Friday, August 15, 2014

Bonding. James Bonding.

Name another film franchise with more longevity, influence and legend as the James Bond series. Go ahead. I'll give you seven seconds...

With 23 films spanning over 50 years (not counting teleplays, spoofs, and one non-cannon entry), creator Ian Flemming's suave, adventurous and quip-equipped British secret agent has thrilled audiences for decades. Played by six different actors over Bond's storied lifetime, 007 set the standard for everything action movies are today. No other movie franchise has had as long-lasting an impact as James Bond.

I was first introduced to Bond in 1994 while watching For Your Eyes Only on VHS at a friend's house. Needless to say, I was instantly and insanely hooked. And like many James Bond fans of my generation, Roger Moore (the third actor to take the up the M:I6 agent's mantle), became my Bond. Decades later, I would introduce my son to Bond via Pierce Brosnan's four film run. Bond has become such an ingrained institution in our family, I have no doubt any future grandchildren I may have will become indoctrinated into the adventures of Universal Exports most successful field agent as well.

James Bond's fans are legion. Take Matt Mira and Matt Gourley, for example. Their shared enthusiasm of all things Bond led these two superfans to create and host the highly entertaining and in-depth film review podcast, James Bonding (via the Nerdist.com website). Highly informative, brutally honest and absolutely hilarious, "The Matts" delve into these Bond films with the fervent reverence and devotional love only those who enjoy blue terrycloth onesies can appreciate. Joined by a slew of comedic guest hosts (Doug Benson, Steve Agee, Paul F. Tompkins, Alie and Georgia, Paul Sheer - to name but a few.), James Bonding is the pow-wow podcast for Bond fans to listen to while you wash your dishes. 

You'll be shaken. You'll be stirred. You'll be doubled over laughing at more than one point. Just make sure to pull your Aston-Martin DB5 over to the side of the road before you start listening.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Does It Feel To Feel About A Shoegaze Documentary? (Quite Good, As A Matter Of Fact!)

Of all the genres of music that have ever meant anything to me (and there are quite a bit - rock, punk, be bop, hip-hop, etc, etc.), shoegaze has always been my favorite. The moment I first discovered the glacial chimes of Lush or the beautiful feedback-drenched reverberations of My Bloody Valentine, I knew I had found the sound I was looking for. 

Shoegaze, to me, will always be a timeless music genre. Born in England and tagged with a disparaging moniker by a member of the constantly fickle British music press, shoegaze quickly fell out of favor when the twin maelstroms of Grunge and Britpop came blowing through town. While detrimental at the time, the bandwagon-hopping inclinations of the music market would, in time, prove to be quite advantageous to a scene that appreciated effects pedals over sacchrine pop hits. In going underground, shoegaze, as a music genre, eventually gained a certain air of mystique and mystery to it.

While Oasis and Blur battled it out in Brittan, and Nirvana and Pearl Jam were influencing the future generation of "constipation rock" (Creed, Matchbox Twenty, Nickelback, etc.), many underground American musicians were basking the shoegaze afterglow, writing and performing their own dreampop songs. From the mid-1990's up to now, it's this level of dedication to the tone-bending craft - by those who appreciate it the most - has allowed shoegaze to age with both dignity and grace.

Twenty years on from the time bands like Ride, The Pale Saints or The Boo Radleys were staring down at their seemingly vast arrays of effects pedals, hammering out shimmering atmospheric ditties, shoegaze has followed its vapor trail back into reverence and appreciation from an shortsighted and imposed musical purgatory. Bands such My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver and Slowdive have recently reformed and are currently playing shows all over the world. A few have even released new albums.

It's a good time to be a fan of this music genre. 

Which brings me to this: Los Angeles-based film director Eric Green's documentary about "the scene that celebrates itself," titled Beautiful Noise. Generated via Kickstarter, and produced by Green's wife Sarah Ogletree, Beautiful Noise traces the roots and influences of the shoegaze movement, featuring interviews with My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie, and Mark Gardner of Ride, as well as interviews with rock luminaries such as Wayne Coyne, Billy Corgan, Trent Reznor, Robert Smith, and more. 

Beautiful Noise looks like the documentary shoegazers the world over have been waiting for. I certainly know I have.


Originally reported by Pitchfork.com.

Additionally, I have several homemade shoegaze compilations available for your listening pleasure here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cruz'n For A Brew'zn: An Interview With Penelope Cruz?

Where to begin?

I hadn't heard from (name withheld by request - I will refer to this editor by their initials, which are "J.J.J.") at (name of publication withheld by request) in over six months. When I saw [their] name pop-up on my cell phone, my stomach sank. My last article detailing graft within the the paper's parent company had not gone down very well with the big wigs upstairs, and I had attributed this to the fact that I had not received any writing assignments since.

I feared legal repercussions. Instead, I received what I would later come to comprehend as one of the worst, most perplexing writing assignments I had ever been tasked with in over 15 years as a freelance journalist.

"Anthony, my boy," J.J.J. said in what can best be described as a jubilant tone (which, for this ever-frustrated and easily irritated editor is a rarity indeed). "Do I have an exclusive for you!"

As my bowels slowly began to ease, my apprehension took hold. "Oh, yeah...? I haven't heard from you in a while [J.J.J.]. Now all of a sudden here you are with an assignment?"

"Water under the bridge," J.J.J. said, [their] ever-present cigar audibly mashing between [their] teeth. "Look, do you want the work or not? I haven't seen your name on a byline in a while."

J.J.J. was right. It had been a while. The last piece I wrote was snarky bit about 50 Shades of Grey (sigh) for a local alt. weekly with a readership tighter than a Brooklyn transplant's jeans. I needed the work, if for anything to fill-in the gaps on my resume. 

(Also, if I may be completely honest with both you and myself, I needed the cash. And if I'm taking assignments from J.J.J., then you know I'm desperate.)

"Okay [J.J.J.]," I said, smugly. "Whaddya you have for me?"

"How would you like to interview Penelope Cruz?" J.J.J. said with [their] usual gruffness.

"Penelope Cruz, the actress?" I asked in disbelief.

"No," J.J.J. snapped back. "Penelope Cruz, the garbage collector! Of course it's the actress Penelope Cruz!!!"

"Hell, yeah!" I returned, barely hiding my giddiness. "I'd love to interview Penelope Cruz!"

"Great! Can you get to the [name of airport withheld by request] by 3pm?" Typical J.J.J. It was already 2:30pm.

Thankfully I was already dressed in a sports coat and pressed pants from a job interview earlier in the day (though, I decided to go sans tie, since I had already removed it, and didn't have time to put it back on). I grabbed my shoulder bag and shoved my notebook and pens into it. Unable to locate my digital recorder, I settled on simply using my cell phone's recording function as my recording device, instead. "I'm leaving now."

"Fantastic!" J.J.J. wheezed.

"Hey [J.J.J.]," I paused, cell phone crooked between my shoulder and ear. "What's she promoting?"

"That's what you're going to find out, hotshot!" [they] said before abruptly hanging up the phone. "Hanger 18. Go get her!"

I jumped in my Tercel and lead-footed it down to the airfield. Arriving at Hanger 18, I found Ms. Cruz's public relations liaison, Angela Throkhamer waiting for my in front of a private jet, engines whirling and ready to go.  She was flanked by two very large, very menacing bodyguards in matching black suits.

"Mr. King?" Angela greeted me with a manufactured smile, my reflection staring back at me sheepishly in her impenetrably thick and expensive-looking sunglasses. Her pail face was framed by a blonde bob haircut grown longish. 

"Yes," I said.

She wore a black-as-night short sleeve top and matching ankle-length skirt. Her shoes, also black, were of an unknown manufacturer to me, but I could tell that they easily cost more than the monthly rent on my studio apartment. In shaking my hand, I immediately noticed that hers was ice cold.

"Glad you could make it," Angela said, ushering me into the pristine private jet which reeked of new plane smell. "My employer has much to discuss with you. We're hoping for a favorable interview."

"As am I," I concurred. "What does Ms. Cruz want to discuss?"

"You'll find out when we get there," Angela said, cryptically.

"Okay, so, where are we off to, then?" I asked, as we both took our seats.

"I'm afraid my employer's current whereabouts are strictly confidential," Angela informed me, removing her sunglasses. "I can't tell you precisely where we are flying to. It's for her protection, you see."

"Protection from what?" I asked.

"I'm afraid I can't divulge that information." Then, Angela leaned forward and said in a hushed tone, "Let's just say that my employer has had some ...extremely enamored admirers."

I imagine she would. A star of Ms. Cruz's caliber and beauty must have amassed legions of whackadoo fans over the years. But this level of secrecy and security bordered on the absurd. 

As I buckled my seat belt, one of the bodyguards yanked my shoulder bag out of my lap. He took the seat across from me and began rifling through the bag's meager contents. 

"Just a precaution," Angela assured me. "I'm sure you understand."

I did, and I didn't.

As soon as he was done perusing my bag, the bodyguard thrust it back into my chest. "It's clean," he said in a flat, blunt tone.

What had J.J.J. gotten me into? Was this some sort of revenge scenario [they] had been cooking up for the last six months?

The flight took less than two hours by my estimation (I couldn't tell for certain, as my watch - as well as my cell phone and shoelaces - had been confiscated by one of the bodyguards before we took off). Nobody spoke while we were in the air, despite my numerous and awkward attempts to ask Angela questions (she simply ignored me while conducting business furiously on her iPad), or trying make light chitchat with the stone-faced bodyguards. So I busied myself with the best "who," "what," "why," "where," "when," and "how" questions I could concoct as if I had the foggiest notion as to what any of this was all about.

We landed at an airfield that looked nearly identical to the one we departed from. As we got up to exit the plane, the pilot emerged from the cockpit with a warm smile (a welcome sight, given the company). 

"Welcome to... " began the svelte, middle-aged aviator.

No sooner had he started his sentence than he was quickly cut-off by Angela, her pursed ruby red lips elongated back as if the ends were trying to touch each of her ears. Wide-eyed, she made a series of slashing motions with the flat of her hand which barely grazed her neck. "Shht! Shht!"

As we made our way down the stairs, we were greeted by three more black-suited bodyguards surrounding a black Cadillac Escalade with black-tinted windows. Angela's assistant, Melody, emerged from the back seat. 

Melody was about 22 or 23, slight, with cat-eyed glasses. Her hair was tied back into a perfect, no-strand-of-hair-out-of-place bun. As became apparent by her body language (and the way she curled herself around her tablet computer), Melody was easily afraid of her boss.

"How was your flight?" Melody meekly asked Angela.

"None of your business," Angela sniped back. "Mr. King, this is my assistant, Melody. Melody? Mr. King."

Before we had a chance to greet one another, Angela was onto business. They walked and talked rapidly from the plane to the car.

"Did you get the revised schedule I sent you?" 

"Yes. The changes have been made."

"Good. Emails?"

"Yes. I personally responded to all of them this morning?"

"Okay. Scripts?"

"Outlined and noted, with tabs on all of her pages of dialogue..."

"No, Melody. Prescriptions!"

"Oh. Yes. They are on the counter of the master bath, right next to the sink."

"Good. Good."

One of the bodyguards opened the passenger-side door of the Escalade, which is where I assumed I was to sit. As I began to enter, the guard flat-palmed me with one hand to the chest, pinning against the side of the car. With eye's wild, he began reaching around to his back for ...something. A weapon, perhaps?

Incredulous, Angela waved him off. "I sit up front, Mr. King," Angela informed me. "You'll sit in back with Doug and Caesar. And I must insist you wear this during the car ride."

No sooner had she extended her left hand then Melody placed a black satin hood into it. 

I laughed this off. "Are you serious?"

She peered into my eyes and said, "Deadly serious."

I took the hood and got into the back seat of the immaculately clean SUV. Two bodyguards sat on either side of me. The driver sat eerily still, looking forward out the window.

As Angela took her seat up front, she closed the door and rolled the window down. "Good work," she said to Melody in a tone that denoted she could barely believe the girl could handle such responsibilities. Turning her attention to her iPad, Angela then remembered one more piece of business that required immediate attention.

"Oh, and Melody?"

"Yes?"

"The pilot? Fire him!"

Before the SUV sped off - and the black satin hood was taken out of my hands and placed over my head by one of the bodyguards - I could see Melody turn to the plane were the pilot was, and then back to her employer with sad, yet determined eyes.

The car ride took forever. Under the black satin hood, not only could I not see out, but I couldn't breathe very well, either. And despite the A/C being turned up seemingly full blast, I was sweating like a pig. Or at least my head was. The rest of my body was - despite being sandwiched between two very large men made of completely of muscle and testosterone -  quite cold.

Realizing I may very well be in this situation for God knows how long, I laid my head against the headrest and promptly fell asleep. 

I'm not entirely sure how long I was asleep, or even how long we had been driving, but I awoke from my slumber to hear the familiar metallic clink-clunk of the SUV rolling over one of those tire-shredding bumps most common in metropolitan parking garages. Just as I was shaking my sleep-induced grogginess while trying to get my bearings, One of the bodyguards ripped the black satin hood off my head, taking several strands of the hair on top of my head with it.

"You snore when you sleep," Angela informed me. "Loudly."

I was led out of the SUV only to discover that we were indeed inside a slate grey underground parking garage. Angela was already at the elevator waiting for it to arrive as I stumbled over to her, still groggy.

"You might consider adjusting your hair," she said. I did the best I could with my fingers.

There was no reason the elevator ride should have been any different from the plane ride and the car ride, as the four of us (Angela, the two bodyguards and myself) rode up to the 36th floor. Given the faux-art nouveau decorative nature of the elevator, I surmised that I must be in some sort of contemporary office or apartment building. The number pad and floor indicator were both gleaming new with their blue-on-black digital displays cased in brushed steel. Oddly enough, however, the elevator didn't feel as if it were actually moving up, but rather gently swaying side-to-side.

As we reached the 36th floor, the doors opened to a large living room where several very photogenic mid-to-late twenty something men and women were standing around, engaging in conversation. A jazzy, David Lynch-ian tune hovered over the din. 

The oddest thing about this scene, however, was that the place was lit like a sitcom or television commercial. It sounds crazy, but this place felt didn't feel like an real life apartment, but more like a sound stage.

Angela lead me to the middle of the room and positioned me in front of a set of closed double doors, where yet another black clad security guard was standing sentry. Angela walked past the guard and into the room. As I waited, I could feel the guard sizing me up and imagining various scenarios in which he'd enjoy dispatching me. 

Angela soon emerged from the room, swinging opening both doors in a wildly dramatic fashion. "You have three questions," Angela informed me, curtly.  

At this point I should have been stupefied. I was dragged however many miles on a private jet to ask world-renowned actress Penelope Cruz only three questions? Well, I would have been had it not been for the alarming realization that I must have left my shoulder bag in the SUV. Still, I was  confident I could wing this interview. i just needed to make my three questions count.

Against a huge picture window stood the actress, looking out onto the skyline of whatever city we were supposed to be in (in fact, the skyline didn't look quite real, but rather like an almost convincingly painted backdrop). Ms. Cruz was dressed in a smart, form-fitting cream-colored dress accented with a thin black belt. She was, quite frankly, radiant.

As soon as I walked in, she turned around and asked, "Coffee or espresso?"

"Oh, coffee, please" I said graciously, taking a seat on a brown couch in the middle of the room. I could feel Angela pacing behind me, crossing her arms in an needlessly aggressive fashion.

Ms. Cruz meanwhile was placing a plastic pod filled with some coffee-like concoction or another into a very fancy and futuristic-looking coffee maker. It only took a matter of seconds, but out came two cups of frothy brown coffee, which the actress delivered to my personally. Of the two cups of coffee, she handed me the slightly larger one. 

For a woman who seemingly surrounds herself with an aggressively rude staff, Ms. Cruz was the absolute picture of charm and grace.

As Ms. Cruz took a seat in a chair opposite the couch, Angela chimed in bluntly with, "Remember, I said three questions!" Perhaps it's Angela who should be concerned with her memory, as she just gave me these instructions 13 seconds ago.

The coffee was good. Perhaps a bit too sweat for my tastes, but good, nonetheless. I figured I'd use this as an in to ask lightheartedly, "Is this coffee?" I even went so far as to give my inquiry a nebbishy lilt. I like to put my interviewees at ease with seemingly innocuous questions first.

Ms. Cruz smiled and said, "it's Nespresso Vertuoline."

"How do they make the froth?" I asked, looking at my cup as it it were a laboratory experiment in a jar I was absolutely astounded by.

"It's coffee crema," she said confidently, as if that was a thing; a well known thing.

Before I even had a chance to inquire about this so-called "coffee crema" ingredient, Angela butted-in again: "Last question!"

This time my indignation at Angela's rudeness could not be contained, as I found found myself almost involuntarily turning around to give her a "the fuck's your problem?!?" scowl.

I needed to buy more time with Ms. Cruz, if for no other reason than to figure out just why the hell I was here on assignment in the first place. I didn't fly all this way and and endure her raft of well-dressed miscreant flunkies in order to not get the story I was sent here to write (whatever it may have been). So I played the only card I had left:

"May I have another cup, please?"

"Thank you," Angela said in a brash, snotty tone. "Next!"

Next?!? Huh??? Just how many reporters did they fly in to get this mysterious story, anyway?

As I left, Ms. Cruz held here coffee cup up to her chin, smiling while holding a spoon through the brownish froth. She sat motionless in that position as I was escorted out of the room by a bodyguard.

Next thing you you know, I'm whisked back into the SUV, then the private jet going back home. And that was that.

Needless to say, when relaying this story to J.J.J., a series of creatively crafted expletives were hurled my way. I think it's safe to say that this may be the last piece of journalism you see from me here in the pages of (name of publication withheld by request). Well, at least I got some sort of story out of this ordeal. I guess...


Below is a dramatic reinactment of my interview with Penelope Cruz, starring noted Cruz look alike Francesca Fiore



Friday, May 23, 2014

Fiver XI - Casablanca 2: Rick's Dessert Diner

Crows are assholes.

A murder just moved into one of the trees in our front yard, and they have proven themselves to be, thus far, some of the worst neighbors we've ever had. Our poor cat, Nina, has suffered the worst of these jet black jerks' wrathful choruses of caws and fly-by strafing as she attempts to lounge in the yard she's claimed as her outdoor refuge for three years now. 

In the last week alone, it has become a familiar routine of Nina beg-demanding to go outside, the crows squawking at her furiously and our girl sprinting in a few minutes later, meowing for dear life. Had these obnoxious rasping avian assholes known Nina suffered a barbaric de-clawing under previous management and could care less about their daily goings-on, I'm sure they would be singing a slightly less harsh tune. But as it stands, they see her as a threat to their young pups - one of which already died due to falling out of the nest and splattering to the road below (and subsequently being run into the asphalt by passing cars multiple times). 

Yes. Besides being loud-mouthed twats, these crows are absolute shit parents.

So as we count the days until their remaining gangly young learn to fly the coup (not a promising prospect given the death of one, and the reluctance of the other two to do more than skip around on branches as the elders yell indignantly at them - "Caw-rist! Why aren't you airborne yet?!?"), we are stuck with these obnoxious neighbors yelling at each other, day and night.

Oy vey!


Paquet Courts
From the album Sunbathing Animal
2014, What's Your Rupture?/Mom and Pop

Parquet Courts' follow-up to 2012-13's Light Up Gold promises more of the same flesh-rubbed-punk-raw-k we've come to know and love from this Brooklyn band. Andrew Savage's pleading yell-vocals float over the chugging single "Black and White" like glass shard-infused marinara sauce poured atop barbwire noodles. And once again, we're graced with more homemade album artwork, which I personally cannot get enough of (I LOVE this guy's stuff, and really hope he gets a solo exhibit sometime in the near future). So, yeah: more, please!


Guided By Voices
"Bad Love Is Easy To Do" (Soundcloud)
From the album Cool Planet
2014, GBV Inc.

Being the product of a father I've never met (yes, I am both a figurative and literal bastard), I have a running list of menfolk I'd like to adopt me and teach me how to be a man. A real man. Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard is on that list. He could teach me to drink, do high kicks, twirl and catch a microphone, write multiple catchy songs at furious pace, collage art pointers, throw a no-hitter, etc. You know: all the things he does with his own kids. This is what, the 111th album by GBV? Adoptive Bob Dad could teach me his secret to longevity, too. Ah, dare to dream kid. Bad love may be easy to do, but it's certainly better than no love at all.


Temples
"Colours to Life" (Soundcloud)
From the album Sun Structures
2014, Fat Possum

Remember Noel Gallagher? He of Oasis fame, Britpop, Cool Britannia, and all that back in the mid-90's. He's pretty keen on this band, Temples, reportedly calling them more important than his own band. Wow! How is that for high praise? And the humblest of human beings might be on to something here, given the languid and palatial pace of this gem by his fellow countrymen called "Colours of Life" (what with it's English-y extra "u" and all). Despite Gallagher's gleaming recommendation, I'm inclined to give Sun Structures a gold star, as well. Breezy vocals, chiming guitars, glacial rhythm section - it's all in there, placed just right. Now all we need is for Damon Albarn to tout a contemporary band as being more important than Blur, and the battle of the Brit Band Stars is back on again, mate!


The Coathangers
"Follow Me" (YouTube)
From the album Suck My Shirt
2014, Suicide Squeeze

Atlanta's Coathangers are the type of women I used to go all bee's knees for. Tough-as-nails attitude lasses that smoke, drink, give off "the vibe," and, themselves, most likely crush hard on Iggy Pop. All vintage T-shirts and sleeve tattoo's, these rawk-n-rollers are all about TCB. This song, "Follow Me," is one long raspy, sneering heart attack-inducer; more a brick-through-the-window-of-the-past than a throwback. This song oozes a sweet menace all it's own, daring you to indeed follow these knife-wielding women and see what happens, punk. And the rest of this album does not disappoint. The Coathangers will most certainly love and leave your boy toy ass behind, but believe me, you'll thank them for it.


Ought
"Habit" (Soundcloud)
From the album More Than Any Other Day
2014, Constellation

If Talking Heads and Fugazi had a kid, it would be Ought. Now, I know what you're thinking: "This dumbass doesn't know what I'm thinking!" And: "That's really lazy music reviewing, distilling the sum of a bands parts by comparing them to two other noteworthy bands." On that second part, you're absolutely right. But, c'mon! Listen to this song. Tell me you don't picture David Byrne croon-talking his way through one of Dischord Records' mainstay's more quieter moments. I mean this as a compliment, seeing as how this song has been wedged in my head when not on repeat play via my iPod. Yes, this song is (*ahem!*) habit forming (sorry).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yeah, But Is It Art? - Pt. 2

Welcome to the second part of my exhaustive explanation of myself and the art I make. Or at least I hope what I'm doing here is considered "art." If not, my apologies.

As you may recall from Part 1 of my previous (and admittedly lengthy blog entry), I make both mix CDs and the collage art covers to go along with them. I spend time constructing these covers using materials such as clip art, Sharpie pens, peeled-off stickers, Whiteout, correction tape, and any odds-n-ends that look the least bit interesting to me. As an expression of one's creativity goes, making these mix CD covers is, highly enjoyable (and at the very least, a meditative experience).

Most of my mixes can be found on my 8tracks.com page, and I've attached links here to some of those mixes you'll find there. Feel free to give them a listen. It doesn't cost you a thing, and you just might discover a band or two you'll want to hear more songs from.

So, without further ado, here is the second part of evaluating if what I do constitutes art:

Rollin' Smoke
2011
Clip art, paper bag, correction tape, ink, typewriter, printer cartridge pull-tab, and glue.

This compilation is an example of a mix I really liked, but wasn't all that keen on the finished cover. I made this mix for my friend, author/graphic artist/illustrator/tattoo artist Levi Greenacres. This mix features music from Talking Heads, T. Rex, David Bowie, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, MC5, Tom Waits, Black Sabbath, Roky Erickson, ELO, They Might Be Giants, The Dead Milkmen, and on and on it goes (so, yeah: an absolutely badass mix, pretty much). The base of this mix is comprised of a recycled paper bag (meta!), and features an image of a woman holding a tea cup I had been wanting to use for the longest time, with correction tape lines and star bursts encircling her. I typed the title directly onto the finished piece, which is why the type is all wonky and uneven. The printer cartridge pull-tab was added simply because I was swapping out an old one for a new one in my printer and thought the tab just looked too cool to throw away. Like I said, this cover isn't absolutely stellar to me, but it was made with care for a friend and artist I hold in high esteem, so there's that.

2012
Photocopy paper wrapper and paint pen.

Every once in a while, as a mixtape maker, you'll construct something that (in your oh so humble opinion) is simply perfect. This is one such mix. 'S Wonderful is just eclectic enough, but not too much as to be inaccessible to passive ears. It features Serge Gainsbourg, Tindersticks, MF Doom, Lilys, Aaron Neville, The Yardbirds, and more, with each song flowing effortlessly from one pop gem to the next (if I do say so myself). Ironically enough, the song "S'wonderful" does not appear on this mix. The cover was made using a discarded photocopy paper wrapper I found in a trash can one day while at work. I'm not sure of the name of the company that manufactures this paper, but I loved these haphazard off-orange and over-crimson blocks enough to sift them out from under a spent coffee filter. The lettering was applied using a white paint pen. As I soon discovered while writing out the title, this paper sopped-up the paint like a sponge, so I had to go over it three or four times. Still, I like how the letters have a vintage, spotty look to them. Good times. Good... Times.

Up The Cuts
2011
Spent sticker sheet, clip art, stickers, and glue.

"Porch rock." That's the only way I can describe this mix CD. It just has a woodsy feel to it, featuring songs by Sonny Sixkiller, Diane Linkletter Experience, Seapony, Teenage Fanclub, etc. The cover came about due to several things my wife was simply tossing in the garbage (the spent hearts sticker sheet and the glittery puffy letters). "You actually want those?!?" she said to me, surprised, as I fished both out of the waste basket under our computer desk. Hell yeah, woman! I had this clip art of old painted wood panels I found in a magazine a couple of years ago, and knew they'd be perfect for the cover of this compilation. But they needed something more, and that's where the heart-holed sticker sheet and glitter letters came into play. Viola! The title is in reference to a bit of mid-Aughts slang this girl I used to know was really trying to make work. "The Cuts" was allegedly a reference to someplace "out in the sticks," but it never really sat right as slang, sounding all forced, weird and too kool for its own good. As a compilation title, however, it sounds kind of sexually suggestive - which wasn't the intention, but what can you do?

Rockaway
2012
Clip art, typewriter and glue.

I've never been to Rockaway, New York. But I like the name, regardless, so I decided to use it as the title for a compilation featuring a bit of 90's alt-rock nostalgia (Overwhelming Colorfast, The Posies, R.E.M., Grant Lee Buffalo, Uncle Tupelo, Gumball, etc.) I had some of those painted wood panels left over from the Up The Cuts compilation, along with a vintage map of ol' New York. I added the girl because she's cute and this piece needed just one more element to it. This mix was made before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. My sister and her family live in New Jersey, and it was a pretty nerve racking and anxiety-inducing experience being 3000 miles away from loved ones in potential peril. Thankfully, the hurricane barely missed them. Miracles, am I right?

Whatever Forever
2012
Clip art, stickers, ink, and glue.

I made this for a friend of mine who had never heard of Guided By Voices, Pavement, Yo La Tengo, and a host of other indie-rock luminaries. Unacceptable! I indignantly made this 16-song compilation for her, featuring rarities and B-sides as a sort of primer ("If you like these songs, you'll pretty much like anything these bands have released.") This cover came about out of the sheer need to create something with a bit of humor and whimsy to it. Once I found that wincing water rafting kid, I knew I had to marry him to the licking giraffe I found a couple of days earlier. The backdrop is, of course, a vintage photograph of New York City, and the stickers came from a day planner calendar for events I could never see myself actually taking part in (fishing, prayer, meetings, etc.) The "W4F" stickers should have read "W4E," but I ran out of an "e" sticker and decided, "Oh, fuck it." So yes, the "f" stands for "fuck." Go figure.

2012
Clip art, Pop-Tarts wrapper, postage stamp, Scotch tape, ink, paint pen, and glue.

The title of this mix is a play on the Boards of Canada album, The Campfire Headphase. It was made specifically for my friend Donna, as I knew it contained music by bands she'd like (Cat Power, Outrageous Cherry, Pinback, The Jamboree, etc.) Old vintage magazine clip art is a rarely obtained commodity for me for some reason, so when I get my hands on some, it's cause for celebration. Such is the case with this old airport scene for some now-defunct airline or another. The top section is from a picture of a modern airport runway in China. My favorite part of this cover is how the kid in the bike helmet's arm and shoulder line-up perfectly with the shoulders of the women below him. Over in the corner is the color proof dots from a package of Pop-Tarts, whose colors don't actually appear in any on the images it shares space with (take that, Pantone Color Guide!) The golden bird in the middle came from a stamp, and I like how it looks like he's swooping in under the radar of everyone around him.

2013
Clip art, ink, photocopy and glue.

Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold was one of my favorite records from last year due in no small part to the collection of manic and abrasive lo-fi punk rock gems contained within. As good as the album is, though, it was lead singer Andrew Savage's cover art that initially attracted me to this album. In an interview for the currently on-hiatus Pitchfork.com offshoot, Nothing Major, Savage reveals that he works on his album covers not on a drafting table proper, but rather a plain old cramped desk in the corner of his apartment. What I like most about Savage's style is that he has incorporated his handwriting (often times scribbled-out or written as misleading song titles) as an integral part of of his artwork. This comp is an homage/blatant rip-off of Savage's Light Up Gold cover art, complete with off-center clipart, all-caps phrases, circle loops, etc. You know what they say: "Imitation is the sincerest form of lovingly stealing someone else's much better ideas." (With apologies to Andrew Savage.)

Laser Flavored Memory Muzak
2013
Clip art, stickers and glue.

I have obsessive compulsive disorder (O.C.D.), and my predilection to organize everything in my life even extends to my iTunes library. One day as I was hunting down a song, I realized I had all of these random songs by bands such as Isidore, Ombre, The Sheepdogs, Cat Party, TEEN, etc. with no proper file folder home to call their own. So I simply threw them onto this mix. Ta-da! The top portion clip art comes from one of the surf wear catalogs I described in my previous post and the lower portion from an issue of Newsweek. I admit that I got kind of lazy with this one, just stacking two pictures one on top of the other, but I really like how they look together (sometimes it's best not to labor too long on a piece). Instead of writing out the title, I just used those sparkly stickers to abbreviate it instead. Yeah, yeah... Like I said: lazy.

Ad Infinitum
2014
Windowed CD sleeve, clip art, electrical tape, stickers, vinyl lettering, ink, and glue.

This mix came about for much of the same reason the previous mix listed above did: several songs that, as per my O.C.D., absolutely needed a home. This one, however, is made up of almost half slow, languid instrumental songs. in essence, it plays like a sort of movie soundtrack. The cover came about in a kind of roundabout way, as I used to be part of a mix CD exchange-type club. I received a mix in this yellow windowed CD sleeves with the picture of the Lagos market place and green electrical tape on it. While I wasn't wild about the mix, I did like the elements of the cover. So I rearranged the photo and tape, added some stickers and handwriting to it. I colored in the background to make the rough edges of the yellow more noticeable. The phrase "From Our Living Room To Yours" is the title of one of my favorite records of all time: second album by The American Analog Set. I like the utterly anarchistic and janky look of this one. It's admittedly ugly, but in an endearing way.

Good Times Forever After
2014
Clip art, construction paper, vinyl lettering, photocopy, ink, and glue.

A year or so ago, a friend of mine in New York put out a call for new music recommendations via Facebook. I told her I could do her one better and send her a mix CD of new music. "A mix CD?" she responded "How old school. I haven't received one of those in years!" Quite. Really, the idea of making a compilation of music and formatting it onto a nearly outdated delivery platform like a CD-R is pretty quaint. I mean, I do have an 8tracks.com account; I could have just as easily sent her a mix of new music from there instantly. Ever since this exchange, I've admittedly began doubting the viability of making any future mix CDs. Perhaps that era is over. I dunno. In any case, I set about to make what I consider one final definitive mix CD comprised solely of the 20 indie bands I enjoy the most (Lilys, Guided By Voices, Elliott Smith, Yo La Tengo, Built To Spill, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pixies, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, etc.) If this is to be my last mix CD ever, it will at least be a banger. The cover is yet another cluster-splash of images and miscellany, sourced mostly from Life magazine, a bicycling safety manual, and National Geographic. I added the vinyl lettering, stickers and handwriting with zero regard for spacial reasoning (why start now?) The title comes from a line in my favorite Pavement song, "Father to a Sister of Thought," which is, of course, included on this mix.


So, I ask you again, dear reader: Is this art?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Yeah, But Is It Art? - Pt. 1

Today is my birthday. Coincidentally, this is also my 100th blog entry. There has to be some sort of greater, much deeper significance there, but search me if I can figure it out. Instead, let's talk mix CD art, and if what I do in that arena actually constitutes "art."

I enjoy drawing and painting, but I haven't done either in quite a while (which is why I recently enrolled in a pen and ink drawing class down at the ol' community college). In fact, the last oil painting I completed was of an ex-girlfriend back in 2006, which may explain why I haven't picked up a paint brush in a while.

Collage art for my homemade mix tapes/CDs, on the other hand, is something I still enjoy producing. Ever since getting my first portable dual tape deck back in the Christmas of 1987, making my own homemade covers for my mixes has been a mainstay of my creative endeavors.

When CD burning technology hit in the mid-90's, my mix-making kicked into high gear, and so did the covers that went with them. I became a regular at my local Kinko's first, then OfficeMax of artwork (better quality control, in my humble opinion), mass producing covers on glossy card stock and giving these mix CDs out for free to anyone who wanted one.

I never thought of the cut-n-paste mixed media collage covers I was making as "art" necessarily. I knew they were amateurish and primitive, but hell if they weren't fun to make. Pasting images from magazines, junk mail circulars or even spent Pop-Tarts wrappers, however, didn't really strike me as art art. A creative outlet, sure, but would anyone ever go to an art gallery and take in the splendor of my homemade CD sleeves?

The following are some of the mix CD covers I've made from the last 10 years:

Hideous Control Now
c. 2004
Clip art, paper strips, ink, photocopy, and glue.

I've created a variety of mix CD's prior to this one, but no other compilation of mine has left me felling so, so self-satisfied as this one. Named after a line from one of my all-time favorite television shows, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (episode 303: "Pod People"), this mix was my first foray into "throw caution at the wind" territory (yes, I've lived a fairly staid life thus far). At the time, I just wanted to create something that sounded fun and not overly fussy or labored over. I had a collection of songs by bands that upon first blush didn't look like they would compliment each other very well (Belle and Sebastian, AWOL One and Daddy Kev, Nina Simone, etc.) and simply set about to jam them together into one Lego-meets-Erector Set-meets-Lincoln Log creation. After sequencing these songs together, I set about to create a cover for it. For some reason, I wanted it to look like those old 50's orchestral jazz covers from the late-50's/early-60's. The thin color strips were cut-out from a magazine, while the "stereo" banner was photocopied from a Frank Sinatra LP. The "widescreen" at the bottom was sliced right off the bottom of a DVD cover for the film Lost in Translation. Oh, and then there's the Whiteout. Plenty of Whiteout up there.

Pavement Sorted Sentinels
c. 2004
Clip art, paint pen, ink, Whiteout, and glue.

Pavement are one of my all-time favorite bands, and I've always loved the homemade cover artwork lead singer Stephen Malkmus would create for each of the band's releases. Obviously influenced by the covers Mark E. Smith would make for his band The Fall's early albums, Malkmus' collage art utilized everything from vintage cut-n-paste images from magazines, Whiteout, knife scratches, and his own scribbled handwriting. Having a bulk of Pavement CD singles in my collection, I decided to consolidate 18 of my favorite B-sides onto one disc, taking the name from a phrase scrawled inside the sleeve of the band's third (and my personal favorite) album, Wowee Zowee. The image for this mix came from a magazine, and I had to slice it in half to make it fit together better (the transmitter was originally below the children). The band's name is spelled-out with Whiteout (naturally), and the mangled French sentence in the thought bubble is copied from a note a girl gave me in high school once (I still have no idea what it says, but a French-speaking friend of mine assures me it barely makes sense).

The Human Drift
c. 2004
Clip art, ink, paint pens, stickers, Scotch Tape, and glue.

I suppose if I were hard pressed to name a favorite genre of music, indie rock would be it. Most of the albums in my collection are from this aforementioned sub-genre of rock-n-roll. This collection features 20 B-sides and rarities from bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, Pavement, The Clientele, and so on and so fourth. The title The Human Drift comes from a story I once heard on NPR about the late 19th Century author King Camp Gillette's book of the same name which outlined a proposed socially engineered utopian city. I simply thought the name sounded cool and decided to used it for this compilation of music. The image (which looks a lot like The X-Files star David Duchovny) came from an issue of Entertainment Weekly. I decided he needed some mussing-up, so I added some blood, scratches and a black eye. I had some stickers I'd been saving for just this cover-making situation, and added them on. I paint penned on the name, scribbled some verbiage, and voila!

c. 2005
Clip art, ink and glue.

Everyday has the distinction of being one of my favorite self-made mix CD's. It contains 14 songs that simply just do it for me. It's also very much a compilation CD of its time (the mid-Aughts) and relevant to me personally because it was compiled in the midst of a fairly emotionally draining breakup from a girl I just about thought was the koolest women I have ever met in my life (well, at the time, anyway - I am now married to the definitively most awesome woman I've ever known, so good things do indeed come from emotional adversity). Ancient heartbreak aside, this mix, I feel, has some of the best flow of music (featuring bands such as Low, Department of Eagles, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, etc.), from song-to-indie-rockin'-song. At less than one hour, It doesn't overstay it's welcome and finishes on a high note with Fruitbats' "When U Love Somebody" (oh, the irony). The images come from an issue of National Geographic, and I like the idea of juxtaposing zebra mating rituals with a near endless field of nuclear rod containment canisters from the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in Russia. That's not blood on the zebra's neck, by the way. They're exclamation points with hearts for periods.

Guided By Voices Potion-Controlled Nanobyte Sized
c. 2006
Clip art, ink, sticker, paint pen, and glue.

Far and away, Guided by Voices are one of my favorite bands ever. So much so, in fact, I have their rune tattooed on my right wrist (dedication - gotta love it). This compilation of 17 GBV songs is culled mostly from B-sides and rarities downloaded directly from the band's website. Robert Pollard, the band's lead singer, is also a very prodigious and accomplished collage artist in his own right, having constructed most (if not all) of not only Guided By Voices cover artwork, but artwork for his myriad other musical offshoots as well (Boston Spaceships, Circus Devils, and his own solo material - to name but a very, very few). For this compilation, I wanted to create something Pollard-esque. Thank gawd for junk mail, as this cover was created using a Jehovah's Witnesses pamphlet and a Victoria's Secret catalog. I have no idea where I came up with the name for this mix, but there it is.

Casual Young Animals
c. 2007
Clipart, stickers, ink, and glue.

I really like the look of this one. Hell if I can remember any of the bands that are featured on this mix, though. I know it's in a box I keep in my hallway closet, but after typing-out five of these mix CD descriptions already, I'm simply too lazy to get up from my desk and dig this mix CD out. Suffice it to say, this cover is really all that matters about that mix. The cassette tapes imagery was pulled from a Chocolate Skateboards advertisement featuring then pro Scott Johnson, and flipped upside-down. The mini blind instructions came directly off the old mini blinds in my bathroom, as the simply crusted off one day. Bananas are one of my two favorite fruits (the other being mangoes, so store that little bit of trivia about me away in your mental file banks for later use), so that explains the Chiquita Bananas sticker up top. Also: "NEW!"

Huzzah!
c. 2008
Clip art, stickers, random vinyl debris, ink, and glue.

I'm sure I've discussed this here on this blog before, but for the uninitiated: just about every year my brother Mark and I engage in what we lovingly refer to as the "Holiday Mix-Off Series": an semi-annual Christmastime competition were we engage in yuletide battle by mass producing our own compilation CDs and giving them to our friends as homemade gifts, while also asking them to decide whose mix is better via anonymous, mail-in ballots. It gets pretty involved. Anyhoo... This mix was one of my HMOS contenders for 2008, but I decided to go with another, which ended up costing me dearly. I still like this mix, as it's a fairly eclectic hodge-podge  of music that has a pretty decent flow from one track to the next. The aluminum tree shot came from a holiday brochure of some sort, the red vinyl dot I found on the ground near a construction site, and the Euro-stripe from a letter a friend in England sent me. The stickers are random, as by that point I had been saving errant stickers for compilation covers like a horder, affixing them to nearly every surface near my desk for "...later use."

((O))
c. 2009
Clip art, ink, paint pen, and glue.

Talk about a clusterfuck of celebratory imagery! This compilation was made for my friend Richard, who asked people for musical recommendations one day on Facebook. I was only too happy to oblige him with a 20-song compilation of then-newish indierock songs. The title "((O))" preciously translates into "Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wahhh!" This is probably one of the most collage-y collage covers I've ever made, being that's it's made up of a shit-ton of images, mostly of people (Alfred Hitchcock, Chris Webber, Baby Jesus, etc.) celebrating their asses off. So, yeah: fun! This compilation was also made around the time the first Iron Man movie came out, and if you look in the lower right corner you can see the top half of Jeff Bridges head, which wraps around to the spine of the CD case. I dunno. I thought that was a fairly clever gimmick at the time.

Funeral Puddin'
c. 2010
Clip art, typewriter and glue

I once made the mistake of ordering a Brixton hat from this online surf wear company. The resulting monthly deluge of mail order catalogs was mildly annoying, but then I started to spot their clip art potential. Sure, there where pictures of bikini-clad, abs-of-steel beach bunny models in there, but the main draw for me were the artfully shot surfing pictures. So, when I was putting together this compilation featuring Real Estate, Best Coast, Beach Fossils, and Wild Nothing, a surf style cover didn't seem all that out of the question. But this image needed just a little something to not make it an out-n-out simple paste-up-from-a-source job. Enter my daily dose of junk mail and an unsuspecting McTaco-ery to provide stylish headgear for our surfing hombre here. This cover artwork is the first time I used dual-layering, having the copy person at OfficeMax photocopy the typed title directly onto the freshly photocopied image of the surfer. I have no idea why I did this that way. It was a tremendous waste of time.

Team Cream Presents: The Phantom Formal
c. 2011
Photocopy, ripped paper, Magic Marker, and glue.

And so started the themed compilations. I had this collection of songs that sounded like fractured and frayed lo-fi approximations of the 1980's new wave genre by bands such as Teen Daze, Neon Indian, Crystal Castles, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, and the like. This mix essentially sounded like some sort of warped John Hughes soundtrack to me when I completed it. The "story" behind this collection of songs was that it was a cassette tape found in the husk of an old burned-down high school where - back in the day - things happened that would turn David Lynch's white thicket of hair transparent (murder, mayhem, double crosses, lying, cheating, inappropriate sexual escapades, devil worship, ghostly possessions, etc., etc.) The cover image comes from an old year book photo I found online and I like that it's slightly out-of-focus. I scrawled the name of this mix on a piece of paper and simply tore it out of my note book, gluing it into place. I know these kids on the cover are probably having a great time, but their joy haunts me, man. In a " the final photo from The Shining" kind of way. Oy vey!


Continued next month in Pt. 2 ...