Tuesday, June 30, 2009

first-person: Two views on Corndogorama

Remember Corndogorama? You should, it happened just this last weekend in East Atlanta. We found some people to detail their experiences. Oh, and here's our previous post on Corndogorama.

View 1:
"Before we even finished our first corndogs, we had come to a conclusion: We needed to get the hell out of there. We had only been there for a short time, definitely not long enough to make the $15 admission worth it. We decided to do the only thing we could think of: Lie."
View 2:
"So now I can check off Dead Confederate, but won’t go back for seconds unless they get the chick from Today the Moon to play bass for them."
Read them both after the jump...

View 1 on Corndogorama: Not as cool as it sounds
by Josh Rank

We walked up to Corndogorama at three in the afternoon. The music was loud and the scent of corndogs gave us a nice warm hug as we approached the gates. Fantasies of giant corndogs shadowing great musicians while beer poured from a giant waterfall filled my mind. I was like a rich kid on Christmas morning. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for but I knew it was going to be great.

However, the rich parents forgot all about Christmas this year. The festival took place in a small park and the adjoining one block of pavement. We looked at each other as we surveyed the scene and said, “Really? This is it?” The stage stood off to the left with a handful of people loosely strewn about, listening to the music. The band sounded solid but I was too busy taking in the scene to pay much attention to them.

We glanced around at the various booths set up, including a Pabst booth, showcasing hats and T-shirts. After sweating a little more and glancing at the second stage, seemingly crammed in the back of the park with another band setting up, we came across a corndog stand. We had planned on eating one corndog per hour at 17 passed the hour. We found the stand at 3:20, so we had already failed our only goal.

We placed our orders and began trying to figure out what to do. The corndogs were hand-dipped, jalapeno flavored, and pretty damn good. “It’s basically the same thing you can get out a box at the grocery store,” a friend of mine said. I don’t think she even gave them a chance though, she was too disappointed with the festival to give an impartial review.

Before we even finished our first corndogs, we had come to a conclusion: We needed to get the hell out of there. We had only been there for a short time, definitely not long enough to make the $15 admission worth it. We decided to do the only thing we could think of: Lie. We would tell the people at the gate that a friend of ours had gotten into a car accident and that we had to go make sure she was okay. We figured there was no way they could say no to that.

As one friend went to tell the lie, the rest of us hung out at the Pabst booth. She is a convincing liar, but if the people had turned around they would have seen us playing beanbags, trying to win a free hat. I think they would know that even if a friend had gotten into an accident, we weren’t too bothered by it. Definitely not enough to have to leave as soon as possible. Also, if we really cared, would we take time to try to haggle our 15 bucks back?

The staff didn’t put any of this together and amicably returned our money, wishing us the best of luck for our fallen friend. “Thank you,” we said, solemn faced.

We walked back to the car, finishing off our corndogs. After throwing the sticks in someone’s front yard (It’s wood so it’s not littering. Right?) we all agreed that the thing that had sounded so wonderful, so magical, had flat-out sucked.

Josh Rank previously did a first-person about The Paper Chase, which can be found here. Josh can be reached at joshrank [at] yahoo.com.

View 2 on Corndogorama: So yes, we corn
by W. Cifer

"So yes we corn" was Dave Railey's slogan for the much scaled down Corndogaroma, now reduced to two days instead of three, though in the blistering heat, where the heat index threatens to melt your sunglasses to your face you begin to wish for a Friday night rather than a Sunday afternoon.

I attended the previous three years' festivals, the first being the last of the run at the Earl and the two at Lenny’s. This time to cut costs it was held in a vacant lot in the east Atlanta village , where there was no escape from the unforgiving heat, dripping of sunscreen spray and blinded by the sweat which remained in a continuous trickle down my brow the entire time I stumbled from one stage to another . Pbr was selling its wares with no middle man, which is the trust fund kids who are slumming its beer of choice.

All of the bands playing I had seen on flyers around town or in the Loaf but had yet to match the name with the music, going into I noticed first off that these were all MJQ bands and there was noticeable lack of rock bands , my first guess was that it was going to be to "the too cool for school" tight pants indie rockers, which was close though none were of the Black Lips school, of all hype no chops garage rock.

First band I caught was This Piano Plays Itself, which turned to be the surprise of the day. Their guitar punch caught my ear. The Explosions in the Sky influence was dominant of their sound, I liked some of the lighter textures but when they tried to turn the dials to rock it lacked the balls to go up to eleven. The bland singing and general drone began to cause all of their songs to sound the same making their 20 minute set drag.

Get Small was next and underwhelming to say the least. The two guitarists sounded as if they were playing different songs and their awful guitar tone quickly bored me. At best they reminded me of Failure without the punch. They inspired me to seek the refuge of a port a potty.

The only band on this line up I was familiar with was Today the Moon Tomorrow the Sun, which I had seen once before and was impressed with when I had seen them before at the Star Bar. Though since the performance I saw a year ago they hadn’t really grown in leaps and bounds. However their bass player was still hot and it was nice to see her dressed for the warmer weather, though seeing electro rock outside during the day seemed as if someone had put on the wrong sound track as it was way too humid for dancing under the punishing sunlight.

They were followed by Grinder Nova who’s martini swing, would have been better poolside at the Ramada Inn in Vegas. I liked Morphine better when they didn’t have a learning disability. The lets wear our influences on our sleeves continued with A Fight to the Death, oddly enough what this band does a band called Murder By Death does much better without the off key crooning.

Western Civ had to compete with the fact the heat at this point had worn me out so their bland straight ahead guitar jangle was an annoyance and their song titles were much more interesting than the songs themselves.

The much hyped Dead Confederate headlined, my first thought was this is Coldplay with a Neil Young fixation. Then the southern fried rough edges began to remind me of Drivin' and Cryin'. They sound good at what they do, even though one might think they were more into their facial hair than the song writing as they songs began to meander, taking more time to get where they were going than needed but not in the ambitious prog rock way. But they had more character in their sound than any of the other bands I saw through my sweat soaked eyes that day. So now I can check off Dead Confederate, but won’t go back for seconds unless they get the chick from Today the Moon to play bass for them and she takes to performing in swimwear.

So the heat aside , which is out of everyone’s control unless you start booking it in May, the main problem with the day was truth be told the lack of any one really rocking out, come on if you have a flying v on your promo posters, you need to deliver some honest to god rock. It doesn’t mean you have to bring back Mastodon, but the lack of any heavy music was a severe let down and it will be my last outing into the heat for Mr. Railey, who was catering to the Stomp and Stammer crowd this go around.
W. Cifer can be reached at wcifer [at] gmail.com
More after the jump...

Monday, June 29, 2009

first-person: Polvo, Bellafea, and Ume @ The Soapbox-Wilmington, NC 6/27/09

Here's our previous post on Polvo, that contains the mp3 for the new song, "Beggar's Bowl." The following was written by Andrew, but he didn't take the photos. Blame somebody else for that.

The day of the show, I awoke to no air conditioning in my apartment and I sat around all day reading a book waiting for some guy to come fix it. When he finally arrived, he told me, “Can't fix it 'til Monday.” So, I sat around some more and was hot and miserable as I listened to Pandora and waited to walk the 5 blocks to the club with its conditioned air, cold beer, and promised post-rock performances.

As a small city dweller, I'm always excited when a “big name band” (relative term) comes to play a show in Wilmington. For me, Polvo, having toured with the likes of Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Sebadoh, is in my crowd of “big name bands.” So, I was excited to see that they were coming to play a show at The Soapbox, and that Chapel Hill's (formerly Wilmington's) Bellafea was on the bill too.

When I got to the club, I was surprised to not see more people outside and in. I'd been thinking that Polvo would bring in a good crowd. I stood around for a while enjoying the air conditioning, had a beer, talked things with some people I ran into, and then the first band started playing.

Ume is a three piece band from Austin, Texas who are garnering attention from magazines like Spin and playing festivals like SXSW. Watching them, I could see why people are starting to take notice. The singer/guitar player is a lunatic on stage, as she thrashes around, a blur of blond hair with a vintage Fender careening about her shoulders, while the rhythm section charges along with some really original sounds. It was nice to see the floor start to fill up as Ume started their set, and by the end of it, the trio really had the crowd going.

I grabbed another beer after Ume's set and chatted with a few friends, remembered the days when Bellafea used to play shows every couple of weeks in Wilmington, and remembered that I'd need to fashion some ad hoc earplugs when Bellafea took the stage. Now signed to Southern Records, going on European tours, and playing festivals like SXSW, Bellafea is really doing well for themselves and they're doing a particularly good job playing live if the night I saw them is any indication. They were really tight throughout the whole powerful set, cranking out songs that kept the crowd moving, and they seemed really comfortable and happy as they played. All of Bellafea's members are excellent musicians, which makes them a really fun band to watch. As a drummer, I was particularly amazed by Nathan Buchanan's work behind the kit. He was really killing it on Saturday night.

When Bellafea finished up, I thought about how cool it had been to see people singing along with Bellafea's singer, Heather Buchanan, during their set. There's really nothing better than finally seeing the band live whose songs you've been singing along to in the car for months. Polvo started setting up and I had a talk about Michael Jackson's death with a buddy. Thriller sold 109 million copies. 109 million. MJ is a big name. But the couple of old Polvo t-shirts and handmade signs I saw in the crowd seemed cooler to me than selling 109 million records.

Since re-forming late last year after breaking up in 1998, Polvo has been at work recording a new record (due out in September) and playing a number of big festivals. Former Cherry Valence drummer Brian Quast is the only new member of the band, joining original players Ash Bowie (guitar/vocals), Steve Popson (bass), and Dave Brylawski (guitar). The band took the stage around 12 in front of a very enthusiastic and good sized crowd and commenced to play as though they'd never stopped practicing together. The hard angular beats and precise starts and stops that embody Polvo's unique sound were as tight as on the records and lots louder, as they ripped through a solid hour's worth of material spanning their entire catalog. Bowie and Brylawski are as good of a guitar team as one will find, intertwining technical and crazy fast riffs to create sounds that few bands have managed to top, while Popson and Quast seem to be having a blast as they hold together the quick changing rhythms.

Listening to Polvo, one cannot help but notice that their sound (along with bands like Slint and Fugazi) has had a big influence on lots of up and coming noise and math rock style bands.

When the show ended and it was time to head back to my sweltering apartment, I wished that Polvo had kept on playing a little while longer. But it really was a great night of music with a completely solid bill through and through. It's not everyday that I get to see an iconic band and two other bands who are boiling hot and on the rise a few blocks from home.

Polvo: http://www.mergerecords.com/artists/polvo
Bellafea: http://www.bellafea.com/
Ume: www.myspace.com/umemusic

Other Deckfight first-person reviews: WE Fest in Wilmington, Los Campesinos!, and The Barnraisers.
More after the jump...

review: The Winter Sounds' Church of the Haunted South (and dates)

The Winter Sounds
Church of the Haunted South
Theory 8 Records

With an album name like "Church of the Haunted South" too many cultural references involving Faulkner, Appalachia, moonshine, voodoo or redneck rivieras come to mind. Instead head Winter Sound, Patrick Keenan throws it a different way, with mournful meditations, danceable songs, and pure pop more kin to Cali or Britain than with Birmingham or Chattanooga. That said, that's probably more of our culture's problem than theirs--we anticipate a certain "Southern" sound somewhere between jam band-bluegrass-folk-murder ballads than carefully done up pop. For the past month, I've been playing The Winter Sounds' Church of The Haunted South all over town, fitting for an album that's all over the place. In some ways it's 60s Brit-pop to the letter, such as "Marry Me," other times its pure modern rock pop perfection, like the single "Trophy Wife" and "Candlelight." Usually I don't like albums for its precise take on the pop landscape--the usual crescendo to the verse/chorus/verse format bores me for its regularity, but with The Winter Sounds its' the combination of its bop meeting its earnestness that makes me fall for it. For those that don't like their bows so neatly bound, "Pinebox" dallies more in their synth-funk dance vibe and lets their wide open rock aspirations fly, perhaps making it their best song (and best chance at being sampled), though it's close to "Trophy Wife."
With Church of the Haunted South, Keenan and crew have developed an admirable piece of work that uses its many genre subsets to build quite an album. It's a church that all should experience.

Southern tour dates after the jump...

First leg of their southern tour:

Jun 29 2009 Chapel Hill @ Nightlight w/ the Pneurotics & Gift Horse
Jun 30 2009 Winston-Salem @ the Garage w/ the Western Front
Jul 1 2009 Charlotte @ Evening Muse w/ Elonzo
Jul 2 2009 Greenwood, SC @ Homemade Genius w/ Your Sparkle Heart & more
Jul 3 2009 Meridian, MS @ Meridian Underground w/ It’s Elephant’s
Jul 4 2009 Pensacola, FL @ Sluggo’s w/ It’s Elephant’s & Howlies
Jul 6 2009 Baton Rouge @ Chelsea's Cafe
Jul 8 2009 New Orleans, LA @ Circle Bar
Jul 9 2009 Lafayette, LA @ Artmosphere
Jul 10 2009 Lake Charles, LA @ Luna Bar & Grill

More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: Junot Diaz's fav. writer, Aleksander Hemon, more Joe Meno, more Nic Brown

Lit Randomness pops up on Mondays and Wednesdays, or whenever else we feel like it.

Joshua Mohr of The Rumpus has a sit-down w/ Joe Meno:
At the Rumpus.
(One of) the best:
Rumpus: I just heard David Sedaris is reading across town at the same time as we are. Pre-sold 700 tickets, or something viciously ridiculous like that. Do you think anyone will come to our reading?
Junot Diaz's fav. NY writer: Also at The Rumpus.

20 q's w/ Aleksander Hemon, author of Love and Obstacle:
At PopMatters.
The best:
After years of being able to sleep in any situation: on the street, at work, in school etc., I managed to sleep through pain. That’s pretty impressive, if I may say so myself.
Conversation b/w Matthew Vollmer (Future Missionaries of America) and Nic Brown (Floodmarkers): At The Millions.
Hey, here's our interview w/ Nic Brown!

Conversational Reading complicates the New Yorker's point about low wages hurting memoirs:
At Convesational Reading.

More after the jump...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Polvo: mp3 for "Beggar's Bowl," dates & vid

The boys of Chapel Hill are feeling their way back on the tour schedule with a few shows. Enough said, really. Here's "Beggar's Bowl" from their new album, In Prism coming out this September from Merge.

June 26 Charlotte @ Visulite Theater
June 27 Wilmington, NC @ Soapbox

Polvo: Beggar's Bowl

Here's a vid off their Myspace of a live performance:

More after the jump...

Corn On: Athfest/Corndogorama Picks

Woohoo-AthFest is here. Same wknd as Corndogarama. Why put two really awesome events that close together? Because really you can hit up AthFest Friday and move to Corndogorama on Saturday. Picks follow...

AthFest Friday (6/26) Picks:
So go to the outdoor stage first---

6:40-7:20 p.m. Twin Tigers (Main Stage)
7:20-7:50 p.m. Those Darlins
7:50-8:30 p.m. Dead Confederate (Main Stage)
8:30-9:00 p.m. ExcaliBrah
9:00-10:00 p.m. The Black Lips (Main Stage)

Then the Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records showcase with Tunabunny (10 p.m.) / Forever (11 p.m.) / Cars Can Be Blue (Midnight) / Casper & The Cookies (1 a.m.) @ Cine

Or Circulatory System (9:30 p.m.) / Modern Skirts (10:15 p.m.) @ Nuci's Space

W/ a run to see We Vs. The Shark at 12:30am @ Morton Theater

For Corndogorama on Saturday (6/27) afternoon:
(Located at 470 Flat Shoals Avenue in the East Atlanta Village )

Grab these on Saturday afternoon:
Attractive Eighties Women 12:45
Hip to Death 1:05
Can!!Can 1:30

Then these at night for the main showcase:
Noot d' Noot 8:10
The Judies 8:45
Howlies 9:30
Modern Skirts 10:00

Western Civ/ Dead Confederate is on Sunday (6/28) night.

Oh yeah, here's the Creative Loafing piece on Corndogorama.

More after the jump...

Always a Thriller: Michael Jackson and his landmark album

"The camera has always been on Michael, so it might be only natural that those come through in his 'short films.' And even today, he still needs the camera on him, in some way, even if he’s ducking from one car to another. Being a Thriller is the only job that Michael has ever had."

I understand the phenomenon, I understand today. Usually in these situations, the deep flaws are glossed over for the great cultural memories. We all know Michael would not have aged well, like we can't imagine a really old Marilyn Monroe or James Dean. All I got is this piece about Thriller when I bought the 25th anniversary edition last year. This piece first appeared in Bootleg Magazine's June 2008 issue, which is where the above quote is from.

When I was buying the 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller for my wife, the cashier, a woman in her 40s, said that she still had the record at home. Everyone has a comment about Michael Jackson. I’m in the in-between generational divide on Michael Jackson. I’m possibly old enough to know him when he ruled the world, pre-pedophilia days, but due to staid parents and/or my semi-rural environment, I was never aware of Michael Jackson the phenomenon while it was happening, only after the fact. Hence, I’ve always viewed him as a somewhat repulsive figure, not as the pop genius that he was. My wife however, at a few years older than myself, knew Michael Jackson in all of his glory. She loved the moves, the outfits, and once as a six year old declared she would marry Michael Jackson. Thankfully, for me at least, that did not come to pass.

After I gave her the album, the education about Thriller began. I learned that it had won eight Grammy awards in 1984. I was impressed, until I realized the only good songs were the ones I knew: “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Thriller.” The rest suck. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” features great lines such as: “You’re just a buffet/you’re a vegetable.” But then comes back with these straightforward zingers that would probably be socially unacceptable today: “If you can’t feed your baby/Then don’t have a baby/And don’t think maybe/If you can’t feed your baby.” Intriguing words from a man that would hang his baby outside a hotel window. “P.Y.T,” “Baby Be Mine” or “Human Nature” inspire nothing except for a distaste for insipid tinny 80s pop.

The album actually improves when the music stops, and the videos began. I flipped on the video (or “short film”) for “Thriller.” I’m not sure I had ever seen it all the way through. But it becomes immediately apparent why Michael was a legend in his own time. “Thriller” is one of the riskiest videos ever made.

No one attempts uncanny videos like these any longer. Jackson tweaks the classic 50s high school scene by placing himself, a black man, in the role that stereotypically did not feature a black person. He also places himself in a risky position as part of the zombie crew, threatening his own self-image by posing himself as a predator. Plus, with his crazy eyes and large fangs on the back of the album, no huge star would challenge their carefully calculated image in that way today. No one is that creative or that adventurous, everyone stays within their own stereotypical tropes rather than challenging the norms in today’s videos, especially with R&B or pop videos. No one makes videos like Michael any longer. How many videos today have black and white people in it? How many videos actually challenge how the singers or group is actually perceived by media or the public? Not many.

“Beat It,” with its Van Halen guitar chord netted Jackson a Grammy for Male Rock Vocal of the Year, and shows Jackson’s willingness to cross genres and cultivate a unique set of fans. Jackson is and was the very definition of pop—popular on a variety of levels. “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” can’t quite be pinned down as they fluctuate in pop and R&B, and those three alone sustain Thriller. Knowing that, Thriller as an album isn’t much. The rest is cheesy 80s pop, and Paul McCartney contributing to “The Girl is Mine” does not help either’s legacy. At only nine songs, Thriller is quite thin. So it’s odd to consider how big this album was. In a lot of ways, Thriller is a sprinter, not a long distance runner. Only the big three singles have merit, and the rest is disappointing. The allure of Thriller the album, is not with the music, but with the videos.

Jackson rescued Thriller by his creativity in other areas. All of his videos to the album are narrative in some sense, and follow him as a central character. They are short stories that surprise us. We’re surprised when Jackson becomes a zombie, surprised when the gangs come together in “Beat It” and surprised when the detective is arrested in “Billie Jean.” Especially in the video for “Thriller” and “Billie Jean,” the directors employ creative techniques, such as split screens and stop action. Plus, there are tons of questions. Why the heck does he use werewolves and zombies? Where does that weird cat come from in “Billie Jean”? And why does he consistently break the walls of audience with the use of theaters and cameras within his films? And “The Making of Thriller” adds not only to his legend, but confirms his desire to always be watched and deconstructed.

The aura of Michael Jackson then does not come from his music, but his ancillary work around the music. His boyhood prepped him with the ability of pop; his albums gave him access to celebrity; and these videos, the moonwalk, and stunts in his personal life have imbued with an enduring sense of fascination and celebrity.

The camera has always been on Michael, so it might be only natural that those come through in his “short films.” And even today, he still needs the camera on him, in some way, even if he’s ducking from one car to another. Being a Thriller is the only job that Michael has ever had.

More after the jump...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

first-person: The Paper Chase @ Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta, June 20

"...I found myself in desperate need of the bathroom. I found it in the bar in the other room while also realizing that it’s a unisex, one-toilet rest area. This brought about long lines and strange conversations as the Pabst was waiting to evacuate like second graders five minutes before recess. After my business was done I sidled up to the bar and grabbed another can to await the coming of The Paper Chase."

Yeah, this first-person is by Josh Rank of Atlanta, who surveyed the scene at The Paper Chase show on June 20 at Atlanta's Drunken Unicorn. Here was our preview and read the rest of Josh's experience after the jump...

At first glance The Drunken Unicorn looks like a barn that should have been demolished eight years ago. Once you go inside, however, you find an underground world almost as expansive as the second level in Super Mario Brothers. To the left you find the concert area, merch booths set up in back. To the right you find a dive bar with a minimal beer selection, which doesn’t really matter since they serve Pabst. Walk a little further and you find MJQ’s, which feels like you found another underground world altogether. One with dance music and breakdancers.

We showed up to the show “fashionably late,” and I’ll blame root beer flavored vodka for that. We only caught the last song of the opening band The Piano Plays Itself, but that was all it took to be impressed. They were a solid indie-rock outfit that I plan on actually seeing in full at one point or another.

A few beers later Attention System began playing. The entire time I watched them I couldn’t stop thinking of Orgy mixed with The Killers. They are one of those bands that are fun to see live but I doubt I would ever be sitting around my living and thinking, “Man, it would be hella sweet to listen to Attention System right now.” The singer kept the show interesting by playing the synthesizer here and there while the Mac laptop provided background noise. I’ve always thought that any band that has synchronized lights either is trying to create ambiance or trying to make up for a lack of creativity. I think they were going for ambiance, but it came across as the latter. The drumming was solid. However, he held to the syncopated hi-hat like he met her in high school and didn’t have the self confidence to think he could find anyone better.

As they left the stage I found myself in desperate need of the bathroom. I found it in the bar in the other room while also realizing that it’s a unisex, one-toilet rest area. This brought about long lines and strange conversations as the Pabst was waiting to evacuate like second graders five minutes before recess. After my business was done I sidled up to the bar and grabbed another can to await the coming of The Paper Chase.

I have seen the band four times before and knew exactly what I was in for. I had brought two Paper Chase virgins with me and had been filling their ears with prophecies of the experience they were about to embark on. Give me a handful of drinks, bring up The Paper Chase, and get ready for non-stop ass kissing for the rest of the night. One might think I wanted to have sex with the entire band from the many conversations I’ve had. “You’ve never heard The Paper Chase? Oh my god. They’re, like, the best band ever! You gotta listen to this…”

We walked into the concert hall moments before they started playing. My face was already smeared with a shitty grin and would remain that way for the rest of the show. They opened with a couple tracks from the new album, “Someday This Will All Be Yours.” I was a little skeptical of the disc my first listen through. After another thirty or so listens I began warming up to it. My high expectations of the band were solidified upon seeing the songs live. The string arrangements on the CD were wonderfully translated into keyboard and guitar arrangements in concert. The cartoon antics of the lead singer John Congleton didn’t fail to meet up with the “You gotta watch when…” I had told my friends beforehand. Throughout the show I continually looked back at my friends with the “Did you see that?” look on my face. They responded with a “Hell yes I did,” expression. Drummer Jason Garner looked as though he hated his drum set and couldn’t wait to beat the hell out of it. This culminated in a piece of drumstick flying past my face before he broke the stick over his knee between songs.

The set list leaned heavily toward new songs. The throwback tracks covered every album besides “Cntrl-Alt-Delete-U.” This even includes the final track from “Young Bodies Heal Quickly,” which I had never seen performed live. The addition of another keyboard/acoustic guitar player added new layers to these old songs while also helping the new songs translate into a live performance. The horror movie sound effects and rubber-fingered guitar parts flew out in abundance, only making my shitty grin grow wider.

Whenever you see a band that you hadn’t listened to before, the most you can hope for after the show is a, “Yeah that was good, I should listen to them sometime.” However, after leaving The Paper Chase, both friends were firm believers in the power of the band. After getting back home, I couldn’t wait to rip back into the root beer vodka and celebrate a night well spent.

Hit up Josh Rank in the ATL (or anywhere else for that matter) at joshrank [at] yahoo.com
More after the jump...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Deckfight interviews Nic Brown, author of Floodmarkers

Maybe a hurricane day is the perfect day. No rules and all desperation. With Floodmarkers, Nic Brown takes on Hurricane Hugo in 1989 as it hits a small fictional town in North Carolina. Brown moves the vantage point between several sets of characters, each embroiled in their own crazy life.

A former touring drummer with acts like Matt Pond PA, Ben Lee and Longwave, Nic is a graduate of Columbia and the Iowa Writer's Workshop and is currently a communications director for a museum in Chapel Hill, NC. His book release party is at The Cave in Chapel Hill on July 3 with the bands Snuzz and Andy Ware.

Nic was kind enough to volley a few questions back and forth over email. Floodmarkers is out this July on Counterpoint Press.

Deckfight: Talk a little about your experience with Hurricane Hugo. Were you near the storm or have any memories of it? Why did this event in that time period (late 80s) have resonance for you? Why did the event lend itself to this set of stories?

Nic Brown: When Hugo came through, I was 12 years old and living in Greensboro. I got the day off school and was thrilled. I wanted the storm to nail us, basically just so something exciting would happen. Whenever I see a storm forecast, I still feel this perverse desire. I don't know how to explain it exactly, but I think it's something a lot of us feel. That's presumption on my part, but I'm going with it. Of course, I should be glad Hugo basically missed us, since it devastated Charlotte and Charleston, but at the time, I just wanted something exciting to happen that would mix things up. As it was, even though the storm didn't destroy Greensboro, it was still exciting. I got out of school and jumped on a trampoline in the rain - which was weird and sort of magical and memorable. And that's what this book is about in many ways, the storm - even though it doesn't hit Lystra full force - changes these characters' daily routines just enough so that there's room for something singular to occur.

As for the 80s, it is less the decade than the time in my life that makes the moment special. Like I said, I was 12, and everything was important and mystical and heavy. If I was 20 now, I guess I'd feel the same about 90's. Weird.

Going into the book, I didn't know how it was going to be structured, thinking it would follow a 'typical' story arc through a few characters. With that said, were there any characters that you were tempted to follow longer? Or create more stories for? Also, what was advantageous with creating these circumstances for these characters but then leaving them behind?

Because all the events take place on one day, I limited any chance to follow these characters into much longer narratives. I also wanted each chapter to stand on its own as a single story, so that – if you wanted – you could open the book at any chapter and read it and have a satisfying experience. I don’t know if this structure is advantageous, per se, but structural limitations (temporal or formal) are always invigorating. That said, I drafted many stories about these characters that didn’t make it to the final cut. However, my next book includes a major character based on Manny, who appears in the Floodmarkers' story "Trampoline." He is basically the most uninhibited human I can imagine, and that's a fun person to write about.

The different profiles of different classes and ages of people was great--and seems like a deliberative effort. Why was it important to you to show a variety of people in these circumstances?

Diversity of class and race is a matter of fact, especially in the south. I wanted to approach the subject in my writing in a similarly matter-of-fact way, trying not to be too afraid of writing about people of different class, age, or race, interacting in difficult and touching ways. The more diverse the character base, I think the greater chance there is for dramatic depth. Young white guys riffing on each other can get old and shallow quick.

What were some of the advantages to working in the confines of a fictional town?

By setting the book in the North Carolina Piedmont, I created a space where the storm could affect daily life just enough to mix things up without creating total destruction. This way the book still explores variations on daily life, not just disaster. If it had been set on the coast, I think things would have quickly become more focused on the storm than the people.

As for creating a fictional town, it was simply a construction that allowed me to combine things that I wanted from both Greensboro (where I grew up) and Chapel Hill (where I now live) while not having to stay true to either.

There seems to be this peculiar relationship between the characters and their animals (Fletcher's cat, Evelyn and the dog, the transporting of the animal in the freezer). Why did you want to bring out these relationships in the middle of the storm? What's fascinating to you about people and pets?

I like that a pit bull can love you and bite a hole in your face in the same minute. Pets are natural beings with agency who demand and give love, much like humans. But they’re not bound by the moral restraints of humans, so can act out in much more unpredictable ways. This combination of humanistic compassion and pure animal volatility opens up the dramatic landscape in a way that I enjoy.

Were any of the stories inspired by real events to you and your friends?

Yeah, I base most of stories on anecdotes of my friends. My friend Jeff worked in the graveyard shift in a hot dog factory, and I took notes on some of his stories to write Libertee Meats. My friends in Kingston NY told me about a tanning salon there that had after-hours parties, and I used that to inspire Dice. My wife went to a Christmas party once where a man said, "Y'all want to see my dead dog?", then proceeded to open his freezer and show them a frozen mastiff, along with other pets - this was the idea for "Thawing." Those are just a few examples from this book. I scavage where I can.
More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: Colum McCann, Stephen King primer, Harold Bloom & Blood Meridian

All of these links are a little old. That's okay. Newness does not always mean randomness.

Interv. w/ Colum McCann about his new book, Let The Great World Spin: At The Rumpus.

Interv. w/ Kristina Marie Darling, author of Night Music: At Orange Alert.
The best: "I gravitate toward mundane experiences, such as working a part-time job at Target, yo-yo dieting, and dating self-styled tortured artists"

A Double from the AV Club

The oft-passed around interview w/ critic Harold Bloom about Blood Meridian:
At AV Club (h/t a bunch of other places)
The best: "The violence is the book. The Judge is the book, and the Judge is, short of Moby Dick, the most monstrous apparition in all of American literature. The Judge is violence incarnate. The Judge stands for incessant warfare for its own sake."

The Stephen King Primer: At AV Club.
Their suggestion--start w/ "Survivor Type" from Skeleton Crew

Mainstream media finds out about book trade sites: At the SF Chron (h/t to Bookslut) More after the jump...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We Own This Town: Mean Tambourines, Cactus's & Bad Cop @ Nashville's Mercy Lounge

For the uninitiated, Nashville's We Own This Town is one of the premier radio shows/blogs for finding new independent music in the Music City and the southeast. They've started putting up local shows at Nashville's Mercy Lounge on Tuesday nights for free (that would be uh, nothing) and this one is sure to be a rip-roarin' rockin' time:

Mean Tambourines embodies that 80's synth-dance-indie pop thing really well, but with more polish. Their new EP
War drops this July.

Joining the mayhem is Cactus's, and misplaced apostrophes aside, Cactus's wears their thrash math rock moniker well, like a couple of loose bears fighting over a calculator. Raw without being excruciating, the trio of Jru, Sam and Asher are soon bringing their dirty rock to the Northeast. Also on the bill is Nashville's Bad Cop. Vid for Cactus's is below--

More after the jump...

Monday, June 22, 2009


The longest day of the year has left me bedraggled, haggled and hassled. Traveled far and wide and will be back tomorrow. Enjoy the summer day.
More after the jump...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Good news: The Paper Chase in Hattiesburg, ATL, Chapel Hill, DC

Don't know tons about TX's The Paper Chase, and even less about their new album, Someday This Could All Be Yours, their new album from Kill Rock Stars. But I do know each of the songs are about natural disasters and from what I've heard the crazy piano sets the pace. The result is like an insane asylum divided over whether to start a cover band of Tool or Coldplay and The Paper Chase is their compromise, if that's possible.

Even more frightening is that this is Volume One, meaning more natural disasters are on their way. Southeast tour dates and the vid "Said the Spider to the Fly" from a previous album are below.

June 19 Hattiesburg, MS @ Thirsty Hippo

June 20 Atlanta @ Drunken Unicorn

June 21 Chapel Hill @ Local 506

June 22 Washington, DC @ DC9

More after the jump...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Antigravity Mag Turns 5!

I was back in NOLA in 2004 and started writing a few pieces for Leo and his start-up, Antigravity Magazine. He was able to snag interviews early on back then w/ people like TV on the Radio and The Decemberists. He allowed me to contribute reviews and printed a few stories of mine, including one about an anarchist bookstore that I'm still pretty dang proud of. Always riding the thin line between zine and mag, Antigravity has established itself in post-Hurricane Katrina world as a vital part of the NOLA culture.

After the hurricane, Leo also became a comics character in Josh Neufeld's retelling over at Smith Mag that will soon be released as a book.

They're having a party tonight, June 18 at the Twisted Salon in NOLA with some other fine friends, including the cool group New Orleans Craft Mafia.

And don't forget to download the PDF of Antigravity. More after the jump...

An good time: An Horse in Chapel Hill, ATL & Nashville w/ Telekinesis

Australian lo-fi garage rock band An Horse is back in the States and hitting up a few dates. Inspired by a grammatically incorrect sweater, An Horse is duo Kate Cooper (guitar/vox) and Damon Cox (drums). They've been on Letterman, on tour w/ Death Cab and are now skipping quickly back through the States.

I saw An Horse this past January w/ Appleseed Cast in Chapel Hill. Though that combo seemed to fit on paper, the crowd was really a bunch of punk rock kids who somehow liked The Appleseed Cast from their affiliation w/ The Militia Group. This time around, their rock should fit well on their tour w/ Telekinesis. Southeast tour dates and a vid of "Camp Out" is below.

Jun 18 Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 w/ Telekinesis
Jun 19 2009 8:00P Atlanta @ The Earl w/ Telekinesis
Jun 20 2009 8:00P Nashville @ The End w/ Telekinesis

More after the jump...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

missed it the first time: Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch

I'm tempted to just list quotes in a review of this book:
"He always spoke about death when he was talking about life."

"The absurd thing is to believe that we can grasp the totality of what constitutes us in this moment or in any moment and senses it as something coherent, something acceptable if you want."

"The truth is I don't want to understand anything, if by understanding one must accpet what we used to call mistakes."
And the list could go on and on. Then there's the problem, no, opportunity of the non-chronological chapters. Sure, they're numbered in order but that doesn't mean they're read in order. The spastic order and those that continue on without a "clean conscience" will still read that story, just with extra asides thrown in from various chapters. Some of those chapters (read in a non-chronological order) contain various news reports and introductions of additional character such as the mysterious Morelli, Cortazar's own narratee on authorship and mediation.

But the central figure is Horacio Oliveira, a drifter, a lover and for sure a philosopher living in Paris. The book centers around his on-again and off-again relationship with La Maga and his group superiority is challenged by Gregorovius who confronts him about his doom philosophies and is also in love with La Maga.

As conventional as all of this sounds, it is not and is almost impossible to comprehend into the mind of Horacio and Gregorovius, especially as Horacio is constantly aware of La Maga's relationship with Gregorovius. But Horacio has an almost passive response to the death of La Maga's child, Rocamadour and doesn't attend the funeral--alienating him farther from her.
At this point, Horacio is described as "a spectator on the edge of a spectacle"--always an observer, never a participant.

Horacio further evolves once he returns to his native Argentina and joins a circus then becomes part of the staff of the insane asylum. He continues his metaphysical musings with his friend, Traveler and equates Traveler's wife Talita with La Maga. Love always unquenched, except for the love himself or the love of creating the spectacle and still remaining outside of it.

So why the heck read this? Its complicated, complex and is full of reader activity--flipping pages in a chapter order that makes no obvious sense, all the while contemplating the purpose of this activity (just put the chapters in order...) along with Horacio's misguided musings. And that is the purpose, those exercises into readerliness--self-awareness of the process (reader-response theory, I believe). And this isn't meant to be academic, but a book constructed on that premise can almost stand on its own, and the only reason it does, the only reason that I might consider reading it again is to find gems like these again because I'm sure there's more (is it like the Bible, then?)

"He knew that without faith nothing that should happen would happen and with faith almost never either."

"The novel that interests us is not one that places characters in a situation, but rather one that puts the situation in the chartactes."

Yes, it's a metaphysical meditation on the act of reading, which then makes the reader feel eerie for reading it in the first place and even more eerie to want to read it again, like it's a duty to crack it, because you're not sure if Cortazar cracked it himself, like it wrote itself.

Or one may perceive as stated on page 440 of my dog-eared copy from the mid 70's:
"one would have to recognize that his book was before anything else a literary undertaking, precisely because it waas set forth as the destruction of literary forms."

Oh my. More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: More Meno, the open letter to Kanye, blogger Ed Champion, and Keyhole Press


More Joe Meno. Sure, I'll keep pumping up this book. I like it that much. Plus, this is the best interview I've seen w/ him: At The Millions.
The best: "Meno was quick to emphasize that Norton is an independent publisher, owned by its employees, and that, although older and much larger, it holds the same ideals as a small press like Akashic."
Read my review of The Great Perhaps here.

And also from The Millions: "An Open Letter to Kanye West" by Jeff Hobbs.
He takes Kanye to task for being a "non-reader" while promoting a book.

Interview w/ lit blogger Ed Champion: At Abbeville.
The best: "For some reason, people paid attention and were amused with what I had to say. I was truly astonished to learn just how many people in New York I had pissed off for telling the truth."

Interv. w/ Keyhole Mag and Press Editor Peter Cole: At HTML Giant.
The best: "
I keep trying to find ways to get the writers in front of non-writers, and that’s how we ended up doing so much so fast, just adding on projects trying to do that. It seems the consensus is that journals are read mainly by writers and are basically only used by writers and agents to work out book deals–if I thought that’s all they were good for, I wouldn’t be doing it."

More after the jump...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Winning Prize: Title Fight on tour

Straight outta Kingston, PA comes Title Fight, full of original screamo angst on par with Texas is The Reason, early Taking Back Sunday and Hot Water Music. For breaks, sometime they'll just play it straight up punk then rotate over to the hardcore side of things before mashing it all up into the sound of their forefathers of a decade ago. Nothing vibrantly from the sound perspective, but what is refreshing is the energy, the drive, the passion. Glad to know it still exists for real punk rock. Their new record is The Last Thing You Forget off of Run for Cover. Touring in a whole bunch of cities on probably the longest freakin' tour of their lives. Vid below from some basement show for a song I don't know.

A photo I think is Title Fight (from http://titlefight.tumblr.com)

Tour dates:
JUN 16 - Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern
JUN 17 - Wilmington, NC @ Soapbox Laundrolounge w/ Bracewar, The Wonder Years
JUN 18 - Jacksonville, FL @ The Pit
JUN 19 - Miami, FL @ Goo
JUN 20 - Orlando, FL @ Uncle Lou's
JUN 22 - Tampa, FL @ Transitions
JUN 23 - Pensacola, FL @ Sluggos
JUN 24 - Atlanta, GA @ PS Warehouse
JUN 25 - Chattanooga, TN @ The Warehouse
JUN 26 - Nashville, TN @ The Anchor
JUN 28 - Johnson City, TN @ The Hideaway
JUN 29 - Raleigh, NC @ Brewery
JUN 30 - Richmond, VA @ Nara Sushi

(Then they go on all the way out of west for another month, I swear. Hopefully they only break like 2 vans on the way).

Title Fight @ Quinn's Pub 4/10/09 from Chris Albin on Vimeo.

More after the jump...

review: Lonnie Walker's These Times Old Times w/ tour dates & vid

It was a name whispered in my ear..."You gotta hear Lonnie Walker." Then Brian over at Bootleg mentions them and books a show. Huh. Then the Ninja Patrol starts it up. And finally I get to hear the Lonnie Walker goodness. Man, he's good. Oh, snap! Not a one-man band anymore, and no one was ever named Lonnie! Ho Ho Ha Ha! Made up of originator, Brian Corrum, Lonnie Walker's new disc got to me the old-fashioned way, making me savor its tasty delights. For These Times Old Times the debut by Lonnie Walker is amazing, great and wonderful, wham bam, thank you ma'am. Lonnie Walker is the apex and culmination of the cultural momentum, one that includes alt-country (Lucero), another one that includes folk-punk (Against Me!/Avett Brothers), and another that loves everything Tom Waits. This is the album that makes every other alt-country band wannabes turn their heads and pick up hardcore again. Because Lonnie Walker does it right and does it true.

"Compass Comforts" with its crowd-pleasing Dixie punk-stomp and fast-pickin. And another that can't be denied is "Summertime." Its quick spittle about corndogs and "wasting gas to go fast in reverse" is the transcendent traditionally structured song that all the kids will love and "Pendulum's Chest" will woo the critics, just as Dead Confederate did last year. With backing from The Annuals' Terpsikhore Records, Lonnie Walker is that amazing awesome thing to burst forth from North Carolina that you will now go and tell all your friends about. You will, yes you will. Tour dates and a vid of "Pendulum's Chest" below.

Jun 16 Charlottesville @ IS Venue w/ Motel Motel
Jun 17 Richmond @ The Triple w/ Motel Motel
Jun 18 Greensboro @ Green Bean w/ House of Fools(acoustic) and Motel Motel
Jun 19 Chapel Hill @ Local 506 w/ House of Fools and Motel Motel
Jun 20 Greenville, NC @ Spazzatorium w/ Howlies, House of Fools, and Motel Motel
Jun 21 Wilmington, NC @ the Soapbox w/ House of Fools and Motel Motel **Bootleg Mag Show**
Jun 22 Charleston, SC @ Ashley Street House
Jun 23 Atlanta @ Criminal Records
Jun 23 Athens @ GoBar (w/ Werewolves, Trashcans)
Jun 24 TBA Sumwarsin, Tennessee
Jun 25 Knoxville @ Pilot Light
Jun 26 Asheville, NC @ New French Bar w/ Nat’l Geografics
Jun 27 Charlotte @ Dugg Dugg Gallery w/ Nat’l Geografics

More after the jump...

Monday, June 15, 2009

lit randomness: designing David Foster Wallace, Wasik's 'viral culture', kevin sampsell & crime noir

Lit Randomness! Mondays, Wednesdays, here we go:

Designing David Foster Wallace: At Hipster Book Club
The best: "Designing Oblivion was easy: I picked a classic font that fit a lot of words on the page but was still easy to read. I wanted to emphasize the density of the thoughts, but still allow the reader the opportunity to linger on the page."

Bill Wasik's "viral culture": At Salon.
The best: "[A nanostory] is a short-lived media phenomenon that is driven by the sheer quantity and speed of the contemporary conversation. So many hours of cable news to fill, there are so many blogs that need refreshing. Now there's Twitter and more. And so we seize upon these tiny little things and try to elevate them into sensations, but of course they can't bear up under the weight of it."
I just nano-storied you, Bill! Can you handle the weight?

Interv. w/ Wells Tower: At Stop Smiling.

Kevin Sampsell on editing a crime noir anthology, Portland Noir: At Powell's (h/t HTML Giant)
The best: "I decided early on that this was going to be a loose kind of noir. It didn't necessarily need detectives and fast-talking con men. I said I simply wanted the stories to be dark and steeped in a sense of place and that there should be some crime or Portlandish mischief." More after the jump...

Friday, June 12, 2009

After Bonnaroo: Portugal The Man in GA, NC, MD

Now that Wasilla's other favorite stars have migrated off the stage of Bonnaroo, they will resume with a few more southern dates. Too bad their town is now forever linked w/ an infamous VP rather than their own great sound. Their new album of indie rock goodness,
The Satanic Satanist will drop July 21 from Equal Vision Records. Vid of the new single "People Say" is below.

Jun 13 2009 Atlanta @ The Earl
Jun 15 2009 Carrboro/Chapel Hill @ Cat's Cradle
Jun 16 2009 Baltimore @ Ottobar
More after the jump...

Other than Bonnaroo: Dark Meat in VA & NC (vid & mp3)

Perfectly intense psychedelic group pop-rock from Athens, GA's Dark Meat. If you haven't (use appropriate carnivore-esque verb here: chomped, bit, smacked, noshed, masticated, munched, nibbled, scarfed or supped) on Dark Meat, do so soon. Very soon. Vegan hipsters seem to like this band a lot, due to the ironic qualities experienced without having to even listen to the band. Universal Indians is out on Vice. Mp3 below and vid of "Three Eyes Open" after the dates.

mp3: Dark Meat-"Freedom Ritual"

Jun 12 2009 Charlottesville, VA @ Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar
Jun 13 2009 Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 w/ Birds of Avalon (is this the best show ever? Maybe, just maybe.)

More after the jump...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Other than Bonnaroo: mewithoutyou in FL, LA

I have sung the praises of mewithoutyou's new one, and I will continue to sing/chant/rap them. Think of them as teeny-bopper screamo Christians at your own peril. This band is doing amazing, interesting things. Hey kids at Bonnaroo--the real action might be outside of that real long line down a neverending stretch of Tennessee highway.

Jun 11 St. Petersburg, FL @ State Theatre
Jun 12 Gainseville, FL @ Common Grounds
Jun 13 Metairie, LA @ The High Ground

More after the jump...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

mp3's: Bygones, My First Earthquake, Ganglians, Ra Ra Riot live + more

At dentist.

"Do you have a problem with instruments in your mouth?"

"No, I don't think so....why, did somebody write that down last time?"


MP3's=no gag reflex here

: "Click On That (Smash the Plastic Death)"

w/ members of Hella and Tera Melos, debut album by- comes out in August.

Brian Olive: "There is Love"
My First Earthquake: "Cool in the Way"
Pet Ghost Project: "They Built a City in my Country Mind"
Ra Ra Riot: "Oh, La" Live from Breakthru Radio.
Ganglians: "Lost Words"
Wheels on Fire: "I'm Turning Into You"
More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: more Blood Meridian, Appetite for Self-Destruction, more Dave Eggers and waves of book blogs


There will be more Blood Meridian: At AV Club.

There's the report of a Blood Meridian soundtrack, now here's AV Club picking it up for a discussion amongst their writers. The road to The Road is a long, but worthy one.

Interv. w/ Steve Knopper, Appetite for Self-Destruction: At Pitchfork.

All the crazy conspiracies and connections that has led to music industry's crisis.

Blogs that discuss books in a serious and engaging way continue to divide; mimicking the industry and product they hope to promote: At Conversational Reading.
Dude, what wave is Deckfight? We talk about books and music. Maybe we're a blogazine. Maybe we're a maga-blog. If they're first wave and they're second wave, we officially declare to have skipped the third wave and are now on the fourth wave. Whatever that is.

Interview w/ Dave Eggers on his new non-fiction book, Zeitoun about a Muslim family in Hurricane Katrina: At Rumpus. (h/t HTML Giant).
Didn't know this book existed, but because of my love of Eggers and my personal history of NOLA and Katrina, I am.........(at a loss for words).

More after the jump...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

So Suomi, why don't you?: DAMION SUOMI (sue-me) !!! (vid and nearby tour dates)

Alt-country, calculated pop, or eerie emanations of bygone dusky barnyard sessions? Florida-native Damion Suomi is all of these things on his self-titled release from P is for Panda. For those that like their music interesting, bear through his opener, "Archer Women" for the good stuff in "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil & Me" and "San Francisco." Those songs have the indie hollowness of Iron and Wine with the rootsy energy of The Avett Brothers. Like the slow piece-by-piece demolition of a glorious honky-tonk saloon. Southern tour dates and vid of "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil & Me."

Jun 10 West Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern w/ Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry
Jun 11 Greensboro, NC @ The Blind Tiger w/Holy Ghost Tent Revival
Jun 12 Atlanta @ Drunken Unicorn w/ Clues
Jun 13 Kingsport, TN @ Bonefire Smokehouse & Bus Pit
Jun 15 Memphis, TN @ Hi Tone w/ Holly Cole, Royal Bangs
Jun 16 Oxford, MS @ Red Star Bar @ The Lyric Oxford w/ Sanders Bolke
Jun 17 Jackson, MS @ Martin’s Lounge
Jun 18 Tallahassee, FL @ The Engine Room w/ Look Mexico

Damion Suomi - Darwin, Jesus, The Devil, & Me - Live in the north GA mountains from P is for Panda on Vimeo.

More after the jump...

Monday, June 8, 2009

review: Magik Markers' Balf Quarry

The opening track of Balf Quarry (Drag City), duo Magik Markers' latest album, is titled “Risperdal,” which I discovered is the name of a medication used to treat bipolar disorder, and it's an apt name considering that the song sounds a lot like Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon fronting Pavement as they record to a four track cassette. Elisa Ambrosio's unhurried and bored-as-hell vocals about deceit and betrayal play nicely with her distorted guitar riff as the song chugs along on Peter Nolan's subdued garage rock 4-4 drums. All told, it's a strong opening song, as it sounds familiar enough to pull you in and fresh enough to keep you interested. “Risperdal” is not the highlight of the album, though. This distinction belongs to the second track, “Don't Talk in Your Sleep.” Ambrosio starts the song with a mud thick guitar riff that picks up force when Nolan comes in, playing a hi-hat heavy '70s funk beat that gets your head moving. The song, as an instrumental, would be appropriate background for a Charles Bronson movie, but you wouldn't want to miss Ambrosio's singing, which is some of her best work on the album. Again, the theme is betrayal, and Ambrosio is all business as she warns her lover, “Don't talk in your sleep / Don't leave a trace / 'cause a loving woman can have the Devil's face.” It's a dark and sinister track and among the most carefully constructed songs on Balf Quarry.

Magik Markers have long been known as noise rockers, and they have released dozens of cdr albums where they generally did not stick to the rules of popular music as much as they tend to on Balf Quarry. However, the three tracks following “Don't Talk in Your Sleep” come crashing through one after the other to provide the listener with a hearty reminder that Magik Markers can still make a lot of noise, and shouldn't be pigeonholed as part of any single musical genre. From sounding like 1980s hardcore punk (“Jerks”) to the musical act at a circus for the insane (“Psychosomatic”) to The Beach Boys infiltrated by drugged up gypsies (“7/23'), Magik Markers seem capable and willing to dip their toes in all manner of musical stylings. Thus, when the duo finally collapses into a full on noise number (“The Ricercar of Dr. Clara Haber”) with frantic drums and ear splitting guitar squeals, one is not surprised.

The second half of Balf Quarry is not as strong as its first, but there are still some good songs. “The Lighter Side of...Hippies” is yet another full-on punk rock endeavor for Ambrosio and Nolan, this one taunting the '60s generation, and is interestingly followed by “Ohio R./Live/Hoosier,” a song that sounds influenced by psychedelia. The final song, “Shells,” runs for almost eleven minutes, with haunting cellos and ghostly singing, and seems a fitting close to such a varied and dark album.

Magik Markers' last album, Boss, was produced by Lee Ranaldo whose band, Sonic Youth, toured with Magik Markers in 2004. Certainly, the elder band's stamp is on much of Ambosio and Nolan's work, as it is on so many other popular bands today, but Balf Quarry is, nevertheless, a daring and solid effort. For those who have taken a shine to noise inspired bands like No Age and Liars, I recommend giving Balf Quarry a listen. You won't be disappointed.

More after the jump...

review: Joe Meno's The Great Perhaps

Very rarely do I go into a book with high hopes. That sounds dispiriting and downright awful. Like a cynical rollercoaster engineer about to go to Cedar Rapids for the millionth time (they have a lot of good rollercoasters in Ohio), I always look for the bad without fully acknowledging the good.

Here's a book I had high hopes for. Joe Meno's Hairstyles of The Damned led me to a promised land that I always knew existed--that rock 'n roll and literature can find common ground, anywhere and somewhere. Near that time I also read Lipsyte's Homeland, so man that was a good month. And those two books basically sum up my preferences for contemporary fiction. Spontaneous. Humorous to the point of almost being awkward. Being awkward to the point of being sincere. Awkwardness for the sake of sincerity that delivers a point about life. All this is seriously awkward.

But with The Great Perhaps, Meno does not do any of those things really, yet still does them. His premise sounds like it should fall into the seriously awkward. Jonathan Casper has a problem with clouds. If he does not take his medication, seizures will begin upon the cloud's arrival. That is just one of the many hang-ups of the Casper family--a series of hang-ups that in many hands, including Meno's, could have become riotously and insanely funny, but instead he delivers something more difficult than easy laughs. Meno delivers a funny book with an endearing story. The Great Perhaps is about the quirks that we all have and the way that we all deal with them. But the Casper family is consumed by its anxieties almost to the point of paralysis and they do not fully overcome them, but learn to live with them.

Due to its clever use of metaphor and repeating theme, The Great Perhaps is a candidate for the White Noise of this decade. Meno is equally interested in the obsessions of the modern family, but instead of the characters just showing off their cold war anxieties like in White Noise, Meno's characters not only embody but obsess over their anxieties. Meno shows that we have progressed beyond just taking pills for our neuroses, we now obsess over the meaning of our neuroses. If the eighties were about self-medication, then now we're about self-obsession.

It's 2004 and the Caspers are an academic family. Jonathan and Madeline work in two different scientific fields at the University of Chicago, each plagued with their own type of nemesis. Johnathan is trying to outrun and outstudy a fellow French squid hunter and Madeline, an animal behaviorist cannot figure out why the pigeons keep raping one another. Their two highschool daughters, Thisbe and Amelia are stuck on their coming-of-age difficulties--Thisbe is very concerned with the supernatural and also concerned about how chorus and her budding sexuality go hand-in-hand. The older Amelia is a budding revolutionary who revolutionary treatises in the school newspaper make no difference. The family moves and surrounds these problems reluctantly--slowly pushing at the edges of their family comfort until they are forced to confront their own being, their own togetherness.

Also involved is Jonathan's father Henry, who is stuck in a nursing home, becoming more and more silent everyday. Meno's uses the older Casper to add historical weight to his novel with a deft tie-in of American internment camps in World War II. His metaphors and chapter arcs are very tight, each symbol and each clue is imbued with a curious weight that does not disappoint and perfectly illustrates that yes, all of the Caspers are indeed cowards, but being a coward does not necessarily mean disappointment.

But in this go-around, Meno develops a better descriptive voice than in his previous work--he is able to spend time with details and makes each of them count. It does not read as plain or simple as in some of his previous novels, this time a density of language is added to the sentences, which increases the emotional scenery of the novel and therefore increases emotional investment into the characters.

Just as DeLillo was concerned in describing the surroundings of his central family and repeating familiar sounds and words as part of the white noise, so does Meno with the clouds. Madeline chases them, and each mention of white fluffiness, foggy haze, or general "cloudiness" reinforces the confused anxiety-ridden nature of the family. But within that cloudiness is a peacefulness, a peacefulness that Meno gracefully ties together in the closing pages. The Great Perhaps is a work that goes beyond Meno's previous efforts, without disparaging or taking away from those works. More after the jump...
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