Twenty Years On: February 2002

I started to look for the word count list for my work on A Division of Souls around this time, but either I hadn’t started writing it down, or I’ve misplaced the calendar organizer I used. I’m going to assume the latter. Anyway, a cursory look at the timestamp on some of my old files shows that I’d started the rewrite in November of 2001 and by February 2002 I was somewhere around Chapter 6. (It’s also right around when I stopped using MS Write and finally started using Word, having gotten a copy of it from my sister.) This means that I was still early in the game but feeling much more confident about my work.

If The Phoenix Effect was me happily reveling in claiming myself an author, A Division of Souls was me taking my craft seriously and having a lot more faith in the quality of my work. And pretty much every single album from here on in was going to be a writing soundtrack.

Mistle Thrush, Drunk with You, released 1 February 2002. I’ve mentioned this band a few times in the past; they were a semi-shoegazey Boston band whose singer was a good friend of my former record store manager, and their three records are great listening.

The Church, After Everything Now This, released 5 February 2002. This record felt like a slight change from their more experimental 90s output, somewhat returning to their old-school reverb-heavy sound but minus the jangle. They remain one of my favorite alternative rock bands, even if I don’t get to listen to them nearly as much as I should.

+/- (Plus/Minus), Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album, released 5 February 2002. A side project of the band Versus, their sound is much more angular math-rock but retaining their high-level energy and catchy melodies and rhythms. It might sound a bit strange at first, but it really grows on you.

Craig Armstrong, As If to Nothing, released 19 February 2002. Armstrong is more known for his movie scores (and “This Love”, the song he did with Elizabeth Fraser) but every now and again he’ll drop a solo album full of gorgeous music that really should be in movies. This one got some serious play during my Belfry days!

Tanya Donelly, Beautysleep, released 19 February 2002. Donelly’s second solo record is not quite as bouncy as her Belly work and not quite as twitchy as her Throwing Muses work, but there are some absolute gems in here including the lovely “Keeping You”.

Boards of Canada, Geogaddi, released 19 February 2002. At the time, this was a band I’d heard of (I’d seen their cds at HMV during the time I worked there) but never heard, so I went into this record completely cold. A good thing, because this ended up being on my top ten releases of the year! And yes, another album on the Belfry heavy rotation.

Buffalo Daughter, I, released 19 February 2002. Another ‘heard of but never heard’ band for me at the time, this was a great introduction to the band’s semi-electronic experimentation, full of songs both wonderful and strange.

Death Cab for Cutie, The Stability EP, released 19 February 2002. A follow-up to 2001’s The Photo Album, this EP features some extremely moody (even for them) tracks including the twelve-minute epic above, and a great cover of Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love”.

Clinic, Walking with Thee, released 25 February 2002. Clinic always reminds me of those 60s garage bands with lo-fi production and weird melodies that lean towards Beefheart and Zappa, only they stay this side of outsider music. Not for everyone, but definitely worth checking out.

Alanis Morissette, Under Rug Swept, released 26 February 2002. Forging ahead and refusing to return to the angry tension of her breakthrough record, this is an album about maturity…or at least making an attempt at it. It’s very much a laid back record and there’s some really great songs on it.

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Stay tuned for March 2002!

Mixtapes: Music from the Waystation

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and I may as well start it now: I’ve been making mixtapes since I was a wee lad in the early 80s, well before I even knew what mixtapes were other than songs I taped off MTV and the radio that I liked. I usually average about six or so mp3 mixtapes per year nowadays, but back in the late 80s it would be upwards of maybe twice or even three times that.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to share my mixtape playlists with y’all for ages because I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from them. In previous posts I’ve posted them as YouTube links, but now I’ve finally started getting around to building them as Spotify playlists. [I’m still annoyed that musicians’ earnings on the site are laughable, but I’ve come around to thinking that maybe pushing these mixtapes will help put a penny or two more on their paycheck.]

SO! Without further ado, I’m going to start off with a triple-play (heh) of mixtapes curated as soundtracks for one of my current novel WIPs. I’ve been listening to these quite a bit lately, so hope you enjoy them too!

Theadia: Music from the Waystation
1. Secret Machines, “3,4,5, Let’s Stay Alive”
2. Haelos, “End of World Party”
3. Bob Moses, “Love We Found”
4. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance”
5. Pretenders, “Message of Love”
6. Throwing Muses, “Dark Blue”
7. Billie Eilish, “My Future”
8. Bob Mould, “Everything to You”
9. PVRIS, “Good to Be Alive”
10. Algiers, “Dispossession”
11. We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!, “Versatile for Discos and Parties”
12. Doves, “Carousels”
13. Bob Moses, “Hold Me Up”
14. Secret Machines, “Everything’s Under”
15. Haelos, “Hold On”
16. Cut Copy, “Love Is All We Share”
17. Doves, “Universal Want”
18. Secret Machines, “Everything Starts”
19. BRONSON, “Dawn [feat. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs]”

Theadia 2: More Music from the Waystation
1. Annie, “The Countdown to the End of the World””
2. Hatchie, “Sleep”
3. Pearl Jam, “Alright”
4. Georgia, “Started Out”
5. Shadow Show, “Glass Eye”
6. Field Music, “Money Is a Memory”
7. Låpsley, “Bonfire”
8. Hayley Williams, “Simmer”
9. Stone Temple Pilots, “Three Wishes”
10. Spectres, “The Head and the Heart”
11. The Cinematic Orchestra, “A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life [James Heather Rework]”
12. Phantogram, “Ceremony”
13. Georgia, “About Work the Dancefloor”
14. ADULT., “Why Always Why”
15. Caspian, “Flowers of Light”
16. Soccer Mommy, “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes”
17. Ultraísta, “Mariella”
18. Nicolas Godin, “What Makes Me Think About You”
19. San Fermin, “The Hunger”
20. Bob Mould, “Next Generation”
21. K/DA, “I’ll Show You”

Theadia 3: Waystation Blues
1. Grandbrothers, “Silver”
2. Roosevelt, “Echoes”
3. Flyying Colours, “Goodtimes”
4. Girlfriends and Boyfriends, “Your Touch”
5. Jane Weaver, “The Revolution of Super Visions”
6. Middle Kids, “I Don’t Care”
7. Anna Schulze, “A New Way”
8. Brian Vander Ark, “In Your Eyes”
9. Jeremiah Fraites, “Maggie”
10. Miss Grit, “Blonde”
11. Shame, “Human, for a Minute”
12. Field Music, “Orion from the Street”
13. Siamese Youth, “So Far from Home”
14. Anna Schulze, “Satisfied”
15. Grandbrothers, “Unrest”
16. Sorry, “Heather”
17. Jane Weaver, “Modern Reputation”
18. Flyying Colorus, “White Knuckles”
19. Roosevelt, “See You Again”
20. Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”

Deep Dive

I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.

I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.

Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.

I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…

…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…

…or Fetchin Bones…

The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.

Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.

What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.

And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!

Let the Golden Age Begin

Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.

I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.

This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.

A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.

Mixtapes for writing projects

I’ve made mixtape ‘soundtracks’ for pretty much every writing project I’ve worked on, even for those that I ended up trunking. When I’m coming up with a new story, I will usually already know what mood the story will take. For Meet the Lidwells I already planned for the story to take place in the 90s, so I gathered a number of my favorite songs from that decade that I knew would fit the feel of the story, not to mention what The Lidwells’ music itself would sound like. (“Grapevine”, for instance, is a mash-up between The House of Love’s “You Don’t Understand” and The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection”, both of which are on the mixtape.)

Theadia is no different. This story is going to be a bit different from anything else I’ve written, so the sounds are going to be a bit futuristic, maybe a bit weird and dreamlike. There are a number of dance tunes on there as well, which is very unlike me in terms of mixtapes…I use a lot of electronica and its numerous offshoots in my mixes, but rarely of the “get on the floor” type. Even the slow and shoegazey tunes seem more uplifting and less moody.

Here are a few selections from Theadia: Music from the Waystation. Enjoy!

Secret Machines’ “3 4 5 Let’s Stay Alive” has that Epic Opening Track sound: heavy, grand, and loud. But it also has an overwhelmingly positive message, which is what I was looking for.

Haelos; “End of World Party” is the kind of dance track I’m talking about above. There are a couple of tracks from this band on this particular mix.

Sault’s “I Just Want to Dance” works for me because it happens to capture the thrill of the dance floor (in a very retro way, in this case) yet goes about it in a different and unique way.

The Pretenders’ “Message of Love” is an unexpected left turn for me, as it sticks out amongst all the other more recent tracks, but its gritty bounciness and its positivity works as one of the story’s themes.

Bob Moses’ “Hold Me Up” is similar to Haelos in that it’s a darker dance sound, and one that’s easy to get lost in.

Doves’ “Universal Want” is a moody rock tune hidden near the back end of the mixtape, put there on purpose as a way to say “we’ve sat through most of these songs and moods but this here is the main theme of the entire story.”

BRONSON’s “Dawn” is the last track for the same reason the Secret Machines track was the first: it’s a gorgeous and epic closer that serves as an ending theme. The “Never give it up / Save yourself from doubt” acapella coda is the theme of Theadia in a nutshell.

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Of course, as is typical for me, there is a chance there will be a Volume 2 mixtape. There almost always is. The Infamous War Novel had at least four different iterations. In My Blue World has two volumes. The Mendaihu Universe has…quite a few. Why do I make these, anyway? Well, mostly for something to listen to while I’m working on the project, to get me in the right frame of mind. But they’re also a lot of fun to listen to on their own, pretending they’re Official Motion Picture Soundtracks! Heh.

You’re messing with the enemy

I’ve been thinking lately about how I want to approach Book Four in the Mendaihu Universe (oh yes, there will be more of them!) and yes, I’ve even been gathering music for the writing soundtrack. And like all the other projects, I’m searching for a specific mood that fits the story I have in my head.

Recently I’ve been listening to Kasabian’s “Club Foot”, a) because it’s got one hell of a kickass bass riff, and b) the video is an homage to student revolt against government suppression, specifically the Prague Spring in 1969 and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It’s also an homage to pirate radio and Radio Free Europe.

I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of rebellion. Sure, it grew out of my listening to punk and ‘that weird college radio stuff’ back in the 80s, but the fact that the whole point of that music was a form of rebellion against the norm attracted my interest. [Yeah, I’ll cop to not always outwardly showing it. But that’s for a different post.]

In the Bridgetown Trilogy, the Vigil group is there partly to play both roles: revolt against those in power, and its voice. But what of the new book? All I can say is that it’s a new game. It’s seventy years later and things have changed considerably on both sides. The rebellion shown in the Trilogy wouldn’t work this time out. Those books were all about accepting and maintaining a balance between two opposite forces.

This particular book, I think, is going to be more about Setting Things Right.

The “Club Foot” song and video got me thinking this morning, and I posted it as a tweet:
What would be today’s analogue of pirate radio as student revolt? How would people listen to it? Phone app? Internet streaming? Radio like in the past? How would its signals be secure/untraceable like a VPN?

Which brought up the next question: How would this kind of revolt happen in an age of social media (and multiple forms of media in general) that are chock full of white noise already? Is a digital/aural underground network even possible?

(Mind you, whenever I hear a question ending in “…is that even possible”, my brain immediately responds with “Of course there is. We just have to figure out what it is.” I’m an optimistic goofball that way.)

Things to think about while prepping for future writing projects.

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!

Writing Session Music: A Recent Playlist

At the moment, I’m focusing almost completely on the revision of Diwa and Kaffi (yes, that’s the Apartment Complex book title now), which means that my writing session playlist has shifted accordingly. Right now it’s focusing mostly on lighter fare, to fit the mood of the novel. In particular, I find myself listening to a lot of synthpop and light alt-rock. Here’s a few albums that have been spinning lately here in Spare Oom…

White Lies, Five. This album kind of reminds me of the modern pop sound of the late 80s/early 90s that I used to listen to back in the day. It’s light but has just enough heft and emotion to it that it’s not throwaway.

The Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe. Great mood music I can get lost in. It’s quiet and lovely and just kind of floats everywhere, and I love it. This is the kind of stuff I listen to when I just need background but not exactly a specific mood.

UNKLE, The Road Part 2: Lost Highway. I can never go wrong with James Lavelle’s brilliant work. It’s dark and brooding, but it’s also quite expansive. (Having Tom Smith from Editors singing a few tunes is also really cool.) I usually reserve UNKLE for my Epic Novel sessions, but I’m such a huge fan of the band that they fit in quite nicely for any book I’m writing.

American Football, American Football (LP3). This is an AMAZING album, and it’s absolutely gorgeous and dreamy. This one’s been getting some heavy replays, almost on a daily basis, since it came out a little over a week ago. It’s just enough for me to get lost in the mood of the record without it interfering with the book proper.

The Sound of Arrows, Stay Free. This one’s a few years old but it’s been a huge influence on the book since I started writing it last year. (So much so that the title track plays during the ending credit sequence for the anime version in my head. Heh.) It’s a lovely and quite positive album to listen to, and it fits the mood of D&K perfectly.

I’m still on the first couple of chapters of this novel right now, and I’ve purposely not given myself a deadline; I’m already damn proud of this book and think it’s one of the best I’ve written (even better than the trilogy!), so I want to give this one as much TLC as I can before I decide whether I want to self-publish it or submit it to a professional house. I’m not even focusing on that right now, to be honest — I just want to give this one my all. Establishing a writing soundtrack, then, becomes an important part of my process; writing with music helps me focus on the work at hand, and it also mutes out any background noise that might distract. Creating this kind of playlist is one of my favorite parts of the process, as the music helps me achieve the mood of the story.

Favorite recent find: Bob Moses

Every now and again I’ll hear a new song that will just floor me.  Recently I’ve been grooving to this new single by the band Bob Moses called “Heaven Only Knows”.

It’s got that mid-tempo, low-range electronic groove that I love for many reasons: it’s great chill-out music, it’s got a gorgeous melody, it sounds awesome in headphones, and it’s perfect for my writing sessions.

Sometimes when I like a song that much, I’ll zip online and check out the rest of their discography. As it happens, their entire output is currently available on eMusic, so I was able to download it quite cheaply and add it to my collection.

Come to find out, I already knew one of their songs already! I recognized their 2015 single “Tearing Me Up” from hearing it on the various indie rock stations, but always forgot who it was until now.

I gave their EPs and album a good listen today and I can definitely say these guys are going to get some serious play in the next few weeks. It’s really great mood music for the writing projects I’m currently working on, and it’s also great to listen to during my Day Job hours. And they’ve got a new album coming out in two weeks! Woot!

[Battle Lines will come out on Sept 14th.]