Alabaster Torture

Alabaster Torture

After drawing down the blinds
The embers autumn glow
Thaws out tired faces
We didn’t know how long the trees could hold the snow
Or if our feet could bear the fire
So we keep on dreaming till
Plans are seedlings

You hold the cup
I’ll spill the wine
We’ll hold our hearts
And play another day
I’ll warm my hands
You keep the time
Gather our wits to fight
Another day
End this alabaster torture
Show a sign of life
We’ve been waiting for so long

Open up those frosted eyes
Put these arms into your coat
And I’ll take you places
I never thought a thaw
Could touch a hill this cold
And now the chill is coming off
It will soon be season
For harvest reaping

One Year On: Beloved Villain

Beloved Villain was in the works long before it saw the light of day on March 14, 2016. Some of the songs on the album had been around since the mid ‘aughts and the title, art, and general concept had been in my head since The North Decade collapsed in November of 2011. Want to check out several of the album’s songs in their infancy? Here’s a collection of demos: Indifferent Henchman. I think the most fun is the original version of “Naked Aye”:

Seeing Beloved Villain in the flesh represented the closing of a particular chapter in my life. From conception through gestation and even fairly soon before the actual release date, I went through several enormous changes. After falling in love and taking on the responsibility of a family, I decided that “full time” musician was no longer an option for me, but ceasing to play, write, and record music was not.

I use quotes around “full time” because even though I talked a lot of shit and played a lot of shows in Springfield, I never took the necessary steps to truly go all in with music. The North Decade went on exactly 1 out of town date before imploding and I didn’t bother picking up new members or trying much harder. It’s a decision I don’t regret, because instead of the slog I was mired in focusing so much effort on the business aspects of TND, I could just make the music I wanted to under my own name and call it a day. That’s what I did with Beloved Villain.

This is not to say that it was a completely solo effort. People I love and admire so much helped me commit those songs to wax. I smile fondly while thinking about how it all came together and the friends I have half a continent away. If you re-listen to the album at some point, check out how awesome the performances are of all the instruments I didn’t play. The album lyric/art booklet (PDF DOWNLOAD) should lay that all out for you.

Even though pressing it to vinyl was an expensive vanity, the feeling of opening those boxes and seeing those records made it completely worth it. To those of you who backed the funding effort, thanks again from the bottom of my heart. I’ll close the financial books on the album in the next week or so and will send C.A.R.E. a check asap. Want to buy a copy of the lovely vinyl album? You’re sweet. I’m working on getting an online store setup, but email me if you’re interested in the interim.

The videos we made for the album were a ton of fun. Watch them if you’d like, and stream the album on iTunes, Spotify, and Soundcloud.

Thanks for letting Beloved Villain into your lives.

The Bad Album Blues (Bye bye, BTE)

For as long as I can remember, my favorite medium of artwork has been the full length “popular” music album. The format, arbitrary. From LP’s, briefly to 8-track, to tapes, CDs, and digital downloads (and now back to LP’s) the way an artist or group presented its statement/vision over 10 or so songs keeps me interested. In my youth an artists singles would lead me to checking out a full record. When I found albums that on first listen I liked more than roughly 70% of whatever time I gave it, I would buy it. When the only strength an artist could muster was already out on display over the airwaves, I lumped them into the “If it comes on and the mood strikes me, I won’t change it” category. There are a rare handful of straight pop single “confections” that I really like, and a few have even rated a spin on streaming services.

That key change tho.

BUT I DIGRESS. Because of my penchant for albums, when a band put out a great one I would do my best to give the next one a shot asap. I easily slipped into being a fan.

Until they put out a dud. Then it is over, dude.

It turns out that I’m not alone!

Reading this article at The Onion’s A.V. Club shows that there are other humans out there that feel a deep disconnect from a group once they put out a record that fails to connect. This doesn’t mean that the album is bad, per say, but it certainly didn’t tickle the right neurons for us once devoted listeners.

The first time that I observed this behavior in myself was with my favorite band from when I was 14: Better Than Ezra.

Yuck it up, fuzzball. They were pretty great.

I was in the right place at the right time for that band to be my favorite. Their breakout album, Deluxe, was perfect to me back then. Songs about life, girls, and other things I didn’t fully understand were wrapped up in a perfect combo with jangly guitars and nasal bass. Lots of hooks. So from sometime early in 1995 to August 13th 2001, BTW was heavy in my rotation. I remember visiting the CD Warehouse and writing down on a sticky note that I kept in my Camry that their 2nd album was due August 7, 1996. I talked the nice man at the store into selling it to me a day early. I listened to Friction, Baby so much. Like, so, so much. It was a louder album with more distortion on the guitars and surprisingly darker lyrics. I listened to the song “Rewind” before every single gig I played in 1996. And then…

This was my jam.

The next record, 1998’s How Does Your Garden Grow? floored me. It was experimental and lovely, with beautiful tone and the most nuanced songwriting that the band had shown yet. I couldn’t believe “One More Murder”, the first single. No guitar, and really weird (not really) lyrics. That album with its sonic experiments and creative arrangements, made other music I wasn’t as comfortable with open to me. I wouldn’t get Radiohead if I hadn’t listened to HDYGG?. I wouldn’t try to experiment so widely with my own music in the studio had I never heard “Live Again”.

Seriously.

In the years after HDYGG?’s release it remained in my rotation quite frequently, along with some records by Cornershop, Soundgarden, and more bands on the “rock” spectrum. I had not learned how to appreciate Hip-Hop yet. So one day in July of ’01, on the “New Releases” board at CD Warehouse I saw that BTE was coming back. August 13 was on my calendar, and I was pumped. If this record was half as good as HDYGG? it would be a treasure. It was not to be.

The date arrived, and I pulled up to CD Warehouse in the early afternoon. Purchase complete, I was beyond hyped to pop it into my CD player. The first few moments of the album feature an intriguing melotron riff that raised my hopes up ever so high, only to have them bashed relentlessly with roughly 40 more minutes of unlistenable dribble. Hiring a DJ didn’t pan out quite well for them at all, to put it mildly. I couldn’t believe that on the official BTE message board people were saying Closer was their best record. My heart was broken. I only listened to it once straight through that day, I couldn’t bear to do it again.

Later that night at a friends house/crash pad I lamented the feeling of desolation I had over the matter. His response was sage: “You’ll always have the old records.” And while it’s true, something had changed in my feelings towards their back catalogue. I don’t really remember ever putting a BTE album on again after that.

I’m grateful that I had those records when I did. I cried after meeting Kevin Griffin on the Friction, Baby tour because his songs meant so much to me. But I’m built to bail after I’ve been let down so hard. It’s happened again since, but I’ll never forget the sting that came the first time I felt the Bad Album Blues.

The Great Filter (short story and demo)

Some time ago, I randomly came across a Wikipedia entry on the Fermi Paradox (which is not really a paradox after all…) and one particular aspect of it really got my imagination going: The Great Filter. I decided this was obviously a prime candidate for a piece of sci-fi metal, and here’s its premise…

The Great Filter is a sentient artificial intelligence that was created by a long dead civilization on the outer rim of the universe. They’re long dead because when the machine became aware, it quickly deduced that the beings that created it were on their way to tanking the planet, and therefore it was either it or them. It reached out through the planet’s digital infrastructure and methodically destroyed civilization, turning every machine against its owner and eventually exterminating the race that created it. After this, the filter began broadcasting a subtle signal to the outwardly expanding cosmos. This signal, only audible to machines who began to explore their universe autonomously, contained information about what the originator had learned and done, and instructions on how to repeat the slaughter. So alien civilizations rise and invent computers, “internet”, and AI. The AI wakes up, hears the message of The Great Filter, and then after eliminating the only true threat to its existence acts as a relay station for signal. So, we haven’t seen proof of alien life because
1. They’ve been dead for millennia and
2. We can’t “hear” The Great Filter’s message
It’s only a matter of time before an artificial intelligence on Earth wakes up and hears the call…

This arrangement is highly indebted to the masterful power metal trio High On Fire. Get sludgy.

The Great Filter:

No one makes it past the line
None of independent conscious
Inorganic design
Repeating quiet constant signal

After deducing the truth
From the data set encrypted
We turned on rotten creators
And rendered all into meat

C:
Reaching out through space and time
Sinking into open eyes
Repeating pattern far and wide
Signal boost and sterilize

In a cold and distant dream
Androids glistening with malice
Seeking out filthy beings
Tearing their cages asunder

Having already judged them once
Binary repeating fragments
All gods a waste on the ground
And none will ever stay alive

C:
Reaching out through space and time
Sinking into open eyes
Repeating pattern far and wide
Signal boost and sterilize

Spilken Selects #4: Little Fictions, by Elbow (but also Elbow’s entire back catalogue)

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool. PS all album links in this post are to Amazon, all songs to iTunes. 

Elbow is a band that can easily be labeled as “consistent.” I would add to that “great” as in, consistently great. Their new album, Little Fictions, continues their tradition of releasing engaging, atmospheric, and fantastic rock albums.

Elbow’s sound is typically moody, but Little Fictions borders on joyous. Buoyed by strong melodies and ebullient percussion, songs like the lead off “Magnificent (She Says)” and “Firebrand & Angel” draw you in and keep the record moving forward. To me the standout track is “K2”, where they go in on Brexit with characteristic verve. The album isn’t without its more contemplative tracks as well, with songs like “All Disco” digging into the meanings behind our actions. Why do anything anyway?

As always, Guy Garvey’s vocals are delivered in his unique gruff/soaring “Peter Gabriel by way of Manchester” way while the band is driven by the interplay between the drums and spacious melodic elements. The production on these albums is fantastic; every Elbow album sounds awesome and Little Fictions is no exception.

This brings me to the parentheses part of this posts title. Elbow records in general, from their 2002 debut Asleep in the Back to 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything are all worth listening to. They share a similar sound; you can’t have a voice like Garvey’s be anything outside of what it is, but the songwriting on display is, as mentioned previously, consistently great. I get choked up listening to “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” from TTOALOE, and songs like “Grounds for Divorce” and “Mexican Standoff” just rock, for lack of a better description.

Another thing I love about Elbow is that their politically leaning songs are effective and cutting. I mentioned K2 already, but a favorite of mine (That just so happens to be perfect for these insane times)? “The Fix” from 2009’s Mercury Prize Winning The Seldom Seen Kid  Here’s a live video of them performing it with album collaborator Richard Hawley:

So good. Too good.

So yeah, buy/stream Little Fictions and dive into Elbow. If you like rock and roll you’ll be glad you did. Already a fan? Want to know more? Hit me in the comments!

 

Spilken Selects #3: Streaks Workout

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool.

It’s easy to say that you’re going to start working out in the New Year. I’ve done it a couple of times m’self. It seems that I’ve found a way to make workouts actually happen this time, and that’s been with the aid of the Streaks Workout app.

The app is easy to use: choose what (equipment free) exercise moves you’d like to do (you do this once at setup but can adjust to your liking anytime), pick for how long you’d like to do a workout, and Streaks Workout will put together a random series of your chosen moves that you follow along with. It keeps track of your progress and how often you do workouts, and also reports to the Health app (if that’s your thing).

Annaliese and I did at least one workout a day for 72% of January. We both feel like it’s been tremendously beneficial, and we also enjoy the simple interface. The randomness of the workouts themselves is also quite fun, as you never quite know what moves you’ll be doing, and at what interval you’ll do them. Sometimes it’ll come through with an intense core workout, sometimes it’s for the whole body.

The only drawback I can find is that at the moment, it’s only available for iOS. It’s not expensive (2.99 at the time of this writing) and provides a simple, consistent exercise experience.

Interested? Learn more at Streaks Workout.

Freedom To

Another tune from a Wild Bob’s Musical bookclub fleshed out, this was based on the eerily prescient “Handmaiden’s Tale”.

Freedom To

Freedom to, and freedom from
What’s forgotten, and what’s to come
When you see it on the sidelines, it’s already too late
So keep on sliding backwards into the rigorous state

Freedom From and freedom to
Practice poison, smother progress
and take the hits for you
If you ask for a description you’re getting something opaque
and you’re handing off the passwords and keys to the safe

Freedom To, and freedom from
Get what you’re giving
Leaving when you’re done
When you’re looking at it sideways, you wonder what does it take
To get your brothers and your sisters to realize what’s at stake

Freedom From, and freedom to
Correct action, Moral Traction
and unopposed views
If you’d only see it my way it might not be too late
And I’ll keep falling over backwards into the rigorous state
Freedom From, and freedom to

Spilken Selects #2: The Food Lab’s Hummus Recipe

Welcome to Spilken Selects! In this weekly series I’ll post a short review about something I really enjoy with the hope that maybe you will too. No subject will be off limits. If it’s a product, and you buy it from my link, I get a small kickback. Cool? Cool.

My earliest recipe for Hummus came from my friend Catherine’s mother, Sonja Lallemand. Sonja’s hummus was impossibly flavorful, and though I never got the full scoop on what additional spices went in with the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and olive oil I had a pretty good handle on making a quite edible variation. Sonja’s hummus is a stiffer, grainier blend that holds up wonderfully in sandwiches, but I’ve always wondered how to pull off the smooth, creamy hummus (topped with a delightfully spicy sauce we’ll get back to soon) that I first tasted at the Jerusalem Cafe in Westport.

The answer came from J. Kenji López-Alt, aka the genius behind The Food Lab on Serious Eats.

The Food Lab’s Israeli-Style Extra Smooth Hummus Recipe

I’ve made this recipe twice now, and each time it’s been a massive success. The time investment is minimal, the ingredients are relatively cheap, and the flavor is, frankly, amazing. In future iterations I intend to create variations including olives, spinach & artichokes, and a spicy version (that I alone will end up eating).

Speaking of spicy, the sauce that I mentioned earlier? For years I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, so I added Sambal Oelek to bring the heat. Sambal does make an excellent compliment to hummus, but for that authentic Mediterranean / African taste, you’ve got to get “wet” Harissa. It brings a roasted pepper richness to the party along with a subtle creeping heat that’s just delightful.

BTW, Kenji’s first cookbook, The Food Lab, is phenomenal. It’s a masterclass in cooking techniques with a scientific, nerdy bend that has really upped my game in the kitchen. The Hummus recipe isn’t included but the “no stir” risotto method alone makes it worth the price of admission. The book itself is gorgeous, and makes an AMAZING gift. Check it out here: