Skyscraper Magazine » 2010 » September
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Welcome to the all-new Skyscraper Magazine website. As you may know, Skyscraper was a print publication for 11 years, publishing 30 issues between 1998 and 2009 (and if you don’t know, you can learn more about us here). When we shut down the print edition (for reasons explained in greater detail here), the intention was always to return as a full-fledged online magazine. We certainly didn’t plan on that transition taking more than a year to accomplish, but some things got in the way: work and school, family life, relocations, and, most of all, technical setbacks and a general lack of experience with web development (we were, after all, quite luddistic in our devotion to the print medium, so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that we were a bit naïve and much overwhelmed when it came to dealing exclusively with the digital realm). Nevertheless, here we are now, and we couldn’t be more excited to be back.

Not only is Skyscraper up and running again, but we’ll be publishing more frequently and covering a wider array of topics than ever before. Perhaps the most striking change you’ll notice between the print edition and this site is that Skyscraper online will publish new content every day, Monday through Friday. The main focus of what we do, however, should look very familiar to anyone who has ever read the magazine before: critical reviews of new music releases and in-depth interviews with, and articles on, emerging and innovative artists. Added to that core content will be a number of new sections that address subjects that we either haven’t dealt with in a long while, haven’t previously written about in much detail, or haven’t ever covered before. For instance, the site features much expanded coverage of books and print media, including graphic novels, fiction and poetry, and author interviews. Our film and video section is enlarging to include fictional movies alongside music-related nonfiction films. We’ve also brought back concert reviews and singles coverage. In addition, in the coming weeks we’ll be introducing several blog-like columns on genres and topics ranging from modern classical music and the British indie music scene to comedy and small-press recordings (limited edition vinyl, cassettes, et al). This here column, the Editor’s Desk, will serve as something of a sounding board for a mix of news stories, site updates, and initial thoughts on new artists and releases.

Let it be known that the site before you now is only the beginning. We’re still overcoming considerable web development limitations, for one, and expect this beta version of the site to improve and expand considerably in the foreseeable future (though that statement should by no means diminish the tremendous effort of our web developer, Alec Ferrell, who has worked diligently to bring this project to its fruition). In time, we will host audio-visual content on the site, such as streaming or downloadable music, videos, and photo galleries. We also hope to branch out into still more categories and types of media, including reporting on technology, the music industry, and even television. That said, please bear with us as we get our digital sea legs, so to speak – there are sure to be some kinks and bugs (kinky bugs?) at the outset, both at the technical and editorial ends of things, but rest assured we’ll be working to resolve them as quickly as possible.

For now, thank you for reading. We hope you enjoy what you see, and that you’ll continue to return in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Sincerely,
Andrew Bottomley and Peter Bottomley
Co-Publishers

Justin Pearson is a real prick. I don’t mean personally; he’s actually a really nice guy. But essentially, Pearson is a mirror to the austere elements of his world – one that is violent, tragic, and absurd. In today’s indie/punk music scene, there is no one quite as notorious as him. The 34-year-old has amassed a track record well beyond his years, while always remaining artistically one step ahead of the curve and never once compromising his terms. Beginning with the avant principles and sounds of emo-hardcore outfits Struggle and Swing Kids, to founding the truly independent label ThreeOneG, to the perverted brutal sex disco of All Leather and the mass-hysteria inducing experimentalism of The Locust, Pearson’s beliefs, work ethic, vision, and aesthetic have garnered worldwide fame fueled on a hand-to-mouth and shoestring existence.

Completely unlike any other band to ever exist, The Locust’s ability to perplex audiences and garner the most proactive crowd interaction, albeit negative most of the time, is completely singular. Not unlike early Expressionist plays, The Locust’s performances have caused outright riots while still holding a weird esoteric integrity, with Pearson at the eye of the aesthetic storm. His new book From The Graveyard of The Arousal Industry, published back in May by Soft Skull Press, is a candid look at the experiences that made the artist who he is, the reactions garnered as well as spewed forth from a sometimes horrifying, sometimes funny, and definitely interesting life.

Skyscraper: Although written as a memoir, From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry is among the first real glimpses at the history of D.I.Y. 1990s hardcore. I was jolted seeing the names of bands like Born Against and U.O.A. in book print, even though I suspected you would mention some of those bands at some point. Have you come across any “officially” published books dealing with the genre, however peripherally, other than yours?

Justin Pearson: My book isn’t really supposed to be about the history of 1990s hardcore. However, I’m well aware that I was part of that time and genre of music. I’d like to think and hope that what I wrote is more general than that. For one, I have always tried to not directly identify or align myself with a genre or subculture, if you will. With books like [Brian Peterson’s] Burning Fight coming out, which is obviously trying to document a genre and history of music, I wanted to go beyond that, or actually not be specific to something like what he published.

For one, I’m not educated to write about anything historically accurate other than my life. And then after that, it’s all a matter of opinion, really. I think with a documentation of D.I.Y. culture, or what have you, it’s hard to cover all the bases. My book is just a linear selection of short stories that are pertaining to my life and my life experiences. But back to your question: I know of a few books that are starting to surface or that are in the works, which are about the very topic you are mentioning. I think there are only so many books that can be written about The Clash, so it might be time to move on.

Skyscraper: Even though your book doesn’t aspire to do this, do you think it’s important for such a history to be written? So much of the music of that era was about immediacy and intimacy, about living in the moment and connecting with the people and the music on a personal level. Is there a risk in historicizing it now? So many of those books about The Clash and the first wave of punk, as well as more recent books like American Hardcore and Our Band Could Be Your Life, tend to obscure the past in a wave of nostalgia, and instead of focusing on the culture and the community, just create rock star personalities and a canon of the “best” bands and recordings.

JP: Great question. I’m not sure if it should or can be documented. However, I think it will be in due time, in some way – be it a book or something else. I think things like the Arab on Radar Sunshine for Shady People DVD captures a moment in time, and accurately places the viewer there in a realistic seat. The thing I noticed about a lot of books and films that have surfaced about music related aspects of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are that they tend to be so romanticized or overly dramatic. Granted with films like Control or something of that stature, you need it to contain more dramatic elements. Not that aspects of the film were inaccurate, but plenty is left out for the viewer. For one, there is so much down time. So, it’s all of the extreme points rolled into one thing. And two, its just a perspective. Like with my book: it spans most of my life. There was plenty of boring, average stuff left out. And even with that being said, there is only my perspective being told. No matter how hard one tried to accurately document anything, it’s never precise and hardly 100% accurate. Even textbooks pertaining to history in school tend to be inaccurate.

Skyscraper: Did the book arise from tour journals? Did you ever keep tour journals with The Locust, Swing Kids, or any of the bands you toured with?

JP: I had been asked to do some tour journals for both The Locust and Some Girls a few years back. Before that, I had never taken the time to document stuff like that. So, the bulk of the book content is just from avenues of my memory. I had utilized the downtime of long drives on tour to start to document stories, which originally was what I was doing for the journals. I shared them with a couple people, and some suggested that I write a book. So, I think that initially got me going on what had become my actual book. Of course, there were some who said that I am a horrible writer, be it the actual literary aspect or the context. But hey, everyone is a critic. I just figured there is a lot worse out there than what I did and will do. Plus, I’m aware that what I’m part of – writing a book, playing in bands, et cetera – is not for everyone. Not everyone will get it, and not everyone will enjoy or appreciate it.

Skyscraper: But certainly there are people out there who will appreciate it, and I imagine you’re writing for them, as well as for yourself. Apart from encouragement by friends, what sparked you to write a memoir now? You’re only 34 years old, so it’s not as though you’re nearing the end of your life and sentimentally longing for the glory days of your youth, which is when most people sit down to write their autobiographies. Do you feel like you have something to prove, or that you need to set the record straight on certain parts of your life, or that others can learn something valuable from your experiences?

JP: That’s just it, I never called it memoirs and its not an autobiography per se. That is why I wanted to have the stories short at times, with no table of contents, and whatever else I did to avoid it reading that way. It was just a collection of stories originally. And at some point, I filled in a few blanks making it more linear. I’m sure it’s setting a lot of stuff “straight,” as you put it. But I don’t have anything to prove per se. It’s just my perception of things pertaining to my life, simple as that. Maybe the fact that I’m not a trained writer – I can hide behind that statement saying it’s not memoirs or even that I’m not a writer. It just is a “thing,” a collection of stories, or a piece of “work.”

Skyscraper: Were you at all self-conscious or cautious of what you were (and often were not) telling? What was that process like, deciding what to put in the book and what to leave out? For instance, when I read the promotional blurb describing the circumstances of your father’s death, as any reader would be, I was intrigued. It immediately smacked of an “angle,” though, that a publisher would latch onto and include in a press release in order to engage prospective readers and sell the book – I’ve worked in the industry and it happens. Though when I actually read the book, to be honest I was confused as to why you didn’t go into more detail, however speculative, surrounding his death. Can you explain your decision to only go so far with those details?

JP: Of course, I was both. It’s my story, my perspective. There was a lot that I had to leave out of the entire book, to avoid getting sued for one. But as far as the story pertaining to my father’s death, of course I don’t tell every single detail. How could I? I was only 12 when that all happened. As for the publisher and editor, there was nothing on their part to alter what I wrote to dumb down a story, or to beef it up. I think working with an editor strictly gave me the perspective of a legit third party, where constructive criticism came into play. And again, the only time an “angle” was put forth by the publisher was strictly to suggest avoiding a lawsuit. And even with that, I pretty much just ignored listening to reason. After the fact, I think a lot of the stories could have used more detail. But again, this was my first attempt at legit writing.

Skyscraper: Your bands, and you personally, have long had a reputation for being provocateurs. Obviously, you even say there was concern that some of the stories you have to tell might get you sued. Did you ever feel obligated to emphasize the more sensational and controversial parts of your life?

JP: I’m not sure really. I know I tend to be provocative in many respects. But with that, I think those engagements typically fall on some sort of social or political belief. Maybe it’s my subconscious challenging people, or even challenging myself. But as far as an obligation to emphasize something in specific, I don’t know that I was aware that I was supposed to, or was doing so. Now that I can reflect on the book as a whole, I think some of the stories that connect the more absurd stories are a bit bland – or maybe not as relevant to, say, someone who has no idea who I am or who the people pertaining to the stories are. And now I’m trying to write a piece about a specific two-week period in my life, and I’m approaching it in a different manner. I’m trying to focus on me, and use me to explain the other parties involved. The situation was ridiculous, and for lack of a better word, retarded… not by my choice. But I was part of the situation. So I want to try to point out that it was what it was without sounding like I am talking shit, or criticizing someone else. It’s about my direct involvement and what I did and why I did it.

Skyscraper: Have you received any negative feedback from “fans” about the book? More importantly, have there been any consequences with friends, former friends, or family of telling certain stories? What has the outcome been thus far?

JP: Shockingly enough, I have gotten no negative feedback from “fans”… yet. Other than that, my mom was pretty bummed on aspects of the book.

Skyscraper: I can see how your mom might react that way, though it’s clear from reading the book that you have the utmost love and respect for her. By chance, have you come across any friends who are bummed that you didn’t include them or certain events in the book?

JP: Ha-ha! Yes. And a couple of them should be in there, but for whatever reason I avoided writing about them. I suppose the situations were not as black-and-white in my mind. Like, maybe I would criticize them, even constructively criticize them, or better yet criticize myself pertaining to the specific situations. But things have changed over time, and it was not appropriate for whatever reason. Also, I capped the stories at some point. I didn’t want to write about everything, everyone, and every time that I could remember.

Skyscraper: What are some of your favorite rock musician autobiographies or memoirs? Was there anything you gravitated towards for inspiration or vantage point before or during writing the book?

JP: As for “rock musicians,” I have read a few [of their books] in my time. Since I was a little kid, I would always read John Lydon’s books. Nick Cave, too. But most of the “rock musicians” that I have read books about were biographies, not autobiographies or memoirs. So, there is that obvious feeling of legitimacy missing when it’s not told from the actual artist. As far as inspiration or even vantage, I think the direction that my book went in was sort of based on how I perceive art, music, and lyrics that I’m part of. I suppose the most obvious being the short pieces, or “chapters.” And then the fact that there are elements that make the book not so traditional in the way it’s written. For one, even with music, I have had no “proper training.” I just dove in headfirst and did whatever I wanted to do.

Skyscraper: The looser format and conversational tone of the book suits you and your background. Plus, the best writers don’t necessarily tell the best stories. But are you suggesting that biographies are less factual or less insightful than autobiographies? Isn’t it true that authors of autobiographies or memoirs have more of an incentive to bend the truth or omit certain important details, or simply forget or misremember things? And aren’t there times when having multiple perspectives on a topic or event are valuable?

JP: Totally. The stuff I wrote about is only my perspective, as I explained earlier. But again, I’ll avoid that criticism by saying I never called it memoirs or an autobiography. It’s like a get out of jail free card anytime I’m asked a question like this. And again, the way one person tells a story is tweaked to fit that specific memory or vision.

Skyscraper: I’ve always been engaged and confused about The Locust’s ability to incite crowd interaction, particularly to negative effect. I’ve never quite been able to tell whether it was the band that propagated it or the audience. I once asked Gabe [Serbian] this question, and he told me “assholes and good kids are a dime a dozen,” which didn’t really clear things up too much. I think he thought I was sucking up to him. Anyway, can you explain the haters? Was it something that happened quickly at the inception of the band and spiraled into a very major attribute of The Locust’s trip?  Or was it something that, once happening, you cultivated?

JP: To be completely honest, I can’t explain this. I, too, have pondered the reaction that, say, The Locust gets (or more so got, as we have managed to alter the way the crowd can and can’t react to us). But one thing I’m sure about: there are a lot of bands out there that nobody could give two shits about. And well, if people are talking about a band that I’m in, that beats not getting noticed at all. Plus, the negative publicity is often 10-times more effective than the positive, as far as reaching some sort of end goal. It sure goes a lot farther than “those guys are so nice.”

I suppose the biggest downfall to this is that the real point is often missed. Great example: when people will talk shit about The Locust, it’s rarely about the music. Even when they do talk about our musicianship, like stating that we are untalented or that they can play our songs one handed, I just have to laugh. I mean, all I have to say is two words: GABE SERBIAN. From a guy who has a list of “forbidden beats,” I can only say that the people who he chooses to play with have to be able to hold some sort of musical relevance.

But again, this is just my opinion (insert shit talking by a “fan”). The live element of heckling and even physically fighting us has been curbed drastically since The Locust’s live set was one fluid piece for the last few years. There is no chance for banter, and with no chance for banter, typically there is less chance for confrontation.

Skyscraper: Would you like to say something to totally incriminate yourself in this interview?

JP: No. I think I already did that in my book.

Photo of Pearson in Locust outfit: Raquel Medina.

Matmos trade off responsibility for the creative concepts of their albums. The duo of Martin “M.C.” Schmidt, 47, and Dr. Drew Daniel, 38, are currently working on their ninth album, this time around under the guidance of Daniel (the album is going by the working title of The Marriage of True Minds). Originally from San Francisco, they are now living in Baltimore while Daniel holds down a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Johns Hopkins University.

Following up 2008’s all-electronic Supreme Balloon (Matador), Matmos is once again headed in the opposite direction, deriving the sonic possibilities for the new album from subjects’ mental constructions formed during sessions inspired by the Ganzfeld experiments in telepathy which were invented in the 1930s and more recently revisited in the 1970s and 1980s. Being involved in the academic schedule, Schmidt and Daniel tour between semesters in the summer, frequently overseas.

This interview was conducted on August 9, 2009. Since then, Matmos has released Treasure State (Cantaloupe Music, 2010), a collaboration with Brooklyn’s So Percussion. In June, the two groups played a half-dozen dates together across North America in its support.

The concept of the new album

Drew Daniel: What we do often gets described as concept albums, and I’ve always felt weird about the phrase “concept record” because, typically, at least in the ‘70s prog rock era, what that meant was a kind of light operetta in which there are characters and narrative and this song is this person’s perspective.

Martin Schmidt: Like Olias of Sunhillow.

DD: Yeah.

MS: By Jon Anderson from Yes. That’s a story about a giant ship that’s taking a race of people across space to a new planet, but they’re sort of like elves.

DD: So that’s the rock album as the new novel model of what a concept record would be, and then there’s our version, which is more like conceptual art of the mid-60s – the idea of you commit to a germ of, a sort of recipe or formula, and then you execute that formula and that creates the work. That’s the, like, Sol LeWitt definition of it in Sentences on Conceptual Art, that the idea is the machine that produces the work. And I started to think more and more about, well, what do we do when we make a concept record? How could I purify this further? And essentially concepts are mental, right? They’re mental constructions, so how could I create a situation in which a mental construction was completely responsible for an outcome?

And I thought of reenacting these Ganzfeld experiments into telepathy, as a way of setting up a situation in which the private mental contents of one person are supposedly causally powerful – they’re supposedly causing something. And so the setup of the experiment is that people are put into a state of mild sensory deprivation. They listen to white noise on headphones, their eyes are covered, there’s a red light shining in their face; so their normal perceptual pathways are cut off and, supposedly, the theory of the original experiments was that telepathy is a kind of weak perceptual pathway that’s drowned out by our normal senses, and so if we close those off perhaps you’ll be able to pick up signals. So in this setup people are not listening and not seeing, and they’re instructed to simply open their minds and try to receive a message and someone in another room is attempting to transmit content with their mind psychically, to send a signal with their mind… in the biz, er, the lingo of parapsychology, they’re “mentating”.

So what we do is we reenact this scenario and I’m in another room attempting to send the idea of the new Matmos album into their mind with my mind. They’re supposed to empty their mind of everything, every distraction, and then to just describe out loud everything that they hear in their mind or see in their mind and we record this on video. And we take the resulting transcripts and then have to realize any scenarios that they see or acquire any objects that they see or construct any sounds that they hear. That will be the new Matmos album: the results of these transmissions. So we’re trying to set up a situation that’s completely pure, in that I’ve never told anyone what it is that I’m transmitting when I transmit the idea of the new Matmos album.

MS: Including me.

Relying on art for money

MS: The terrible thing about trying to make your living, or actually making your living, from doing your art is that you start changing your art to make a living better. Because we’re all practical animals – human beings – and it’s, like, “Well, yes, of course if I’m trying to live better by doing this I should do this in a way that enables me to live better.” It’s just simple logic, and I’m not sure that that produces the best art. I guess if I took that to its extreme, if you are successful at it, it would produce more popular art, like “Oh, I need to make something that appeals to more people.” But then you wind up with Dave Matthews.

DD: It’s so individual, you know? Like, I think Michael Jackson didn’t wake up wishing he could sound like Merzbow and then realizing, “No, no! I need to sell records, what can I do?” I think he just happened to have an aesthetic that really did tap into something truly popular. I think, though, if you wake up and you’re Merzbow, you should be Merzbow. You shouldn’t worry about trying. And in fact he [Masami Akita] has made a great living out of being that thing. So I think you get further in the long run by actually being quite selfish and pleasing yourself, because if you try to second guess what you think people want inevitably you get it wrong and there’s nothing sadder than trying to sell out and failing.

MS: Yeah, the road is littered with people who tried to sell out and…

DD: It didn’t work.

MS: Yeah, ouch.

DD: I think a lot rides here on how you’re going to cash out success. Do you mean popularity, or do you mean artistic success? Because there are people who are popular artists who can bracket these questions, and there are people who are popular artists who make their best work because they’re accountable to a marketplace. Shakespeare is the ultimate example: absolutely popular artist whose greatest works were done when he had the most economically at stake. And the up-and-coming young Shakespeare who hasn’t yet tasted success is a much more derivative, much less interesting writer than the writer who’s truly counting the box office receipts, who’s a shareholder in his company. I mean, this is a middle class businessman. So, I think Shakespeare’s a great example of the idea that commerce can make art better. But for every Shakespeare there’s 99.9999% of the schmucks who make garbage precisely because they think that’s what people want. So perhaps he’s the exception that proves the rule.

The audience of America

MS: We have this incredibly brutal, ruthless training system of…

DD: Indifference.

MS: Of, yeah, “Sink of swim, motherfucker!”

DD: “No one cares!”

MS: Oh, you’re crazy and/or lazy and can’t make it? Great, no one’s ever heard of you and no one ever will because you couldn’t strive hard enough. I mean, the danger of the American thing… this touches on our previous conversation of, like, “What do kids say to me when I say all that stuff about CDs and the dissolution of the object that you buy?” They say, “Well, you make your money on touring, right?” Touring is fucking brutal labor. Like, I’m 45 years old; it is a different thing for me to tour now than it was 10 years ago. Because we make weird music, we will never rise above a certain level. I know what that’s like because of our time with Björk – and yes, it’s possible if you have a million dollars to tour because you get to sleep and you can stay in a hotel, and these things that become increasingly necessary when you’re old, to actually sleep for eight hours a night… So what it means if no one buys CDs and what it means if there is no government support for the arts is that, and I mean specifically music, is you only hear music by young people. You’ll never get to see what they did next, because it’s just too fucking brutal to go on. So if you only want to listen to music by 20-year-olds, okay. That’s what you’ll get.

DD: Well, yeah, there’s a weird association of music culture with youth, where it is this adolescent expressive model of, like, “Our bodies are flooded with hormones and we’re full of this mysterious rage that we think is at the patriarchal of our evil capitalist fathers, but really it’s that we want to get laid! And then we get laid and we wind up picking somebody and we’re a couple and we have a kid and we have a mortgage and then we settle down.” And it’s this weird model of expressivity that has nothing but sublimation, nothing but adolescent kind of off-gassing. And I think that’s, unfortunately, really narrow, and it’s insulting to the young people that are expressing all kinds of stuff (and not for one simple reason), and it’s just kind of limiting in terms of the notion that music or a music scene is really about only one part of the arch of a life.

MS: I loved the model when I was 20, you know. I mostly listened to records by people who were, I’m going to guess now that I think about it, around 40. And that was great. It was like a lot of great artwork – non-music-related artwork – is not made by, like, energetic 20-year-olds, it’s made by people who have had some experience.

From the Archives: this review first appeared in Issue 30 of Skyscraper Magazine (Spring 2009). It is being republished here for your reading pleasure.

“I mean, it’s not Shakespeare but it’s definitely memorable nonetheless,” says Diane Lane in the commentary track for the film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, and she could not be more right. Directed by Lou Adler (Monterey Pop Festival architect and director of Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke) and penned-then-disowned by Nancy Dowd (Slap Shot, Coming Home), who withdrew her name from the credits after claims of sexual harassment during shooting, The Fabulous Stains has finally been made available on DVD after decades of sitting dormant since its small theatrical run in 1982. Buoyed by late-night television screenings and festival appearances, the film has received a second lease on life as a cult favorite.

The movie tells the story of the fictional teenage girl punk band The Stains – Corinne “Third Degree” Burns (a 15-year-old Lane), her sister Tracy (Marin Kanter), and cousin Jessica (a 13-year-old Laura Dern) – as they go from last-ditch opening act to budding superstars to sell-outs to superstar sell-outs. Along for the tour are the great Fee Waybill (The Tubes), a young Ray Winstone, and real-life musos Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of The Clash, appearing as his band The Looters. The cinematography and costuming is absolutely perfect, capturing a small town punk look (courtesy of advisor and punk journalist Caroline Coon) and low budget tour hitting every shit-hole along the way with suitably depressing weather, scenery, venues, and audiences.

The performances are genuinely great, probably due to the actors’ inexperience and age. And although most will argue about the ending (I personally think the MTV-pandering, Go-Go’s-esque end-turn is an ultra-realistic cherry on the top) they will agree that The Fabulous Stains is essential viewing for any music fanatic. It is especially poignant knowing how many careers and movements have been forged on an equal degree of shambolic musicianship and unheralded hype as did The Stains’.

From the Archives: this review first appeared on the old Skyscraper Magazine site. It is being republished here for your reading pleasure.

Asthmatic Kitty is a music label that “gets it.” It is either that or they are led into creative ventures by its roster of forward-thinking artists through some sort of backward contractual hand-forcing. In keeping with his tenet – “The recorded version of the song is not necessarily the definitive version of the song.” – Castanets’ Raymond Raposa is given a visceral video treatment of his own In the Vines tracks reinterpreted by conspirers of his inner circle and cut together with care by Castanets collaborator and lens friend Mia Ferm.

The first two segments of Tendrils give a good indication where this collection is heading: Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors) placidly strums and croons “Rain Will Come” aboard the Staten Island Ferry then G. Lucas Crane (Woods) spray paints tapes, maniacally cross-fades between two battered cassette recorders, and ruminates on post-apocalyptic music making. The neighborhoods of New York provide perfect backdrops for many of the pieces: a simply shot street and show version of “This is the Early Game” by Golden Ghost & Silver Spokes is spliced with shots of a nearby chop shop and the near-isolation of Marla Hansen finger-plucking her violin in “Sway” and Jesse Ainslie’s powerful sidewalk rendition of “Three Months Paid” are among the best moments on this DVD. Throw in conversations with friends playing pool and sitting around (some telling lame jokes), Matt Lorenz reciting “Lost Lyrics” (in Farsi, with Polish subtitles) and a couple of “Interludes at Miller’s Pond” (basically home movies of water frolicking in cottage country, Anytown, U.S.A. but actually somewhere in Connecticut) and you have yourself a nice bit of eye candy for lovers of the handmade and the heartfelt.

Iconic British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson is a musician’s musician. While Thompson has never scaled the heights of pop popularity, he has always been a hit with tastemakers: astute music writers, fellow audio artists, and discerning fans. Over a career that has lasted for more than 40 years, from a teenager who co-founded English folk-rockers Fairport Convention, to duo work with one-time partner Linda Thompson and now his solo efforts, Thompson has weathered trends, fickle labels, and changing times in order to create his music his way.

Thompson’s latest foray is Dream Attic, a 13 track, 73-minute set recorded using a unique approach: instead of taking his backing band into a studio, Thompson enlisted his four-person support group to introduce his fresh batch of material in front of audiences earlier this year during a West Coast mini-tour and taped the shows. The result is a collection of ramped-up rockers, Celtic-sloped cuts, and Thompson’s perceptively etched balladry.

Although the preference to capture his music on concert stages was partially economical (it saved Thompson cash), it was also deliberately aesthetic. “The thing about recording live is that you lose accuracy but you gain energy; you lose choices but you gain immediacy,” Thompson states. Indeed, Dream Attic is a no-nonsense experience: Thompson and his group – Pete Zorn on guitar, flute, sax, and mandolin; drummer Michael Jerome; bassist Taras Prodaniuk; and Joel Zifkin on electric violin and mandolin – pour out their passion in huge quaffs that suck listeners into the event.

The in-the-moment attitude is felt right away on explosive, candid opener “The Money Shuffle,” a no-holds-barred verbal barrage against Madison Avenue fat cats akin to Bernie Madoff. As the band builds up a grooving, head-nodding riff accented by Zorn’s Middle Eastern-tinged sax and Zifkin’s violin, Thompson relates in no uncertain terms what the narrative’s fiscal public figure wants: “If you’ll just – bend over a little / I think you’ll feel my financial muscle / Spread it wide, wide as you can / To get the full benefit of my plan.”

One of the particulars that make Thompson’s gigs memorable is his penchant to showcase his guitar skills, which are often downplayed on studio outings: there is ample reason he is considered one of the top six stringers. Here, practically every other cut has at least one scorching solo, each one a miniature work of art: thorny chords during the noir-ish “Crimescene,” for example, the burnished single-note cavalcade that concludes optimistic pop nugget “Big Sun Falling in the River,” and chiefly the lashing improvisation that propels serial killer chronicle “Sidney Wells.” The band members also maintain well-developed musicianship that belies the brief rehearsal time before the tour began: Zifkin’s electric violin eerily complements Zorn’s sax during forlorn “Burning Man” and the whole quintet keeps the folk elements rollicking during Irish-inclined numbers such as “Demons in Her Dancing Shoes.”

Though not every song is lyrically rich in specifics and wordplay (“Among the Gorse, Among the Grey” is too terse and “Burning Man” seems nebulous) there are others that illustrate Thompson’s keen capability to pen lingering character sketches and situational settings. The cinematic “Crimescene” deals with obliterated destiny: “A ticket booked, a suitcase packed / A diary on the desk / Free will’s just a walk on part / In this ugly humoresque.” On “Demons in Her Dancing Shoes” Thompson describes a woman who escapes her surroundings by refurbishing the rubbish that encases her life: “My girl, she’s a piece of work / Loves those cast-offs and those hand-me-downs / Dresses like a bride-to-be / From some other century / Stylish rags and ripped-up wedding gowns.” But far and above the most deeply disturbing – and most unforgettable – portrayal is the first-person murderer in “Sidney Wells.” Thompson depicts a homicidal charmer who might have stepped from the pages of another Thompson story – a Jim Thompson novel – who takes his teenage victim into the woods, strips her naked, chokes her with her stockings, tries to burn her body on a pile of tires, confesses seven similar crimes to the judge, and runs into jailhouse justice via a convict’s knife. Perversely, “Sidney Wells” is also a hard-charging, authoritative crowd-pleaser.

For hardcore Thompson fans, there is more than just this performance compact disc available for purchase: there is also an online-only deluxe version that includes a bonus disc of acoustic demos of the all of the songs, and for collectors, high-quality MP3s and a lithograph signed by Thompson.

Detroit’s Outrageous Cherry have been making records for close to 20 years now, ranging from experimental psychedelic excursions such as 2001’s The Book of Spectral Projections to pure AM-radio inspired and reverb-laced pop. The brainchild of vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Matthew Smith, the group has had a revolving door membership over the years with one constant, Smith’s partner in crime, guitarist extraordinaire Larry Ray. When I listen to Outrageous Cherry I am constantly reminded about something Smith told me in an interview I conducted five years ago while promoting their then-new record on Rainbow Quartz Records, Our Love Will Change The World. Smith noted that from the band’s initial baby steps, “Outrageous Cherry was supposed to be a bubblegum band. I envisioned the Archies, if Leonard Cohen had written their songs to pay the rent.” As simple as that statement sounds, there’s a ring of truth to it on almost every Outrageous Cherry recording. Smith has a genius knack for infusing subversive messages and arrangements into seriously catchy pop songs that will stay in your head for days.

Like all bands that have been around for more than an album or two, Outrageous Cherry have had their highs and lows in terms of popularity. The group seemed to be riding a nice wave five years ago when Rainbow Quartz released the aforementioned Our Love, as well as the following year’s Stay Happy. Both of those records emphasized the band’s more pop-oriented side with a hit parade’s worth of peppy radio-friendly nuggets. With the backing of an influential and successful indie label known for its focus on ‘60s and ‘70s influenced artists, it seemed like Outrageous Cherry might finally achieve some long-deserved mainstream success. This coincided with the championing of the band by influential DJ Little Steven Van Zandt, who released an excellent compilation of Outrageous Cherry’s work entitled Wide Awake in the Spirit World on his Wicked Cool imprint in 2008. Sadly, Outrageous Cherry still remains too much of a best-kept secret in the indie rock mainstream, though fellow artists, such as Wilco and New Pornographers, love them, the latter even releasing an Outrageous Cherry covers EP!

In any case, after a brief recording hiatus post-Stay Happy, Outrageous Cherry came back with a bang on 2009’s phenomenal Universal Malcontents on Alive Records. While Alive is much more known for their garage and punk acts, the label seems to be a nice fit for Outrageous Cherry. For one thing, I can’t think of any label that has done more for Detroit artists than Alive (check out their latest signing The Sights!), and, especially its sister label Bomp! Records (formed by the late Greg Shaw), which put out numerous MC5 and Stooges archival releases during a time when no one seemed to care about either artist.

Like Universal Malcontents, Seemingly Solid Reality is a perfect marriage of all of the genres that inspire Smith, namely ‘60’s bubblegum and ‘70’s AM radio pop with a dash of psychedelic sound to keep things off kilter. To quote Smith, “I grew up on that early ‘70s pop radio when all those different things were mixed up. Things weren’t divided into different formats. Back then it was Anne Murray next to Deep Purple next to Kool and the Gang next to T. Rex. Nobody complained. If you tried to do that nowadays, people would think you were expecting too much of them. Today, it would be an act of political insurrection to play the Beatles next to Gordon Lightfoot and Kool and the Gang all in the same hour.”

Seemingly opens with a bang on the alluring title track instrumental, which brings to mind the vibe of David Bowie’s “Heroes” with a hard-hitting glam guitar sound, a perfect mood setter for the excellence that follows. Much of the album outlines the contrasts that have been prominent throughout Smith’s writing career, namely, upbeat arrangements with deep, thought provoking messages, such as on “Unbalanced in the City,” an account of urban alienation set to a punchy T. Rex beat. Other highlights include the Modern Lovers-like stomp of “Self-Made Monster” and “Forces of Evil,” which is laced with a sinister psychedelic guitar sound courtesy of Smith and Ray. My favorite song is the finale, “The Unimportant Things,” reminiscent of solo John Lennon, featuring one of Smith’s strongest vocal performances to date.

During Faith No More’s 12-year hiatus, while Mike Patton worked on everything under the sun, I feel as though the band has consistently been kept alive – or maybe more so, the music they made during their time of activity stayed fresh despite changing trends that generally have veered far away from heavy metal. At the time of Faith No More’s initial beginning and success (late 1980s and early 1990s), metal was one of the most popular styles of music around, but today that’s not so much the case. And despite having to live through the horrible rap rock that descended from Faith No More, it hasn’t affected the originality and quality of the band at their prime (which, for me, translates as 1992’s Angel Dust and 1995’s King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime, as well as about half of 1997’s Album of the Year).

There was a quote of Patton’s recently from ARTISTdirect.com where he stated that there’s more interest in Faith No More now than when they were active in the 1990s. I can think of a couple of reasons for this. One would be myself and other fans my age who got into Faith No More when we were too young to do things like go to shows or write in magazines and are now of age and still interested. Another reason could be that the popular heavy music of the late 1990s and early 2000s created interest among that audience by citing the band as an influence.

So now they’re reunited, and as their opening cover song indicates, it feels so good. In terms of Patton projects, for me Fantômas and Mr. Bungle are main entrees, with Tomahawk being a side john and his noise projects serving as spices which are more to pique interest than to nourish. But public opinion does not coincide with this, as indicated by the words of the spectator in front of me when Fantômas opened for Tool. “I love Faith No More, but this sucks,” he said, and I refrained from saying that they were probably my favorite currently active live band. But I think the fans across the board – from the geeks to the jocks – can agree on Faith No More, and at the Mann Center they brought all the hits and the crowd ate it up, including me.

This was one of three East Coast dates this year, the only other US dates for 2010 being in California, while the more extensive touring has taken place in Europe and Australia. No news from Patton & Co. on future dates or new material yet.

The graphic novel BodyWorld is a peculiar and engaging read. Everything about the book is a little off, from the way it’s plotted and drawn to its vertical layout. Of course, none of these things are inherently bad. In fact, as the story slowly unfolds, BodyWorld proves interesting because of (and at times in spite of) its quirks.

From first opening, it’s obvious that the book is going to be something different. To read it, the book has to be rotated so that the left page becomes the top page. Picture the way a copy of Playboy is turned to view the centerfold. That’s how the whole book is oriented. Referencing an adult magazine wasn’t something I’d planned on doing in this review, though it now seems oddly appropriate for more than just the centerfold comparison. That is, BodyWorld can be kinky in places. However, to see such an element in this book isn’t all that surprising. Many of the graphic novels put out by Pantheon Books are collections of alternative comics – meaning it’s mature audience material.

The book begins by introducing us to our anti-hero, a botanist and drug researcher named Paulie Panther. We meet Paulie on his way to Boney Borough, where the bulk of BodyWorld takes place. Boney Borough is a bastion of goodness in the year 2060. It’s wholesome in an idealistic, classic American way and seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. Plot-wise, BodyWorld is technically a post-apocalyptic story of sorts – though it’s equally a coming-of-age tale, a take on two different mid-life crises and an existential drama.

Before going any further, though, I should say that the book’s not as pretentious as I’m making it sound. The story is set a half century after America’s second Civil War. Through Paulie, we meet a class of high students just about to graduate. Their generation is the first to come of age having never known the Civil War firsthand. Shaw’s story is equal parts satire, science fiction, and relationship drama, involving both adults and high school students. It’s drawn in a unique cartoon-meets-comic-meets-acid trip style, which serves to simultaneously make it both odder and more satisfying in a way. Readers looking for something more traditional should probably skip this book. For the rest of us, though, BodyWorld proves a thought-provoking and, at times, quite funny read. Within the first few pages, there’s excessive drug use, profanity, and a sort of suicide – all played to comic effect.

As I mentioned earlier, BodyWorld can seem sort of kinky at times. That’s just one element of its story, however. It can also be really endearing in places. What strikes me about the book is that underneath the odd plot points and social commentary are these characters who just want to love and be loved. At its core, BodyWorld is a story about people, and that’s really what makes it work. The book’s plot involves Paulie researching a new, alien-created form of plant life. Of course, as a botanist and drug researcher, Paulie has to try smoking it. However, the plant is a weapon of sorts, and as a drug it begins pulling people’s lives apart, taking down society one person at a time.

Odd stuff. Surreal stuff. But a surprisingly enjoyable read. My only complaint is that as the book picks up pace and begins posing some really interesting questions, Shaw rushes toward its end. The farther one gets into the book, the harder it is not to pick up on Shaw’s commentary about everything from drug use to the dangers of hive mentalities. It’s not preachy, it just poses a lot of questions – and, as science fiction so often does, uses its futuristic “otherworld” to hold a lens to modern society.

Dash Shaw is the author of several other graphic novels, including Bottomless Belly Button, published by Fantagraphics. BodyWorld was originally a webcomic and is still online at Shaw’s website.

Because I know that you’re always supposed to judge a book by its cover, I first clocked this new release by the famous author as being geared towards teenagers. And that’s not far off, but it gets pretty inappropriate for youngsters by the end of Blockade Billy, and the bonus story, “Morality,” is surely something that a teenager would read but probably shouldn’t. And as someone who used to listen to Guns N’ Roses in the first grade and tried to read Cujo in the third, I’m a pretty lenient judge as to what kids should or should not be reading.

Stephen King is an author who many people read avidly in their teens but rarely follow up on in their adulthood, and therefore adopting the style and feeling of a teen novel seems appropriate. As an adult reader of the author, though, it’s relieving that, despite the easy readability, King doesn’t pull his punches in content. I’ve been recently rekindling my childhood love of King, mostly focusing on his early works at first, then to some of the later works, and I’ve just recently taken my first two steps towards The Dark Tower, but I still have a lot of holes to fill when it comes to an all-encompassing view of the horror master’s work. And that feat seems to be nearly impossible considering his output. Who has that kind of time?

But the main thing that I’ve found in revisiting him is that there is still value to his writing that I’m gaining as an adult but which I couldn’t have picked out in my teenage years. Of course, that rediscovery means wading through the mucky muck that drew me to him in my youth, which can be similar to revisiting awkward moments of your adolescence, making you cringe in embarrassment. In that mucky muck are golden nuggets, though, and you have to dig deep to get to them, but they’re planted just the same. For anyone (and especially those who shy away from King on account of his genre), I would recommend On Writing as something that captures his universality and voice with the least amount of bullshit (his term: “I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit”), and which coincidentally just witnessed a 10th Anniversary reprint.

Blockade Billy tells the story of young baseball catcher William “Blockade Billy” Blakely, given the titular nickname for his ability to stop runners at the plate, through the voice of an elderly man at a retirement home talking directly to a Mr. King. There’s something slightly amiss about the catcher, though, and sure enough it goes in a direction that could be considered predictable given King’s past work, but still isn’t predictable enough to keep it uninteresting, and is told with the soothing voice of an experienced story-teller. The follow-up bonus story, “Morality,” depicts a couple’s moral dilemma on behalf of a priest’s request. Devolving into devious behavior, the story leaves one with a nice, unsettled feeling. Nice, that is, if you’re into that sort of thing.

As a whole the publication is more like a quick vacation than a place of residence, easily readable in a day or two. Unsurprisingly, King has stated that Blockade Billy took him two weeks to write. It’s dedicated to old-school baseball, everyone who’s put on the gear, and everyone who’s been telling him to write a baseball story for years. Next up is Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of four novellas. It seems natural enough to follow the lengthy efforts of Duma Key and Under the Dome with some shorter works, and Blockade Billy and “Morality” provide pleasurable enough get-aways for his readers.