Saturday, April 28, 2007
History scholars like myself know that since the dawn of time, man has passed down a simple list of instantly regrettable things to put in one's mouth. Most of them are intuitive: rotten meat, a handful of bees, poison spiders, Taco Bell. But in my tireless research scouring the earth in the service of science, I've uncovered another item to add to that list. It's called a jalapeno margarita. The concept is simple: Take the normal stomach-burning and next-day-ruining qualities of tequila and infuse it with dozens of ripe green jalapenos, seeds and all. Each sip is like drinking a bit of lime-sweetened lava. It's been about 12 hours since I last sipped on this delectable delight in the cozy environs of the West Side Lounge in Cambridge, and I can still taste it. But those are the type of sacrifices one makes for knowledge, I suppose. I kept putting it aside, then reaching for it a minute later. I was like a kid who needed to keep reminding himself the stovetop was hot to the touch. Before long I found myself wanting to finish the whole drink. In fact, I'd go back and order it again, and that's something you'll never hear me say after a night shoveling bees into my face.
Originally published in the Boston Globe.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
There's a backwoods romanticism that floats throughout the '60s-fueled anachronisms of Dr. Dog. The Philadelphia band's new release, "We All Belong," is a dirt-road and gun-shack shamble -- rickety and rotten -- that flirts with gorgeous cigarette-colored harmonies and the psychedelic songcraft of the Beach Boys and the spacier efforts of the Beatles. The band seems just weird enough to pull it off seamlessly. Dr. Dog performs tonight at the Middle East Upstairs with the Teeth and Hellmouth. Listen to a sample here.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
But doesn't that fall in line with the problem with the MSM in the first place? A desire for continued access prevents them from doing any real reporting?
The always great Glenn Greenwald on Salon writes about "the adversarial relationship between journalists and political officials" quoting from the late, great David Halberstam, who once said:
"One of the things I learned, the easiest of lessons, was that the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be. (So, if you seek popularity, this is probably not the profession for you.) . . . .
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
You grew up here in MA, but the band comes from Long Island. What makes it such a fertile place for punk rock?
I think what makes it fertile is that punk seems to spring from the suburbs more than from cities. Long Island reminds me a lot of Cape Cod. It's flat, and if you look into the distance there's no way to tell the direction. Especially if it's overcast. If you're in Boston you look up and see a building and know where you are. I had no sense of direction when I was in Long Island. That's why we moved to Brooklyn.
How did you hook up with FATA?
I had moved to Kansas to play in Reggie and the Full Effect and we toured together. During a break with Reggie, The FATA bass player quit, and they called me up and asked me to join. I said it was a lot better than delivering pizzas.
Your front man/screamer Ben Perri recently left the band and drummer/singer Francis Mark stepped into his role. How was dealing with that?
Now it's all puppy dogs and lollipops. For everyone it was the best way things could have worked out. Ben didn't want to do it anymore. In retrospect we weren't happy with what he was contributing to the band, which was nothing. We didn't want to kick him out, but eventually he told us the reason why he wasn't doing anything was that he didn't give a sh-t anymore. Playing with our new drummer has been effortless. The guy we got is ridiculous. As far as we're concerned the band is done finding new people. The band has never played so well, the shows have never been so energetic. We're basically a new band that sometimes plays songs from the old albums. Not in a cover way though. I used to feel a bit dated when we were on tour. Now I feel like we're pushing the envelope of what we can do.
Do you feel like FATA pioneered the bi-polar screaming/crooning style of metal-core, or whatever you want to call it.
When the band started it was all tough guy hardcore. You know, you keep your head down, just doing what you're trying to do, but after a while you look up and say "Wait a minute! When did you start doing that?" There's a few bands -- they know who they are. And they've probably sold more records than us by now.
Originally published in the Boston Metro.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Feist’s new collection of woebegone, wispy indie-folk ditties twists the knife further into the broken hearts of her besotted following of hipsters and martini-lounge denizens everywhere. The piano jaunt ‘‘1234’’ brings the pain with banjo, stately horns and, of course, Feist’s breathy, brilliant cooing. Listen at myspace.com/feist
Asteroid heading toward Earth? Awesome. A voracious pack of zombies slouching toward the front door? Sweet! Deadly viruses that wipe out the earth's population? High five! It's been a particularly apocalyptic time for me, and I'm curiously loving every minute of it. I hadn't noticed the pattern until I happened across "Armageddon" on TV the other night. It had ham-handed acting and an Aerosmith soundtrack scarier than anything on-screen, but the catastrophic premise hooked me in. Earlier that week I'd seen the chilling dystopian parable "Children of Men" for the second time, finished reading Cormac McCarthy's haunting and brutally poetic novel "The Road," spent way too much time dissecting the minutia of Robert Rodriguez's zombie flick "Planet Terror" in online message boards, caught up on CBS's post-nuclear soap opera "Jericho" and eagerly devoured spoiler news about the upcoming pandemic sequel "28 Weeks Later." That's some 10-plus hours in one week contemplating -- and in many cases delighting in -- the end of the world as we know it. What does it say about me? I don't literally want the world to end, do I? I'm not even a Republican.
Originally published in the Boston Globe.
Dr. Dog's second record We All Belong is about to come out. Check out an interview I did with them for Thrasher a while back.
Tuesday morning, way too early for me to be up, and I had already been lost for nearly an hour on the way to an appointment or class, or job or meeting I didn't want to go to in the first place. Two months of snow and sand and salt, and my little burnt melon shit box of a car was wheezing and sputtering in an endless loop of one-way streets and rotaries that spit me back out wherever I didn't need to be. Repetition and frustration were conspiring together to make the places I have never been become more familiar than I wanted them to be.
And this is where Dr. Dog comes in. I heard the Philadelphia band's new record Easy Beat (National Parking) for the first time that morning, and something about the contradiction of the sunny harmonies and the peculiar melancholy of the lyrics transported me into an alternate universe where West Virginia was California and John Lennon and Brian Wilson chilled out chopping firewood on the beach grooving on one another's beards. The snow was gone.
On the way to recognizing something is awesome, there are a lot of safeguards that kick in. So for an instant I thought, "ok, this sounds like the Shins sort of retro pop…no, no, it's more like an Olivia Tremor Control style, no, cut that, it's ripping off the Beatles out-right, not bands that rip-off the Beatles." But the truth is, Dr. Dog are just on some other level shit, and although their influences might provide you with an entry point on first listen, the songs unfold like an old-timey, backwoods onion. Rotten in a good way.
I asked guitarist Andrew Jones and keyboard player Zach Miller about how the sense of rural dread ("I went out to the shed and put shellac in my head, but nobody noticed but me") creeps into the music of a rock band from Philly. "We all come from rural or suburban areas," Miller told me. "That urban spirit isn't instilled in us. In West Philadelphia, it's not like a downtown type area. Outside our practice space there are Victorian homes, lots of trees, no hustle and bustle."
"We have a lot of blue-grass and folk in our backgrounds," Jones added. Where we grew up is close to the country of Maryland and West Virginia, so we're not far enough removed where old time music is really a novelty."
It's the sense of opening a time capsule from the turn of the last century and finding out that some moonshine slinging dudes wrote Abbey Road seventy years early that makes Dr. Dog exciting. You can literally feel the guitars and the voices crackling and groaning into distortion, and the hiss of the tape is basically another instrument. Miller assured me that all of that was simply a matter of a new band using whatever they had at their disposal to make a record, but I think it couldn't have worked out better. "If there was a missed drum hit, or there was noise on the tape, or the recording clicked in too early, we would just go with it," Miller said. "But we used the same type of recording equipment that the Beatles used, and no one calls them a lo-fi band."
When I suggested that I didn't think it would be possible to make a Dr. Dog record with a huge budget in a fancy studio, Miller admitted that Scott (McMicken) and Toby (Leaman, the band is rounded out by Juston Stens) were really into Steely Dan, so who knows, maybe they could move off into slicker, lighter FM directions. "We just want how we sound to be a choice," Jones said. "We won't oppose any new opportunities on moral grounds."
Perhaps the defining opportunity for the band came an early Dr. Dog demo found its way into the hands of Jim James from My Morning Jacket. "After Scott gave Jim our CD, he wrote Scott a letter. We all read it together. It was so exciting, because, outside of the prospect of touring with them, he is a musician who we all genuinely love. We were showing everyone, calling everyone we know telling them about it." Two tours with My Morning Jacket later, Dr. Dog has tasted a little more of the good side of the road than they likely would have without the help. "We were just getting started," Miller told me, "and had only been in this lineup of the band for five months. We went from small clubs to playing one thousand seaters. It was quite a leap. I think we got a little spoiled. We got food, we got paid a certain amount at every show, which is crazy for a band with no credentials."
In the context of Dr. Dog's music, that all seems the way it should be. It is a seamless blending of the music's static roots with the song's galloping rhythms that imply constant movement, a sense that there are places where we have been, and there are places we need to get to right away.
Hometown party-rock heroes and eco-friendly touring pioneers Guster return to Boston this weekend for two sold-out shows at the Opera House. Couldn't get tickets? You can still get way more Guster than you'll ever need at the band's website. Check out the recording documentary/comedy "Joe's Place." See the boys fight snakes, sing about guacamole, record their album, and generally act like weirdos in the studio. Lovable weirdos, of course.
See it here.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The only thing scarier than HUMANWINE's brooding, furious, post-apocalyptic, anti-consumerist, theater-punk dirges is talking politics with band members Holly Brewer and M@ McNiss. On Friday the Boston-based band celebrate the release of their new album “Fighting Naked” on digital label Cordless Recordings.
What are some of the drawbacks of fighting someone naked?
Brewer: The thing is, it's not literal. The vision that comes up is Tiananmen Square or David and Goliath. We don't have tanks and guns or a flaming chance in Hell if we were going to fight the government…
McNiss: At their game. It means using your wits and your creativity and your art…
Brewer: Using your wits and ability to organize friends and an underground network to make sure you don't get thrown into a concentration camp, metaphorically.
I understand it's a metaphor but you certainly must be discouraged by current events.
Brewer: The current political climate is a hotbed. There are 10 different wars going on around the world. A lot of people don't have any hope. …And there is so much media trying to get people to forget. One of the major roles of HUMANWINE is to make sure people don't forget, instead of thinking about who got their haircut or E! Entertainment type stuff. …And it's a way of being timeless. No one evil leader will be the last evil leader. And no dumb population will be the last dumb population.
You guys sound like a good time.
Why are you releasing your album digitally?
Brewer: In July the hard copy of the CD will be released. But we wanted kids in Japan to be able to hear it right now.
Do you have many fans in Japan?
Brewer: I get e-mails. And I have to put them through the translator. Same thing with kids from Italy. It's hard to tell, I have to search for root words. But I'm not seeing any bad words!
Check out the Boston Metro to read the full HUMANWINE interview.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
The titles sound ominous, but "Bird on a Wire", the opening track on Rogue Wave's "Descended Like Vultures" begins with a boozy loop-waltz; a jingle-jangle, easy-trip psychedelia that lilts and wanes before the roiling, darker side of the song rears its head. Sound collages color the martial snare beats and the come-downs are punctuated with retro-space explosions. It'd be perfect music to sleep to, if the acoustic melancholia wasn't broken up by climactic squelches of fuzz, and seemingly random bursts of violent studio buggery. The song, (and the band itself), is pretty with potential like a high school wallflower that blossoms into late beauty, and it calls to mind a less user friendly Shins, or an idealized version of Neil Young that may or may not exist for all I know.
Don't make that first comparison to the guy who wrote it though. I asked Zack Rogue, whose band was nursing a shitty case of group-wide stomach flu on the road supporting Nada Surf how often he got the Shins comparison. "Only every interview!"
Woops. It's apt in a way, but worth arguing against if only out of protesting the tired, lazy comparison shtick. "It's not for me to decide who we sound like," he said. "I think we sound like us."
That's what every band ever says, I told him. Even the most blatantly derivative. "Well, just because Bloc Party says they never listened to Gang of Four or something, that doesn't mean that we sound like the Shins. We both make melodic music...I love the Shins. I can't think of a better songwriter than James Mercer. It's just not what we do. I don't see it."
Convincing. In all fairness, one gets the impression that Rogue Wave has seen things that would make the Shins' sweaters unravel. "Geriatric, at twenty years old...Don't do what I do...", sings Rogue. You get the impression that these are lived-in bones, and lived-in songs. Songs that didn't graduate college, but know a lot more about what's going in the world than you do. After all, birds landing on a wire is one step between the vultures circling above and feasting on a maggoty corpse.
I asked Rogue if he saw any vultures out the window today. "Don't you?" he said. "Look how polarized the world is becoming. Hurricanes and floods...what happens is you have companies making millions and billions of dollars off these things. It's a sign of the times. Feeding on the dead."
"Everything is political. These are spooky times. Music that lets you escape entirely is irresponsible. I don't need to lash out at particular politicians -- not directly, lyrically, but it's part of me. Of us. Being a human being that cares." That sort of political paranoia isn't overt in most of his songs, Rogue told me. But it's in there somewhere. It's everywhere. "If you deconstruct them, even nursery rhymes are pretty creepy."
"I'm not an asshole though," Rogue laughed. (He's not). "Don't listen to me, I'm not a scholar." Instead, he told me, he tries to work a lot of topics into one song. There is a lot about love and disappointment, he said. And that can be intertwined with politics. Packing lyrics with multiple meanings is something he picked up from listening to Neil Young and Michael Stipe. As well as a certain musical adventurousness, or indifference from Young. "I followed Neil Young a lot when I was a kid. I liked that he was, and still is an individual. Sometimes in a caustic way, where he follows his own muse. Sometimes people didn't want to follow him where he wanted to go. I admire that."
How important is that desire to go in your own direction I asked. Is it more important to make music that sounds "new" or music that sounds "good"?
"I don't think the two have to be mutually exclusive. If you make music that is honest, it will sound new." If you try to evade everything else that has happened, he explained, it won't. "Melodies are borrowed, and people build off of them. Your personality and your experiences are what make it unique."
There is a common ground between the experimental and the traditional, and Rogue Wave occupies that space nicely. The band was listening to a lot of My Bloody Valentine and Flaming Lips when they made the record, and it shows -- but there is a timeless tunefulness that far outweighs any of the bands reaches toward the outer limits. The songs on the record, like the breezy, breathy "California" or "Publish My Love" with the irresistible riff hook, do the heavy lifting for themselves, and influences become irrelevant. For the most part they're like portable pockets of pop-bliss you can use anywhere -- in the car, in a group with friends, or most importantly alone in your room, waiting for the birds to descend.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Commuting rules! Those of you reading this on the commuter train right now may disagree. That heavy air of antiseptic cleaner and food-court french fries; the rustle of takeout bags and discarded newspapers (not Sidekick, natch); the sweaty stench of exhausted humanity crawling over one another in the brief moments of solace between work and domesticity. It's music to my ears. And nose. Of course I don't have to do it every day. I imagine after the first 75 trips into and out of South Station, it gets old. But for the occasional commuter, the train still holds its old-timey magic. For me it's probably a carryover from my first job out of college, commuting from Fairfield, Conn., to New York City. I fancied myself a dysfunctional John Cheever character, broken under the weight of suburbanity. Romantic, isn't it? Ask the fat, cologne-drenched businessman sitting on your lap. Nowadays, if I take the train to visit my family in Kingston, it opens up a whole other world: the back end of towns I've known my whole life, rivers and woods I'd never see otherwise. Take a moment and consider it. Turn off the iPod, put down the newspaper, and breathe it all in. Just make sure you're not sitting too close to the bathroom car.
Originally published in the Boston Globe.
I did a little piece about what it's like working as a waiter for the Globe. Check it out here.
It's no secret that the life of a freelance writer isn't exactly champagne and steaks every night. Quite the contrary. In fact, a few nights a week you�ll find me serving them to others at the Cambridge bistro Temple Bar (1688 Massachusetts Ave., 617-547-5055, templebarcambridge.com).
One of the hardest parts about slinging drinks to customers all night -- I mean, serving cherished guests creative cocktail confections -- is carrying them around under my nose on a tray. Recurring hangovers notwithstanding, there's something about the perpetual olfactory proximity of the server's forbidden (fermented) fruit that makes getting through a busy night difficult. It's like asking a dog to wear a steak around his neck for eight hours before he can eat it.
Last Friday was a typical night. Around 8 o'clock the room was full of the usual mix of young and old, fine diners eating pan-roasted mahi mahi ($22) and burger and beer ($10 and $4-$5, respectively) college kids. My section of high-top tables was particularly hard to get to with the bar crowd two-to-three-people deep. But the people want -- nay, need -- their Sunsplash Martinis (Stoli Ohranj, Amaretto, Malibu Coconut rum, and Cointreau mixed with fresh orange juice, pineapple juice, and a dash of lemon-lime soda, $9) so I weaved through the crowd like a clumsy figure skater praying no one would bump into my tray of drinks.When a photographer showed up, our bartender Mike started making a few of his favorite drinks. Just then, two cute girls pulled up to the bar and asked what he was making. We all watched as he rolled the rim of the glass for the Chocolate Martini (Ketel One vodka, White Creme de Cacao, Vermeer chocolate liquor, $9) in cocoa and basked together in a warm glow of boozy anticipation. Now that's hard work.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
The Weekly Dig asked some of its writers to reflect on the passing of Kurt Vonnegut. This is what I had to say.
Kurt Vonnegut's work, like his life, seemed to have it both ways. He was an outspoken humanist and a professional empath who wore the suffering of the world -- and our silly wars in particular -- on his deeply-lined and curiously whiskered face. But his work always returned to his familiar tropes of humanity's bungling; our over-reaching, self-delusion and self-destruction. It's this type of lived-in contradiction that can only make a life-long love affair with unfiltered Pall Malls seem charming. Political. Defiant.
Vonnegut was certainly all of those and more. He was also something of a radical, both in his early experimentation with the novelistic form, and in his vehement inability to bullshit us to the very end. A rare thing indeed. Many of his readers probably remember the feeling of wild-epiphany upon discovering his work at a young age. It seems odd now at the shit-heel end of post-history, when we've seen nationalistic hubris and bureaucratic doublespeak and things even Vonnegut couldn't have dreamed up in his wildest science-fiction (and many things he did) become the norm, but there was a time when his sarcastic petulance and world-weary frustration, not to mention his stylistic innovations, were the avant garde. Albeit a highly palatable, and highly readable version of it. In his own way Vonnegut begot Barthelme and Pynchon who begot Foster Wallace who begot Mcsweeney's who begot Saunders and the essential mind-set of the entire generation of literate wise-ass media of which the Dig is a part. In a way, Vonnegut built this website.
Paging through some of my old copies of Vonnegut's novels, some great, some merely genuinely amusing, I'm reminded of one of the rules he laid out for writing fiction:
"Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."
Would he were here now, at the top of his game, to continue giving us such diversions.
Read Dave Eggers on Vonnegut here.
Monday, April 9, 2007
I think it dawned on me when the seamstress at the dry-cleaner I frequent started making fun of me. "You need to get some pants that fit maybe," she said. Hardee-har. She's right, but I can't let go of my two favorite pairs of jeans. The fifth time I had her sew them up, replacing holes in the knees and the crotch (a particular problem for days when I'm rocking it sans underwear, although that's already probably TMI,) it started to seem ridiculous. I must be wearing the leftover scraps of a dozen pairs of jeans right now. It's like Frankestein's pants monster. But they just don't make jeans like this anymore. Believe me, I've looked. Everyone develops sentimental attachments to articles of clothing, right? That cozy college sweatshirt with the ten year old mustard stain on the elbow; the beat-up, stinky gym sneakers that you wouldn't feel right exercising without? I have this one button down oxford that's been washed so may times it's invisible. I'm treading on no shirt/no shoes/no service territory when I wear it. Whatever. It's my armor. My security blanket. My neurosis. When everything else seems to be changing around you, it's comforting to know that at least your clothes don't have to. Not just yet.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Cinematic for the people
Somewhere between its resounding guitars and its dejected vocals, there’s a bipolarity to “Conscious Life For Coma Boy,” the opening track from Aereogramme’s My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go. It broadens the song’s emotional scope and sets the pace for a more subdued effort from the Scottish prog-metal rockers. The album seems the essence of resolution—a response, perhaps, to a major setback in the band’s career.
“I think the album as a whole is based around those feelings," vocalist and guitarist Craig B. tells me. “At the beginning of 2005, I lost the top range of my voice, so the band came to a grinding halt. We didn’t know if it would continue, so everyone went their separate ways, waiting for the voice to come back. I started to write new songs, and even although everything seemed to be coming to an end, the process of holding your hands up and accepting your fate became a liberating experience—and so the positive and negative emotions throughout the album formed from this."
This conflict echoes throughout the chafingly gorgeous orchestral passages that float just above the din of messy feedback whorls, which lends a cinematic effect to the music.
“I had a specific image in my head when I was writing the demo of ‘Living Backwards,’ ” he says. “It involved an individual seeing their own body, dead and facedown in a lake, but not fully understanding that the body they are seeing is their own." As such, it’s a swampy and foreboding tune; a dark day on the bogs with brief glints of light shining through the clouds above. “The cinema was the main focus for all of these songs," he says.
While there’s nothing particularly challenging about My Heart Has a Wish—it’s probably Aereogramme’s most approachable album to date—it’s filled with the type of musical narratives that unfurl only through repeated listens.
“I really hope people are blown away by it, but there is a lot to take in,” Craig B. says. “It’s only after a few sittings that it suddenly starts to make sense, and that’s when it really becomes exciting."
Originally published in the Weekly Dig