lost their shit yesterday when news broke that Phil Collins, following up with his recent reissue campaign, decided to release the numerous related-era b-sides and remixes as two digital-only compilations rather than physically on CD.

No, it wasn’t because of all the Phil Collins hate. I like his stuff just fine, but I’m not upset about that. I’m just exhausted by the digital hate.

People like myself, who once had a stupidly large physical collection of vinyl, cassettes and CDs but decided that having room for other things in their homes and their lives is just a little more important, have no issue with digital. Maybe it’s just me, having grown up listening to third-generation dubs from friends, that I don’t mind if the sound quality isn’t completely pristine. I’m here for the music, not for its perfection. I’m definitely of the school of Not Hearing an All That Noticeable Difference Between Digital and Vinyl and Not Caring Much Either Way. I love the fact that I can own so many complete discographies that take up an index card-sized external drive. I love that I can filter it any way I like — especially by release date. I love that I can make mix tapes by copying and bundling these same mp3s together.

I mean, I get the whole collecting thing. I used to be that person. I’ll still buy the occasional box set, especially if it’s a complete discography. I may even buy it if it’s a brand new and improved remaster. And I will definitely buy it if it’s Beatles-related. But you know how I am about collectibles. I have no space for them, no turntable or cassette player to play them on. And if they’re on cd, I’ll rip them to my collection and store them away, if I have room…and I may sell them for store credit at Amoeba at a future date. Back in the day I might have thought the mere idea of all this was heresy, but nowadays digital suits me just fine.

But let me tell you, it’s really damn irritating when a favorite band releases a new track that’s only available on a 7″ single selling for $25, or has a limited edition of 140 and only available on cassette during Record Store Day. These music blogs will fall over themselves with excitement about this sort of thing and shell out whatever money it takes, though, and I won’t take that away from them. That’s their jam, and they’re welcome to it.

I just feel left out and forgotten by the bands I happen to like when they pull this.

So when us digital people get a pleasant surprise project of things we’d like to pick up, it’s doubly irritating when those same collectors cry foul by refusing to download, shouting “no cd, no buy”, claiming label stupidity, questioning the business acumen of the musicians, and generally being pouty children. I can’t help but eyeroll. I even saw one state “why have it digital only when you can listen to it for free streaming?” Which, okay, some digital fans like streaming only, but there’s just as many of us out there who love being able to download. Not to mention there are numerous indie bands out there who are doing pretty good on bandcamp selling equal numbers of downloads and physical copies. To dismiss digital collectors like this is not only annoying as hell, it makes you sound like an elitist snob.

I’m just tired of that snobbery. I have other music blogs and sites to inform me of new releases. (AllMusic in particular seems to help greatly for me.) I’m tired of being lumped as Not a Real Fan because I don’t own the physical copy.

I just want to listen to the music I like, damn it. Is that too much to ask?

It is 5am and you are listening to Los Angeles

As I’ve mentioned on various outlets, I’ll be on a solo vacation next week, heading south to Los Angeles on a six-day trip to various parts of the SoCal Sprawl. I’m hoping to hit my usual favorite haunts: Amoeba Hollywood, Santa Monica Pier, LACMA and Museum Row, The Nickel Diner,The Last Bookstore, among others… as well as some points of interest (musical and otherwise) that I’ve been wanting to hit: a movie at Graumann’s (or whatever it’s called now), Griffith Observatory (if it’s open), Echo Park, Sunset Grill (a favorite Don Henley song!), The Sunset Strip, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and other fun places. I’m even going to check out the Warner Bros movie lot!

So of course I have a playlist to upload to my mp3 player for the trip…. 🙂

Sifting through old data

I’ve been doing some major cleaning back here in Spare Oom thanks to buying new furniture, and let me tell you, it’s been a wild ride on the Wayback Machine lately.

One of the things I’ve been doing the last week or so is going through my old 3.5″ floppy disks; I had three file boxes full of them that have been collecting dust and slowly degrading, so I figured it was high time that I saved what I could to an external drive, deleted what I didn’t want, and recycle the whole lot once I’m done. The earliest of these date back to 1994 when my ex-gf and I were writing True Faith. Every document dated up to around 1999 was a WRI file, given that I used MS Write exclusively until I finally got a copy of MS Word.

So as you can imagine, I’ve got all these songs in my head from that era that fit nicely with The Future Is Internet. Some of the songs are from horrible-but-great SF films like Johnny Mnemonic and Strange Days and Virtuosityand Hackers, while others were part of my ongoing writing soundtracks for TF and thereafter into The Phoneix Effect.

Enjoy some mid-90s Tunage Of The Future!

Singles Going Steady

Some things do in fact come around again. Back in 1999 or so, during the back end of my HMV years, I remember both managers and distributor reps — and numerous music journos — saying that the single was a dying format. No one wanted to buy a cd with only four or five tracks on it (and most of those tracks being a nine-minute danceathon remix of a three-second sample of the song at that point). And certainly no one wanted to buy a cassette with those same tracks because who owns a tape deck anymore?

In the ensuing years, bands continued to release the occasional single, but only as a promo release, or a special to the fans, or a collectible for Record Store Day. It was no longer a major moneymaking format like its original ancestor nearly a century ago.

And yet, over the past five or so years, I’ve been seeing a significant uptick of releases from well-known bands dropping EPs of five or six tracks, or one-track mp3s. And they’re selling quite well. Not as high as back in the day, but well enough for them to make money.

Beck has been using this to exellent effect, having dropped numerous singles in between his album run of Modern Guilt, Morning Phase and Colors. Some of them, like “Dreams”, eventually ended up on albums, but many of them remain single-only releases. His current single “Saw Lightning” is another variation, one that Depeche Mode was known for back in the 80s: the teaser single. The new song that will most definitely be on the new album, which may or may not show up for another few months.

Other bands like Broken Social Scene and Belle & Sebastian have started releasing multi-volume EPs over the course of a year. Many groups have stated that this seems to be a more creative and less stressful way of recording and releasing music, as it affords them the time to work on a smaller batch of songs in between shows, business work, day jobs and family life. Failure did a variation on this last year, recording and releasing a full album as four EPs.

And from a commercial aspect, 2018 has shown that the single-only release has become a working format again. One of that year’s biggest singles — which won four Grammy Awards at that — was Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”…and to date it does not appear on any full album.

Even b-sides, the favorite of many avid collectors like myself, have not exactly fallen by the wayside, either. Instead, they will show up as true b-sides on collectible seven- or twelve-inch singles, rarities compilations for Record Store Day, or extra tracks for Expanded/Deluxe Editions. The latter will often be released on the same day as the regular edition and given a reasonable price point, often for only a few dollars more.

And lastly but QUITE importantly…the single is a perfect platform for the indie band who wants to put themselves out there, either one song at a time or as a calling card for more future music. This has become a career-saving outlet for bands who are not on major labels (or chose not to be, essentially ‘self-publishing’ via bandcamp and other online shopping sites). I can’t tell you how many great new songs and bands I’ve discovered on a single release over the last few years.

The resurgence of the single format in the music business is due to multiple and varying reasons, but I’d say the most important one is that labels and distributors have come to terms with how the average listener buys their music. The casual listener will use a streaming service and, if they’re dedicated enough, will download the single from one of the many online sites. I think they’ve also taken improved release schedules into account as well; we will rarely see multiple non-promotional singles dropping from already-released albums, but a teaser single a few months preceding the album is definitely on the upswing. Services like Amazon Music and iTunes will offer the single as part of the upcoming release, either on its own or as part of a pre-order, letting you buy the rest of the album at a reduced price.

It’s taken a long time for the business to catch up to the changes in collecting and listening over the last twenty years, but they’re finally catching up. And it’s working.

Favorite Albums: Duncan Sheik

Just before i started my job at HMV in late 1996, a new record popped up that hit the airwaves of both alternative rock and pop stations; even though it was primarily filtered down to Adult Alternative for its easy and melodic sound, the songwriting was so unexpectedly tight and adventurous that it got picked up everywhere. It was not the bombast of Collective Soul’s self-titled record, or the earnestness of Live’s Throwing Copper; it was simply a lovely album to listen to.

But that lightness is betrayed by darker, gloomier lyrics. James Hunter of Rolling Stone likened Sheik’s music to Talk Talk and The Smiths, perhaps for that reason: the musicianship is top notch from start to finish, the melodies are wonderfully creative but not overly complex, and the songs definitely get stuck in your head.

If you’ve only heard “Barely Breathing”, I suggest you check out the rest of the album — it’s definitely worth it.

Bonus Track: A year and a half later he popped up on the Great Expectations soundtrack from early 1998 with another fabulous track, “Wishful Thinking”, which got a lot of airplay at the time.

His later albums unfortunately did not get the attention they should have — partly due to changing tastes and partly due to the late 90s industry shake-ups — but they too are well worth looking for. He’s also kept busy since the mid-00s by writing and scoring music for multiple stage plays and musicals, his best known being Spring Awakening.

Indie Rocks

Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, courtesy KEXP.org

For the last seven or eight months, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to KEXP online while working from home. It’s an affiliate of the University of Washington and non-profit, and they play some damn fine indie rock that’s made my ears perk up repeatedly. A good portion of my downloads during this time have been informed or influenced by the station.

Okay, that may sound like a shameless plug, but let’s be honest, I’ll happily plug any station that broadcasts purely out of a love for music rather than for the ratings. If your station is dedicated to a creative playlist, bands both local and international, and is not afraid to shake it up now and again, you’ve got my ears and my loyalty.

Sometimes it’s hard to find these stations, especially when they seem to be a vanishing breed. Even though the Giant Conglomerates seem to be losing money hand over fist due to a severe bout of All The Stations Are Playing The Same Damn Songs, it’s often hard to find these stations on your car stereo or elsewhere. You often have to go online and further afield like I did. I might live in San Francisco, but when a good number of the local commercial stations are all owned by Cumulus or some other big name, I have to dig a bit.

And sometimes the college stations don’t exactly work for me, either. Some like Berkeley’s KALX or Stanford’s KZSU are good but far too leftfield for my tastes. Others like Santa Clara’s KSCU run mostly on minimal programming and maximum library autoplay. Some have become shells of their former selves, broadcasting an NPR feed with very few live shows.

This is why I’m still a big fan of streaming radio stations online. Not streaming full-stop; I do have a Spotify account but I rarely use it, and for the most part I only stream albums on New Release Fridays. I crave the live deejay atmosphere. [And most definitely not the “morning crew” kind, which I find far too irritating. Howard Stern may have made it popular, but that format is way beyond its sell-by date now.]

I’ll usually find these stations in one of two ways: either by word of mouth/band announcement (KEXP is known for hosting quite a few live-in-studio performances) or by local listening. I’ve favorited stations that I happened upon while on vacation. I love to find new stations and check them out via their website.

I find KEXP to be a perfect blend of all the good parts of the above. Maybe a little leftfield, but never weird for weirdness’ sake. Silly deejay banter, but never meathead locker room humor. Each host has their own style and tastes. I might hear a song on heavy rotation, but I won’t hear it eight times a day. They’ll often surprise me with deep cuts from new albums. They’ve introduced me to a hell of a lot of indie bands I never would have heard of otherwise.

And I’m always curious to find even more stations. Who knows what I’ll be listening to six months from now?

Twenty Years On: Spring 1999

I’d have to say 1999 was kind of a weird time for me, as it had some smashing highs and some really frustrating lows for me. While I still loved my record store job at HMV, things had changed there, and not necessarily for the better. The new manager and I often butted heads, and I also found my shifts often being pushed to weird hours to cover someone else’s plans. I’d gotten frustrated with the fact that my sci-fi novel (The Phoenix Effect) was getting no bites from publishers and its sequel was soon to be aborted when I instead chose to completely rewrite the whole damn thing.

Radio was also getting more frustrating to listen to, the more melodic sounds of 90s alt-rock getting replaced by what I’d call ‘meathead alt-metal’, with the drop-tuning and growling (and sometimes unfortunate white-boy-rapping) of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson. I started listening to less radio and more of my own collection, which of course had already grown considerably in the last couple of years. On the plus side there, I’d discover a lot more imports and obscurities that became some of my favorite records of the time.

The Supernaturals, A Tune a Day, released 8 February 1999. I was pretty heavy into the imports at this time. I would read the British music mags religiously, checking out the news and reviews and following up accordingly, ordering a copy or two for the store. A lot of it was hit or miss, and most of the time I’d be ordering a copy simply for my own collection. The Supernaturals are one band that got some minor reviews in Mojo and elsewhere but kind of vanished soon after. I really dug the alternapop of this record, though.

Annie Christian, Twilight, released 8 February 1999. The same goes with Annie Christian…they were part of a newer British wave of guitar groups that wrote some really nifty tunes that unfortunately got ignored by pretty much everyone.

Tin Star, The Thrill Kisser, released 9 February 1999. Now THIS record is groovy and quirky as hell and more people need to know about it. The “Head” single got some minor airplay on the alt-rock stations, and every now and again I’m pleasantly surprised when it resurfaces. This record got a hell of a lot of play during my writing sessions. Well worth searching for and checking out.

Lit, A Place in the Sun, released 23 February 1999. These guys could easily be filed away in that same meathead alt-metal gang, considering their biggest hit is about being an alcoholic loser…but they do it in style with catchy riffs and fun tunes. Bonus points for providing a nude cameo of Blink-182 (following up their “What’s My Age Again” streak) in their video for “Zip-Lock”, another radio favorite.

Jimmy Eat World, Clarity, released 23 February 1999. Before the enormous success of 2001’s Bleed American, this band was a favorite of the emo crowd, and “Lucky Denver Mint” was a minor hit on a lot of alt-rock stations. Their early records are definitely worth checking out as well.

Badly Drawn Boy, It Came from the Ground EP, released 1 March 1999. This one remains one of my favorite import finds from the HMV years, and it’s one of BDB’s best songs, and really should have gotten a hell of a lot more attention than it did. I always play this one loud because it’s just that awesome.

3 Colours Red, Revolt, released 2 March 1999. Yet another fantastic alt-rock album criminally obscured by alt-metal radio and record distributor shenanigans of the day. “Beautiful Day” is a gorgeous tune that has the epic quality of Bends-era Radiohead. Had this come out a few years earlier or later, it may have been a much bigger hit.

Blur, 13, released 15 March 1999. Blur, on the other hand, was the Britpop band that survived the late 90s fallout of their scene by way of changing up their sound considerably. Their 1997 self-titled record introduced a much heavier and more experimental sound, while this record exposed their more emotional (and emotionally fraught) side.

Various Artists, The Matrix OST, released 30 March 1999. Say what you will about the trilogy, the first movie definitely changed the entire game of American science fiction movies by being fiercely original, relentlessly creative, refusing to rely on tired tropes, and introducing some of the best jaw-dropping special effects ever made up to that point. And it had one hell of a great soundtrack that just had to be played as loud as possible.

*

The last year and a half of my HMV tenure may have been fraught with irritations and stress, but it also provided me with a ton of excellent music that would keep me busy and entertained. This was the peak era of my weekend road trips to comic stores, book stores and Boston, and it was also an extremely creative time for me as well, even if my current project was about to be completely restarted from scratch. My social life was nil, but that was the least of my worries, as I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I was actually getting paid enough to be able to afford it to some extent. I’d dug myself out of an extremely deep depressive funk, and despite managerial frustration, I refused to fall back into that trap again.