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.

Intruder by Gary Numan: Album Review

If Edgar Allen Poe or Alfred Tennyson were alive today, had access to synthesizers, and made music of their poetry, I firmly believe they’d make Intruder by Gary Numan. The lyrical theme of the new record puts emphasis on what has been lost to circumstance in such a way as to ache with the particular sting of tragic romance that resonates with certain 19th Century poets. The end of the world reminds me of heartbreak. The hurt that is communicated is so clear and that transparency sounds authentic. There’s poetry in these songs. Collapse and distance are offered with genuine concern that makes the content relatable. The past is haunting to those who’ll have it, and I was struck again and again while listening to this album. Lyrics like, “sometimes when I’m dreaming I forget that you’re gone. Now when the wind cries, I remember you,” uses the simplicity of our shared human experience to cut as deep as anything. The end of the world has a lovely soundtrack. 

This new record is rich with dark electronic textures that eclipse all hope. It contains beats that are fine-tuned and tweaked to appeal to new fans while pleasing those who’ve been listening for decades. It’s contemporary sounding, which speaks to a desire to always be learning and applying it to the craft. It’s scarier than Numan’s earlier work, but that’s a wonderful thing. He’s changed quite a bit over time, which is the desired route of a quality artist who has had the longevity of his career. With that longevity comes a sort of freedom, so it seems this is the kind of music Numan wants to make right now, and it’s nothing short of fantastic.

Distorted beats mingle with authentic sounding pianos and strings with eerie intent that is often both high energy yet subdued at the same time. Sharp percussion hammers at the psyche while the music it holds up offers relief. The production is sleek, bright, and beautiful, an aspect that shines through the darker qualities of the record in a niche where production typically aims for something with a bit more dirt. For that, it stands out amongst its peers. I’ve been listening to the record on repeat since it dropped. I’m still impressed. The song Intruder is my personal favorite. It’s aggressive and angry, and the music reflects that without deviating from the production that shines through the shadows of the subject matter. It represents the tone of the record as a whole, as the dark beat carries soaring electronics to heights I didn’t know I could find in what I think of when I consider ‘industrial’ music, but the tracks don’t lie. It’s a heavy hitting industrial record with just enough pop elements to maintain a lure and a hook in every song. There’s nothing to skip on Intruder. Gary Numan is where it’s at. 

Recent Developments: Sellout Productions

I’d like to take this opportunity to indulge what I’ve been up to. While I’d prefer to reserve this blog to a few specific topics, like reviewing music and books, I’ll drop in to give an occasional update from my side of the screen.

Sellout Productions has long been a name of a fantasy of mine. I came up with it in high school, and all these years later it feels right for these endeavors. At this time, Sellout Productions is more or less a front for my work. My self-published novels and a singular set of enamel pins embody the beginning. While my books will continue to be my primary focus, the itch to make music has returned to me, and I intend to utilize my previous experience in audio production to work on new material with a tangible goal in mind. I hope to finish writing and producing an album in 2021. I fully intend to release it on my Bandcamp page, with wider distribution to follow shortly thereafter. From there, I hope to establish some consistency and produce/release new material on a regular basis. For the sake of soulless branding, the name of the project will be the same I had used for the music I made in college: Sellout. I’m looking to make instrumental electronic music, but that’s pretty broad. I’ll just have to shout it from the rooftops again once there’s something for you to hear.

Branching out in another direction, I’ve opened an Etsy shop. That’s where the enamel pins are available, with other products in the works. These items may take some extra time to produce, as I don’t want to simply flood the market with whatever product that could bear a logo. I may’ve gotten ahead of myself in opening the shop before I had more than one item available, but as any stable business owner will tell you, “I’m winging it.” It’s fine…I’m learning lessons on the fly. I got excited, and the first set of pins has been well received thus far. There’ll be more options soon, just not a plethora for the sake of quantity.

For those of you still around, I appreciate you reading this far. This is my attempt to dehumanize myself down to a brand, all while remaining vulnerable and authentic.

WE ARE NUMBERED_ Debuts with Solid Mix of Dance and Experimental Electronic in “Valley of Tunnels”

WE ARE NUMBERED_ is the electronic dance project of musician/author: Logan Ryan Smith. The first record is called Valley of Tunnels and was released by Club Garage Records last month. The album consists of ten instrumental songs that presented me with the fresh air of something new, juxtaposed with the familiarity that suggests I’ve been here before…a soundtrack to an 80’s science fiction flick that never was.

            The opening track, Running Thru Miami With Swords introduces the project with a pulsating rhythm that has characteristics of an instrumental Blue Monday. With this up-tempo dance anthem to kick things off, synth stabs get to the heart of the matter with rotating hooks that had me on board to give this record a chance. 

            Cloud Break is the second song, and there’s reverb on the opening drums, a departure from the opening song. The notion of dance music takes a backseat to something a little more experimental here, as the drums abandon the four-on-the-floor approach for something a little more thought out. Synth blasts, coupled with the drum patterns took me out of the club and into a sci-fi storyline. 

            We return to beats, melodies, and structure of fun electronic dance in the title track, Valley of Tunnels. Science fiction vibes move through this song as well, but bring the catchy hooks that have this one playing in my head long after it’s over. 

            Andromeda Dropout is the first track where I noticed what I interpreted to be electronic guitars. To this point on the record I’ve only made out programming and synthesizers, but this song is layered with roomy, ambient guitars that again, shows Smith isn’t one to reveal all of his tricks and talent in one place. 

            Dynamics are often compressed out of contemporary productions, especially music that’s meant to make you get up and dance. I can appreciate it when dynamics are used to enhance the flow or altogether change pace. It’s a rarity that catches me off guard these days. When the engine-like sound cuts through Requiem For a Synthetic, I was made to feel uncomfortable, which seems to be the intent. This kind of hard dynamic stab surfaces again in Mannequin Sunshine, when the synthesizer lead blankets the rhythmic flow of my favorite song on the record. 

            We conclude with See You When It’s Over, where we are again shown that not all of Smith’s cards get played at once. The beat deviates from the standard four-on-the-floor beat for something a bit more experimental. I live for the kind of programmed drums that deviate from expectations, and it’s delivered here. A pulsating rhythm sets the foundation for an electronic wall of sound experience, and I will run headfirst into this wall again and again…because it’s that damn good. 

            Valley of Tunnels is a fantastic first effort by WE ARE NUMBERED_ and while it’s been on my rotation, I’m already thirsty for more. Check it out, give it a spin on whatever streaming service you use. There’s far too much good music that gets lost under the radar, but I’ve taken notice of this, and you should too. There is potential for furthering the catalog and if this project continues, I will be there to hear it out.