Bellhead and the Good Intentions:Rambling Review

Bellhead is a post-punk duo from Chicago that brings the dirtiest bass lines and danceable tracks in their newest EP, ‘Good Intentions.’ To me, the name of the EP comes layered in sarcasm, as the stories told through music are delivered with evil intent. Stalkers, sirens at sea, and pure nihilistic fun have brought me to understand the intent is not so comforting. Though elements of pop are embraced in the songwriting, the production maintains a minimalist approach that rejects fillers/unnecessary walls of sound.

The opening track Bad Taste introduces the EP with a four on the floor beat and low guttural vocals that describe the individual in question, “he says he’s a good man, doesn’t make it true” and “does he only want what he can’t have?” Even with the subject matter of stalking, I want to get up and dance to this. The chorus guitars contain an unexpected surprise that remind me of the atmospheric quality of various Nine Inch Nails tracks.

The second song opens with guitars that pivot to a different effect once the verse begins, and the mood is that of a classic horror movie. Into the Deep stirs a haunting narrative that conjures the imagery of water as destroyer. If the potential for surf rock is found here, we’re likely to drown. The bridge hits with spoken word and rounds out the song to something akin to hope as the siren is pursued.

Valentine is my personal favorite on the EP. The narrator seems to be pleading with a lover in what seems to be both romantic and tragic in the same breath. The music moves with a particular gothic sway that reminds me of Crying Vessel, and the lyrics are poetry.

Apathy kicks off with distorted guitars and asks ‘so what?’ in a nihilistic way that brings a smile to my face. The admission that ‘it doesn’t matter’ resonates in me a sing-along quality that makes this song an anthem. Crank this one for that righteous punk goodness.

The Love and Rockets cover No Big Deal is pure Bellhead fun. Their take on the song sounds like their own authentic work, which is what quality artists do when they seek to cover a song. The distorted bass shapes the song into something that fits in with their catalog perfectly.

‘Good Intentions’ closes with Drugstore Keri. This song tells the romantic tale where Keri is more of an enabler than love interest. The dirty bass makes for curled lips and movement on the dance floor. The concluding song feels like a cold drink of classic rock, and I love it.

This EP is worth a spin. If you enjoy post-punk songwriting grounded in the potential to dance, Bellhead is definitely something to consider. ‘Good Intentions’ will leave you craving more of the bad taste it’s gonna leave in your mouth. My only complaint is that I want more!


A Little Something for my Mental Health

2020 was weird for everyone, right? Not just me…? Okay, cool. I was an essential worker with a young child at home, so I didn’t have the sudden burst of free time that was forced on a lot of people. What I did get was the time saved from the hustle and bustle of our collective rampant consumerism. Aside from grocery shopping, my family pretty well stayed in.

            My work/life balance was out of sorts, as a typical workweek for me was 13 days on…ah, the life of management with corporate overlords that all but dictate skeleton crews. The unpaid hours beyond my salaried 40 drove me to the lows of depression coupled with the static horrors of anxiety.

            I needed something new. So did my wife. Since we were stuck in the house I looked into various hobbies, trying to land on something we could both enjoy. At the end of the search I bought all of the materials necessary to try our hands at acrylic pour painting. Online tutorials revealed to me that one doesn’t need to cultivate aesthetic talent to get quality results. The directions were pretty straight forward, and if you can both follow them and embrace a little chaos…there’s fun to be had and wall worthy results.

            Our first attempt was a simple dirty pour. Various colors poured individually, complimented by tilting the canvas gave us two beautiful pieces of art. They were destroyed the following day, as the paint hadn’t dried before we tried to handle them again. Oh well, it was a fun learning experience. That approach was utilized a couple more times before we pivoted to my current favorite, the flip cup.

            We wait for them to dry, make sure they’re clean, and apply a water based clear coat for longevity.

            We’ve given a couple away as gifts and I’ve sold one piece. There are others available on my Etsy page, with more on the way as I get back into making this part of my routine.

            Lydia laments on the wasted paint that drips off of the canvases during the tilting phase, but I think I have a remedy for that as well that I’ll be revealing later in the year.

I’ve tried my hand (and failed miserably) with the swipe technique. I am yet to break out the hairdryer to push paint around, as the activity tends to be something done after the kids have gone to bed…maybe someday.

This activity started as a pandemic hobby, but has remained a craft we continue to develop long after mandates were lifted. While we aim to get results that appeal to other people, the act of creating provides a relief that alleviates stress. There’s something to be said about making art that makes one feel alive. It reminds me that I’m more than the oil that lubes the cogs in our corporate state. I am a living entity, as are you…sometimes that gets lost in the pressures of consumerism. I create for the relief it provides me, first and foremost. If there’s pennies to be made on the back end, great…but in the act of creation where I feel most rejuvenated.

Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory:Rambling Review

I stumbled upon this book because I’m a fan of Bojack Horseman. It’s difficult to tell people, “No, seriously…it’s my favorite show.” I gave it a chance when it first came out, and checked out after two episodes. I thought it was funny, but maybe it was just another run of the mill raunchy animated adult comedy. It wasn’t until the fourth season had dropped that someone recommended it and I gave the show another spin. Had I just kept watching the first season I would’ve been hooked. The quality storytelling just kept getting better right up until Netflix does what Netflix takes joy in doing…you know…cutting a show down before it’s done. I’m eternally grateful that the writers were given a heads up and wrapped up the story as best they could with the time they had. But I digress, those six seasons of television remain among my favorite, and I don’t see anything coming close.

            So when I heard that the creator of Bojack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, had published a collection of short stories, I jumped at the opportunity for something more. Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory stands on its own as something wholly independent and special, as I had expected it to be. It’s described on the back cover as an, “offbeat collection of short stories about love-the best and worst thing in the universe.” The subject of love is woven throughout each story through different angles. I initially believed I was in for a ride that explored romantic love and romantic love only, as the first 100 pages consist of narratives exploring exactly that. We break from the romantic variety with Rufus, a touching narrative from the perspective of a noble dog who loves his ‘Manmonster.’ While the manmonster engages with romantic partners and other various friendships, the story fixates on the relationship between the dog and person. You Want to Know What Plays Are Like? is a personal favorite that explores the complexities of family through the scope of frayed sibling relationships where our protagonist tells us about seeing a show written by her brother…that happens to be about a vacation they took. Their deceased sibling has her drug issues addressed in the play, a departure from the burden of their shared reality.

            Rewind a bit…I fell for this book immediately. I took my daughter to her weekly dance lesson, saw her into the studio, and went to a chair in the waiting room with the intent to break the ice. The first story is two little pages. A quick snippet of style and substance titled Salted Circus Cashews, Swear to God had me laughing in front of strangers as it broke my heart on the same page.

            These stories vary in length, ranging from a couple of pages to over 40. The collection isn’t tied to one approach, as we’re offered first, second, and third person accounts throughout. To circle back to the beginning, at a multitude of points I’m reminded of Bojack Horseman and the writing styles used to drive the narratives of the show, specifically, the internal dialog utilized in a day in Bojack’s life from an episode called Stupid Piece of Shit. It’s absurd at times, departing from cultural norms entirely to establish different imagined worlds…like how many goats should be sacrificed at a wedding? This was a lovely read that I truly enjoyed. For fans of the show, or readers who simply want to read about love with weighted nuance, Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory is worth the read.

Josie Pace:Rambling Album Review

Social media hasn’t been all bad. Sure, it’s disrupting the wide world and our little communities in dangerous ways that undermine our collective goods, but on occasion it connects people with quality art, so I’ve stuck around. I was wasting a bit of my life on one of those wretched platforms when I scrolled past a recommended artist. Josie Pace stood on a stage. She sported a mohawk, dark makeup, and a facial expression that told me I’d likely get punched in the mouth if I made eye contact. Her aesthetic appealed to me, and in the post she used hashtags like #postindustrial…so I searched for her music on the streaming service of my choice and went to bed. I wasn’t on board at that point, as image doesn’t always equate to good music.

My daily commute to work is forty-five minutes one way, so I tend to save new music for these routine car rides. It’s the most alone time I get in any given day. I went to put on some music before pulling out of the driveway and saw the record I had saved the previous evening, and knew I had to give it a spin.

lv0x10v5 kicked off with I’m Begging You-an absolute heavy hitting electronic song that had me convinced this was an excellent opening song. If the rest of the album kept up in quality, I knew I’d be hooked. Pace utilizes electronics in a way that I’ve wanted to hear but have never quite found until now. The record continues with booming hooks on every track. The songwriting style is authentic and incredibly human. Her voice is powerful beyond measure and compliments the music without overshadowing it. Mechanical synthesizers don’t rely on distorted guitars to fill the void…there is no void, as space is used with fluctuating precision. I’m utterly impressed with the production.

It’s hard to pin down a few tracks that stand out, as there are no bad songs on this record. There’s no filler. After multiple listens, I’m convinced that this is going to be a long-term favorite.

Josie Pace has revealed that she’s back in the studio, working on new material in 2023, and I’m excited. She’s earned my fandom. If you’re into industrial music with rock elements, check out Josie Pace. This is exciting and dangerous music.

The Candy House:Rambling Book Review

Hesitancy kept me from Jennifer Egan’s work for far too long. I’d been introduced to various chapters of A Visit from the Goon Squad at the Ohio State University in 2014, and didn’t glance back until a peer told me it was his favorite novel. I bought a paperback copy of the Pulitzer winner, put it in my bookcase, and let it ferment until the day came that I needed it…and when that day came I was so grateful for it. I was angry with myself, too, for having neglected it in the abyss of my hypothetical TBR pile. It helped to spark a project I’m still working on.

A follow-up/companion novel was published in 2022. The Candy House revisits some characters from A Visit from the Goon Squad, introduces others, and spans through lifetimes. This novel has similar features in that the narratives are fractured, jumping from characters and through time, all while crafting a cohesive world where the focus is no longer on the human follies that take shape in the music industry, but on a piece of science fiction where individual psychology forges a connection between the reader and every person on the page. Egan’s prose had me placing the book down at times to allow a line to linger over my thoughts. Its brokenness is a feature, not a bug, and as art, it’s a most beautifully written piece of work.

Depression had taken me away from reading in 2022. I sought to purchase The Candy House the day it was released, but my local bookstore didn’t have it on hand. I went to Twitter and made some noise about it. I wasn’t sure what this would accomplish, but Jennifer Egan personally reached out to me to ask which store didn’t have it. I felt as though I’d gotten someone in trouble, but gave the details anyway. She sent autographed copies to my local shop, and the shop reached out to me since I had inquired about it. I was so excited that I took it home, sent pictures and the story to my friends, and let it sit in my bookcase until December. Once I had found the wherewithal to read it, I felt revitalized by the first chapter/story. It’s all so rich with human honesty. Tension and drama I associate with familial ties are woven throughout, all with a drop or two of science fiction that doesn’t overcompensate…no; it drives the story forward without being over the top. It’s a modest vehicle for that which alienates us and brings us together in the same sweeping gesture/function.

I’m sorry if this seems rambling. It’s hard to pin down that feeling when literature makes you feel alive, but this book has done it for me. I can’t recommend The Candy House enough. I hope I’m not going too far in saying this, but it was better than Goon Squad…on that note…read them both.

Sometimes you need a wake up call. My goodness, life has been so complicated this last year…good stuff, but nonstop. Alexander was born in November of ‘21 with extensive complications that had him flighted to the NICU where he resided for the better part of the following month. After much physical therapy and the attention of watchful eyes, he’s approaching his first birthday as though nothing ever bothered him.

During his stint at the NICU, we stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus. I tried to pick up a novel, but found myself unable to entertain such a distraction at that time. I all but stopped reading. 

I started to see a therapist, which was nice for a bit. It took six months on a waiting list to start seeing someone, and now every session gets canceled by the other party…so I’ve accepted the system isn’t there to help me. Healthcare is broken in this place. 

I tried to start writing again around the new year…and for a little bit, it worked. I plotted out a story that I’d been preparing to compose, and drafted about 25k words before I had a shakeup at the day job that took away the bit of writing time I was able to carve out for myself. It included a promotion and bit more of a work/life balance, so I’m in no position to complain about it, but I’m hoping to get back to this novel as it gets cold outside. 

We bought a house, too. That was exciting. With Alex entering our lives, we needed more space than our apartment afforded us. This event wouldn’t have taken place without significant help from family, as grinding our bodies against the corporate machine in this bootstrap culture is simply not enough. 

All things considered, life has been good…so of course I slipped into a moderate depression. My wife has gone through the ringer with the complicated birth and the postpartum depression. It’s all been so…difficult. But dare I say it’s getting better? I’d like to think so. 

In September I took Lydia to see our first live music experiences since the pandemic removed that occasional joy from our lives. Father John Misty was such a delightful treat and the band was so sharp, they exceeded my expectations and I felt as though I’d returned to a long abandoned well to find it still held the capacity to sustain these broken yet loving hearts. Twelve days later we saw Nine Inch Nails in Cleveland. That too, brought a peculiar and wretched sort of joy that isn’t exclusive to me. 

Father John Misty in Columbus, Ohio

I’m less than a week away from my birthday. Last year I conjured a list of goals to complete by the time I turn 40, and in the first year of the list I accomplished nothing…and yet…

The growing family with good health…the purchase of our first home…reminders of how art impacts our lives…how good do I have it? I’m waking up to find all the quality life has to offer in my possession. I’ll try to not let it slip through my fingers, but any attempt to control/retain a solid grip is in vain. Life will continue to take me up and down, and I’ll make do with any given moment, as I always have. This post is meant to be a personal update. This insight to personal matters is how I explain my absence beyond the occasional noise I make on social media. Still here…hoping to make something happen. 

Nine Inch Nails in Cleveland, Ohio

Death Loves Veronica:Music Review

Pulsating electronic bass coupled with electro-dance drumbeats is a signature piece that sets the foundation for the kind of vocals where I imagine the singer to be knee-deep in combat boots, standing on a stage of throats. Veronica Campbell has an impressive catalog, but since I’m late to the party, I intend to talk about the 2021 album, Chemical, and the 2022 single, When I Was Dead.

            I opted to check out Chemical the day before the new single dropped, and was pleased to find straightforward songs that take me on the kind of dark wave excursion I associate with contemporary gothic music. She’s not trying to go over the top, nor is she aiming to appear overly complicated for the sake of faux depth. No, it seems to me that Chemical is loaded with love songs written by someone who hates you. Lyrics like, “Nothing dies…the way you do,” in Spindeln was the first instance where my eyes narrowed as I looked to the side and thought, “hell yeah, that’s good loathing.”  Further down the track listing is There’s Nothing Left, where Veronica states, “I hate everything…that fucking reminds me of…you.” The song builds upon rhythm and atmosphere in an organic fashion that stops just short of the ‘wall of sound.’ There’s an emphasis on minimalism, as there isn’t a moment on the record that feels cluttered. Though uncomfortable, the lyrical content is the sweetest kind of bitter, and I’m left wanting more. 

            The twelve songs offer a total of fifty-six minutes of music, all of it appropriate to the thematic elements offered up at the start of it. It feels like a cohesive record that sticks to the honest approach of an artist, uncompromised. It’s been on repeat in my car for since the new single dropped. 

            When I Was Dead came across my radar thanks to guest guitarist, Tim Skold. I’ve been a fan of his solo work for years and he pops up quite a bit in the goth music community. This song has sleeker guitar parts than what was recorded on Chemicals, which was to be expected. But what stood out to me was what made the prior album so special…lyrical bleakness that reflects all I want to hear in a gothic/dark wave song. She croons, “Where were you when I was dead,” which, given the title, isn’t a surprising line, but I’m still taken aback as it’s exquisite when paired with the music. 

            A new record, Corruption for the Insidious, dropped last week on Bandcamp. From what I’ve heard, it’s more high quality ‘hate you’ anthems. It includes the single When I Was Dead. Go give this artist a listen. 

Ships in the Night:Latent Powers:Album Review

Comforting electronic beats direct a ship of dreamy synths through the night in a way that convinces me I’ll live to see the sun again. I found ‘Latent Powers’ by Ships in the Night on a whim. Random scrolling on social media brought me to a record label that tends to deliver material I enjoy, and Cleopatra Records is one of those hubs. I saw a post, and followed my typical streaming routes to a record that’s been on repeat since it’s release. 

Every song offers the kind of quality promised on the official twitter account:music to cry and/or dance to. Medium tempos run the gauntlet of ten tracks, stimulating an atmosphere of blacklight, mist, and a lonely dance. It feels like a singular journey through a story of love and loss that you can apply to whatever narrative you want to give to these wonderfully delivered lyrics. The first three tracks that open the record are my favorite. ‘First Light’ breaks the ice with my heart and piqued my curiosity for more, as I felt something familiar in this new song. ‘When I Was Found’ and ‘Lost Times’ continued the trend of breaking my heart with each line, as the songwriting hits close to home with my own personal troubles. ‘The Fire’ utilizes a pulsating bass line that carries the song in a way that almost deviates from the dark wave sound and borders on what I’d call industrial, without abandoning the overall sound of the record. ‘It Goes Down’ offers an atmospheric tour of sorrow that builds a wall of sound off of pure minimalism, an impressive feat of audio production. The Echo & the Bunnymen cover of ‘The Killing Moon’ caught me off guard in the best kind of way. It edges on the conclusion of the record and once the chorus triggers that nostalgic reaction, a lovely reworking that stays true to the original captivates me. 

‘Latent Powers’ by Ships in the Night is a lovely dark wave record that deserves attention. For fans of Switchblade Symphony, Crying Vessel, or the new Halsey album, give this record a spin.

My Visit with the Goon Squad:Book Review

In 2014 I was assigned the first five short stories (chapters) from Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Having been involved with music, I found one instance in the text that I didn’t think was historically accurate, finished my studies, and moved on. It wasn’t until I had started playing with a band on campus that a peer redirected me toward Egan’s novel that I opted to give it another chance…and by another chance I mean I bought a copy and let it reside in my bookcase for a few years. I’ve since moved, got married, had a child, and have read quite a few other books. In 2021 I’ve started thinking about music again, and as I consider my options I decided it was time to give Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winner the chance it deserves.

On one hand, I wish I hadn’t waited so long. On the other hand, I needed this read now. It’s a moving book that captures the human element in a way that tends to be background noise in stories in orbit around the music business. A lineal narrative is withheld for time jumping aesthetics. Each short story is centered on a specific character during a particular moment in history. Some of these characters are vessels for highlighting someone else’s trajectory, and aren’t referenced again, but it’s through the glimpse each story offers that provides this point of contact that makes the world so real. Music producers and A&R people are more than two-dimensional figures for satirical abuse. Hopes and fears are presented through the veil of toxic personalities, and I find myself relating to these characters because of it. They’re imperfect people who ache with want, and I see myself in them. Between each fragmented chapter, I found myself taking a breather. I’d put the book down, sigh, and think, ‘damn…that’s good literature.’ I don’t feel that way with every book, so forgive my abuse of the five star system(it just so happens that I enjoy reading)…this novel is nothing short of absolutely fantastic.

With this read, I’m breaking the ice on a project that I’ve been considering for quite some time. This research is a starting point from which I hope to craft a novel, or possibly a series if I can make that much happen. It feels good to be inspired…that’s how good Egan’s novel is. I’m looking forward to her followup, scheduled for release in April, 2022, The Candy House.

Book Review: Calibration 74

This short book by William F. Aicher is a quick read if you opt to treat it as such. On the other side of the same coin, we find something dense that is better digested in smaller pieces over time. The later is how I decided to approach this work. Aicher takes us through a narrative of a mind that is haunted, though it seeks a closure that can never be found. Short chapters, or ‘calibrations’ offer 74 separate segments over 186 pages. It’s an uncompromising romp through psychological terrain of the damaged variety, right up my ally. Calibration 74 is a harrowing exploration of experimental fiction that is worth a deeper dive, so give it the time of day. 

            Rich in thought provoking prose and vivid imagery, I take solace in relatable poetry, if such a thing should be admitted. Our narrator is unreliable in direct ways that relate to numerical obsession, in the moments where he miscounts. It happened on one occasion where he’s counting large numbers, making big picture statements/asking big picture questions between the numbers, 

[One billion four hundred twenty-eight million two hundred sixty-three five hundred and nine. 

The soul is indistinguishable from the body. 

One billion four hundred twenty-eight million two hundred sixty-three five hundred and nine. 

Where do we go when we die?]

Numerical obsession and the fallacy of the human mind is the vessel that moves the story forward. Before and after this hiccup, the count progresses as expected. This break from the logical pattern is enough to suggest the blur is intentional. 

I found solace in the rhythmic use of language. It’s a scattered collection of ashes and even at my slow pace I struggled with authorial intent, so I placed my own meaning where I saw fit. Between the covers, Aicher’s philosophical background is in full view. Direct answers are elusive, but that’s the fun of this kind of read. I definitely recommend Calibration 74. Give it a read.