Review: Emma Wilson – As We Go

I got in trouble at work today and for a good reason. It’s not like I was framed or something. I was an ass, and needed someone to tell me I was an ass. The reality of the situation is much smoother than how I reacted mentally. A normal person would’ve probably just nodded and moved on with their life. I, however, got super sad and sulked over at Zombie Burger and made my server very uncomfortable. That was not the appropriate response. I should not make service industry workers feel awkward because I am sulking over beer. The appropriate response would’ve been to accept what I had been told and then change my behavior, which I probably totally will.

Here’s what happened. I have been late pretty much every day for the last month. I was asked very politely by my boss to not do that anymore. He at no point made me feel bad about my malfeasance, and provided context as to why my actions were harming the company and other employees. It was a mature and honest statement made towards an employee who was behaving poorly. For some reason, it really upset me. I have always behaved a little like a dog who peed on the carpet whenever I do wrong and get caught. I remember a specific incident in fifth grade where we all stole Skittles from our teacher’s jar, and I got detention and I cried in class. I totally stole the Skittles, and I deserved to be punished, but I still cried. That outburst followed me for a while as I was relentlessly picked on, (but not cleverly as most people just called me crybaby, which isn’t witty at all. You’d think that those jerk fifth graders would’ve been smarter. That’s the thing about bullies, they’re never witty. Just dicks. That’s the biggest issue I have with bullying is it is never a really biting, except when they actually bite, I guess. But I digress). So yeah, when I screw up and get a talking to, I kind of turtle. Even though I knew I had been doing something stupid, and was calmly and maturely spoken to about it, I still felt upset by it.

There are lots of reasons why I behave this way, I’m sure. A weird desire to be known as a “good boy” so I will be loved? Eh, who knows? I’m sure there is a deep seeded and underlying reason, but I don’t have time for that. Let’s instead just focus on the issue at hand and maybe I can stay out of trouble.

So, I’m not sure why I am late everyday, I guess. But, I have a few theories:

1) Winter has fucked up my routine.

I work very early most of the time and I don’t sleep very well, so I try to get as much sleep as possible. I usually wake up about thirty minutes before I am supposed to be at work, even though it takes me thirteen minutes to drive there. I have my morning routine down to a science: a hurricane blitz of a shower where I somehow manage to shave, shampoo, condition and soap in roughly eight minutes, it would be four minutes if I didn’t sit down on the floor of the tub in a daze with water pelting me in the face (again, I wake up very early). Next come contacts, tooth brushing and deodorant, sometimes all done at once if it takes me longer than eight minutes in the shower. Then I get dressed and I race out the door. However, it has been cold lately so I have to factor in the extra five or so minutes of letting my car warm up and thaw. Thus, my tardiness. This is a simple problem with a simple solution. I should just wake up earlier. I know this. Yet, I choose to ignore it. And thus, here we are. Being late and getting scolded.

2) I am acting out in a very childish attempt to get attention.

A few months back I had a chance at a promotion and was passed up. This sucked. I’m not really angry for my personal glory so much as I am looking for more money because at this point in my life money is the only reason I still do this job. I used to have a bunch of friends and pride. Now, I have one friend and no pride. I have accepted now that I am destined for a slight cost of living increase each year and nothing more. No matter what I do, I will receive a very modest raise. I work my ass off? Modest raise. I do an acceptable and perhaps, boring job? Modest raise. I go into a closet and take a nap for an hour or so each day? Modest raise. This is dumb. Maybe I am just testing my limits and seeing how far I can get. Or maybe, I am saying, “Oh yeah? You think I suck at this? You haven’t seen anything yet.” This is a dumb way to behave, so I hope this isn’t it.

3) Much like my toddler, I am just seeing how much I can get away with.

It is always good to know your boundaries. I just went past mine and got called out because of it.

4) I am lazy and sleep too late and am kind of an asshole, but I don’t want people to know I’m an asshole, so I get upset when people catch on that I’m an asshole.

This is a probable cause, but much less abstract than I like. I want to get into the whys. Why do I sleep so late? Why am I lazy? Why do I not like stuff? Why am I an asshole? Boredom>? Yeah, it’s boredom.

So, to get my mind off my weird sadness, I decided to go through my backlog and randomly take a stab at an album. I actually like writing and don’t really do it to please anyone but myself, so this is an easy cure, most of the time. It may not seem like it due to my sporadic nature, but it brightens my day just scribbling down my thoughts or whatever about whatever. I also had really good luck because the album I randomly picked is just adorable.

Emma Wilson is a singer and songwriter. This is about all I know about her. Some slight internet stalking tells me she lives in Des Moines and knows some people I know. She plays the ukulele and sings in an adorable accent that seems slightly British at times and simply childlike at others. Her voice is whimsical and sweet. So sweet that I may have type-2 diabetes just from listening to this a few times. I’m not sure if she’s from Des Moines, or if I am just mis-hearing the accent, but the way she sings is unique and pretty.

This album is really cute. That makes it sound derogatory, but cute things are awesome. This is sort of the recorded version of that sneezing panda video. Even when she says “fuck”, it is enunciated in a way that kind of makes me giggle, even though in this context it is used as a verb and that usually makes me a little uncomfortable. But this isn’t just fluff for the sake of fluff. There are some very personal, yet relatable, stories told over a singular and somewhat unique instrument.

What I also like about this album is that most of the songs aren’t done in a traditional pop song verse-chorus-verse style. They kind of just tell their story and then move on. There are verses and chorus, but the structures are generally a little more loose. Tracks like “Little Loves” and “This Town” are somewhat universally understood odes, while “Stuck Right There” comes across much more specific and personal. Oh, and there is a track about tofu and the five-second rule. I think most people would have some familiarity with that.

I think there is going to be a certain portion of the population that will hate this. They will think it is just too damned cuddly. Pessimists and people who hate Zooey Deschanel probably wouldn’t like As We Go but I liked it. It is a pleasant diversion and easy to listen to. It is a hot fudge sundae in an upside down baseball helmet. Cute, sweet and easily digestible.

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Album Review: Diamonds For Eyes – Catacomb Fires

Click the pic to purchase the album, please.

Last year, Des Moines band Diamonds For Eyes released a little under the radar album called The Era of Our Ways that I really liked (I reviewed it here). What I liked best about that album is the way it would seamlessly introduce a different genre almost on a track by track basis. The musical schizophrenia was almost a plus that made the album more interesting than what a normal dirty pop-rock album would normally sound like.

On their newest album, Catacomb Fires, Diamonds For Eyes loses a bit of the schizophrenia, but what they lack in genre jumping, they make up for in a focused, well made and oddly fun album to listen to. And while I don’t like it in the same way I liked Era, I do like it very much. It is a little more of a early classic rock album, on occasion even classic country. The focused sound helps with the whiplash effect and kind of soothes the listen a bit more than their previous. However, the vocals, which I think make for the most interesting part of both albums, haven’t changed much.

Lead Singer Josh Putney has a very Tom Morello is The Nightwatchman voice; baritone, deep and gruff. Sometimes, it can seem mean and unwelcoming. Almost with a sense of doom. Even when the track doesn’t need to be foreboding or threatening. Sometimes, it comes across a bit somber, almost like an 80’s goth crooner. A good kind of depressing. What his voice never is, though is boring. Even on a track like “Honesty”, which sounds a little bit like an 80’s rock anthem like Toto or The Cars, his voice is haunting where it could be jaunty. It is an interesting choice and adds for a cool uniqueness.

The big addition to this album is the guitar work of Conrad Bascom. Formerly of The Chatty Cathys, Bascom adds a lead guitar that really shows the new focus of the band and what they can do and helps punctuate their sound.

I liked this album, but I also really like their last one. I may have to listen to both a few more times to really decide which one I liked more, but a more focused Diamonds For Eyes definitely created a gem.

Album Review: Trouble Lights – The Endless Prom

I want to show y’all something, if I may:

Lollapalooza 2007

Click that. Then click the lineup. Then scroll down to the bottom. See way down there, past Iggy and The Stooges and Pearl Jam and Cold War Kids. Even past Chin Up Chin Up and past Ludo (Whoa, I liked Ludo! I wonder what they’re up to). On one of the bottom rows way past all the name bands and the popular DJs and such, there is an awfully familiar name. No, not Cage the Elephant. Before them.

Lady Gaga.

In 2007, Lady Gaga was just a talented woman performing clubs in New York and not an international pop sensation with a somewhat unique persona and insane live performances. She performed on the BMI stage, which, for those unfamiliar with the Grant Park festival’s setup, is a tiny ass stage stuck in some trees with Lake Shore Drive as a backdrop. It is usually where they stick lesser known acts and up and comers. Three years later, she came back to Lollapalooza and headlined the damned thing.

It seems weird to think that someone like Lady Gaga wasn’t always filling up stadiums and arenas and such. There are times when she seems like a pre-fab pop star that just happened to catch the right break, when the reality is she worked her way up the circuit like a lot of performers and is actually really damn good. She just had (and has) something about her that caught people’s eye and has propelled past being the weird lady who sings “Poker Face”. And now, she’s Mother Monster and a global phenomenon. Big enough to fill arenas and stadiums and headline festivals and even be protested against wherever she goes.

Listening to The Endless Prom, it isn’t just an astonishing pop album (though it is an astonishing pop album), it feels like being on the ground floor to greatness. It feels like the beginning of some sort of cultural phenomenon. It feels like a case where in three years, a lot of us are going to look back and go, I saw them perform at Mews or The Space for Ames or in an old classroom re-commissioned into an art show or whatever venue that seems entirely too small for a group this talented. In a world overrun by the pre-fab irony of Rebecca Black or the one hit wonder catchiness of “Call Me, Maybe” and “Gangnam Style” (and c’mon that shit is catchy as fuck), this album has catchy and danceable beats galore. The tracks “Hunting”, “Safe With Me” and “Ready” (see the video above) all have an undeniable beat that seems to burrow into your head and get stuck there. Even a guy like me, who isn’t all that far removed from the John Lithgow character in Footloose, can’t help but tap my foot and, if I’ve had a couple of drinks, actually maybe even sway side to side and do a little shoegaze head bop. Sometimes, I even do little uppercuts. It is exhilarating. But it is a testament to what the music makes me do more than it is an overriding need to dance.

What this album doesn’t suffer from is pre-fabrication or phoniness. It isn’t gimmicky or studio butchered. It feels real and it feels important. For as much as I actually like Carly Rae Jepsen (I do! Seriously!), she seems less a burgeoning pop goddess and more an answer to a trivia question in fifteen years. This album feels real and feels different. I know it is tough to actually quantify that, but the difference between friendly, single serving, throw away pop sensations and Trouble Lights is startling. Even with all of its amazing beats and danceable mixes and hypnotic vocals, sometimes all I can see is dollar signs. While this is one of my favorite albums this year to listen to, it is truly a rare breed where I somehow stare beyond the artistic merit of the album and just say, “Yeah, this is going to be huge,” and start to wonder about the impact on the industry as a whole. I thought it from the first time I heard them back in the spring, I’ve thought it with each live show I’ve seen and I thought it as I listened to the finished product. Each step they take, they seem to re-affirm that thought. Sometimes you just know when something is special. It is a feeling rather than a precise breakdown of the notes and beats and lyrics. And this, this is special.

Album Review – Olsen Twinns – Found Things

This first time I listened to this album, I was making pancakes. I burned them.

I think a lot of us tend to have music as part of our lives, not as a focus in our lives. What I mean by that is so many of us love music and love what it does for us, but I think we tend to take it a little for granted. A lot of the time our musical experiences tend to be less of a just sit down and enjoy and more of an ambiance we tote around. Music is the soundtrack to our lives, but it isn’t our lives.

Sometimes when I review albums, I like to listen the first time while doing something else. I do this with the knowledge that this is how a lot of other people listen to music, so this is how they’ll hear it (and to be fair, I am as guilty of this as anyone). I also do it because sometimes there are moments in the album, songs or lyrics or beats and what have you, that stick out to me and kind of force me to pay attention, so I make note of them. Sometimes this strategy is an abject failure, I’ll admit, but most of the time it is sound.

Found Things forces you to pay attention. It controls your brain without you even knowing it. The sounds are made in a way to act as if you are no longer in control of your own body or thoughts. The beats and the sounds are done at such a precise and intellectually stimulating way that you’ll find yourself with a spatula drumming on your sink until your smoke alarms go off and your Hungry Jack pancakes with blueberries are essentially ruined.

The alarm clock-esque beat of “window and wall” were the first thing I noticed. We have conditioned ourselves to pay attention when our alarm clock goes off, so it immediately caught me, maybe even slightly unfavorably (We have also conditioned ourselves that our alarm clock is evil and can go straight to hell. Okay, I have conditioned myself to that). I recovered once the body of the song and the build to the final beats finally kicked in. It was an interesting opening salvo in an album full of them.

But the point to this album isn’t the openings necessarily. It is how they open and what they become. The build in each song is such that it always starts a little ambient and slight, and then finishes in a flurry. All the while that opening tends to stick in your head the most. I think “2+2” and “how am i supposed to follow that” are the best examples, but that is how each song on the album builds. Each song takes you on a journey through noise and beats, then lets you catch your breath before it starts over.

I will close by saying that an album like this very likely won’t be for everyone. I hope that people come in and experience the album at least once, or I guess, let the album experience you. Given the opportunity, there is a good chance it will take control of you very quickly.

Click the banner to stream the album free, then buy it from Forged Artifacts Website

Review: Little Ruckus – Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl

Continuing with 80/35 Week, Little Ruckus plays on July 7 at 1 pm on the Hy-Vee Triathlon Stage

There are two sides to Little Ruckus, and both sides are on display at once. One side is the anarchic, possible cult leader, hell bent on casual destruction and sweaty street dancing. A sort of a dress wearing, sweating pied piper who wants you to live your life as weird and chaotic as possible. The other is the lyrical motivational speaker and possible cult leader who wants you to realize that the life you want to live is the appropriate life, and that life is weird and a-okay. Where the two meet is Tank Girl Vs Cape Girl and the realization of what being a member of the Sandwich Eatin’ Crew means to everyone and what being Little Ruckus means to Dom Rabalais. Buried beneath the incredible beats, the keys and the sweat is an album full of affirmations that YOU are special and that YOU are important. But also, those beats, keys and lyrics are all part of one of the most adventurous and special albums of the year.

I first heard Little Ruckus’ last album, 2011’s We Love Evil, earlier this year and I was immediately blown away. The sound, the attitude, the fun. It was all incredible (Here is my review.) What I took away from the album, though was that while it was a successful album from a sense that it sounded amazing and was easy to connect with, there were still some lingering doubts as to whether or not we were supposed to take this all seriously or not. Were we really to believe that in among the chaos and smashing and such, was there real sentiment involved? Was this just Dom Rabalais playing a character, or was he actually Little Ruckus? At the end of the day I decided I didn’t care and I still don’t. As someone much smarter than me once said, “Bob Dylan’s last name isn’t really Dylan, so who the fuck cares?”

Andrew WK had a lot of those questions about him as well, and honestly I think Andrew WK is a perfect comparison to Little Ruckus. Not musically, although the piano at the beginning of the track “Stay Free” reminds me a lot of Andrew WK and is pretty similar to the piano at the beginning of “Ready To Die” off of I Get Wet. Not close in a rip-off sort of way, just familiar. Almost an homage. But what people have come to realize was that WK wasn’t playing a character so much as he was using his platform to inspire and be creative. That’s what Little Ruckus feels like. It feels like a way to let people know how to live their lives, while also make you dance a whole bunch.

What Tank Girl does successfully is erase any lingering doubts as to the seriousness of it all. There is so much earnestness in among the hypnotizing and dance-able beats that there is no doubt that, yes, every single thing this album has to say is important and honest.

Though the lyrics take a more inspirational slant in Tank Girl, it certainly doesn’t stop being fun. This is still the same sweaty ass Little Ruckus from his prior album. He is still flanked by his ever present Sandwich Eatin’ Crew (S!E!C!) which allows for songs to be not just him, but also the lyrics of Lane Weaver and the vocals and some production from Phil Rabalais (Captain Picard) and Adrien Daller (Slaydrien) from Trouble Lights among other guest stars (Off topic, Shemp Howard and Futon City are such good nicknames to give yourself, as Lane Weaver does on this album) help support the ideas that Little Ruckus spills. The talents of the musicians are on display throughout and especially come to life in “Set My Spirit Free”, “Go Free”, and the surprisingly beautiful instrumental final track “Our Wedding”.

Tank Girl Vs Cape Girl is gorgeous at times, chaotic at others and inspiring always. It is the type of album that maybe tricks people into thinking they are just showing up and having a good time and forces them into much deeper thoughts and steers you towards personal triumphs like self respect and self appreciation. While dancing and yelling, you may just find yourself with the highest self esteem you could’ve ever hoped for. Suddenly, you’re pouring sweat while trying to think of your own S!E!C! nickname. (Incidentally, I am leaning towards calling myself Detective Beans or Hacksaw Jim Duggan, but I haven’t settled on that just yet).

Click the banner image to give the album a listen and maybe spend five dollars and buy it, if you can.

Ramona & The Swimsuits – Make a Splash

Yo, I have to tell y’all about this woman at work today. For those unaware, when I am not procrastinating about being a blogger, I am a manager for a prominent retailer. It has been a little hellish lately, and since no one cares about stories from corporate retail, I will not go into details here. In the last week, I have been struggling to be successful at a certain task and have dealt with some just horrible people because of it. One guy essentially called me an identity thief because I wanted his email. Not my company, me personally. But today man, today was just a stand up comedian’s dream.

A fat woman came in with her fat friends and fat kids and probably fat mom. At the very least it was a fat old woman who got sucked into the fat family’s gravitational pull. Or maybe they were just stuck together by a thin film of caramel and couldn’t get unattached. Now, I’m not one to pick on someone just because they have weight issues. Some of my closest friends are fat. I’m not using that as an excuse, I’m just saying that I normally only pick on them for it, not complete strangers. Hell, I ain’t exactly svelte, myself. I’m a long ways removed from being a 170 hockey player. Anywho, she was fat, but that’s not the point of the story. She was fat and she screamed at her kids and she poured this sort of yellowy discharge that was likely sweat, but it didn’t appear to be the right color. Plus, it wasn’t all that warm today. Heck, for all I know it might have been Pam. She may have had to spray herself with it just to get out of her mini-van. Like jaws of life in a can. Did I mention she was fat? I also mentioned that wasn’t the point, so I will move on, but yeah, fat. She was also a horrible person. She stomped around verbally abusing people at a Spinal Tap 11 level. She also thought it was prudent to spank her probably near teen children for daring to ask for something and she was just being an overall horrible person.

So anyways, at one point after she was done screaming at her children and striking them in public like they were a malfunctioning appliance, something in my head just clicked. For every problem in my life that has weighed me down (dwindling bank account and an unfortunate, go nowhere career being the big two) and ruined my time on this here planet, things could be worse. I mean, I have a good family, an awesome kid, two dumb cats almost 400 Facebook friends, many of whom I have actually met in public and everything. I could just be a miserable fat person beating children in public and dripping of non-stick cooking spray. And I ain’t. So, now I’m in a better mood.

I got home and decided I was just going to pick a fun album and listen to it and write about it, and this is what I picked. Ramona and the Swimsuits. I like this album, but not in a musicianship way. I don’t listen to this the same way I do, say, Pet Sounds. Now, I know these folks are all talented musicians. Drummer Kate Kennedy is one of my favorite songwriters in the world. Derek Lambert is super talented and in a bunch of awesome bands, including his own, Derek Lambert and the Prairie Fires. Also, they are the Lys, of Leslie and the Lys fame. So, the pedigree is there.

But what I like most about them is that it is clearly just four friends having fun singing silly songs about markers, and drawings of cats and baby juggling and cable television. It is hard to not just smile at the lyrics and the low-fi warble of it all. I just know that they had a blast making the record while eating spaghetti at Leslie Hall’s house.

I think the thing I like most about this album is that it exists. I feel like the whole thing was maybe even just written and recorded completely on the fly, and that makes me happy. But it still really, kind of good. I mean, “Karen’s Dad” is easily my favorite song ever about a father who tapes over a talent show for an episode of Cops because he works too hard and just wants to watch Cops and feels bad about it. But the song is right, it is kind of funny. And, I straight up adore “Come On Man”.

While they feel like something a group of friends did one night while hanging out, they are a real band and everything. In fact, tonight they open for the great David Liebe Hart, best known for his work on Tim and Eric. Vaudeville Mews, tonight at 7pm, so you don’t have a lot of time. So, go, smile and at the very least remember that things could always be worse. A lot worse.

Click the banner image to listen to the album or go here for more info on tonight’s show.

Unsolicitation Theater Presents : Eleven:Eleven – Electric Sex

Since I am now a world famous blogger (people from Andorra, St. Kits and Nevis, South Korea, Finland and Germany have all read this blog!) and Des Moines’ ninth most trusted music journalist (probably), I get lots of random bands who follow me on Twitter. Sometimes, I even listen to their music. I figured I would start highlighting some of them in a new feature I call Unsolicitation Theater. Today we highlight Austin, TX’s Eleven:Eleven.

Disco is dead. That is what I have been told my whole life. It was taken apart by talented new wave artistes and taken behind the woodshed and shot by heavy metal. It was carved up and fed to Blackie Lawless’ pigs. I grew up being told that disco was the bastard child of music genres by my Scorpions loving father. I hated disco so much growing up that I would always giggle in French class when they talked about the discotheque. Silly Europeans, still listening to disco. But like most things from my childhood, I was pretty much wrong.

While I still don’t think I could sit around and listen to Vicki Sue Robinson or anything, I can now at least appreciate that disco music is pretty much the pre-evolution of our modern day dance music. The technology has improved so much now that a song can have that bass vibe of The Trammps, without the cheesiness of the overblown horns. So, when I hear a group like Eleven:Eleven come around with their synth production and sultry lady voice, I can appreciate where it came from and respect the genre a little more. It has taken me a while, but I have finally started to come around.

While the disco vibe is in full effect, the production on the track is a lot darker and more refined. I was a bit nervous listening to it, because when you see a pretty girl with a slightly mysterious ethnic origin (the band page says her name is Sicca, but some light to medium Facebook stalking lead me to find her name is not actually that and is much more traditional, so I’m still not sure), and kind of a goofy song title, the potential for eye rolling trash is high. But all in all this wasn’t bad. The production, while simple, is really mean sounding, which gives the music a bit more of an edge than the bubble gum it could be. Sicca’s voice, while heavily produced, is angelic at times, and slightly creepy at others. I would recommend it, and could see this played while strobe lights blast and you wonder how the hell you ended up in this joint anyway. So yeah, I like disco a little more now. I’d say don’t tell my father, but I found a Cher CD in his car the other day, so he’s got nothing to talk about.

(While the review is based on the song “Electric Sex”, I also gave a listen to their remix of Empire of the Sun’s “Walking on a Dream”. That song rules, and their remix of it is actually really good and does a lot of justice to the original. So, bully for them and a hat tip to their producer J. Childs.)

Go here for more.

You in a band? Want to send me a song? Follow me on Twitter.God, I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?