CYCLING and SMALLEY MOLLUSK TOPOCENTRIC

When it comes to Bike, know that my thoughts are very subjective, because I worked on the mastering of How Is That Possible (Mr. Furious‘ release today – 23 December) and I like Nate’s album. The requirements of full disclosure satisfied, some thoughts on How Is That Possible:

– My favorite tracks: My Little Town (2), Bad Attitude (4), Out Of Control (9).
– Though opening track “He Came To Steal Your Children” gets me imagining playfully murderous toy mechas, don’t let it dominate your idea of the rest of Bike; it is an introduction, and the album is somewhat different. I know from watching mrfuriousrecords.com’s web stats that the first track of any album gets more downloads than others, so this is on my mind.
– Bike is quite listener-friendly in that the songs are a good length. Sometimes in beat- or atmosphere-oriented music, artists are tempted to stretch ideas out too much; Bike never falls into that trap.
– Bike’s artist photo and How Is That Possible‘s cover can tell you a lot about Bike. I’m attracted; I laugh, and recoil a bit, and finally composure fails – I’m on, hook, line, and sinker.
– “Smalley Mollusk Topocentric” was the subject heading of a piece of spam emailed to me a few days ago, and I like how it rolls off the tongue.*

* not even remotely Bike-related.

MCs (EPISODE h)

Cory’s post about MCs started me thinking… and thinking about how much hip-hop I’ve been listening to this fall. From my ears, commenting on / adding to his list:

Black Thought: Author of most of the Roots’ rhymes, I hold a high respect for Black Thought. That his flow ties together the Roots’ party vibe (especially live) and some thought-provoking, consciousness-raising metaphorical work – along with some great hooks (see “Adrenaline!”) – reveals a dedicated street poet. Plus, the Roots are highest in my hip-hop listening rotation; that tells me something.

Special J & J. Guevara: This team fronts 2 Skinnee J’s with verve and spice. Special brings his brains to bear on deep and deftly pronounced metaphorical material, turning lyrical tricks like you won’t believe until you hear them. If I was choosing sides for a sandlot battle-rhyme, I’d pick Special over Eminem any afternoon. J. Guevara is the funky party-starter. Together, they are the most underrated MCs I can think of.

Gift of Gab: Cory’s “Honorable Mention” from Blackalicious is definitely on my list; just listen to Blazing Arrow. His work (and that of partner Chief Xcel) speaks for itself. Imaginative, free, inspired, inspiring.

Felix & Muad’dib (Heiruspecs): Heiruspecs are a local (St. Paul) crew; Felix and Muad-dib handle the mic work on their record A Tiger Dancing. These are underdog cats who bring their A-game to the record, and to their shows, consistently. Highly recommended for everyone – not just heads.

HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB In Your Garage

On the radio the other night I heard a second track from U2’s new album; “All Because of You.” Like “Vertigo,” it sounds like the band wanted a pseudo-garage-y, young, energetic sound – they roughed up their writing a bit, and played dirty but mixed it down slick (as necessary for radio play). It was OK, in an “I feel I should like it – it’s new U2, after all…” sort of way.

But the DJ followed it by spinning Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, destroying whatever appreciation for “All Because of You” I’d accumulated pseudo-consciously. Faced with a band that made a truly great record out of their garages, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was revealed as an under-thought, overprocessed pop album; above-average radio fare but nothing more. If you are interested in a real “Vertigo”-named song, spin the Libertines’ Up The Bracket.

COURTNEY YASMINEH at the FINE LINE, MPLS, 23 NOV 04 and "SUFI LINE"

Local (as in Minnetonka-grown, Wayzata-living, lake-dwelling local) songwriter Courtney Yasmineh wrestles with two driving forces through her album “Sufi Line”: a colorful, brash personality, and an incredible backing band. Courtney grew up at WCC, and we met when she stopped in a few weeks ago to put up some posters for her CD release show. After the meeting, I wore a Sufi Line temporary tatoo on the inside of my wrist for a week; she must have made an impression on me. She speaks her thoughts unapologetically, in person and in music. There’s a playful but deep sensual presence, coupled with a complex spiritual history, and her voice tiptoes the line between being moving and discomforting, finally falling on the side of motion.

On and off, I’ve listened to “Sufi Line” for about a month. The geograpy of the album and of the show last Tuesday reinforce each other with similar themes and execution. When stretching outside of the self lyrically, exploring smoky gospel territory musically, Courtney is unstoppable. Slow-burners like “Nehemiah” and “Survival Time” find songwriter and band meshing over rich writing and playing, unified in a singular, distinctive aesthetic voice. At other times, in poppier and lyrically more self-absorbed moments, only the backing band saves Yasmineh from being a very average singer/songwriter – the kind found in coffeeshops everywhere at 8 on Saturday nights. The balance tips towards the former, and I count myself a Courtney fan, but I hope next time she’ll boil 1/4 of her material off, for a more concentrated mix.

Having mentioned the “boiling” process I see that it’s a maxim I’d stress for everybody; those who live it usually make the greatest art. I try to apply it to myself constantly.

Watching the band at Courtney’s CD release show was plain fun – Jeff on keys (from local heroes Honeydogs) plafully changing tent-revivalist chords into avant-garde explosions, drums comfortably rock-steady and textured like the devil, and guitar playing that reminded me of JV‘s Scott Solter and the new Wilco guy (Nels Klien). To hear these guys bleed the songs out in the luxurious tube tone of vintage amps and keys was a downtown, late-night, bar-closing blessing.

In the middle of her set, the band took a break and Courtney played one of her old tunes, a rambling “autobiographical” ballad about her tortured marriage to Bob Dylan in 1978. I caught myself thinking “This song is for Courtney what “Was I In Bon Jovi For A Second?” is to me”; beyond fact-or-fiction, how much of our past is imagined? And how much does it matter?

TRAVELLING MUSIC

Here’s a list of the music I listened to in the car over Thanksgiving weekend. Better than trying to think up an arbitrary top-10 list, it gives you a snapshot of some of the things I’m tuned in to. Identifiable trends: Minneapolis bands, jazz, New York-scene rock, hip-hop.

MPLS->Crete
Heiruspecs “A Tiger Dancing”
John Coltrane “Giant Steps”
John Vanderslice – mix
Bright Eyes “LIFTED or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground”
JV All*stars “Distance”
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
Olympic Hopefuls “The Fuses Refuse to Burn”
The Roots “Things Fall Apart”

Crete->MPLS
Dredg “el Cielo”
A Is Jump “My Ice-Fingered Ghost”
Buddy Holly – mix of early songs
Interpol “Turn on the Bright Lights”
Joel Raney “Celebrate the Season” (WCC’s Xmas Cantata – I am the orchestra drummer)
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
The Who “Who’s Next”
The Walkmen “Bows and Arrows”

TAPESTRY on LAKE ST, "SHOEBOB'S KICKOFF" – DOWNTOWN WAYZATA MN, 13 NOV 04

Tapestry is WCC‘s band; I’m a more-or-less official member singing, strumming, and playing percussion as needed. We played a big gig on a Saturday night a couple weeks ago in downtown Wayzata to kick off IOCP‘s fundraising drive for their work to house homeless people. Shoebob is the catalyst of it all; http://www.bobssleepout.com.

Sitting in on drums for a full set on just a week’s notice was a struggle in terms of getting caught up on material, but an absolute joy also. There are not enough drums in our lives, certainly not in mine. We moved away from our Sunday morning music, covering things like “I’m a Believer,” “Mustang Sally,” “Your Momma Don’t Dance…,” and a Dixie Chicks song I clicked off at punk-rock tempo. Tapestry uses an electronic drum set, which is new to me. It makes a really professional sound when you play steady, but has some idosyncracies about the hi-hat pedal and lackes the feel of a real kit. Not that I would complain about rocking the beats for about 2000 people in downtown Wayzata (even KARE 11 news, the local NBC affiliate, was there). After the set Shoebob spoke, along with our Rep Jim Ramstad (proudly, one of the Shays Handful) and Corey Koskie of the Twins.

After the gig came the actual sleepout – an act of solidarity with our area’s homeless people as well as a fundraiser for IOCP. Six HS students from WCC’s youth group joined me, as well as several families, for a chilly night out in tents and sleeping bags in front of the church. IOCP estimated over 600 people were sleeping out in different places around town as part of the effort. There is something spiritually purifying about going through a physical trial like that – a cleansing – whether one has an emotional experience or not. That the time has been given to a cause, and that it has not been easy to endure, makes it meaningful.

Official Changes: "The Dimly Lit Room," Beach-Puppy, Site Design

Shacker’s The Dimly Lit Room has been released this morning by Mr. Furious Records. 13 songs are up for downloading on the M U S I C page, and you can read all about The Dimly Lit Room on its album page and in the Mr. Furious [blog].

Mr. Furious Records continues to evolve. We’re proud to add Beach-Puppy to our roster of artists, and Beach-Puppy’s first release – the five-song Creepy Eepy – is up for release in December.

The mrfuriousrecords.com site has been through a minor, but significant, redesign. We think the new look is a little slicker, a little deeper, and better accomodates the content on the longer pages. One new page is up; the audio mastering page, with a call for like-minded DIY indie musicians looking for quality mastering at a punk-rock price. Interested parties; contact howie ( mastering (at) mrfuriousrecords.com ).

We are working on: stickers & buttons, album art & lyrics, shows, the MFR store – plus Sally Ride, Bike, and more new music.

BAY WINDOW REFLECTIONS from the DIMLY LIT ROOM

When I left Nebraska for Ghana, West Africa in October 03 I knew Cory and Jaimie were going to keep playing music while I was gone. That thought was a little discomforting, but still good – Shacker was becoming, and has become, a decentralized band. Cory and James played some great shows without me. Going further in that direction, by the end of “The Dimly Lit Room” I could play my favorite Shacker songs by myself (and still do) – but I’ve skipped ahead.

After three months of seperate paths, I came home on New Year’s Eve and heard about Annie. Unsure at first, after I heard what she was doing with her cello I jumped on board. And not long after, we started practicing for the Powerless III show at Duffy’s in Lincoln (the Powerless shows are starcityscene.com‘s localized version of MTV Unplugged). Rehearsals for the show were a blast, and the show itself went off so well we decided to make a good recording of our work before returning to being a rock band after 5 months off.

I can see the reflections of the room’s few candles in the living room bay window, smell the drizzly February night mix with the familiarity of my house, and remember looking around the circle at three friends, over a clutter of mics and cable, while I played the same old guitar I’d first learned with. We had a great time, taping all the songs one after another in one night; we were transported. And hearing the record brings that all back; “The Dimly Lit Room” is like having Shacker sit down in your living room to just sing and play. It’s reason number fifty-four Shacker is one of the top five things that have ever happened to me.

MARCUS BORG at WAYZATA COMMUNITY CHURCH, WAYZATA MN, 6 NOV 04

The work of Dr. Marcus Borg is characterized by its “academic and pastoral sensibility” in the words of John Ross, words I echo. His latest book, “The Heart of Christianity,” spells out the dissonance between two Christian paradigms, the earlier and emerging in Borg’s terms. The scholar and teacher visited WCC for a United Theological Seminary fundraiser Saturday night, dinner and a lecture afterwards, and I was fortunate to attend both. Offering tremendous insight, criticism, and possibilities for building bridges, ultimately Borg’s prophetic voice calls mainline Christians into the vocation of articulating the “emerging” Christian worldview.

From my front-row seat in our sanctuary, Aegis lit and standing over him, Marcus Borg looked like a professor whose class you’d love, all red socks, corduroy pants, and the top button of his denim shirt unbuttoned and half-hid behind the knot of a tie. Soft-spoken and gently witty, only once did Borg’s passion for his vision break through, revealing conviction that is only found in the white in-between spaces of his book. Like many, Borg grew up in the “earlier” Christian paradigm; once transcended, feelings for it are hard to conceal, and he does so better than most. Later, in the Q&A time, he offered his reasoned opinion that we are currently seeing the high-water mark of Christian fundamentalism; an affirmative antidote to the post-electoral disillusionment I, we, have been under.

Over the course of the evening, my suspicions were raised more than once that the special invitation extended to me included a subtext of persuading me towards UTS sooner rather than later. A bit awkward, that.

The process of reading and understanding Borg’s work is reinforcing for me the importance of Christian artistry, the aesthetics of Scripture and Gospel that have been an increasingly living part of my spiritual praxis. Approaching, reading, hearing, and responding to God’s Word as art – even the phrase “God’s Word” is a poetic claim within our emerging paradigm, not a factual one. Musically, this helps illustrate the false bifurcation between “Christian” (actually meaning fundamentalist, evangelical Christian) and “secular” artists. At times I deliberately translate, record, and express my experience of the Sacred in music; also deeper than consciousness, I write as a Sacred-seeking and Holiness-experiencing person. I practice within Christian tradition, and most often find my experiences within it as well. Give it the label you will, but I feel closer to Deftones than to Michael W. Smith.

A IS JUMP at the WHISKEY JUNCTION, MINNEAPOLIS, 4 NOV 04 and "MY ICE-FINGERED GHOST"

About a million years ago at one of Shacker’s first shows (Bob’s Tavern, Lincoln NE) we opened for a band from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that was making their first trip to our fair Cornhusker state. A Is Jump dropped us flat on the floor with a great set of smart, eclectic, well-played pop, and it just about broke my heart that they only had an EP I could take home. I never forgot that “Sometimes things degrade, sometimes we’ll shoot way out past you…”

Though their website has been updated only occasionally, I followed the band’s progress as they recorded and eventually released a record; “My Ice-Fingered Ghost” on Future Appletree Records this fall. The album has been worth every minute of wrangling it took to get the label to make good on my June pre-order. “…Ghost” is my favorite kind of record, the kind that leaves you a little breathless at the finish, for about three minutes. Then you play it again.

Kate had alerted me that A Is Jump was headed for the Twin Cities, and after a full day at WCC I found the bar near downtown and a stool, complete with an over-iced coke and free popcorn out of a machine like the Isis has in Crete. I just absorbed the first couple bands, trying to relax and avoid the chatty drunk who claimed he worked for City Pages. As Anchorhead finished, I recognized A Is Jump’s frontman, and with him the rest of the band – about the only other indie-rock-looking kids in the bar. I (re)introduced myself as the drummer from Shacker; a couple of the guys remembered, and we talked through the next set.

I was at home, in space, between during A Is Jump’s performance, enjoying the kind of soft transcendence music brings when it’s engaging your full consciousness. Perhaps half of the tunes came from “My Ice-Fingered Ghost,” the others a mix of old and new. The band is constantly re-interpreting their own rich material. A Is Jump could make another record as good as their first, if not better, right this second with the songs they held back or have written since “My Ice-Fingered Ghost.” Here’s to hoping it happens soon.