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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Outdated Physical Media

Recently an article on Buzzfeed touched on a very real experience for me: being in your 30s and holding onto your compact disc collection.

I will not dispute any of the contents of the article, as I believe it is factual and correct, but I do object to calling CDs "outdated physical media." Maybe it was a way to bait me into reading the article. Well, sometimes, you have to let the internet win and give the article a click.

When I'm at home, I listen to music either on my turntable, my Spotify account on my phone or desktop, or my iTunes library on my desktop. Near my turntable is a multi-disc CD player that I have never turned on since I've lived in my current residence. The last time I used it was about 10 years ago when I would co-host theme parties and burn mix CD-Rs for them. I'm not even sure the player is set up correctly through the receiver. All it does is collect dust, but I'm not about to get rid of it.

While they aren't getting a lot of play in my house, I prefer to listen to CDs in my car for many reasons. Apparently after this year, more and more car manufacturers will cease installing CD players in their vehicles. When Hope bought a new Jeep a couple of years ago, she was sad that a player was not included. That served as a heads up that one day, we'll all have either streaming or terrestrial radio to entertain us in a vehicle.

Instead of fighting this change, I will slowly embrace it. In the meantime, let me explain why I have held onto my CDs. And it's not just for nostalgic reasons. I challenge people to think about what's more "convenient" when it comes to listening to music in a vehicle.

Here are two options.

(Option A) Slipping a CD into the player and letting the music play. Since there are only a dozen or so songs on the disc, the limited amount of songs I can hear allows me to not be distracted from wanting to hear dozens more. If I'm in a hurry, the amount of time between getting in my car and hearing the music I want to hear is a matter of seconds.

(Option B) Making sure my vehicle is stopped, hoping my Bluetooth connection is set to my phone, and hoping my Spotify app will load in a timely manner. Add in the hope the artist or album I want to hear is still available on Spotify. Plus, there is no end of music to listen to. And I have to be mindful of how much data I use on my current plan. If I'm in a hurry and all of these seem like obstacles I don't want to deal with, I will listen to the radio or silence instead.

If you think Option B is more convenient for modern times, I beg to differ. Just because something is more commonly done in the modern sense doesn't mean it's the best experience.

There is another thing at play as to why I hold onto my CDs.

Last year, I finally upgraded my desktop to a newer version of Windows. (You don't need the latest version of Windows to write articles or emails properly.) When I imported my old iTunes library to the current edition, I noticed a lot of songs were missing. As in, 15 gigs worth. Turns out the music I used to listen to the most didn't make the journey to the new hard drive. Slowly, I have gone back to my CDs to rip the songs into my iTunes library again. It reminds me that I'm glad I didn't toss those CDs out with the times.

Someday, my iTunes library will be back up to date, but the chances of having to upgrade to another version of Windows will be high. Having a physical copy to back up something that really matters to me is vital. Sure would hate to see all those great songs disappear again because of a hard drive flaw.

As I think about the future of CDs, I think there will be some sort of revival of their importance to a mass audience. Maybe not to the extent of what vinyl has experienced in the past 10 years, but I don't believe CDs will fully disappear. Cassettes seemed to come back into vogue when the chances of finding a cassette player grew small. Now you have a lot of young bands pressing vinyl, CDs, and tapes to get their music to the most amount of people. If CD players continue to grow harder to find, the chances of a revival will grow. It's the way trends often happen.

While the argument of convenience is a little out of step with the times, I don't believe I should give up on what has brought me much joy for most of my life and continues to this day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Hope

In life, we make choices. We have to. You can avoid making them for as long as you want, but life is always moving forward whether you like it or not. The past can seem very vivid because you've lived it, seeming like the basis of what's to come.

No matter how long we've lived, where we come from is all prologue to today. With my life, I look forward to spending the rest of it with Hope Harrell.

We had talked about marriage for months, not in the superficial, but the actual reality of being husband and wife. Where we would live, how would we like to live with children, and how to grow together with age instead of apart. This past Monday, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.

Hope and I are not without flaws. But thanks to her, I have really understood my flaws and realized how to live with another person's flaws, too. She brings the absolute best out of me. I have so many more reasons to live a fulfilling life thanks to her. 

Sometimes we don't say or do the right things to each other. Many other times we do. She's shown what love can do, and with her in my life, it's limitless.

We came together because of a mutual appreciation of Kevin Smith's wisdom and horror movies. But when the two of us met for the first time, we realized there was more to each other than what we thought of Clerks and Suspiria. It was close to love at first sight, and it has continued to blossom all these months later.

When I was younger, I was afraid marriage meant the end of doing what you wanted to do in life. Trips to record stores were replaced by endless honey-do lists. With Hope, I've realized I can still be me and she can still be her. Hope has never dissuaded me from doing the things I love, and I have (and will never) dissuade her from doing the things she loves to do. We want each other to succeed, and it's a wonderful feeling to do this together.

For years, I thought I could fill the lack of a life companion with books, movies, and records. Slowly I learned that I cannot replace a living, breathing person with a one-sided experience. I'm glad I realized this before it was too late in life. Hope and I have many more movies to watch, records to listen to, and books to read, all while living a fulfilling life together. 

I've often said that I hoped someone like Hope existed. As twisted and as bumpy the road prior to her was (especially when I realized there were a lot of issues with myself I needed to sort out), I'm happy we found each other when we did. I really would not have had it any other way. 

There is a lot to look forward to, when only a couple of years ago, I had nothing really to look forward to. Spending my life with the right person is the freedom I always wished for. The concept of hope really did help me get through the life I had before Hope came into it. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Talking in the Dark

Something I left out of recent concert reviews was the topic of the audience talking during the whole performance. I'm asked to write a review of a performance by an artist, not of the people watching the performance. So that armchair sociology has to be addressed somewhere else, like this blog.

Talking comes with the territory, as most shows I've been to have had that white noise. But usually that is relegated to the area right in front of the bar. People buy drinks, talk with friends, or try to make new connections. I get that.

But when I watched Explosions in the Sky play at the Bomb Factory last summer, I couldn't help noticing how many people chatted away while the band put on an incredible show. Hope and I were seated upstairs in a spot where we could see the stage and the crowd quite well. As the band played one great tune after another, I kept hearing people talking down below. It was not a small group of people. It was a lot of people. And they weren't anywhere near a bar.

I started to wonder, why should you pay good money to get into a venue to talk to people constantly? You paid to see this band, right? You can talk to people for hours at any bar where there is no admission, so why the need?

I've heard this is a Dallas thing, but that's not true with every large show in town. The shows I've seen at the American Airlines Center did not have thousands of Chatty Cathys while Rush, Muse, or Alice Cooper played. Those people paid quite a bit of dough to see a show of this magnitude. It made a lot of sense to keep the talking to a minimum.

Venues that can hold almost one thousand or a little more seem to have this problem. Tickets are not cheap, like seeing your friends play for $10 in a room that can hold 200 people. But the general admission tickets are not near the three figure mark. There's a buffer of $30-$55 in the price. And for whatever reason, that's the price where people think it's OK to treat a venue like it is a small bar.

At the shows Hope and I see, we briefly talk to each other here and there about the show, but privately, talking into an ear. We're not carrying on a long conversation. We have all the time in the world to talk about the show afterwards. And not at a volume that tests the strength of our vocal cords. During the most recent show we saw together, a three-hour tribute to the music of Neil Young at the Granada Theater, I saw quite a few couples around us talking constantly. Tickets for this were $50 each. I'm talking money that could be well spent on groceries, gasoline, or records. To simply blow that money off like it's nothing does not compute with my budget-minded ways.

Maybe it's a way of expressing boredom with the performance. Maybe it's a way of showing entitlement of some kind. For whatever reason, I'm not about to fall in with the crowd thinking this is OK. Seeing bands has made an indelible mark on me, and I'm not about to let a trend of short attention spans stop me from seeing what I want to see.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Selling the Drama

Last week, there was a thread floating around Facebook about albums you listened to in high school. It was a fun rundown of records that made a significant impact on you, but there was another side to it.

Some Facebook friends rhetorically criticized selections on people's lists. They sarcastically thought a lot of people lied. "All these dudes my age trying to act like they didn't like Korn in their formative years," wrote the singer of a doom metal band I admire. I agreed with him, and I saw how the conversation turned deeper. There's a good question of, are you exaggerating the importance of these records, or are you being highly selective in your choices for fear of not being accepted?  

I do not claim to having some sort of credibility 20 years ago when I was in high school. I did not try to be the cool older brother or a know-it-all music critic to anyone. I would correct people on things from time to time, but my music listening was mostly a private matter. I was a budding music fan, finding my way through anything that came into my life. (I was still that way in college, but when I worked at Best Buy, I was the guy who didn't get why so many people liked the Titanic soundtrack, but I was not going to stop anyone from buying a copy of it.) My high school years were this: I liked Hootie and the Blowfish and Nirvana. I liked Pavement and Snoop Doggy Dogg. I liked Weezer and Metallica. 

Even though the CD was the format for owning music between 1993 and 1997, I spent more time listening to singles on the radio and seeing videos on MTV. (It sure was enjoyable to have my cousin share what he thought about songs I liked in high school.) I wasn't pulled into picking up Cracked Rear View, as I heard half of that record on a regular basis for about a year and a half. I was drawn more to the stuff that wasn't constantly on the radio or MTV. 

In writing my list on Facebook, I thought about albums I genuinely listened to many times on dubbed tapes in my 1977 Pontiac Catalina. Driving around Kingwood, I rarely turned on the radio in my car, preferring to focus on albums. All of these records stood out and resonated with me, and I'm happy to say they still hold up today. Here's the list.

face to face, Big Choice
Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Everclear, Sparkle and Fade
Sunny Day Real Estate, Diary
Foo Fighters, s/t
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen
Jawbox, s/t
Ash, 1977
Therapy?, Infernal Love
Oasis, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?

Did I own Bush's Sixteen Stone and Korn's first album, as well as Dream Theater's Awake and 311's self-titled album and Live's first three albums? Absolutely. Yet when it came down to impact then and now, those albums didn't make the list.

I wonder why people hide what they loved when they were younger. Is it the fear of being less of a music fan because your tastes were not ready for Neutral Milk Hotel or Chavez in the '90s? You have to look at the present. The people we are now (who have a pretty good idea of what we like and don't like) versus the people we were then. 

Why is it whenever we talk about our high school years, we get a little testy and defensive about what we liked? Moreover, who we were? I still struggle with this, but it is a lot easier now compared to a few years ago. I like to joke, if you think I'm emo now, it was even worse in high school.

I think it comes down to how honest one wants to be to an audience. Do you tell a version of yourself that is filled with context or without? Do you want to be selective, focusing on what matters instead of what all happened? Neither is wrong, but I have to wonder, especially if high school was many years ago, have you come to accept what it was?

Saturday, December 03, 2016

A year in music, 2016 edition

This year has been another fruitful year of new music. While I still dig in and revisit the past, there were many new records that I immensely enjoyed. I have made a Spotify playlist of tunes I liked, but here is the rundown of what I championed in 2016.

Albums





















American Football, LP2
When American Football released their debut album in 1999, nobody I knew considered it a classic whatsoever. The four-piece had a lot of close company in the emo/post-hardcore world at that time, including Pedro the Lion, Rainer Maria, the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, and many more. Seventeen years later, this once-short-lived Mike Kinsella project is bigger than any other band he's been involved with. The debut inspired many young bands to create a sound that was more from the heart instead of the hope of becoming famous. Their second LP was a bit of surprise as it seemed to be a project that was under wraps until it had a release date. The bigger surprise is how great it is. Not just good, but a record that surpasses the debut in a number of ways. Kinsella has much more experience as a songwriter in 2016, and it's obvious in terms of the quality of the tunes on here. It's a sad yet pretty album. It's the kind of album that works on rainy days and sunny days. (Spotify) 





















Beach Slang, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
This is Beach Slang's second LP in two years, and it's a final document of a line-up that is no longer intact. The band broke up onstage earlier this year, only to reform a couple of days later. Drummer J.P. Flexner later quit the band, then guitarist Ruben Gallego was fired, and frontman James Alex did a number of shows alone. Who knows what will hapen for this band in the future, but A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is certainly a worthy follow-up to The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. It's much more diverse, and it's definitely not a retread of the first album. A song like "Atom Bomb" is a rough-edged, harder tune for the band while a song like "Spin the Dial" sounds like unapologetic ode to the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait." One can hope there is more Beach Slang to come in the future as the band's sound holds a special place for those who thought punk rock went away with the Warped Tour. (Spotify)





















Tiny Moving Parts, Celebrate
This trio's second album, Pleasant Living, was one of my favorite records of 2014. It was a record I listened well into 2015 because I could not get enough of it. Celebrate will probably get as much attention in 2017. Pleasant Living was, for me, a long ode to grief over a relationship that ended. Celebrate comes across as addressing those close to you who cannot seem to find happiness. This is the band's most accessible record to date, blending complicated rhythms with sing-along choruses. (Spotify)





















Into It. Over It, Standards
Evan Weiss's latest balances out the major sides of his Into It. Over It project. Produced by John Vanderslice, Standards has both delicate acoustic-driven songs mixed with full-on rock songs. Into It. Over It's previous albums, Proper and Intersections, explored both extremes. Standards blends all of that together quite well, where the whole album doesn't sound like a Jekyll and Hyde sort of identity crisis. (Spotify)





















Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
Explosions in the Sky did a major reboot of their sound on The Wilderness. Rather than be dominated by shimmering guitar lines and behind-the-beat drumming, this album is anchored by keyboards and programming. Still, these songs are beautiful and there is plenty of welcoming sounds that Explosions in the Sky is known for. The longest song on here is seven minutes in length, which is also a bit of a change for them. A band who inspired many others created a newer sound to inspire even more bands. (Spotify)





















face to face, Protection
I don't fault face to face for trying to expand their pop-punk leanings. As much as I love their first three records, which elevated pop-punk in many ways, I still find a lot of merits in Ignorance is Bliss, a record that owed more to the Cure and the Foo Fighters. Matter of fact, I championed everything the band did until Laugh Now, Laugh Later and Three Chords and a Half-Truth. I simply could not connect with them as they tried to be a bit more than what they had been known for, whether it was short punk tunes or songs more in the vein of Stiff Little Fingers. With Protection, the magic of the band is back. Trever Keith is still an inspiring vocalist and lyricist, and the rest of the latest version of the band (with new guitarist Dennis Hill) they have found a good, stable footing again. (Spotify)





















My Jerusalem, A Little Death
There have been many times where I have seen a band play songs from a forthcoming LP that were significantly better live than on record. Austin's My Jerusalem played a few of the songs from A Little Death months before it came out, and I'm happy to say the resulting album is great. These are some of the poppiest songs Jeff Klein and his band have cooked up, and they retain the energy they have when they play live. It's a collection of dark pop songs that you can listen to during the day or night. (Spotify)





















Joshua Dylan Balis, Modern Gospel 
Normally, I have hesitation praising a debut from an artist who is only beginning to establish himself or herself. Well, Modern Gospel is the sound of someone who has already released something exceptional. Even though he doesn't list them as influences, Balis's songs remind me of Nick Drake and Bruce Springsteen (the more subdued side of the Boss). There is confidence in these six songs and a taste of good things to come. (Spotify)

Songs

"Don't Need to Be Them" by the Sun Days
Not to be confused with the Sundays, the Sun Days make cheerful pop rock. This is one of the brightest songs I've heard all year. (Spotify)

"Portals to Hell" by Slow Mass
Featuring two members of Into It. Over It, this Chicago-based band reminds me of the mighty Crash of Rhinos. This one's a rager that's colorful, too. (Spotify)

"Just Another Face" by Modern Baseball
This is one of the most honest songs I've heard in 2016. Addressing the dark side of life while focusing on the positives, Brendan Lukens wrote a song I have listened to (and connected with) again and again. (Spotify)

Shows
















Jason Isbell, February 16th, South Side Ballroom
I'm a newcomer to Isbell's music after hearing raves about his solo work and his time with the Drive-By Truckers for years. This show was a revelation. Isbell doesn't write corny country music or by-the-numbers Americana. He has his own sort of vibe that blends folk and country with Neil Young leanings. Over the course of 20 songs, he set a comfortable mood, playing a lot of songs from his last two solo records and a few odds and ends, along with some songs he did with the Drive-By Truckers. I was captivated and I've since become a big fan of his work.













Explosions in the Sky, August 22nd, The Bomb Factory
What I wrote in my original review sums up my thoughts and feelings in detail, but I'll add this, I was deeply moved by this show. My eyes were glassy in a few spots because of the kind of emotion I draw from Explosions in the Sky's music. A wonderful show.


Friday, November 04, 2016

We look like animals seven days a week

Recently, a couple of writers/podcasters and musicians I know took to social media to vent their frustrations about how certain publications have seemingly done a 180 on emo/post-hardcore. Mainly, Pitchfork.

Ten to fifteen years ago, being an emo fan meant receiving a lot of guff from people who didn't "get it." But what was to "get," and what was "it"? Validation that this music was worthwhile? Praise for albums that have been breakthroughs in the genre? Perhaps, but do we really need validation in being a fan of this genre?

Yes, we do.

Before social media and Spotify took hold, music-centric blogs were the best ways to find out about emerging artists. You could sample a lot of stuff for free, but you also had to dig, especially if you weren't a fan of indie rock that sounded like '70s pop rock or hip-hop that was perfect for a party. Pitchfork, which started as an online zine, seemed to be the strongest influencer on what people checked out. As much as I hated a lot of its reviews for sounding like the perspective of someone who's cooler than your older brother and the most knowledgeable record store clerk you know, I still read the site almost every single day.

There were times when I found the site helpful, especially in deciding if the Scott Walker box set was worth the investment. (It was and remains something I cherish.) But many other times, I'd find it distracting when a band would be praised (later seen as over-praised) and then be ripped apart (and later seen as unfairly ripped apart). Most memorably, . . . And You Know Us By the Trail of Dead got the love and later, the shred. I get how new music from a single artist can blow our minds or let us down, but it made me wonder what was really going on. Was it flaky attitudes or black-and-white takes?

During this time, while new albums by Arcade Fire, Spoon, and Radiohead (as well as reissues by James Chance and Pavement) were dissected to explain their greatness, many records from the emo/post-hardcore genre were made light of and cast aside. Feel free and read slaggings of now-classic records by Jimmy Eat World, the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring, and Braid herehere, here, and here. I think a lot of fans of the emo/post-hardcore genre wanted respect, and we weren't getting it from those who wanted to be smarter and cooler than everybody else.

Slowly, the tide turned. Outlets that used to piss all over the genre (or flat out ignored it) hired writers who came up loving the genre. From Rolling Stone to EW, these places were catching up to what Alternative Press had praised since the mid- to late-'90s. But when Pitchfork started to publish reviews that revered bands like Braid and the Promise Ring, (like this one for No Coast and this one for the Nothing Feels Good reissue), all was forgiven, right?

Not so fast. I stopped reading Pitchfork regularly a few years ago as I realized I didn't need their approval to know if what I liked was cool or not. I liked what I liked (as I always have), but being aware of their influence on readers' tastes certainly amped up my defensiveness. Maybe they realized there was an audience that would give the site traffic if writers weren't defecating on American Football, Jawbreaker, Braid, the Promise Ring, and Jimmy Eat World. I'm not sure, but I can understand if people my age are bitter about it now. It's like the school bully who wants to be your friend on Facebook.

I still see a lot of value in the existence of album reviews, but I've reached a point in my life where I don't need to rely on reviews to determine what I should listen to. Spotify makes excellent playlists every week that are based on what I regularly listen to. I'm not turning to publications to justify my tastes. But I still remember what it was like to have to constantly defend what I loved. Whether it was at the campus radio station I worked at (ie, when the station manager called Bob Nanna the worst singer he'd ever heard) or online (ie, enjoy this blog's archives).

For me and my friends who have always loved emo/post-hardcore, now we know what fans of Rush, the Stooges, and Led Zeppelin got to experience in the 1970s. Bands that made awesome records and affected a ton of people were not well-received by outlets like Creem or Rolling Stone. Those bands weren't up to their tastes, and they seemed to enjoy explaining why.

I don't think we should wait to get validation from people we don't see eye-to-eye with. This music has made a huge, lasting impact on us, so why should we want more? Maybe we're looking for an apology or a mea culpa. Life's too short to wait on that. Let's enjoy what we enjoy.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Season of the Witch

Two years ago, Noel Murray wrote a very thoughtful and well-worded think piece about how your opinion about a movie can change over time. Whether you love the movie every time you see it, you love it more (or less) over time, or you love it now but you originally hated it -- these kinds of shifts happen.

There are various reasons why this happens. I don't believe it's to impress peers or be a contrarian. When you come back to a movie, you are going to see it differently than how you originally saw it.

In my case, as of this year, I have a significantly different opinion on Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

This is the one Halloween film that does not feature Michael Myers as the antagonist, and none of the other films in the series reference the events that happen. Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, it's a bastard child, a misfire. It's something that should be forgotten by many people. But thanks to the enduring popularity of the franchise, it continues to be packaged in DVD box sets and a part of the conversation.

When I saw Halloween III for the first time, it was 1998, and I was slowly going deep into the horror genre. Scream, Psycho, and Halloween all piqued my interest, so I was up for trying anything and everything, to a fault. I had heard of way more movies than the ones I had seen, like The Fog and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And I had seen way more movies in pan-and-scan than in widescreen. The acting in Halloween III is nowhere near Oscar-worthy, but when the scope of the film is literally trimmed out to fit a 4:3 screen ratio, one can't help but look at the acting. (All this said, I saw Star Wars many, many times in 4:3 and I loved it then and still rank it as my favorite movie of all time.)

I didn't find value in B-movie acting, especially Tom Atkins' scene-chewing machismo. Same with the villains trying to kill lots of children on Halloween. I didn't realize there is a charm to that style of acting. It was either you're a great actor or not. (Great acting was what the Oscars, Peter Travers, and Siskel & Ebert said it was.)

About ten years ago, I watched most of the film in Spanish when I was quite bored one night. The film was even more campy to me. Any kind of redemption was not happening. The horse had left the barn and it wasn't coming back. The first two Halloween movies were the only ones worth watching over and over, while H2O and Rob Zombie's first Halloween movie was (and is still is) pretty good. Halloween III was one of the ones to skip.

A few months ago, an idea popped in my head: why don't I see this in widescreen for the first time? Since certain horror fans I trust gave high marks to the film, I figured I would give it one more chance.

By then, I had seen the original The Fog and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was not a shock that seeing Halloween III in 2016 was a much different (and better) experience. As it was original intended to be seen, it's pretty well shot. The in-jokes to the original Halloween (not just the TV ad for it shown in a bar, but also the casting of Nancy Loomis) are a nice meta touch. And there are some decent jump scares.

I came away thinking this was not a garbage movie, but not a great movie, either. Halloween III is way more enjoyable than the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments. Though the final act kinda throws a good build-up away with some really hammy moments, it's not an unwatchable movie. The fourth, fifth, and sixth installments movies went back over the same territory as the first two, thinking more Michael Myers mythology made for an excuse for sequels. From a producer aspect, I understand, but as a viewer, I'm not about to put the Halloween box set on a Christmas list.

Who knows? Maybe someday I will praise the merits of Michael Myers return, death, return, death, and return again. But it's probably not going to happen at this juncture.