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Friday

The Best Indie Releases of 2008...

We here at "What Duvet Said..." know what you need is another unsolicited "Best of" list! Our choices of albums most of you have never heard of, is not merely designed to make you feel horribly unhip, but hopefully, to inspire you into checking out a few of these releases we feel are special and deserving of acknowledgment. The titles below are in no particular order and reflect the tastes of a think tank of one.

Yours,
Bob Duvet

"I cannot cure myself of that most woeful of youth's follies -- thinking that those who care about us will care for the things that mean much to us. " D.H. Lawrence

The Dirtbombs "We Have You Surrounded" - This high-octane release from Detroit's Dirtbombs keeps the faith-following in the tradition of fellow Motor City natives The Stooges, White Stripes and MC5. "We Have You Surrounded" is a mix of gutter blues, Motown pep, and indie funk. Singer/guitarist Mick Collins soulful delivery conjures both Iggy Pop and Urge Overkill's Nash Kato. The twin drummer attack provides a thudding foundation, propelling these 12 tracks straight down the Rock and Roll highway! "Ever Lovin Man" will have you ready to break hearts and noses. "Wreck My Flow" sounds like a strut down Detroit's abandoned streets, past the burned-out buildings and straight up to the bar. Ko Melina, listed as playing the "fuzzy bass", gives these songs their stiff boogie and melodic hooks.

The Muslims "The Muslims" - The self-titled debut from San Diego's Muslims will soothe anyone lamenting the absence of the Strokes. In a nutshell, think Julian Casablancas-meets-Jonathan Richmond-meets-Lou Reed's disaffected vocal delivery with extremely catchy vocal and musical melodies, then, tan it under a hot Southern California sun. "Nightlife" and "Extinction" ooze cool and highlight the band's lyrical and musical economy. "Bright Side" is infectious with enough bite to make you want to go fuck shit up! This is simple, lo-fi, Pop-Punk done exceptionally well. There is a surf/western element in their primitive sound which seperates them apart from their influences. The name is great, the execution is great, and the record is fun, fun FUN!

Bon Iver "For Emma, Forever Ago" - Much ink has been devoted to the genesis and creation of Justin Vernon's amazing debut. While the thought of a sensitive singer-songwriter holed-up in a remote cabin in the dead of winter, processing through a host of inner demons is a romantic back story, the final product is what is really noteworthy. This record, born of a winter of discontent, sounds just as suited to a spring, summer and fall of discontent. The obvious comparisons will be made to Iron and Wine but there is so much more to this record than a neo-folk sensibility. The sparse yet intricately orchestrated compositions soar, guided by Vernon's falsetto infused vocals. Every song is necessary, making this a truly complete album from start to finish. The beauty at the core of this record may have been born of ugly truths but isn't that what makes for the best art?

Crystal Castles "Crystal Castles" - Alright people, get ready, electronic music is the future. I say this as a tried and true guitar, bass, and drums guy. But, over the last couple of years bands with a decidedly more electronic feel have been filling up my iPod. This Toronto, Canada duo released one of the best records of any genre in 08. Their remixes of Health, Klaxons, and Bloc Party were better than the originals. And, their originals were better than those! Multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass, create deep bass driven, vocally distorted, electronica, peppered with glitches and beeps seemingly inspired by Atari 2600 video game soundtracks. The sampling is akin to dropping a glass recording of the original on the cement then reconstructing the shards on a packed dance floor. The atmosphere can vary from club bangers "Crimewave" and "Untrust Us", to the serrated grate of "Alice Practice", to the more ethereal. Less is more and groove is king, with each track offering a different angle on an expansive prism. Makes me want to dance just writing this!

The Last Shadow Puppets "The Age of Understatement" - A collaboration between the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner and the Rascals’ Miles Kane really delivers on the promise of both of these songwriters. Many reviewers cite David Bowie as a key influence on “The Age of the Understatement” but I would offer Ennio Morricone, LA psychedelic band Love, Britain’s The Coral and the sounds coming out of swingin’ London in mid 1960’s, as the guiding lights for this recording. Vocally, these two front men sound perfect together. In fact, I hadn’t realized how good a voice Turner was in possession of, inflecting more melody into these songs than is evidenced in his work with the Arctic Monkeys. The acerbic wit both songwriters are known for is still there but some of the sting is masked by the ornate orchestrations and galloping tempos. “Standing Next To Me” would fit nicely on Love’s Forever Changes and “Calm Like You” might have Tom Jones considering another comeback attempt.

Titus Andronicus "The Airing of Grievances" - It's hard being a soothsayer when all your friends continue to dismiss your predictions. But I jumped on the Titus Andronicus bus before they left Glen Rock, New Jersey and began opening for higher profile buzz bands, only to steal thunder nationwide. Tapping into Bruce Springsteen's penchant for the grand anthem, existential malaise, and some off the rails Pogues meets Clash barn burning, this is an exciting release. Recently signed to indie label XL, "The Airing of Grievances" is a thrill to listen to. They create a carnival atmosphere while maintaining a surefooted focus. Secure in who they are as a band, Titus Andronicus mix lo-fi production with large scale songwriting ambition. Singer Patrick Stickles has a scratchy-throated charm, with a great sense of melody and a warm tone when he dials back the histrionics. There is a lot of wonderful interplay between the musicians that conjures the E Street Band on amphetamines. This is a band to watch in the future!

Girl Talk "Feed the Animals" - Aside from the fact that this record will undoubtly be a maelstrom for fair use and copyright law debates in the future, it is also one of the most pleasurable offerings from 08. And it was free to boot; take that record industry! Girl Talk is mashup musician Gregg Gillis from Pittsburgh, PA. He released one of the more controversial records of this past year, creating inventive dance music entirely from samples of a variety of artists, spanning many genres. Gillis pits Big Country butt up against Missy Elliot or Busta Rhymes with The Police providing the backing; part of the fun is trying to pick out all the different samples being used. This record is an instant party, in fact this might be too much party for some. You can still get this record on a "pay what you want" basis-a la Radiohead. Some might dismiss Girl Talk out of hand as nothing more than a musical carpetbagger but the art is in the creation of these musical collages.

Deerhunter "Microcastle" - Meditative, inventive, and sublime, Deerhunter's answer to last year's critical success "Crytograms" is the perfect headphone album. Sure singer/frontman Bradford Cox gets most of the attention, but it's the execution of his auteur vision that takes centerstage. "Microcastle" is a heterogeneous work that touches on ambient, pyschedelia, indie rock, and post punk. Even with such a diverse mix of influences, this recording sounds cohesive and visionary. Songs emerge out of the wreckage of the previous track and pop gems, like the brilliant "Nothing Ever Happens", dissolve into narco-wonderlands. Cox definitely has an ear for Brian Eno atmospherics but the production on "Microcastle" is of the moment while also sounding reminiscent-not an easy feat. Repeated listens reveal buried layers that keep this record interesting long after other lesser offerings have lost their mystery.

Vampire Weekend "Vampire Weekend" - Here's the problem with certain "Rock Critics", they tend to have a violent reaction to hype. With so many wanting to out "hip" one another and be the first to break a band noones ever heard of, they too often react rather than review. Vampire Weekend suffered the most this past year from critical backlash. Granted, the hype helped propell this band of Columbia grads into the indie spotlight, but it also clouded an honest appraisal of their music in many cases. There are the Paul Simon "Graceland" era comparisons- which are warranted. There is the a bratty, intellectual, and elitist quality to the songs; sure. But beyond all that, Vampire Weekend produced a engaging, giddy, and fresh sounding record. Vampire Weekend mix African, Caribean, and indie pop with the deft aplomb you might expect from a bunch of Ivy League cultural interlopers. You'll have "One (Blake's Got a New Face)", "Oxford Comma", and "A-Punk" burrowing into your sub-conscious like a trans-continental tick. That might sound like a back-handed compliment but I couldn't avoid liking this record. It turns any time of year into summer, and more importantly, makes you want that summer to never end.

TV On The Radio "Dear, Science" - This is truly a 21st century band and "Dear Science" (the fourth studio recording from the Brooklyn, NY five-piece), is a genuine realization of the potential TVOTR displayed on their previous offerings. By far their most accessible and crafted collection of songs, they sacrifice none of the edge and creativity fans have come to expect. TVOTR divines its strength from David Sitek's signature production wizardry. His mix of atmospherics, buried instrumentation, and layered vocals create a post-modern world for the band's soul infused songs to live in. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe's energy leaps out of the speakers, especially on "DLZ". The trademark harmonies between Adebimpe and singer/guitarist Kyp Malone have never been more focused as on "Red Dress", "Golden Age", and "Dancing Choose". Another addition to the band's sound comes in the form of horns, which make this record crackle and pop with energy. TVOTR are worthy of the Radiohead comparisons and seem poised to inherit the mantle of top alternative band in the world. "Dear, Science is the most intelligent and thrilling record of 2008.

Saturday

LE MINUIT FILM FESTIVAL


THREE PART SERIES ON THE BEST WHISKY DRINKING MOVIES
By David Becerra

PART TWO, “WHISKY GALORE!”
1948, Ealing Studios

The second film in our whisky drinking film series is a comedy called “Whisky Galore!” Does the title not say it all? The film is an unabashed celebration of whisky, drinking, getting drunk, drinking, the joy and demands of acquiring whisky, the Scotsmen who drink it and a silly Englishman who tries to stop them.

The movie begins with a few black and white shots of Scottish Island life, a narrator explains; “Northwest of Scotland, on the broad expanse of the Atlantic lie the lovely islands of the upper Hebrides, small scattered patches of sand and rock rising out of the ocean. To the west, there is nothing… except America.”

This is our setting, The Island of Todday, circa 1943. And the inhabitants, “they’re happy people, with few and simple pleasures”-said over a shot of nine little kids running out of a single hut.

The narrator continues to set-up the story; “But in 1943 disaster overwhelmed this little island. Not famine or pestilence, not Hitler’s bums or the hoards of an invading army, but something far far worse…"

Cut to an older man with a long face who exclaims, “There is no whisky!”

This is wartime Scotland, and their ration of whisky has run out. A massive, dark, gray cloud of gloom settles over the island. The islanders are depressed and the elders hold a “committee meeting” to find out what to do before people start committing mass suicide or worse, remain sober. Fortunately God intervenes and maroons a cargo ship full of cases and cases of whisky, right off the coast of Todday.

The islanders are able to extract 500 cases before the ship disappears into the sea. The rest of the film deals with the islanders drinking and celebrating while an Englishman tries to have them arrested for lifting the whisky.

This is basically it. All this movie is about is whisky. Please, please do not boast to your friends that you will take a shot every time you hear the word “whisky” or you will find yourself dead before you find out what happens at the end.

Really the best thing to do here is pick out a nice single malt scotch. I recommend something with a robust flavor: Oban, Lagavulin, Laphroaig or Macallan. If you are the kind of person who wrestles wild animals or if you have just finished chopping down a redwood tree with an ax, go ahead a open up a bottle of Talisker.

Wednesday

Flying Economy Sucks, Because We Make it Suck!


On a recent flight back to the East Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday, it suddenly dawned on me why flying economy is so miserable; we make it that way. Now I know we all love to blame the airlines and there is plenty of reason to. But some blame needs to be placed squarely on our own cramped shoulders. The problem with flying economy is that we behave as if we are flying economy. It is the mindset of the downtrodden. We assume our second-class citizen status as we lumber and lug our way past the first class section upon boarding.

It starts even before we enter the threshold of the plane, with the announcement of the rows that are “free to board”. Maybe it’s the indignity of watching the business and first-class breeze ahead, exchanging easy smiles with the ticket taker at the gate. Whatever imputes, it doesn’t excuse the crush at the gate when the first boarding group is called. Instantly, the scene starts to resemble the evacuation of Saigon, with everyone seemingly belonging to the same five rows. You have a ticket; you will board. Jostling, shoving, and sneering only confirms the impression that you don’t belong in first-class. Only plebeians or refugees travel in such a fashion.

After takeoff, when the plane has reached its cruising altitude, economy class truly earns its distinction. The second the captain signals that we are “free to move about the cabin”, half of economy-like some Pavlovian test group-feel compelled to file into the thin capillary between the seats. Do we really need to stretch our legs after 45 minutes of being seated? These are the same people who routinely drive hours on end, seated in a car, which is no more spacious than the seats they can’t wait to leap out of. I don’t see everyone in first-class hopping up like a bunch of spring-loaded spastics. Perhaps, time would be better spent while waiting to board, putting the items you are planning to access on the flight into the bag that will reside under your seat-not in the overhead compartment, which is seldom over your own head.

Further contributing to economy’s third-world aesthetic is the parade of toddlers careening down the aisle. They are usually followed by a smiling parent marveling at how refreshing and cute this must be for the rest of us. Trust me, it’s not. Any shift in expression from dour to congenial, owes more to decorum, than to any heartfelt longing to switch places with you. In fact, children running amuck on an airplane are akin to live, squawking chickens getting loose on a bus ride through the ghettos of South America.

The scene above is often complimented by the sound of shrieking children and hacking coughs. The flight I recently took featured a baby wailing three rows behind me for the duration of the six-hour flight. This is not cool! I know that I am treading into unfamiliar territory, as I have no children of my own. And I know how challenging it must be for those of you that do. But guess what, it’s not my problem. None of the other passengers care to hear your screaming baby either. If you are operating under the impression that a bubble of empathy surrounds you, it doesn’t. Even those with children are just thankful it’s not their children shattering the solitude only being 40,000 feet above ground can supply. So unless you can amuse, intimidate, or sedate you children into silence, maybe they are not ready to travel in an airplane yet. When walking through the cabin note of the absence of children in first-class sometime.

I don’t want to limit my vitriol to babies and children; adults are plenty annoying when flying. For instance, if you want to talk with someone on a flight, then get a seat next to that person. Clogging the aisle and hovering over people who can care less about your conversation is selfish and unnecessary. You’re not as fascinating as you would like to think you are.

Why can’t we accept the fact that there is no space and we can’t afford to purchase more of it, if we could we’d be in first-class. Drawing attention to this by complaining, fidgeting, and behaving like boat people, only reinforces that fact that you’re not ready for the coveted first 5 rows. Just sit quiescent in your chair, pop a Valium, chase it with a cocktail and you’ll feel “first-class”. Act as if people!

Monday

Ride on the PATH Train Between WTC to Harrison, New Jersey

This may look familiar to fans of the "Sopranos" and at the very least, is a meditative ride through the New Jersey swampland just outside of Newark...

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Positively 23rd Street or Chelsea Hotel: Dream Dungeons and the Habitual Nature of the Ordinary or Does New York City Really Need Another Writer?

At 23rd and 6th Avenue the F train comes grinding to a halt, a final shudder of steel coming to rest on the iron tracks below. A sluggish shuffle begins inside the car. Scarves are readied, books marked and closed, as a phalanx forms around the unopened subway doors.

I wait with the cultivated restraint that can only be learned in New York City, where any pause or halt to one’s progress seems unnatural and unnerving. When the doors separate a drip of adrenaline kicks me into gear. Living here you are in a perpetual state of fight or flight. As a result we have become neuro-chemically mutated, homeopathic junkies proudly displaying our symptoms.

As I exit my subterranean repose, the cold air pinches my cheeks. I mindlessly take my place in the flat-footed ballet grinding along above ground. Chelsea at mid-day is pure cinema verite, my eyes focusing on the oncoming stream of fixed stares. Some give away to peripheral glances, then, just as quickly, return to the gum-stained concrete canvass passing below.

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“The loneliness of destiny guides us all”, the internal refrain I hear as I make my way down 23rd Street. I imagine myself Brendan Behan, traveling on well-worn boots, down this well-traveled street, following a well-dreamt dream. My pace remains constant. The metal grates that pass below my feet resemble prison cells; ventilating dungeons housing decades of literary souls, cough up the embers of forgotten prose.

The further West I travel, the more I feel the sting of the air whipping off the Hudson River. Restive feelings overtake me as I approach the doorway to the Chelsea Hotel. The soporific visions of an imagined life here in this very hotel, are also sure to be the same ones that will keep me up at night. A wrought iron façade of abandoned balconies stares down at me. Another young writer-within a lick’s distance of the mouth of the Chelsea Hotel-must be a quotidian sight on this street.

Here I stand with a duffel full of clothes and mementos in hand. The weight of the laptop, encased in the messenger bag slung over my shoulder, has increased exponentially since exiting the subway some blocks back. I'm feel like a marginalized ingrate, not content with assuming my humble slot in humanity. Admittedly, there is nothing worse than helping to perpetuate a tired cliche, but here I am anyway. One more borrowed Beat dreamer cast out of subterranea, looking to have his very own lost weekend...

Friday

Early Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Here is a film in which I was under the impression I didn't need to see as I had seen the whole thing in the trailer. If you don't already know, go watch the trailer and come back, because - spoiler alert! - I'm going to reveal a bit about the plot in this review. Not much, but the big hook, which is this: Benjamin Button is born old and throughout the film, grows young. He has one true love in his life, a girl named Daisy, and the question is, how can these two be lovers? Can a 7 year old girl love a 7 year old boy who looks like he's 77? Will they meet in the middle? Or will time and circumstance leave them star crossed forever? These are interesting enough questions, and an interesting plot device. And if you want to see how it plays out and how the movie ends, once again I recommend heading over and watching the trailer. You'll feel like you know.

You'd be wrong, of course, as there is almost two hours and forty-five minutes of sumptuous film laid out to tell the story of Benjamin. There's a moment at the very beginning where hundreds of buttons fall from the sky and suddenly arrange themselves into the Paramount Pictures logo - followed immediately by more buttons which fall into the Warner Bros logo. This bit of CGI trickery is a good microcosm of the whole film. What starts as many different familiar pieces coming from a new place slowly fall into something we've seen many, many times before. The "a-ha" moment of recognizing the logo is a bit of a let down - if only the buttons had arranged to make something new.

The film is at its best in its early mysteries. Why is Benjamin aging backwards? (It's apparently tied to Teddy Roosevelt, WWI doughboys, a blind clock maker, and public transportation). And why are we learning this story from the New Orleans hospital bedside of a dying woman, who has insisted her visiting daughter (Julia Ormond) read aloud Button's diary as Hurricane Katrina comes ever closer? Director David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) and cinematographer Claudio Miranda contrast the realistic present day reality with the hyper-real, Caruso Properties style vision of the past, where we meet Benjamin, who is played by Brad Pitt almost immediately after infancy.

It's easy to forget and dismiss how fine a film actor Pitt is when his ability to perform is not first to come to mind for most - sexiest man alive, maybe, or Mr. Angelina Jolie. Pitt, in convincing age makeup and unsettling, Smeagolesque CGI work, disappears into the character of Button in his early life as an elder man with pathos, world weariness, and juvenile curiosity all at once. He is a delightful, cuddly creature who is easy to root for. The seed of his love with the girl Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is planted, and off we go to hope for their union. This tale carries us along through a wonderful interlude with the incomparable Tilda Swinton, playing a woman living in Russia married to a spy with more than steeped tea on her mind.

By the time the bombs drop on Pearl Harbor, however, and a shootout occurs at sea (you caught that in the trailer, right?), I found myself with the feeling that I was starting to see something I'd seen before - namely, Forrest Gump, a character who also stumbled with crutches in his childhood, had a loving mama who inspired him to break free and walk, and grew in the Great American History of war, women, and computer generated images, a film also penned by Button screenwriter Eric Roth.

Much has been written about the age makeup used for this film, and it does not disappoint. More impressive than the old age getup, though, is the young age wizardry. Blanchett, who not only ages in this film, is a stunning 19 year old ballerina, and the longer Button's life goes on, the younger Pitt becomes, for much longer than you would think the actor could continue playing the part.

That is part of the film's problem, however, as the early life-older Benjamin Button we follow for almost an hour and a half seems to vanish, replaced with Brad Pitt. The man painting his house in the 1960s doesn't appear to have grown from the man we saw earlier. In a line straight out of The Cool Surface, a staring woman says to Benjamin "You're perfect," and the audience giggles.

What started as an intriguing meditation on when life begins and ends, how one chooses to live it, and how we choose to spend the time we're given spins into a standard story of women in the 70s with straight hair, kissing naked on the beach, and being accepted for who you are. Why no one except a very fleeting few in all of Button's 80 years find it odd that he is growing younger is left to perhaps a few torn pages out of his diary.

The film is worth seeing, probably not worth seeing twice. It is beautiful to look at when it feels real - a solo ballet by Blanchett on a misty gazebo could be a Degas painting. There's a convenient man who is owner of a Button factory that shows up from time to time that may have had dramatic tension but seems to serve only to allow Benjamin some yacht time. And despite numerous returns to the present and desperate news announcers, the devastation of hurricane Katrina is as dangerous and real as a running gag of an old fellow repeating his same life story. The film does reach its inevitable conclusion, with some soul searching voiceover by Button about what it takes to live a life, but this is a Benjamin who has let go of the lives of others far too easily. What started as an extraordinary life winds up being just a curious case of Benjamin Button. For a guy with a most unique perspective, he sure has it good.

Monday

"ROCK BOTTOM: ROCK'S MOST OVERRATED ACTS" by Elvis Zimmerman Lennon Jr.

Every month I will present the readers of "What Duvet Said..." with my selections for the most overrated musical acts/performers. The rationale is laid out and the case made, as simply and obviously as possible. I challenge you, to challenge me. Make a case for taking somebody off the list. If it is a compelling enough argument-or even amusing-I'll remove them from the list. Arguments can be made by clicking on the "Comment" button below the post.



-Beach Boys- Aside from "Be True To Your School" their lyrics are ridiculous. And in the adding-insult-to-injury column, ripping off Chuck Berry to write a song about surfing is just plain wrong.





-Nine Inch Nails - Nothing screams "Ohio" quite like a 40-year-old Goth. At his age he really shouldn't care how many people think he's cool.






-Dave Matthews (John Mayer, Jack Johnson)- Not a fan of dorm-rock. Hiked up acoustic guitar, funky-ish rhythms, and choked vocals can't make up for a lack of soul.





-Eric Clapton - Being the greatest blues guitarist from England is a dubious distinction at best. Kind of like being the greatest German rapper. Or the greatest Russian disco dancer.






-Red Hot Chili Peppers - The immenseness of any of their grooves is immediately neutralized the moment that dude starts "rapping". Case in point: "I know, I know for sho', ding-dang-dong-dong-ding-dang-dong-dong-ding-dang." What the fuck is that shit?





-Beastie Boys- Y'all. Seriously, can you name one of their rhymes that's really that good? Me neither. Further, I can't shake the creepy feeling that at least one of those dudes is a closet Republican..







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Weekly: Dengue Fever - Like a bad karaoke night at my sister's house. 2 parts indie rock, 1 part world music. That even looks bad on paper.

Wednesday

Status Update: Richard is grieving the loss of his childhood best friend and fears he might be a latent serial killer...

By R.L.Wilkinson

My childhood best friend died Sunday of a drug overdose. I got the news via Facebook. It was written on “my wall”, “did you hear that Tommy overdosed?” to which I replied, “by overdosed, do you mean he’s in the hospital or dead?” She replied, “Dead…wake Monday night…funeral Tuesday.” This exchange began on my laptop and finished up on my Blackberry while stepping out of my Prius. FYI you don’t need to put a key in the ignition to start the Prius. Oh and the car’s built in wireless feature connects automatically as I approach. It’s the darndest thing. Anyway, I’m trying to get someone to Twitter the funeral to me, since I can’t be there. I last saw Tommy when I was 25. He was as good looking and funny as ever. My girlfriend at the time was like, “Hey, your friends really cute.” We broke up shortly thereafter and last I heard she resides somewhere in the Pacific Northwest in a small farming community where she cuckolds some other hapless fucker. Anyway, I was bummed about not being able to attend the funeral until it was brought to my attention that I could sign an online “guest book” that the funeral home provides. So, I did. It was quick. I was clever. Mourners will be moved. Now, I was a little concerned because I wasn’t quite sure if this “guestbook” would manifest itself in the actual physical funeral or if it would be solely for the virtual internment. I was concerned about this stealing my grieving thunder, but then I realized how dumb that was because by signing this “virtual” guestbook my grief wouldn’t be limited to the 50 to 100 or so folks at the actual event but that I now had the ability to grieve on a global level. My grief had the potential to go viral.

After this news was socially networked to me I continued on with my day as usual, but then I started getting these pop-ups, “Hey, Rich, why isn’t this affecting you? Shouldn’t you be emotional?” This concerned me because when I assess myself, you know, a 35 year old Caucasian male, college grad, with an affinity for handling the meat snake AND I add “void of emotion” to that list, I get concerned that I might be a latent serial killer. Well, somehow I mange to get through the day without burying a drifter or two along the highway and make it home to my wife and son. I give my baby boy a bath, put him to bed and sit down with my wife for dinner. She asks, “How was your day?” “Well, my buddy, Tommy, died of a drug overdose.” “That’s awful.” “Yeah, it’s pretty bad.” “You okay?” “Yeah, I’m just having a little trouble getting my head around it. All my memories of him are as a teenager. I have no reference for him as a man. You know? What he looked like as a man, what his life was like. I just wished I knew what hap…” And that was it. Crying and convulsing ensued and it just kept happening over and over again in that order. I think that’s why most people/families advocate not talking about things, because, boy, as soon as you start jabbering you run the risk of opening up a whole can of emotional worms which can then be used as bait to snare some very, very large emotional fish that lurk in the cold, dark depths of your soul and once you hook one of those porkers you only got two choices: 1) wrestle the fucker into the boat and take a bat to it, or 2) delivering Colonel Sanders down to Davy Jones locker. It was bat night at my house.

The next day I arrived at work feeling pretty bright eyed and bushy tailed after my cathartic serial killer negating moment. Shortly after arriving, my partner came in and took a seat at her desk and asked, as she does every morning, “How was your night?” “It was a little sad”, I said. You know my friend di…” Fuck, again with the crying and convulsing! I decided that it would be best for me to take the day off and get myself together. Knock out the grieving process, which I Googled. They break it into 5 stages: 1) Denial & Isolation. 2) Anger. 3) Bargaining. 4) Depression. 5) Acceptance. I left work at noon to get the process in motion. I needed to return to work tomorrow at 8am. That gives me 20 hours of grieving time. That’s 4 hours per stage, but you know I have the ability to get a lot of stuff done when I get really focused. So, here goes. I can’t believe there are 5 stages to this grieving process! 5 stages!! By myself!!! Are you kidding me!!!! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!! I’d give the guy who came up with these stages five hundred bucks to knock off just one or two of ‘em! Please! Okay, five-fifty. I’m so tired, but it’s cool. Done. Now, if I could just get started on Tommy.

My mother sent me a text stating that she “awoke this morning with a heavy heart, for it is as if our families were one”. My mom is very grand and very southern. So when she texts me it’s like I’m receiving Blanche Dubois rewrites from David Mamet.

Here’s the problem, all my technological advances can’t out pace my advancing sadness. I want to hit the “esc” button on my life and disappear into the wilderness. Find a cave where I can scream and cry, claw and punch, rip off my clothes and build a massive fire. Hurl myself around the flames and through them until I collapse. Then I could wake up stronger and walk out clean. Restart the system. The only glitch in this program is that I’d still have all this memory.

The First Black Quarterback to Win in Washington D.C. Since Doug Williams in 1987...


Now that the numbing shock of our country making good on the promise of its constitution and mythical legacy has given way to a pleasant post-election lethargy, I wanted to take a little time to reflect on how I first came to be introduced to our new President-Elect, Barack Obama. As with most things in life, and particularly with Obama's historic rise to the highest office in the land, "context" is everything.

It was August of 2004 and I had settled down at a table in the Marymount Manhattan dining hall. Marymount Manhattan College is a very small liberal arts college nestled safely in Manhattan's Upper East Side. The school is known predominantly for its performing arts programs but also served as a safety school for wealthy, budding sophisticates scattered across the country. Most were drawn to the prospect of living in New York City while in the sheltered hollow of higher education.

The hall was alive with the bustle of students shuffling in and out and congregating at the tables that surrounded me. I was in the second year of my belated quest to achieve my bachelors degree at the ripe age of thirty-three. As I sat down to a meal of chicken fingers and tater tots-made soft under the glare of heating lamps-I opened my recently arrived Atlantic Monthly and began mindlessly turning the pages.

I knew what an anomaly I was already in this context but I certainly wasn't helping matters by my choice of reading material. I'm sure Atlantic Monthly was a magazine that most buzzing about me had probably only seen on their father's desk at home or in doctor's offices. I was painfully self-aware both in and out of the classroom while on "campus"-which was really just two buildings connected by a basement hallway. I decided to embrace the affectation of a pendant in an effort to combat, what I was sure was the prevailing back story circulating around campus about me, that of a tenth year Senior or worse still the "weird old dude".

So while silently trying to quell the voices in my head and derive the nutritional benefits bereft in student cuisine, I came across a one page feature that would temporarily relieve me from my identity crisis. And, plant a seed of that over time, with much nurturing, would have me believe in the impossible again. In some ways this story inspired me on my path toward my degree, in coming to terms with the incredible debt that would accompany said degree, and in eventually re-establishing some tenuous connection with my fellow students.

What strikes me now as I reflect on this scene, burned indelibly by the triumph of Obama's candidacy, is how many of those students-as yet unaware of the "skinny man with a funny name"-would join in the cause to help elect him. How, by the virtue of reading one article, I would begin to monitor a politician who did not represent me directly (he was still a state senator in Illinois at the time of the article). How I was moved to go home and make my wife promise to register to vote if he ever ran for President (a feat, seemingly no less insuperable than Obama's improbable victory). How I vowed to participate once again as a member of the electorate and to work for his campaign if it ever came to pass. How, when I saw him deliver his now famous "Audacity of Hope" speech a month later at the Democratic National Convention-on behalf of nominating Senator John Kerry for President-real chills passed through my idealism depraved body.

This one article below was the the genesis of all that and the fuel for believing in not only a canidate, or my country, but myself...

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200409/lizza

Saturday

Why I support those who support things I don't support...


I was walking my dog earlier in the week, our after-dinner walk, and one - and only one - of the houses up in the hills behind me has a "Yes on Prop 8" sign in the yard. It's new - I walk by that house every night - and when I saw it the first time it was there, I reacted internally with prejudice and dismissal. "Those people are idiots! Why, why, why?"

So the next night as I walked past that house again, I didn't see the sign. And you know what? I got MORE angry. "The people who stole that sign are fucking idiots! Why, why, why?!"

And so the following evening as I walked by I saw the sign again - dunno if the night before the sign was hidden by a car or if they have replaced it, but when I saw it, I was actually happy. Because as much as I hate the fact that those people will be voting for Prop 8 and that it may pass because of ignorance and intolerance by those same sorts of people, I hate even more the thought of someone else coming and denying those same sorts of people the right to live their life they way they believe and do so proudly out in the open.

Which is of course, why I'm against prop 8, but whatever. There's a guy with a McCain/Palin sign in his window - once again, just one guy - and it makes me happy every time I see it, because no one has forced him to take it down, or defiled it, or broken his window.

You go, neighbors with opposing views. I completely disagree with you.

This Month's Featured Review: Crystal Antlers EP


Recently signed to seminal indie label Touch and Go; Long Beach’s Crystal Antlers might be poised to break out in ‘09. Their October 7th self-titled EP release is a tightly wound experiment in melding no wave, hardcore, and psychedelia. Producer Ikie Owens (keyboardist for the Mars Volta) gives these songs lots echoey vim by mixing the cacophonous angst of Sonic Youth, the swirling art-rock of Jane’s Addiction, Black Flag’s harrowing intensity and the addled danger of 13th Floor Elevators.

Crystal Antlers is a maelstrom of feedback, strangled vocals and orchestrated chaos. Jonny Bell’s vocals growl and shriek through any number of effects and filters, which dissipate into the overall mix. His delivery is all fire and brimstone, belying a more melodic tone he only hints at occasionally on this record. Opener “Until the Sun Dies: Part 2” showcases some vocal range, allowing for a more dynamic soundscape. The best songs on the EP, like the seven minute “Parting Song For the Torn Sky”, allow the organs to create a sonic expanse. Drummer Kevin Stuart’s artful use of half-time signatures on a couple of the tracks reveals some jazz chops. A nice twist to Crystal Antlers sound is the added percussion delivered by Damian Edwards. His contribution to the mayhem provides some interesting texture to the songs. The EP can best be encapsulated as a frenzied freak out with artistic pretensions. Often the best riffs on the Crystal Antlers EP get cut off right at the point of being established. Andrew King’s guitar work anchors the sound firmly in the psych-rock realm. But unlike other guitar players in this genre he shies away from embracing the riff. This can be frustrating for the listener; it seems reactionary, as if this is what injects the “art” into the compositions. The mosaic created by the Crystal Antlers is a composite of shards of glass sharp enough to cut you, held in place by cement rough enough to scrape you. It will be interesting to watch which, if any, of the rough edges will be smoothed out on an upcoming full-length release.

Crystal Antlers have emerged out of the LA art collective The Smell - a club/art space of renown in Downtown LA - along with contemporaries No Age and Abe Vigoda. All these bands share a similar aesthetic, a kind of disjointed and angular approach to songwriting. These bands seem to suffer from musical ADD. A typical example of this is on the track “Vexation”, a punishing bombardment of pulverizing drums and blaring organs. But in service of what? The song blasts out of the speakers like a shotgun, but like a shotgun it sprays pellets everywhere with little or no accuracy. This is a fine effect maybe but not compelling enough to revisit on song after song. The upside for the Crystal Antlers is that there is no shortage of musical ideas on this EP. The question becomes will they have the patience and restraint to explore some of those ideas at length?

This Month's E-Music Acquisitions...


John ColtraneLush Life”Re-Mastered


Two words best to describe John Coltrane's 1958 "Lush Life", casual elegance. This newly remastered release on the Prestige label is perfect for an autumn night and a well-mixed cocktail. Coltrane's playing is contemplative and restrained, while still harboring the questing spirituality he would soon begin exploring in subsequent recordings. The absence of a piano player on the first three tracks clears the way for Trane's emotive runs. Tone, pure and bluesy, is the focus on "Lush Life". The last two tracks feature the addition of Red Garland on piano and Donald Byrd on trumpet. At close to 15 minutes the title track hints at some of the more adventurous playing Coltrane would be known for. But this record finds him contented, in all his nuanced glory.

Flying Lotus1983

After reading a lot of the hype surrounding the recent release of Flying Lotus’ (aka Steven Ellison) “Los Angeles”, I decided to go back to his 2006 recording “1983” as a primer. Flying Lotus’ music is comprised of bleeps, glitches, and fuzz, most seemingly generated from a Casio keyboard circa 1983. His inspiration seems to be divined as much from Atari 2600 as Aphex Twin. While the “skip beat’ stagger of most of the tracks give Flying Lotus a signature sound, it feels like ambient wallpaper. There is nothing very compelling about “1983”. Comparisons to J-Dilla seem unwarranted other than both are lo-fi aficionados. “1983” would be better suited to background music in a trendy wine bar than a club. In the sub-genre obsessed universe of electronica, Flying Lotus may be an Indie darling but to these ears there is little to celebrate.


The Last Shadow PuppetsThe Age of the Understatement


This collaboration between the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner and the Rascals’ Miles Kane really delivers on the promise of both of these songwriters. Many reviewers cite David Bowie as a key influence on “The Age of the Understatement” but I would offer Ennio Morricone, LA psychedelic band Love, Britain’s The Coral and the sounds coming out of swingin’ London in mid 1960’s, as the guiding lights for this recording. Vocally, these two front men sound perfect together. In fact, I hadn’t realized how good a voice Turner was in possession of, inflecting more melody into these songs than is evidenced in his work with the Arctic Monkeys. The acerbic wit both songwriters are known for is still there but some of the sting is masked by the ornate orchestrations and galloping tempos. “Standing Next To Me” would fit nicely on Love’s Forever Changes and “Calm Like You” might have Tom Jones considering another comeback attempt.


Animal CollectiveStrawberry Jam


What do you get when you place Brian Wilson, Philip Glass, and Dan Deacon in a blender and push puree? You might get Baltimore transplants now residing in Brooklyn, Animal Collective. Last year’s release “Strawberry Jam” is one of the most confounding and brilliant examples of laptop rock. Critical darlings to be sure and worth the accolades, main songwriting forces Panda Bear and Avey Tare craft layered, inventive, joyous whimsy. Animal Collective reference “Smile” era Brian Wilson, celebrating the druggy glory, they offer an alternative universe for those voices in his head. The variegated playground these musicians inhabit is a feast for the ears. Soaring harmonies mix with world music influences, which are then left to swim up the bit rate stream. The songs on “Strawberry Jam” begin as innocent experimentation, quickly escalate into addiction, have you finding God and then relapsing back into the magical world of Animal Collective.


Shudder To Think “Funeral At The Movies/Ten Spot”


This combined release of 1990’s “Ten Spot” and 1991’s “Funeral At The Movies” on Discord (Minor Threat, Fugazi, Rites of Spring) is a nice indoctrination into Shudder To Think’s divergent art-punk. Never really in step with the rest of the Discord catalogue, these first records turn on singer Craig Wedren’s soaring, psuedo-falsetto. The tracks on both recordings point to the triumphs that would be captured on 1994’s “Pony Express Record”. Future guitarist and songwriting force Nathan Larsen would join Shudder after these releases, forging the unique and supremely creative partnership with Wedren. The two would solidify the symbiosis that would bridge metal, art-rock, and indie-rock. Always inventive, this recording is ground zero for those looking to discover the creative genesis for this one-of-a-kind rock band.


Cold War KidsLoyalty to Loyalty


There has already been a ton of press surrounding Cold War Kids sophomore offering “Loyalty to Loyalty”. Most reviews are looking to draw blood on a band that received so much hype after 2006’s “Robbers & Cowards”. The backlash seems totally undeserved and reactionary. This record is much darker sonically-as most second records tend to be- revealing a band that is serious about being taken serious. “Loyalty to Loyalty” bears repeated listening to get at the core of CWK’s malcontent. The production is reverb heavy with the guitars taking prominence. They have an almost Hawaiian sheen to them, locking in with the bass in syncopated rhythmic stutters. Nathan Willet’s vocals are soulful in a Jeff Buckley way and really are the centerpiece of Cold War Kids sound. This is a band that is still in the process of refining their sound but unlike many other bands they have their own sound to refine.

Tuesday

Duvet's Daily Dose...Bravo! Bill and Hillary Clinton For Putting The Party First!


I just want to extend a heartfelt thanks to Bill and Hillary Clinton for "doing whatever needs to be done to get Barack Obama in the Oval Office." I applaud their efforts for putting aside any residual bitterness over losing a campaign, Mrs. Clinton viewed more as a coronation, than a contest.


It's easy to see how a young upstart preaching "change" should have known his place in the Democratic Party pecking order. And how gracious the Clintons have been in showering him with tepid praise, back-handed compliments, and thinly veiled insinuations as to how competent he would be as Commander-in-Chief.

It was right to caution the American people that someone who ran and continues to run a well disciplined, highly-organized, and fiscally sound campaign - As opposed to the erratic, spend thrifty, kitchen sink approach you offered Americans - was not a suitable candidate for President.

Former President Clinton's promise to "get out there and stump" for Obama after observing the Jewish Holidays, Halloween, and the election itself is completely understandable. The Democratic Party can count on the Clintons because they know just how important this election is to America (Oh, and to Hillary's last chance to fulfill her entitlement dream in 2012).

David Blaine can learn a thing or two from the former first family about how to pull off one of the greatest disappearing acts of all time! Wait, didn't she say, "...you haven't seen the last of me"?

Kudos to Senator Clinton for neutralizing Pitbull Palin with this searing mantra, "NO McCain, NO Palin, NO Way!" WOW! That'll do the trick.

After brilliantly making the case against Barack Hussein Obama - not to imply that he's a Muslim or a terrorist, as far as Senator Clinton knows - she vows to do "whatever it takes" with all the urgency of a Senator pushing through reforms....Wait a minute?

Don't worry Clintons your legacy is being etched as we speak...and here's some campaign slogans for 2012 Hillary: How about, "CLINTON FIRST!" or perhaps, "CHANGE, you can wait for."

Wednesday

Life During Wartime: Stunned They Head for the Exits....Was It Worth It?


My Bloody Valentine at San Francisco's Concourse Exhibition Center was more an example of aural sculpture than a traditional 'Rock' show. The band's history, influence and 17-year absence have been well documented. But the visceral effect high volume has on an audience at a My Bloody Valentine show is akin to be dropped into a war zone.

My Bloody Valentine's sound is synonymous with ear-splitting decibel levels. The wash of sound they create combined with actual or imagined overtones within that wash, bludgeon the senses. In effect, their sound is a physical experience. The sound waves, even from 100 yards away, rattle your joints. Sheets of sonic rain drench you where you stand. The sound passes through you, rearranging your internal organs in the process. It’s a tribute to MVB’s artistry that the sheer force of volume doesn’t nullify the melodies. If this is possible, there is as much subtlety at work as bombast.

One clear casualty of playing so loud is the vocals. They are sacrificed at the stentorian altar, reduced to a faint hum for most of the show. It is a shame that one of the components on record that made My Bloody Valentine so influential – Belinda Butcher’s breathy, melancholic vocal delivery of is often imitated by any number of pretenders to the shoegaze throne – seems to have been disposed of live.

There were several times during the performance when I had to laugh out loud in response to the overwhelming force emitted from the speakers. At one point I was convinced I had to use the bathroom. Upon entering one of the few sanctuaries from the onslaught, I just stood there. It wasn’t the bathroom I needed but rather respite from Debbie Googe’s pulverizing bass line driving the song “Soon”.

As the final squeal from Kevin Shields’ guitar sliced through the cavernous barn that best describes the Concourse Exhibition Center, a stunned silence befell the room. Even that proved deafening.

The band had just finished performing “You Made Me Realize”, which included 20 plus minutes of a sublime cochlear holocaust. During this onslaught audience members were either fighting their way through the din, or fighting their way out. The rest were held in stasis by the relentless torrent.

Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, maniacally flailing away at his symbals for most of it, created a shattering crescendo before the band launched back into the chorus. I couldn’t help but think that this is what Londoners heard as their city was shelled by the German Luftwaffe during World War II.

The final note still ringing in my ear, I watched the shell-shocked audience make their way to the exits. Most had the confused torpor of refugees who had survived a vicious attack. Slowly, as senses began to return, bemused grins appeared and exhilaration took over. It was the same wondrous feeling you have after an earthquake. Excited voices began to retake the room.

The night air greeted my nostrils like smelling salt to a boxer who had been subjugated to the canvass. I walked out into the fold of people, the scene strangely resembling a triage unit. Turning to my friend I said, “WOW!” It was all I could muster.

This was the exact sensation I remembered feeling when I saw My Bloody Valentine some 17 years ago in a small club. The rush of years was reduced to a single word. WOW!

Haikiew (TM)...My Bloody Valentine @ The Concourse Exhibition Center 9/30/08




(Please click on highlighted words for additional review content)

Loveless squall returns,

stentorian
assault made

stunned silent walk.

Monday

Las Vegas Ruminations…Part II “The Elevators”


It’s Saturday night in the city of sin and a phalanx of nocturnal revelers shuffles impatiently in front of a pair of gilded doors. The doors open allowing successive entourages to push past the expectant crowd gathered outside. Eyes lock, coy smiles exchanged, and open-ended invitations are extended as the crush of people is reversed. Inside there is barely room to move and no place to move to anyway. Whispers can be heard above the music pumped in from overhead speakers. We’re packed in tight like perfume-scented veal. This is one of the best and most random of Las Vegas’ many playgrounds…the elevator of your favorite casino.

The elevator banks in Las Vegas casinos serve in many ways as a microcosm. They’re unavoidable and essential to your stay in Vegas. Yet, they rarely receive the attention I believe they deserve. They have an almost tidal quality. Early in the morning they’re a mix of families making their way to the pool, the buffet bound, and bleary-eyed remnants of the previous night’s odysseys. This time of day the elevators assume a more familiar atmosphere. Eye contact is either avoided or limited to polite recognition. Children shift excitedly from foot to foot, waiting for the doors to open on the day’s adventure. While others can’t wait for them to close the chapter on a story best left unwritten.

As the desert sun continues its rise, so to does the flurry of activity in the elevator banks. Like molecules when heated, trips to and from hotel rooms seem to have a reactive association to the outside temperature. One can only surmise the nature of these hotel room missions. Their soundtrack is the sound of flip-flops reverberating off marble floors to accompany the march to the elevator banks. Women shielded behind over-sized eyewear stand confidently in swimsuits. They pretend not to notice the men checking them out. It’s in these moments that small talk morphs into proposals for future rendezvous.

The end of the day means the elevator banks once again become clogged with families returning from the pool. Parents clutch their children, refraining them from the overwhelming urge to push all the buttons on the elevator panel. Married men sneak peripheral glances at the girls who are busy recanting pool encounters. An impatient pall has overtaken the elevator. People want to get back to their rooms to recharge for the night ahead.

The night really starts when you load into that first elevator of the evening. For the well-lubed hotel guests, fresh from pre-partying in their rooms, this is their first encounter in the “wild” for that night. You stand waiting, perhaps there’s a wager on which elevator door will open first. The ding, signaling the arrival of your vertical chariot, marks the first moment of anticipation of the night. Who will greet you when the doors disunite?

It’s important to try and match the energy of the elevator upon entering. They are like hyper-accelerated ecosystems, each with its own evolutionary trajectory. You can exist in complete silence from floors 35 to 23, and then suddenly, one comment can unleash a torrent of conversation - the ebb and flow of riders creating an atmosphere of chance that rivals the gaming floor.

There are a few different types of “elevator playas”, that are worth mentioning. The “Host” acts as if you’ve been invited to his personal party. They might pepper you with a few questions about your day or plans for the evening. The “Host” usually keeps the conversation light and innocuous.

Next we have the “Inquisitor”, who usually is very curious as to, “What your deal is?” They like to push the envelope, by asking provocative questions and making any manner of allusions. When handled properly the “Inquisitor” can be a valuable asset to the elevator party.

Lastly, there’s the “Comedian”. They like to take advantage of the tight confines and lack of exits to work on material. The elevator usually represents the acme of their comedy career. The best you can do is pray they’re funny or that you don’t have far to go before reaching the lobby.

So the next time you are in Las Vegas pay attention to your time in the elevators. Often it’s the time spent en route to our destinations that goes unnoticed. Las Vegas elevators are every bit as sportive as the places they are depositing you. Remember, you can’t have “what happens in Vegas” if you don’t leave your room…usually.

Thursday

A Few Words On "Feeling Safe"...





There has been much lip service given by both political parties to idea that they are the ones best suited to "keeping us safe". As the election cycle winds to a close and all the hyperbole of the eminent threat to our safety gets ratcheted up, it feels as if those that I fear most are the very ones in charge of governing, legislating, and protecting me from the "Evildoers".


I think it might be beneficial to include media giants, corporate barons, journalists, politicians, celebrities, law enforcement, and middle America on the list of those intent on terrorizing our fragile post 9/11 mindset. What makes me feel unsafe is the continual erosion of our freedoms, the rise of materialism, consumer culture run amuck, and the freefall from grace our nation has experienced internationally.


The fact is our Presidential election has devolved into a popularity contest. Journalists no longer garner respect and the distinction of being "truth tellers". Instead, they are the puppets of corporate giants concerned with bottom lines and filling 24-hour news cycles. In order for a real change to occur, for a true sense of security to replace the fear mongering of the last 8 years to take hold, we need a wholescale change to what it is we value. We need to change what we stand for as a people and have been projecting to the rest of the world. We are no longer progressive thinkers but rather we have regressed culturally, socially, and politically.


I don't fear getting blown to smithereens by some terrorist plot, although it very well could happen. I fear shouldering the burden of decades of bad decision-making by my government. I fear corporate fat cats that dictate policy to the government I fear. I fear the status quo. I fear religion. I fear Hollywood. I fear "Reality TV". I fear cynics. I fear oil and it's stranglehold on our economy. I fear political expedience. I fear drug laws not drug users. I fear the police. I guess I fear that we just don't get it. I fear that we never will.


So who is going to keep me safe from all of these fears? Instead of looking to someone to "change" all of this for us, we need to not fear changing it for ourselves.



Well, now time passed and now it seems everybody's having them dreams.
Everybody sees themselves walkin' around with no one else.
Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time.
But all of the people cannot be right all of the time. I think Abraham
Lincoln said that.
"I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours, "I said that.


Bob Dylan "Talkin World War III Blues"