Tag Archives: peter holsapple

Fred Mills: Facebook is the Empathy Box Philip K. Dick Warned Us About (a/k/a What I Did On My Vacation from Social Media)

The author is the editor of BLURT and has been rumored to be among those who won’t back down.

BY FRED MILLS

A little over a week ago I started to think I needed to get off social media. It was purely an act of self-preservation, and it wasn’t an altogether alien urge to ditch my “socials,” as people (primarily marketing folks and public relations flacks, but work with me here) like to say, Facebook chief among them. Like most of you, I’ve dropped out from time to time for a day or two in the past, in some instances purely by chance due to the work load at my full-time day job. (By way of full disclosure: I am the editor of a monthly print magazine here in North Carolina—not referring to BLURT, incidentally, which at the moment is online-only, but we hope to revive the print version soon. Editing BLURT content and posting it to the site is something I do to help keep our brand active and, by my way of thinking, also to give our writers and photographers an easy—if not overly reliable, on a day-to-day basis—outlet for their stuff, a place where they can park their words and their pictures and hopefully have a better chance of being seen by peers, musicians, and random music biz folks rather than simply slapping it up on their personal blog. No one here gets paid, in other words. We do it ‘cos we love spreading the word and giving love to the artists we love. And, er, to keep us in those free records we love, too.)

This hiatus from social media was different, though. It came on the heels of a particularly grueling several days, starting the morning after the Las Vegas shooting, through the heartbreaking news of Tom Petty’s sudden passing, and well into the ensuing emotional onslaught wrought by both events, of which Facebook became a nonstop outlet for those emotions.

Indeed, Las Vegas hit me with the same kind of confusion, fear, disbelief, and, ultimately, black grief that I felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Yes, I know the body count difference puts the two events into completely different leagues, but, hey, try using mathematics-based logic on one’s body stressors and you’ll quickly understand that equivalencies aren’t necessarily absolutes. And, much like 9/11, you couldn’t get away from the nonstop news reports and online outpouring of grief. Sixteen years ago, four days after 9/11, my wife, 8-month-old son, and I desperately needed to depressurize, so we drove four hours west to the North Carolina mountains, rented a cabin out in the sticks, and spent a long weekend hiking in the woods, cooking on a grill, entertaining an innocent young child who was otherwise oblivious to anything but his toys and snacks, and listening to Americana radio. We came back home in a far more receptive frame of mind, knowing full well that we would re-entering a world that had changed and would never look quite the same again.

With Petty, well… I’ve already penned a rather lengthy story about what my relationship with him has been and what he means to me. Spoiler alert: He’s among my Top 5 all-time favorite artists, and he’s been an emotional presence in both my life and my wife’s since he debuted in 1976. Losing him hit me as hard as losing Joe Strummer before him, and before Strummer, Keith Moon. We can go into all this in more detail over beers some warm summer evening, okay?

The 2017 week, however, was also different from the 2001 week, in that I couldn’t take off for the mountains—well, technically, I live in the mountains, so let’s just say that I couldn’t take off for the beach, or the desert, or the New Orleans whorehouses, either—because I have that full-time job I mentioned above; my wife has a full-time job herself (combined, we put in 100-110 hours per week, easily); and my little son is a little older now, a junior in high school with advanced placement class commitments.

What I could do, however, was remove myself from as many of my primary stress sources as possible: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn (just kidding – I haven’t updated my profile on that failing platform in several years! SAD!)… pfffft. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News…. zappppp. (Well, kinda; on the family iPad we have quite a few news apps, among them CNN, AP, local and regional newspapers, and aggregators like Flipboard, and it’s remarkably easy to let one’s finger to drift across the screen while deciding between Netflix, Hulu, or Vudu, and open up one of those news apps. But I’m proud to report that I didn’t obsessively refresh, and I quite consciously limited myself because I was also wanting to free up time to read a few books I had already partially begun.)

I even did my best to steer clear of the urge to watch the late night comedy (read: political) shows and, instead, look for comfort food such as nature and music documentaries, reruns of Frazier, the latest season of Gotham, and the re-boot of Will & Grace. Just last night my son talked me into starting to watch the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series again, which feels pretty goddam perfect for the times we find ourselves in. With any luck, by the time we complete this lengthy binge, we’ll find ourselves in markedly different times. And for some reason I also found myself engaged in a selection of YouTube mini-binges: Fela Kuti, my old friends in the bands Dreams So Real and the Sidewinders, Rachel Sweet, and others. (Yes, I did just type “Rachel Sweet.” Should I also type “Rex Smith & Rachel Sweet”?) You’d be amazed at just how much mainstream news media you can NOT watch when you put your mind to it.

In this context, Facebook was an interesting case study in solitude, solipsism, and self-righteousness. Everyone’s experienced, at some point or another, a FB friend announcing he or she was planning on taking a break from the platform. These social media “vacations” are typically voluntary—maybe something happened in their lives that requires their extended attention, like a death in the family, and they get off the media knowing full well that upon their return they will be greeted with scores of so-very-sorrys and wish-you-wells that had been posted in the announcement’s comments section (can we all agree that the toothless, bordering-on-banal, phrase “sending thoughts and prayers” should be permanently retired? put some actual thought into your condolences, people!); and that they will dutifully express gratitude for all the support that was expressed. Occasionally, the virtual departures from FB appear to be voluntary, but in fact they are probably done at the strong urging of a fellow professional and prompted by some bad behavior—say, you were caught texting a photo of your private parts to an underage kid, so you’re being told that maybe you should lay off the pro-Weinstein FB rants and lay low for awhile; or you innocently posted some remarks that turned out to be nakedly anti-Semitic then made things worse defending yourself following the social media shitstorm, so your P.R. person suggests now might be a good time to take that sweat lodge sabbatical you’ve been talking about for ages (can we all agree that making one final FB post about your “needing to do some much-needed reflection and healing” is probably not a smart move either?).

Taking a cue from my old friend Peter Holsapple who, a day or two earlier, had announced he needed a short break from FB, I bailed. Mindful of the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that would no doubt ensue if I simply disappeared from my digital community like a Second Life avatar soaring towards the heavens just prior to logging off, I made the usual bye-bye-to-Facebook announcement at my FB page . Facebook, I had come to realize, is the Empathy Box that sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick warned us of in his classic book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It tricks us into thinking we are having a collective/communal experience every time we react to some tragedy, some offense, some heartwarming story, some quirky/funny/cool “thing.”

Trust me, all those digital murmurs of compassion or screams of outrage—which I am as guilty as the next person of typing onto my computer screen—along with all those “likes” and laughing/weeping emojis that we register throughout the day, amount to anything but a communal experience. In your social media cocoon, in your groupthink cyber-node, you are deceiving yourself. Sorry to break this to you, millennials, but you might turn out to be replicants (the vote’s still out), and if that’s the case, your brave new off-world experiences are rapidly coming to a conclusion. You want communal? See my below note about talking with a neighbor of mine face to face one recent afternoon.

I’m proud to say that as I ditched Facebook, I said nothing about healing, although as you may note below about “redirecting my energy,” though absolutely descriptively accurate, did come somewhat close to new age mumbo-jumbo. At least I didn’t work “sustainable” into the dialogue. Still, I promise that there were no deaths or tragedies in the family, no wiener photos or sex scandals, no anti-Semitic comments or excursions into misogyny, no bullshit I’d been needing to own up to for far too long. I was just burned out and bummed out in the wake of the worst week I could remember in over a decade, and I realized I had been and around in my gerbil wheel of ugly/tragic/hypnotic national news while accomplishing next to nothing at work or at home. Laying I bed one morning at 4AM, thrashing and adjusting and readjusting my pillow, I had even thought I was about to have a panic attack.

From my Facebook post:

“I’ve decided I agree with Holsapple – time for a break. From the general social media white noise, onslaught of listicles, etc., to the obvious political overkill and partisan baitmongering, to the “no, I have the biggest grievance here” attitudes, to the blatant p.r. pitches at what is a personal, and not a business, page that I get, FB exhausts me even when I am, myself, indulging in my own form of blatant behavior in order to get that one final “like” affirmation. I need to redirect my energy. Plus, there’s that fall veggie garden and kitchen rehab we have going on here at Mills University. See y’all next semester…”

And, damn, it felt good when I hit that “post” button. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. But thanks for asking.

But Fred, you are also asking, what the fuck did you actually do while you’ve been off social media, restricting your news diet, etc.? I fucking banked a good bit of extra time in order to do other “stuff,” for starters.

A report this past March at Adweek, citing a study by Mediakix, indicated that the average amount of time spent per day on Facebook is about 35 minutes, and I can assure you it’s probably more on weekends or days off. In fact, 35 minutes seems way too low, based on what I’ve observed among quite a few of my FB “friends,” who seem to make 10, 15, 20, or more posts to their pages each day, then diligently reply to the comments while also making comments of their own on other friends’ timelines. So I’m going to up that 35-minute estimate to a still-conservative 45… hell, let’s just call it an hour per day, which means that I saved 8 FREAKIN’ HOURS over the course of the past 8 days simply by not dicking around on Facebook—8 hours is a COMPLETE WORK DAY if you have a regular job, or if you are a freelance worker and know how to organize your work day and discipline yourself.

Now, I can’t exactly wave my magic Make America Great Again wand and turn those hours into wages—maybe I should move to Kentucky and get a job in the coal mines since Trump and Scott Pruitt are definitely bringing those jobs and those wages back from a galaxy far, far away—but I reckon I could use the extra time to hustle up some outside writing gigs. Or maybe load all those shitty promotional CDs I get in the mail up for sale on Discogs, Amazon, or eBay—hell, I’ll even settle for averaging the local hourly minimum wage in online sales. I’m not greedy.

At any rate, if we are talking transforming all that digital time I accrued into real-world quality time, I think we have a winner, Bob. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing this past week that I either was not doing the week prior to that, or at least was doing in considerably smaller quantities:

  • Finished what seemed like The Never Ending Landscaping Project in our back yard, something we’d begun months back with the intention of wrapping it up by Fall. (Mission now accomplished.)
  • Burned a shitload of leaves and yard debris in the fire pit, which was semi-linked to TNELP but, since it was in a different part of the yard, something I considered a standalone project.
  • Got the last of my Fall vegetables planted in our two box gardens, and yes, I know that by the first and second weeks of October, one’s garden should have been planted, at very least, a month earlier. 6-8 weeks earlier if possible. So how much time did YOU put into your Fall garden, bub, in between trying to pay your rent and keep yourself I cigarettes and beer?
  • Helped my wife get our kitchen ready for a partial renovation. I don’t do demo on floors and walls, or install flooring and drywall, but I still understand that I’m expected to pull my weight in the prep work when there’s a family project such as this. (Memo to wife: please stop laughing.)
  • Started cleaning up the garage in anticipation of finally clearing out my storage unit where, for 100 bucks a month, I pay for the privilege of not being able to thumb through my collection of vinyl, CDs, books, and music magazines whenever I might get the urge to do so.
  • Alphabetized the vinyl records I actually do have at the house because, duh, that’s what a record collector does when he has some spare time.
  • Wrote 15 record reviews for BLURT and 3 for another outlet, most of which you lucky readers will be able to view on the site very shortly. That may not seem like a lot compared to the output of a lot of music writers, but don’t forget, I also have a 50-55 hour-per-week job as an editor at a print publication, so sitting at the computer during every free moment I have at home isn’t necessarily the most attractive proposition.
  • Went to the YMCA to shoot basketball with my son on three evenings, feeling both physically out of shape and needing to subject myself to the ritual humiliation of a 16-year-old smoking his old dad on the court in everything but free throws. (Very pleased to report an 80% percentage on those.)
  • Went to see Blade Runner 2049. Okay, I would have done that anyway.
  • Scheduled a long overdue colonoscopy. Okay, I might have done that anyway.
  • Started to make a list of random stuff I would have posted to Facebook if I had been on during the week. You know, all the crap you think is clever and profound and poignant while you’re in the moment—the same crap you roll your eyes at when you spot someone else trying to be clever and profound and poignant. I figured I could save it to post on FB whenever I decided to get back on FB, and we’d all have one nice communal empathetic chuckle—how meta of him!
  • Ditched my list of random stuff I would have posted to Facebook if I had been on during the week, because, duh.
  • Cooked a full breakfast several mornings for that same 16-year-old mentioned above, rather than just throwing some Eggos in the toaster. I don’t necessarily attribute this to having extra time; it’s not like I was getting up on a schoolday earlier than usual. But for some reason, I was feeling more productive than usual. When you feel good about yourself, you behave differently.
  • Finished reading Blood Done Sign My Name by celebrated N.C. author Timothy B. Tyson—I’d previously been kinda futzing along with it, reading a half chapter this morning and a half chapter the next evening before grabbing the iPad each time to scour all my news apps, because, Trump—and started reading a bio about Steph Curry and a novel by my friend Michael Goldberg. Regarding BDSMN, a stunning memoir about growing up white as the son of a liberal minister in the segregated South of the ‘60s, my own kid had urged me to pick it up after he’d finished it for a class assignment, telling me he thought Tyson’s experiences seemed a lot like what he knew of my upbringing. He was right; Tyson is my new favorite author; and I’m pleased to say that when I tracked down Tyson’s email and wrote him to tell him so, he actually wrote back in less than a half hour, and we continue to exchange nots. (In the Facebook capsule-blurb era, who even has time for crafting a decent email anymore—emails now on the verge of become the digital dinosaur equivalents of old-school formal letters between correspondents. I’m finding myself trying to write friends and acquaintances notes with a bit more meat on their digital bones than “got your info—thanks!” or “let’s catch up soon!”)
  • And perhaps most revealingly: Spent a couple of hours commiserating with my next door neighbor regarding the Las Vegas massacre. In the past year living in our neighborhood, we’ve never been in each other’s house, but we sometimes chat over the back yard fence while going about our respective outdoors routines, and as I mentioned, I have been out there doing a good deal of work. This time, though, I was stopped in my tracks in mid conversation when he disclosed that the company he works for, a sound and audio company, was handling the Jason Aldean show that horrific night in Vegas. Only one of his employees was hurt, just a small ricochet injury, but the psychological injuries others experienced were potentially profound, and he’d already met with some of them, offering them grief counseling, extended time off, etc., if they needed anything to help cope with the aftermath. (Here’s a local media interview with one of his employees who describes in vivid detail what it was like to be on the mixing stage, under fire, and trying to take cover and get out of there.) A couple of times while my neighbor recounted all this, he became visibly emotional, as did both of us when we subsequently found ourselves talking about losing Tom Petty—he was a big fan himself. It was a sobering couple of hours, to say the least.

 

The point here should be obvious. There wasn’t anything I did during those “extra 8 hours” I picked up thanks to jettisoning social media from my life and trimming back my news consumption that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have been doing anyway.

But as regards that backyard convo with my neighbor, I’m not so sure. We all like to think that we readily sympathize and eagerly empathize (oops—somebody call Philip K. Dick) with one another on Facebook when something momentous has happened that affected them enough to post about it. But you sure can’t see that haunted, troubled look on someone’s face, or hear that sudden, spontaneous catch in someone’s throat, when someone is posting to Facebook.

***

In an op-ed essay titled “Finding Grace Around the Kitchen Table” (online it’s “How to Find Common Ground”) that was published September 30 in the New York Times, conservative pundit and talk-show host Erick-Woods Erickson wrote about how a life-threatening incident and its aftermath forced him to look inward and try to figure out what he would want his kids to know about him that they might not automatically know if he were suddenly no longer with them. (This is something every parent, particularly if you’re a writer, ponders and even agonizes about at some point. So we start writing all that stuff down for posterity. Yes, I have. Thanks for asking.)

In the essay, Erickson also ruminates both obliquely and directly about some of the things I’ve been discussing here. The following 3-paragraph passage in particular stands out:

“As we have moved more of our lives onto the internet, we have stopped living in actual communities. Instead we have created virtual communities where everyone thinks the same. We do not have to worry about the homeless man under the bridge because he is no longer part of our community. He is someone else’s problem. But that simply is not true.

“Even as the internet provides us great advances, it also segments us. We have social-media tribes and our self-esteem is based on likes and retweets. We have hundreds of television channels and even more video choices online where Hollywood no longer has to worry about broad appeal. There is a channel for everyone, and everyone in the tribe will get the inside jokes. Social-media interactions have replaced the value of character.

“The truth, though, is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.”

The value of character: To my Facebook friends who might opt to read all the way to the end of my own essay here once they have spotted me back online and noticed the link to this essay that I’ve graciously posted on my FB page: If you need your flowers watered, your mail gathered, your lighting scheme cycled, even your cats’ litter boxes scooped while you go on vacation, if I happen to be in the same town, just let me know, and I’ll do it. If you get sick and need somebody to go pick up some food for you because you feel too shitty to cook, or come walk your dog because you’re too worn out to deal with that hyperactive mutt, or take you to the doctor because you might feel worse at the end of the visit than at the start, I’ll do that too. Let me know. No strings attached.

Just don’t reach out to me on Facebook or try to message me. I might not be on FB. And I disabled Messenger months ago. Phone me, text me, email me, in that order.

Better yet, if you see my car in the driveway, just walk out to the back yard fence and holler in the direction of my back door. That, it turns out, is one of the oldest forms of social media in the world. And it doesn’t require cellphone service or a WiFi connection.

Fred Mills: Recent 45 Reviews (and some not-so recent..)

Ed. note: We dig vinyl here at the BLURT temple of wax. And we dig it no matter the size. A number of singles have been turning up in the post of late, so who are we to complain? Here’s the lowdown…

FEEDERZ – WWHD (What Would Hitler Do?) 7”

Slope / www.sloperecords.com

Two slices of searing guitars and political screeds.

The Bay Area-Phoenix punk connection has always been symbiotic, and this 7” platter by Arizona’s Feederz neatly bridges the temporal divide between the early ‘80s and now: guitarist/vocalist Frank Discussion is joined not only by early member Clear Bob on bass, but also by drummer DH Peligro—yes, THAT DH Peligro, from the Dead Kennedys, San Fran legends who befriended the Feederz as early as 1981 then the band appeared on Alternative Tentacles compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans.

As produced by the Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood, WWHD serves up a twin-pack of pure outrage and sonic scree. Side A, “Stealing,” boasts a sinewy, fuzzed-out riff, a metronomic rhythm, and Discussion’s edgy vocal sneers, growls, and grunts as he mounts a call to arms for citizens to rise up and take to the streets: “Tonight we’re settin’ the world on fire.” And “Sabotage” makes explicit Discussion’s attitude to the current Republican administration – as if the sleeve art depicting a scowling Trump as Hitler didn’t already tip you off – with a snarling challenge set against a staccato, almost Wire-like minimalist funk-punk backing:

Time to put this country out of our misery…
You wanna fuck with Mexicans, you wanna fuck with blacks,
You wanna fuck with all o us? Then you better watch your own fucking backs.
We’ll be taking down your empire
And turning it into a bonfire.”

Clearly this band is, as the saying goes, “fired up.”

The single, incidentally, is pressed on beautiful orange vinyl—perhaps the same color as a certain politician’s hair and spray-on tan? Included is an inner sleeve with complete lyrics and a photo of the band wielding automatic weaponry. Best take them seriously.

THE SWEET THINGS – “Love To Leave” 7”

Spaghetty Town / https://www.facebook.com/SpaghettyTown/

More cowbell! Dolls/Stones acolytes know their sonic debauchery…

They could only be from Noo Yawk—East Village denizens The Sweet Things serve up a twinpack of Dolls, Stones, Hanoi Rocks, G ‘n’ R, and the like. Weaned on punk, subsequently smitten by glam, all scarves, mascara, and a serious Jack Daniels habit.

The fiery foursome kicks off their latest 7” single—grab it on hot pink or midnight black vinyl, collectors— with “Love To Leave,” all power riffs, sleazy slide leads, pounding ivories, and clanking cowbell. (But of course.)

Flip for the sensitively titled “Cocaine Asslicker Blues,” and no, it’s not a GG Allin cover. Instead, think Johnny Thunders backed by the original Alice Cooper band. You’ll fill in the cowbell parts mentally. Some things just continue to be revived as each new generation consults the classics. God bless The Sweet Things for diving wholeheartedly in. Sweet!

BALKANS-PEDRO FOUR-WAY – 4-song 7” EP

ORG Music / www.orgmusic.com

Garage pop and funk punk from the Mike Watt extended family.

The curious band name owes to the fact that the four bands on this 7” EP hail from  Zagreb, Skopje, Belgrade, and San Pedro, CA—the latter, of course, being Mike Watt’s home base. (You may have heard of him.) It’s a stellar slab of wax at that.

Thee Melomen kick things off with a spot-on slice of guitar-organ garage that bears worthy overtones of earlier European garage avatars the Nomads and the Watermelon Men. Up next is Vasko Atanasoski serving up a minimalist bit of pop-funk—the funk being supplied by Watt on Bass—not unlike recent material by distaff rockers Warpaint. Flip the platter—you remember how to do that, right?—and the stereo spews forth with a kind of Beefheartian blues-skronk take on Watt’s song “No One,” courtesy Disciplin a Kitschme. And Watt and his Secondmen themselves maintain that mood for “Do Not,” which was penned by fellow bassist Koya, from DaK, turning the dial up to “hectic” in true Watt fashion.

The EP arrived for this year’s Record Store Day, incidentally, limited to 1800 copies and pressed on both green and black vinyl—the two colors were inserted randomly in sleeves, so you basically flip the coin when you break the wrapper

THIGH MASTER – “B.B.C.” (7” 45)

12XU / www.12xu.net

Power pop riffage takes a Pavement-esque distorto detour, Australian stylee.

Hoo-boy, don’t even try Googling this band unless you still cling to adolescent fantasies of Suzanne Somers (that’ll date you). Instead, direct your jizz in the direction of the Brisbane (Australia) outfit’s Stateside label, which will kindly provide you with a Soundcloud link to the group’s latest A side. It is, indeed, the sonic equivalent of—as the band’s bio assures us—“a lost Flying Nun band.”

Now, I don’t expect anyone reading this, other than my partner-in-Oz (and BLURT blogger) Tim “Dagger” Hinely to fully dig that ref. So perhaps I should laud the Oz outfit’s masterful deconstruction of twinkly power pop riffage, in which they overlay distorto-rumble stylings and Pavement-esque rhythmic ruminations, ultimately emerging with a tune that, verily, defines Indie Rock 2017. (Or maybe 1987, take your pick.) But that would be saying a mouthful, and life is short.

Once upon a time, Amerindie labels would take a chance on Down Under artists, damn the quarterly reports. The golden era of 1985-95 (or thereabouts) passed long ago, however. Perhaps with folks like 12XU and In The Red stepping into the commercial fray anew, other labels will pick up the baton.

FITS OF HAIL – Belmore 7” 45

Sound of the Sea / www.soundofthesea.com

The Upshot: Velvets-esque folk rock and choogling drone, with a distinctive Clevo vibe, and on colored wax to boot.

This utterly gorgeous—sonically and visually—splatter-colored vinyl 7” comprises a pair of must-hear tracks, along with a bonus digital tune should the consumer opt for the CD or download versions. If you are a regular reader of BLURT, you no doubt already know which format we strongly recommend. It’s by Cleveland quartet Fits of Hail, the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Chris Anderson, who did the bulk of work on the previous two FoH releases, and is now joined by bassist Alan Grandy, guitarist Mike Reilly, and drummer John Kalman. Together, they make a moody-yet-joyful noise of an irresistible earworm quality.

Main track “Clutter” has a kind of low-key, subtly choogling Velvets vibe, a folk-rockish drone ‘n’ chime emitted from the guitars and Anderson’s yearning vocal powering the narrative. Flip the single, though, and be prepared for, as the saying goes, something completely different: “Came Through the Change” has a brash—in places almost ground-zero, late ‘70s NYC punk—vibe, all tumbling percussion and fuzztone riffs spliced by Verlaine/Lloyd-style fretboard strafing.

It’s only one man’s vote, but allow me to just state for the record: Fits of Hail. Long-player. Now.

You are welcome to head over to their Bandcamp page where the three Belmore tracks can be downloaded for a ridiculously affordable price. Once you do, though, I predict you’ll find yourself coveting the aforementioned color-wax physical artifact, so surf on over to the label website and order away.

BORZOI – Surrender the Farm  7” EP

12XU / www.12xu.net

Australian noize-rock that will have you camping out at the Ticketmaster office.

Are they from Melbourne, Australia, or recent transplants laying seed in Austin, Texas? Considering the sheer brazen, brutal (but serene to we tinnitus-afflicted music fans) racket this trio makes, it’s a moot point. On this four-songer, Borzoi sings of flak jackets, millipedes, Florida, Skoal chaw, and existential dread (of the latter topic, I’m not certain, but work with me). It’s kind of like fellow Oz-ites feedtime, if feedtime’s members were reincarnated as glue-sniffing teens, recorded all their material live, and then processed the resulting tapes through a CB microphone.

I’m sorry if most of you have no idea what a CB is.

There’s something remarkably energizing about this band, the kind of “energizing” that one dares not attempt to put the proverbial journalistic finger on. If records, in 2017, are supposed to be groups’ calling cards for tempting the public to spring for tickets and tees, consider this Oz aficionado “sold.” Where do we queue up?

 

 

SCHIZOPHONICS – Ooga Booga 10” EP

Pig Baby / www.pigbabyrecords.com

The Upshot: With a sound hearkening back to the MC5’s Motor City ramalama, the San Diego trio unapologetically kicks out da… you know.

Ooga booga, indeed. San Diego’s Schizophonics—the unholy spawn of Roky Erickson, Sky Saxon, and Rob Tyner—serve up a sonic scorched-earth policy guaranteed to singe even your nether hairs. I mean, seriously, folks, the music on this EP erupts from the grooves with such primal velocity, you can practically see a hologram of guitarist Pat Beers in full stage-leaping flight hovering over the turntable. (Check these photos at their website for confirmation.) The trio has been around since 2009, built around the nucleus of Pat and Lety Beers, plus bassist Brian Reilly, and has a couple of 7”ers to their credit, on Munster and Ugly Things, so you know that’s a TMOQ.  Ooga Booga seriously ups the ante, with nary a throwaway or B-side among the five tracks here.

From the outset they serve due notice: “Ooga Booga Boogalo” commences with a brace of klassic Kinks-style riffage and a Kick Out The Jams-esque arrangement (hence the aforementioned Rob Tyner namecheck). That’s followed by the riotous rumble of “Electric,” powered by sinewy, fuzzed out leads and Pat’s extemporaneous grunts and whoops. Flip the platter and get caught in the “Rat Trap,” another Nuggets-esque garage rockin’ gem of vintage Yardbirds aplomb. “Two Thousand Seventeen,” with its Keith Moon-worthy percussion and dark chordage, contemplates our contemporary era of reverse evolution to signpost the annum  in much the same way the Stooges marked the year of 1969.  The band wraps things up with “Venus Transit,” another slab of MC5 ramalama, all chaos and convulsion with a take-no-prisoners ethos.

Whew. Six successive spins of the rec, and I’m exhausted. Partially deaf as well. If this band tours anywhere near you, don’t miss it. But make sure you don your flame-proof pants before entering the club….

Consumer note: The EP is pressed on electric orange 10” vinyl, and each of the 1,000 copies pressed comes in a hand-numbered sleeve. It’s like getting Record Store Day early, so what are you waiting for, punters?

SOMERSET MEADOWS – We Will Rock 7″ EP
Self-released / https://somersetmeadows.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: The New Wave of the late ‘70s meets the alterna-nation of the early ‘90s.

Hey kids, nostalgic for the early/mid ‘90s? Me neither! The members of Portland’s Somerset Meadows clearly remember the era, but they’re smart enough not to emulate it despite having sonic overtones of Guided By Voices—which they preemptively state on their bio—as well as other indie/garage/lo-fi outfits such as the Grifters, Sebadoh, and the Mountain Goats. Like those avatars, SM have a knack for penning tuneful, hooky pop nuggets marked by careening guitars, riotous, Keith Moon-like drumming, and yowling vocals.

Lead track on this four-song EP (the follow-up to mini-album Time and Relative Dimensions in Sound) is “She Is Waiting,” a slice of revved-up British Invasion filtered through a Hold Steady lens, while the 1 ½-minute “Time to Shine” adds some surf-y riffage to the mix reminiscent of vintage Blondie. Hold that thought: this band wouldn’t have been out of place in new wave Manhattan, holding court in dives like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and going for broke in front of a leather jacketed crowd night after night. All four songs here inhabit that rock ‘n’ roll fairytale universe, and luckily enough, for us the setting is 2017.

This limited-edition (250 copies), hand-numbered vinyl platter may or may not be sold out by now, but even if it is, you can preview it at the Somerset Meadows Bandcamp page and buy it digitally.

MINT TRIP – “Ghosts” 7″ (colored vinyl)
Blue Elan / www.blueelan.com

The Upshot: Sultry, sexy, danceable trip hop, pop and soul.

L.A. 2 guy/1 gal trio Mint Trip swirls and skitters in a mélange of pop, soul, and electronica that suggests a summit between classicists Saint Etienne and trip hoppers Portishead. For this vinyl 7” debut—comprising three songs from the five-track Books digital EP—the focus is squarely on sultry singer Amy Gionfriddo, originally from St. Leonard, MD, as graceful as a lioness, and blessed with the kind of supple pipes that could find a niche no matter the genre; indeed, the band’s “soul” component is decidedly jazz-infused. Amy is joined by L.A. native Brian Gross and Cary, NC, guitarist Max Molander. The three met at the University of Miami prior to landing in Los Angeles.

“Ghosts” is elegance personified, powered by a purposeful bass bumps and synth pulses, and of course that ethereal voice. Flip the platter over for “By The Sea” and “Virga,” the former a hypnotic, ethereal pop ballad; the latter, a luminous, gospellish slice of chilled-out soul. Point of fact, you can hear these tracks and additional two at the band’s Soundcloud page (“Canvas” is particularly compelling), so you have no excuse for not immersing yourself in Mint Trip’s sweet, hummable, danceable music.

Bonus points for the gorgeous turquoise vinyl, too. A download card is included that will net you all five songs.

PETER HOLSAPPLE – “Don’t Mention the War” 45

Hawthorne Curve  / http://halfpearblog.blogspot.com/

The Upshot: Against richly melodic backdrops, the dB’s member offers up character studies of poetic intent. Oh, and by the way: Support the home team, folks.

Despite being one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected songwriters, Winston-Salem ex-pat (and current Durham resident) Peter Holsapple actually hasn’t released that much under his own name. There was early 45 “Big Black Truck,” a primal slab of psychobilly punk garage, released in 1978 at the tail end of his stint with the H-Bombs and serving as a segue into his lengthy tenure with the dB’s; a limited edition Australian-only cassette titled Live Melbourne 1989, which documented a solo radio station session; 1997’s gorgeous Out Of My Way CD; and let us not overlook his 1991 collaboration with dB’s songwriting foil, Chris Stamey, nicely titled Angels, and the an accompanying handful of Stamey-Holsapple singles.

Longtime Holsapple watchers, of course, know simply to scour record credits if they want to unearth a wealth of Holsapple material, from the dB’s albums and EPs (include, in this tally, the Chris Stamey & Friends Christmas Time album) and his work with the Continental Drifters, to the very early Rittenhouse Square album and the (possibly apocryphal) Great Lost H-Bombs Double EP 10”—not to mention a number of online-only tracks he’s slipped into the digital realm on occasion.

All of which is to say, a new Peter Holsapple record makes for a special event, one which we fans don’t take lightly. The fact that the new item is a mere two-songer potentially allows each track the kind of proper consideration that might’ve been elusive if placed in the context of a full album. The A-side, “Don’t Mention the War,” finds Holsapple joined by Mark Simonson from the Old Ceremony on drums and acoustic guitar and James Wallace (Phil Cook’s band) on piano and drums, plus tuba textures courtesy Mark Daumen. Holsapple handles guitars and organ while spinning a 6 ½ minute tale in which the narrator observes and comments upon a beloved uncle’s return home and subsequent battle with PTSD (“he sweats and he shouts and he turns white as a sheet… he opens his eyes, he’s still seeing the dead… he hasn’t picked up a guitar in nearly three years, I can scarcely recognize the same man”). Midway through the song the drum pattern turns overtly martial, underscoring the implicit tension in what’s otherwise a richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.

Meanwhile, “Cinderella Style” has a gentle, nocturnal vibe primarily wrought by Holsapple’s acoustic guitar, bass, and organ, with Simonson adding delicate touches of vibraphone and Skylar Gudasz contributing flute flourishes. “Love can mend a dress,” he sings, going on to describe the creation of a physical garment of calico, gabardine, satin, silk, and velveteen while hinting at the metaphorical implications of the act. The tune is relatively brief, deliberately restrained, and perfectly poetic in its imagery.

Holsapple recently told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays. Fair enough. I think he’s underselling himself, however. All that music mentioned at the top of this review (not to mention his contributions to other artists’ work, such as R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish) comes stamped with the Tarheel TMOQ, so I have no doubt whatsoever that we fellow North Carolinians would be first in line for a Kickstarter-type campaign and any resulting record store product. People vote with their wallets, after all.

And while I’m loathe to invoke any electoral notions considering what we’ve all gone through recently… could I nominate Peter Holsapple for Minister of Music? Poobah of Power Pop? Raconteur of Rock? Hmmm…. why the hell not?

THE YOUNG SINCLAIRS – You Know Where to Find Me 7” EP

Planting Seeds / www.plantingseedsrecords.com

The Upshot: Jangle pop as timeless and classy as it comes

Though this 4-songer came out a few years ago, I’m only just now discovering the Virginia Beach/Roanoke area band. And it’s well worth backtracking to hear the record—it may be long gone by now, but you can year it at their Bandcamp page—particularly since this is the kind of timeless and classy jangle pop we aficionados live for.

All four songs are stellar, in particular the title song, which could be a Shake Some Action-era Flamin’ Groovies outtake. “Ear to the Ground” is another must-hear, a slice of British Invasion thump with a sleek, tremolo-powered guitar riff to die for.

The aforementioned Bandcamp page would suggest that the Young Sinclairs are incredibly prolific, and they’ve been particularly fond of the 7” format. Fellow collectors, your course is clear…

HEATHER WOODS BRODERICK & BENJAMIN SWETT – Home Winds (Book + 7” 45)

Planthouse Gallery / www.planthouse.net

The Upshot: An environmental elegy, and an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus, and revelation. 

While it’s a given that more than a few culture vultures have hopped onto the #vinylresurgence bandwagon (Taylor Swift, anyone?), eschewing relevance for trendiness, and the accompanying misguided “cool” factor, some entries have come along that not only defy that assumption, they transcend it so beautifully that you almost assume they were beamed down from another dimension or era.

Such is the case with the printed/recorded artifact at hand. Home Winds is, on the one hand, a 7” vinyl single by songwriter Heather Woods Broderick, offering up a haunting environmental elegy, a shimmery, pulsing song for the trees. “Do I truly recall your face from when it was young,” sings Broderick, in a hushed, partly quivering voice, recalling at times Sandy Denny, adding gospel touches on the chorus, and musing upon a permanent image of a tree, as if it were a beloved family member, possibly no longer with us. “Or from a photo I’ve seen, on the wall on which it was hung,” she adds, acknowledging that memories are tricky, and how they can somehow be replaced, due to the passing of time, by a photograph that survives and reinforces itself via repeated viewings. (The B-side, “Shoreline,” is similarly low-key, its lilt no less engaging and ethereal.)

She’s joined, visually, by photographer Benjamin Swett, who set out to document Gladstone, New Jersey’s Home Winds Farm, a parcel that has been protected via the New Jersey Farmland Protection Program, for its owners, who also operate Planthouse Gallery. Swett’s mandate here is to create permanent portraits of the many trees—many of them huge or otherwise so broad and expansive that they can dominate an entire two-page spread in a book such as this—dotting the farm. Pink-blossomed spring arbors alternate with snow-spackled wintry residents, as well as the sturdy green boys of summer, and the yellow, orange, and crimson citizens of autumn. The result is a permanent record of nature as it cycles through its annual beauty.

Contributing to the project is journalist Elleree Erdos, who provides historical context as well as an insightful analysis of the nuances that Swett’s images bring to the fore. Ultimately, Home Winds is like an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus and revelation.

That the participants opted to present the music not on CD or a mere link to a digital file, but a 45rpm record housed in a lovely full-color, thick cardboard picture sleeve—yes, adorned with Swett’s trees—additionally speaks to the care taken in the presentation of Home Winds. It’s a subtle, personal touch that counts for a lot in certain quarters (such as mine).

Additional note: Go to Planthouse.net to view a video for Home Winds, created by Jeffrey Rowles. Below, watch the promo video for the book/45, followed by a live clip of Broderick from late last year. The exhibition dates at Planthouse Gallery will be April 28 through June 20, with the reception being held on April 28 from 6PM to 8PM.

 BONUS BEATS: A FEW OLDER REVIEWS

Deniz Tek – “Crossroads” b/w “Oh Well” 7″ (2014)

Career/ www.careerrecords.com

No, not that “Crossroads,” although l’il Robby Johnson would still approve; instead, it’s an original from the Radio Birdman geetarzan, and a smokin’ slab of straight up garage slop it be. But yes, that “Oh Well”—specifically, the hi-nrg raveup Pt. 1 of the Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac classic, and I’d reckon that it puts to shame pretty much every other version of you’ve heard over the years with the exception of the original. Pressed on lurid purple wax, and hats off to the Career label (co-helmed by Tek and his buddy Ron Sanchez, of Donovan’s Brain) for their subtle appropriation of the old Atlantic Records promo logo for their label art.

Freak Motif – “Killin’ Me” b/w “Killin’ Me (instrumental)” 7″ (2014)
KEPT / www.kept-records.com

The latest in Kept’s so-far-unblemished series of funk-centric wax finds eight-piece Canadian combo Freak Motif getting’ gritty with a slice of JB’s-inspired fonk, heavy on the trancelike groove while a blazing horn section takes everything to the bank. Or the bridge, if you insist. The instro version of “Killin’ Me” has swagger a-plenty, but when guest vocalist Lady C takes the mic on the A-side things get saucier and sexier by the bar. Hell yeah.

 

Peter Buck- Opium Drivel EP  7″ (2014)
Mississippi / www.mississippirecords.com

Following up his latest solo album (as well as last year’s Planet Of The Apes single, that-guy-who-useta-be-in-some-famous-band teams up, once again, with Scott McCaughey and several partners-in-crime for a 4-songer. Just the pounding Charlie Pickett & the Eggs cover alone (“If This Is Love…”) is worth the price of admission, but you also don’t wanna miss the fuzz-garagey “Portrait Of A Sorry Man” for the series of inside-joke lyrical bon mots (among them: “I’m sorry I invented indie rock… the whole thing started out so well, how was I to know?”). A pair of uncharacteristic acoustic aces on the flip, notably the strummy/jangly “Welcome to the Party,” join the aforementioned joker and king, giving Mr. Buck a pretty strong hand in this game.

 

Graham Day & the Forefathers – “Love Me Lies” b/w “30-60-90” 7″ (2013)
State/Sandgate Sound /  www.staterecs.com

This garage-shocking power trio comprises gents who’ve served time in The Prisoners, the Prime Movers, the Solarflares, the James Taylor Quartet and Billy Childish’s Buff Medways, so with that kind of collective resume you’d be right in presuming some jams will be kicked out. “Love Me Lies” revisits an old Prisoners tune in glorious metal hues lined with careening riffs and wah-wah squiggles. Even better is the organ/guitar powered hi-octane R&B instro flip hailing from the pen of one Willie Mitchell (who originally wrote it for the Get Carter soundtrack). (—Fred Mills)

 

Insurgence DC – “True to Life” b/w “Man in Black” 7″ (2013)
Crooked Beat /  www.crookedbeat.com

Based in the nation’s capitol and with Triangle (N.C.) roots, Insurgence plays old school punk with the kind of vim ‘n’ vigor long associated with the punk scenes of those two locales. Indeed, bassist Bill Daly’s lead vocal on the blazing “True to Life” has the type of rabble-rousing anthemism (“Get it out/ Stir it up/ Shout it out now!”) that we’re sorely missing these days (the Occupy movement could’ve used an adrenalin shot of Insurgence). Meanwhile, “Man in Black” marries a rebel-rock message to a twangy riff and a cowpunk thump; you’d be hard pressed not to put your pogo boots on and get to scootin’ when this tune cues up. Available on both black and super-limited yellow vinyl, wax fans.