Another JCC talent shout-out! I joked that after the cruise I was going to just go get everything by any artist whose last name sounded like "grey", because in addition to Jean Grae, there were two really cool singer/songwriters: Brian Gray and his remarkably precocious teenage daughter Zoe Gray.

I heard two songs by Brian: one that made me laugh, and one that made me cry, right there, on the deck of a cruise ship. It stabs me right in one of my biggest fears and twists the knife in a way that hurts but is also inspiring.

Laughing: "Man Crush"

Crying: "Just a Dream"

Then at open mic Zoe got up and did one of the best teenage nerd anthems I've heard, "Castaways":

You can hear more of her stuff at
What do you get when you cross Devo with They Might Be Giants and a splash of Philip Glass in a group that predates both Devo and TMBG, but has not had nearly the recognition they deserve?

Sparks. You get Sparks. If you don't know them, here's their youtube playlist. If the first song doesn't grab you, try another. They jump genres like whoa, but are always... weird, in a glorious sort of way.

I mention this now because Sparks is on tour. They will be in Boston on 10/30. I already have my tickets. You can get yours here. If you want to go, tell me!
I knew this couldn't be isolated to that Losing My Religion video. Looks like these folks have been doing songs on Vimeo for a while now. See their channel for the major key version of Riders on the Storm, in addition to... this.

Major Scaled #1 : Metallica - "Nothing Else Majeur" from major scaled on Vimeo.

Now excuse me, my childhood has to go figure out exactly how it feels about this...
While I've got Arisia on the brain, one other quick thing:

So, after Strangerfrass/Sassaways did our thing, this group I'd never heard of called Psyche Corporation went on. Unfortunately, it seems nobody else had heard of them either, because while we enjoyed a nice sized crowd, the room mostly cleared out when we were done.

Especially since Psyche Corporation was super-patient with us since we went long and ate into what should have been their sound check, and sounded interesting when I heard them setting up, I felt bad when the audience dwindled to something far smaller than what they seemed to deserve, so Sandry and I stuck around to hear and support them. I'm glad I did.

Psyche Corporation wasn't so much a band as a one-woman show with a guest cellist. Not that the cellist was unremarkable, far from it, it's just one of those ships where it's clear who the captain is, so to speak. The leading lady (I couldn't find her name on their website, but I met her afterward and she seemed quite nice) pre-composes industrial/EBM-ish backing tracks herself and then sings while doing choreographed dances to them. It's a spectacle designed for a big, lavish show and here she is on tiny, unadorned stage at a sci-fi con with all of about ten people in the audience. There are things that look great in the right context and silly in the wrong context, and I'll be honest: I think some of her presentation suffered from the context, but you know what? For all that, neither she nor the cellist looked like they were doing their thing with any less commitment than if they'd been under lights at a club with 500 people watching, and that, folks, is the mark of professionals. Much respect.

I grabbed one of their albums and have been liking it. Reminds me a lot of Unwoman, with whom it turns out they've performed.

Ok, this ended up being a lot more long-winded than the quick little signal boost I originally went to post, so I'll leave you with one of their videos:

This has been a pretty amazing weekend. I sometimes say that the fun I have at a con is directly proportional to the number of people I know there and the number of events I'm involved in, and by that measure, Arisia 2013 was absolutely spectacular.

Cumulative sleep Fri-Mon: approx 16 hrs. Not bad for a con! ;)

Particularly noteworthy events (off the top of my head) include...

People Most Excellent )

The Stranger Ways / Sassafrass Concert ) know, this is already getting really long, and there's still so much more to write about, so I think I'm going to tie this one off and (hopefully) make this a series of posts.

If you're in the Boston area, and especially if you're already going to Arisia, my band, Stranger Ways, will be performing on Saturday at noon in a joint show with the very talented Sassafrass, and while this will be the third such show we've done, I'm particularly excited about this one. Here's the FB invite

We're going to be debuting songs from our upcoming new album, Iron and Rust. Unlike our first two Arisia shows, this will not be an album release party... and that's a good thing! We're really taking our time with this one, and trying something much more ambitious than anything we've done before. Not only will this one be 100% original songs, all of the songs will be connected into a single coherent (we hope) story. It's also some of the most musically challenging stuff we've written (yay live performance! no pressure!!).

For almost a year now we've been meeting weekly, alternating between dedicated sessions for writing music, lyrics, and plot, and practicing the songs we've written, and the Arisia show will be the first public performance of the first half (give or take) of the album. It's kind of terrifying to finally be opening something on which we've spent so much time to public scrutiny, but I'm feeling cautiously optimistic. If you come, feel free to take notes on the new stuff! I'd love to treat this like a workshop and get feedback afterward. We'll also be doing a set with songs from our earlier albums, plus maybe a surprise or two... ;)

As in previous years we'll be alternating sets with Sassafrass, and this year they're *also* about to release a new concept album, based on stories from Norse mythology... but I'll let them tell you all about that. :)

I was originally shown this by [ profile] lediva, and then showed it to Stranger Ways. I think the consensus is that playing this... device looks harder than playing most "real" instruments. Or at least more confusing.

Also, I want one. Waaaaaaaant!
Remember a ways back when I posted that vid of a French hipster covering "Basket Case"?

You're welcome.

One of the first cassettes I ever bought with my own money (possibly the first-- it was either this, a Suicidal Tendencies album, or Pretty Hate Machine...) was 13 Songs, by Fugazi.

I mentioned Fugazi to some friends yesterday and was surprised that none of them were familiar with this band. Especially after having re-listened to 13 songs today for the first time in years, I feel compelled to rectify this today.

Fugazi was one of the most influential east coast post-punk bands of the 80s and 90s. If you like the heavier end of the rock spectrum, 13 songs, or at least something by Fugazi, should be in your collection. Different people have different favorites, but 13 songs has always been definitive to me. Not every track is great, IMO, but songs like Waiting Room, Bulldog Front, Give Me The Cure, and Suggestion alone are enough to make the album.

In related news, Amazon currently has it for $4.99.

I dare you to listen to this 1989 release and tell me it didn't influence practically every musician in the grunge scene years later. Then listen to the lyrics of songs like Suggestion and hear, for example, commentary on gender roles and rape culture that are still progressive today, portrayed movingly in the song's brutal bluntness:

"Why can't I walk down a street free of suggestion?...
You spent yourself watching me suffer.
Suffer your words, suffer your eyes, suffer your hands.
Suffer your interpretation of what it is to be a man...
She does nothing to deserve it.
He only wants to observe it.
We sit back, like they taught us.
We keep quiet, like they taught us.
We don't want anyone to mind us,
So we play the roles that they assigned us...
We blame her for being there,
But we are guilty.

(note: "..." indicates places where I trimmed lyrics for brevity)

Also worthy of note is that Fugazi's singer, Ian MacKaye, co-founded Dischord Records, one of the most influential underground labels of that era. I guess one could call them the east coast Sub Pop, though some might cringe at the comparison.

Anyway, this morning I was reminded of a great album that maybe doesn't have the notoriety it should have, so there it is. Certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but I hope some folks out there enjoy it.
So, there's this band called Sparks. They probably have the craziest ratio of influence, originality and output to likeliness that you've ever heard of them out there. This is a real shame, though I guess not unsurprising as they are, to put it plainly, very weird. Gloriously, creative-inferiority-complex-inducingly weird in my opinion, but definitely weird. For exhibit A, I present one of my favorite songs of theirs:

The really exceptional thing about this song, and about them? It came out in 2006. They've been around since 1968.

We are talking about a group (really a duo at its core) that has not only been putting out amazing music, and constantly re-inventing its self, for 30 years, but has even produced some of its best stuff in the last five. How many groups can claim that?

I've been a fan of, and evangelizing, Sparks for a few years now, and the other day, [ profile] juldea pointed me to a great article wherein a music critic who had just discovered them, amazed that he'd managed to be unaware of the group's significance and longevity all this time, listened to, ranked and reviewed every one of their twenty two albums released between 1971 and 2009 in one big post.

It serves as a really nice overview of their career, and a good way to zoom in on each of their many sounds. He also does a great job of picking apart their lyrics, and I learned a lot of neat things I hadn't noticed about just how very, very messed up creative some of their song premises are. So, in the interest of my continued evangelization, do yourself a favor and take a look. Each review even has song samples!
The new lineup of Stranger Ways is going to be debuting at PiCon at the end of the month. In the hopes of getting some pre-show feedback on our new set, and to play for those who would like to see it but can't make it to PiCon, we'll be doing a run-through of our PiCon set on Sunday, 8/21 at BCOS. We haven't set an official time, but I'm thinking some time in the mid afternoon, like 4pm or so.

I'll post the exact time when we have it. For now, mark your calendars if you're interested! The set will be about evenly split between new songs and new takes on older material.

If you plan on attending, I'd appreciate a reply so we know about how many to make room for.
For those who missed previous announcements, there will be a concert and going away party for Susan at BCOS (priv msg me if you don't know where that is) this Saturday starting at 7pm. The concert will feature short sets by some of Susan's musical friends, including Sassafrass, and the final performance of Stranger Ways with Susan and Jesse as regular members. The sets will include some new songs as well as the joint "StrangerFrass" songs from the Arisia show. After that, the party will continue until people go home (crash space can probably be arranged if it's really needed-- ping me if that's the case).
I had a really fantastic Arisia this year for a number of reasons. Maybe it's something about the Winter, or maybe it's just what happens when you put almost everyone I know on the east coast in one place for a weekend every year, but every Arisia, good or bad, seems to encompass the milestones of that year for me, and looking back on them shows me how much things change and how much my life has changed each year.

My first Arisia was my first live performance with Second Shift, on a double bill with this other audio theater group of whom I'd never heard, called the Post Meridian Radio Players.

I attended my second Arisia with Sequoia and [ profile] rigel, both of whom I was involved with at the time. I handled some things badly, and in a way it marked a turning point in both relationships.

I started my third Arisia in an awkward quasi-dating state with [ profile] juldea, and left it officially dating her.

By my fourth Arisia, [ profile] juldea and I had broken up, but I wasn't over it yet. It was also the first and only con where I didn't do any performing (which I've found has a huge effect on how much I get out of a con experience), and I got a cold Saturday night to boot. Needless to say, this was not my favorite time 'round, but even then I met both [ profile] sandrylene (IRL, at least) and [ profile] fontia, and I'm glad for that.

This year was distinct because not only did I do more performing and paneling than in previous years, but I was also in the most stable place socially/romantically I'd been in for any Arisias past. My romantic situation definitely deserves its own post sometime, but suffice it to say for now that not only am I very happily involved with two lovely people, I even got to perform with both of them over the course of the weekend. This among a number of other factors contributed to just about the perfect way to get 2011 started.

Some highlights:

The Starship of Madness
Friday night I did monster voices for the PMRP Doctor Who/HP Lovecraft crossover show, "The Starship of Madness", which was very well received. I hadn't expected it to be badly received, but people really liked it (apparently we even got a nice writeup in the Boston Phoenix). As [ profile] preraphaelite and I walked the halls afterward, we each got recognized and complemented several times. This was understandable for her, because she made an awesome sexy villain, but all I did was say things like "get them!" and "flee! flee for healing!" in a funny voice, and yet people still seemed to dig it, so yay! [ profile] read_alicia will be happy to know there were also inquiries after the author of the script. We referred them to the Mask of Inanna site. :)

Sassafrass/Stranger Ways: Dark, Nerdy, Norse, A Capella, Folk Concert Extravaganza!
On Saturday afternoon Stranger Ways and Sassafrass had a joint concert that was a joy to take part in. I'll let y'all in on a little secret: up until then I didn't really think of Stranger Ways as a band. We were just some friends who played music in my basement and were presumptuous enough to record an album to release at our second show ever. But once we were up there, jazzing off the energy of the people in the audience, and realizing that they were actually into us... it was great. I think some of the live versions of our songs are actually significantly better than the recorded versions, plus we ended up making back everything we spent on producing the album, and between the two groups we were approached by representatives of three other cons who all wanted us to perform there! I remember during one song, a sing-along where this room full of a couple hundred people were all singing with us...I started to get all choked up. It was just beautiful, and my thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.

For those who couldn't make it, we have video of most of the songs by both bands, in concert order, up on a youtube playlist here. Please check it out and share! I'm really pleased with the whole thing, but here are a few of my favorites:

- Our opener, Boys of Bedlam
- Our funniest/cutest song, Week Exchange
- A cover of one of my favorite Tripod songs, I Will Still Play (thanks to [ profile] rubicantoto for turning me on to them!). Getting to perform this song was huge for me!
- Our big sing-along closer for the first set, Fhear A Bhata
- Sassafrass' song about the runic alphabet, in which I am comically tall, The Futhark Song
- My favorite Sassafrass song Somebody Will. I love the lyrics and sentiment of this song dearly, and didn't get to join in on the sing-along parts because I was too busy crying in the corner. I remember hearing it for the first time at a Sassafrass concert I went to with [ profile] juldea... and now that's her singing it as a member of the group. Awesome. :)
- Finally, our big joint group closing number, Toys for Big Kids, in which [ profile] faerieboots gets her mad science on!

Story Improv!
As if that wasn't enough, I then ran a panel, and not just any panel, the Story Improv panel! This is an event where four writers take turns writing a story based on prompts from the audience. I was the emcee, which means I was in charge of coming up with prompts to solicit from the audience and giving those prompts to one writer while interviewing the other three to keep the audience entertained. To be honest, I was really, really nervous because I'd spent so much time prepping for PMRP and Stranger Ways that I really hadn't spent much time getting ready for this, and was madly reviewing a recording of a similar panel to remember how the format went just hours before the event.

It went pretty fantastically. There is a thing about myself that I keep forgetting: if you put me in front of a responsive audience and just tell me to start talking, I can generally do it. Hopefully that lesson will stick one of these days. Anyway, there's a transcript and an mp3 up here. The recording is about an hour long, but I'm really happy with how it turned out, and it's a lot more fun than just reading the story. ;)

2010: Our Hideous Future
I continue to be amazed by the creativity and talent in the community out here. Case in point: have I mentioned that some friends of mine wrote and produced a full-length musical in their spare time? Seriously, how cool is that? It's a really fun show, and the brand new soundtrack is currently on sale super cheap at Amazon.
If you're looking for something to sample, I recommend tracks 7 and 12, which are both good songs for different reasons and both show off Kamela Dolinova's great voice, as well as #21 in which [ profile] lediva makes an awesome singing, world-dominating computer, and #23, which sums up the show's sense of humor pretty well.

Everything else
There were just too many other things, too many little moments, to list them all. From conversations with people I don't see often, to reminiscing and joking with people about things that had been sources of great tension between us at the time, to a big, Saturday night cuddle-pile that segued straight into the con's big dance party.

All in all, it was a pretty fantastic weekend. I just hope that the rest of 2011 can keep up.
The Mountain Goats do it low-tech, yo. And daaaaaamn.

And to think there are days when I think I'm a creative person... O.o

(via [ profile] faerieboots)
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. If Green Day wrote a musical about Andrew Jackson, this is what it would sound like. Whether or not Green Day writing a musical about Andrew Jackson is a good thing is left as an exercise to the reader, but I've been kinda digging the soundtrack, and have had various songs from the show stuck in my head since discovering it.

Field trip? :)
Ever see one of those things that makes you just never want to bother trying to do something ever again?

Note that the dude is accompanying himself with a tambourine and another drum, played with his feet,, in a setup of his own devising, and doing a really odd combination of rhythms to boot. Damn. Some people are just intimidatingly impressive. Favorite quote from their bio: "Liron learned how to throat sing from his friend Nezih, who figured out how to do it himself while he was on mushrooms.".

Also, they used to be a married couple. They broke up, but the band didn't. That there's some dedication, for serious.
So, my brother grew this zucchini in his garden...

It was pretty darn big.

I was fidgeting with it and realized that because it is thicker on one end, it actually produces distinct sounds on each end if you strike it like a drum, and it was big enough to actually have a pretty nice resonance. I began to first absent-mindedly, and then more thoughtfully, tap-tap-tap upon it.

I became... fascinated.

Family members commented. It was suggested that I had spent more time with the zucchini than with my infant neice. This was of course a scandalous lie, and yet it is true that the sounds of this oblong green bongo were developing for me a strange allure. While the family was all gathered in the living room chatting, I tried and failed to be discreet in gathering up the zucchini and my backpack, in which I carry my recording equipment, and wordlessly, perhaps worryingly, disappeared into the bathroom for about ten minutes.

Fortunately my family is far too polite to comment upon, let alone inquire after, such things. Then again, perhaps having left what I was doing in there up to peoples' imaginations was not the best plan. In any case, I digress.

Having not-so-secreted myself away, I sat down, broke out the recording gear and started banging away. The results are better than I'd expected, so without further ado, I give you...

ZUCCHINI DRUM! (initial field recordings)

(after showing him this, my friend Victor introduced me to The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. Perhaps I've found my calling...)
On Thursday I plan on seeing Electric Six (of "High Voltage!", and "Gay Bar!" fame) play at the Middle East. It promises to be a wacky good time.

Tix are $12 (EDIT: $16 with tricksy $4 service charge). Anyone else going?
I'm hoping to do some catchup posts today, as there are a bunch of random little things I've been meaning to post for ages. I'll try and at least group them into rough categories. First up, music!

Funeral Song
To start with, I've been meaning to post this one for a while now. There's a song I've been listening to a lot lately, and it really resonates with me; yet another example of the kind of song that takes a bleak, almost nihilistic view of life, and deals by saying "screw it, I'm gonna dance anyway", which I've come to love. I think that if I ever die (yeah that's right, I said "if"), it's the kind of song I'd like to have played at my funeral. It's called I Will Still Play, from the soundtrack to Tripod Vs The Dragon. Bonus points for getting Jason Webley or the guys from Tripod to perform it.

The Dark Elf of Metal
Speaking of death, I really regret that I didn't take a serious listen to Ronnie James Dio's music before he died. I mean, he'd been a legend for almost as long as I'd been alive, so I had respect for the man, but I also took him for granted. He was one of those guys who just looked so hardcore that the idea of him actually being mortal didn't really compute. Apparently there's an FB group called "I refuse to believe that Dio died of stomach cancer. He totally died fighting a dragon". Right on. Anyway, a few years back, Rhino records released a Stand Up and Shout, a two-disk anthology of his stuff from Black Sabbath and Dio. It's the main thing I've been listening to for the past couple of weeks, and I have only grown more fond of it.

Songs for Swinging Lovers
And now to segue from death to people who are just being really, really cynical. I've talked before about one of my favorite groups of recent years, The Indelicates. They recently released their second album, Songs for Swinging Lovers, which is remarkable for two reasons. First, it's damn good, and hearing a sophomore album by a group one likes that actually holds up to their first one is a nice thing indeed. Second, it's released on their new website Corporate Records, which is, basically, an anti-label. Similar to sites like Magnatune, artists sign with them as a digital distributor. Listeners pay what they want for an album, and profits are split 80/20 between the artist and the label. From the looks of it, anyone can sign with them, and artists retain lots of control, like the ability to remove their stuff from the site at-will. So if you produce music and are looking for a place to sell it, check it out.

Shameless self-pimpage
Several weeks back, MIT's Music Theater Guild (the people who put on the production of Evil Dead: The Musical that I was in) had an annual event called Selection, where they decide which shows to do in coming seasons. This is done by way of people who would like to see a given show go up performing songs from it as a sort of pitch. I heard that someone was interested in doing Jeckyll and Hyde, and volunteered to perform Confrontation, which is one of my favorite songs to perform. For those un-familiar with it, the song is basically Jeckyll and Hyde fighting for control of the body, which means you have a musical argument with yourself in two different voices. In other words, voice actors who also sing can have a blast with this. Anyway, I recorded it, and while the recording's a bit rough, I'm pretty damn proud of the performance. One of these days (maybe even soon), I want to do some actual home-studio recordings of songs like this, but this will have to do for now. There are a couple of stumbles with the accompaniment, but the pianist was sight-reading the song for the first time, so major props to him.
This is my first mostly-day-off in... damn, a really long time. Closing night of EDTM tonight, and hopefully will get some progress made on the workwork project on which I remain behind, but other than that, today has been spent either running low-stress errands (yay sunny day and things within walking distance!!) or sitting in bed with tea and goodfoods, trying to recover from the cast party. MIT's musical theater guild has some... ill-advised traditions, IMO, not least of which being having the cast party the night before closing. There's a rationale for doing it that way, but suffice it to say I am achey, grossly underslept, and, as Henry Rollins once put it, "my body feels like Billy Idol himself". I have no idea what that actually means, and yet it seems to capture what I feel like right now nonetheless. Still, just one more show. If can just baby my voice enough today to pull off one more non-sucky performance this evening, I will go out with a bang and all will be well.

In other news, I owe [ profile] redfishie big time for introducing me to Raquy and The Cavemen. I can't decide whether listening to them makes me want to pick up my doumbek and play more, or never bother touching it ever again. Seriously, if this track in particular blows my mind. MUST. SEE. THIS. LIVE. I will dance until I break, and then I will die happy.

In other other news, I have officially run out of space for both clothes and costuming in my closet, which raises a serious question: where am I gonna put all my clothes now?



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