Brent Amaker and the Rodeo Interview

Brent Amaker and the Rodeo appear as style-conscious cowboys, but there is nothing fashionable about the band’s traditional brand of country. Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine recently knocked around a few ideas with Brent Amaker, discussing country punk, the pussification of Nashville, short songs and why the band dresses head to toe in black. The band will be playing a series of CMJ dates near the end of October and will continue touring through autumn’s end.

According to Bob, from Bob’s Country Bunker, there are only two kinds of music: “country and western.” Where would Brent Amaker and the Rodeo land within that spectrum?

Brent Amaker: I think “country and western” is the best description for Brent Amaker and the Rodeo. We play both. It bugs me when I hear people say we are a country punk band, or a rock outfit with a country flavor. Hell, we are more true to the spirit of country music than most of the stuff on mainstream country radio today. I just want to tell some stories and have some good times. Country and western music is the best vehicle for that.

Speaking of The Blues Brothers - how’s your rendition of “Rawhide” these days?

Brent Amaker: I always wanted to play behind a chicken wire fence while everyone went crazy on the dance floor. We came close, playing in two Belgian prisons where people kept yelling “Fuck you America.” To answer: I love all that old spaghetti western stuff. We don’t really play other peoples’ songs, so I’d say my rendition of “Rawhide” is non-existent. But check out “Walking in My Sleep” from our new CD. That’s a pretty cool number.

According to “I’m The Man Who Writes The Country Hits” you are the man who writes the country hits, the man who sings our favorite songs, your words are solid gold and you’re the man who makes the panties wet. How much of that song is autobiographical?

Brent Amaker: 100% of it. And check this out: If you wrote out the words to that song, the ink would actually turn into solid gold. Try it.

“They make cowboys in Montana, but in Texas they make men.” If that’s true - what do they make in Seattle?

Brent Amaker: I couldn’t tell you. I was raised in Oklahoma. I moved to Seattle about twelve years ago to focus on my music. I will say that they seem to make a lot of bad ass musicians in Seattle. That’s where I found the boys in the Rodeo.

Johnny Cash used to dress in black for the “poor and the beaten down.” How about you guys?

Brent Amaker: We mainly wear black for the ladies. We get a lot of compliments when we’re on the road.

In “Dick in Dixie” Hank Williams III sang “we’re losing all the outlaws that had to stand their ground, and they’re being replaced by these kids from a manufactured town. And they don’t have no idea about sorrow and woe, ’cause they’re all just too damn busy kissin’ ass on Music Row.” What are some good examples of sorrow and woe on “Howdy Do!”?

Brent Amaker: Well the whole world’s been wussifying for the last few years, hasn’t it? That whole ’70s Waylon Jennings outlaw thing is definitely gone from Nashville, but things have always been ass kissy in that town - that’s why Waylon had such a rebel image. Sorrow and woe? I talk about stomach rot, heart disease, and cowboys with debt issues on “When Love Gets to a Man.” We just finished a video for that one.

Only one song on the new record exceeds three minutes (”My Cheatin’ Wife” @ 3:04). Are you guys simply more efficient in getting your point across in your songs than other bands or is there more to it than that?

Brent Amaker: I always dug the Ramones. We make sure we get the songs just right. Say what you gotta say, move on. We’re not crafting any constipated epics with deep social commentary, there are plenty of indie twerps that are great at that.

What can you attribute your loyal German following to?

Brent Amaker: Maybe because we’re so efficient in getting our point across. Maybe because so many American hicks did their army stint in Germany and blasted country music out of their jeeps. I dunno. I’ll say this: those people are up for anything. Go to Germany, they got cool folks there.

If as a small child you ate jalapeño peppers every day, what do you eat now?

Brent Amaker: I like eatin’ fried chicken. I like it better if you can get some pickles and white bread on the side. Better yet if you throw in some jalapeno peppers!

Give me the real deal here: Carrie Underwood or Faith Hill?

Brent Amaker: Sorry Faith, you used to be a real hot piece, but I gotta go with Carrie Underwood.

The Five Most Ridiculous Canadian Coins

I am Canadian. But I’m an American, too. Having dual citizenship is a pretty great thing, if for no other reason than having the honor to criticize both nations equally. And the most recent reason I have to criticize Canada is the government’s decision to approve a special coin for pressing by the Royal Canadian Mint. But it’s not just any coin, it’s a unique “CH” coin which celebrates the Montreal Canadiens’ centennial season. Certainly hockey is one of the most important staples ingrained in Canadian culture, and without question the Montreal Canadiens stand as somewhat of a patriarch within the sport, but there are simply far too many things wrong with this equation to begin to make sense of it. But alas, that this isn’t the first questionable pressing in the history of the Royal Canadian Mint. Ever the innovators when it comes to currency design, Canada has seen some really, really odd coins in its time. Going into a gas station in the wrong neighborhood with an American two dollar bill is likely to get you shot, but that’s pretty much par for the course as far as unique currencies go in the Great White North. Here are five of the most ridiculous Canadian coins ever to see production:

Denomination: $1
Year of Issue: 1987
Level of Reasonability: Irritatingly Suspicious

The loonie in and of itself isn’t too crazy…it’s just a dollar coin with a bird on it…that has taken on the name of the bird in referencing the coin itself. Well, a little odd maybe, but not crazy. The crazy thing is how the loonie may be the direct link between Canada’s currency and its favorite sport. At the 2002 Winter Olympics a loonie was buried under center ice, and coincidentally it was the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams which won gold that year. The next year, at the World Hockey Championships, the men’s team won again - assisted by the luck of the loonie, which was placed beneath the padding the of opposing team’s crossbar. Here’s where this really becomes an issue: at the 2006 Winter Olympics the ice attendants rejected the idea of placing a loonie within the ice sheet. The outcome? Not only did the men’s hockey team fail to win gold, they failed to place within the medal standings altogether. Likewise, prior to game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, the Carolina Hurricanes removed a loonie which had been placed in the ice by the opposing Edmonton Oilers. Outcome? A Canadian team was denied the cup for the second season in a row. The loonie isn’t crazy, but the idea that the Royal Canadian Mint will now be pressing “Lucky Loonies” every Olympic year is.

Denomination: ¢5
Year of Issue: 1964
Level of Reasonability: It is the world’s largest coin…so…it’s a tad unreasonable

Listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest coin, the Big Nickel measures about 30 feet across and literally brings the idea of a wooden nickel to life as it is constructed of plywood (covered in a sheet of stainless steel). Rather than a product of the Royal Canadian Mint the nickel was created by a local Sudbury, Ontario businessman, but my friends - does that make a nickel that is just as long as an American end zone (or half a Canadian end zone) any less demented? Either way, the thing is ridiculously big and entirely unnecessary.

Denomination: ¢10
Year of Issue: 1967
Level of ReasonabilitySon of the Mask

The idea of having an animal on a coin is far from new, so when the Mint took to celebrating the country’s centennial by introducing a series of coins featuring a variety of animals it made a bit of sense: a dove, a rabbit, a mackerel, a cougar, a wolf and a goose. But hold up for a moment here; somewhere along the way this idea went terribly wrong. A wolf? Majestic, I love it. A cougar? Daring, a symbol of fierce power. A goose? Sure, Canadian geese are everywhere - why not? A dove? Canada = peace. A rabbit? Well, I guess… But a mackerel? No sir, that’s where I draw the line. This coin represents a fisherman’s wet dream just as much as it does a starving seagull’s. A slimy scrap in the foodchain that somehow made its way onto the list by what I can only imagine what a drunken prank on the nation. And who’s to blame? I’m looking at you Molson Canadian…

Denomination: $1
Year of Issue: 2009
Level of Reasonability: Highly Unsound

The biggest issue I have with the coin is that the Montreal Canadiens are a privately held business, owned by an elderly American billionaire. Even if we’re considering the impact that sport has on culture, the idea is still insane. It would be equally questionable for the American government to approve a coin to press featuring any number of baseball teams - a subject of what is, and forever may be, America’s national pastime. How pissed off would you be if Mark Cuban bought the Cubs and rallied for the US government to celebrate the team’s legacy with a specially minted dime? If you’re answer to that question isn’t “furious,” you’ve lost your mind.

Denomination: $1,000,000
Year of Issue: 2007
Level of Reasonability: Hopelessly Ludicrous

First of all, the coin weighs 100kg (or for my American friends, that’s roughly two Paris Hiltons) and bears the highest denomination of any coin in the world. While the “pizza sized” coin is crazy by its own merit, the fact that the coins were each pressed using approximately $2,000,000 dollars worth of pure bullion makes this the most ridiculous Canadian coin of all time. It’s simple math Canada - for every dollar that this coin represents, you spent 2 making it…

Jonathan Visger (of Mason Proper) Interview

This past Tuesday marked the release of Mason Proper’s second full length record, Olly Oxen Free. With the album in mind, lead singer Jonathan Visger and Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine recently discussed the refinement of the band’s personal sound, the internet’s influence on the group’s fan base and where Mason Proper might be some five years down the road.

Personally, I find it amusing when someone compares me to someone else - similarities exist in life, but no two things are ever really going to be the same. Reading a few reviews of the new material, the band is compared to a wide range of acts with a wide range of sounds - from Morphine to the Pixies. What has been the most absurd comparison that you can recall being made to the band’s music?

Jonathan Visger: We have a long history of what I consider absurd comparisons. There was a time period where after seeing us live, people would tell us we sounded like “Weezer on crack,” which always frustrated me because I figured it was just because of my thick glasses and brown hair. It seemed like people were defining the sound based on what they were seeing rather than what they were hearing. It is telling that nobody has ever made that comparison when talking about our recordings!

I would also like to mention that somebody once said we sound like John Mayer. Which is insane and hilarious to me. I mean, unless he’s got some noisy sample-laced post punk experiments that they aren’t exactly playing on top 40 radio. Lately the live show has spawned more Dismemberment Plan comparisons, usually from people who adore the Dismemberment Plan, and that’s a more apt comparison I am comfortable with.

Are you ever cautious when writing music for fear that you don’t want to end up sounding too much like anything else?

Jonathan Visger: Oh, absolutely. We’ve got a very developed personal palette of signature tricks at this point, so I don’t think we have to worry about it consciously very much, but if something sets off our pastiche alarm we don’t do it.

My Old Kentucky Blog’s Sirius Blog Radio, Daytrotter and WOXY have all featured in-studio performances by the band, and are all apart of a string of online outlets heaving accolades your way; Daytrotter’s Sean Moeller calling the band something just shy of epic. How has this online support aided the band in expanding its presence nationally and globally?

Jonathan Visger: You can never go wrong with having somebody whose taste a lot of people trust give you their stamp of approval. It’s been an enormous help to us. At this point, it doesn’t really seem there’s much of a difference between national and global when you’re talking about online exposure though… People are going to figure out who’s showcasing the music they want no matter where it’s coming from, and whether or not they can read the descriptions of what they’re downloading.

On the band’s MySpace page an update alludes to “Olly Oxen Free,” the title of the new album, as some sort of mystical beast on the prowl rather than a signal for children to come out of hiding. Do you look at the album as something fierce to be set loose upon an unexpecting listening audience…or does Olly Oxen Free have a meaning to you guys that no one else knows about?

Jonathan Visger: Haha… I recently read an unintentionally funny list about what to do if a bear attacks you (”Don’t imitate it or make bear noises!”). I crossed that with the idea of an album being “released” being kind of like a convict or a wild animal being released. As if it was in captivity… just twisting the meaning of the words a little. As far as whether that post has significance other than that, it was really just that I wanted to remind people that it was coming out and that they should pre-order it, and I wanted to make it fun to read.

I love Olly Oxen Free; it’s everything I hoped our second record would be. Maybe I even think it’s fierce. However, it’s not for me to decide or comment on whether anybody else thinks so. Doesn’t matter anyway. Someone will probably think it sucks, and someone else will probably think it’s fantastic. The fact is that I’m unlikely to encounter the person who thinks it sucks, and I will probably encounter many of the people who think it’s fantastic, since they’ll be the ones to come to shows. So, good times ahead!

A question has been known to come up whenever someone goes into a job interview or review, “where do you see yourself in five years?” Having been a band now for roughly five years, did you ever think you’d be where you are now? Furthermore, where do you see yourself in five years?

Jonathan Visger: I don’t believe we thought we’d be in the exact position we are now, but I don’t really remember what we thought. It’s been a long time since I’ve made any plans further out than a few weeks… I realized at some point it was more important to grow thick skin and just get down to the business of enjoying the moment right now. I have noticed that these days I laugh more easily, and louder, than ever before. That has ramped up over the last two years. I didn’t anticipate that particular change five years ago.

I know we’ll all be making music, and judging from the way things are now, probably together, as Mason Proper. The number of people listening to that music could be great, or could be small. We’ve got a nice way of life, a sense of integrity and purpose as an artistic unit, and a really tight bond as friends. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is: “Many, many things.” But that is absolutely okay.

Nobot Interview

Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine recently connected with both Adam Tucker and Kyle Vande Slunt from the local electronic act Nobot. In preparation for their upcoming show at the Uptown Bar with Estate on the 27th the duo discussed media exposure, forthcoming collaborations and the camaraderie of brosefs on tour.

The theme behind Nobot’s latest track, “Drinking Progress,” would suggest that you guys might not shy away from “getting fucked up” at a show, or likewise having fans do the same at one of yours. Have you had any memorable experiences with crowd members who were doing well with their own drinking progress?

Adam Tucker: I’m not certain about his state of mind, but there was a memorable show at The Nomad World Pub which featured a random wandering magician pulling a dove out of his pants and being generally weird right in front of the stage. I do wish that dude to show up more often and baffle crowds for us while we back him up musically - [are] you reading this, crazy man off the street? Nobot also performed as Winobot last Halloween at the Nomad, which reminded me that playing in cardboard costumes = less fun than one would hope it would be. Actually “Drinking Progress” is about the march of technology and our lust for overreaching our current boundaries of knowledge and how it’s leading to our eventual destruction and/or salvation - which leads to my own personal “drinking progress” doing pretty well these days. Bring on the human/nanobot wars!

How important is interaction with the crowd at your shows?

Adam Tucker: I kind of go into a bit of a “enjoy myself and ignore” mode at shows, coming from many years in various bands of playing to non receptive crowds (in Wisconsin, of course, not the b-e-a-utiful Twin Cities where the applause is generous and the women rosy-cheeked). Of course it’s great if the audience is really digging it but pretty much we try and play every show like it was for a big audience of generally nude and uncontrollably excited fans. I also am too skinny to stage dive so that’s not too big of an issue.

Kyle Vande Slunt: I would have to agree with Adam. I feel that we’ve played with the exact same intensity in front of three people as we have for a packed house. But there is no denying that a crowd’s energy does have some bearing on our performance.

The high profile folks at RCRD LBL have been very supportive of you guys…what has that meant to you and would you say that their comparisons to acts like Ratatat, Cut Copy and Of Montreal are accurate?

Kyle Vande Slunt: We are incredibly fortunate to have establishments like RCRD LBL be interested in what we’re doing. It means a lot to us to be involved with a site that strikes this magical balance between major label artists and unsigned artists such as ourselves. It’s an online oasis of new and interesting music for people who love music and we’re proud to be a part of it. As far as the comparisons go, I’d say they are mostly accurate. Obviously we’re flattered to be compared to all three of those groups. If you stretched far enough, any artist can be compared to any other artist…the Western tonal system we use has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. I think some artists don’t appreciate being compared to other bands because they want to have their own style and identity, but I think the “sounds like” and “for fans of” system works for the benefit of new and upcoming groups to attract people who wouldn’t otherwise pursue your music.

One of the key mentions RCRD LBL made was a reference to the split release you guys did with Estate not too long ago - how did that come about and were there any highlights from the short tour with them that followed?

Kyle Vande Slunt: The Estate guys have been behind us since the beginning and were kind enough to take us under their wing. They gave us our first big show in Minneapolis at a time when we were just starting out and having trouble finding venues to take us in. After that show we became great friends and luckily we loved each others music…otherwise the relationship would have been all weird. We decided to collaborate with each other by remixing each others songs. Estate had already released a track on RCRD LBL so they contacted them to see if they’d want to do a split release and RCRD LBL went for it… Suckers!

The short tour across the Midwest went really well. We played Chicago for the first time and we were very well received. They asked us back as soon as possible, so we’re just waiting for the right time to go again.

Adam Tucker: They’re like our clean cut fun loving step brothers from the same weird electro-mom. Pretty much we sit around and tell each other how wonderful the other is. Also bro-fives.

Kyle Vande Slunt: I like listening to Dan’s intense music rants while Josh talks about ass deposits. I should also mention that HEAVEmedia out of Chicago and Luvsound out of NY have been very receptive to our work and continue to show a lot of support.

Are there any other local or national collaborations that are in the works? (if not, who would you like to work with?)

Adam Tucker: We’re doing quite a few shows with Beeple, a solo musician/graphic artist friend of ours who is in a sound and art collective called Donebestdone with Kyle. He does crazily inventive live visuals that make us much more fun live as we are both quite homely gentlemen (not true [very true], ladies). Besides the live awesomeness he has done art and posters for us, along with our good friend Mark Roethke from Oshkosh, WI - without whom we’d be doing our posters in Times New Roman font in Wordpad. We’d definitely like to do more collaborations with local bands of course as there’s so many good ones. I personally keep hoping some day Kiefer Sutherland will ask us to be on his label but I think he’s too busy having a raspy voice to call us.

Kyle Vande Slunt: I would really like to do an audio/visual collab with Beeple. He doesn’t know it yet, but at some point, I’m gonna bug the shit out of him until he says yes…or dies. I would also like to continue working with Estate. In fact, we just picked up splits for one of their new songs…but they haven’t asked us for the same, so we’ll see how motivated we are to start making their music sound awesome. At some point, I would love to get into a tank with Plastic Chord and Military Special and blast the fuck outta some big city with our rock.

With the current depth to the Twin Cities’ blooming electronic scene, has the reception to the music been better locally than elsewhere?

Adam Tucker: We’ve definitely had our best shows here, and I do think it’s thanks to bands like Estate and Mystery Palace that had been around before we started to get people’s ears around the musical style. On a side note, the Twin Cities seem to have crowds with better (and less genre specific) tastes in music than elsewhere and are willing to give more obscure sounds a try.

Kings of Leon "Only by the Night" Review

Not to say that it would be right to be expecting Only By The Night to sound like a string of “Molly’s Chambers” or “King Of the Rodeo”-sounding songs, but if you were - it may be helpful to brace yourself ahead of time. The album is far glossier than anything heard from the band previously, but is that such a shocking thing considering the millions of fans and nice haircuts they’ve acquired since blooming earlier this decade? OBTN teases grit with its lead single “Sex on Fire” and the fuzzed out “Crawl,” but the album cannot escape the easily-consumable shadow cast by the bulk of its songs. Not to put the lyrical quality ahead of my enjoyment of the album, and certainly not to mock the songwriter’s ability, (I am a fan of Death Magnetic, after all) but at times singer Caleb Followill’s words come off a bit generic. All the same he delivers the lyrics with a vocal sincerity that is often unheard of. Likewise, the album isn’t bad - it’s different, polished and serves as a logical next step for such a band - but it still leaves you longing for the type of music that elevated Kings of Leon to such great heights.

A Journey Into Declutterization: Part One

“Other people’s stuff is shit, but your shit is stuff.” -George Carlin
The past few months have been, to say the least, interesting for me. I gained some of that “life-experience” stuff I’ve heard so much about, and accompanying it has been a perspective leading me towards a stronger sense of what is honestly important to me. But as the saying goes, “When people see some things as good, other things become bad.” When I started to examine what’s now important in my life, the stuff that was becoming unimportant began to reveal itself at an alarming rate. And not to say that I’ve given up on having physical stuff, but spending a month and a half away from much of civilization (and the internet) gave me the distance I needed to see that in reality, as George Carlin might have said, my stuff was shit. Furthermore, the majority of that stuff was beginning to mean shit-all to me. It was time to do a bit of spring late-summer cleaning.

My return to the internet was welcomed by a number of articles and suggestions that focused on the topic of decluttering one’s life. Time detailed Dave Bruno’s extreme course of action against the unnecessary which he labeled the “100 Thing Challenge.” Bruno’s goal being to, fittingly, narrow the scope of what he owned down to 100 things. Then Lifehacker pointed out a Get Rich Slowly article entitled “Simplify Your Life with a Stuff Replacement Fund.” The focus of this article being to sell your unused stuff so that when you want to get more stuff you’ll have a bit of extra cash ready and able to help you make the purchase. Additionally, Zen HabitsInternet Duct Tape and many other resources all offered great decluttering tips. It was Cindy Loughridge’s recollection that really nailed the point home for me however. In her article Loughridge explains her three month trip to India and the experience of being removed from her stuff, all of which lead her to question exactly how much stuff she really needed. It was around the time that I read this article that I knew my Quebec Nordiques banner, which I had been holding onto for all these years - waiting for the right moment to break it out, was no longer valuable to me. And the flag was not alone.

After referencing a number of online how-to resources I started to identify the best way to go about my declutterization. I found a lot of great examples, tips and processes used, including reducing one zone of your stuff at a time, using lists to identify which stuff is no longer valuable, creating piles for stuff that you want to get rid of in designated areas of your home, reducing stuff by eliminating things you have multiples of…and the list goes on. But defining my goals before getting too deep into the process seemed like a good place to begin, and paring down to as close a fresh start as possible seems like something I’d like to work towards at this stage in my life. That may sound overly ambitious, and it might be, but for too long I’ve been dissatisfied with the way I’ve been living - continually trying to find my happiness in external stuff. It’s a strange feeling to be happy, genuinely happy, without having to look for that feeling in something (or someone) else - and through this process I hope to upgrade my life by downsizing and simplifying much of all the stuff in it.

As I’ve branded this “Part One” of my experimentation with declutterizing, my goal is still far off in the distance - something I’m working towards…but the fact remains that I am working towards it. After roughly two weeks of assessing everything I’ve been left with feelings of hope and happiness - but occasionally sadness as well. As my personal cleansing commenced it became evident that it’s a tough realization to find out that the things I once placed so much emphasis in no longer reflect what I want in life. And while the online examples of decluttering one’s life are all helpful when the goal is to eliminate physical stuff - typically things you own - my goal is as much to mentally declutter as it is physically declutter. While the effect of eliminating gross levels of unnecessary possessions will hopefully give me, as Loughridge said, “peace of mind, clarity and liberty,” I’m focusing on ridding myself of destructive mental stuff to help me increase my quality of life. And as saddening as it is to realize that most everything around me, the things afforded by “slaving the wage,” held little to no personal value - it’s inversely uplifting to realize that things can change. And they are changing.

Since returning home I’ve stepped away from my job, realizing that the work environment would be wholly detrimental to me had I gone back to it. I’m calling it a day with the vehicle I’ve owned for the better part of a decade and the condo I moved into earlier this year as they both represent a goal with which I can no longer identify. I’m trying to let damaging relationships go, and build new ones on honest terms. Most of all - I’m trying to free myself from so many things in my life that are simply unnecessary… hopefully “Part Two” will detail some positive results from this journey through declutterization.

TV on the Radio "Dear Science" Review

It seemed that whenever I was talking to a fan of TV on the Radio about Return to Cookie Mountain, they would always revert to “I liked (either) Young Liars (or) Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes better.” I, on the other hand, felt that the album was amazing — truly one of the year’s best – and certainly representative of some of the band’s strongest material. But my reality wasn’t influenced by countless listening sessions of the band’s older material as were my friends’, and as such I was comfortable with accepting the band at face value. With Dear Science however I find myself in the position of listening and basking in the memory of the band TV on the Radio once was – a bit disappointed because I was now playing the role of someone who liked their older music better. But Dear Science is a transition brought on by change – something that should be embraced rather than chastised. Since RTCM, David Sitek has worked on producing Scarlett Johannsen’s Anywhere I Lay My Head and Tunde Adebimpe has further pursued his acting aspirations – the band is certainly different, and the music should reflect the people they are now. How fickle would it be for me to then criticize such a thing when, even as with something as simple as being a listener, I’ve changed too? In accepting that it becomes far easier to move away from a “they were better when…” statement and closer towards once again accepting the music by its own merit.

How funny is it then, that after accepting Dear Science for being its own album, that we are still prone to scratch for comparisons in order to place the music into some sort of imaginary context. Some have alluded to how Dear Science is to RTCM as Wish You Were Here is to Dark Side of the Moon, while others have gone further with the comparisons. In attempting to place the album in a dramatic historical context, Will Hermes wrote for Rolling Stone, “But the group is still determined to stage a revolution worth dancing to, a throwback to the days when New York artists like Patti Smith, Television and the Ramones set out to do the same.” But TV on the Radio isn’t Patti Smith just like TV on the Radio certainly isn’t Pink Floyd. With Dear Science the band isn’t looking to replicate anything, most certainly not themselves, and while comparisons are generally inevitable – such dramatics are a tad unnecessary. Even making comparisons on an individual song-to-song basis proves something difficult, ultimately failing to portray the music appropriately as well. To say that Dear Science doesn’t have its “Wolf Like Me” moment would be partially true, but “Halfway Home” does incorporate a wild fuzzed over riff that might remind some of RTCM‘s lead single. All the same the songs have little in common and the comparison is weak at best. So what exactly does Dear Science sound like then?

The balance of the album has shifted away from avant rock towards a funkier pop sound – and while each style is equally represented throughout, the combination further suggests that TV on the Radio might not be a rock band at all. Horns, Barry Gibb-like vocals, and a small string section, all of which appear at some point throughout the album, all suggest TV on the Radio to be something drastically different than what indie rock has shifted towards (see: Kings of Leon). “Golden Age” lends a soulful grace to uptempo shifts, “Crying” reflects an updated lounge act – its keyboards and muted guitar working together to simply set a mood — and the hushed melody of “Love Dog” hints at acid-jazz while being something entirely different. What I’m trying to say is that if you break these songs down they don’t exactly fit the rock standard.

The songs do meet TV on the Radio standard, however…

The songs are different, but the flavor lingers – Dear Science is like nothing heard before by the band, yet it’s like everything heard before by the band. The band is like an old friend who you had become comfortable with, only to meet them years later as a changed person – you can still see their core as something familiar, but the differences are vast. Wish You Were Here wasn’t Dark Side of the Moon. Each album portrayed the band in a different way, but were both somehow characteristic of the Pink Floyd that many of us have come to know and love. Likewise, I’d like to think that TV on the Radio will never sound the same, never attempting to put out material to simply match their last recordings. But years from now we’ll get to look back at the continual shift made from what the band used to be toward what the band evolved into and suggest such a change to be more characteristic of brilliance than any album or song in particular. Dear Science reflects such a brilliance.

Hipsterdom: It Affects Us All…But Not Really

On Saturday Jay Smooth laid down his latest in a long string of increasingly thoughtful commentaries via his video blog, Ill Doctrine. This time around he reviewed the subject of “Hipster Rap,” citing acts such as The Cool Kids, The Kidz in the Hall and Kid Sister as few examples of the burgeoning sub-genre. One of the issues he mentions, apart from the unnecessarily tight pants, is the insincerity often associated with hipsters due to their tendency for sarcastically adopting culture, sporting it as some sort of ironic decoration. But this isn’t exclusively a problem amongst the hip hop or African American communities, my friends…it affects whites too…

Jay’s thoughts have an upbeat, welcoming feel that isn’t generally associated with hipsters in certain circles. In contrast is the article Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization in which Douglas Haddow furiously detracts from any and everything associated with the ambiguous term. “An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the ‘hipster’ – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.” Clearly he doesn’t think that they’re “just like us”…whoever we are.

Haddow, no matter how harsh, is correct in the connection he identifies between the hipster and mainstream (pop) culture. But typically, ideas surrounding fashion, style and trends have been given birth by an acute few only to be later adopted on a mass scale. As such I think that he’s really putting too much emphasis on this wave of hipsters and their ability to crush our already degenerative culture. In all fairness this generation’s hipsters have no more long term control over the market and culture than the nü metal-heads of my generation. Both subcultures were started as something unique and honorable without a concrete classification - and both were manipulated into something that could be sold to a mass audience. No matter how much it might pain anyone to even remotely consider this: Crystal Castles, while at an entirely opposite end of the musically spectrum, isn’t too different than a band like P.O.D. or Limp Bizkit in this scenario; same goes for The Cool Kids.

Haddow continues, “Hipsterdom is the first ‘counter-culture’ to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion.” Well…yes and no. Other counter cultures have thrived within our modern advertising landscape, some also sporting rebellion at affordable prices, but he is right in saying that hipsterdom is the first to be under continual manipulation; but that has a lot to do with the term itself constantly shifting. Certainly it could be argued, as Haddow does, that this change is provoked by the mass marketing machine behind the trend, but couldn’t it also be instigated by the “non-culture” itself? Probably not, because then hipsters would have to be given credit for evolving on their own, even if it is a transformation into something offering an even shallower tribute to past counter-cultures, but all the same - it would still reflect something close to organic growth. Right? The hipsters might just outgrow themselves in time, like every other generation has, so I’m thinking that it’s probably a little overdramatic for Haddow to conclude that “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.” Like Jay says, they’re just a culture who likes what they wear and listen to, just like everyone else…it just so happens that at this point in time hipsters are both adored and criticized for being this season’s “it.”

If I were twenty five when Korn was all the rage (who’s to say they aren’t still?) I would have thought the entire generation of youth buying the albums of like-sounding bands, wearing far too much black and piercing far too many body parts to be a bunch of culture-crushing, soulless marketing-slaves. But having lived through those years as apart of that generation I’m fairly content with knowing that my tastes changed, and so too did my sense of fashion and curiosity surrounding body accessories (though I kind of miss my nipple rings). As such, I’m not quite ready to start throwing stones at those skinny pant wearing, PBR drinking, fixed-gear bike driving hipsters because they’ll probably move on too. I’m under the belief that whatever comes along next will transition us away from the current state of trend just as hipsterdom did to emo and garage rock-chic. But while we’re here, I see no problem with cranking up some MGMT and watching the hipster parade march on by.

Reengaging Facebook

Back in April I decided that I was going to attempt to reduce my “online presence” by dismantling my MySpace, Facebook and Twitter accounts with one fell swoop. The reasoning behind doing so seemed simple enough at the time, but since I’ve come to understand a deeper significance to these sites, one which I hadn’t really emphasized when making my decision. At about the same time that I closed up shop A.L. decribed the process of making Facebook a more effective service and I felt it appropriate to leave him a comment, relating the direction I was taking.

“Well, call it an experiment… 
I initially opened my MySpace account with its only purpose being to serve as an auxiliary site to my blog. For many people it has become a great way to interact with friends, but for me the realization was that it was simply an outlet for me to collect band-spam…1000+ friends who I don’t know, y’know? 
Despite my initial attempts to follow even the most compact group of friends on Twitter I failed at adding any worthwhile commentary to the day’s events…how many people really care that “I’m Tired”? It’s a great tool to follow your friends lives but when it comes down to it, if I’d like to take you out to dinner or see what Loomer is up to…chances are, I’m just going to call or drop an instant message. 
But Facebook was, and for the past three years has been, an exception to my views on social networking. It’s allowed me to gain new real life friends, catch up with people I once knew way back when, and stay active with friends who are in different cities, states and countries. I started Facebook as an individual and have attempted (though occasionally failed) to maintain it as a branch of my personal life rather than an extension of my blog-persona, whatever that may be. 
But now Facebook too had become something less fulfilling. With both your and Ed [Kohler]’s commentary in mind I went and looked at what it was Facebook was evolving into for me. In the past year I had begun to receive and (much of the time) accept “friend” invitations from people who had begun to follow my blog despite not know them as individuals. I was still able to use the service to interact with “friends,” roughly 80-90 % of which I actually knew, but in an entirely superficial manner - it was becoming a source of division between real life friends and myself rather than a means of bringing me closer to my friends. 
So I quit. 
I closed my Twitter account, my MySpace account and asked the kind folks at Facebook to delete any and all of my personal information from their database (which they did in a timely manner). 
Again, call it an experiment…”
In the following months however it began to dawn on me just how shallow my approach to all this. All I really had to do was take a moment to think about the impact that online social networking has had on me, and my relationships, in order to realize the significance that these sites have had on my life. A good share of my real life relationships began, in one way or another, as online contacts and a lot of my real life interactions (event planning, networking, etc.) were at some point in time mediated by Facebook. Nonetheless I can still justify the concerns that I had at the time, the similarities to MySpace’s friend-spam and the detachment increasingly associated with the site were both individually enough to warrant my retreat. Additionally I wasn’t sure how to honestly accept a stranger as a “friend” when I considered the medium to be a personal experience. My troubles with semantics only escalated because, rather than being MySpace band accounts or people posing under some sort of pseudonym, these requests came from real people and I really didn’t want to offend them by rejecting their offer to virtually befriend me. So, with all my complaints and discomforts with the site in mind I figured it wise to make my purpose and reasoning behind rejoining the site clear before I jumped back in.

In his article, “Facebook Suicide,” Micah White disparagingly explains a number of personal security issues that tend to arise with Facebook, relating them to his own experience surrounding unauthorized inclusion. After considering the article, and others like it, in addition to my own thoughts, I came up with a few simple guidelines to help make Facebook a better experience for myself:
  • Only “friend request” people that I’ve met in person or have engaged in actual discourse with online (and with that being said…)
  • Accept any reasonable incoming “friend requests” with the goal being to expand a personal network
  • Limit the amount of personal information I associate with my account (contact info, personal pictures, pictures tagged by others, etc.)
  • Generally refrain from being too personal with individual matters (essentially becoming less revealing with things like “wall” posts and “status” updates)
The list is compromised of only a few simple parameters but in being honest with my purpose I hope to better maintain and expand my personal network without oversharing, being disingenuous or risking the security of too much personal information. Not to say that I won’t use Facebook to build and expand friendships, I will, it’s just that I won’t look to Facebook as the primary way of staying connected to friends. And keeping in mind that by posting this article I’m being embarrassingly self-important I still thought that it would be a good idea to publish some helpful guidelines to help ensure that my new Facebook experience is a far more rewarding one; even if only to help keep me in check.

Scoundral! Norm MacDonald on The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget

I can’t say that Bob Saget would ever make it to my short list of favorite comedians, nor does his name cross my mind when I think of actors I admire (though his brief cameo in Half Baked still brings a smile to my face), but when the producers of Comedy Central’s ongoing celebrity roast series found themselves burdened by the cross of having to top last year’s special, featuring the ever-dashing Flavor Flav, I can’t disagree with their decision. After all, by selecting Saget, they did in fact outclass Flavor Flav. Albeit barely.

From what I remember of the first in the channel’s annual series, The Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary, I remember it to be pretty funny. I’ve always enjoyed Leary’s brand of humor and have never been one to shy away from vulgar, crass jokes typical of roasters; so what’s not to like? Following that came the roasts of comedian Jeff Foxworthy, animal activist Pamela Anderson, celebrity pitchman William Shatner and the aforementioned renaissance man himself, Flavor Flav. But as time passed by so too did the show’s flare for originality, its sense of one-upmanship and the depth and quality of its celebrity roasters. Again don’t get me wrong, I love the dirty jokes, but at some point in time hearing Lisa Lampanelli talk about Andy Dick’s vagina for a few minutes, before concluding with a brief gesture towards the roastee just stopped doing it for me. With all that in mind, sometime a little over a week ago I found myself sleepless and flipping the channels, eventually tuning into The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget.

Even after only a few minutes though the show already seemed a bit flat, the only highlights really coming when the camera panned to Saget’s one time Full House cast mate Lori Loughlin (who is looking fantastic at forty four, in case you’re wondering). Despite the show’s lack of entertainment value I continued to watch because the teasers relentlessly plugged the upcoming roasters; including Norm MacDonald…a comedian whose dry delivery and wit have earned him a place on that shortlist of my favorites (for whatever that’s worth).
“Suzy Essman, of course, is famous for being a vegetarian. Hey, she may be a vegetarian, but she’s still full of bologna in my book.” -Norm MacDonald
And here, after far too many words, is the reason behind recalling any of this: MacDonald’s performance was delivered with such brilliant timing and contrast to the rest of the roasters that he stole the show (or so I am to assume…I opted to turn on a movie after he left the stage). His first few jokes, which poked at roast master John Stamos, left the crowd apprehensively laughing seemingly uncertain as to where MacDonald was going. But as he moved on with his segment, adapting it to include long pauses for emphasis, the crowd slowly began to buy in.

It wasn’t just that MacDonald delivered a set of kitschy, clean jokes (which he did) - it was that he was unique and charming in the process. He could have taken the stage and delivered a set of debasing jokes belittling each of the other B, C and D-list celebrities on stage, but he didn’t. He went up and decided to surprise everyone by being imaginative and not following precedent…now I’m not saying he had a Lenny Bruce moment or anything, but in today’s Dane Cook-saturated market of in your face comedy, MacDonald’s roast wasn’t just a simple change of pace - it was a genuinely hilarious change of pace.

Concluding backstage with a brief wrap-up interview MacDonald mentioned of the other roasters, “I think it got over the line a little bit, if I’m not mistaken I heard some people cussing.” To the end, his performance was brilliant; it’s just too bad that pretty much everything else the series has offered the past five years hasn’t been.

A Place for My Stuff

This past week I’ve tried numerous times to write, and re-write, a post of introduction for []. Each attempt aimed for a witty or informative explanation, but each attempt subsequently failed. As such this is my fourth or fifth try at coming up with something that is both appropriate and makes sense…leaving me with a bit of a mountain to climb, especially so considering that those are two things I haven’t historically been known for.

One version of the draft included a drawn out point/counterpoint between the meaninglessness of celebrating my twenty fifth birthday (today is my birthday) and celebrating the fact that I’ve somehow managed to not die in the past three hundred and sixty five days. Another draft related some of the first time experiences I’ve had this past year to the idea that twenty five is but a stepping stone in life rather than some sort of plateau or milestone. And yet another draft was driven towards defining the changes that have occurred in my personal life recently that have essentially granted me a second chance at…well…life. At least with that last draft I thought I would get to use a few really sharp quotes to help establish and emphasize my story (such as Henry Miller’s “Until we lose ourselves, there is no hope in finding ourselves”). But ultimately I couldn’t convince myself into believing that oversharing a choppy, skimmed over depiction of a dark period in my life would be a good thing; so that too was nixed. Each introduction I wrote failed to speak with an honest voice, furthermore each failed to really identify the purpose of adding yet another blog to the already oversaturated “market”…so I scrapped the whole thing.

All history and dramatic build-up aside, the point of this blog is to act as a home for the ideas I have that don’t really fit in anywhere else. If I write something music-related chances are that it will still land over at Culture Bully, or on some other sort of music bloggery-type site. But if it has to do with something else, be it a wacky “life experience,” a comment on something I’ve read, or just some general thoughts on the state of things - I thought it’d be nice to have a place for me to expand on some thoughts from time to time.

Why sftfcs? One of the things that consistently made its way into each of my failed introductions was a bloated explanation of the term “soft focus” and what it means to me. Simply put, soft focus, as I’ve come to understand it, is the idea of primarily concentrating on the moment without burying yourself in the overwhelming thoughts that come from our minds and environments. That’s not to say that being mindless is the goal, rather the goal is to simply give less significance to the static and appreciate what’s really going on in our lives. Hopefully this site will come to reflect such an appreciation.

But… while yet again attempting to bring closure to this I had also been needlessly trolling my RSS feed, stumbling onto something that influenced my now-yet-again-questionable introduction. In an entry written by 43Folders‘ Merlin Mann, the oft-mislabeled “productivity guru” describes the process of feeling forced into disengagement by, essentially, his own environment.

In the article Mann outlines the process of becoming disillusioned as a result of some of the increasingly common side effects of Web 2.0, “What worries me are the consequences of a diet comprised mostly of fake-connectedness, make believe insight, and unedited first drafts of everything. I think it’s making us small. I know that whenever I become aware of it, I realize how small it can make me. So, I’ve come to despise it. With this diet metaphor in mind, I want to, if you like, start eating better. But, I also want to start growing a tastier tomato — regardless of how easy it is to pick, package, ship, or vend. The tomato is the story, my friend.” Not to suggest that Mann is guilty of any of these suggested e-crimes, but historically his commentary has unintentionally spearheaded a pack that occasionally is; unfortunately I must include myself in such a pack. I’m guilty of having wasted countless hours wading through digg and not really reading a thing while spending days “reading” article online. And likewise, with the content I was creating, I had become less and less concerned with quality, honesty and originality - focusing more on simplicity and link bait (also, I can relate to the idea of “fake-connectedness,” but I’ll save that for another post). To move on in a similar fashion as Mann, with blog as with life, would only be logical; so hopefully this blog can fit somewhere into the context of feeling good about life, feeling good about what I put in, and feeling good about what I take out.

While I occasionally can’t help myself from posting the occasional hilarious video, I’m hoping that sftfcs becomes a place where I can work towards figuring out what my voice is. It’s a place that I’d like to try to be honest with myself. It’s a place where I can point my friends to when I have something that I think is valuable enough for them to spend their time on. And it’s a place that I hope comes to validate the countless hours I continue to spend interneting. At least that’s what I’d like to see when I read the site’s content, and as the site’s only reader at this exact moment I figured that I have no choice but to cater to myself.

Metallica "Death Magnetic" Review

As Death Magnetic slowly begins, an interesting similarity arises between the introduction of “That Was Just Your Life” and that of Slayer’s “South of Heaven,” the first song from the second of the band’s albums produced by Rick Rubin. Both songs build slowly before commencing with an album’s worth of commercial thrash — a slower thrash in the case of South of Heaven and a seasoned thrash in the case of Death Magnetic. Additionally, both songs come from albums with which Rubin’s influence was clearly intact. He was there helping elevate Slayer with Reign in Blood, and 20 years after South of Heaven his imprint is again evident as Metallica releases their ninth studio album, its first under Warner’s imprint (though Warner now owns Elektra, Metallica’s prior label), and its first in 17 years without producer and fill-in bassist Bob Rock.

Funny then that one of the main criticisms of Death Magnetic has been that it is self-plagiarizing, a term that could equally apply to a band like Slayer. The term hasn't really been applied Slayer's case though, primarily because the band has pretty much stuck with the same formula from the get-go. Likewise, no one’s criticizing AC/DC for sounding too much like AC/DC with their new release, are they? So just what makes the criticism valid in Metallica’s case? For starters, the band’s return to speed comes after over a decade of “soul-searching” and “experimentation” (code: a string of easily dismissible albums spread out over far too many years). This might be why Pitchfork‘s Cosmo Lee suggested that Death Magnetic is the musical equivalent of a mid-life crisis. It is after all an attempt by an aging band to return to their glory days by recapturing the sound and attitude that made them famous (exception: bassist Robert Trujillo, who has continued to prove his diversity and prowess since first kicking it with Suicidal Tendencies back in the late-80s). Even aesthetically the band has returned to its classic logo, one scarcely used since The Black Album. Fact is, Death Magnetic is an attempt at recreating Metallica – at that, the band has succeeded.

Rolling Stone‘s Brian Hiatt attempted to define the vibrancy of the new sound in his recent review, “‘What don’t kill ya make ya more strong,’ Hetfield sings, with enough power to make the clichè feel fresh.” While partially true (and a tad amusing), the description fails to capture the blinding truth that no matter what Metallica does at this point in time, it is going to be a little clichè. Had Metallica released another album’s worth of Load-sounding filler, that would have been called clichè. Had the band gone further back into a grittier sound reflective of Kill ‘Em All, that would have still been called clichè. At this point in time it isn’t the music, but the band itself that is the clichè.

Even so, after St. Anger the odds of getting a solid album from Metallica were on level with the odds of drawing blood from a stone. But on the record James Hetfield sounds like the cocky frontman he was during the band’s heyday, and both he and Kirk Hammett exchange solid riffs without a hint of “The Memory Remains” to be found. Maybe “The Unforgiven III” is a bit unnecessary, but at least it’s no “Unforgiven II.” And maybe the ten tracks on the album push the limits of human patience, all landing somewhere between five and ten minutes long, but they all ring true to what Metallica should be about: They’re loud, they’re heavy, they’re full of capable riffs and solos, and for the most part they’re really good.

If the band had disappeared after 1993 only to reappear now with this release it would probably be openly received and accepted without the disdain that accompanies Death Magnetic given the group's history. Unfortunately we all know the details: Napster, Jason Newstead’s departure, rehab, psychiatry, and so on. But to continue the comparison, Slayer fans want to hear Slayer when the band sounds most like Slayer, and Metallica fans love hearing the band when it sounds most like Metallica. Death Magnetic sounds like Metallica. Death Magnetic also sounds like it was written and recorded by a band of aging celebrities in its forties who are trying to relive their Scarface. So what! In the end it's an album stronger than what most anyone expected, and for all the group's been through, far better sounding than it probably should be.

Mystery Palace Interview

Prior to this Summer’s Midwest tour Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine discussed a number of topics with James Buckley of the local act Mystery Palace. Contrasting the band with his own trio, aptly named the James Buckley Trio, the discussion in this edition of Five Questions drifted towards various subjects ranging from the formation of Mystery Palace to playing with Daniel Johnston.

How does your contribution to Mystery Palace contrast with that of the James Buckley Trio?

James Buckley: In Mystery Palace, we begin the writing process with a focused improve session (recorded), in which the drummer and I are attempting to make sense, and in fact songs, out of the circuit-bent manipulations of Ryan Olcott and his keyboards. Ryan starts it out with a blip-sounding beat, sometimes with a tonal center in mind. The drummer and I then begin playing ideas, trying to create a new song out of the blips and beats. Ryan then takes those recordings, edits them, and adds additional keyboard parts, and finally a vocal melody. That is how we come up with our sound.

The James Buckley Trio is a standard jazz trio. I write all the songs, keeping in mind the playing styles of Bryan (piano), and JT (drums). Like a standard jazz trio, there is a lot of room for improvisation threw out each song, leaving the end sound up to all three players, pretty much every time the song is performed. Keeping this in mind, I try to write music with a certain openness to it, to allow the other members of the band to help create each song how they are hearing it, every time it’s performed.

The time line on Mystery Palace’s web site depicts the addition of yourself and dummer Joey Van Phillips as a departure in sound from what Ryan Olcott was as a solo act. What has been the band’s main focus in direction since you two joined?

James Buckley: When Ryan was only playing solo shows, the music was a very open, improvised idea, that came to song-like resolves, and coasted on groovy, comfortable beats, noisy and droning. Actually, seeing these solo performances inspired me to ask Ryan and Joey to play with me for the first time. I heard a potential group-sound, and I wanted to see how we could develop it. Soon after, we began recording group improve sessions, encouraging Ryan to produce the sessions into through-composed songs, with vocals… The main focus, to be a pop group, using the sounds and instrumentation that brought us together musically.

I spoke briefly to Rob Skoro at the Turf Club one night about Bison Forest playing backup for Daniel Johnston at First Avenue earlier this year and he said that it was a spur of the moment thing and that it was mind blowing. Were you playing with the band that night and what was your take on the whole thing?

James Buckley: I was playing bass with Daniel Johnston at First Ave. that night. Well, we got the call to play, three days before the show, and a real long list of tunes that we needed to learn for the gig. We crammed in two big rehearsals, and a bunch of individual practice to be able to pull it off. Daniel’s manager was real cool, and open to us playing most of the songs that we felt comfortable on. The show went off without a hitch. I felt really great about it. It was a really great opportunity to meet and perform with Daniel Johnston.

There are a lot of really cool experimental electronic acts around the Twin Cities right now including the likes of Mystery Palace, Nobot, Tentacle Boy, Solid Gold and The Estate. As you’re apart of what’s happening here, do you think that these like-acts are building momentum off of one another?

James Buckley: The local electronic-music influenced bands are definitely building off of each other. For me, it goes back to Lateduster, Dosh, Fog, Poor Line Condition, Vertiform, and Tiki Obmar. We used to play at the Dinkytownerfor Crossfaded Thursdays, which was a series organized by James Everest. That venue gave us an opportunity to check out each other’s styles, and how each other were all pulling it off. We even booked improve gigs where we played together in a band, under the name T Collective.

In todays scene, we still feed off of each others creative ideas. Ryan Olcott from Mystery Palace just got finished producing and mixing the new Solid Gold full-length album. A few weeks ago, I laid down some bass for a new Tentacle Boy track. We all love each other’s music, and in form, we try to play shows together as much as we can, in order to acknowledge the common thread that we share. I would also like to add Digitata, Mel Gibson and the Pants, and Lookbook to the list of current local bands influenced by electronic-music.

Looking at the Mystery Palace’s upcoming tour schedule it leads one to believe that with all the “to be announced” dates that the group is taking a relaxed approach to the road. What are you most looking forward when heading out across Michigan, Ohio and beyond?

James Buckley: All we expect to gain from the road is more fans. I believe in Mystery Palace. I think we have a strong sound, supported by even stronger song-writing by Olcott. Yeah, we are relaxed about touring because we hardly have enough time to book the shows, play locally, and continue to write new music. Ultimately, we are here to make awesome music. That has always been our main goal.

Alltruisms “Clusterbombs Laos/Me Mix” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here in the final episode featuring Chicago’s Alltruisms the emcee discusses the powerful inspiration behind “Clustbombs Laos.” His travels overseas brought him new experiences as well as new a new understanding of some global tragedies. Comparing the bombs to emcees Alltruisms then digresses and focuses on another meaning of the term.

On “Clusterbombs Laos/Me Mix”:

I entered and exited Laos on the Mekong River. The two day boat trip downriver from the Thai border ends in the town of Luang Prabang. Me and my friends from the boat capped off the evening with, of course, karaoke, and by then it was coming up on midnight and the start of my birthday. I looked in the song book for a long time, and I finally found The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun”. So I’m psyched and I go up on the stage, which is huge, bigger than the stages at most venues I’ve rapped at. I start singing, and after about thirty seconds the music stops. While I’m asking myself ‘WTF,’ my friends jump on stage and start singing Happy Birthday, complete with karaoke background.

The next day, having yet to learn my lesson about the virtues of slow travel, I took a bus eight hours to a high plains town called Phonsavan. People go there to see an archaeological site called the Plain of Jars, which are fields with hundreds of giant stone jars, 1500-2000 years old, exact use unknown, possibly urns. The area also has a ton of unexploded ordinance (UXO’s), cluster bombs that the U.S. dropped in its “secret war” in Laos. We dropped the equivalent of one planeload of bombs on Laos every eight minutes for nine years, making Laos still the most-bombed country ever. Sometimes we targeted Viet Cong supply lines in Laos, sometimes bombing missions into Vietnam failed for whatever reason, and the pilots had to drop the bombs somewhere because it was too risky to land the planes with bombs on board. These cluster bombs, there were hundreds in each bombshell, and they’re supposed to drop out of the bombshell, spin in the air, and explode as they hit the ground. But about forty percent don’t explode, so they litter the fields, millions of them, and a kid will pick one up and get blown up, or a farmer will hit one while planting his land.

In Phonsavan I stayed at Kong Keo’s guest house. Kong Keo is a local in his thirties who’s traveled in Europe, speaks good English, and has some wild wild stories. He took us to some UXO fields, pointing out the bombs four feet away, “don’t step there.” The fields had craters made by past explosions, and we sat in one to rest for a bit. Seeing the UXO’s, I thought about the metaphor between cluster bombs and rappers, how we “drop”, we need “spins,” we want to “blow” right away but some don’t, they sit there for years and decades, and no one ever knows how close they are to finally blowing. So I wrote “Clusterbombs Laos” in this bomb crater. Later on back in the U.S., when I decided Clusterbombs would be the album title, I wrote a remix to the song, over the same K-Kruz beat. I used the same structure and rhyme patterns on the remix, but while the original talks about Laos specifically, the remix talks about pop culture being exported worldwide, and how it’s a different kind of war weapon.