Ye gods, he blogs! Or at least he stops by his website to unload some piffle and tripe for your reading pleasure (?) until June’s Short Story of the Month appears . . .
On The Stereo #1: I’ve had Tsarskoye Selo by Che Guevara T-Shirt on heavy rotation for the past couple of weeks. The group formed circa 2005 in Albany, New York with a standard guitar(s)-bass-drum rock configuration, but around the time of their outstanding 2012 album Everyone That’s Dead Was Obviously Wrong (see #6, here), the front line of Keith Sonin and Matt Heuston both began playing baritone guitars, creating a truly distinctive sound and feel for their music. They’ve continued with the double baritone approach through three more albums since then (picking up new drummer John Olander along the way), and the low end remains front and center on the fabulous Tsarskoye Selo. The seven-track album combines knotty melodic and rhythmic figures with impressionistic, claustrophobic lyrics that are rich in word play, and delivered with a sharp urgency by Sonin (mostly) and Heuston (on “Revenge”). While the challenging musical patterns might casually shoehorn these songs into the “math rock” genre, Che Guevara T-Shirt manage to make their intricacy far more engaging than most other examples of that form, and the rumble of the baritones creates a sense of inexorable force that grabs you and holds you and shakes you in potent, resonant ways. Album highlights for me include “Un Jou” (fantastic use of multi-lingual sounds to tap hidden layers of meaning), “I Break Women” (the most rumbling of rumbles) and “Conrad” (which combines powerful music with dark, self-referential words to create a paean to the frustrations of the independent artist). What makes Che Guevara T-Shirt’s work most special to me is the blend of their unique instrumental attack with the excellence of their texts, credited in the album’s liner notes to one “Scott Koenig,” who I suspect may be the equally mysterious “S. Connick,” who wrote an interesting “20 Years Later” review of this disc on his blog, here. Having followed Heuston and Sonin’s musical activities for many, many years (well before Che Guevara T-Shirt existed), I’d be delighted if Connick’s future visions for this album came true. These guys are great songwriters and musicians, and they deserve to be more widely heard and respected.
A Pet Peeve: I’m very mobile these days, doing a lot of travel for work, or taking multiple buses and trains each day when I go to and from my office. I carry all the things I need to make it through the day in a satchel (okay, it’s probably a man purse, technically) that hangs around my neck. As I go to stores and buy coffee and other sundries necessary throughout the day, I’ve become increasingly bugged by the habit of retail cashiers to leaf large paper receipts in with bills, then put coins on top of the whole mess, when making change. First off, I don’t want a huge paper receipt for a $2.50 cup of coffee. Secondly, when you give me change that way, I can no longer slide my bills into my wallet with one hand, then easily slide my wallet into my
man purse satchel. It becomes a two-handed operation that involved setting things down on the counter, creating the opportunity to walk away without something. Before computers became ubiquitous, I think we all envisioned a far more paper-free world that they might have created. But now, the amount of useless, incidental paper generated seems to be rising, and cashiers are being trained to hand it to customers in the most inconvenient way possible. A big deal? No. Annoying nonetheless? You bet. That’s pretty much the definition of pet peeve isn’t it?
Road, Rail, Plane Warrior: I mentioned that I’ve been traveling a lot lately. How much? Here’s a map of the places I’ve been since August:
I’ll be returning to Iowa and Florida in the next month, but before then, I leave this map entirely for a trip to Italy with Marcia. Watch for the usual photo essays around that trip in early June.
Beloved Royals, Up Close and Personal: We had a perfect spring day here on Sunday, and Marcia and I spent it on the first base side of U.S. Cellular Field, watching my Beloved Royals play the hometown Chicago White Sox. It was a good game, though it didn’t end quite the way I would have liked, with the Sox winning, and two Royals players being injured in a foul ball chasing collision along the third base line. But it was still a joy to see them play, since it’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to do so. Our seats were excellent, per shots below:
On The Stereo #2: I was thrilled to learn a few weeks back that New Jersey’s dälek were back in musical action with a fantastic new album called Asphalt for Eden. My “Top 200 Albums of All Time” list features not one, not two, but three albums from this crew, and they are played very regularly in our household. At bottom line: I find their work be aurally, lyrically, and conceptually as ambitious and impressive and original as music comes. Ostensibly an underground rap act on paper, dälek actually mine an ambitious lode that sits on a tiny sweet spot where the industrial, noise, hip hop and avant garde genres overlap. Their beats are insistent, but they are often shrouded in dense loops of squall and squeal and static that don’t quite sound like anything else I’ve heard anywhere else, from anyone. Atop the tumult, MC Will Brooks delivers choice line after choice line in a perfectly cadenced, powerful voice, supplemented by some of the smartest and most thought-provoking spoken word samples you’re even likely to hear knitted into a musical tapestry. Asphalt for Eden is a powerful return document, and it’s wonderful to hear dälek maintain their sonic attack with a new lineup, who bring new things to the mix, but deploy them in order to extend the unique musical legacy that the group have forged over the years. The trio is coming to Chicago in July, and I look forward to hearing them live as they deliver cuts from this and so many other favorite albums.
Avail of Two Cities: An interesting memo from Mercy Health Network a couple of weeks ago contained the news that the hospital system had named a new Vice President and General Counsel: Marcia Brom Smith. It’s a wonderful and well-deserved career step for my bestest of bestests, and I’m proud of and pleased for her to the highest of high degrees. Huttah! And Huttah Again! You regular readers who are actually familiar with Mercy Health Network might correctly observe that it is based in Iowa, not Chicago, meaning that Marcia will be traveling regularly between here and there for work. Last week, we acquired and furnished (thank you, storage unit) a second one-bedroom apartment in Des Moines’ East Village so she doesn’t have to be a hotel regular when she’s there. So we are now officially stateless (in the good sense of that word) with a small base of operations in Chicago near my work, and a small base of operations in Des Moines, near Marcia’s work, and where Katelin still lives. Despite having two addresses, we still have fewer bedrooms than we did in our last house, not to mention no driveways to shovel, no grass to cut, no gardens to mulch, no roofs to replace, no furnaces to break, and no general worries about leaving an empty house when we travel. It’s a new chapter, a new adventure, and a new approach, but we’ve never shied away from those in the past, so I expect this phase to as exciting as all those that have come before it. Did I say Huttah? Huttah!