Monthly Archives: September 2011

Me Vs. Death Bar, Round 2

OK, it’s that time again where I get my serious writing on. I’m already working on a few things already but I’m not going to count those words – or edits/translations of old stuff – because that’s cheating. And I only cheat at Monopoly, or on final exams.

Anyway, The new deadline will be All Hallow’s Eve, so starting tonight, that gives me a month to write:

OK, let’s get there.

Music Overdose – Atari Teenage Riot to St. Vincent

Atari Teenage Riot – Is this Hyperreal?
Most reviewers criticized this album for having a dated political screed and a lack of change in their sound but honestly it doesn’t matter. A great comparison of this album is The Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die. The band always kept true to their sound, with a couple of stumbles with Always Outnumber Never Outgunned aside. They came back out guns blazing, which wont to do for groups like The Prodigy and ATR. “Activate” opens the album with an upgrade to their electropunk sound, but only slightly. Adding CX Kidtronik to the band brought anew kick into the system, and as far as his opening statement on racism and Barack Obama on “Re-Arrange Your Synapes”. Other songs of note are “Black Flags” and “Digital Decay”.

Das Racist – Relax
I don’t even…just get on this. Heems and Kool A.D. are insane on the wordplay ( and that’s not to say anything of El-P’s bars on Shut Up, Man) and their references make Childish Gambino sound like a punk (sorry Donald, stick to funny). Oh, and “Punjabji Song’ is reminiscent of Punjabi MC on Jay-Z’s “Beware the Boys” but this song puts a flag on that then drops 16 weed-filled deuces on it.

DJ Shadow – The Less You Know
OK, I have to finally admit one of my greatest sins: Up until recently, I’ve never had a good pair of headphones. I’ve always rocked the cheap Sony wrap-around blue sports one – it was the only one that’d survive my clumsiness – and now that I have these massive Skullcandy ones with the ultra bass, I’ve heard songs in completely new ways. I’m still not a snooty audiophile (I’m too lazy to convert to lossless formats) but…oh, the drums..the drums on a Shadow song on them.

Truth be told, The Outsider sucked. Only Phonte on “Backstage Girl” and “Artifact” saved that album for me. But from track one on The Less You Know… Shadow established that his scratching is back. The follow-up song”Border Crossing” sound like a poorly made 90s action movie version of “Artifact” (actually, check out “HYPERPOWER” from NIN’s Year Zero if you want a better version of this song). The “Stay the Course” team-up of Posdnuos and Talib Kweli is pretty solid; Kweli especially got to me seeing as he’s been off my audio radar for a minute. It’s amusing that  Shadow dropped an emphasis on the lull in the next three songs by putting up a song titled “Tedium”. The slowed down vocals and acoustic guitar on “Enemy Lines” gives the album an Entroducing pick-me-up before the break beats of “Going Nowhere” rolls in. that, along with “Run for Your Life” should get any Shadow fan at attention. Sadly, on “Scale It Back” Yukimi Nagano does her first lackluster performance on a song she’s featured on.

Now, let’s get to the singles. “Def Surrounds Us” renewed my faith in Shadow with his effective use of vocal samples, pounding drum beats, a sprinkle of hyphy and dubstep, and pianos and apocalyptic choir singing. “I’ve Been Trying” was in the first lull I mentioned, so I didn’t realize it was a single. Oh, back  the topic of new headphones: listen to the other single “I Gotta Rokk” on them. Trust me on this.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
It’ s a little late to review this album without looking like a punk against ones like the fake Ghostface’s review. Instead, I’m just concentrating on the singers. First off, Frank Ocean dominates on his two songs; even if “Made in America” was one of the lesser cuts on WtH, he still delivers on it (and don’t get me started on his hook on my new banger “No Church in the Wild”). Truth be told, the only other ones of note is Elly Jackson of La Roux on “That’s My Bitch” and The-Dream on “No Church…”; I didn’t know that the unintelligible bridge on the “That’s My Bitch” was Bon Iver, nor did I really care. As for Beyonce on “Lift Off’, the song was pretty bad on its own, and she didn’t really help to bring it back. Mr. Hudson’s voice on “Why I Love You” reminds me of how the last time he brought something good to an album is still 808s & Heartbreaks. Oh, and Swizz Beatz needs to stop putting his “talking while straining through a bowel movement” voice all over a track.

Kasabian – Velociraptor!
Halfway through, I stopped listening it and went back to West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

Ladytron – Gravity the Seducer
It’s interesting to see the career trajectory of these electro-Liverpudlians, not just in their sound but in their whole look. The aesthetic in their music videos and photos from each album mirrors the songs of the album attached to them. In this album’s case, there is this a baroque, upper-class sound far different from the utilitarian beats in 604 or the cold grinding pulses from Witching Hour. There are some glimpses of Velocifero in “Melting Ice”. Songs like “Altitude Blues” and “White Gold” reinforce an 80s sci-fi soundtrack vibe (even the album art is reminiscent of the opening scene from Blade Runner). One of the biggest issues with the album is that there are too many songs that sound alike; “Ace of Hz”, “Mirage”, and “Aces High (which is just a boring instrumental of “Ace of Hz”) are the culprits of this. Overall, this is not as good as album as the previous one.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
It took one song from her Actor  album to really make me into a stan for Ms. Annie Clark (go listen to “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood. The title is deceiving.). “Cruel” lets her gets it starting with her great vocals (it kind of reminded me of Feist) on the end of her verses. Then she reminds you “Oh yeah, I still got the grind” on “Cheerleader”. The eponymous track has an 80s synth thing going on until it hits you with her guitar/vocal one-two punch. The album fades out a bit until “Hysterical Strength” which reclaimed my attention with its driving drums and piano.

Keep

Watch the Throne is already in my library – hearing Kanye beat out Jay-Z on this (I think that’s intentional, but on the other hand, Jay’s skills are waning) is good enough to make it a keeper. DJ Shadow and St. Vincent stay as well. I can’t say no to Shadow’s masterful sampling/mixing and Annie Clark’s singing/rocking.

Second Listen

Ladytron might grow on me like Velocifero did. We’ll see.

Toss

ATR and Kasabian

Down by the Golden Gate, Pt III

I was originally going to put a whole article on this, but I’ll keep it to notes on this one:

There were artists making these murals throughout the campgrounds all weekend. This was my favorite.

Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

The Decemberists

Arcade Fire

Bay Area Sendoff – Favorite Photos Part I

I’m leaving the Bay Area after two years and 2 months of  meeting great people  and seeing amazing things from all over the area. Here’s some photos of the “seeing” part first:

Somewhere between Monterey and Hearst Castle

Looks like a church, but it's actually the front exterior of Hearst Castle

More Monterey Coast. I normally don't take nature shots, but the coast is too damn good to pass up.

Pagoda in Japanese Tea Garden

Apple I computer, part of the collection at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View

Rocky Coast from the 13 Mile Drive

Metal Frame Bird, Makers Faire 2011

Insert Disney's UP reference here

Metal Trilobite, Makers Faire 2011

Lombard Street

This old Coke fridge's location? The Alcatraz warden break room.

“I’ll Call You Back, I Think I Heard a Bomb”

That’s what my uncle Marco said to my mother the morning of September 11th, 2001. Marco works for the Port Authority of NY and NJ, whose headquarters were in the World Trade Center. He was there for the 1993 bombing as well. He was calling my mom to check if they were still going to meet up at Windows on the World to get some lunch.

He hung up, and in a moment of panic and fear that her brother wouldn’t make it, she called the last person I ever thought she would: her mother. The relationship between the two was a tense one at best. When we moved out of Newark in 1995, my mother stopped all contact with her. I’d sometimes go and visit my abuela to help clean up the house, but there was no mentioning of my mother when I would sit down at night and watch TV with her. That’s six years of silence broken by the sound of a 767 smashing into the Twin Towers. For me, that encapsulates the true power of that day.

Marco made it out alive with no injuries, but one of  his coworkers, Pete Negron, did not. I never met him, but my mother had, so she had my sister print out a photo of him holding his baby son. It’s still there, next to all the other family photos on the end table in the living room. When the anniversary comes around I wonder how he’s  doing. I’m wondering how the kids who lost a parent on that day are doing today.

[ Update: I just found out that he had two sons.One was 2 years old and his older brother Pete was 11 when their father died. He spoke about his father at a speech commemorating those that died ten years ago, you can see it here.]

I remember where I was that day, but the image of my mom on the phone and my uncle running past the horror of injured people in the stairwells are the only ones that have stuck in my head. I’m trying my best not to make this a patriotic message, too many horrible things have happened since to go down that path. What I’ll keep my mind on today is family. I hope you are as well.

The Cram Issue 2 Postmortem

On August 31st, the Cram Magazine Issue 2 Print project Cindy and I put up on Kickstarter in late July was fully funded at 110%, or 5 1,735 dollars from a 1,575 goal. Those 38 days were (at least for me) a tumultuous mix of nerve-wracking, enlightening, scary, and euphoric moments. I’ve put up the time line for funding below so that you can see the breakdown (click on it to enlarge)

 July 22- July 25: The funding kicked off  with 8 backers, most of them contributors of issue 1 with excluding two unrelated backers (one was a regular Kickstarter fairy giving us 15 dollars, while the other led to the second-most interesting part of the drive which I will get to later). The highest amount pledge was for 100 dollars from Toph Puglia ( he wrote the Top 5 Guilty Pleasure Movies a while back). Big daddy fat stacks wouldn’t be the only one dropping big pledges like that  during the drive.

July 26 – August 4: The inflow of money slowed down during this period. The backers consisted of friends and earlier coworkers of mine (big ups to JP Castillo and Lily Rosenman from PowerReviews, Inc. I’m gonna miss you guys) and my good friend and photographer Michelle Lauren. The largest pledge was 100 dollars yet again, this time from Cindy’s family.

August 5 – August 10: This was the most worrisome part of the drive for me. the inflow plateaued at $508. I ramped up my Twitter and Facebook ( along with some on Google + and Tumblr) posts out of fear that we would be stuck at 25%. In that period I made 50 posts, 35 from tweets and 15 from posts on the event page I created on FB. Nothing changed.

I started flashing back to Malcolm Gladwell’s article on the illusion of social media as the lynchpin of new activist movements . I know that comparing a magazine funding drive to something as  high-stakes as a revolution is foolish at best and narcissistic at worse, but the idea of weak community ties diluted from an expanding number of  online friends or followers made me fear that my campaign was filled with fraught little social connections that would produce buzz but not pledges. The one thing I did take away from the article was in the need to make a central team of sorts to push things forward. I started personally emailing or messaging people to help instead of posting status messages, not only to convince them to pledge but to convince others to. Despite that there wasn’t much improvement.

August 11 – August 16: …until an incredibly generous donation from a family member of Cram cohort Phil “Advocate of Truth” Schmitte made a 200 dollar pledge! Phil is the strongest proponent of the magazine since day one (or maybe three, but that’s just getting into unnecessary details) and with his help started a steady incline from that point forward, reaching to a 56% funded status (compared to the 32% it was stuck at) for the rest of this period. 9 backers pledged, the largest one for 200 dollars.

August 17 – August 24: Another moment of punctuated funding occurred with a large pledge, but this was an interesting one. The backer originally pledged for 30 dollars back in when the drive started, but adjusted the number to 100 in the next period. Another adjustment was made, this time for 200 dollars The backer was most likely trying to match the highest bidder as they came along. Regardless, this pledge  still wasn’t the largest one during the course of the fund drive.

August 25: Cindy sent a text saying “We are funded.” I rushed to my computer ( by which meant that I swiveled my chair from my laptop sitting on the edge of my bed to my desktop right next to me) and saw that on the project home page an anonymous backer pledged two hundred and fifty four dollars. We were now  100% funded; the generosity of the 35 backers up until then would not be in vain. I blasted posts from my personal Facebook account, the Cram FB page, and the Cram Twitter asking who was the mysterious donor. I asked Gwen if it was her, which she denied. I asked my friends back home. I almost asked my coworkers, thinking that they were giving me a going away present seeing as I was leaving the company soon, but I doubted that was the case. Cindy told me that at first anonymous backer pledge 360 dollars, but then adjusted it back to just enough to get the funding. I wonder why the anonymous backer made that$1o6 drop, not that I’m complaining about it.  My questions will eventually be answered when we ship the requested copy of the magazine, but I still have moments where I want to interrogate people Jack Bauer style until they tell me where the money came from.

August 26 – 31: The subsequent six backers added an additional 151 dollars. They consisted of family members and one from Sense Nassy, whose poem “BAD CREDIT” will appear in issue 2. Here’s the list of all the people contributing to issue 2 were backers:

Jason Williams

Jacqueline Rainieri

Elise Webb

Timothy Swann

So, at the end it took the generosity and straight up awesomeness of 42 backers to get Cram Magazine into a new level of operations. We’ll have future fundraisers of course, and what I learned will definitely help in creating and meeting our goals. There’s already buzz from the project (you can see my nasty mug along with photographer JJ Casas on his You Kickstarted Me project). Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to step it up again.

Down By the Golden Gate, Pt. II

The second day of Outside Lands started with a quick listen of Grooveshark playlists filled with the bands playing that day. What stuck out from the wave of dubstep and indie rock was Ana Tijoux whispering the hook, “mil noveciento setenta -“. That missing word is the number siete, completing the first single from her album 1977.A French-Chilean MC,  Tijoux mixes her down tempo voice with golden age of hip-hop beats. However, her performance was more a testament to her rapid-fire delivery in castellano. The aforementioned song sounds like a sped up South American take on Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick” (trumpet player and everything). The crowd (a mix of locals and affluent Latino graduate students) shouted in all sorts of accents.

Another new surprise was electronic/indie pop band Starfucker (which use the name STRFKR on tour). As you can see by the dress and leggings frontman Josh Hodges is rocking the band is one to see live, not just for the semi-transvestite band members, but for a good performance.

The trek through the camp surrounding center stage on day 2 ( The aging hippies now replaced by Black Keys and teenage Muse fans) was not worth it to see Arctic Monkeys. Their stage presence only went as far as the lead’s leather jacket.Luckily, Australian singer/songwriter Sia was delivering a better show on another stage during the Arctic Monkeys set. In between her songs, she would make casual jokes for the crowd. For example, she pointed out one girl sitting on top of someone’s shoulder, and told the crowd the girl wasn’t wear”It’s pretty cold out, huh? she’s got nipples like bullets out.”

The Roots put on a monster set, which is not surprising if anyone has seen the  Illadelph crew live.  ?uestlove was the first to get onstage,   sporting cornrows instead of his signature afro .At their  live shows the star is always “Captain” Kirk Douglas. Between his use of the vocoder on the extended solo he does when performing “You Got Me” and the medley of riffs he plays ( Immigrant Song, Sweet Child of Mine, Bad to the Bone), his part of the set always keeps your eyes fixated on him. Two of the VIP members got on stage, serving as impromptu hypemen surrounding Black Thought as he spit his verses.

As night fell, the glowing spectacle and light show of  Muse concert filled up the San Francisco sky. Besides the usual songs and image combinations, like the robot on-screen accompanying “Supermassive Black Hole”  (I know this because I’ve seen them two times before. It’s about time I call myself a Muse stan), the new images for song from The Resistance are also very interesting. A wall of head shot photos in a style reminiscent of a concentration camp/suspect mug shots filled the screen, zooming out and forming a mosaic of letters that were too hard to make our from the distance but were interesting all the same.

They performed a cover of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”, which I had only heard on a bootleg. Bellamy’s guitar turned the bluesy intro into a space rock grindfest. The set ended with the extended “Stockholm Syndrome” but the penultimate song, “Citizen Erased” was better if only for the Dominic Howard’s booming drums shaking the ground.