Music, Shameless self indulgence

Four good emusic finds

Your Monkey has been an emusic member for about six months now, and he’s had fun hunting through the stacks and stacks of music in search of diamonds in the rough.

For those of you who don’t know, emusic is an music subscription service where you get a set number of downloads per month depending on what plan you have. This monkey is on the 37 per month plan.

You pay less per song than you do on itunes, but the catch is that most of the popular music you’d want to download from itunes won’t be there.

In other words, you won’t find any Lady Gaga, Kayne West, Katy Perry or Jonas Brothers on the emusic site.

But you can find some Jimi Hendrix on there, as well as some Van Morrison, some Bob Dylan and some Simon and Garfunkle.

Oh yeah, and lots and lots of indie music, from the relatively well known (the National & My Morning Jacket) to bands you’ve never heard of (and probably should never hear of).

But if you are persistent in your searching, and willing to gamble with your downloads, you can often find good songs/artists in unexpected places.

So here goes my list so far.

1. Eilen Jewell: It seems somewhat odd that this singer-songwriter is currently based out of Boston, since her music has a country swing that is more suited to Nashville or Texas. What is best about Jewel is that she manages to blend country influences with a slightly sultry, film-noirish vibe. Check out “Sweet Rose” and “Codeine Arms.” Find her website here.

2. Dead Heart Bloom: Don’t know much about this band but decided to take a flyer on them when they came up  as an emusic suggestion and really liked what they sound like. Apparently it is a one-man project by Boris Slasky, a former member of a band called Phaser. Check out “Who Will You Love” and “Chelsea Song #2.” Also, this band is currently giving away loads of music for free on its website, which you can find here.

3. The Assemble Head in Starburst Sound: As the name suggests, this is a groovily psychedelic band that manages to be both spaced-out and drenched in sun. It’s as if someone gave the Silver Surfer a guitar and an effects pedal, and sat him in front of a classic rock radio station for 20 years. Check out the smooth waves of guitar on “A Bourbon for Rudy.” Find the band’s website here.

4. Scanners: This English band brings some much needed visceral intensity to your Monkey’s music library. They are a little bit rock, a little bit electro-pop, and a little bit industrial. Check out “Violence is Golden.” The band’s myspace site is here.

Here’s Eilen Jewell doing a cover song:

Movies, Shameless self indulgence

The Grumpiest Monkey Trips Out on Altered States

This being the second in a series of movie reviews your humble Monkey is posting now that he has a little spare time to catch up on his netflix queue. There is no rhyme or reason to the series, just some stuff that he has always wanted to check out.

“Altered States” (1980)
Directed by Ken Russell
Starring William Hurt, Blair Brown, and a couple of bearded scientists

Altered States first piqued your Monkey’s interest for two reasons.

One, this 1980 film is based on a novel by the esteemed Paddy Chayefsky, the screenwriter behind such master works as the 1950’s film “Marty” (about a lovable sad sap who finally finds love) and the 1970’s classic “Network”.

Two, it involves hallucinatory drugs, isolation tanks, genetic regression, and other psychedelic issues that regular readers of this blog (of which there are none) will surely recognize as key interests.

Altered States tells the story of Edward Jessup, a brilliant, driven scientist (played by Hurt) who starts to experience strange sensations and hallucinations while experimenting with an isolation tank in his lab.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, an isolation tank is basically a large (sinister looking) black box that is filled with a small amount of heavily salted water. The subject shuts himself in the darkened tank and floats on the naturally buoyant salt water.

Floating in the dark, silent tank deprives the mind of physical sensations and thus the mind turns inward on itself. Many of those who have tried isolation tanks have reported hallucinations and strong psychedelic experiences. See your Monkey’s previous post on the isolation tank tripping done by Joe Rogan here.

Plus the film raises some interesting theoretical questions:

  • What if it is possible to see heaven and hell just by turning inward on ourselves?
  • What if there is some primitive brain that exists deep within our own brain that holds all the mysteries of millions of years of evolution?
  • What if it were possible to climb inside our nightmares simply by removing all other outside stimulus?

Heady questions, for sure. So given that Altered States seems to have been genetically engineered in a movie lab purely for your curious Monkey, does it work?

Umm. Not so much. It’s not really a bad viewing experience, but as a complete film that is supposed to tell a story it is pretty much a mess.

We’re not talking about nonsense in the context of far out ideas and trippy pre-cgi visuals, we’re talking about nonsense in the form bad editing, missing scenes and sloppy storytelling.

Does the movie take place in New York, Boston, or San Francisco? If it is Boston, how come it doesn’t look like Boston?

Also, how much time elapses between scenes?  A couple goes from agreeing to get married to having several kids to getting divorced to somehow being back together again, and none of us are sure why.

And how about these secondary characters? Who is the scientist that accompanies Jessup to South America? Who is the doctor who insists on yelling incomprehensibly in his thick Southern accent during the tests in the tank? Who is the woman that Jessup is sleeping with in the second half of the film?

Also, what exactly is Jessup the scientist up to in his lab? Other than knowing that he likes to track down and ingest weird native drugs and spend an unhealthy amount of time in an isolation tank, we’re not quite sure what Jessup wants to get out of all this mind surfing. Is it inner peace? Scientific glory? Something else?

If you’re looking for something that is mildly entertaining, happen to be nostalgic for the early 1980s science fiction, or just plain curious about the idea of isolation tanks, this movie might be worth exploring.

But for the curious film fan hoping that a science fiction tale that will challenge us and make us question our vision of reality or the ethics of scientific research, this one falls far short.

Oh well. Looks like your Monkey will pop back into his isolation tank and watch the movies in his mind’s eye until it’s time for another Netflix screening.

Here’s the trailer for Altered States. You’ll see what I mean. You just want it to be good. But alas:

Music, Podcasts, Shameless self indulgence

Random Thoughts

In an effort to keep this blog going during a period of low creative inspiration, your Monkey will now attempt to type a catch-all report of some thoughts from the past week.

  1. KEXP Live Performance Podcasts are perfectly timed at about a 1/2 an hour each. There was a time when your Monkey was greedy for more and larger podcasts, but lately he has been finding it hard to listen to two hours worth of anything. The NPR All Songs Considered Live Concert podcasts, for all the great artists that are featured, sometime seem a little too long for this Monkey’s tastes. As far as KEXP goes, the last two weeks of live performance podcasts have featured English duo The Kills (doing an acoustic set) and English electro-folkie James Yuill. Both are worth checking out. Here is a link to the KEXP live performance podcast.
  2. George Orwell’s 1984 was written under bleak circumstances that fit the book’s pessimistic world view. Few “required reading” books from high school left as strong an impression as Orwell’s 1984. This excellently written piece in the UK Guardian explains the struggle that Orwell (nee Eric Blair) went through to birth this book.
  3. You can tell Neil Gaiman is a hugely talented writer just by reading his blog posts. Whether he is reminiscing fondly about his kids or talking about a quiet evening with a friend, Gaiman turns descriptions of everyday events into marvelously written prose. Highly recommended reading. Here’s a link to the blog
  4. People who run secondhand shops are usually odds and ends themselves. This is the kind of whimsical observational musing that you will find on my new radio show, Lake Grump-be-gon Tales, in which I play the slightly curmudgeonly Monkey editor of a local newspaper in small town Minnesota.
  5. The Mermen play excellent psyche-surf rock. This San Francisco band has an excellent mellow sound. Here is a video that is fittingly shot in an aquarium.
Shameless self indulgence, Work, Writing

5 Things I Learned This Week

Having lagged a bit in his blog postings over the past 7 days or so, your Monkey feels inclined to provide some updates on the growing and changing he has done since his last post.

1.White hot rage is like a super power. Have you ever been truly deeply and sincerely mad about something? So mad that you burn white hot heat and your body shakes for hours on end? It’s not recommended, but it does give you a certain feeling of empowerment that you might otherwise lack. No one is going to push you around when you get that mad.

2. Emusic reviews are to be taken with a grain of salt. Sure emusic editor Tim Chester may give a glowing review to an neo psychedelic album by the Residual Echoes. And sure this same review might prompt your psychedelic music-hungry Grumpy Monkey to make an impulse purchase. But that doesn’t mean that the album is any good. The Residual Echoes make music that can best be described as an incomprehensible mess. Shame on this Monkey for not doing the research before clicking “buy.”

3. Facebook grows old fast. Oh yes, my doubting friends. After years of being a conscientious objector, your Monkey finally took the plunge and set up a facebook account, maybe because all of his baby-having friends insisted on posting their newborn photos on their facebook sites. At first, your Monkey was oddly touched by the cute little news updates from friends and seeing who was watching what on Netflix and who ordered food from what restaurant and what everyone did over the weekend. But now the thrill is fading. Perhaps we would be better served spending our Facebook time doing something  more productive. We could be volunteering for a charities, cleaning our rooms, or searching WordPress for clever blogs written by pretend Monkeys.

4. The Great Lake Swimmers truly are great. Two weeks ago your Monkey affectionately wrote about the band’s latest single, Pulling on a Line. See that post here. But many bands have one great single and not much else. Turns out the Great Lake Singers are really onto something. This band delivers beautiful, shimmering melodies that are matched with smart lyrics. The music is soft and gentle without trending towards dull (I’m looking in your direction, Iron & Wine).

Some other great Great Lake Swimmers songs include:

  • Still
  • Palmistry
  • Your Rocky Spine
  • Backstage With the Modern Dancer

5. Careerbuilder is a den of deception. The company with the clever commercials featuring monkeys like yours truly has a site with more bad come-on deals than a late night infomercial. When you set up your account, every page that you’re asked to add work information to has a tricky-looking opt-in field that appears to be part of process, but is actually seeking your permission to be contacted by phone by a shady online correspondence school.

And let’s not forget that the first five emails your Monkey received about potential “jobs” through this site made Nigerian email phishing scams seem plausible by comparison.

Careerbuilder: Clever ads but a bad user experience…

Great Lake Swimmers: As smooth and refreshing as a dip in Lake Michigan.


Today’s Psychedelic Music Interlude is Interrupted by Heavy Petting

Today’s Psychedelic Music Interlude comes to us from the Athens, GA-based band Dead Confederate.

This band is not that far out there on the weirdness scale, but they are excellent musicians who create a psychedelic experience through the sheer force of their music.

We’re talking heavy guitar riffs, powerful drum rolls, and slowly building songs that peak with an overwhelming wall of sound.

The Wikipedia entry for this band describes their sound as a mix of Nirvana and My Morning Jacket, but that’s not quite right.

It’s perhaps more appropriate that one of Dead Confederate’s first MySpace friends is your Monkey’s best beloved neo-psychedelic band The Black Angels.

If My Morning Jacket had a one night stand with the Black Angels, their (courtney) love child might rightly be Dead Confederate.

Dead Confederate released an album last year called Wrecking Ball. Your Monkey suspects very strongly that they put on an excellent live show, but he has not yet had the chance to track them down.

How about another show in Boston sometime?

Here is a link to their myspace site.


Yesterday’s Psychedelic Music Interlude Will Be Posted Today

Who needs to worry about the rules of the space-time continuum when you’ve got some good old fashioned psychedelic freak out music to enjoy?

Certainly not this Monkey, who has been enjoying the recent spate of bands that have been employing classic Beach Boys-style harmonies in new and unusual ways.

One of the best of these groups is The Besnard Lakes, who have crafted an entrancing album that manages to be smooth & melodic one moment and dark & unsettling the next.

The album is called The Besnard Lakes are The Dark Horse. The track is called Devastation.

The label is Jagjaguwar, which is putting out some of the best music in the business right now (Bon Iver, Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, Parts and Labor). Link to the label is here.

I would send you to the individual band site, but it’s a bit of a mess at the moment.

The video for Devastation is a wild animated ride featuring a dark horse and  a hairy monster. It reminds this monkey of a low budget Saturday morning cartoon. Or the background art of an original Scooby Doo episode.


And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for today’s psychedelic music interlude, which is now a day late.


Today’s Psychedelic Music Interlude

Today’s psychedelic music interlude comes from Serpentina Satelite, a Peruvian-based (self-described) religious/experimental/psychedelic rock outfit who are frequently featured on the Psychedelic Velveeta Podcast.

Your Monkey recently reconnected with this podcast after some downloading issues with the iTunes store were apparently fixed. It’s a great show and well worth a listen. Here is a link to the show’s MySpace page.

Anyway, the Serpentina Satelite myspace page describes their sound as an oscillating mix of violence, calmness, and ecstasy. Your Monkey would say that the band offers an intriguing blend of spacey psychedelia and dark, droning, ominous soundscapes that make the bottom of your brain stem tingle.

Here is a mind blowing live clip that definitely trends towards the darker and heavier side.