Beer and Pavement

An Open Letter to Sleater-Kinney

Posted in An Open Letter, Records by Zac on October 23, 2014

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Dear Sleater-Kinney,

So, you’re back. Like several of my favorite nineties’ bands – Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc. – you took some time off from each other for other projects, but you’re back. And we’re all so happy.

I remember the day I found out your were no more. It was in Hawaii on the Molokai. I had on my t-shirt from the All Hands on the Bad One tour, browsing the aisles at the only grocery store when another tourist stopped me to say that you had broken up. “Hiatus” would have been a better descriptor, but the news hit me just as hard either way. All the bands of my youth were nearly gone, causing me to fear for more than just my record collection.

Either way, I don’t want this letter to be about my relationship with your career and output. Rather, I want to celebrate the fact that you are back and to make a request.

In terms of reunions or coming out of hiatus, you all did it right. First, there was the little surprise of the box set. I preordered mine instantly and it was totally worth it. The packaging and accompanying book is beautiful. I don’t have all of your albums on vinyl until now and they’re all colored, 180-gram vinyl to boot! In terms of remastering, from what I’ve had a chance to hear, this too was done the right way. Instead of just turning everything up, many tracks were balanced out and the effects of cheap recording sessions is wiped out with a professional’s expert hand.

Of course, the coup de gras was the 7″ with the new song “Bury Our Friends” which is huge track filled to the brim with power and emotion. This new song – the first in 9 years – is how you announce your return. No fanfare. No announcement. “Let’s just toss a new 7″ into our retrospective box set for shits and giggles!” And of course there will be a tour and a new album – January 20th according to the 7″.

You are doing it right, friends. Most bands wait until they need the cash to get back together. Most bands don’t release new music. Most bands overdue their own box sets with loads of rarities (read: “junk not good enough to release the first time”) or completely over-produced versions of the originals. But not Sleater-Kinney. This is how a band gets back together. This is the blueprint from now one.

Now for the request.

You are one of my six-year-old’s favorite bands. Sure, that list includes Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Kidz Bop, but it also includes anything Kathleen Hanna touches, Wild Flag, and Blondie. She needs to see a live Sleater-Kinney performance and I can’t really drive/fly her on a school night to Chicago or Omaha. It would be ideal if Sleater-Kinney finds their way to Columbia, Missouri. (Of course, I would settle for STL or KC.)

In the spirit of transparency (and in case it wasn’t already clear), I am a huge Sleater-Kinney fan. I too would benefit from your band stopping in Middle Missouri. I won’t front.

We have a nice venue in the Blue Note who just hired two women as manager and assistant manager. There’s Pizza Tree and their bánh mì pizza(!) or baked goods, records, films (on the screen or to go), and drinks in the Uprise/Ragtag complex on Hitt Street. There’s vegetarian at Main Squeeze and two doughnut places by the time you would arrive. I can tell you more, just write back with requests.

In closing, I wish you the best of luck with the record and tour. It’s great to have one of the greatest rock bands of my life back at it – especially one my kid likes. I hope you find it in your heart of hearts to stop in COMO. It’s worth the stop.

Best,

Zac

P.S. – Will the whole band make an appearance on Portlandia next season?

P.P.S. – Will Pearl Jam open for you? I don’t really care if I see Pearl Jam. I just think it’s fair that they support you since you supported them the last time you were out.

P.P.P.S. – Carrie and Janet, my daughter wrote a letter to Wild Flag a while back. Are you planning on responding? She wrote one to Kathleen Hanna and Hanna wrote back. Just saying.

Once More with Feeling vs Dark Penance

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records, Review, Rock vs. Beer by Zac on October 21, 2014

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Man, I haven’t done one of these beer/record reviews in a long, long time.

Above you will find an image of a record – a 10″ record to be exact – and a beer. The record is Once More with Feeling, the new EP by Ought I picked up at their show over a week ago. The beer is a little something from Founders I picked up before the show. It’s black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale called Dark Penance.

Once More with Feeling - Ought

This is not your typical Ought release. Well, they have basically only released the stellar More than Any Other Day on Constellation and a self-released EP of mostly the same material, but this offering is neither of those. From what I can tell and have read, Once More… features older material that was rerecorded and slapped on some 10″ vinyl. Half is recycled from the mentioned EP, but it’s been completely reworked. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t measure up with what might be one of the best LP’s of the year. In fact, this 4-song EP perfectly compliments it and adds to the still-young oeuvre in a meaningful way.

The EP opens with the slow burn that is “Pill” with frontman Tim Beeler’s vocals light but in front instead of his typical holler. This is a reimagined version of the opening track from their EP New Calm. It’s straightforward and sweet with some sad, sad lyrics before it unravels into a beautiful mess, Beeler demanding that you give it to him before he fades into oblivion. “New Calm Pt 2″ is another rerecording of the final track of their self-released EP. Beeler’s talking, Byrne/Reed vocals are out front ahead of a Joy Division-esque groove and early U2 guitar onslaught. The experiment of “New Calm Pt 2″ doesn’t stand alone, but it demonstrates the certain constraints and potential of the band to carry out a jam. It’s abstract musically and lyrically, featuring a rambling singer backed by a rambling band. The EP closes with “Waiting”, a more conventional track. Quick, moving, urgent, the band moves like a mid-nineties Chicago outfit in a hurry with that familiar David Byrne-like mumbling before breaking into his usual cries. This track could be described as the band’s “dance song” but I find a lot of Ought’s faster stuff danceable. Beeler asks, “How long have you been waiting?” over and over. I hope not wait too long before another release or live performance.

Dark Penance Imperial Black IPA – Founders

Up for the challenge is a first-time release from the Midwest’s best brewery: Founders. Intensely bitter, Dark Penance is painful to the tongue upon the first sip. The roastiness and extreme hop presence (100 IBU’s!) are unforgiving. But as one sips, the roast and hop flavors begin to separate themselves, allowing the drinker to take in the brilliance of this beer. There are two types of black IPA’s: the hoppy porter variety or dark hop bomb that’s really just an IPA in a cloak. However, this beer finds a balance in pushing the envelope – typical of a Founders beer. Founders just makes their beers overwhelmingly flavorful which somehow balances out. I wonder if as they were developing this beer, the brewers thought “oh, that’s too hoppy” or “the malt is too forward” or “it’s all roasted malt.” And instead of backing off any of those flavors, they brought up the other components to balance the whole thing out. And this works.

Intersections

On the surface, both Ought’s EP and Founders black IPA are immensely pleasurable. As I sipped the beer, I wasn’t sure if I was nodding to the blackness spinning on my turntable or the one in my glass. Both are exceptional contributions.

However, I find it more interesting in how they differ. Ought builds from abstraction, a dance beat, a sweet ditty into something gorgeously chaotic. However, Dark Penance was the opposite in that it opened with a punishing onslaught only to eventually reveal a balanced, glorious drink, perfecting for sipping with a great record on the play. The pairing was a success in contrasting styles with similar elements. I may have to try it again.

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Ex Hex – ‘Rips’ / An Ode to Mary Timony

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on October 9, 2014
I don't have my copy just yet. So, this pic will have to do.

I don’t have my copy just yet. So, this pic will have to do.

Something woke up inside of Mary Timony. Although she wasn’t sleeping, her name wasn’t nearly as prominent as it once was in indie rock circles when the super group Wild Flag was formed. Helium had dissolved. Autoclave was long forgotten. Her solo work – although solid – was generally ignored and mired in dragons and unicorns. While Timony may have been fine personally, she was slipping from the radar.

Then, the aforementioned collab with Carry Brownstein and Janet Weiss formerly of Sleater-Kinney and the Minders’ Rebecca Cole happened and one of the best, most rocking albums of the last decade hit the scene. Wild Flag hit the road and blew audiences away. Although lacking in quantity, these sets were fairly notorious for their energy and aggression. Oh, and they were fun.

I learned of Timony when Helium was hitting stride. I don’t remember if it was before or after the Beavis & Butthead “breakthrough”, but I saw Helium on a shared bill with Archers of Loaf. If I hadn’t been such a young, male into aggressive dude, guitar rock, I might have better appreciated what I saw from Timony that night. Helium’s output in the 90’s was legendary and as influential as anything else. Timony blended math rock, post-punk, and the electro-hybrid stuff the kids so prefer these days to make something that truly stood out among all the aggressive guitar rock of the day. Her breathy vocals hid the darkness in the lyrics, but the aesthetic was so different than anything else you might hear in 1995.

I didn’t see Timony again until she was on a solo tour and stopped in Columbus, OH a couple of years later. It was my sister’s first club show. So, that was a big deal. It was cool to take my teenage sister to see a such a strong, confident woman perform her craft. Timony’s music had really evolved during this time. She seemed to bounce from genre to genre and the subject matter changed almost as much as anyone. While her solo albums were cohesive individually, there was little overlap aesthetically from one to the next.

Another 2-3 years later, I saw Timony open for Sleater-Kinney in Amsterdam. While the show was fine, it felt as if her influence and notoriety was heading in the opposite direction as Sleater-Kinney’s. Timony more than held her own, but it wasn’t where I would have expected her career to be at that point, for whatever that’s worth. I bought her CD Mountains, but for me, I just wasn’t as interested in Mary Timony. The album was fine, but it wasn’t as impactful as those Helium records, causing me to wonder where this was all going.

She played here in Columbia several years ago and I just flat-out missed it. Of course, it was after the fact when I rediscovered Ex Hex (her album and not the new project). This was some guitar rock that felt like a harsher, more raw version of the Helium materials. Her vocals were less breathy and the lyrics had a bite. This record was on heavy rotation for me for a while. This record painted Timony in a different light – one as rocker. Of course, I might have thought of her that way had I paid more attention to Autoclave, but anything after that usually didn’t rock. There were moments in Helium, but that band was more complex than your typical rock outfit. I hoped more would come of Ex Hex, but Timony fell off my map a bit. I missed her next solo effort. Basically, I revisited Helium now and again as well as Ex Hex but that was about it.

The next thing I know is that 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney were teaming up with Timony and others to form a new band: Wild Flag. I have expressed my admiration for Wild Flag on many occasions – both live and recorded. On record and video performances leaked on the daily leading up to their s/t release, Wild Flag was meeting the expectations most had when we learned of this new collaboration. Then, they did the unthinkable and actually delivered said album that met those unrealistic expectations all super groups carry. Before seeing them live, I wasn’t really sure whose songs were whose (Brownstein/Timony), but it didn’t matter. They were all great. Finally, seeing them live reminded me of what a fantastic musician Timony is. I knew she could rawk on occasion, but this was something else entirely. She shared that stage with Brownstein, which is something especially that it took a voice like Corin Tucker to balance the Portlandia star’s pogoing antics and stellar performances.

Then, I waited for the next Wild Flag LP and tour, thinking they were an unfinished product with tons of potential. However, it never came. When I heard that Timony had started playing in other bands and even formed her own (Ex Hex), I assumed that was the end of Wild Flag which was disappointing.

Thankfully, Timony’s Ex Hex was unleashed to fill that gaping hole left by Wild Flag. Rips is Mary Timony waking up during the Wild Flag days and picking up where that group left off. This is the record a mature Runaways would make. Remember the Donnas? Had they had some complexity and maturity, this would have been their high point. However, this album belongs to none of these other bands. It’s all Timony (plus bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris) and it’s quite revelatory. Rips is 2014’s Wild Flag, Light Up GoldPost-Nothing, and Tramp rolled into one cacophony. (Make of those comparisons what you will.) The record is a happy substitution for Wild Flag and it may even have more staying power than Timony’s old band.

Spacey and big, “Don’t Wanna Lose” kicks in the door which is what you want from an album like this. It sets the tone for the aggression to follow.”Beast” picks up the pace, intensifying the album’s tone. If you’re not won over by this point, you don’t have a pulse.

Things shift a bit with “Waste Your Time” a 70’s rocker which again implores a lover to take a shit or get off the pot. Well, it’s not quite that vulgar, but it does rock. And the rocking continues with the moving “You Fell Part” which is the moment in an Ex Hex set where the crowd is whipped into a frenzy.

The Runaways and Joan Jett specifically would have loved to have penned “How You Got that Girl” which feels a little like a woman’s version of “Jessie’s Girl.” And again, the tempo speeds up to keep pulling you into the record, realizing at this point that it’s Mary Timony’s world and we’re just existing here. “Hot and Cold” follows nicely, giving you a groovy, head-nodding break. While much of the record screams late 70’s, early 80’s, “Radio On” reminds me of music from that era when musicians harkened back to the early days of rock and roll. It doesn’t sound like the 50’s, but it certainly wants you to think as much.

“New Kid” is so Joan Jett, it’s silly with all it’s faux 80’s greaser. I’m fairly sure it describes an episode of Freaks and Geeks. “War Paint” pushes the aesthetic ahead a few years to some Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth atmospherics and teenage attitudinal angst. “Everywhere” rolls with a big T Rex sound before “Outro” closes the LP with all kinds of foo-wop attitude and Elvis Costello jerkiness.

This record is the kind of recording that has you smiling from beginning to end. It hits all the nostalgic points of rock ‘n roll without sounding clichéd. So many records in the past couple of years have tried so hard to sound like they were recorded 30 years ago, but Rips achieves this milestone effortlessly without sounding contrived.

Mary Timony didn’t have to do anything for me to admire her legacy (she also doesn’t need me to justify it), but Rips solidifies that admiration and makes it an easier case for the nonbelievers. When I suggested that she woke up, what I meant was that she woke up something stirring inside her. Her work spans several genres and now a couple of decades, but the energy and urgency isn’t something that’s usually discovered so far into a career. Still, Timony found it in Ex Hex (or possibly Wild Flag before that) and we are all the beneficiaries of said discovering.

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Swearing at Motorists-‘While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth’

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on October 8, 2014

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After a long break, Swearing at Motorists returned with a Kickstarter campaign in order to release their 8th full-length (sans a singles collection and several EP’s), While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. I had assumed Dave Doughman sailed off into the sunset, landing in Berlin, never to be heard from again. Luckily, I was wrong and this record was funded. Now, what we have in front of us is this new record and an upcoming tour – which I’m hoping has time for Middle Missouri.

While Laughing continues the S@M aesthetic of crunchy guitar licks and emotive lyrical delivery of life’s rawness. I once described the music from this twosome as lying somewhere “on the blue-collar side of lo-fi and the road-weary side of indie” and the description still fits. Although, the production feels like a clear step up from lo-fi, but the sparseness, quiet-loud-quiet dynamic still feels like those older S@M records. And this nostalgia is why I threw money at this Kickstarter – extending my long hit streak with Kickstarter projects reaching their funding goals. I guess I should tell you what I received…

Doughman liked to slip in some filler in his records now and again that were simple, stripped-down ideas of songs with layers of his own voice providing something orchestral lo-fi. “I Don’t Need Anyone” opens the album this way and it pulls you in just before the fully-developed pop groove of “Groundhog Day (Dam the Piper)” kicks in. The hard luck of a Doughman-described relationship makes sense to all of us. You bounce your head to the beat all the way through to the keyboard accompaniment that sound like Ric Ocasek-produced GBV records.

Layered Doughman vocals over simple acoustic guitar – another common feature of a S@M album – comes in as the previous track fades out. “Forever” pleads with his love to tell him anything, “just please don’t use the word ‘forever’.” The sentiment is repeated over and over, helping the listener feel the tension that must have been in the room. A rocker in “Academy Award for Best in a Supporting Role” knocks down the door. As with everything leading up to this point, it does not describe a happy talk between lovers.

“Friend of Mine” is slow and spacious. I always liked how Doughman’s voice – all deep and throaty – brings so much emotion and power to these quiet slo-core moments. The songs picks up its pace a bit as you hear a ring tone in the background. The music really kicks it up a notch and Doughman makes his grand gesture. I feel like a lot of S@M tracks are like either the beginning or end of this song, but here he’s covered a lot of familiar territory in just under 3 minutes.

Another stripped-down acoustic, emotionally-fueled, and hurt song takes over. “Famous Orange Sweathirt” is barely over a minute, but the narrative becomes clear by the end. It’s a lost-in-youth-on-the-run sort of song…until it abruptly ends. One thing that’s done masterfully on this record is the dynamic changes between tracks. This happens again at this point as the slow rocker “Time and Distance.” Narratively, it fits nicely. Whether or not this is intentional is not known, but it seems to look back those youthful days and where he and his love are today.

One thing I think Doughman does better than most songwriters is he can say all that’s needed to be said in a repeated chorus. “I was thinking about drinking, but I don’t have the energy” repeats over and over through “17th Last Cigarette (think’ bout drink in’)” and it tells you all you need to know. The layered vocals, acoustic guitar fiddling, strange keyboard atmospherics in the back… The song is as sad and depressing but somehow comforting as they come.

“Wrote You a Letter” continues with lyrics someone has actually said. “So, I wrote you a letter | A real one, on paper” is something we might say since no one does that anymore. The conversational lyrics Doughman writes have always been the most effective in my mind for both narrative and emotion. Here, he nails that aesthetic once again, much like “Flying Pizza” or “Can’t Help Ourselves.”

“The Darkest September” is a complete change of pace for S@M, at least in my experience. It’s certainly Doughman’s emotive lyrics and vocal delivery, but it’s backed by a simple piano line. The vocals are not layered, but Doughman demonstrates his incredible range – a range that I believe has improved over the years. It’s almost diva-ish how he bounces from low to high notes and back. The lilting delivery is quite striking and nails that feeling you get when you hear songs that just make you close your eyes and shake your head because you know that kind of hurt. It’s a comforting thing, really.

“Great Actress” carries a bit of a theme that’s carried on through this LP. All these songs could be about actresses or just one. I don’t know, but it is curious how actresses and acting come up a lot. This song is huge in terms of a Swearing at Motorist song. The emptiness is filled, in particular with more keyboards. The pace is picked up from the previous couple of tracks. Layered vocals are back. This song is almost hopeful as he says goodbye to his actress girlfriend, or at least that’s how it works in my mind movie.

“I Love You (liar)” features muffled, angry vocals and more aggressive instrumentation. Doughman repeats a series of lies and you’ve heard this story before. “Adjectives” opens with a sparse march and some percussive vocals before evolving into that loose, Doughman delivery, delivering more failed relationship descriptors. “Don’t Want to Dream (About You)” is the typical acoustic song you might picture Doughman putting together on the porch, but there are strings lingering behind. Some of the lyrics suggest he sees a lover (or former lover) in a son. Kids have that effect on us.

“I Likes Your Style” is a lo-fi filler with a surprisingly urgent guitar part underneath those layered, drawn-out vocals. The bluesy and loud “Wasting Your Time” is the last song of every prom where that one couple makes out like there’s no one around in the middle of the dance floor – giving zero fucks.

“It’s Love that Chooses You” is a rather sweet love song that seems somewhat out of place, except that you know that it all hurts so badly because that’s how love works. Again, not totally sure this isn’t about a kid rather than a lover. The sentiment is that we are powerless to avoid love as, well, it chooses you and not the other way around.

I go back and forth on the themes and subjects of this record. From past experiences, Doughman’s songs are about hurt and failed relationships (and the many vices that lead to such disaster), but there’s something even more heartfelt here (if that’s even possible). I wonder what the effect of his parenthood has had on his music. There are clues throughout and they add a certain complexity to some of the material. Either way, this dude feels more than most of us. It makes it okay to get a little pissed or shed a tear when someone so openly and clearly expresses his emotions.

It can be debated which Swearing at Motorist album is the best or which has the best songs, but this record gets my vote as most consistent and containing the most clarity. There’s a happy balance in the production between that lo-fi for which he and anyone from Dayton are known and something more purposeful, proficient. Either way, Doughman gave his Kickstarter investors a deal.

If you couldn’t tell, I am writing this as a fan. Of course, if it sucked ass and my Kickstarter funds felt wasted, I would either express disappointment or not write anything at all. This record is really good. Swearing at Motorists is really good and I think more people should know that so a gifted musician like Dave Doughman doesn’t disappear in Berlin again, leaving us for several years without the fruits of his gift.

If Swearing at Motorists comes to your town (I’m working on getting them here), be sure to see them. At the very least, find some live footage on YouTube. At the very, very least, listen to the catalog and find some way to score a copy of While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. Feel the rock ‘n roll for once. Let them in. I have and will continue.

Kim Deal Solo Series

Posted in GenderBender, Records, Review by Zac on October 3, 2014

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I realize that I’m probably late to this party, but I just acquired the first four installments of Kim Deal’s solo series and had to write about them. In the post below, I’ll wax poetically about Kim Deal’s importance to music, the songs in this series, and the 45.

Kim Deal is no fool. She doesn’t make (or at least release) a bad record. The Pixies, The Breeders, (Tammy and) the Amps, The Pixies again, The Breeders again, and now this solo work is all joyous noise. She crosses the basement tape his of Guided by Voices with the percussive drive of Tom Waits mixed with loopy Pavement guitar solos and that voice. Kim Deal’s voice is unmistakable. Yes, it’s a bit more raspy from years of smoking, but it’s still Kim Deal’s delivery that sets her music apart. It’s approachable without being easy. I want Kim Deal to sing at my kids’ wedding and my 40th birthday bash. She could sing Nickleback and it would sound wholesome, warm, and somehow a bit sexy at the same time.

I have always hated the idea of “women in rock” as if the music women play is somehow a subset of the real stuff spewed by men. However, that label is rarely placed on Kim Deal. She transcends the gender divide in rock music. Her songs for the Pixies are as important to their oeuvre as any Frank Black-penned anthem. The Breeders broke through this divide when everyone was listening to grunge bands hopped up on testosterone. The Amps out-GBV’d GBV (for only one album, but a fucking great record nonetheless). At every stop, Kim Deal has defied the limitations of gender in rock and she hasn’t stopped.

The eight songs in this series of 7″ records are more of what you would expect from a Kim Deal-fronted project. It’s a bit more subdued than the typical Breeders’ record, but a songwriter and vocalist like Kim Deal can pull it off. “Walking With a Killer” has a slow, deadly bass line. I don’t know if it’s a metaphor for drugs or an abusive mate, but the lyrics sting and romanticize a dance with death. The B-side is “Dirty Hessians” which picks up the pace utilizing another sick bass line but now there’s some organ action picking up the intensity. This track is surfer rock instrumental written in a garage in Dayton.

“Hot Shot” has plenty of attitude and would have fit nicely on Pacer had it been written in the mid-nineties. Deal’s vocals are upfront with the bass taking a back seat this time around. “Likkle More” is a sweet, acoustic, lament-filled goodbye. Deal’s vocals are a whisper and more intimate than I think I’ve ever heard.

“Are Mine” continues the soft, whispery vocals in the previous track. the track is a cross between the aesthetic of “Drivin’ on 9″ and the sentiment of “Do You Love Me No?” wrapped in a lullaby. Another instrumental makes an appearance with “Wish I Was.” It has a modern Amps groove as if Deal is writing soundtracks for movies now. The guitar work is pleasant and subtly complex.

“The Root” is her most Tom Waits bit to date and would have fit nicely on the last Breeders record. It’s about that moment when you see a former flame after your life has gone downhill and his/her life is just peachy. “I’m happy for you, but I feel like crying.” The eighth track is about Kim waiting for you at the “Range on Castle” which I believe is in Huber Heights. In true “Tipp City” fashion, Kim captures life growing up in SW Ohio better than anyone. It feels like home.

The best aspect of this series is the format. While we could have waited two years for a Kim Deal to fit this all on a single album, what we would have received would have been a somewhat disjointed effort. That’s not a knock on the music. I love these songs, but I don’t think they fit well on one album. However, pairing them on opposite sides of 7″ records as played at 45 rpm, they’re perfect. Format is everything. This is where the CD and now the MP3 miss out. A record (7″, 10″, or 12″) groups tracks on a side or on another disc entirely. The sequence and grouping is so important to the story or message an artist or band is trying to convey. (This, however, is a topic I should explore further in a future post.)

That said, I have never been much of a 7″ guy. I have a mild fascination with 10″ records, but 12″ is where it’s at. However, I’ve had a small change of heart this year. My wife bought me the Merge 25 subscription series where they send me two split 7″ records every other month on colored vinyl. The songs have been great and a lot of fun to get in the mail. Kim Deal’s solo series is just building on this rediscovered (or really discovered) appreciation for 45’s. It’s a fun format that usually offers a taste of your favorite music along with some extra, unreleased tracks. I will write eventually about the Merge 25 once I have them all and maybe some other prized or new 7″ records in the future.

For more information and ordering options of the Kim Deal solo series, check out her website.

The Official Stephen Malkmus (Solo) Oeuvre Series, Part 1

Posted in Pavement, Records by Zac on February 14, 2014

This is not my first lap around the oeuvre track. I once attempted to write a post for every Pavement track on a single blog dedicated to the Pavement oeuvre. I’m considering starting this up again, but that’s another project for another day. On this blog, I once wrote three posts discussing the complete catalog of Archers of Loaf. However, today, I intend to take on the oeuvre of one Stephen Malkmus and his ever-faitful Jicks. This is part 1 of a series in which I hope to break down every SM track post-Pavement.

Stephen Malkmus

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Black Book
I have no idea what that mess in the beginning: a tribal call of a new era, perhaps. Whatever. This was a clear break from Pavement and a typically lazy stroll of a song for Malkmus to make in the first track of his first venture outside the previously mentioned indie legends. Anyway, the “black book” of which SM is referring seems to be the Bible – literally or metaphorically. By calling the black book “perminently-diversified”, he seems to be addressing the commodified nature of the Bible and possibly the Christian religion in general. Could it be considered a prediction of the hipster Christian megachurch future? Who knows. Either way, it’s a fairly serious song with that familiar, Pavement-esque, lazy hook and feedback flourishes with sloppy layering.

Phantasies
If you lived in Alaska, you would have fantasies about far away, tropical regions as well. Still, the protagonist stays in his winter wonderland where the temperature reaches 99 below and he spends his time fishing through a hole in the ice. Someone –  I suspect someone native to the land, maybe an Eskimo – tries to talk his friend out of a move to the tropics. Still, fantasies persist. (Interesting side note is that this song was used for a Sears commercial. I tried to find video proof, but you’ll just have to trust me.)

Jo Jo’s Jacket
A track of Yul Brynner talking about the freedom enjoyed from shaving his head opens “Jp Jo’s Jacket” perfectly as Malk goes into a Brynner-inpired soliloquy about his role in Westworld as a robotic cowboy. From there, it gets fairly absurd, including crap house music, a Christmas-y innuendo, and a Dylan quote. It’s a fairly Crooked Rain-era track that made for a good single in true Pavement fashion. The line about being his candy cane hints at a sexual advance, a theme that pops up now and again in SM’s solo/Jicks work now and again. The Dylan quote and the following bit reminds us not to take any of this too seriously. In the end, it’s just a Pavement Stephen Malkmus song about Yul Brynner.

Church on White
“Church…” is the first track that just reminds me of Terror Twilight/Brighten the Corners era Pavement. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Pavement. Anyway, this song for me is Malk’s memoir. He was the spokesman for a generation (or at least the white, male, educated portion of said generation and not exactly by his choosing) and all we ever wanted from him was that he stayed true to form. Whether he sings “I only poured you half a line/life/lie” doesn’t really matter. He admits to only giving so much whether it was a half-finished lyric, a small piece of himself, or a partial deception. Whatever. He’s given a lot. It’s a marathon and not a spring, but I feel as though I’m digressing…

The Hook
One of two narrative songs on the album – a totally welcomed aspect of Malkmus’ new direction. As it turns out, the dude can spin some yarn. This particular story is about his adventures as a pirate. No one should over think this one. It’s a pirate tale and not some allegory for his time with Pavement or some commentary on class. He’s kidnapped by some pirates and eventually becomes one of them, to the point that he is their leader. It’s just a fun, fun song.

Discretion Grove
Discretion happens after hours in an anonymous locale. You sneak around like French freedom fighters in World II, fighting for a sort of freedom not everyone needs to know about, an affair, perhaps?

Troubbble
We don’t find trouble; it finds us. No matter how much we try to avoid it, entropy happens and people are messy. Hell, we can’t even spell “trouble” correctly.

Pink India
This one feels like another Terror Twilight leftover. Continuing Malk’s interest in history, he tells the story of Mortimer Durand and the line he drew between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I almost wish he had titled the song “The Great Game” as this was the term that described the conflict between Great Britain and Russia fighting for supremacy in central Asia. I don’t know my history well enough to tell you everything, but it’s interesting how the lasting effects of this conflict still remain. Also, the lines “Tension grows in Afghanistan / Carbine bullets could settle the score / I had a crap gin tonic it wounded me / Send my way off on one” are pretty great. It causes me to wonder about Durand’s experience and whether or not he succumbed to the pressure accumulating in the region. (Also, is it “carbine bullets” or “car-Bible-ets”? I always sing it as the latter which is way more interesting and may not be that far off.)

Trojan Curfew
An expertly described scene of a locale where Trojans once prevailed… Now, it’s a hotspot for vacationing Swedes and the like. At moments I’m sure it retains the majesty it once held when Troy was on top at certain times of the day. Once again, Malkmus is able to write a fairly straightforward song that simply describes a nice moment in time and the centuries of history that can overtake you when standing on historic ground.

Vague Space
Ever been in a relationship where you kinda get off by calling the whole thing…er…off? Well, I haven’t. I imagine this as one of those love-hate relationships where making up after regular fights is more fulfilling than being nice to one another. Some relationships need to blow up just to find the spark. They exist in a vague space where relationships rarely flourish except when the threat of ending it is always there.

Jenny and the Ess-Dog
The second narrative track of the record is a classic. “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” is your basic May-December romance that fizzles once the younger member of the couple out-grows her companion. In this case, Jenny goes off to college, does well, joins a sorority, and does what we’re supposed to do. Her boyfriend the Ess-Dog is an old hippy-type. His life isn’t going anywhere and Jenny’s move to college makes the distance between them and their years too much to overcome.

Deado
Yet another post-Terror track with that same lazy easiness which has allowed the final Pavement record to fair well over time. Something about this song reminds me about “Ann Don’t Cry“- maybe the chorus? I don’t know what the song is about. It could be about a slow road trip to Vegas for an impromptu wedding that takes a week to happen. There’s only one appealing person in a room of old people, possibly at a wedding or wake. A prom scene with full-on 80’s feathered hair… It doesn’t matter. It’s a sleepy way to end Stephen Malkmus’ first post-Pavement endeavor.

Pig Lib

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Water and a Seat
Pig Lib is the beginning of Malkmus and his Jicks playing around with some bluesy yet edgy jamband ish. From the beginning riffs, you get the sense that Malkmus doesn’t care and has no interest in making this Pavement, Part Deux. And what better way to invite this new era than with a song inviting the madness the way “Water and a Seat” does? The listener is now prepared for what’s about to occur…

Ramp of Death
Jazzy slacker rock takes over with what seems to be a pleasant pop moment in the form of a chorus… Just as SM has embraced this new leap into a new chapter in his career, he’s encouraging his listeners to do the same. I was in my mid- or upper-20’s when Pig Lib came out and it was time to move forward into adulthood. I took this record with me.

(Do Not Feed the) Oyster
Despite Pig‘s departure from his Pavement past – now a full album removed – this song does the mellow jazz docents right, mixing this newfound infatuation with blues-inspired jammy-ness and art house aesthetic. Lyrically, it’s a mess trying to cling to a theme that only loosely holds the song together. Still, that’s how we like it. What does it mean to not feed the oysters? Fuck if I know. It’s just a nice song to jam to. Amirite? Somehow it all concludes with a mail-order bride. Why not?

Vanessa from Queens
Bob Packwood was a Republican Senator from Oregon who was eventually forced out thanks to some sexual harassment and assault. Bob was dirty old man which explains so much about this track. One of the best lines ever has to be “Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes.”

Sheets” (Sorry, there’s no Youtube video for this one for some reason.)
Sexy Stephen Malkmus makes another appearance in “Sheets” and the instrumentation wreaks of two people going at it over and over again. For me, the song is about getting into a club or party, just getting through the coolness gates or whatever.

Animal Midnight
It is rumored that this song is about Steve Kannberg. I’ll go with that. Spiral Stairs – like most Pavement members – seemed to not be nearly as serious as Malkmus. SM tried to push that band as far as he could and they just dragged their feet. The band was great for so many reasons, but as I’ve written over and over, it always felt as if Malk had outgrown the band. Sure, in this context, the song comes off as cold, but that’s just how it’s played out.

Dark Wave
And now for a complete departure in the form of some New Wave, something you won’t see coming at this point in the catalog. I feel as if this song is about Miami Vice for no other reason than that’s just what it sounds like: ocean-lined highways, neon suits, fast livin’, cocaine, etc. You know, Miami Vice things.

Witch Mountain Bridge
I do love the Led Zeppelin-like, medievalist narrative. I get the sense that Malkmus is playing a bit with genre and aesthetic, much like the rest of the album. What really brings the Game of Thrones storytelling together is the extended jam at the end. I catch a lot of flack for liking Malkmus’ music while simultaneously hating Phish and their ilk, but songs like this hit just the right notes – all of them.

Craw Song
Want to demonstrate what Stephen Malkmus can do lyrically and vocally, point your friends to this track. Not only is it another narrative – a positive development over SM’s solo career – but this track actually captures some fantastic word play. First, there’s the love triangle (or is it a square) where one unrequited love is followed by another. The gem in the first verse is “he couldn’t commit to the mental jujitsu of switchin his hitting / from ladies to men.” The next verse finds two of the left-out lovers commiserating over dinner, wrapped up nicely with another great line – full of heart and humor: “they want to stay confined within the fortress of this day / stick that in your craw…check it out…” Yeah, he snuck in “crotch.” It’s one of the sweetest song in all of Malkmus’ oeuvre from Pavement on.

1% of One
The blues fest continues… I read somewhere that this song is about the Dutchman Remko Schouten, the sound engineer for Pavement. Much like his debut, it’s pretty straightforward: “Blind son man from Netherlands, he knew not what bands he mixed / They sounded a bit like a Zephyr and a bit like the Jicks.”

Us
The Grateful Dead thing that is hinted at throughout this record comes to fruition in the final song, “Us.” At moments, it reminds me a ton of Loose Fur, the side project featuring  Wilco members Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, and Wilco collaborator Jim O’Rourke. It’s almost the Jicks theme song. I can’t remember how many of this incarnation stayed on, but it felt like they were writing their tour bio in the form of a jam. Lyrics are written to fit the space between extended jams that groove on and on. The song only clocks in at just over four minutes, but you kinda want them to play it out and see where it goes.

Bonus Tracks:

Dynamic Calories
This is the poppier counter to “Dark Wave” which paints a picture of high school days in the early 80’s. This song is dedicated to 80’s jangly guitars and John Hughes movies. Also, this was cute.

Fractions & Feelings
This song with the previous one and maybe “Dark Wave” are a bit of an 80’s trilogy. I can only imagine SM was studying his old yearbooks and zines while writing these songs. This is the weakest of the bunch, but it’s fun. (Later, “Lariat” joins the group but with much more sophistication in its message.)

Old Jerry
And back to the Grateful Dead. I deny the connection all the time to my wife, but it’s there – literally and between the lines. Aesthetically, I can’t think of another song like this in the catalog. There are the ever-Malkmus lyrical twists, but it has a danceable groove that’s almost conventional pop. Almost.

The Poet and the Witch” (live)
I only know of a live recording of this track. It hints at the direction Malkmus was heading, but I’ll save that discussion for the next post. Either way, this song is closely related to “Witch Mountain Bridge” in its attempt to connect with a flower child past with Led Zeppelin theatrics, or something. It’s fun and seems like a fun song to hear live.

Shake It Around” (live)
This is a real rocker and I’m not sure it’s about much of anything aside from rocking. Our mundane lives need shaking now and again and tracks like this do the trick.

That’s the first installment in the series. I hope to get the other albums covered in coming weeks. It’s already been tough to get blog posts out there these days. It’s way past my bedtime and I have…well, actually, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks tomorrow night (or is that now tonight?). Anyway, you can catch some of my thoughts as shared by an actual journalist here. In the meantime, stay tuned for the rest of the series.

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Tempering Expectations

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records by Zac on January 24, 2014

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Hopslam arrived here in frigid Middle Missouri and it brought along with it loads of hype and hops. My love for the beer has cooled but not totally gone cold. I have learned to temper my expectations, not lower them. This is a lesson learned from years of buying records and seeing rock shows. See, this blog’s original premise still works.

See, a beer like Hopslam is almost as much about hype as it is anything else. It’s released only once a year in limited quantities. It’s a beer geek’s beer, loaded with hops and booze. Those bright green labels picturing a poor bloke begin crushed by a giant hop calls craft beer consumers like voiceless sirens. (Can that even work?) The ~$20 makes you think that it’s a big deal. Oh, and it is a pretty good beer.

However, the next Hopslam doesn’t ever taste like the first one. This year’s version never tastes as good as last year’s or the one you drank seven years ago. I don’t know if it’s a problem of drinkers building it up too much in their own minds or something more akin to a heroin addiction. It’s probably a little of both. Either way, the hype and misperception leads to bitter disappointment every time.

Still, Hopslam is an excellent beer. I have come to expect a well-crafted beer that hides an incredible amount of booze while introducing my palate to some sweetness and bitterness without fail. What I don’t expect is the same burst of grapefruit or cat piss or whatever aromas the hops might unleash. It seems that big DIPA’s like this are really dependent on a large amount of hops. If one harvest or another is slightly off or just different in one way or another, the effects are magnified. The beer tastes different every year, but it is always well-brewed and worth a try.

I’m good with Hopslam these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Two or three Hopslams ago, the beer didn’t meet my expectations. I wanted that crazy honey-coated grapefruitiness that smelled of a cat lady’s house sweater I tasted just the year or two before. However, as explained above, the beer was different. On top of this disappointment, I really had to go out of my way to spend a lot of money on beer. Here in Middle Missouri, Hopslam lasts tens of minutes, not days or hours. So, if you want some, you better be prepared to stalk the local beer dealer. Then, you’ll pay $20 a sixer. I used to buy at least two, sometime more. If I had to work that hard and spend that much money on a beer, it better meet my expectations.

Hopslam didn’t meet those expectations. So, something had to change. Last year, I didn’t buy any in bottles, only on tap. The 2-3 Hopslams (plus a bottle from a friend) were more than enough. I didn’t overdo it. I don’t blow a wad of cash. It was a good beer among many. I was satisfied, but my exportations were not lowered as much as they were tempered. “Enjoy the Hopslam, not the Hypeslam” was my new mantra and it worked.

2014’s version rolled out this past week and I welcomed it. I wasn’t going to buy a sixer this year. I have a deal with my mom to grab one in Ohio where it sometimes sits on shelfs for weeks or months. Then, coworkers were running out in the middle of the day to see if the grocery nearby had some Hopslam. I joined them and scored a sixer. One’s enough.

I won’t write a beer review now. You should know that this year’s version is good. I’m glad I bought some and look forward to having more on tap or in a few weeks when my mom delivers the sixer she bought for me.

What I wanted to focus on was the idea of tempering expectations. As I mentioned above, tempering expectations is something I do. However, the ability to do such with beer has been a recent development. No, I’ve been tempering expectations for a long time in terms of what I expect to get from a new record or rock show.

I realize that it’s semantics and someone will undoubtedly argue that tempering expectations is the same as lowering them, but this is my blog post and I say it isn’t the same. Tempering expectations considers contexts and past experiences. It keeps me in the moment and more mindful of what I am experiencing. Tempering expectations doesn’t allow those expectations or preconceived ideas to taint reality. Instead, I can enjoy the experience in real time.

Take Stephen Malkmus’ new album Wig Out at Jagbags as an example. I loved, LOVED Mirror Traffic. My expectations were high for Jagbags, but I realized that this was going to be a different record and it needed its own opportunity to win me over. Of course, the album didn’t have to impress me at all. Malkmus has done enough in Pavement and with Jicks to earn my loyalty. Still, I listened with anticipation. To be honest, the first few listens didn’t impress. It took 3-4 concentrated listens for me to appreciate this record, but I did. Is it as good as Traffic? I don’t know. Does it have to be? All I know is that it’s a good record at this moment and I enjoy listening to it.

See? It’s all about tempering those expectations so that we can enjoy what’s right in front of us. Stay in the moment. This year’s Hopslam doesn’t have to be last year’s or the version bottled six years ago.

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On Spotify

Posted in Records by Zac on January 13, 2014

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Recently, Stephen Malkmus was interviewed by Rolling Stone, closing with the following question and answer after admitting that he doesn’t make playlists “on those evil Spotify places” for his daughters.

RS: You’re anti-Spotify, then?

SM: Definitely. I think it sucks.

I am one of those parents who has made a Spotify playlist for my kid – a mixture of songs I think she should like and songs she actually likes. I use Spotify all the time. It streams throughout my work day, at home, and sometimes on the road. I used to make a daily playlist with the help of my Facebook network and that has turned into its own co-op. And yes, I pay a monthly fee not to hear commercials and to have the service available anywhere I go.

Spotify really is ideal. I don’t have to worry about the longevity and capacity of my iPod. There’s no need to figure out a way to lug my records everywhere. I have a service available to me that pretty much will allow me to discover and peruse almost any artist or band on the planet. Spotify is a fantastic breakthrough in music and technology.

But why do I feel so guilty for using the streaming service?

Well, other than Malk’s reaction to Spotify, there are other reasons I question its ethics. As you may or may not know, I am a big proponent of craft and indie industries, indie-craft, if you will. It irks me to see large corporations like Spotify and record labels profit from the hard work of artists. At the same time, musicians get a tiny cut of what is a billion dollar pot. There are plenty of reasons not to use Spotify.

Lost is the record collecting culture that used to be a huge part of music. Even those brought up on CDs long for the days of owning something again. Although almost any album by almost any artist is available to stream, it’s never really yours or free of the Spotify interface.

There are the horror stories of artists getting fleeced by the Swedes via dinky royalty payments. Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi famously broke down his paltry payments from streaming services on Pitchfork. And it can be argued that Spotify is not the friend of new and lesser known bands as compared to the payouts offered to catalogued bands and their corporate overlords.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. Consider what the rest of Malkmus’ quote stated:

That doesn’t mean my music isn’t on there, though. I’m against a lot of things that I do in life, and I still do them, so there’s a lot of self-deception in all our lives. At least in the life of an unprincipled musician.

So, based on this statement, Spotify can be seen as a necessary evil. It’s akin to doing radio interviews or promos at best and selling songs to corporations for commercials at worst.

Of course, the real problem in all of this is the record industry as a whole. Why are we blaming a streaming tool like Spotify and not the greedy corporate leaches known as major record labels. Billy Bragg – champion of the working class – thinks as much and I tend to agree.

In his critique of the confluence of Pandora and Spotify, David Marcias takes issue and makes it clear why Spotify actually benefits musicians. Essentially, he makes my argument in favor of Spotify for me. (Yes, that’s where I’m going with all of this.)

To compare the two in terms of what they’re paying out is a completely fallacious construct. When Mr. Krukowski complains about the amount that he got paid on his BMI statement for his song, what he should be comparing it to is how much he got paid for an equivalent number of spins at terrestrial radio on that same BMI statement. My guess is that he did not get 7900 spins on terrestrial radio; one of the great gifts of Pandora and other tech-based companies like them is that they give an opportunity for music to be heard that terrestrial radio has neither the bandwidth nor interest to play. Technology has been a boon to independent musicians. I would also like to ask what his compensation from Sound Exchange was, both as an artist and what his label made from those spins. Whatever it was, it was more than what was paid out by terrestrial radio, who pays no compensation to owners of recordings. If you want to protest THAT, I’ll grab my pitchfork and meet you in the town square.

Basically, artists are getting paid per play at a better rate than what they get for radio, which is basically nothing. Additionally, Spotify (and Pandora) offer artists exposure the marketing departments at their labels, radio stations, or MTV (LULZ) combined. They’re getting paid and exposed on a tool they despise? That doesn’t make sense.

Then consider the pirating issue. While pirating music does offer a certain amount of exposure, it offers nothing monetarily for artists. Pirating sites and participants are the real enemies of musicians, not Spotify. Although I don’t totally trust the correlation, Spotify has made the argument that their service has contributed to the decrease in pirating in the Netherlands. It’s a fairly weak argument, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to imagine Spotify or similar services making pirating obsolete or at least unnecessary.

I use Spotify and don’t have a problem with it. I pay a monthly fee so that I have access offline and don’t have to hear ads. I make endless playlists. Still, I generally listen to whole albums. Several recent discoveries have been via the service. And even then, I still buy a lot of vinyl or go to shows when I can. If anything, Spotify has improved my financial support of many great artists.

Is Spotify evil? Maybe. It is a corporation making money off of art. That said, I’m just happy I can listen to the music I love whenever I want and wherever I want.

BTW, most of what should be read on the Spotify issue can be found here and a playlist celebrating our corporate overlords is below via Spotify, of course.

I live here and so do these people, so just watch

Posted in Records, Video by Zac on January 13, 2014
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2013: What happened?

Posted in Beer, Life, Live, Meta, Mikkeller, Records by Zac on December 31, 2013

2013 Calendar from Never Sleeping

I have been absent from this blog and blogging in general. Honestly, I thought I was done with it. Life happened and time became scarce. It was time to move on…

…or so I thought.

Life happened in 2013 and sometimes there’s just no room for such frivolities like keeping a public journal or pretending to be a journalist. This is the year I started a PhD program – part-time, but a PhD nonetheless. It’s also the year we learned that we would be expecting another child around mid-February (2 months to go!). Throw on top of that a promotion to a supervisory role and a major expansion to our organization and you have a pretty busy year.

Normally, this hasn’t stopped me from writing. However, I needed to step back for a bit. This blogging thing gets in the way of living now and again. A break was in order. So, 2013 is pretty lame as far as blogging goes.

So, I’m thinking about doing this all again. Why? I don’t really know. It’s just an itch that needs to be scratched, I guess. I’m promising nothing. I won’t promise a certain quantity or quality of posts. I’m not promising anything in regards to topics. You know what I like. so, you can reasonably expect more of the same… for the most part.

I still listen to music. I have a favorites list for 2013, of course. It felt weird not tow write up a blog post on the subject, so I’ll include a bit about it. First of all, I won’t rank my favorites. I’ll just give you ten records you should check out.

The year was filled with old favorites as well as a running theme in my musical choices. Yo La Tengo released their best record in years with Fade. Especially amazing is the track “I’ll Be Around.” Another year and another Arcade Fire makes my year-end list. Unlike past releases, Reflektor is low on the thematic end, but it’s ueber-fresh. Kurt Vile’s Walkin on a Pretty Daze is my favorite KV record so far. Bill Callahan is Bill Callahan. Dream River is just another addition to what is becoming the best collection of songwriting in the modern indie era or something like that. I saw Thao Nguyen and her band The Get Down Stay Down earlier this year put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in Middle Missouri. Her record We the Common didn’t hurt either. The Chronicles of Marnia by Marnie Stern was a surprising discovery that fulfills my guitar noodling needs for another calendar year.

Then, there’s a list of records that continues a trend in my listening habits of recent years: grrl rock bands that sound like they’re straight out of 1995. Waxahatchee might be my most-listened to record of 2013. It sounds like my entire college years as seen through a small town lesbian. (I have no idea whether or not Katie Crutchfield is gay, nor do I care. I just imagine the main character in her songs to be this angst-ridden lesbian from 1994. It helps with the narrative, but it doesn’t have to be true.) Scout Niblett’s “Gun” was one of those songs I played over and over. The rest of the record isn’t filled with scrubs either. Radical Dads was a surprise find, but pretty aggressive in that 1994 kind of way. Marnie Stern is a one-womyn Van Halen. Lady and the Lamb was a last-second addition to the list, but Ripley Pine is certainly worth your time.

Of course, there are others that won’t make my list, but there always are. There are other lists I could add to this one, but I’ll just conclude with a list of memorable things and events from the year that saw me lose my blogging groove only to find it once more…

  • My beer fandom has faded a bit, but I’ve had some outstanding brews this year. Follow me at Untappd.
  • I went to Copenhagen and spent lots of time drinking my way through Mikkeller‘s lineup.
  • I watched a lot of TV. The League, Walking Dead, and Girls are highlights.
  • I don’t read enough books or watch enough films.
  • I saw Jeff Mangum perform twice, once with the rest of Neutral Milk Hotel and once solo.
  • I don’t remember whether or not I mentioned this, but we found out earlier this year that my partner is pregnant. Child 2 arrives in mid-to-late February.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014. I hope you all are well. Peace.

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