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. 

Skold delivers with ‘Dies Irae’

After 2019’s industrial release ‘Never is Now’ the 2020 release of the “Not My God” record with Nero Bellum, it comes as no surprise that the new Skold solo record would incorporate a healthy dose of metal guitar riffs and intricate leads. ‘Dies Irae’ is broken up in a back-and-forth pattern of guitar centric rock/metal tracks juxtaposed with the trademark heavy electronic/industrial sound I’ve come to expect from more current projects from Tim Skold. This parallel mixing of musical styles keeps the record moving in such a way as to never feel stagnant. The constant change up results in a refreshing album. While it may be the honeymoon period talking, I’m confident in feeling that ‘Dies Irae’ is my favorite Skold record yet.

The album opens with hard hitting ‘Dirty Horizon.’ This track has crisp sounding guitars that sound both contemporary, yet familiar in a nostalgic way. A scathing chorus hooked me, and I knew I was in for something fun. The guitar solo is a solid tell of things to come, and sets the tone for more metal aggression. That expectation is subverted when the second song starts up. ‘Unspoken’ breaks the ice with some of the more electronic elements I had expected. There’s a guitar solo in this one that shows off the best of Skold’s vast talent, which shouldn’t surprise me at this point, but it’s so good.

My favorite track is ‘Love is a Disease.’ There’s drum programming in the chorus that has this haphazard hi-hat pattern that is percussive icing that coats a bigger wall sound. The lyrical part of the chorus hits in a way that has lost zero impact after multiple listens. It feels like a confession, and I’m here for that kind of honesty. Another authentic confession is offered up in the atmospheric song ‘Terrified’ where Skold sings, “I’m not afraid of dying…I’m fucking terrified.”

Another track with intricate electronic drum programming is ‘Silicon Dreams.’ It’s made clear that Skold isn’t comfortable falling back on old habits when producing new material. The rhythmic work on this track reflects the coexisting grit and shine of trap music with hopeless undertones, and sparse guitar work that makes use of dynamic range.

The album ends with ‘Goodbye.’ This leans more toward elements of a metal track, and was released early as the album’s teaser. It rings as a highlight for me, as this final track was the first one I heard. It gave a good impression regarding the direction of the album, without revealing all of the tricks Skold deals out over the course of this record. This effort feels like one cohesive work, while showcasing an impressive variety and range Tim Skold brings to the table.

Of Loss and Illness: A Personal Entry

This is a personal entry of sorts. I’ve worked up a great deal of enthusiasm for a story I began to plot just before the New Year. Started drafting it out, and got about 5k words of it down in the first five days of January. I awoke on the sixth day of the year to find I’d missed two calls from the home of my parents. I returned their call, and received the news that my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family had passed away earlier that morning. His health had been in decline since a close call in 2016. A closer call last year had his medical professionals calling him the miracle boy. His survival through those ordeals allowed him to attend my wedding and meet his great granddaughter, for which I will be eternally grateful. I’ve been luckier than most, in that I’ve had both sets of grandparents into my 30’s. My grandfather lived most of his life in Columbus, but moved to Florida with the intent of enjoying his golden years in the sunshine state. He was a working class musician and youth athletics coach for many years, in addition to the “professional” jobs he held throughout his life.

Later that day I had a Skype session with a friend who is currently residing in Los Angeles. Aside from catching up, the purpose of our conversation was to have him describe his life in Hollywood, as I intend to write about such places. It was during our chat that my wife entered the bedroom with our baby, the both of them covered in vomit. I told my friend we’d have to resume the talk at a later time, ended the session, and promptly bathed the child. The stomach bug ran through our home, and made the week the most miserable in recent memory. Everyone took a turn being bedridden. Once the stomach issue had passed our baby seemed lethargic again, and a visit with the doctor confirmed respiratory and ear infections, though both were minor. She’s been prescribed some medicine, and seems to be doing better.

I’m not sure why I’m writing all of this out. Complications from being sick and familial loss have brought the writing to a halt, except in this strange exercise. We’re heading into the weekend, my wife intent on starting her new job with a nine-hour shift on Saturday, followed by the family gathering that’ll take us into next week. I guess I’m exhausted, and instead of putting words down on my new piece of fiction I’m just here making excuses. But you’re allowed to be tired. You’re allowed to take a break. Family and health take priority, and I’ll not be shamed for it. I’ll not shame you for it either, when the time comes. I’m rambling at this point, but it’s my declaration that I’m taking a short break to recuperate and be with family. Rest easy, Grandpa.

Bad Witch: Music Review

With ‘Bad Witch’ Nine Inch Nails has completed a trilogy of EPs, as was promised with the initial release ‘Not the Actual Events,’ and followup, ‘Add Violence.’

The EP begins with the chaotic rock of an old school NIN release. The two opening numbers, ‘Shit Mirror’ and ‘Ahead of Ourselves’ are politically charged excursions that express rage in the aftermath of apathy. Lyrics like, “I think I knew when it crossed the line” and “why try change when you know you can’t?” reflects Reznor’s internal struggles onto the world at large. The songs talk about squandered potential. When left to our own devices, we’re most likely to destroy ourselves in spite of some better vision. The verse/chorus structure of the first two songs offers a comfortable way to start the album by this uncomfortable artist.

Then the record changes course an instrumental track, titled, ‘Play the Goddamn Part.’ Noise levels border on cacophony before the music settles on a path that refuses the straight and narrow. What’s truly unique here is the saxophone, as I haven’t heard an honest horn section since ‘Pilgrimage’ from 1999’s ‘The Fragile.’ Aside from that you’d have to go back to 1988’s ‘Purest Feeling’ to find horns on a NIN track. While it’s been documented that Reznor played the sax during his high school years, up to this point he had left it in the past, as the previous examples were made with synthesizers. The third track moves with the grace and balance of a living entity.

The fourth track is titled, ‘God Break Down the Door,’ and is rife with saxophone, uptempo drums/synthesizers, and a vocal composition that reminds me of David Bowie. The lyrics declare, “You won’t find the answers here… not the ones you’re looking for,” in spite of the effort required to break down the perceived barrier.

‘I’m Not from This World’ is an unsettling instrumental track that creates a sense of space. The tempo slows down, and audio levels are below that of the other songs. It’s a haunting soundscape that deviates from the thoughtful composition of ‘Play the Goddamn Part’ as it wanders into the void of space.

‘Bad Witch’ concludes with my personal favorite track, ‘Over and Out.’ This song returns us to the beat driven downtempo that is a NIN standard. Heavy drums and beeping synths set the foundation of what feels like an instrumental journey. A bass line jumps on, and the wall of sound layers up. It feels like one of Reznor’s signature works, but a surprise is offered up when vocals break the ice, as the styling again reflects that of David Bowie. There’s no verse/chorus structure (same with ‘God Break Down the Door’), so the voice expresses, “Time is running out,” and all the complications associated with the passage of time.

With ‘Bad Witch’ being the final installment in this three-EP series, I’m hoping for a world tour that’ll land near me. It’ll be damn cool to see Atticus Ross in the live lineup. The new collection of songs are definitely worth a spin.

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Book Review: A Glitch in the World

I read ‘A Glitch in the World’ on a whim. Alex Drozd offers questions regarding the human condition through the scope of science fiction, and on the surface his vision of the future feels incredibly real.

Debate is used in ways that reflect upon contemporary issues with a futuristic spin. One of my favorites centered on the topic of music production. Computers and AI produce music, as there’s no human element in the popular songwriting process. One character prefers this, while another expresses a nostalgic longing for the days when people made music on computers. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my father when I was a child where he described the virtue of music produced without computers, whereas I have a taste for music made on computers.

Another question the book proposes revolves around the worth of an individual. Motorized vehicles are 100% automated and with AI responsible for driving, the value of a person is brought into the equation when it comes to the occasional accident. People are quantified based on a number of variables, and the computer does everything possible to spare the more valuable entity, even if it includes killing the lesser person. I feel the value of a person could be considered controversial if corrupt powers have any sort of influence, but Drozd did not venture there.

What we get is a story about a teenager full of angst, and the complications that arise after a friend commits suicide. There are beings from a parallel universe that only appear to our protagonist, and my only gripe is that their motives seem bigger than the end result. Even still, the ending offers a twist of sorts that is great fun.

The book was well edited in terms of proper grammar, but I feel some of the phrasing throughout could’ve used a little more tweaking. Drozd offers readers a fantastic effort in his debut.

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Violence and Entertainment: Some Thoughts

In the wake of the commonplace mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, blame has been thrown in every direction as a means to pivot away from any real action. Mental illness is further stigmatized while the notion of gun control is entertained, but not considered with honest intent. The president has fallen on the age-old rhetoric that blames the glorification of violence as presented in our media, specifically video games and film. These mediums aren’t to blame for the ills of society. I recall a similar instance from my youth, one that involved casting blame on a rock and roll star following the mass shooting at Columbine. Video games (Doom) and films (Natural Born Killers) were scapegoated as well, but Marilyn Manson became the figure of cause, or in his own words, “the poster boy for fear,” in an arena where the artist had no business.

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Violence in entertainment has been normalized through the ages. Shakespeare had to compete with a bear-baiting arena that stood within walking distance from The Globe, where dogs were set against bears. Violence is an unfortunate byproduct of the human experience, to which entertainment falls short of reality. Does entertainment glorify the vices of violence and drug dependency? Absolutely. Can entertainment have a psychological impact on the person? Studies conclude our violent media doesn’t make a violent mind. I’d ask the POW’s whom the United States government exposed to singular songs on repeat at volumes too great to withstand, but that’s use of media as a means of torture. I guess I’ve never met a person who watched Breaking Bad, and decided to try their hand at cooking crystal meth.

Still, I will say that though some media is horribly toxic (especially without proper context or critical thinking skills), mass shootings don’t stem from a ‘life imitating art’ philosophy. No one kills a police officer because they could in Grand Theft Auto. No one shoots up any array of social settings because of the music/images associated with Marilyn Manson. Such arguments serve only to pivot from the issue, with the intent of leaving it unaddressed. Jim Carrey possibly disagrees with me, as he decided to not promote a violent film he had acted in, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He drew parallels of self-importance, and saw his participation in the production of the film as something bigger than what it was. While I admire him wanting to bring attention to the issue, the source of his conviction was one rooted in error.

There’s a greater cultural problem that won’t be solved through a singular idea, and Americans need to acquire the skills of civil debate if compromise is to be reached. Without adjustment the shootings will continue. Even with adjustments the shootings will continue. Resolution won’t come overnight, and the first steps shall not yield instant results. There are growing pains ahead if we are to grow from these events, but the ‘pivot blame game’ falls on the same old arguments that have-time and time again-been reduced to falsehood. Video games, music, and movies entertain, and at times provide a coping mechanism by means of catharsis. Should we ban the work of William Shakespeare before the influence drives more teenagers to kill themselves and each other?

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Greater insight is necessary. What of violence in the real world? News programs use significant portions of their broadcasts to examine violent events within any given community, and break them down in such a way as to have the viewer feeling relieved. They’re left with a feeling of, ‘at least I’m not that bad,’ which serves complacency. They speak of wars in foreign lands with a particular cruelty, and equate their human condition to a sordid less than. Further down the pipeline is a subculture that celebrates the tragedies our society bears. Before the shooting at Virginia Tech, the shooter made a video where he paid homage to the school shooters that had come before him, even naming a few. When the Vegas concert shooting left 58 dead, and 851 others injured, particular online message boards discussed how he’d fallen short of the ‘high score,’ by referencing the mass shooting in Norway that left 80 dead in 2011. Violence is encouraged in a way that mimics the most morbid of support groups. There’s enough real world influence to claim our entertainment is not as harmful as some would allege.

 

No Good Deed: Book Review

No Good Deed examines and satirizes the complications of long-term friendships. We’re brought in on the premise that our main character offers some money to a homeless person, and is thanked by name. After an awkward moment Alan realizes he’s staring at his childhood friend, Craig. He takes his old friend to a pub, and then to his home in an attempt to help him up.

Alan’s a semi famous food critic. Craig played guitar for a band that got big in the early 90’s, and then fizzled out. It feels of an age-old story where the emphasis resides upon the reversal of fortune. Themes of carnival surface as one character is brought up, while the other descends to ruin. These classical notions mixed with contemporary commentary make for an excellent piece of cultural satire. Niven delivers, again.

It is the unspoken feelings long harbored between the two main characters that motivate them to actions both comical and wretched. Distance of years would not change how they felt about each other. It is expressed that, “all the money and fame imaginable could never re-engineer how we come to define ourselves as teenagers” (165). I found myself laughing out loud at the insults, and feeling a genuine emotional investment when dealing with the prospect of loss.

At one point Craig is being interviewed about his story. He is honest about his spiteful feelings toward Alan, and describes him with a harshness that seems far away from the warm feelings we typically associate with friendships. Niven offers an insight that feels all too relatable,

“It did make her slightly sad, however, the realization- common to many jobbing journalists who must routinely deliver copy crafted to suit many different publications – that lurking beneath the piece she was going to write about the life-affirming powers of friendship, there was another piece, a different piece, a better piece. One about the strange currents and deep, dark pools that hide beneath the surface of many lifelong friendships, especially ones that have involved dramatic reversal of fortune” (198).

It’s just fantastic. Probably the best overall work from Niven. My personal favorite since The Second Coming.

No Good Deed Cover