Tuesday, August 30, 2011

grimes: "crystal ball" & live in montreal

Lately I've been listening a lot to the music of Canadian singer/music-maker Claire Boucher, known to fans simply as Grimes.  I found out about her music while checking out some of the artists on her label Arbutus, who also host a fave of mine, Blue Hawaii. The website description only hints at her sound, and after sampling some of her music on You Tube, I have to say, I wasn't prepared to be so thoroughly blown away. I mean, she's barely out of high school and already has two (and a half) albums of top notch material under her sleeve. You can read Arbutus' description of her sound (above), or simply listen for yourself. I think I've already overused terms like "ethereal", "atmospheric", and "electronic" in past music reviews, and truthfully, there's a whole lot more to her sound. In a world where empty gimmicks accompanying even emptier music is increasingly present (and popular) in pop music by women, it's good to hear stuff with such depth and imagination by the likes of Grimes, and I look forward to picking up all of her releases soon. In the meantime, check out the video for Crystal Ball (above). I love the use of landscape in this one, and in some ways I'm reminded of Joy Division's video for "Atmosphere" directed by Anton Corbijn.  Grimes also throws down a nice live set, which I hope to see in person someday soon as well.

Monday, August 29, 2011

art love

A couple of weeks ago Kris and I made a 45 minute drive out to Ikea in Maryland and bought a couple of those square shelving units for our studio room. After months of talking and talking about it, we finally went and got them. The studio room was in a state of constant disarray, despite past attempts at organizing and cleaning it out. Although we've managed to successfully sell or give away lots of stuff, being the creative types we are, we still have lots of stuff. Unfortunately it was stuff sitting around waiting to get used and made into art and crafts. Kris is into knitting, crochet, photography, jewelry-making and has recently gotten back into some painting and drawing, after a long hiatus. The drawing/painting pictured here at this post was one of a couple she made after we got our shelves up and the room organized. I remember walking into the room after getting home from work, only to find my wife sitting there at her table with a big, happy smile on her face while adding the final touches to the piece, which she gave me as a gift, knowing how stressed out I can sometimes get when going back to school, with all the information we have to process as teachers, then utilize at work. I've gotten a lot better at getting back into the swing of things with each passing year however, and just looking at this image helps me to lighten up even more. It also made me think about what art is all about, or what it can be for. I know that art is not about how well someone can make a painting or drawing look like something else in front of them. I also know that it's not about making lots of money or getting famous, though if that just so happens to be a part of it, then bonus! Once again, looking at this image and remembering the expression on Kris' face reminded me of what art, and the creation of it should be all about.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

i love the eighties

Friday night my wife and I celebrated our friend Melissa's birthday party at a local bar called Finnegans, who hosted an eighties night with local cover band The Reflex. I consider myself a child of the eighties, though I could also include the seventies and even the nineties in there as well. It's interesting how music can influence how people remember a certain time in their life, and while some folks prefer to identify with a certain era, musically or culturally, I really have no preference. Still, I have to say, more than anything, it was the eighties which left an impression on me over any other time period. I take my eighties music pretty seriously and definitely am into what might be considered the more obscure end of the musical spectrum, and you'd find me listening to Ministry, Depeche Mode or New Order rather than Bon Jovi, Journey or Bryan Adams, who were far too normal for my arty, rebel teenage mind.  So, I wasn't sure what I was in for when we went to this place. Still, it wasn't my party, and after a slightly crazy week back at school I was up for anything. Needless to say, the eighties cover band The Reflex (can you guess where they got their name from?) were very good, covering a wide range of songs from the era of big hair and neon makeup.  Cool thing is, my get-up earned me second place in the eighties fashion show Friday night. Rad! What mattered most though was that everyone had fun and sang and danced like fools. Not a bad way to start a weekend after an earthquake and a scary hurricane forecast on the horizon. 

Above, Kris and I are posing for the camera. I actually had more requests than I can count to get my photo taken with other people, which I found both amusing and strange, since that usually never happens in real life, except for in family reunions. If they only knew how bald and geeky I actually am, haha! Anyhow, we had a blast trying to figure out how to look for this party, and I can thank the local thrift store for the sweet padded suit jacket, and Party City for the wig. I was going for more of a Duran Duran meets Kajagoogoo look, though most people there thought I was either David Bowie or Rod Stewart! I even got a "hey Vince Neil!". Funny thing is, I still wear Swatch watches, have a Pac Man camera cozy, and use a checker-patterned wallet, so I guess I never really left the eighties in a way. Oh well. Kris did a fabulous job with hers and our friends' makeup, and even ended up getting a little gig applying some onto one of the band's lead singers (photo below) after seeing the work she did on a friend of ours. Nice! These great photos are courtesy of the band's website by the way. 

In the meantime, if you're still not sure where the name The Reflex came from, you can ask my younger brother Dave who had the record since he was in the second grade (yes, kids were into cool music back then), or you can watch the video featured below (the ad is quick, thankfully), which ruled MTV in the eighties.

In the meantime, check out the band, The Reflex when they visit your way!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

jacob's optical stairway: "fragments of a lost language" and "solar feelings"

It's always interesting to see how genres in music change, especially within the realm of electronic music. I think of Jungle from the UK in the early nineties, with its sped-up break beats, Jamaican toasting, and exaggerated bass stabs. I remember how it started out as a racious club music, later breaking out into a variety of different avenues as Drum n' Bass. You had your "dark step" and "tech step", as well as "two step" and "jump up". Then there were the more cerebral sub genres of "atmospheric" and "intelligent" drum n' bass. Goldie put D&B on the map with his massive LP "Timeless" in 1995, touching on nearly all of the sub genres listed previously here, while Roni Size and his Reprazent project put the sound in the public eye (and ear) with the ambitious "New Forms". Other artists like LTJ Bukem and Talvin Singh ran hugely successful UK club nights, the latter of whom merged traditional Indian instrumentation with the genre, without sounding in the least bit corny. The east coast of the US was particularly quick to adopt Drum n' Bass, especially in NYC, Philly, and most notably Pittsburgh, with its long-running "Steel City Jungle" nights at Oakland's former Club Laga, and the still present (!?!) Drum n' Bass night at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. Artists such as Dieselboy and 187 made their name in the 'burgh and made significant contributions to the genre. Still, one duo who deserves more kudos in the realm of D&B is that of Mark Clair and Dennis McFarlane, known to listeners as 4Hero. As influential as they were among major producers and Drum n' Bass artists, many fans don't recognize their side project under the name Jacob's Optical Stairway. The one album they released as J.O.S. (same name as the group) has been regarded as arguably their finest material to date, by those who've heard it. Swimming in the more jazzy, atmospheric end of the spectrum, Jacobs' Optical Stairway was created and intended for the home listening experience more than the dance floor. Album opener "Fragments of a Lost Language" (above) is one of my all-time favorite opening tracks, and I've used this very song to test out the audio in any new sound system I've had since I've owned this CD. Simply put, it's a beautiful work of future-soul, still light years ahead in sound and vision.  Below is another standout on this brilliant album, "Solar Feelings", featuring some beautiful guest vocals from Samantha Powell. Around the same time, Clair and McFarlane also released "Parallel Universe" as 4Hero, another drum n' bass masterpiece album with a similar sound to J.O.S.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

wish you were here splotch monster medley

I always thought it would be an interesting challenge to use some Splotch Monsters as letters for words or phrases, like a type of font for an illustration.  So, I decided to do just that for a piece that will be in a show, in London, England, from October to November this year. The theme for the art exhibit is "Wish You Were Here", organized by illustrator/artist Mr. Gresty, for display at the George Orwell.  Each monster represents a letter, some more recognizable than others, and I didn't want them to be too obvious at first glance. The letters spell out the theme of the show, and the monsters are all supposed to be hanging out at a "Splotch Monster House Party" (which is also the name of the piece). It was fun seeing how I could not only make monsters out of letters, but also trying to create tiny interactions between some of them, as if they were all really in a room together. I tried photographing the work in several different lights (it was way too big for a scanner) but just couldn't really capture how it actually appears, which looks a whole lot better than the shot you see here. The show looks to be a good one and the place itself will be a fantastic space for art. I personally wish I could be there myself but unfortunately, London is a little too far and out of my budget at the moment. If you're in London and are reading this, please feel free to check out the show and perhaps even take and send me some shots. I'd really appreciate it!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

machinedrum: "u don't survive", "GBYE", & "jewlea"

While I eagerly await the arrival of Machinedrum's latest full length CD "Room(s)" to arrive in the mail, I continue to drop by You Tube for my preview fix. It was a pleasant surprise to learn he had a new one out at the end of the summer, no less on Mike Paradinas' (aka μ-Ziq) Planet Mu label. Real name Travis Stewart, I've followed Machinedrum's evolving sound since his early releases on Merck Records over a decade ago. While the last album, "Want to 1 2?" was an inspired kaleidoscope of hip-hop influenced sound production, jam-packed with a wide array of excellent vocal contributions, "Room(s)" has a more immediate, fast-paced, even spontaneous feel throughout. One track I've been returning to a lot and has quickly become a favorite is "U Don't Survive" (above), with its steady, swift tribalesque breakbeat, layers of building keyboard melodies, R&B vocal lines, and those signature bulbous bass stabs Machinedrum does best. I love how this song builds, evolves, breaks down, and rebuilds, like many Travis Stewart productions. This song, as well as some other more vocal-tinged tracks on the album seem to take influence from some of the best house tracks from a couple of decades back (the early Strictly Rhythm catalogue comes to mind). The album cover art, like most Machinedrum releases is simply awesome as well.

So far, the one official video for "Room(s)" accompanies the track "GBYE" (above).  It's a bit disorienting at first, and I prefer listening to the track minus the video, personally. Still, it's pretty cool to see all those wonderful Rubik's Cube-like puzzles, which in many ways are like Machinedrum's music, come to think of it. The vid gets much better at about two minutes in, when you see a pair of hands solving the various puzzles in fast-motion. The song itself is probably the most Chicago Juke influenced of all, with it's hyperkinetic beat and cut up vocal samples. Great track, but probably not one of the album's best.

Finally, for the old-school heads, from Machinedrum's first full length LP, 2001's "Now You Know", "Jewlea". Put those headphones on and turn the volume up. It rarely gets any more magnificent than this one.

Friday, August 19, 2011

thoughts on "the garden", food, etc.

Several months ago my wife and I took a particularly riveting documentary out from the library called "The Garden".  Basically it was about how a large plot of land in South Central LA was transformed into an incredible, functioning garden by the local, mostly Latino and black community, only later to be taken away, totalitarian-style, by the local government, largely in part due to sheer greed and ignorance. You see both the extreme beauty and ugliness that humankind is capable of and wonder how something like this can happen in the United States of America, and how those individuals and forces who stole the land from the community could possibly sleep at night. Still, there is a light at the end of this tunnel, which is for you to find out, if you decide to see this film yourself (which I highly suggest, to anyone). 

I wanted to blog about the movie for a while now but things get in the way, pile up and one forgets. What got me thinking of it was while I was taking my lunch break outside, back home at my apartment complex. Looking around, I noticed some of the new picnic tables set up on the grounds, one of which I was eating at. I noticed the big, beautiful swimming pool and nice, remodeled tennis court nearby. They were empty, mostly because most people were at work. However, for the most part not many people ever use them at all. The same goes for the workout room, lounge and perhaps the most under-used space where I live, the racket-ball court.  I imagined some of this wasted space being transformed into a garden for us residents, similar to the large plot of land at the local community park where my wife and I got married, which has been turned into a community garden where residents can pay to upkeep and grow their own vegetables. I've been seeing and hearing about similar things happening throughout the country, many of which, surprisingly have been flourishing in urban environments like NYC. 

Part of my lunch included some plums, organic from the nearby grocery store. I wasn't sure where they came from or even which country they were grown in, and while they tasted pretty good, they just couldn't compare to the ones I'd eat as a child, straight from the plum tree in my grandmother's (my mom's mom) back yard. This made me also think about the awesome tasting green beans my dad's parents would grow in their vegetable garden. They tasted so much better than the soggy gray ones you would find in a can. Then there are the fruit trees in my wife's aunt's backyard in Trinidad. Kris would tell me of how, as a kid, on any given day you could pull off a fresh mango, or any kind of native fruit or berry, and eat it straight from the tree or bush. Now it's becoming less common there, like here, which is pretty sad and makes you wonder, where on earth did we all go wrong in the name of convenience? How did we get so far from eating actual, real, good food? Well, for starters, with convenience, priorities shift, and they have shifted to the point of not even thinking about the food we eat. We lazily accept human diseases, such as cancer and diabetes as simply genetic or unavoidable, simply treatable with the aid of a little pill. Who has time to think or even care about their food, right?

Fortunately, I'm seeing a shift in people's priorities once again, though for me personally, it couldn't happen fast enough. Local farmer's markets are seeing a steady growth in attendance, while grocery stores are starting to catch on to this trend by selling fresh produce from local farms. Shouldn't it have stayed this way all along, instead of us having to bring in exported goods from distant lands, whose nutrition diminishes with time and travel, as money and natural resources are wasted moving items back and forth? My mom would chuckle at the word "organic", always saying how when she was growing up, they had no special names for the fruits and vegetables grown at home. Why do we continue to support awful genetically modified food products peddled by the likes of big business capitalists like Monsanto, who bully their brand of garbage onto American farmers across the country? The good news is that farmers are fighting back, hundreds of whom are in the process of suing the company.

What would I like to see, personally? More awareness and less ignorance from everyday people. Grow your own vegetable garden, if not something small, like a tomato plant, or herbs. Sure it takes a little work, but its worth it, and to cook with it at home makes your meals so much more special. I'd like to see more support from the people for organic and locally grown food products. One good sign is a new grocery store going up in my area that promises to sell just these very things. Also, as an educator, I'd like to see a bigger push for healthier food in the schools. If the kids aren't putting good things into their bodies, then the good things we as teachers (and parents) are putting into their brains has all been done in vain. Finally, with elections around the corner (and this time around, I'm feeling very apolitical) I want to see a much bigger push from the government for the promotion of cleaner, greener and REAL food. Perhaps that's being too idealistic and naive, as priorities continue to be based on whether or not one has a big D or an R in front of their name, war, and what religion or belief system you choose to conform to. Sad but true. So, with that in mind, it's time for the folks who care to start getting things done for themselves. To me, it's the ultimate way to vote. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

policy: "lights over fort lee", "emotional"

Wow! Where have I been these past five months that I missed out on the one man sound magician that is Policy, from NYC. While previewing the excellent new tracks from Machinedrum's latest LP on You Tube,  the cover art accompanying Policy's "Emotional/Speed of Life" single caught my eye at the sidebar. It turns out the tunes are just as beautiful as the graphics - a lazy liquid smooth merging of multi-hued dubwise sound frequencies beamed in from a distant galaxy, for your listening pleasure.  As enthusiastic as I continue to be about  music, it's rare anymore something will hit me upside the head and toss me into a whole other universe, as with when I first heard Autechre's "Incunabula" or Future Sound of London's "Life Forms" years ago.  I believe that Policy's tracks, featured here have succeeded. Glad I had a good set of headphones on. According to a very good Boomkat review HERE, Policy is also a film producer, which wouldn't be surprising after hearing such widescreen cinematic elements flourish in his sound. The two tracks featured here are a sample of his pretty small output so far, and hopefully a good indication of what's on the horizon. I regret missing Policy play out at a big art fest in DC last April, but then again, I only just discovered him. Hope to hear more from Policy soon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

moleskine entities

Here are some drawings I did while on the ferry, returning to Trinidad from Tobago in my Moleskine sketchbook. It was roughly a three hour ride and the boat was pretty crowded.  Kris and I originally sat on the side where the evening sun was beaming in and blinding us. After moving from our seats to find a better place, without any luck we took shelter on the floor, in a more peaceful, shaded spot on the boat. Nobody seemed to mind as I drew and Kris knitted away, however one curious woman stopped by to look at what I was doing. She asked me if I was designing outfits for Carnival, which I thought was a pretty cool question, sparking some new ideas in my mind for these "entity" characters I've been drawing for a couple of years now. I told her that I was just doodling to pass the time. It turns out she actually designed masks for Carnival, so I took her words as a compliment. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

richard d. james: "on", "polygon window", and "cuckoo"


I know I've posted the above video/song before, a while ago at my blog, but it's so good, I can't help posting it again. It's one of Aphex Twin's early singles, "On", and one of my first introductions to the man's music (real name Richard D. James). I like music that works well with high contrasts, such as the steady, industrial beat chugging along with sweet, overlapping synths, suggesting some other time or place. RDJ's music always had a bittersweet nostalgia about it, which makes the electronic sounds more human than human.  It's deceptively simple and musically brilliant. While Aphex had some of the all time greatest videos ever made, in the history of music video production, thanks mostly to Chris Cunningham, "On", directed by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame, is my favorite. It's raw, humorous, deep and captures the spirit of the Cornwall beach (UK) raves Aphex started out DJing at.

Growing up in Cornwall, Richard was fond of surfing. Perhaps his musical tribute to the sport was 1993's "Surfing on Sine Waves", from the Artificial Intelligence series of Electronic Listening Music recordings put out by Warp records.  Under the alias of "Polygon Window", the entire album is suggestive of a day well spent at the beach, both on and off the waves. The track above, "Polygon Window", the album's opener is the sound of swiftly riding the tides, flowing with the rhythm of the waves as the sea sprays your face, taunting you to fall off and under. It's an exciting track, made to be played on a big booming sound system with heavy bass frequencies. Trust me, I played this one out at a Warp party a few years ago in Pittsburgh, and seeing people dance to this one, and hearing it through good, clean speakers is nothing short of smile inducing.

All three tracks featured here remind me greatly of summer, so this post is something of a farewell tribute to a summer gone by too quickly.  The one directly above, under another RDJ alias, AFX, known as "Cuckoo" is one of his most playful and fun. Described as the sound of Pac Man lost in the rain forest, "Cuckoo" strategically employs various exotic bird calls throughout this highly danceable, upbeat song. I love driving around to this one, and sometimes I'll play it for my students, who really enjoy hearing it as well. It's probably in my top five Richard D. James tracks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

trini pic roundup

I finally got around to posting more pics from Trinidad & Tobago, though from this post they're mostly from Trinidad.  Some of the best shots I got were on my wife's SLR, which I unfortunately didn't even upload yet. Still, I have enough photos to keep me occupied (still working on that T&T 2011 Flickr set), and hopefully enough eye-candy to keep folks who stop by this blog , visually engaged.  

Sometimes, the longer you stay somewhere, the more difficult it is to leave. That's how I felt with our stay this summer. On some trips, after so long, you start to look forward to returning home again. This was one rare instance where I didn't feel that way at all. Though I have many photos of places and things from our trip, most importantly it was the people - Kris' friends and family who made our stay special (especially her mom, who put up with us the whole time). 

I'm already thinking about next summer in T&T, if it's possible for us to visit again. Looking at these photos makes it hard getting used to the daily routine here in Northern Virginia, as nice as it is out here. 

Finally, I posted up one (from a few) videos Kris took of me attempting to drink from a coconut for the first time. There was so much good water in that thing, I swear it took me a half an hour to finish it. The vendor who cut the coconut like some kind of Trini Samurai even hacked out a spoon (in seconds) from the shell for me to eat the coconut jelly, which was as refreshing as the water. I wish we caught that on camera! One of the very best things about Trinidad and Tobago is the vendors on the street. Without them, these islands wouldn't be the same. They're the soul of T&T in my opinion. If you go to either or both islands, please, bypass the boring chain restaurants and support the street vendors, whose food is the real deal. In the meantime, this blog will return to its normal routine of artist features, music musings, and  my own art, which I've been sorely neglecting as of late. I'll also make sure to do a brief update post when I finally get around to finishing up all my photos from our visit.  Until next time T&T!

Friday, August 5, 2011

kariwak village, tobago

Probably the best time we had while visiting T&T was staying at Kariwak Village for two nights and three days in Tobago. Kris had gone years ago as a kid and suggested we look into it during our visit. Seeing the place was by no means your typical tourist trap, and the emphasis on holistic living sold me right away. That, as well as seeing the pictures online , reading the reviews and best of all, the excellent rates.  Since we had such a wonderful stay that far exceeded our expectations, I thought I'd dedicate an entire blog post to Kariwak.

Right outside our doorway was a nice little patio with chairs and a table, hidden by the surrounding trees and plant life.  We spent lots of time here reading and watching the various birds eating fruit and nectar from the trees. It was the best entertainment around.

From the patio was a secluded walkway leading to the main swimming pool.

The beds were very comfortable and the overall atmosphere of our room was quiet, cozy and peaceful.

There was no TV in ours, or any of the rooms, which was the whole idea of "getting away" in the first place. Perfect. However, they did have one located a short walk away in their library room.

Throughout the entire place, there's a walkway which takes you around the grounds.  The great variety of trees and plants were subtly tagged and numbered, and you can bring along a paper guide to assist in identifying them. 

Among other good things, Kariwak is known for its excellent food. Many of the recipes were designed by their longtime, dedicated staff, and they had something for everyone. The dining area really came alive at night, and lots of folks spent time there, enjoying the warm evening air over a good dinner.

We didn't neglect to spend some time at the bar sampling some of Kariwak's unique variety of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages

I made sure to spend some quality time in their main pool, especially early in the morning and late at night. They take good care to practice healthy, mindful standards with regards to both the pool's and their jacuzzi's water quality. 

Lots of beautiful birds native to Trinidad and Tobago can be found roaming the grounds, including the Cocrico (above photo), which looks like a prehistoric turkey, is very fast, and is Tobago's national bird. 

You don't have to be a plant enthusiast to appreciate the multitude of vividly-colored flowers all around Kariwak. Just the colors and forms alone were enough to elevate one's mood.

Hidden gem's like this little waterfall (above) can be found when exploring the grounds.

Their open air, thatched Ajoupas were located more towards the back of Kariwak's grounds, where they hold retreats, yoga sessions and a variety of events. With only a couple of nights there, we didn't find the time to take advantage of these things, though we got Kris' mom an hour massage session, which she claims to have been her best massage ever. Another thing to add to the list next time we stay.

Here's a peek at what it looks like under one of the Ajoupa's. 

The waterfall jacuzzi was quite possibly the highlight of our stay at Kariwak, though it's extremely difficult to pick any favorites.  I actually missed finding the jacuzzi the first time I went exploring, but luckily Kris stumbled upon it. Surrounded by beautiful trees, you can control the air jets in the pool as well as the falls themselves. We had nothing short of a marvelous time in this little area, and Kris' mom, who hasn't swam in a while, was an instant convert. 

One of the many things I love about this place is that they grow their own greens used in their meals. I talked with the gardener who has taken care of this garden for about eight years, since running her own shop, and I was impressed by the care, time and energy that went into everything.

There were lots of areas set up just for relaxing, both in an out of the shade.

I didn't hesitate to utilize the several comfortable hammocks at Kariwak, but feel I needed much more quality time with them. Again, until next time. I can't wait to go back, hopefully next summer, and for a longer stay. We had such a great time during our brief visit. The place was perfect - nothing overwhelming, obnoxious or touristy at all. We talked to some folks who shared our love for the place, including friends who had their honeymoon there, who said that staying there was a true Caribbean experience, like you really got to know a part of Tobago, which was so true. We even met one man from London, at the nearby Store Bay beach who was on his seventeenth visit and counting. It is also important to note that next year, Kariwak is celebrating it's thirty-year anniversary too. So, in a (coco)nutshell, Kariwak is absolutely a must, if you decide to visit Tobago, and is a short and inexpensive ferry or plane ride from Trinidad.