Thursday, December 18, 2014

Band Review: Lit

When a band spans a long time they can be harder to review because there is just so much there. Members of Lit, a rock band from Fullerton, California, have been connected musically since 1986. Even if they didn't become well-known until 1999 there is a lot there. Because of that this post is going to be a bit random, hitting on reactions to different songs.

"No Turning Back" - This was unfamiliar to me, but it is a track on Hey That's What I Call Sludge, and it surprised me because I had never thought of Lit as sludge. I wondered if it could be a mistake, because there is also this Techno-Dub thing where every track sounds the same that got included under their Spotify, and I am quite sure it is not Lit.

Two things about the Sludge though. One is that a lot of the bands on it are not traditionally sludge, and it could be fun just to do sometimes. Also, as I was thinking about the band stylistically, it came to mind that Lit makes really effective use of fuzz and feedback without overdoing it. I appreciate that.

"Zip-Lock" - On that note, while the guitars do sometimes get harder and thicker, there's a good balance in their range, sometimes getting softer (especially "She Don't Know") and more melodic, and incorporating other influences. "Zip-Lock" may be the best example of a song construction that shows their different sides, but you can hear traces of techno on the intro to "Quicksand", a little country on "The Wall", and quite a bit of funk on "Happy".

"Miserable" - I like the switch they do here, where it is completely reasonable to think that he is going to sing "You make me complete" which sounds romantic (if a little codependent), and then it ends up being "You make me completely miserable." While thematically the song isn't super upbeat, it nonetheless does show that the band is clever, and has a sense of humor. You could guess that from the music videos, but it comes up in the lyrics too.

"The Broken" - This was the song that hit me the most personally this time around. I had heard it before, but hadn't really listened a lot, and checking it out again, it is powerful.

Some of that may be timing. This week for me has largely been about getting my book (where a musician dies) up, and my head is still very much in that, and in the continuation as his band and his sister deal with it. It may be that, because of this, the song for me pulled up this grief over drummer Allen Shellenberger's death, and the loss there but also the need to go on.

Mentally I know that the song doesn't have to be only about that, and that in some ways "The Wall" and "Here's To Us" seem to be more specifically about him. It is also true that the specific circumstances that go into the writing of a song do not have to perfectly match your life for there to be an emotional connection. I say the song is strong and powerful, and deserves repeated listens.

Overall the key message of reviewing Lit is that they have a lot to offer, and it's good that they are still around. And I want them to come to Portland.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Free Book Alert! Family Blood is here

I believe I had already detailed my cunning plans book-wise, but there had already been some modifications, and now there are more.

One thing I had decided with Cara was that I shouldn't spend a lot of time promoting it. I am glad I went through it again, and that it is out there, but it is old, and appeals to a fairly specific audience. I wanted to go through the process of getting some reviews for it so I knew how to do that, and realized I should save that for Family Blood. I love Cara, and writing it has been an important part of my life. If through my other work people come to it, that's a reasonable path.

That left me free to focus on getting Family Blood out the door, and I had a plan. I would release it for the $2.99 price, but then when the sequel, Family Ghosts, came out, I would make it free, and that would send some people back for the first one, and then they would be ready for the third one, Family Reunion. Crafty!

As I got closer to completion, I started thinking about others who have influenced me in the writing. There is a really horrible mother in the book, and there are ways in which that has damaged her daughter. She is not my mother - I want to be really clear on that. She came out as her own person, like all of the characters did, no matter how they started (mostly as the All American Rejects).

However, about the same time that I was writing Family Blood as a screenplay, which I have now adapted into this novel, my world started really expanding it terms of finding and connecting with hurting girls, some of whom have pretty difficult mothers. I wanted them to read it. Yes, Sarah is a fictional character, but her problems are real, and she will still get through them, and fiction is important for that. It shows us that problems can be overcome, and that we are not alone.

I started thinking that I just needed to give the book to them. At first that was just seven, and that list started expanding, but if I could figure out how to give a free copy, doing it more than once wasn't a big deal.

And then I started to have other doubts, like what if people who pay for the book don't like it. The ending is ultimately life-affirming, but it could also be viewed as kind of a downer. There are some losses that are going to reverberate for a while, which is honestly part of how it became a series, because the ending wasn't the ending. I'm not even sure if after the third book it will be the ending, but for now it's just three.

And I started thinking about other people, because for a lot of the people I care about, the problem is not their mothers, but there might still be something for them in the book. And many of them are young, and don't have credit cards, so really, offering it free large scale was the only option. The way to do that is to enroll in the program that allows me five free days, so today through Sunday, basically, then it's back to $2.99, unless you have Kindle Unlimited:

Obviously my plans to make writing financially sustainable aren't really on track right now, but maybe some people will write me good reviews, and then other people will buy it. I mean, there is an audience for vampires and musicians, right? This has both!

So, that's where I'm at. I don't know if Family Ghosts will be free now. A part of me just wants to go right into writing them, and healing the wounds that were there at the end of Family Blood, because good things happen too, and I know it.

However, I am very ambitiously planning to complete another screenplay before the end of the year, and one more before my birthday. That will have me hitting my magic number of nine feature length screenplays written only by me (thus not counting the comic book, the series pilot, the collaborated upon adaptation, or the 31 6-page screenplays).

Ultimately, I did not want to be that person making post after post about how great my book was, and please buy it, but I can tell people to go get a free book. I guess it's a Christmas present.

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musical Magical Thinking

You probably don't know this, but my heart has been breaking a little bit lately. It is because there are concerts that I want to go to but am missing, for the usual combination of financial and logistical issues.

November 24th, Circa Survive
December 9th, Billy Idol
December 10th, Weezer
December 16th, Reggie and the Full Effect
December 20th. Dandy Warhols

Yes, I have already seen Weezer and Billy Idol, though that was before I was doing music reviews.

Yes, I have also already seen Reggie, and in fact have written three different reviews (general, album, and concert - more than any other act). However, tonight is with Say Anything and Saves The Day, which could be a valuable addition to my study of emo, and he has Pentimento backing him up, which would be a different side of them too, and they have been incorporating holiday aspects into this show, but okay, fine. It's just kind of frustrating.

One reason that show would have been especially cool for this week is that Friday will be my 200th band reviewed, and so 199 and 200 could have been for a live show. When #99 and #100 were for the Third Eye Blind show, with TEAM, that was special.

(And #199 and #200 would have been for Say Anything and Saves the Day, because I count bands, not reviews, so whether I wrote about them the following week or not, #28 Reggie and #113 Pentimento would be repeats and not go into the tally.)

So I have decided that this week's music reviews will be about hope instead, like that Dave Hause (#85) review, where I couldn't go to the one show, but I reviewed him anyway, and then he came back and I got to see him.

This sent me to my list of bands that I want to see, but haven't.

Of course, I have already reviewed Torche (#115), but they have promised to come. I think this is a good sign, and bodes well. I have also already written a review for Gerard Way (#180), so while I do want to see him, if he can be summoned, it has already been done. Therefore I turn my summoning powers to Lit and Alkaline Trio.

That is how I will close out my second hundred bands. I may start my third hundred in a similar note, or I may go straight to Drum Week. No, wait, I wouldn't do Drum Week the same week as Christmas. Setting a blog schedule that feels right is harder than you think.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Much ado-ooh-ooh-ooh

Today has been a very busy day, and the thing that I want to link to is still processing, so I thought I would take a moment to appreciate the McLoughlin Auto Mall commercials with Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge.

I have not found a good chronology of the whole story. The first commercial that I saw had them singing the "McLoughlin, ooh ooh ooh ooh", and maybe it wasn't terribly on-key, but I found it charming.

I am predisposed to like things that Robin Lopez does anyway. I had read that he loves comic books and Disney; I mean, talk about your perfect man! With both of them, though, they seemed to be having a good time, it was light-hearted, and I enjoyed it.

I guess there was a lot of guff about the singing, so the next version I saw had only the "McLoughlins", and muzak over the ooh's. I thought that lost something, but then they kept coming up with more variations. If I do online searches now I primarily come up with the fake new conferences. I kind of miss the singing, but you still get Lopez's surprised face, and it's fun.

The series has gotten some impressive mileage. Now they have video footage of people giving their opinions on the singing, and Lopez and Aldridge coming up behind them. Yes, I can see how that would be awkward, and it wouldn't matter which one came out, they would almost certainly have the height advantage, which can be intimidating. But how nice would it be if you had just been saying that you had found the commercial utterly charming?

Be careful of the words you say,
Keep them soft and sweet,
You never know, from day to day,
Which ones you'll have to eat.

I would not be against them singing again.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Band Review: Amasic

Amasic is a Rock/Punk band based out of Montreal. They have been a pleasant surprise.

Most of my reviews come because the band followed me on Twitter, they were recommended by another musician, or I saw them live. In this case, I saw a link for a video of a punk version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", checked it out, and it exceeded my expectations. That led me to listen more, and I'm glad.

The "Rudolph" cover is very punk, though many of the band's songs seem less traditionally so. They reference Green Day as the best band, but for many of the songs remind me more of All Time Low, especially with some resemblance between the lead vocalists.

I mention this as a way of getting to something that struck me about the band, but that I may not explain right. Starting with "Rudolph", one reason my expectations were low is that traditionally people have added a lot of repeats that are as annoying as they are common. (I hate "Like a lightbulb".)

The Amasic version uses a few of those - "it glows", "ho ho", and "yippee" - but without the overkill it enhances the energy of the song, which is really good. Punk guitar goes well with the original melody, which I wouldn't have expected and which makes me wonder about the rest of Johnny Marks' and Gene Autry's back catalogs.

I also found that they had other Christmas covers. It is common for Christmas covers to be awful, either stale or ridiculous and in the worst cases both, but that wasn't the case here. The versions sounded good, and that made December an excellent time to review them.

In addition, there was the album The Covers, Vol. 1, as well as several covers on the Youtube channel. Normally I focus more on original music, because I think it tells you more about the band, but I appreciated that they took some songs that many people view as cheesy and treated them respectfully. In addition, they did a reasonable cover of "Friday". I feel that song deserves disrespect, though maybe some of that came out at the end of the song.

My overall impression from that is that Amasic has a great deal of respect for music in general, and that it informs how they practice and how they record and how they view individual songs. It feels like you can rely on them to have good output. I respect that.

And all of that is not even getting into their original material, which is pretty good. They have a 7-track EP from this year, The Things We Say. My personal favorites from it are "All for Myself" and "You're a Freak", but the band is definitely worth checking out.

They have some availability on Amazon, but more on iTunes. No tour dates are currently listed, but there is supposed to be new music out in 2015.

Old post on why I hate "Friday":

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Band Review: Like Changing Seasons

Like Changing Seasons is a pop punk band from Western Massachusetts. It has been their turn for review for a few months now, but I was holding off until their EP was released, and I just saw that it was up this week. You can purchase Life Goes On at your own price from Bandcamp:

The music is a little heavier than a lot of the pop punk I have heard, demonstrating more of a hardcore influence. One of the tracks makes a reference to "easycore". Apparently the term was coined by New Found Glory for one tour, and refers to the blend of pop punk and metalcore. You learn something new every day.

For what they are, I believe Like Changing Seasons delivers pretty well. I do question whether sometimes the "core" elements disrupt the message. For example, "Where Have You Been?" exhibits depth and has emotionally affecting lyrics, so at times when they are shout-growled, it seems to undercut. However, if anger is a part of what is being expressed, that can be a legitimate choice, and musically that track has one of my favorite intros. That and "You Look Like a 90s Roller Blader" were probably my favorite tracks.

With "Roller Blader" it can be interesting to compare how differently the line "I never thanked you for what you did for me" sounds compared to the same line in "Life Goes On", possibly the hardest track, but also the shortest. It could be gratitude, or it could not be, and it could legitimately be opposite emotions for the same situation. Again, they have some depth.

They have a few scheduled performances in the near future, and with the new release this looks like a good time for the band.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons from Judge Judy - Where we disagree

Yes, Judge Judy is often harsh with the people in her courtroom. Usually it is amusing, and there is a sense that they deserve it. You have people refusing to give a straight answer, and it is still clear that they are not good people, and have not been at all responsible or even minimally considerate of others. As often as she has to deal with people like that, and reach some resolution with them, well, I would get cranky too.

Sometimes though there are points where I feel the contempt is not completely deserved. Maybe they have made bad choices, but there are circumstances where they are not that surprising. She really looks down on state assistance, but those programs serve purposes. That's not saying that they are immune to abuse, or that the people who are likely to abuse such programs might not be the type do other things that would get them on the show, but I sense an unnecessary level of prejudice on her part.

I guess the short way of saying it is that she comes across as politically conservative.

It makes sense. We have covered this before, but if the system works for you, you are more likely to be conservative. The system has been good to her. That doesn't mean that there was no hard work or determination involved on her part. I admire her, she had a good legal career before the show, and I think she was a great find for the show. I do think, and this probably goes back to that normal bias in one's own favor, that it is easy to think that the good things that come to you are totally deserved, and that other people's problems and shortcomings are totally deserved, when that may not be the case.

I have been thinking about that more because of a few people whose criminal charges came up in the case of dealing with the civil suits. Some have accepted pleas, and that is taken as proof of guilt despite their protestations of innocence.

I know that some of them, and probably even most of them, did in fact do the things that they pled to. Because of the things that you have to swear to there, and she has referenced it, technically no one should accept a guilty plea unless they actually did it. You have to confirm that you haven't been coerced, and you understand what you are doing, and similar statements.

It seems like a way of preventing any innocent person from ever losing their chance to be cleared by a jury, so it should be a good thing. For an innocent person who has no faith in the system, and no reason to have faith in the system, it's pretty cruel. If you are scared and desperate, is that not coercion? Sure, you can take your chances, but what are your chances?

I am thinking about one of the examples in The New Jim Crow. She was taken up in a neighborhood sting, she had no drugs, but she was going to be held until trial if she pled innocent, and she had children to get home too. She pled guilty, and then for most of the people who were being held the charges were dropped, but it was too late for her.

I am thinking of Marissa Alexander agreeing to a plea deal. Yes, she could have made a good case for defense, and some people were disappointed in her for accepting the plea, but she was looking at sixty years, and she didn't even injure anyone!

I am thinking about Candice Anderson who pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide because she lost control of the car and her boyfriend died. She didn't think she had been negligent, but what other explanation could there be? Only a faulty ignition switch, which GM knew about, because they had reviewed her case five months before she entered the guilty plea, but they didn't tell anyone until they had no choice, years later, after her parents liquidated their 401K and she had paid fines and restitution.

And of course I remember Josh Marquis that night in Powells. Actually, I'm just going to quote myself:

"Marquis never came right out and said that he still thought the guy was guilty, but there were different points that he raised that would lead one to believe so. For example, the way this man, Edward Lee Elmore, got out of prison was that after the most recent conviction was overturned, he entered a plea that is not accepting guilt but not denying it either, and Marquis' point was now that he has a good lawyer, and he would certainly not be sentenced to anything worse than time served, why not go for it and prove innocence? Well, from the point of view of the legal team, the prosecution played dirty three times in a row, and they did not want to risk it again, and maybe Elmore would just like to be out after 28 years in jail."

Well if you were really innocent you'd risk it. Would you?

The Innocence Project keeps clearing more people, and some of them have to wait a long time.

Maybe we can't expect the legal system to be perfect, but it feels like we have set our expectations too low. A lot of the flaws have to do with economics, and a lot of them have to do with race. We have to face those things if we want the word "justice" to have any meaning at all.

Related links: