Thursday, March 17, 2011

XII: Teachers

Avoiding this.

For whatever reason, I started thinking about my old teachers this past week. I didn’t have a whole lot of crazy pedagogues, to be honest (ask Alyssa) but there were a few. Namely Mr. Burnham, sixty-something, sporting a Harley Davidson, some fifty acres of South-Texas soil and a gold-digger wife. He told us he became a teacher for the hell of it.

The name of the course was “Integrated Physics and Chemistry” and, in the midst of a semester populated by sparkling gems such as “World Geography” with Mr. Westmoreland, or my one honors English course (with an uncomfortably hot blonde chick, recently graduated from Baylor with—shoot, a two year old), Burnam’s class was some weird breath of fresh air. I had him seventh period—the last class of the day—along with a sorted array of druggies, punks and rejects (you know. Usual high school stuff).

I was consistently amazed at how little he taught. The man, deeply tanned, wiry, with a smoker’s cough, would launch into long tirades about his fifteen year old son, how he just wrecked his second car, or they walked in on him having sex in his bedroom, or whatever. Most of his stories just trailed off, or devolved into talking about bedroom drama.

We came back from Christmas break to find several containers of now-fermented bits of Trix and Coco Pebbles cereal. After several increasingly-uncomfortable weeks of smelling the stuff putrefying in the corner, he dumped the whole thing into a complex apparatus and set to distilling the alcohol. He told us it was for Biology class. “Burnam’s White Lightnin’! Get it ‘fore it’s gone!” he shouted as we left.

I stayed after class one day and asked for help on an assignment, and he regarded me with this sort of wry amusement and told me he felt sorry for me. “Why?” I asked. He coughed. “Well, cause y’know, you. You—you’re not like the rest of them. You wanna learn.” He gestured toward the empty rows of desks. “And, they, uh. You know,” he said.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Currently Re-revising some old short stories as I'm preparing to publish. I would love your feedback.

(If you wanna read it, then comment)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

X: A Hit! A Palpable Hit!

I want to tell you why you should listen to Chris Kiehne. As the one listener on with (currently) about half of his total plays, I’d say if any one person has the right to do this, it’s me.

I was first acquainted with Chris Kiehne on some backwater forum that discussed the chilling and gratuitous The Dead Will Walk, Dear by The National Lights, a weird meeting of beautiful, quiet folk and, well, the bastard love child of Buffalo Bill and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. I followed some links, ended up on megaupload, and eventually had five tracks of the as-yet-unfinished Pray For Daylight, Kiehne’s first “full” album which, after a devastating hard drive crash, was more or less abandoned.

So, knowing this, I dumped them into my iTunes, plugged in my headphones, and began listening. What I found was something entirely beautiful, clean and unassuming. I’d had a similar experience with The National Lights’ album—yet the songs he’d written for Pray For Daylight didn’t mask or belie any sort of underlying vitriol. The album seemed, almost, to be mourning itself as I listened. Chris said that if The Dead Will Walk, Dear was about killing [and then eating/raping/burying] your girlfriend, Pray For Daylight was about trying to save her.

And it is. I latched onto the music, for whatever reason, and, in keeping with my mild OCD tendencies, I just put the album on repeat and let it grow on me. I ended up sending a message to Chris on, got to talking about his album, and found out he was thinking of going back and finishing the project. I asked him for lyrics and we started talking about the whole thing—what the album was doing, what it wasn’t, what it was about, and everything else. Pray For Daylight’s lyrics were surprisingly cohesive, building a strange picture of zombies, teen romance and loss. Yeah, zombies. Don’t worry, no brains, no blood—just scattered images, invocations of dead or undead love, and loads of beautiful guitar backed up by Sonya Cotton’s breezy, otherworldly voice.

All that said, Chris finished Pray For Daylight and released it on his website for a whopping five bucks. He’s currently working on The Western Throne—a denser, fuller body of work that, from what I’ve seen, has pushed beyond the territory of Pray For Daylight’s breezy, mid-tempo folk to more dynamic, literary material, drawing heavily on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, from what I’ve heard. He’s got loftier aims this time around and a lot more to say, which manifests itself both through his matured vocal performance and the busier song arrangements that populate the album.

Dunno when The Western Throne comes out, but you can bet I’ll post it here. Also, if I get his permission, I might stick up an mp3 somewhere. As it is, here’s the gorgeous Diomedea from Pray For Daylight.

Chris, man, you gotta coat this album in venom and stick it to those pricks at Pitchfork.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

IX: For Alice Pt 2

First bit here. Ghost story. I always imagined it in my old house in Mosinee, Wisconsin.

(Message me to read the rest)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

VIII: The Golden Archipelago (Or, a herald for more pretentious music snob nonsense in the future)

(Stolen from an older post for another blog I used to write for. I may have to post some more stuff there. Keep your eye on it here).

Shearwater is my favourite band out there right now. I love every inch of their arty pretentious emotionally-fueled rock, and they've rewarded us with their latest album, The Golden Archipelago.

2006’s Palo Santo was a raw affair, a concept album conceived by the band as they struggled to find their footing after Will Sheff’s exodus. While it featured what I believe to be the band’s strongest and most consistent lyrics, the sonic texture of the album was extremely uneven between the ambitious arrangements of the five standout tracks (1, 2, 5, 8, 10) and the slower songs like Failed Queen and Nobody. This disparity was made more acute with the release of the deluxe edition in 2007, which featured vastly improved recordings of the five standout tracks.

I’ll stand by Palo Santo; it’s still my favourite, though it’s a flawed record. When I write stories I find they typically reflect the sentiments and emotional timbre of the music I’m most attached to at the moment. I wrote a series of short fictional “dreams” based on seven different faces of the Tarot, though as the writing progressed it became increasingly clear that Shearwater provided most of the inspiration for the work.

I came to Shearwater through their 2008 release Rook. Where Palo Santo was rough and course, Rook was as smooth as glass. I can’t name a single weak song on the album: each one is well-constructed and minutely refined, like a delicate piece of stained glass or an ice sculpture. The whole album swoops, flutters, dives, much like its namesake.

And while I found Rook to be technically satisfying, breathtaking, I couldn’t help but find the textured sound of Palo Santo more compelling. I’ll freely admit that Rook is the “better” album, but Palo Santo got under my skin in a thousand different ways, and each time I listened through I found something new, some lyrical hook or link I hadn’t found before.

So far I don’t know what to make of The Golden Archipelago. I do know that, from listening through it dozens of times, the album manages to hone the band’s sound. The raw energy of Palo Santo meets the careful construction of Rook. The sonic landscape of the album is entirely new as well. Palo Santo sounded like an undercover transmission from across enemy lines in some war-torn wasteland, replete with an unsettling feedback interference that pervaded every track. The album is uncomfortable in every respect. Rook took me north to a landscape of craggy glaciers and moonlit wastes. The waterphone “South Col” impresses the image of a graveyard of wrecked ships captured in the ice, the wind scratching across their hollow shells. Take a look at Kahn & Selesnick’s most recent project, Eisbergfriestadt (from which the cover image was taken) and you’ll get a clearer sense of the sonic landscape Shearwater are building.

The Golden Archipelago journeys south to the Pacific. The album hits you like the swelling of some huge wave: the sea, the storms and the tide create the heartbeat of the album, which is warm where Rook was cold, welcoming where Palo Santo was alienating. Like Rook, The Golden Archipelago is all about the narrative and emotion, less about the strength of the individual songs, though each song possesses a singular and unique effect as each one did in Palo Santo. I can’t pick a single song I don’t like. That said, I’ve yet to be impacted by the lyrical content.

Having grown up in Nabire, a small town on the beaches of Western New Guinea, I find the album’s approach to be quite powerful. The Papuans, descendents of the Aborigines, have found their freedom hounded away by the constant press of the Indonesian military. As a people their very identities are being auctioned off to machine gun carbines and motorcycle smoke. Songs like “Uniforms” and “Runners of the Sun” embody the steady attrition of this people’s way of life. It’s an album of unimaginable scope and scale—encompassing every facet of the landscape I grew to love, from the slow moving glaciers up in the mountains to the humid chokehold of sea level. And always the sensation of wind and rain, the images of the sea woven throughout, the devastation of the tidal wave and the fury of a volcanic eruption.

Yeah, I’m all about the hyperbole. Shearwater invites these images, though. I remember when I first introduced my friend Josh to the band on the floor of my parents’ basement in Colorado (“La Dame et Licorne” from Palo Santo) he got this far away look in his eyes and told me this was the band he’d been looking for. Fire and water and earth and wind: it had them all. Shearwater gives voice to the unspoken fury and serenity of the natural world, a rage in the face of all we’ve taken for granted in the day-to-day ho hum of concrete suburban/urban life. Take this band up the mountainside or into the blanketing quiet of your bedroom and you’ll find yourself transported to a world with its own mythology and a pulse all its own.