Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lost in the Skahazadhan (and some other news)

I have been quiet here for the last week or so and with good reasons (or so I tell myself. heh.) I am knee-deep in the new George RR Martin book, A Dance With Dragons, the fifth in his series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I've found few faults with it thus far, and those that I have found, are pretty trivial and mine own writerly conscious going, "Well, I wouldn't have done it that way," but, of course, this isn't my story, regardless however much I want to be Jon Snow.

Okay, for those of you who haven't left from the geek-out, some other news on the horizon:

1. Don't forget my story, "El Camino," is available at Amazon. The print version - for those without kindle or smashwords - is coming very soon! It's fairly cheap to purchase and the other stories are also top-notch. (While you're at it, pick up the first Digital Science Fiction anthology with my friend Ken Schneyer's story in it.)

2. My Clarionite friends, Tom Underberg and Kali Wallace, are in the just-released The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. Get your copy at the liquidating Borders bookstores now! Or here! I recommend going to a physical location, however, and asking the bookseller if they have the new "Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities," to see the look on their faces. When I asked a recent bookseller at Borders, her respone was, "I don't know the words you just said to me." We had a good laugh.

3) In music news: Tin Tin Can continues to make headway on the full-length. Guitar overdubs are nearly finished. We have some horns, background vocals, banjo, and various other odd instruments to add. We've got 12 or 13 songs to choose from, but right now, we're leaning on 8 or 9 to make the cut.

4) I saw the final Harry Potter flick over the weekend, the Deathly Boring Hallows. Well. I was not impressed. Zero character development, 19 years later, inexplicable magic without consequences (yet again), 19 years later, and 19 years later. I also thought Hermione and Ron were about as boring as ever.

5) This weekend I'll be watching Cowboys & Aliens, which I am wary of, but have heard great things about (chiefly from We shall see. It looks stupendously cheesy to me, but I have been wrong before. The movie I really want to see, however, is Another Earth (despite its kind of moany-emo-trailer) but it isn't playing anywhere near Chicago as yet.

Now, back to the Skahazadhan and the Wall. I shall return again soon.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #11

Over the weekend your Fauxst attended Pitchfork Music Festival with his Clarionite buddy, Leah Thomas, and had a rollicking good time listening to some great music. In particular: Tune-Yards, James Blake, Deerhunter, and Cut Copy. In other news, it was hot; water never tasted so pure.

Not so much because of the festival, but perhaps inspired by it, here is a mock playlist of projects your Fauxst has been involved with:

1. II of Jackanapes - "Sensual Ego Massage/Happy Endings" - II of Jackanapes
2. Dustin Monk & The Dirty Priests - "Don't Be a Stranger/Black Widow" - Dustin Monk & The Dirty Priests
3. Root Shoot Leaf - "Radio Blues" - Stars Are For Wishing, Wishes Are For Wells
4. seasecrets!fossils!fictions! - "1982" - The Dragon Tree
5. Dustin Monk & The Dirty Priests - "One Step Closer" - Singersongwriter
6. Tin Tin Can - "Dead Uncle Jones" - The Devil & the Mockingbird
7. Root Shoot Leaf - "Horse Face in the Flames" - The Gallows
8. Dustin Monk & the Dirty Priests - "Eleven Crackerjack Blues" - Dustin Monk & the Dirty Priests
9. Tin Tin Can - "Distance from the Moon" - The Devil & the Mockingbird
10. The Pheonix - "Mandy's Doing Dishes" - Goodbye, Goodbye Blue Monday

This mock playlist brought to you by Who Cares Trivia.
Q: Did you know that Dustin misspelled his original high school band The Phoenix as "The Pheonix" because he thought it was cool that The Beatles misspelled their name; of course, The Beatles had a reason - they played "beat music."
A: No! Who cares!
Q: I know, right!

Who Cares Trivia is fun for the whole family!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Days of Olde: Claw & Eye

This is a video of my former band, Root Shoot Leaf, playing in a bar in Omaha, NE. That night there was a particularly bad ice storm, so we did lots of shots of whiskey. Also, a woman in the front had her fingers in her ears for our entire performance, which prompted me to finally say, "Give that woman some earplugs!" in the middle of the song.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Story Wants Your Eyes: Digital Science Fiction Update

In case you missed the Facebook and Twitter hubbub earlier this week, my story, "El Camino," published in Digital Science Fiction Anthology 2: Therefore I Am, is available now for the Amazon Kindle. This particular story is a revised version of a Clarion submission story - at that time titled "Going to California." It concerns two down-on-their-luck drunks in the near-future trying to get out of a town on the edge of war. One of them, a wounded military veteran, gets wind of a deal that seems to good to be true but might get them out of town.

Buy it here. For those of you without Kindles, it is also available at smashwords in other digital formats. There will also be a print version available on Amazon near the end of July.

I'm usually reading something and/or listening to music while writing. While I was writing this particular piece (in its original version) I was reading a lot of Raymond Carver, particularly, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In my opinion, Carver is king of the anti-hero and "dirty realism." What I particularly love about Carver is the quiet intensity of his work, his sense of the tragic, and desperation so profound it's almost unspeakable. If you haven't read him yet, I suggest you do. I'll let you decide whether you purchase it before or after you've bought Digital Science Fiction Anthology 2, of course. Heh.

I'm proud to have my story alongside these writers: Tom Barlow, James C Bassett, Annie Bellet, Tab Earley, Bruce Golden, Shawn Howard, Tomas L Martin, David Steffen, and Martin L Shoemaker. The cover above is pretty cool too.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


As a songwriter, it's only natural that I'd be interested how other songwriters keep fresh and subvert chord forms and lyrical ideas. It's the same for authors - how one keeps from cliched writing, or how to make a worn idea feel new, etc. In the case of songwriters - at least, bad songwriters - it's, ahem, a slippery slope. There are only so many chords and, especially in rock'n'roll or the blues, a songwriter can find him or herself stuck in a corner with all-too-familiar chord changes. Lyrically, songwriters are closer to poets (though, holding up even a Paul Simon lyric sheet pales in comparison to John Ashbery or Louise Gluck) and it's much too simple to write couplets of cliched rhyme. It's no secret that having the ability to know when something is well-worn, be it chord changes or lyrical content, is what separates the interesting songwriters from the boring ones.

We're all aware that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Carol King, and Nick Cave are widely considered some of the best songwriters in music history. Yet, because their style has been imitated and commercialized and crammed down our throats since childhood, it's also easy to find a lot of what they'd written as hackneyed and cliche: such are the pitfalls of fame and glory.

When I sit down to write a song I make a choice. I decide if I want the song to go a more traditional route and, if yes, I work out ways to subvert it just slightly, to make it fresh at least to myself. Sometimes it's as simple as making the V chord minor; or instead of changing from I to vi to IV to V, I may try I to bVI to iv (flatting the typical minor vi chord andmaking the usual major IV chord in the scale minor) to V. Of course, it also depends on the mood of the song; sometimes, there is nothing wrong with traditional. If I decide to go another route, perhaps more experimentally, I will usually try to ground the song in some way, either with motifs or by using a traditional structure with chord forms (and sometimes lyrical content) that have nothing traditional about it. (I don't really consider myself all that experimental when it comes to songwriting anyway, but it has been remarked my songs contain a certain "quirk" to them, whatever that means; the farthest out I've gone was a song called "Horse Face in the Flames" that was based around a tritone pattern. Even so, crowd reaction to this song live was intense: you either loved it or really, really, really hated it. Goes to show how sensitive our ears are to music without formal chord structures and melody, even though serialism has been part of our musical language for well over fifty years.)

I also like to listen to songwriters I find that subert these traditional structures. Part of what makes songwriting so much - and likewise, writing stories - is finding ways of saying what's already been said before in different, fresh ways. Here are some songwriters who, I believe, have been on the cutting edge but, for whatever reasons, haven't hit the mainstream. It's probably a good thing - unlike the Beatles or Bob Dylan, their music hasn't been widely imitated and, as such, they remain nuggets of inspiration.

Spencer Krug
(Projects: Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface)
I have yet to find a fault in Spencer Krug's songwriting. Everything he does is exciting and blasting with emotion. Yet, it's also surreal and timeless, carnivalesque and epic.

Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger
(Projects: Fiery Furnaces, solo work)
Like Krug above, the Friedbergers have a flare for the epic. Their lyrics are more "literary" (in fact, I've also considered the sibling duo to be the leaders of "lit rock," screw off Colin Meloy.) They're not afraid to take chances either (see: Rehearsing My Choir). But their strength really lies in making a hodge-podge of styles a cohesive whole.

Tim Cohen
(Projects: The Fresh & Onlys, solo work)
Recently, Tim Cohen has become quite prolific in the indie world, releasing at least one record a year over the last 3 years. Each one builds on the last. He's famous for his lo-fi garage rock band, The Fresh & Onlys, but his solo record, The Two Sides of Tim Cohen, shows a more subdued, atmospheric approach to songwriting.

Jens Lekman
(Projects: solo work)
Lekman is a crooner with a keen eye for detail. He has an almost note-perfect pop sensibility. His use of samples in songs is wonderfully integrated with the song itself it's almost unnoticeable.

Kurt Vile
(Projects: solo work, sometimes known as Kurt Vile and the Violators)
Vile is the workingman's songwriter. There is a grit and dirt in a songs, so much so that even when he's singing a light melody or a lullaby, there is a wariness and weariness that unhinges the song and releases it into the ether.

Merrill Garbus
(Projects: Tune-yards)
Garbus most certainly on the experimental side of songwriting. She subverts and reinvents where a song should and will go every time. Because she isn't afraid to be in-your-face about it and to twist a song into unexpected places, sometimes it takes a couple listens to get used to it. But once you do (and if you can), the rewards of her music pay off in big ways. She's a great lyricist too.

Honorable Mentions: Bill Callahan, Joanna Newsom, Alec Ounsworth, PJ Harvey, and Cass McCombs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

1/2: Music Highlights and Lowlights in 2011

We're a little over halfway through 2011 and, musically speaking, it's a dark and dreary year. Not that there isn't a lot of great music being produced and released, but of that great music, much of it is gloomy, murky, seen from underwater. Or maybe it's just my choice of music. Anyway, here are some of the records that I think continue to stand out, and some I think don't. (You can read my previous post on the highlights and lowlights from January to March here.)

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut had plenty of catchy melodies, guitar hooks, fine-tuned lyrics and gorgeous harmonies. Though their follow-up largely builds on the previous (especially lyrically), the melodies are stranger and the guitar hooks more sporadic and folksier. The band also moves into more experimental territory: songs breakdown and start again as something else or never quite lift off, seemingly floating in a dark bubble. The record is a grower, for sure, but with each listen more layers reveal themselves. Highlights: "Battery Kinzie," "Helplessness Blues," "The Shrine/An Argument."

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
For fans expecting a quiet, intimate affair akin to For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver's debut, expect your face to pinch in confusion. Justin Vernon's sophomore epic LP is a different listening experience. Influences from his more experimental project, Volcano Choir, are evident, as is a serious love of Peter Gabriel. This is a sprawling, all-over-the-place record and one that deserves your attention. Highlights: "Holocene," "Calgary," "Beth/Rest."

Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l
Merrill Garbus's Tune-Yards project is simply amazing, from the Captain Beefheart-esque guitar lines to her wildly abrasive, yet emotional, voice. It is a testament to her skill as a songwriter and performer that she can pull off being funny, serious, heartbreaking, and so intense your eyes feel like they're going to pop out of your head in the course of one song. No one could pull that sort of experimentation off without sounding hokey expect Garbus and she does so quite gracefully. Highlights: "Powa," "Bizness," "You Yes You."

Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Apocalypse continues Bill Callahan's weird version of folk music. This one has a distinctly western pulp feel to it. Saguaro and sand; hot suns; cowboys and cattle; fiddles; guitar squelches appear like mirages of oases. It is a stark landscape Callahan uncovers, but throughout these seven songs, you get the feeling he also finds it a beautiful place to be. Highlights: "America!," "Riding for the Feeling," "One Fine Morning."

Cass McCombs - Wit's End
Wit's End is the quietest, bleakest record in McComb's career, and he is no stranger to bleak or quiet. Every song here is weightless in a vacuum of its own making. This is also his least poppy record, and yet, it is his most immediate and most intense. However, you can't jog to the record; or do dishes or write to it. It's a record that puts its claws into your spine and your mouth, to tear into your ears and clog your nose. Highlights: "County Line," "Hermit's Cave," "A Knock Upon the Door."

These records are really good, but for whatever reason, aren't in constant rotation here at The Spiral:

The Antlers - Burst Apart
Not as moving or as epic as Hospice, but still full of good songs.

Okkervil River- I Am Very Far
Darkest, murkiest record yet from Will Sheff's project, but seriously, enough of songs about songwriting, okay?

My Morning Jacket - Circuital
They may never top the scale and awesome motown-influenced pop of Z, but this record will be a close second. Much better than the previous Evil Urges.

Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
I was introduced to this experimental hiphop project from Digable Planets member Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler and haven't looked back.

And some of those that didn't quite strike my fancy:

Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
I really want to like everything Paul Simon does, I really do, but sometimes it's hard. Certainly, So Beautiful or So What is a far better record than his previous hot mess, Surprise. Still, nothing on SBoSW stands out, nothing is as immediate as, say, Still Crazy After All These Years or his self-titled debut or Graceland; instead, this is yet another disaffected, distant record from a musician who should know better.

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
It's fairly common to release a bad record after a thrilling masterpiece and TV on the Radio have proven they can do just that. Dear Science is a record that sounds as fresh now as it did four years ago when it was released and I suspect will sound as fresh in five years and so on. I cannot say the same for Nine Types of Light. The songwriting is lackluster; the production is boring; this sounds like a band trying to make it big.

Panda Bear - Tomboy
I love almost everything Animal Collective does and also really enjoyed Panda Bear's Person Pitch record, in part because they never do the same thing twice. Each record is its own entity, adding to an already impressive career. Unfortunately, Tomboy is the first record that feels like Noah Lennox has grown too comfortable; all of these songs could've been outtakes from Animal Collective's previous lp, Merriweather Post Pavilion. A shame.

I have yet to hear the new Woods record, Sun & Shade, but they are one of my favorite bands. An honorable mention goes to Ty Segall, who is really improving as a songwriter and I'm greatly looking forward to what he does next.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sum-Sum-Summer Reading List

The following selections are the sort of things I'll be reading from July through September. A few of them - like Mechanique - I've read already, but plan to read again because the experience was enjoyable the first time around, I have to give it another go. What's on your summer reading list?

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
For the next few weeks, I'm going to lose myself in Westeros, reading George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, book five in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. It's been a long wait, but the interim gave me ample time to reread ther series twice more. If you haven't begun reading this series or haven't watched the HBO adaption of it, you must. You will not be disappointed. Friends I've recommended the series to who didn't like epic fantasy have fallen in love with books. Join us. Join us. Join us. Brainsss.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
This will be my second reading of this wonderful novel; and, in fact, I will be reviewing it here in a few weeks. A circus act led by the enigmatic Boss travels a war-torn world. Several of the performers fight over a set of very special wings, and our young narrator ruminates on what, if anything, it all means. It's a novel that holds its secrets close and I suspect rewards more with each reading. Right now, this is the best novel I've read this year.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer
By all accounts, this is going to a fairly whimsical anthology of the late Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead and the oddities and curiosities discovered in his home after his death. Two of my Clarion cohorts, Tom Underberg and Kali Wallace, have pieces appearing in the anthology; the Cabinet also has stories by fine writers like Ted Chiang, Naomi Novik, Reza Negarestani, Amal El-Mohtar, Charles Yu, Rachel Swirsky, among others. Very exciting!

The Disposessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
This is a novel I should've read a long time ago, but never did. Shame on me. A classic of SF. Hell, pretty much everything le Guin has written is a classic of SF.

The One Marvelous Thing by Rikki Ducornet
I've been hearing Ducornet's name a lot lately along with "surreal," "absurd," "weird," "postmodern," etc. It used to be a combination of those words would scare me off the path, but no more, I suppose. I also hear she's great and have been scolded for not having read her work before. Though Ducornet has a new novel out, Netsuke, I'm starting with her collection of fantastical short stories, The One Marvelous Thing.

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #10

Welcome back from the weekend, Fauxyalists! I trust you are all in tiptop shape, no? Well, then, let's hope this mock playlist sets things aright. In the meantime, your Fauxst is going to make a mimosa and wait for the heat and the thunder to overtake him.

1. The Morning Benders - "Cold War" - Big Echo
2. The Hold Steady - "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" - Separation Sunday
3. The Sun - "Watch Out" - Don't Let Your Baby Have All the Fun
4. Avi Buffalo - "Coaxed " - Avi Buffalo
5. Paul Simon - "Can't Run But" - Rhythm of the Saints
6. Animal Collective - "Essplode" - Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They're Vanished
7. Brother Truck - "Only 19" - The Knave
8. Sun City Girls - "The Third-Eye Mood Ring Medallion" - Box of Chameleons
9. Destroyer - "Kaputt" - Kaputt
10. The Antlers - "Sylvia" - Hospice
11. The Shins - "Saint Simon" - Chutes Too Narrow
12. Modest Mouse - "Steam Engenius" - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
13. Shabazz Palaces - "A Treatise Dedicated to the Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 Questions 1 Answer)" - Black Up
14. The Dirty Projecters - "Useful Chamber" - Bitte Orca
15. The Kills - "Sweet Cloud" - No Wow
16. Distraction - "Heartbeats" - Deep Green Sea
17. Wavves - "Convertible Balloon" - King of the Beach
18. Tim Cohen - "Haunted Hymns" - The Two Sides of Tim Cohen
19. Real Estate - "Black Lake" - Real Estate
20. Atlas Sound - "Quick Canal" - Logos

This Mock Playlist is brought to you by Farenheit, the fairest of all the heights and the worst at pun-making.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tin Tin Can Recording: Vocals

Over the 4th of July weekend Justin, Chris, and I returned to Detroit and Magnetic Recording to record much of the vocals for the upcoming Tin Tin Can record. During the Father's Day Sessions, we used a D19 mic for scratch vocals and we liked how it sounded enough to want to use it for the leads. Even the cats seemed to enjoy it - they sat on the stage most of the day, staring at either us as we sang.

On Sunday, after about six hours of vocals, we had a cookout at the studio. Mark, the engineer, grilled chicken kababs and hot dogs on the stoop; some of his neighbors joined us too. They brought amazing potato and black-eyed pea salads and cupcakes, but the highlight was twenty feet of homemade sausage. One of the neighbors - I didn't catch his name - told me how to make his famous pizza. Someone brought a BB gun.

Around 9pm Sunday night, bellies full and heads buzzed, Justin laid down vocals on the final song of the night - the atmospheric and brooding "God Ain't to Blame." Then we went to watch fireworks from a CVS parking lot. I don't know - it just felt right.

Noteworthy Asides:

1. Chris's mother made us more of her awesome mac and cheese, which we gobbled up in no time.

2. Correction on the cats' names: they are Lucky (the TV star), and Micro (the one who lets you pet him).

3. Mark has a 45 of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer/Rain" with the Butcher cover on the vinyl.

4. Chris's father gave me a Hartke (bass, amplification, and guitar) t-shirt.

5. Biodome may well be a 90s classic. Quote: "Turn it back; I want to see if the sniper killed the clown at the mall." Or: "I told you I injured my bladder rollerblading."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tin Tin Can at Reggie's Music Joint

A few weeks ago Tin Tin can shared the stage at Reggie's Music Joint on State St. in Chicago with two of our favorite bands, The Hit Back and Young Loves. It was made even more wondrous, for me at least, from the wide selection of beers. I meant to keep a list of the names of the beers I drank but, alas, I did not. I remember Dogfish, Stone Pale Ale (yes!), and something about Revolution. On their menu I found the almost-holy-grail of beers*, Arrogant Bastard, but either they no carried it or were out (whatever the waitress said was lost to the buzz numbing my ears).

The Hit Back are always great to see live: using drum loops and snyth isn't always enjoyable to watch, but these boys pull it off with incredible energy and charismatic stage presence. Young Loves, likewise, have a presence you can't ignore; they also have amazing songs - in fact, their record, Wake Up Teenage, was one of my favorites from last year.

For us, this was the first time in a very long time where we didn't perform "Arkansas." That was a bit surreal, but we're so fond of our new songs, we thought we'd give some of the old ones a break. It seemed to go over well anyway.  I know we had a good time playing, and it was great to see some old friends.

*The actual holy grail of beers, since you asked, is Raftman. I will soon sate my thirst upon this fine brew.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #9

It is the Fourth of July, Fauxyalists! A time for fireworks and celebrating this country's independence from our evil reptilian overlords...or something of that nature. ...No, no, I kid. I'm sure not all British are reptilian (some, I suspect, are preying mantises). Naturally, the previous statement implies all British are evil and overlordy. Of course, I kid again. Hugs and kisses from across the pond. Anyway, here is an absolutely fireworks-less mock playlist for your faux-listening pleasure. Go forth (hey, a play on words!) and celebrate - you know, if you like that sort of thing.

1. Sleeping in the Aviary - "Girl in the Ground" - Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel
2. Young Loves - "Rotten Fruit" - Wake Up Teenage
3. Arcade Fire - "My Heart is an Apple" - Arcade Fire
4. My Morning Jacket - "Off the Record" - Z
5. The Streets - "It Was Supposed To Be So Easy" - A Grand Don't Come for Free
6. Root Shoot Leaf - "50/50" - Another Word for June Bug
7. Smith Westerns - "All Die Young" - Dye It Blonde
8. Yuck - "Suicide Policeman" - Yuck
9. Bill Callahan - "Riding for the Feeling" - Apocalypse
10. Sun City Girls - "Hippie Conglomerate" - Dante's Disneyland Inferno
11. The Shins - "Mine's Not a High Horse" - Chutes Too Narrow
12. Kanye West - "Hell of a Life" - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
13. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Sleeping Annaleah" - Kicking Against the Pricks
14. Girls - "Broken Dreams Club" - Broken Dreams Club EP
15. Fleet Foxes - "Battery Kinzie" - Helplessness Blues
16. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Oh Lord" - Take It from the Man!
17. Modest Mouse - "You're the Good Things (It's All Right to Die)" - Night on the Sun
18. Neon Indian - "Should Have Taken Acid With You" - Psychic Chasms
19. Women - "Woodbine" - Women
20. James Blake - "Lindesfarne II" - James Blake