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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!

Favorite Albums: Lonely Is an Eyesore

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CAD703, 4AD Records

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Martin Aston’s giant tome Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD, and already I’m revisiting a lot of my collection from that label, many of which I haven’t listened to in ages, including this one.

Lonely Is an Eyesore is another album that’s turning thirty this year, originally released 15 June 1987.  It’s a stellar mix that should be in the collection of anyone who listens to classic alternative rock.  I’d heard of this import via 120 Minutes, and knew the only places I’d be able to find it would either be Al Bum’s in Amherst or Main Street Music in Northampton.  I also knew I’d have to buy the cassette, considering I knew it would be part of my late-night headphone listening.

The album was produced and conceived by label head Ivo Watts-Russell as a multi-format release, provided with its own music video, which I believe was either directed or produced (or both) by Vaughan Oliver from the label’s art collective, 23 Envelope.  [As an aside, these videos partly influenced my decision to attend Emerson to study film.  A lot of my shooting assignments look very similar in style and composition to the images you see in these videos.  Granted, I did not become a filmmaker, but I did use these visual and aural ideas in my future writing.]

 

Side One starts off with the quirky, sample-heavy “Hot Doggie” by Colourbox, an oddball electronic group more known as being two fifths of MARRS (the band behind the 1987 surprise hit “Pump Up the Volume”). It’s a wonderful opening track, maybe a bit silly, but that was part of Colourbox’s charm: they were like listening to a Big Audio Dynamite clone that played a lot of soul music with just a hint of moody ambience.

Following up is This Mortal Coil, a loose label-wide collective put together by Watts-Russell to record unique covers of his favorite 70s folk songs as well as haunting originals. By this time they’d released two stellar albums, 1984’s It’ll End in Tears and 1986’s Filigree & Shadow, both which I highly suggest. “Acid, Bitter and Sad” is a bit scattered as a track, but its multi-part construction is actually quite similar to the feel of their albums as a whole; the different sections take you on a specific journey, leading you to the next section and sometimes cutting short and leaving you floating in midair.

The Wolfgang Press was one of 4AD’s earlier post-punk band signings (various members were in previous 4AD bands Mass and Rema-Rema) with a deconstructive, sometimes brutalist sound similar to The Birthday Party. “Cut the Tree” is one of their quieter songs but retains their trademark intensity.

Next up is Throwing Muses, then a recent signing (their self-titled debut had been released a year earlier) and one of their first non-UK bands. The Muses, like their labelmates Pixies, were from New England and frequently played the Boston club scene. “Fish” is a very good example of what an early Muses track sounds like: tight and tense, unsure of which direction it’s going in, yet somehow still catchy and amazing. Kristin Hersh’s lyrics are sometimes confrontational and frequently obscure (the album title comes from this song), but the emotions behind them were never hidden.

Side One ends with the first of two amazing tracks from Australian/UK/European band Dead Can Dance. “Frontier” (a demo of a track from their debut album) amazes on multiple levels, from Lisa Gerrard’s soaring vocals to Brendan Perry’s haunting counterpoint drone-hum to the hypnotic oil barrel percussion.

Side Two starts with the always lovely Cocteau Twins with “Crushed”, a gorgeous and uplifting track that features all the CT staples: Robin Guthrie’s chiming effects-laden guitar work, Simon Raymonde’s melodic bass, and Elizabeth Fraser’s unconventional singing style. If you love this track, you will most definitely love the rest of their work.

Following up is semi-instrumentalist band Dif Juz* with one of my favorite songs of the late 80s, “No Motion”. I’ve always used this song as a benchmark that I would love to hit in my own music playing and writing, though I highly doubt I’ll ever reach it.  It’s one of the first examples of the experimental post-rock we hear nowadays from bands such as Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  Their discography is criminally small but well worth checking out.

* – As an aside, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who knew how to correctly pronounce this band’s name. In my head it’s always been /diff jooz/, and there’s a fan theory that the j is silent it should sound like the word ‘diffuse’, but apparently according to Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde, it is indeed /diff juzz/.

Clan of Xymox is one of the original darkwave bands that revel in their goth-like sound, maintaining that dark sound even when their style evolves from dark gloom to bright beauty. “Muscoviet Mosquito” (a much improved re-recording of an early EP track) is unrelenting in its speed and drive, even as singer Ronny Moorings meanders over the top.  They would follow this a few years later with an amazing album called Twist of Shadows that did well even in the US.

Finishing up the album is the second Dead Can Dance track, “The Protagonist, and an extremely good example of their more orchestral-esque works (like 1987’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun and 1988’s The Serpent’s Egg).  Often DCD’s music isn’t so much about the melody as it is about the mood and the construction of the track; each attack and sustain is deliberate.

 

I believe I bought this cassette in late 1987, maybe early 1988, having heard a few of the tracks on 120 Minutes or on one of the college radio stations (I remember WAMH used to use part of “Frontier” for the background music of one of their PSAs about drug addiction).  I’d heard of most of these bands but sadly had not owned anything from any of them.  However, within a year I’d own most of the Cocteau Twins’ and Clan of Xymox’s discographies, a few of the Dead Can Dance albums (Within the Realm is still my favorite of theirs), and The Wolfgang Press’s 1992 album Queer would be one of my top favorite albums of that year.  A few years back Colourbox released a box set of their entire recorded output, which I of course picked up.  And every now and again I’ll pull this album back out and give it another listen.  I’d be a long-time fan of 4AD mostly because of this album, even as it evolved and changed their signature sounds over the last few decades.

Again — I highly suggest adding Lonely Is an Eyesore to your collection.

Why I’m an avid listener

maxell blown away

Image courtesy of that classic 1983 Maxell commercial.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been drawn toward music since I was a little kid.  I’d hang out down in the basement where my dad would work on his local history files, and he’d always have the radio on.  The car radio would be on when we went on vacations or road trips.  I’d listen to the albums and singles my elder sisters would buy from the local department store.  And of course come 1978, I started collecting Beatles albums and singles.  It only expanded exponentially from there.  I was part of the generation brought up on MTV and remember watching that channel for hours on end.

Nowadays I’ll have an album from my mp3 collection playing while I write, or streaming a station during my Day Job hours.  I have playlists for my novels.  I still make mixtapes.  I’ve been known to listen to the same album multiple times, usually at the gym or working on a specific stretch of a novel project.  There’s hardly a time when I don’t have something playing in the background.  [Ironically, however, I don’t have anything playing at the moment while I write this.]

Is it really about obsession?  Is it an addiction, for that matter?  Maybe a bit of both.  But I’d like to think there are deeper reasons than that.

For instance, I love the effect that music has on me creatively.  I taught myself how to write a scene by imitating the framework of a song.  [As mentioned before, I call this the Miami Vice method of writing.]  The moods of certain tracks will provide me with ideas and settings for what I might be writing about.

I also love the effect it has on me emotionally.  I got through a lot of my high school years listening to college rock on my headphones.  It’s gotten me through a lot of emotional ups and downs over the years.  And recently I started getting choked up hearing one of my all-time favorite classical pieces, the famous second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op 11 (aka the Adagio), performed live at the SF Symphony Hall.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how it affects me in a physical way as well.  I have a very strange sense of hearing; I have a really good sense of spatial hearing (the ability to figure out the relative direction and location origin of a sound), but at the same time I sometimes have a tough time filtering out unnecessary noise (I can’t always clearly hear what someone says, for instance, at a very loud restaurant).  And I’m pretty sure I have an extremely light case of tinnitus from all the tunage I’d listened to with headphones over the years.

I started thinking that perhaps one of the reasons I still listen to a lot of music is that it’s my own personal way of filtering.  Some people use white noise generators, some people use noise-cancelling headphones, and so on.  I have music to let my subconscious focus on something so the rest of me can focus on whatever needs focusing at that moment.  This would also explain the sometimes amusing habit some people have of turning off the car radio when trying to get to their destination in a place they’re unfamiliar with.  I know I’ve done that in the past.  It’s also the reason I have to turn things down if A. talks with me, because otherwise all the sounds will blend together and I’ll miss out on something.

Still, I have to say the most important reason, at least for me, is that I just enjoy the hell out of it.

 

 

 

Looking for a Song

song writing

Recently I’ve been thinking about my creative output.  I mean, yeah, I write novels and all that, but that’s over at my other blog.  I’m talking about my music and my artwork.

I’ve been focusing on my writing for ages — mainly due to the Great Trilogy Completion and Edit Project Wot Took FAR Too Long — that my love of drawing and playing music fell by the wayside.  Ages ago I used to draw maps in my spare time, and I used to write songs for the few bands I’d started.  I even added both of them to my whiteboard schedule some years back.  But somewhere down the line I chose to focus solely on my writing, ultimately to get better at it and make something of it.

But now that the Trilogy is done and released, and now that I’m working on much smaller projects that aren’t eating up all my time, I find myself itching to return to those two loves.  I’ve been wanting to do so for a while (yes, I know I’ve blogged about it before), and now I have the time and the inclination.

So how do I go about it?

Well, I’m thinking that I should do the same thing that I’ve been doing for my writing: open up a playground for it somewhere.

For my writing, I use the 750 Words site to write outtakes and come up with new ideas.  I call it my word playground for that purpose; it’s there for me to hit a simple word count goal and try out a few things.  So I started thinking: maybe it’s time I do that for the music and the artwork again.  Select a few days a week, and dedicate some time — say, a half hour or so — to do nothing but draw or practice on one of my guitars.  And as an extra incentive, I can use the mp3 recorder app on my phone to record some of the song demos.  [For those playing along: it’s the Hi-Q mp3 recorder app available at the Google store.  The free version records up to 10 minutes, and the sound quality is pretty good considering.]  The aim is to either finish a completed song or piece of art, or make headway on a possible future project.

It’s not much to ask, and it’ll get me back into the habit of working on such things with more frequency, which is the whole point.

Legacy

I’ve been thinking lately about the legacy of some of my favorite bands.  I’ve recently started following Art of Noise on Instagram, who are currently at the planning and prepping stages of an upcoming tour.  The other week I downloaded the new album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

This year we’ve seen new releases by The Godfathers, Daniel Ash, The Feelies, Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding), Peter Murphy, Depeche Mode, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Wire, Clan of Xymox, Robyn Hitchcock, Slowdive, Blondie, Erasure, The Charlatans UK, Alison Moyet, Ride, Cheap Trick, Public Enemy, KMFDM, Sparks, The Waterboys and Living Colour.  And there’s still three-plus months to go in the year, with more new releases by classic bands coming up.

It occurred to me that many of these bands are from the first generation of 70s and 80s rock and its multitudes of subgenres, or their slightly younger siblings.  We still have some musicians from the original rock wave of the 50s and 60s — Ringo Starr has a new album coming soon, and Paul McCartney is still on tour, for instance, and recently-passed Chuck Berry had a new album out as well.  One has to remember that rock music as we know it really is a young genre compared to other popular and fringe music out there.  We’re still seeing it grow and evolve.  We’re also still seeing some of the old vanguard putting out albums.

My fascination here isn’t just that many of these bands were my favorites when I was in high school thirty years ago, and that I’m just reliving my youth in my own pathetic way.  I’m also fascinated that these bands are still going strong, still providing their signature sounds, still touring, still releasing.  Some of them may have taken an extended hiatus for various reasons (Ride’s last album was in 1996, for example, and they split almost at the same time it came out), but upon their return, fans both old and new rejoiced.

I’m fascinated by the legacies of these bands, because I’m living during their tenure.  I’m watching and listening to their history as it happens.  It’s that ‘I was there’ moment — it’s my own Woodstock remembrance, in a way — and I love that I’m a part of it in my own way, as a listener and as an owner of their recordings.

Finest Worksongs: REM

Thirty years ago this month, REM released their album Document.  It’s the one that contains their two hits that still get consistent plays on the radio to this day (one of them for somewhat trollish reasons, I’m guessing!), “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”.  It’s also the first REM album I actually bought, if you can believe that.

Of course, I’d known REM quite early on.  I remember MTV playing “Radio Free Europe” in its early days.  I remember “So. Central Rain” and “Pretty Persuasion” getting a lot of airplay on WAAF and WAQY.  Even “Driver 8” and “Can’t Get There from Here” got minor play.  And “Fall On Me” was a big college radio hit as well as a staple on the early days of 120 Minutes.

Document was, to date, their most commercial sounding album, and the last for the indie label IRS Records.  They’d release one final record, the singles/rarities album Eponymous, before signing to Warner Bros Records and releasing Green in late 1988.

Interestingly, Document is also the first place I’d heard a Wire song, “Strange”, which was from that band’s seminal Pink Flag album.  REM’s Michael Stipe was one of many musicians in the punk and college rock genre that sang the praises of Wire.  By the end of 1989, I’d have nearly all the Wire albums to date in my own collection, declaring them one of my top five favorite bands.  In early 1989 I and a few of my friends went to see REM at the Worcester Centrum, with a relatively new folk duo called Indigo Girls as the opener.  Suffice it to say, I also became a huge fan of that band.

For a short time in the late 80s, I was obsessed by REM.  I was definitely a fan of their early years, especially once I dubbed my the first four albums from my friends.  I was a mad fan of Green as well — still am, to be honest — even while others complained that they’d sold out and become ‘rockstars’.  They definitely epitomized that Athens GA sound that’s not quite country, not quite folk, not quite rock, but everything in between.  And not a day would go by where I wouldn’t hear one of their songs on a college radio station.

I was a passing fan of 1991’s Out of Time, but by then their sound had evolved to a point where the songs didn’t quite gel with me anymore.  I’d still follow them and pick up their albums, but after 1992’s Automatic for the People I was more of a song fan than an album fan of theirs.  It wasn’t until their last few albums, 2008’s Accelerate and 2011’s Collapse into Now that I became an album fan again.

I do come back to them occasionally, especially if they’re played on the radio or if I see one of the band members surfacing here and there.  [Michael Stipe, now wearing a full-on white Jethro beard, pops up in the news now and again, and Mike Mills is frequently spotted on Twitter.]   They’re part of a fond memory of that era of late 80s college rock and close friendship for me, but they’re also amazing musicians as well.

Meanwhile, 40 years ago…

Yesterday afternoon, A and I headed to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the 40th Anniversary of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I barely remember going to see it the first time out, considering I was six years old (I either saw it at the drive-in or in Gardner, the same place I saw Star Wars), though I do remember bits of it when watching it on TV in later years.

Of course, this made me think of all the music that I’d heard about that time, mostly on the little crackly radio that was in the kitchen for years. I remember the above ‘disco version’ of the Close Encounters theme, as we owned the album and the single.

So let’s see…what other songs do I remember from that era? [This obviously doesn’t include the classic punk from that era, which was way off my radar for quite a few more years.] A lot of these were singles my sisters bought, or tunes that we’d hear on the radio. This of course was back when AM was still the preferred listening band, so most of these I associate with either listening on my cheapo record player or on the car radio whenever we went for a ride. [Or in some cases, the jukebox at Bellinger’s!]

…hey, what can I say? I was six years old. I loved this stuff. :p

Recent Purchases, August Edition

The further we go along in 2017, the more this year seems to be that everyone is putting out an album!  Not that I’m complaining. There’s not just favorite bands releasing new stuff, I’m also finding new bands to obsess over. Here’s some of my favorites for August:

Life On Venus, Encounters, released 4 August. Dreamy, reverby shoegaze from Moscow? Sure, why not? Very Slowdive-y, in a really good way.

Black Grape, Pop Voodoo, released 4 August. Shaun Ryder once again proving he can’t hit a note to save his life, his poppier, dancier group returning after far too long with a new album.

Dan Wilson, Re-Covered, released 4 August. Known more for his songwriting and production now than his tenure in Semisonic, Wilson records some of his most well-known tracks that were recorded by other artists.

Frankie Rose, Cage Tropical, released 11 August. AllMusic described this album as sounding remarkably like a pop album from 1985, and they weren’t wrong. I most likely would have bought this at Strawberries back then.

Emily Saliers, Murmuration Nation, released 11 August. The other half of Indigo Girls finally releases her own solo album, and it’s a fun, poppy, maybe even a little electronic record worth checking out.

The Districts, Popular Manipulations, 11 August. A band that’s new to me, but won me over on the first track above. They kind of remind me of the Killers vocally but Beach Slang musically.

Paul Draper, Spooky Action, released 11 August. Draper has lost none of his quirky songwriting chops since leaving Mansun oh so many years ago. Definitely a welcome return!

Gold Class, Drum, released 18 August. It took me a few listens to realize they remind me a lot of The Cult, but without the overwhelming pomp and less Ian Astbury wail. I’m quite liking this one.

KMFDM, HELL YEAH, released 18 August. I really need to get back into Belgian industrial. I loved it way back in the day but could never find any of it (and when I did, I was usually too broke to buy it). Great to hear this band is still going strong.

Rainer Maria, S/T, released 18 August. I have been playing the hell out of this album. Over a decade since their last album, this is one hell of an excellent return. One of my favorites of the year.

UNKLE, The Road, Part I, released 18 August. Another band on the “I will buy anything they put out” list. They’ve come a long way from their more electronic sound, but James Lavelle still knows how to create a creepy ambience with his music.

Steven Wilson, To the Bone, released 18 August. It is kind of weird to see the Porcupine Tree front man playing alternapop here (and smiling in the video!), but it’s a great new record, apparently inspired by his favorite UK pop bands from the 80s.

PVRIS, All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, released 25 August. Bonus points for one of my favorite album titles of the year! A group that was getting a lot of publicity that I just had to check out, and I wasn’t let down. And they’re from MA! Yay!

Cymbals, Light in Your Mind, released 25 August. Another record suggested by a music blog I read that I warmed right up to. Laid back but not blissed out, I find them quite pleasing to play during my writing sessions.

More to come…our September shopping list is going to be quite epic!