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

Not the Actual Events: EP Review

With the year coming to a close I figured the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross camp was going to hold off on new Nine Inch Nails until after the New Year. I’d been satisfied with the ‘Before the Flood’ soundtrack, but new music with little notice is always a perk worth the excitement. Not the Actual Events is a five track EP that explores solid walls of distorted sound. Over the years I’ve come to develop certain expectations of Reznor and his work, but what makes this record special is that where it doesn’t deviate, it exceeds. Old tendencies are coupled with fresh ideas, and the resulting record feels like something that would’ve been produced in the 90’s, without sounding dated. The word ‘thick’ kept coming to mind as I listened through it. Thick beats, dirty bass, and layers upon layers of oppressive noise.

In terms of songwriting and production it’s a complete departure from the 2013 release, Hesitation Marks. It’s full of screeching, distorted, atmospheric guitars, scattered throughout the EP. The use of guitars and bass with this approach to production is more in line with rock, but the result is less polished than previous rock records. It’s not pop, and doesn’t have anything that would appeal to mainstream rock radio, which is why it’s sure to please the diehards. There’s a lot of moving action and sequencing, the sort of thing that merits multiple listens.

As a drummer I’m always fascinated by the variation of drums, and Not the Actual Events delivers in that category. Electronic drums are sequenced through songs like Dear World, while the booming roomy sound of She_s Gone Away are a quick disconnect from the previous track. These changing elements keep the movements fresh, which is common with NIN, but worth the observation here.

Certain parts of the record reminded me of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Specifically the vocal inflection during the chorus of Branches_Bones, and the rhythmic procession of The Idea of You, stood out as things I’d expect from Dillinger. Not a criticism, just something I noticed.

While the wall of sound is what got to me through my first couple of spins, I came to find my attention drawn towards the vocal production. Throughout the record the vocals are mixed in such a way to obscure what’s being said, which may frustrate the casual fan, but I find it to be part of the charm. In other places the voice is loud and clear. The theme of balancing nihilism with passion reveals an individual who is uncertain, and often-in denial.

Overall Not the Actual Events is an experience that can’t be disproven. It’s short, bitter, and made of all the pieces/parts of a great Nine Inch Nails record.

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UPDATE: 03/06/17

When I initially purchased the mp3s it included a “physical component” to be mailed at a later date. It was something to hold in your hands, and seemed like a nod to our collective nostalgia. After a few weeks I sort of forgot about it, until it arrived at my door, and made me excited to listen to the EP again.

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A caulk like-charcoal dusting had blackened my fingertips right out of the plastic. It contained a transparent piece of film with an image of Trent/Atticus. Then a paper slide for each track with lyrics. The backs had more of the charcoal residue textured to an aesthetic visual, and came up/smeared with a touch. Most interesting (to me) was that the page with the lyrics for “she’s_gone_away” had the lyrics to their 1994 track “reptile” squeezed in between the lines, which suggests some kind of narrative connection.

This’ll Feel Like Home-My Friends of Mumvies Boy

Disclaimer and personal opinion: the unique band name is derived of a story oddly close to infringing upon the copyrights of Friday the 13th.

My time with Mumvies Boy came with a predetermined expiration date, so I knew from the start that we’d share a limited series of moments. No long-term commitment allowed me to apply effort without any real pressure. I felt free to be myself, and play the parts as I saw fit. The core members consisted of the songwriting duo Michael Davanzo and Tommy Isaac, and their plans involved relocation after obtaining their respective degrees. With their previous drummer having departed from the Columbus area I was welcomed into their circle. Bias runs through this text, but music is best described in terms of taste… their approach to creating music is most tasteful.

I met Michael at Ohio State in the fall of 2013. Through our studies we became acquaintances, but through music emerged friendship. He was living with Tommy off of Hudson, and I met him when I finally came over to jam last winter… no strings attached.

While my drumming resume ranges from metal to musical theatre I’ve never taken part in anything that would fall under the banner of folk. Michael plays an acoustic guitar with a style that nods towards that of Lindsey Buckingham. Tommy brought flare to the table with erratic synthesizers, and the occasional complimentary ukulele. Together they seek to craft a sound that is a hybrid of minimalist electronic and folk.

The only Columbus show I played with them took place at the Space Bar in early February. At the time they had acquired the talents of Sylvie Mix to round out the group on bass. I remember the burden of concern that Tommy had expressed for that show. To consider a rhythm section that hadn’t ever gone over the songs together would sound the alarm of inadequate preparation, and yet the set started, we all clicked, and the crowd was none the wiser.

After that Sylvie departed for the endeavors of her own plate, and Mumvies Boy would continue without a bass player for the remainder of their time in Ohio.

We started tweaking songs and playing gigs in their hometown of Mansfield. The duo had acquired the vocal talents of local artist Erin Mason (to my knowledge she performs with a multitude of other acts, but I’m only certain of Hello Emerson), and the harmonies she and Michael produced gave the sound an extra layer of magic. I loved the charm of their music, and their Mansfield. Up to that point in my life I’d never experienced latte art, and assumed the patterns atop coffee cups to be the beautiful lie of Photoshop. Though I’ve seen pictures of such imagery online, the physical cup of chai tea amused me beyond what it had merited… a simple pleasure serves best.

The Mansfield gigs included the basement office space of a newspaper production house (of which there is a recording), the patio of a local brewery, and a larger outdoor stage that we shared with another Columbus act, Coal Fired Bicycle. Within the scope of that time I met their families, was a guest in the homes they grew up in, explored high rooftops, carousels, and developed friendships outside of a classroom setting. All of which happened to be more than I expected to take away.

With their departure I find a personal joy in acknowledging their hopeful spirits. They venture west in search of the next chapter of their lives, without burning the pages of previous endeavors. I write this only to reflect, and wish them well. I hope they settle into their new home with an ease that allows for their musical project to take root, and continue with the most limited of interruption. I believe in the horror story that is Mumvies Boy.

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From left to right: Erin Mason, Michael Davanzo, my horror-show self, and Tommy Isaac.