28 January 2014

Reading

Yesterday, in the evening, I gave into a creative endeavor once again, and participated in my second reading as part of an ongoing art group here in Jersey City.  I discovered this group through the connection from a friend I had met during my time working at my last job, and as I was going to have some free time on my hands, I asked her about any options for getting involved in something creative locally.

She got me in touch with the leader of this arthouse group, and I put myself in for availability to be a reader for works in progress that local writers are developing.  Scripts mainly, from what I understand.  I was lucky enough with my timing to get to be a reader in the first meeting I was able to attend, which was in December.  I was further, lucky enough to get to read for two scripts last night at the January meeting of this group.

I know that it is very unlikely for me that this would develop into something that could be a full time job, but I'm not looking for this to become that.  I'm looking for this to be a fun way to engage with local creative types, to perhaps get my own juices flowing in that area.

Out in the city (New York, of course) the other night, my friend Lou suggested an idea for a script that's been bouncing around in his head for a bit of time.  I've been thinking about it, and I think I'm going to have a go at creating some characters and a treatment/outline of his idea, to see what he thinks about it.  If nothing else, again, it can be a way to exercise some creative muscles.

I do think that it's important to have an outlet of some type for the mind to get creative.  It can be music, painting, photography, whatever works for that person's particular expression.  For me, I've tried music, and have enjoyed it, and I've done some writing, mainly poetry.  Doesn't everyone try it at some point?  In the college years, that's when I was able to write the most, with the free time (outside of studying) that the lifestyle of the time afforded.

I'll keep my public posted on what happens...

10 January 2014

Review: Yarn - Idiot Pop

Today we are visiting the second of two albums I am reviewing for my good and dear friend Tom Arnold, and today we will visit a project that I believe he had more creative input in, a disc called Idiot Pop, under the name Yarn.  Those of you who know of my witty banter with Tom, will take as a given that there are many jokes that can be made about the name of the album, and the term "Idiot" in that title.

Again, the construction of said jokes are left as an exercise to the reader.

This project was recorded in the mid-2000's, but did not see a physical release.  It's now available online at this website, and I-Tunes may even sell it.  Tom worked with songwriter Simon Young on this release, so I have to assume that any good bits are Simon's.  The notes on the website describe this as intelligent English pop, so we shall see what we have in store for us...



My thoughts...

  • Intro:  A relaxed intro to the album, mellow and laid back.  Well produced and calming.  Kind of 70's-ish in feel, but I say that in a good way.  No vocals so far.  Perhaps it would have been too pretentious to call this an overture, and I'll have to see if any of the themes from this intro crop up in any of the songs in the set.  
  • Personality:  Ooh, a rocker!  This starts with some great upbeat guitar/drum/Hammond sound driving the track along.  The voice has a distinct sound to its quality, and is easily understood, which is not always the case with modern music.  Sounds like it's about the travails of being a pop star, which I know from experience is a rough life... Nice backing "la-la's" in the third verse.  Subtle, which makes it okay in my book.  
  • Painter:  Almost funky in the start.  Keyboard on a Mellotron flute setting in the intro?  I like this song, it's quirky in a light, fun way.  A note.  Some of the endings of the songs tend to fade abruptly.  I'm not sure if that's an artifact of the MP3, or is actually how the album was mixed/mastered.  
  • When We're Gone:  A more laid back track here.  Reflective about being gone, of being thought about in absence.  Now that's a Mellotron at the end of the chorus!  Lots going on in this track during the verse.  It may be a bit too busy, but it has a 60's vibe to it that does still work.
  • Everybody:  This is a lighter track, but it feels a bit too robotic to me in the choruses, where I feel it should swing and be a bit looser.  The bass and drums are a bit *too* in lock with each other.  Perhaps the track could be better served with a different arrangement.  I think the song itself is pretty good, it simply needs better dressing.
  • Stop the War:  The opening makes me feel like an older song from the 50's or early 60's.  Almost like lounge music that I'd see in a movie from that era.  Black and white, the lead walks into the smoky hotel bar, looking for his hookup for the evening.  She's at the bar, smoking a cigarette, looking off into the distance, while this song plays in the background... 
  • A Better Way:  A good mix of louder and quieter sections in this song, but still not in your face.  It's very well balanced in that respect.  Nice vocal harmony in the arrangement.  A short track, at a tick under two minutes.  I'd prefer there to be a bit more to this one, it felt like it was just getting started when it ended.
  • Making Monkeys:  A real sax in the track?  I think so... Another happy fun number, with a good drive along to the ending.  This is a good fun track, with a bouncy feel to it that makes me groove along with it.  
  • I Do:  Slow Fender Rhodes starts the track.  A bit more serious?  A love song, that picks up after the start of the track.  A bit of melancholy in the verses, so I'm not quite sure if the singer is happy about this situation or not.  It certainly doesn't feel that way, but perhaps I'm mis-reading the tone of the song?
  • Black Sheep:  A happy guitar starts the song, chording along.  Some horns in the verses make me think of some stereotypical Mexican music, but it does seem to work.   Again, this song feels happy to me, and I'm glad to be happy with it.
  • Bend in the River:  Brushes on the drums.  And then, it turns into a more groove oriented song, with Hammond organ and piano driving the song along.  Is this an instrumental?  No vocals yet... Yes, I think it is all instrumental.  There certainly could have been vocals, with the structure of the song, but I don't mind their absence.  I would like the Hammond bits a bit higher in the mix during the verses.  
  • Wings:  Not a tribute to the Paul McCartney band, although the intro piano sounds a tiny bit like the start of "Let It Be."  Not a Wings song, I know, but it is McCartney.  But back to this track.  It's a piano ballad.  It's okay.  Not jumping out at me to catch my attention, but I guess every album needs a track like this?  The solo in the middle of the track echoes the vocal melody nicely.  
  • Golden Egg:  The longest song on the album, clocking in at 4:52.  The laid back intro goes into a Hammondish/spacey sounding section, with the drums still clicking along to their pattern.  I'm interested in where this is going, as again, we don't have vocals yet...  The piano is playing what could be a vocal melody, but I'm past the halfway mark here, so I think we're in instrumental land.  I like it... 
  • With Everything:  And at the end, we conclude with a jumble of instruments and vocal snippets.  Truly, with everything.  Psychedelia without the drugs?  Clocking in at 1:44, something like this is about a minute too long.  
Overall, I enjoyed this disc.  When the tracks come up on random play on my computer, I certainly am not going to skip the songs, except for perhaps 'With Everything,' as it doesn't appear to bear up to repeated listening.  Although, perhaps repeated listening will reveal its charms?  On a 5 point rating scale, I'll give this 3.5 stars.    

09 January 2014

Review: Ungagged - Where the River Meets the Sea

My good friend Tom Arnold (no, not the actor) is a professional drummer over in the UK.  He gave me two albums that he played on, and had asked some time ago for me to write one of my patented stream of consciousness, write as I listen, reviews.

Finally, I'm getting around to it.  Being unemployed, or only working part time, means I do have a bit more time on my hands as compared to normal, so I'm catching up on items like this that I've been meaning to do for awhile.

This album, entitled, "Where the River Meets the Sea," was released in 2006 under the moniker "Ungagged."  This one album project was recorded as a trio, with Tom Arnold on drums, Hammond organ (watch later for appropriate playing with organ jokes), Mark Allen on lead vocals and acoustic guitar (he also wrote all the material), and Richard Durrant on guitar and all other stringed instruments.


So, without further ado, the songs:

  • Might Be the Reason:  A good opening number on the album.  A story song about people meeting along a railway trip.  Nice Hammond organ in the choruses.  The middle eight is a little bit too much of a break to me, but it does end with a nice subdued guitar solo.  Subtle arrangement in the third verse with some guitar punctuation and drum breaks giving some personality to the song.  So far, I'm enjoying this.
  • Find a New Dream:  Another train song?  A song about moving on and leaving the past behind.  The singer's voice is calm and relaxing.  Very smooth sounding.  The main thought going through my head about the album so far is that it's very mature, and very well produced.  
  • Let the Pages Blacken:  "Changed the key to your heart..."  Not sure if I like that metaphor.  Fingerpicking guitar and voice.  More laid back arrangement for this track so far.  Cello in the second verse?  A relationship song, talk of a letter, of needing the connection to keep going... Sometimes, you have to write for your own reasons, not for the pleasure of the intended recipient.
  • I'm Not Afraid:  Starts uptempo, with banjo in the mix!  Uptempo, with solid backing vocals in the chorus that drives the song along.  Nice hi-hat and cymbal work.  Subtle.  The bass gets a bit of movement in this song also, which keeps the pace up.  Good stuff.  I'm almost thinking that these songs may be linked lyrically more than I caught on previous listens.  You could make a story moving forward with the songs on the album up to this point...
  • Pull Away:  Relationship song, but more about family this time, talk of a father, being distant?  The music is a bit happier sounding than the lyrics would call for, I would think.   Not that it all has to be minor key and a downer with a song like this, but it's seems a bit of a mismatch for me.  I'm not feeling a real connection to this song, like I did with the others.  Some good Hammond work again from Tom near the end.  It's an instrument that doesn't get used as much now as it had in the past. 
  • Reaction to You:  A song about how love makes you feel... A laid back song and arrangement, no drums so far.  Driven along by guitar and Hammond.  This middle eight worked for me, bringing me back into the song, to go along for the rest of the ride.  Now there's a turn at the end, making it seem like the reaction to the person in the relationship is now negative, that he wants to get out... Not sure where that came from...
  • Jackie:  More relationship issues, again with parents/father in this track.  How the relationship at home affects the life outside of the home also.  He goes to jail in the middle eight!  Got into a fight with some soldiers...  Not a song that worked for me, although I did generally like the music for this one.  Just guitar and voice, with some other flourishes thrown in.
  • If You Trip:  I think we're in the acoustic part of the album.  No drums again in this track so far.  Harmonium in this track, or is that an accordion?  The lyrics, again about someone walking a tightrope in their life, don't do much for me, but I am finding my head nodding along to the music, which is a good thing.
  • Cold Cuts:  Another angry song, but with no drums.  Wait, here they are!  After the first verse or two.  I think the song could have been stronger had there been some sort of percussion at the start running up to the part of the song later on.  I think the songs may be better served by some more variety in the arrangement, or perhaps there were just too many drum free songs in a row, after the strong start the album had.  Ended a bit abruptly... 
  • I'll See You:  Something about the start of this song just makes me smile.  Light percussion, the vocal, a guitar figure, just makes it all work for me.  I'm looking forward to the rest of this song, after having a bit of a dry spell in the middle of the album.  This almost feels like it could be the last song on the album, but I know there are two other songs.  We'll see how the rest of the album feels after this track.  The momentum of this song in the choruses really works for me.  An interesting counterpoint with backing vocals during the last part of the song.  One person saying "I'll see you again," while the other says "I won't see you, when you're dead and gone."
  • Where the River Meets the Sea:  Piano ballad!  Haven't had one of these yet on the album.  I'm curious to see how this develops.  Almost any song about rivers meeting the sea works for me.  "The Sea Refuses No River" by Pete Townshend comes to mind.  This is not a copy of that song, but the metaphor still works.  No drums again.  Maybe I'm a sucker for the dramatic, but I think some different arrangements for some of these tracks could add some oomph to the message of the music, accenting or projecting the music more strongly.  
  • The Offering:  Music as an offering, is the metaphor in the lyrics.  I'm enjoying the verses, but the chorus loses it for me, it's trying a bit too much to be inspirational, and be the *final song* of the album, whereas I think "I See You" could have been a more natural closer to the album.  Yes, it's trying a bit too hard at the end, with a "la la la" chorus, with the singer asking us to sing along.  Maybe it would work in a live setting, but on this album, it feels a bit contrived to me.
Overall, I have to say I enjoyed the album.  Yes, there's songs I don't enjoy as much as others, or that I think just don't work, but there's few albums out there that do meet that standard.  If you're looking for laid back music, that has a mellow feel to it, professionally done, then this is a good album to give your ears to for awhile.

Also, my compliments to the album packaging, I see many "independent" releases that the album art and packaging appear cheap and tawdry, but this album is put together very nicely, to the band photos on the front and back cover, to the lyric booklet, and even the font choice of the booklet credits looks professional.  
For those of you who like ratings, I'll give this 3 stars out of 5.  If the order is rearranged with the last song on the album dropped, and "I'll See You" at the end instead, I'll bump it up to 3.5.

Now, tomorrow, I'll review another release that Tom played on, a collection of songs called "Idiot Pop," under the band name "Yarn."  

08 January 2014

King Crimson

(Another draft blog, from a few years back...)

Hello all! Yes, I've been neglectful of this blog, so let me start back up with what I left off with, King Crimson...


Back on August 14th, I went into NYC to see King Crimson at the Nokia Theatre. It was INTENSE!!! Great stuff, I was front row, right in front of Tony Levin. I could see Belew, Fripp, and Gavin Harrison great, although generally, Belew blocked my view of Pat Mastelotto...


The setlist was (to the best of my memory, so the order may be screwy):Drum duetThe ConstruKction of LightNeuroticaRedDinosaurTalking DrumLarks Tongues IIWalking On AirThree of a Perfect PairLevel FiveB'BoomFrame By FrameIndisciplineFirst Encore:2nd Drum DuetElephant Talk2nd Encore:Vrooom/CodaThela Hun GingeetI may be missing a song or two in there, I'll have to check online, but it was GREAT! There was an empty seat right next to me, so I thought of you being there... A lot of times, I thought, "I bet Eli would be loving this!" :)I did see Sid Smith after the show, so we'll see if I'll show up on the videos he's been posting onto the DGMLive.com site... I also made some new friend, this guy Vincent, who's a bit of a nut, but wanted to send me some music, so I gave him my e-mail. He's very into Van Der Graaf Generator, and he's already sending me some stuff. A nice guy, about 50 and a hairdresser, but he must have money, as he seems to be one of those "edgy" guys.

Cups!

(Just found this old blog in the "Draft" file, so perhaps it never got posted???  From about 2007, I believe...)

While waiting for the movie to start, and drinking my large Cherry-Coke, I was reminded of an idea that Brian had awhile back. It's a brilliant one, and it came to my mind today while reading the vapid, banal blatherings up on the screen from half unknown celebrites in the "E!" series of quotes. Something from Carmen Electra along the lines of "Life's not worth living if there's not a camera around," or some such thing.

Brian's idea was to have McDonalds and other fast food places, instead of just having "YAY MCDONALDS" or whatever they put on their cups or other packaging, have historical facts, interesting educational stuff on their materials. It would be good PR for the companies, and good for the populace who might actually learn something, instead of either being unengaged with the items in their hands, or looking at the latest M logo on the cups. When the companies would do their promotions, sure, they could still make Darth Vader cups, or whatever they wanted, but at other times, they'd be educating the public. It would be cheap, and fun! They're already paying someone to design the logos on their packages, just have a historian or someone on staff also, to bring up interesting facts from the past.

I thought today that another interesting place to do this, with a captive audience, was in movie theaters. I don't truly care what Carmen Electra, Matt Damon, or others have to say about their fleeting fame, why not put some quotes from Jefferson, Washington, Martin Luther King, and others up there? Or, do "History of the Movies," with Charlie Chaplin, or even go back further, get quotes from Edwin Booth up there... Granted, no films were made in the 1800's, but he *was* an actor.

Rant mode off now...

But, one other quick thing. One of the ads before the movie was for a car repair place in Jersey City, and their tag line was "We take the Dents out of Accidents." Clever, and it got me thinking if "dents" is actually derived from "accidents." I'll have to look that up. An answer to this in a future blog.

As for the movie itself, I really enjoyed it. Will Ferrell was understated, which is when I think he's actually at his most funny. The story was fun, although parts did feel a bit underdeveloped, such as Ferrell's relationship with the female lead (Maggie Glynnenhall, or however it's spelled). It would have been nice to see Buster Bluth (Tony Hale) get more screen time too, but I was just happy to see him with two hands. Overall, a good solid recommendation from Sue and myself for the movie.

The idea of a fictional character realizing they're in a fiction isn't original to this movie. I think I first ran across it in novels by Robert Heinlein, specifically in "The Number of the Beast" and "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls." Any other examples out there that you, gentle readers, can think of?

On Friday night, I watched the new Battlestar Galactica. I enjoyed the episode, but thought that the resolution was a bit anti-climatic. However, in the big picture, I am wondering the following about the show:
  • It seems like the Galactica, along with the Cylons, are really on the trail of Earth. I think at some point, they will find the lost 13th colony, but when in the show will it happen? Not this season, I predict. Probably not even in the 4th season, should one happen. Also, what era will they find Earth? There's no guarantee that they'll find it during our "present" history. It'd be fun if they stumble upon Earth, and we're still in medieval times, or something like that.
  • Will the Cylons kill Baltar? So far, the show hasn't killed off any major characters (Billy doesn't count), so may the B-man be the first to go? I personally don't think so, he's too fun to be around...
  • Will Sharon/Athena and Hilo conceive again? I don't see why not. Sooner or later, she'll have to find out that her baby is alive. What are the Cylons doing with the baby anyway?
I think that's all for now... Coming up soon, what is Mike reading?
NP: Genesis - Back In N.Y.C. (15 Apr 1975)

Where in the World Have I Been????

Ah, blog, I've taken too long to update you.  There's so much to go over, but let's try to get up to date where I'm at right now...

I'm engaging in a job search, to see where the next stage of my work life will take me.  Generally, I am looking within the world of education, where I have spent the majority of my career.  However, I am open to interesting possibilities in other areas.

On a weekly basis, I get about 5 applications out to the positions that I find interesting.  I've been on this for a bit over a month, so I am in that window where I should start hearing from some of the institutions to set up interviews.  Sure enough, right on schedule, I received an e-mail yesterday to set up an interview for next week.  So, we shall see where this ends up...

More to come soon.  I am going to provide more frequent posts here, in a regular manner, to give myself some discipline and structure while I engage in this new start.

19 September 2012

The Age of Connection

I've been meaning to post about this for awhile.  This summer, I had an experience that really showed me the power of social media, and the interconnectedness we can all share if we choose to do so.

I had a Friday off from work, so I went into NYC to visit Eli at work, and to go to lunch together.  Because we're both nerds, we use Foursquare, and I checked in at the location where we were eating.  I didn't really think much about it, but then again, it was just a fun thing to do.  Gain a few points, see where I stack up against friends with the check-ins for the week, you know the score.

About ten minutes after I had checked in, who should show up at our booth but a friend of ours.  Let's call him Tom.  Eli and I were both pleasantly surprised, and we asked if he was at the restaurant on his own lunch hour.

He said, "I saw you check in on Foursquare on Facebook, and I work just a few blocks from here, so I thought I'd swing by."

Now, I know this isn't rocket science, but for me, it was a very quick realization how social media brought this connection together.  Granted, we're not curing cancer here, but still, we got to hang out with a friend who we otherwise wouldn't have seen that day.

For this child of the 70s/80s, it was a real thrill.


14 October 2011

iPhone blogging

My first blog with the iPhone app. Just a test, nothing to see here...

17 August 2011

Visiting Boston College

A few weekends ago, I was up in Boston, visiting friends with Eli, which of course was a blast. It's always good to reconnect with old compatriots, even though we communicate a lot over e-mail, phone, and other venues. However, nothing beats being able to wander through old haunts, refreshing memories of those days gone by.

Wandering through the campus of Boston College, it's easy to focus on what is new and different, and part of my conversation with Eli was about that. New building here, changed pathway there, those are the surface changes that are easy to point out. What is deeper and more meaningful, is feeling the reflection and the ghosts of those old memories coming back to life.

Wandering around the grass of Shaw House, it was easy to remember the first time I stayed there, as a senior in High School, and then returning in September 1989 to live there for the first two years of my college experience. It's not the place to just randomly recount memories here, as this is more about those feelings of refreshing the well of memory. Place plays a strong role in memory, so being able to wander the grounds around the building, talking with Eli about what was where, who lived in different rooms, it was easy to connect back to those old times.

I did wish that some of those people I shared the time with were there also, as I think the discussion of what we remembered would cause a great synergy. Tony G. and I have often talked of revisiting Boston at the same time, and this visit just makes it even more imperative to do so at some point in the future.

Revisiting other areas of campus, walking the walks, it gave me flashes of memories that I hadn't recalled in years... Visiting Boston in general allows for that, and also creates the new memories...