Thursday, March 5, 2015

Entertainment On-The-Cheap-O-Vision

Today I turn 40 year old. Instead of boring you with "I'm too old for this shit"-isms (which, of course, I am, but I repress...), I've decided to post five online entertainment outlets I'm currently enjoying, instead.

I gave up cable TV about eight years ago and I can't say that I really miss it, like, at all. Hulu, Amazon Instant, Netflix, and a plethora of YouTube channels have since provide me with endless (and cost-effective - if not absolutely free) entertainment options. And for those moments when the moisture from my eyes has been dully depleted from hours of binge viewing, there are a treasure trove of podcasts to alternately cram into my ears.

With all the great content floating around the Internet, it's a wonder anyone would pay over $100 a month for a thousand channels of questionable content and a kagillion commercials to go along with it. Someone has to keep up with those Cardassians, I guess...?

Anyhoo, here are five of my favorite recent finds. And, as always, screw you, outside!

1. RetroBlasting (YouTube)

There are a slew of single cam, heavy breathing YouTube channels devoted to 1980's toy reviews, but none come close to the meticulous levels of production, research and execution that Retro Blasting continually provides. Created by husband-and-wife toy aficionados and collectors Michael French and Melinda Mock, RetroBlasting delivers uncompromising  (and sometimes hilariously brutal) reviews of 80's playtime plastic. In addition to reviewing toy lines such as Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man (and the corresponding cartoons that went with 'em), RetroBlasting also features unboxing, convention panel discussion and toy restoration videos. Mix in a dash humor, a shit-ton of nostalgia and on-the-money expertise, and RetroBlasting is your go-to source all things 1980's toy nostalgia.

2. Ron "AAlgar" Watt Reviews (YouTube)

I could watch Seattle-based Ron "AAlgar" Watt's hilariously meta-comic retro cartoon reviews all day. In fact, I have. It was one of those rare sunny day most Portlander's prey their rain-soaked hearts out for, and there I was, in bed with my MacBook in my lap, plugging one AAlgar Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoon reviews after another into my fuzzy fond  memory cortex, like some sort of Gen-X junkie vainly trying scratch an eternal fix for my youth. AAlgar's smart aleck charm is the perfect amount of Mystery Science Theater 3000-ing these ridiculous old cartoons so lovingly deserve.

3. Daredevil (Netflix/Marvel)

Everything the 2003 cinematic disaster that was Daredevil, the new Netflix series of the same name is (thank gawd) the polar opposite of. Binge-watching this amazingly written, acted and produced series, you get the idea this is what the folks over at Gotham thought they were making. Gritty, action-packed and engrossing, this practically flawless Daredevil television series hits all the right marks, while also serving to remind you how truly amazing television can be when done perfectly. Don't believe me? Here's the trailer that actually delivers on what it promises:

4. I Was There Too (podcast, Wolfpop)

When he's not James Bonding, Superego-ing, selling Volkwagons, or teaching college kids what's what, Matt Gorley takes time out of his hectic schedule to produce a podcast where he interviews actors who have starred in some of the better movies Hollywood has produced (Groundhog's Day, Aliens, Better Off Dead, etc.) It's called I Was There Too, and gawdamed if these chats herein aren't some of the best behind-the-scenes conversations to clean your apartment to. Gorley is an engaging host who never seems to ask a wasted question, and the guests he's interviewed so far all seem happy to discuss openly their experiences on-set. Film buffs, take heed! These are the discussions you live for, so get to it! And if this podcast doesn't have one of the best theme songs, then I dunno. (Actually, it does and I do.)

5.  Throwing Shade (podcast, Funny Or Die)

"Homosensual" Bryan Safi and "feminasty" Erin Gibson are dynamic divas behind Throwing Shade, one of the absolute best, highly entertaining and informative podcasts podcasting today. Each week, Gibson and Safi lay the catty smackdown on society's ills, be them homophobia, sexism, or general ridiculous and seriously silly bullshit like, oh, say, Glenn Beck's hipster clothing line (yes, this is actually a thing). Filled with hilarious banter, skits and interviews with equally witty behind-the-scensters, Throwing Shade is wickedly funny podcast your enlightened ass/ears have been waiting to hear. Now go make a Sunday night chicken while listening to Nine Inch Nails, and then this podcast!

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Total Eclipse of The Eclipse

For as vast and convenient as the digital age has become, having immediate and readily available access to information can kind take a bit of the mystery out of life. In an age where nearly every question is Google- able, the charm of not knowing absolutely everything about a previously unknown subject can be a bit deflating. The thrill of the hunt – removing the mask for the big reveal – has been replaced with instant gratification that somehow leaves the curious among us oddly unsatisfied.
In audiophile circles, the mystery of song discovery has nearly been swiped away.  Figuring out who performs an up-until-that-moment-unheard song (or even what the name of this said song actually is) is now a Soundhoud or Shazam smart phone app click away. Discovering a new band also comes with the added bonus of discovering all of their albums, EPs, B-sides, and rarities. It’s almost too easy to know everything you want to know about any given band and musician these days.
Then, every once in a while, life hands your ears a song by a band you will never, ever be able to discover everything about in a discernible capacity beyond its original, hazy, lo-fi source.  Such is the case with a band of bedroom rockers from Carlsbad, California named The Eclipse.
Ocean Howell
The Eclipse came to my attention through a skateboarding video put out by Santa Cruz Skateboards' Speed Wheels division in 1990 titled Risk It! Featuring a near armada of highly talented skateboarding luminaries (Jason Jesse, Mike Vallely, Tom Knox, etc.) over its 83 minute plus running time, this video was a varitible embarrassment of skateboarding riches. It was the parts for two of H-Street Skateboards' at-the-time young gun ams, Ocean Howell and Markus Wyndham, however, that struck a chord with me.

Markus Wydham
At this moment is skateboarding history, Wyndham and Howell were seemingly joined at the hip. Beyond skating for the same team, these two skateboarders were like two sides of the same coin, with Howell's tick-attack technical precision and Wyndham's fluid board control.  The curbs, benches and rails of Southern California could do nothing but oblige these trippy, hippy raver assassins.

Beyond the emerging technical wizardry on display, Wyndham and Howell's parts were notable for the inclusion of songs by The Eclipse, a little-to-unknown band from Carlsbad, California. In an era where punk, metal, hip-hop, and funk were de rigueur for skateboarding videos, it should be noted that featuring dreamy, slightly new wave pop soundtrack-ing your part was pretty ballsy. "These guys rip, but these songs are faggy," was a not-so-uncommon and idiotic remark (for so, so, so many reasons I leave up to you to figure out) upon viewing Risk It with my friends.

I took a different tract with these two songs by The Eclipse. Having just discovered The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and Psychedelic Furs, The Eclipse's music was something I instantly gravitated to. The two songs featured in this video ("Frogs" for Howell, and "Loves Last Whisper" for Wyndham) had an easy breeziness to them, featuring sedately dramatic vocals over surf-inflected progressive new wave, with just the perfect amount of bass and lead guitar noodling. 

It made sense that both Wyndham and Howell used what, one must surmise, was their friend's band's music for each of their parts, since these songs essentially bridged these hot shots together amid a sea of rippers and legends.  

It's important to remember that at the time (the early 1990's), we didn't have all-encompassing access to the Internet, and accessing any information at all about, say, a very obscure band and what must have been their demo tape, was essentially nil. Trying to obtain a copy of The Eclipse's music was to be my first foray into Holy Grail-ing a band and their music. As I would eventually learn, not even 25 years of online connectivity would put these ever-elusive songs in my hands.

I wrote to Santa Cruz Skateboards inquiring about The Eclipse, but never received an answer. Go figure a skateboard company would have better things to do than track down leads on a band for some goofy kook kid from Sacramento. Eventually the determination to obtain a copy of this band's music dissolved, and the mystery of their music was returned to being just that: a mystery.

But the bug of this band was still there somewhere nearly two decades later, and one day, in a bout of nostalgic wanderlust, I took to the ol' YouTube to watch old skate videos (Video Days, Useless Wooden Toys, Shackle Me Not, etc., etc.) when I stumbled upon both Howell and Wyndham's Risk It parts, along with those good ol' songs. My gawd, those songs! They had aged, but somehow managed to sound timeless at the same time.

Now, here's where the flight of fancy part of my best-intentioned brain took hold, imagining that of course the digital age had caught up with The Eclipse, pulling the curtain back and revealing a treasure trove of material ripe for reissue on an appreciative record label like Captured Tracks or Burger Records. Just dial the band's name into Google and...


Well, not bupkis exactly, but rather a handful of dudes just like me, all inquiring about the whereabouts of this band's music and where copies of it could potentially be obtained. There is a very informative blog entry, but nothing concrete leading to a grand unearthing of the band's music. Even Howell, now an assistant professor at the University of Oregon, couldn't immediately put his hands on the original recording. Perhaps the demo tape was in a crate somewhere in his parents home. Who knows? That was the most promising non-lead lead those of use wanting to get our hands on this band got. And it, to this day, has led nowhere.

And this is where I must, as an audiophile archeologist conclude my search for The Eclipse. Their songs - the only two the world may ever know - exists in their present forms within those two lo-fi, grainy video transfers lasting a less than a combined five minutes,  floating atop some of the most innovative and groundbreaking skateboarding to help change the course of events and inspire generations of skateboarders to follow. So, at the very least, we have that.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year - New Art

If I don't rep my kit, no one will. I mean, am I right?

Isn't this the reason people start and maintain blogs? I know that's my motivational conceit. The Internet has given rise to a bazillion voices all scrambling to be heard at once. A throbbing miasma of navel gazing, bile spewing and, in those rare moments, highly interesting declarations of individuality screaming to be recognized as the special snowflakes that they are.

I suppose it could be argued that the Internet has enabled individuals like you and me the opportunity to be recognized as the one-of-a-kind creative folks we've always known we are. So, bully to us knowing how to reach out through these series of tubes and share our artistic endeavors and expressions of self with the world at large!

The only problem with this scenario is that I've been in a bit of a flux where my artistic accomplishments are concerned. As every other artist in this crazy spinning blue asylum attempts to obtain (with various measures of success), I've tried to carve out a special little niche to hang my smock on; a signature style that is unmistakeably mine. It's been slow going.

You see, I used to enjoy oil painting. Then one day, about 10 or so years ago, I simply stopped enjoying making paintings. The inspiration wasn't there, and I had no real idea of what I wanted to paint outside of beautiful naked women. And when you have a face and an off-putting disposition like mine, the dearth of women willing to pose sans clothing is few and far between.

But the need to create something with my hands was an impulse too strong to ignore. So, in that 10-year dodge where my easel and paint brushes collected dust, I turned my attention to making collage covers for the various mix CD I'd churn-out with regularity. 

Under my made-up company, The Rocket Science Alliance Ltd., the idea behind the creation of these pieces (which resembled miniature record sleeves that I would fold and paste together) was, I suppose, a comment of sorts on consumerism. I've always been fascinated with industry and design - the creation, marketing and dissemination of product. I even went so far as to shrink wrap my creations. That one facet of my artwork contained other people's intellectual property (the music on the CDs themselves) made the idea of actually selling said pieces (if that were ever a possibility in the first place) an impossibility. So, I'd just give these mixes away for free to anyone who would accept them.

And that was going well for a while, but at some point smearing found clip-art images in Wite-Out and paint pens got to be a bit of a slog. Inspired by the likes of Robert Pollard, Joseph Cornell and Andrew Savage, I soon came to realize this form of imitation wasn't all that flattering. I mean, I had some pieces I was quite proud of, but the desire to create something truly original persisted.

Then one day last November, as I was making a mix to give away as a present for friends, family and strangers, I discovered a couple of pieces of solid colored paper mixed in my container of clipart images. I started layering the images on top of one another and simply liked the way they appeared together. Then I added some Wite-Out and paint pen lettering, a clipart R.S.A. logo, and viola! I think I finally found my niche.

Dusk To Dusk (c. 2014)
Paper scraps, Wite-Out, paint pens, and clipart on paper.

So, that last paragraph up there? It's in reference to this mix. I kind of just let any artistic conceits I had go and let the Wite-Out and color swatches fall where they may. Happy accidents are usually the best accidents, fractured and flawed though they may be.

Damage Pact (c. 2014)
Paper scrap, Wite-Out, paint pen, and photocopier on paper.

This mix was a repository for all of these new wave-ish tracks I had orphaned in my iTunes library. I really like bending these letters around within the words they occupy. It's as if they're telling your eyes to fuck off; their bodies don't belong to you.

Ipso Facto (c. 2014)
Plastic scrap, paint pens, Sharpie, and photocopier on paper.

Ah, the unofficial Portland color palette: red and white on light blue of some sort. I can't say this combination isn't easy on the eyes. This cover was made using the housing of a plastic envelope I received in the mail over the holiday. It was a very fun, slippery surface to write on. I wish I could find more of this stuff.

Sunshine Golden (c. 2014)
Paper scraps, Wite-Out, paint pens, and photocopier on paper.

I like the way the blue construction paper makes the orange-ish yellow envelope paper on this one pop. In hindsigh, this combination isn't that out-of-left-field, but it seemed radical while I making it. I'm not crazy about where that red bar is placed, but oh well. Too late now.

Cold Comfort (c. 2014)
Clipart, Wite-Out, paint pens, Sharpie, and photocopier on paper.

I've been sitting on this collection of slowcore sounds (Low, Codeine, Bedhead, etc.) for well over a decade until the creation of this cover. No image seemed quite right. Then this mailer for some conservationist group or another came in and the image just seemed to perfect to let go.

Soft Aquatics (c. 2014)
Clipart, Wite-Out, paint pens, and photocopier on paper.

Where this fuzzy lil' buddy came from, I can't recall. Most likely in a junk mail flyer. That's where most of my cribbed clipart comes from. I really went to town with the verbiage crammed into ever nook and cranny of the lettering. It started off small and simply exploded outward from there.

Action Slackers (c. 2015)
Clipart, Wite-Out, paint pens, and photocopier on paper.

This compilation was made specifically for a fellow mix-maker friend of mine across the country. The image comes from a workout calendar, and I kept the lettering upright and sedate for some reason. Maybe this cover didn't want to wrestle with the words. I dunno. I like that blue and red combo, though.

Okie Doke (c. 2015)
Paper scraps, Wite-Out, paint pens, Sharpie, and photocopier on paper.

For a while there, I thought I could be a real fancy man; all slick and proper. I even went so far as to subscribe to GQ magazine. But I've come to terms with my comfort rated fashion sense, so I let my my subscription of this periodical lapse. At least I put the publication's re-up request envelopes to some other use than sending them money. Yee-haw!!!

Hugs and Curses (c. 2015)
Clipart, Wite-Out, paint pens, paint, and photocopier on paper.

Fresh out of the oven, this cover was actually made yesterday. I decided to experiment with paint, which had the unexpected surprise of wrinkling the paper just so. The rooster image comes from a Dr. Oz Magazine pullout someone left in the bathroom stall at my work. Inspiration, aye? You find it in the most interesting places.

 Eyesore Sugar (c. 2015)
Clipart, Wite-Out, paint, and resourced material on paper.

This cover is a do-over, since the entirety of this art is pasted over a less-than-steller and quite frankly, lazily conceived-of piece. Again using paint that warps the integrity of the photocopier paper I normally use, I slathered it on and affixed a newspaper image of be-thigh-highed legs to the wet paint. Add some Wite-Out lettering and presto-chango! Trust me, this looks waaaay better than the original, believe it or don't.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Is The End ...Of The Year: Favorites Of 2014

So... 2014 kinda came and went, didn't it? Nice knowing ya, year of recorded human history!

Here are some of the things I liked from the year that was. Keep in mind that this isn't some sorta "Best-of 2014" list. These are just things that caught my fancy. Because best-of lists are for contention-loving schmucks.


Favorite Record  
1. Eyelids 854 (Jealous Butcher)

In a musical landscape so backwards-looking and tired, it's refreshing to hear an unfussy, straight-ahead indierock record. 854 by Portland's Eyelids is so damned awesome, it reminds of why you listen to independent rock music in the first place. Boasting a pedigree that includes musicians from Guided By Voices, The Decemberists and Elliott Smith's former back-up band, Eyelids make music as familiar as a pair of comfortably broken-in Chuck Taylors. Purchased on puke green vinyl, this record hasn't left my turntable since I brought it home.

2. Real Estate Atlas (Domino)
3. Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animals (What's Your Rupture?)
4. A Sunny Day In Glasgow Sea When Absent (Lefse)
5. Grouper Ruins (kranky)
6. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
7. The Minders It's Going to Break Out (Dirigible)
8. Tacocat NVM (Hardly Art)
9. Whirr Sway (Graveface)
10. Alvvays Alvvays (Polyvinyl)

Favorite Reissue 
Flake Music When You Land Here, It's Time To Return (Sub Pop)

Cleaned up and dusted off, this pre-Shins release from Flake Music simply sounds amazing. Where the Omnibus Records version sounded charmingly lo-fi, Sub Pop's near-crystal clear reissue (remixed by Kennie Takahashi and remastered by J.J. Golden) brings these 11 songs out from under the fuzziness and tape hiss. With new album art and songs given new names (and previously untitled songs again given names), When You Land Here... is a masterfully recharged time capsule.

Favorite Album Cover
The Faint Doom Abuse (SQE Music)

Here's a couple of things I know about The Faint: 1. They make electronic-ish music (right?) 2. Emo god Conor Oberst was in this band during it's infancy. 3. I can't name a single song of theirs. That being said, I love the album artwork on the band's sixth studio release, Doom Abuse. The collage is Robert Pollard-esque, with those kinky, creamy thigh high stockings peaking up all preying mantis style. And Doom Abuse? That's a fuckin' great name right there, I have to admit.

Favorite Song
Grouper "Clearing"
From the album Ruins (kranky)

Portland-based musician Liz Harris makes fragile and stirring music under the moniker Grouper. It's as if the songs she writes are carefully written with a fine point paint brush on the side of spider webs. Ruins, Harris' latest album (right at home on the kranky Records roster) is utterly beautiful and brilliant. Of the eight sparse and tender songs on this album, "Clearing" commands repeat rewinds. Harris' vocals weave smoothly between piano raindrops like a phantom you've always wanted haunting your world. Ruins is, quite simply, a stunning album.

Image courtesy
Favorite Live Show
At The Crystal Ballroom
Portland, OR

As if I was going to pass on seeing shoegaze legends Slowdive perform their dreampop journal entries live on stage. Twenty years on, and the band sounds as if they never unplugged their effects pedals and called it a day. While songs from the band's first two albums sounded delightfully note-for-note, retooled songs from their third release, Pygmalion, sounded rollicking ("Crazy for You") and surf dusted ("Blue Skied An' Clear"). I even got a smile from singer Rachel Goswell as the band exited the stage. So, night absolutely - ecstatically - made.

Favorite Video
The Walking Dead Parody (

While I can't say that there was a music video from 2014 that particularly impressed my (sorry Taylor Swift), this Walking Dead parody titled (ironically enough) The Walking Dead Parody by The Hillywood Show indeed does. Set to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - and boasting production values that put typical YouTube videos to deep, deep shame - Hilly (as Sheriff Frank Grimes) and her extremely talented crew have produced a video that is at once entertaining, inventive and, yes, highly impressive.

Favorite Record Label 
Bayonet Records

Launched this year by Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur and his wife (former Captured Tracks label manager), Katie Garcia, Bayonet Records is one of those scrappy upstart record companies you just want to root for. With a roster that includes Warehouse, Jerry Paper, Frankie Cosmos, and, of course, Beach Fossils, Bayonet is off to a fantastic start. Even their logo over there to the left is on point. There's no website as of yet for this fledgling record label (which shows they're keeping costs down), but they have a social media presence via Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud, so there's that. Now go out buy one of this label's records already, would ya?

Favorite Film
Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn
Marvel Studios

I should put Birdman or Nightcrawler here; something cinematically respectable-ish. The problem (yours, not mine) is that I can't think of a film I enjoyed watching more this year  than Marvel's Guardian's of the Galaxy (The Grand Budapest Hotel runs a very, very close second, and God Help the Girl third). Directed by James Gunn (Super, Slither), and starring Parks and Recreations' Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy is just another super hero team-building exercise, only funnier and infinitely more entertaining. Pratt plays Peter "Star Lord" Quill, a human plucked from Earth as a child by aliens, taken to a distant galaxy, seemingly fed protein shakes and muscle toner, and groomed to be expert space pirate (think Han Solo crossed with Malcolm Reynolds). Armed with the best mixtape, like, ever, Peter runs afoul of some big shot looking to retrieve the MacGuffin our hero just plundered... Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, the plot is textbook comic adaptation. What's not is the character-driven likability of the principle players. You got Pratt (always hilarious), Star Trek's Zoe Salanda as bad-ass Gamora, former wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as the voice of bounty hunting Rocket Racoon, and Vin Diesel (!) as the voice of giant CGI talking tree name Groot (his only line: variations of, "My name is Groot.") You'll like these guys. You'll root for these guys. And much like Firefly, by the end this crew feels like a reluctant, yet loving family. Guardians of the Galaxy is a damn good, highly entertaining and hilarious movie.

Favorite Book
Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film
By Marc Spitz

One wouldn't be remiss for confusing "twee" for "hipster." But since the word "hipster" has become a four-letter punching bag as of late (sorry, 1960's poetry-spewing beatniks), journalist Marc Spitz knows better than to put that receipt poison on the cover of his latest book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film. Charting the trajectory of all thing precious and whimsical in our society, Spitz gives us the history of twee culture from Charles Schultz, Nick Drake and The Smiths through to Belle and Sebastian, Wes Anderson and Zooey Deschanel. And just when you think he'll miss a touchstone or two, Spits will make mention of Vince Guaraldi, Dawn Wiener or Portlandia. For as exhaustive as Spitz research and writing are, however, his coverage is surprisingly, er, pale. Sure, this is twee culture he's writing about, and this culture appeals to a largely white demographic. But, where is the mention of former Daily Show correspondent and puppet-aided comedian Wyatt Cenac? Arthur Lee and Love?  Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi? Graphic novelist Adrian Tomine? Or even the legions of dedicated Smiths/Morrissey fans within L.A.'s Latino community?  Where's the chapter on professional skateboarder, artist and frequent Spike Jonze collaborator Mark Gonzales? That being said, Spitz's book makes for an entertaining and educational read. There's more of you quiet, crafty and thoughtful folks out there than you know. Mark Spitz has kindly provided the bible for your kind.

Favorite Thing
Keen Footwear 'Vendetta' Mid WP, Sz. 13

Or the part where I should just call this section "Favorite Shoes." The last couple of years (seriously? Years, now?!?) doing these year-end lists, my favorite thing has been a pair of shoes. What can I say? I love shoes. This year's shoe comes from Keen Footwear. I've never owned a pair of Keen shoes, but since obtaining this brand's Vendetta waterproof mid top kicks, I realized that I have never (up until this point) known what true shoe comfort really is. The Keen Vendetta has become my go-to shoe. Comfortable and lightweight, this is the perfect fall/winter shoe. The Vendetta features a generous toe box, supportive foot bed inserts, padded collars, and traction soles, This shoe is even great for riding my bike in, as it features a reflective strip on the back ankle section. Sturdy, aesthetically slick (they remind me of Batman's Tumbler for some reason), and - above all - comfortable, The Vendetta is my absolute favorite thing from the year that was twenty-ought double-lucky.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Guided By Roses" Skateboard Deck - Guided By Voices x Vision Mark Gonzales

The original board, c. 1997

One of my absolute skateboard decks of all time is the Vision Mark "The Gonz" Gonzales "Gonz and Roses" plank. And one of my absolute favorite bands of all time is Dayton, Ohio's Guided By Voices.

The Krooked repro, c. 2014

One day, while listening to Guided By Voices' album Mag Earwhig, I was hounding eBay for a vintage "Gonz and Roses" board (which easily fetches over $1,000 now). Looking at this board's graphics, insipid inspiration took hold, and the idea to take two things that I love and merge them into one became an impulse I could not ignore.
And that idea begat this: the "Guided By Roses" deck.

"Guided By Roses," c. 2014

It features Bob Pollard à la heavily-inspired Mark Gonzales artwork, beer bottle in one hand, cigarette in the other, with Mr. Pollard's take-no-shit mug. The flowers feature the GBV rune in the middle of them, as does the dot on one of his sneakers.

This board, of course, was designed for fun, not profit. I simply wanted to make a tribute to two artists I admire greatly. So, yeah...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiver XII - Troll 2: Leprechaun In The Hood

Whew! It's been a while since I've done one of these most popular and highly clamored-for Fiver music recommendation entries. My apologies to all three of my regular readers.

So, a lot has been happening in my life that has afforded me no free time to dilly-dally on this here middling blog. Four months ago I moved to a new town (Portland, Oregon), got not one but two new jobs (one in the shoe biz, and the other in cleaning up people's hotel rooms - natch!) and have been learning my way around my new adoptive city.

So, you can forgive me for not devoting as much time to writing about and pontificating on the merits of modern music as I have in the past. Upheaval and reorientation really takes a toll on your trivial, self-imposed blogging duties.

Given that, I give you this: a brand new installment of Fiver. And because one of my favorite past times is kvetching while the getting's good, here are some observations I've made about the town I live in and love:

Stephen Steinbrink "Now You See Everything" (mp3)
From the album Arranged Waves
2014, Melodic Records

The one thing I've come to be tickled about Portland is that no one can, for the life of themselves, point you in the direction of a decent rain jacket. For a town synonymous with rain, you can't help but appreciate the irony of people being flummoxed when asked where a great place to purchase a shield from the drizzle is. I see people walking around in some spiffy-looking rain kits, and out of desperation, I've even asked several of these folks where they've purchased their gear. Every time, the bedecked person will squint their eyes, look far off while combing their memories and tell me that they can't recall where they purchased their aesthetically-pleasing rain jacket. It's become a bit of a game for me, this rain jacket query thing. Mark my words, one day I'll find that Portlander who will recall where they bought their rain jacket. Mark 'em!

Alvvays "Archie Marry Me" (mp3)
From the album Alvvays 
2014, Polyvinyl Records

Speaking of games, one of my other favorites is wearing my Joy Division Unknown Pleasures T-shirt out and about and receiving comments like, "Hey: Joy Division!" as if I didn't know what was screen printed on the shirt I was currently wearing. Exactly when did t-shirts become something you had to read out loud to the wearer? While I admit it was kind of nice being lavished with attention for making a clothing purchase that reflects my music predilections, this point-and-comment jazz has become slightly irksome. Now I carry a note pad filled only with hash-outs in it. For every comment, I pull out the note pad, strike a hash, show it to the commenter, and say something like, "And that's number five!" I'm fun.

Eyelids "Forget About Tomorrow" (mp3)
From the album 854 
2014, Jealous Butcher Records

You know what's not fun to do in Portland? Driving a car. Driving in this town isn't horrible, per se. It's simply annoying. This town is, by design, condensed. Come five pm on any given work week, the streets and freeways are packed, bumper-to-bumper, with cars. But even on those days when traffic isn't an issue, some of this city's denizen's driving is. We're talking drifting into other lanes, braking through turns, driving excessively slow, etc. You want to know why so many people in Portland ride bikes? Exercise? Enjoyment? Mobility? Perhaps. Perhaps... But I like to think another main factor is that riding a bike in Portland (even when getting nearly clipped by automobiles and city buses) isn't as much of a pain in the ass to maneuver around people mis-driving their cars is.

Tacocat "Stereogram" (mp3)
From the album NVM
2014, Hardly Art Records

Okay, not to objectify and reduce other human beings down to the sum of their literal parts, but I like big butts and I cannot lie. Nay! Will not lie. But even as an appreciator of perfectly round glutenous maximi, I can't help but reel at the veritable embarrassment of riches Portland offers in the viewing of said buns. Yes, I'm talking about women wearing tights as pants, and it's out of control up here. Leggings, sprayed-on jeans, oil-slick pants: you name it, and Portland's youthfully booty-ful are squeezing into them. Tight leggings are essentially the be-thonged whale tail of The Tweens, and nearly everyone here (and I'm sure in your town, too) is lip-biting and cursing their way into them. But with so many butts on display, overload has eventually set in, and like viewing a rare eclipse of the sun, it's now become best to simply look away.

Grouper "Clearing" (YouTube)
From the album Ruins
2014, Kranky Records

Speaking of butts... Come summertime, the phenomenon of ass cleavage rears it's smooth, taught head! Yes, lower butt cheek-revealing casual wear is the norm among Portland's non-cellulite-having young women when the sun beams down. Barely cloaked in what is essentially denim bikini bottoms, this ass cheek peek-a-boo will at once excite and leave the viewer feeling lecherous. Ghostly white, artificially baked and even tattooed (imagine requesting that service), there are nearly as many women's butt cheek peeks than the entire of Daytona Beach on spring break (hyperbolically speaking). Of course there are worse things than living in a town full to the bottom of barely-revealing Daisy Dukes, and I wouldn't have this shameless little burg any other way. All-in-all, I unequivocally love this town!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands

2014 - Documentary
Heaven Adores You, LLC
10 out of 10

The first and only time I stood in the same room with singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, I had to be cajoled into doing so. My then-ex-girlfriend had become - due in large part to Smith's Goodwill Hunting Oscar nod - a recent and ravenous fan of his sweetly delicate sound. I, however, was resistant to jump in on the Elliott Smith-adoring bandwagon, despite my love of Nick Drake, Love, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and all of the other hazy folk-rock music makers I championed (which Smith easily would have fit in with).  

Maybe it was the hype building around this guy. Or perhaps it was my ex's ex-boyfriend's not-so-subtle re-courting of her with Elliott Smith-laden mix tapes. I dunno. I just wasn't buying in to this Smith guy's deal.

It was around 1999 that Elliott Smith was touring behind his latest album, Figure 8, and he was coming to The Fillmore in San Francisco. The Minders were opening, and since I was (and still very much am) a big fan of that band, I relented to my ex's prodding to go with her to this show. She even offered to pony-up for the tickets, so why not?

From the time Elliott Smith took the stage, to his final bow on the third (or was it fourth?) encore, I realized exactly what kind of ignoramus I had been (the worst kind, naturally). There I was, standing in the presence of a bona fide musical genius: it was undeniable. To this day, I'm still thankful that I hadn't missed what I still consider to be one of the absolute best concert-going experiences I've been extremely fortunate to witness.

From that moment to this, I have remained a huge fan Elliott Smith's music.

Judging by the capacity crowd at the Portland Art Museum's Whitsell Auditorium - there to watch Nickolas Dylan Rossi's largely KickStarter-funded documentary about Smith, Heaven Adores You, (part of the 32nd Annual Reel Music Festival) - fans both young and greying have been touched by the late musician's music. For anyone in the audience on the fence about the brilliance that lies within Smith's songs, Rossi's film will surely have produced new converts.

Steering away from the sensationalism that made the previous documentary about Elliott Smith's life (2009's Searching for Elliott Smith) seem more like tabloid fodder lite, Rossi instead rather wisely focuses on the gravitational pull Elliott Smith's music had, and still has today (Rossi purposefully omits any mention of Smith's former girlfriend and the last person to see him alive, Jennifer Chiba, all together). Retracing Smith's life in chapters, HeavenAdores You moves along - much like Smith's music, which of course appears this film - at its own glacial pace, tracing Smith's early musical inclinations as a teenager in Texas, through his prolific and formative rain-soaked Portland-based days playing in a bevy of 90's bands (Heatmiser, most notably), to his Oscar-buzzed rise and eventual decline (Smith died in Los Angeles in 2003 at the age of 34).

Through the tapestry of Elliott Smith's life, Rossi introduces us to Smith's friends and family, each discussing the profound impact he had on them. From Jackpot Studio's Larry Crane, Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon, Hazel's Pete Krebs, Smith's former girlfriend Joanna Bolme, his half-sister Ashley Welsh, and many, many more, Rossi's film weaves together the threads Elliott Smith's presence had on everyone he knew, and the void his passing left behind.

All of this is not to say that Heaven Adores You is a completely melancholy film. Though Smith's death hovers throughout, Rossi's film is tempered in equal measures pathos and humor. Through various recorded interviews, pictures both smiling and mischievous, and interviews with friends, family and colleagues, Rossi paints a picture of a man in possession of a deep well of thoughtfulness and joy. As Crane recollects at one point in the film, all Elliott Smith wanted to do was write and record music. Smith's genius, as this movie illustrates, didn't just lay in his voluminous output, but his desire to share his music - his observations, heartache and humor - with the world.

That Smith had a keen ear for melody and harmony (to say nothing of his skillful guitar playing and his honey-hushed vocal delivery) were part and parcel of the man's intellect. As illustrated in Rossi's film, Smith's solo artist emergence in Portland (and later, the world) was immediate and undeniable. The casual observer may have heard just another depressed guy singing "sad bastard music," but those with keener ears (Smiths fans, most notably) saw and heard reflections of themselves in Smith's songs. The thesis statement of Rossi's film may just be that Elliott Smith belonged to us: we got him, and he got us - even if only for too a short time.

According to the film's music scorer and close personal friend of Smith, Kevin Moyer, Heaven Adores You is slated, hopefully, for a spring 2015 release. As a fan of Elliott Smith (and film in general), I sincerely hope a savvy and intelligent studio picks this film up for wide release. This is quite simply a beautiful and moving film, filled with emotion, insight and, of course, Elliott Smith’s incredible music.

From it's sumptuous aerial and still photography, to its seemless editing, and those rare, unreleased songs (the hilarious and sweet "I Love My Room" in particular, which plays over the end credits, was written when Smith was 14 years-old), Heaven Adores You is one of the best independent documentary films I have seen (and on a deeper level, felt) in a very long time. A bittersweet and cathartic film, Heaven Adores You will leave you smiling through the tears.