Monday, November 20, 2017

Hiding the Heinous - Medicine for Monterey Music Part Two

            Foretold it might as well have been, that I would stir the pot a bit in my attempt at documentary writing, for I would inevitably document something that some would rather have remain undocumented. At my artistic whims, I have found the will to socialize and intermingle with those who I try to document, finding folks like KAE9mm, Yvan, Emma, and Randazzo along the way. They, however received my gratitude in writings previous alongside those who I condemn in this writing. What I say here in writing, afterall, is none but my take on the scene.
            The safety of many locals is affected, however, by the confrontation of grim dangers, in manners positive and negative, for the agitated and/or accused may lash out, or be accused falsely, agitated without reason. However profuse is the sensitive subject matter on which I am trying my hand, myself and all who bare mention or allusion in this post must refrain from uncalculated behavior that might see chaos where instead may we have tact and steady development. Dictated by personal prospects or altruism or both, we would not easily quell volatility by causing it more to quiver, and while the behaviors that a frightening many have either observed, experienced, or endured are a moving lot, their material is overwhelmingly intricate. However valid the consequential emotions, emotion does not support action as well as reason.
              Thus, let us reason most prominently but one of the blights in the Monterey music scene, and society at large. Certainly it is a ubiquitous matter, but let the “alternative” natives here not talk so wistfully of their home and their peers while the matter is neither coped with nor addressed. Pause in the preaching for love, hold your spindling hands from the cascades of astral energy for just a moment. While the world of popular culture erupts still since Hugh Hefner’s vile runes were dispelled - releasing many a celebrity from their binds to old orders that the scrutiny of the attentive public would smite them - we here in Monterey hold talk on Jesse Lacey, John Travolta, Louis CK, and get very wound up about it. Then a self-admitted sociopath and pseudo-Brit-goth punk frontman becomes very popular in the scene. Numerous occasions have been dampened in his presence, be there scuffles and fights or general reports of nasty, belligerent, and malicious behavior. Numerous people have come forth on private and public social media, or to friends and allies, in regards to the manipulative and warped encounters sustained with him, and the malcontent of those encounters. This varies widely within and between every account, from veiled personal attacks and discourtesies, to stark deceit and predatory relations. This is not a demon as many would probably fancy to call him. This is a human like you and I, and a friend to many, a brother and child, a scene-prominent musician, popular by the standards of an immense county with 140,000 citizens. A predator he remains in the eyes of many. This is true even as he almost certainly propagates this vision now in the drowning urban sea of Los Angeles, his visits home ever uncontested.
             I did not see Erik Muñoz this way when first I witnessed his energetic performances, nor when I first convened with him and the bassist for his band, DZR, within East Village to discuss my next post, nor when we subsequently went to the beach and he drove me home in the rain. In this meeting, he told me that he considers himself both an “asshole” and a “shithead,” and that he habitually indulges himself toxic activities. While I had paltry doubt towards this notion, I interpreted it mostly as an attempted artistic edge. I did not see him quite the way many do now when I came across the guy sick as a dog at CT’s house while deceased bands The Shigs and Mental Musk performed. I did not see him this way when he served me my tea on the house at my neighborhood café, and threw in a free slice of apple walnut cake for good measure, and the young barista beside him would wave timidly, establish if at least an inch more of distance. Then he broke up, with his girlfriend, I mean, and with that was broken an egg of conversation among some cliques that shuttered me when it found my ears. I note now that the majority of information myself and my reconnaissance agent, Emma have directly accumulated from friends, affiliates, coworkers, and Erik’s ex-partners, remains undisclosed. What I say here is but a glimpse into two of these cases, until those victimized have reconciled the will to speak more.
            We could start with manipulations of underage girls that a personal friend to Emma and I had first relayed out of her own experience. Jesse Lacey is under fire for a much more advanced case of the same conduct (atop his more lucrative musical career with the band Brand New). While this friend claims that Erik self-admitted to his own sociopathy, it only seems more reflective of what artists across the world have taken advantage: the self-predisposed interpretations of the art and character they create that ensnares the many younger consumers of local musics. There too is a worthy mention of one “Azy” from the local ensemble IOI, who has a history of contacting underage girls with offers of drugs and alcohol and paid motel rooms, his targets including this one of Erik’s, as well as Emma. The premise of this was a photoshoot. The pursuit was, as I read with my own eyes upon a phone screen, warped itself, however, and perhaps warping of those less fortunate who he may prey upon in other cities during IOI’s travels. Erik extended these manipulations to girls through more direct and assertive approaches. According to our friend, he deprecated them, constructed a platform of power that was imagined already as his ego inflated with every minute he spent furthering his psychological inquiries, emotional appeals, and perplexing criticisms - closer they drove him until, at age twenty-three, he successfully and shamelessly bedded a seventeen year old girl. It was only in the proximate days that she learned Erik had indeed not split with his partner of the time, as he claimed in justification of his pursuit.
            While still he asserted the integrity of his relationship, and ridiculed the young lady just described for her feelings of violation, there were others. Emma was once his coworker at a popular peninsula café, where she experienced mostly mild or tolerable sensations of discomfort when they shared a shift. It was instead the aforementioned young barista, already a survivor of severe traumas (as Erik was told before), who was made panicked of impending horror during her shift with Erik. “I thought he was going to kill me,” she says. Take that for thespianism if you like. Any variety of crushing anxiety is best described with death. So it tumbles only more intensely when, after hours and alone, the heavy-set Erik assaults his sixteen-year-old coworker, who stands willowy at just over five feet tall. When he does not need the application of constraint, however, he draws the application of manipulation and tact. Otherwise, it’s a difficult task to be accused frequently of causing observable and unreasonable levels of instability and anxiety in the relationships he contrives.
            Erik Munoz is but one of many in the Monterey counterculture who have exploited and abused the laxity and apparent benevolence of our artistic and often-called “spiritual” community. His case is merely well-reported, and so he is the framework for my message. There are scenes for those intrigued by the eccentric that do not support Erik’s, or Azy’s, or Trevor Lucier’s who send photographs of stretchy ballsacks to his critics. There is the power of exclusivity that we need exercise more, lest the value of inclusivity falter before those who would neglect all the others that were included. There is the power of dialogue that refrains only before a Nazi-face-oriented fist. Dialogue will rarely stop the snake from striking, but you can sure as hell tell your kids how to avoid an encounter, or how to safely contend with and condemn the snakes along the trail, and you can build a cozy house, a hearth, and a studio to keep your people safe. However, for the present we must admit the condition in which many have convicted that our scene now wallows. I leave you with a quote from an endeared friend of mine and once-regarded member of the local counterculture, and why, between Jeremy “Namraja’s” cult and the alley-side antics behind SOMOS, she had left it all behind. “From thriving off the power, to believing they are the power. Their mindset has become deadly, as many overdoses have occurred from older men handing out drugs like candy to minors. It has lost all purpose, only pleasures and highs. The concept of consequences is unreal, because the belief that they are invincible has absorbed them and exposed an inner violence that often manifests in sexual abuses. The path of spirituality, even, is led by the beliefs of a few men… God has been painted as a joke, and the scene has made authentic connection something of the past as peoples agendas corrupt the safety of our community.”

My thanks to those who committed their stories to this post, and to Emma Devere for her help in research and editing. Should you have experienced similar abuses in our scene and are seeking someone to talk it out or kick some proverbial ass, DM Emma's public Instagram @veganbitch.  If you've just got something to say to me, shoot an email to widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.

Remedy in Relations - Medicine for Monterey's Music (Part One)

“You made it!” cries the bard through our Uber driver’s window, his rugged face carpeted in brown wool, his feet bare and an airy button-up clinging to his frame. For what all I had gathered since my emigration to Monterey, never then had I presumed such might greet me unto a local’s performance. Whimsy nestles in mind. Towards the bard and the humours thus induced I climb out of the car grinning, and Vincent and I put our arms over-shoulder.
I know not what had possessed Lord Randazzo that one of his scarce invitations I was doled, nor know I if there came to him an intuition that, by this beckoning I would emerge again on my ugly orange Blogspot page to lather in words the dear reader. My previous article concerned Vincent Randazzo’s summer undertaking: the production of Ari Edwards’ Bedrooms EP, and of that matter I was exceptionally critical. Challengingly so, I assured, and the Bedrooms EP had eventually instilled in me a greater fervor than any record previously presented to me for review or sale or promotion. This was not for the matter of the music itself, but rather for the fact that I could not decide in one playthrough, nor two nor three, whether any of the tracks spoke to me. And to that I for the first time say a refreshing, “What the hell?” towards Monterey music. Refreshing, this one, for it rolls off my tongue neither in disgust nor resent, but in profundity. In context: “What the hell are you doing in Monterey?” Ordinarily, this is for those transgressions of musicians that perplex my very facility for human interaction. Of these there are loathsome abundance in the music industry, at all scales, and of heinous, inexcusable behaviors are too the subjects of my own blog posts guilty (more on that in part two). Unfortunately, these many burdens unaddressed by the community at large became a deterrent for me, like bitter almond flavors. Venoms will rot the flesh until there are opened opportunities for dominance. Some who would otherwise suffer this venom flee the scene to catch a clean breath, and the next time they look back on it from the outside, it looks much uglier than the first - I knew not why I was present anymore when I attended East Village on Wednesdays or, Gods-forbid, a proper show.
Thank goodness Twin Oaks Drive is a joy.



Upon escort into the house, all shrouded in oaks and fragrant ivies, my company Emma and I were greeted with embrace by one red-headed Camrin. Long have I known this young lady to accompany Vincent’s journey amidst her own intrigues of dancing and crafting.



Accordingly so, she and Uncle Vinny went quick to work on two mugs of a strong mulled wine. Warmly it curls down the throat, to the sensation of which Emma remarked, “This is my favorite thing I’ve put in my mouth,” and we drank our beverages eagerly. Dim was the kitchen, fixtures all antique and its white tile and rusty hearth adorned with glassware and pottery decades older than anyone present. From the living room beckoned huge sofas and eclectic artifacts collected presumably by Camrin’s grandfather, who owned the estate. There was only one yet present among the homely company with whom I was acquainted. Simon Stewart had etched his name into the scene’s tablet as an exceptional mercenary musician who is known by many for his feature in numerous Randazzo projects, among many others. His voice is as soft as his locks are long and fuzzy, and so too it is as deep as he is tall. Awkwardly we positioned ourselves in the room’s rear until Simon’s ever-sweeping eyes netted my attention, and I proposed we keep him occupied. This is not difficult. Never have I met a person who deemed that Simon was by any means an unagreeable conversationalist. I commit to memory many conversations with Simon during which we discussed our indulgence in black metal and prog metal and Witcher III and other things generally classifiable as ‘gnarly,’ and thus I awaited his performance perhaps most keenly.
The wait was not drawn out. His stomach swirling with spiced wine, Vincent Randazzo repaired through the crowd of now twenty-odd eclectic guests and gathered his bearing. “Are we ready to begin?” he asks and is received with quick affirmations. After he had delivered his genteel appreciation to the guests, there was rendered from them some humors that could not be joked from atop many stages or the corner of Cooper’s Pub. With these there roared a laughter, and so too Vincent sighed, and in his earnest brow was cracked a bend like a glowstick. The grin grew and smoothened through his beard. The music cradled him already and he swung from the fulcrum of his ass on the stool to rhythms yet heard. “So with that,” he chuckles, “I think it’s time to spread my gift all over you,” and with some pre-humor grimaces was added, “each of you, individually, one at a time.” Vincent cleared his throat after a shared laugh, scooted about his stool, and a staggering sigh let fall his hand over the guitar strings.



I would mention now that Vincent Randazzo, during my most previous attendance of his performance (during which Yvan Vucina, present as well at the Twin Oaks house, and Erisy Watt of Tennessee also gave clean displays) made no retreat from candidness. Art, it seems, has become a matter difficult to justify, a matter whose intrinsic lack of reason, quelled only in the western theories of music, fell heavy on his shoulders with futility and contemplation. Blue was the color of his song even as the room gyrated with candle flames. By rustic progressions of chords endearing as well as harnessing, he painted these blues across us with thick strokes. I saw sir Yvan poring over his knees through his seagreen eyes. Emma and Simon and I sunk slowly into the sofa, perhaps an emulation of the swaddling sensation this grainy voice spilled unto its own living room. Vincent floated from his stool, though he put not an inch between it and his ass, almost as though practicing for the opening dream sequence of Good Burger. His stout legs dangled and swung and his shoulders swiveled. He stooped and swooned with every striking chord, a dance for comfy people. When next he played a song written for a wedding in the family, the recount of his adventure in Texas was a breeze. From this he transitioned to the highest-tempo piece of his short set to which the room bounced with his shoulders, and when it was done, he thought on his next song and hunched over his guitar. At length, he expounded upon his quietude as his gaze turned left towards mine, and with some reluctance he began to weave words at the lip and gesturing fingers alike. I could not easily quote the verbal flurry, but he not only spoke specifically to me, but spoke that in the past, my words had contorted a tired nerve in his craft – no craving of the audience was it that I feel stirred most his soul, but the craving of his own instinct. Unrationed now, on swelling chords he made a gloaming as sweet as it was dreary, and it was a sweet drear I beg would brood over me if ever I sat on a cobalt bay before. Three Cheers for Austin William Blake twinkles with the bleak stars of a fantasy land wherein evades a certain someone a death more untimely than might the titular character’s high school attendance have been. No question made I of the tale’s origin, save in my mind. These questions seemed resolved in sheer expression, in the wince on his face, the gravel in his wails. Clear it was that he drowned in more pressing questions.
“Simon, uh, you wanna take over here?” Vincent said. With this and the subsequent preparation, I pursued refreshments in the kitchen, and with cordial guidance unto a fridge chauffeured ajar aside Vinny’s welcoming hands, I accepted a beverage, spun halfway to face my host, and with warmth in my cheeks I grinned toothily.
Over Vincent’s shoulders was thrust my arm and I chuckled, pointing at the stool before which Simon now stood. “That,” I said sharply, “was all and everything I wanted. That was what I wanted from ya.”
Between his hairy cheeks flowered a grand smile. “I’m glad I could give you just what you wanted,” said he as modestly as one could imagine, almost bowing with his words.
My ass found the cushion again, and Simon found some breaths to spare.



Here I might worthily note that Simon had never before played a show by his lonesome, and to bear witness to his solo debut, live and in concert, I was agape. So was Yvan, who became animated through Stewart’s tight and energetic rhythm of forceful, bitter chords, hamboning from calves to elbows. Metallic were some overtones, and gales drew from the guitar more than they might have from his voice had he the inclination to scream (no longer would he for past vocal injuries). However Emma and I both were struck with intrigue, though of varieties disparate, for the trunk of his each song grew black not with metal (as I sought), but with a hair dye much like Emma’s. There was no qualm with her for this, and despite what I might have felt had I some preemptive notion of his style, I neither had qualm with this. There’s a hefty chunk of cool emo music, and I have been steadily getting over that for the last few months. Simon has too in a harsher, more personal manner, it seems, for with his solid creations he contends, “I’m still working my way through my identity as [a solo] performer,” and “The style that I have right now mostly has to do with what I feel I’m capable of,” for so long has he written and performed music for other parties. Yet too he proclaimed himself “a sucker for melancholy music,” and while I would deem him no sucker, I would neither claim that an overstatement. Perhaps Simon is simply a lyrical artisan whose designs appeal widely to the consuming audience, but that is a mere avoidance of the query, Who hurt you, Simon? That’s a tad personal, though, and if I had, between the galeforce strums and begrieved plucks and aching poeticism, a moment to pose such a question, I would have refrained. You deserve better than that, Simon. Your audience grieved with you, and surely they will continue if your solo shows do too.
Here’s a decent thing that happened next: a proper, designated intermission ere the final, elongated set. By the issuance of Vincent and the zeal lingering still in his spirit, we were momentarily cast to our devices. A crowd thus gathered outside in what our host had before denoted, ‘The Secret Garden,’ where an immense patio-like scape of wrought furniture and stonework refuged a myriad of foliage once tended, now left as were we, to do as pleased. No one has to feel bad for a long conversation and a cigarette during the show, I thought excitedly. In collocation with my notions, many smiling teeth were stuck with cancer candles. Some gathered there looked not unlike me, an appearance that would often have them mistaken for part of a band. Some were coddled in pleated attire with hair kempt like executive-office-building topiary. Some wore garb of a sort traditional to some unmentioned exotic culture. The lot of us there got stoned, man, and like, that’s cool, n stuff. All of us had Vincent in common. Yvan played a rendition of Rufus Thomas’ Walkin the Dog for those who waited indoors. Vincent joined Emma and Simon and I that we might reflect. It was out here that Simon and Emma discussed the band Brand New and their song Jesus Christ, which Simon had covered last of his set. Thus was rained the news to the previously unbeknownst Simon that the frontman of Brand New, Jessie Lacey, had self-admitted to sexual predation the very same day. It was the worrisome conversation consequential of this news in which I found a new and morbid muse on which to write.
Then, before this muse uncomfortably ensnared me, something ran the air as a swale runs the riverside, and though cold was this tone, it was radiant nonetheless. From the cherry hearth that I stamped underboot this voice stole me away and into the house, where in a black t-shirt and skinny jeans and sneakers stood a man strapped wolfishly lean, his face not unlike handsome stonework, his hair like blonde cotton, short-cropped. Once more I sunk into the couch.
John Miller’s inked arms hewed cleanly with his acoustic axe, so to say that his playing was immediately tight and powerful. Easily memorable tunes were wrought of many intriguing or complex chords, though to many they would sound not in unfamiliarity, for often they were forged in the popular prospect of post/pop punk and certain forms of metal, cited later by Miller as those which took hold in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Though these fetters, he explains, had frayed in time. “This next song is probably one of my oldest songs,” said he with a glassy voice. “I grew up in a really conservative, y’know, religious sort of household, and that creates this power struggle with some people, myself included, between what you’ve been told and what you’re mind tells you.” That, roughly was the content of the subsequent song, Seedlings, both instrumentally and lyrically. John later elaborated to me that he largely lurked through many of the genres of his adolescence for their stark imposition towards his upbringing. Reflective was this of his evolution when he transitioned again to what inspirations Miller references as “…songwriters like Elliot Smith and Conor Oberst.”  So claims he, “I think this was when I started realizing that being an emotional performer was within my grasp…” Although contemporarily, the winded wails that quiver like aspens from his maw maintain this style in all his renditions, I could imagine in the previous track a voice that shouted more than it sang – lacerated, more like, so cleanly that it needs no mic. He needed no stage, at that, even if his elbow clipped the armoire at his stern more than once. The granite lines and precipices that broadened and sharpened across the length of his face were shaken and tremored enough to project his presence. With these too quaked his very feet, to and fro in synchrony with trenchant sweeps of the guitar. It was like a weeping face, carved into a tree, had taken human form and ambulance and so naturally, it made all its years stuck in place into some composition, and that into a performance. Breaths were shallow during my attention’s sojourn there, extended even after John was done. Once I had taken to my blood a hefty dose of oxygen, I stood before Miller with but one query that coughed onto my tongue. “What are you doing in Monterey?”
It turns out that John was raised in the rural reaches of Monterey County, and gradually he migrated up the coast until his present incumbency in Portland, Oregon. Energies of a clean play and a clear reception (measured perhaps in the large proportion of the twenty-odd guests who purchased his albums that night, presently authored under ‘The Holy Dark’) elated him still, for conversation slid between topics as slate slips from underfoot. Amidst this progression, I broke the news to John – to myself and Emma as well – that my reemerging post would not but restore vitals to my blog, but so too try a dose of medicine to make survivable the scene. While Jessie Lacey certainly bears no semblance to the performers who graced Camrin and Vincent’s living room that night, there is a whole other herd of mustangs in Monterey to saddle just as ruthlessly as all the entertainers in recent weeks who are bridling their carnal gluttonies by public exposure and confrontation. In lieu of such matters, I have prepared further writings, but their embittered intonation would condemn not the scene, but the toxins within. That is why I here celebrate what an exemplary spectacle Uncle Vinny had gifted unto the scene for whom he has so gruelingly labored. Despite all the venoms against which he had little choice but the acquisition of immunity, Randazzo has spat back upon us all an antidote of sorts. Communities that choose each other, performers that host each other. Maybe, in this way, we can purge these venoms. But I’ll try my damnedest to help from my keyboard…

And that, I assure you, will take place in the second part of this article, where we shall discuss what exactly it is that I want to see remedied in our music scene, that I might not have to wait months between this post and my next. Stay tuned in a few hours for that.
In the meantime, I encourage you check out the talents mentioned herein.
You can see Vincent's primary project, The Beholder Band, on their Bandcamp page, where you can also hear Simon's riffing, but Vincent has not much in the ways of social media, so stay tuned to one of Monterey's music pages for future shows. The photography featured in this post is also courtesy of Vincent.
Yvan, a gracious guest and intermission performer, not only has a FB page, but also a blog of his own for cerebral poetry, and a Soundcloud for his meticulous musical endeavors.
John Miller (AKA The Holy Dark) can be found with numerous music videos on Youtube, as well as his Bandcamp page and his Facebook page.
If you, for some reason, wish to contact the author, shoot me an e-mail at widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Thinking All On Musical Meanings and More - Ari Edwards's (and Vincent Randazzo's) "Bedrooms EP" Review

For one who achieves comprehension of what constitutes the meat and blood of a project, that essence of the project, of the grind towards fruition or completion, it becomes a drive that soon loses all rationale. When you get right down to it, for one’s sanity to necessitate the design of something so arbitrary, something so intangible, something wherein the meaning resides solely with the creator, it is rather silly. Well then call me and the art scene a host of silly fuckin wizards, because the rest of us are dependent on our creations. Art is created that the artist might share it - it is a gift, for whomever may find themselves enriched by the distillation of its creator. So it must seem strange that my novel trilogy, on which I have been working for about thirty months (and that’s only the last four drafts), has yet proven its viability as a gift. I suppose it doesn’t have to, afterall. Monterey, as with most towns, has no shortage of people whose gifts are parceled like chum in water. Scores of musicians want to show me and everyone else their music. People hand me their albums like they’re giving clean needles to a fucking dopehead. There have been few, however, that I was handed in a manner of graciousness, such that the artist seemed only partially opportunistic, and otherwise retained some anticipation of my gratitude which made all the more brilliant their smiles when I endeavored to learn more of the matter. Of this matter in specific, I was educated not with the formality that encroaches me under usual circumstance. I was invited, rather, to the company of two characters, and with their character I was thus charmed moreso even than with the music they produced. Their names were Ari Edwards, and Vincent Randazzo. And though congested and blurred have been my days since, not one has passed in which I had not contemplated it.
I’m a writer, right? More specifically, I’m a storyteller. Stories are oft difficult of telling, however, when there are not firm characters on which to build the story. On that note, I would firstly like to thank Vincent and Ari for being a couple of characters whose, well, character is about as delible as a woodburned plaque. That is to say, if you threw them in a woodchipper, they might not make it, but certainly they’d remain in many a memory nonetheless. These are a complex pair, and their pairing only fortifies the difficulty of describing them, so pardon if my interpretations venture too remotely into conjecture.
When first I saw Ari Edwards in person, they (alt. pronouns) were sat at Carbone’s - that very divish dive bar on Lighthouse, from which one might score a myriad of questionable business opportunities - and at their flanks were meatheads galore and piddles of whiskey and cheap shot glasses. Everyone present was drunkenly boisterous, greasy-looking, perhaps wonderful people, but not my people. It was one of those instances in which I was reminded why I cut down on drinking. However, there sat amongst the perspiring ranks was a placid smile across a face shapeless and shapely all at once, with rabbit-hair bangs and a big beanie - an altogether pleasant-looking hipster. Ari, it was, and once they’d finished their drink, we convened on the pavement outside and initiated a calm nighttide walk down the Lighthouse District’s strip, where bustled folks more drunken than us and cars all ahurrying. All the while mosied we three, without direction save in conversation. Even under the influence, Ari was keenly reserved, though comfortably conversable, and pervaded by a kindness they seem only to want for the rest of the world. All the words off their lips came from them smiling, even if minutely so. All the ideas expressed felt as though confided in me personally, and all the ideas with which I reciprocated were received similarly, such that it encouraged me to act less myself and more like Ari. I’m an asshole! That shouldn’t happen! But a model introduction Ari offered me, and why should I have ever thought less for the man who once welcomed me around his hearth and amongst his laidback crowd?
“I’ve just had this need, for a long time - though it’s developed - to make my thoughts happen, to see these visions I see in my head and see them in real life - it blows my mind that we, as people, can do something like that,” says this bard, Vincent Randazzo, with some regret. It seemed he recalls times when his vision was not reflected, but refracted into the real world, times when the vision became distorted, or when it seemed to lose meaning, or was simply lost itself in the infinite subjectivity of human criticality. Vincent’s visions, however, are clear to no one except for Vincent. They are worn on him as rustic and homely clothing and shoes with holed soles, or perspired from his pores during vigorous performances and thrashing of his guitar. The first time I saw Vince, it was at East Village cafe, within my first month of residence in Monterey. I had made the excursion for sake of a jam session with the surreal talent of Paul Jones (who has also made some sweet dance music), when I entered the establishment and found a bearded lad laden with a river of curly hair, wearing a thick, plaid blazer and pleated trousers. He sang with a grin, and he strummed with a belief in the words he sung. Some songs I heard and they tasted strange on my tongue for their righteous politics, but others, especially in their raw form, made so whimsical a sensation manifest that I wanted only to drive down a straight, long road and pop his CD into the disc drive.
Then I heard the product in its studio form, Vince’s 2016 album, Home Life, and though I offer to it a hearty nod for such songs as the title track, I questioned then the fulfillment of one’s vision. The reason I detail here my first meeting with Vincent is not entirely for sake of his character, but too for the sake of detailing this new EP that he and Ari Edwards have crafted. There are few artists in Monterey who will so profoundly for experimentation as do these two. A beacon of creative spirit, is this Bedrooms EP, for Vincent, who is responsible for most of the production on the album, fosters a genuine desire in both the emotions and the schematics of art. The EP was designed, however, around the eccentricity of Ari’s singing. Though they remain true to the ukulele-brandishing singer-songwriters that saturate the modern musical market, a contemporary and thoughtful swing adds contrast to their singing, as a bright sun on a dense forest makes stronger the daylight as it does too the shadows. It is the improvised progressions, the fluidity with which the words attack each beat that forge the jazziness I reference in their voice, wherein progressions straddle entire octaves and employ a shortness of breath between wailings, and a keen vibrato that is implemented with caution. From the songs Nostalgia (both parts one and two) and Piece of My Heart is the ukulele strumming one might expect. Though exhausted the techniques sometimes feel, Ari trifles not with mimicking like artists. What contrast else there is, however, obscures my capacity for appreciation of this EP.
Composure is an aspect of musical engineering that is often diminished by the veneration of technical instrumental talent. Gersmudgeny music-listeners might impose classic rock and prog and good ol’ blues guitar upon those less worthy than they of arbitrary opinions, and they might insist that contemporary movements, such as electronic and synthetic music, hip-hop and industrial and whatever else have you, are talentless for their lack of instruments. I would remind those people that the dominant musical movement for numerous centuries was classical music - and the figure most revered of a classical piece is normally the composer who had spent the creative process with but a piano for reference, and a pen and paper for writing. Ask any classical composer, then, of the ease in making fluent that amalgamation, even if but for a string quartet. I imagine they would become upset by the mere inclusion of the word ‘ease’ in a conversation about composure. It is a grueling task, and when it is not a medium wherein the science makes the art - such as classical, progressive, and electronic musics alike - then the composure is best allotted to the instrumentalist, that they might discover where they best flow in between their fellow components. The Seatbelts is a fantastic example of this; a band somewhere within sixty to seventy members strong, all theoretically composed by one brilliant lady named Yoko Kanno. What secret has she, to operate with so many tools, so many more genres and fusions than any band has the courage to emulate? The objective with Yoko was never precision, it was never the mastery of a meticulous design, but rather it was the cauldron she stewed, the heat that she administered, such that sixty-something distinct individuals can make a cohesive sound out of the personality in their own playing. The vision is made more efficient when interpreted by more than the viewer. Art is meant to be shared.
This, despite all the aspiration and character and fervor to which my heart calls out, is where stumbled Vincent’s feet along the path towards Bedrooms’s completion. For all of the vigor of what emoted of the EP, for Ari’s wonderful voice, for the efforts of Marcus Wade and others who put in work, for Vincent’s comprehension of her tone and valor in attempting its marriage with instruments, still was the album over-composed, when it was much stronger raw. Or it may very well have proven stronger if only a true band had built upon Ari’s singing - rather than profuse dubbing - and offered their inputs in compilation. Although it seems counterintuitive, Vincent’s stitchwork felt quite seamed when sown alone - whereas more busy hands, or less cloth, might have smoothened the seams. Perhaps the minimalism of a pea coat better befits his handiwork than the tedium in calculating a tailcoat’s measurements. Perhaps he sows most bountifully, yields most flavorfully, in soils less fertile. Whatever the cause of his stifle, I commend most the character of the album. As aforementioned, Ari and Vincent are a partnership that sails swiftly, and modestly too, at that, even if their refinement of taste and reservedness of demeanor would make ill some sailors who espy them on the horizon. Those ships only need shorten their berth and raise their colors, or they might as well beat the winds back from whence they came. If the shanties that make labor their crew are what avert you, then… yeah, fuck off, guy. Perhaps my opinion of Bedrooms is not of prime altitude, but here we have ourselves not only a radiant creativity from Ari and Vinny’s product, but too a music scene sardine-packed with pretentious cunts, like me. And if half of them didn’t retain at least a mouthful of criticisms to spit on these blog-posts of mine, just as have I in these confangled reviews, then more is wrong with our scene than the content produced therein.

Thanks again, guys, for paying me a click and my writing some attention. Much appreciated, really. Ari Edwards has not released any social media pages or even the full EP of Bedrooms yet, and so I’ve no links for her. Vincent Randazzo, however, is well acquainted with the business, and you can study the fruits of his labor on his Bandcamp page.

If you want to get in touch with the author for some reason, hit me up at widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Valley Soul's "Talking Pictures" Part 2, Review - To Become Their Own Firefly

“We’re alive. Take it or leave it. Human conditioning our reality,” is how wails the catalyst unto a sonic story, the sort with whose recounting I am not as accustomed as with its consumption. Perhaps I am wrong, however, as the introduction to this story would suggest. It is merely the condition of my reality, that I would fancy myself no journalist, but rather a storyteller. There is another story compiled upon our peninsula of so numerous tales. Though many attribute to themselves the same, few are heard so resolutely, few are transposed by the ears of alien communities whose receptions might differ between each other. On the seventeenth of June, 2017, at Cooper’s Pub in Cannery Row, I witnessed as Valley Soul departed for just that purpose, to bring their story abroad of the Bay. Part of me feels that the tale is not mine to tell, but part of me feels an obligation to interpret its substance nonetheless, especially in the absence of its creators.
“Nature is calling you back. Not the kind of feelings you find underneath all your stacks,” Joe Scardina assures, and too assures repeatedly, that “Through all the anger, all the pain, there’s gain.” And again am I assured that lyrical cadence drives the flow of a song like the wind drives a sailboat. In the fourth track of the album, titled Work, Valley Soul displays a deliberated rendering of their listeners. While most of the band’s lyrics are cleverly arranged, I make this track exemplary - even the collective whoop that extinguishes the song, though not my favorite method, is as important to its composition as the synthetic harpsichord’s oriental scalings. A whimsical ambience is set by Adam’s keys, Richard Tripps lays down the grind beneath swelling and recessing guitar riffs, and amongst the grueling push for the song’s release, the singers, in unison, haunt us; “Work, work, work. All day long.” When they are finished reminding the audience of life’s incessant malice, the tone lightens, and we are advocated of nature’s grace. All this work was for no lucrativity, no career - simply survival, the preservation of life, the only grace by which all beings are permitted existence. If they had not erupted into this bridge via such recycled methods as the ‘eighth-note drum n’ strum,’ (1:55) the ballad would render my likes none but content.
“Don’t you care that I’m here? Don’t you know that I’m here?” I am asked, though I have asked the question innumerable times - occasionally unto others, even if they hear me not, but usually to myself. I am of the opinion that the acceptance and consequential embrace of grief is the most potent medicine. A display of one’s own despair can allow others the realization that their anguish is not unique. Unless your issue lies in attention-reception, this should not diminish one’s emotions, but adapt them, accommodate them, and make them more accommodating as well. Master of Loneliness finds the listener at the end of Work’s insistence of the necessity of the grind, and makes it all the more believable that such a journey is necessary, that the grief and longing is still to come, will always wait for you on the horizon, will always stare back at you in old photographs and Facebook posts. Appropriately, at this, the song never relieves itself of the band’s characteristic pulse - a go-to for the band that is ambiguous enough to be versatile - for what else persists within you after all the anger, all the pain? And when the pulse heavies, and time bends and slows around it, voices echo out like spirits, the guitars lament beside the keyboard, and the bards ask, all in longing, who cares? Who knows?
“I will come to you. In time. It will all come to you. In time.” When the piano keys roll in like a tranquilized swell upon the shore, the chorus wails out that someone, whosoever it may be, will come to them, in time, and when the insistence seems fleeting, so too flees the song by an easy beat and reserved piano. This reservation in Ingram’s talons and the butterfly pulse of Tripp’s drums magnetizes the song’s design. In terminology befitting of Monterey’s many foppish fellows, they sing, “I see you dancin with the pretty boys, oh-oh-oh, and it turns me on. See you talkin to the lonely boys, oh-oh-oh, and it gets me on.” The guitars calibrate to the keys, seep into their high-heeled groove. Then the song slows, just as one’s breath might pause, “You’re free, it’s the kinda thing you don’t repeat to anyone else. Soft and sweet, the kinda thing you lonely people need, like anyone…” and we are told again, “It will all come to you in time.” This song, albeit its apparent thematic simplicity, speaks less to the extrovert who might actually relate to the seductive antics of dancing dames, and more to the introvert who might yearn to understand why it is that people seduce each other. It speaks to the illusion of love so many love songs impose, and with which so many aspiring lovers quarrel, until they’ve no capacity to love left over. Thus the band insists, that, “I don’t wanna be alone with you,” over surfy, fun-pop beats. Adam Ingram then wails away his sorrows with a most amusing tale, from the novelty victory for a rodentine plushie named Chuck, to the traverse down-coast in search of jade crystals, the character presented here seems some satire of local peninsular peoples. The needle is again moved before the track is over, while the bandmates chant over a low-fi recording of snare and bass, “Lonely, lonely, you’re the only one that’s singing cause you’re lonely, lonely…”
“I will just trickle, I will trickle all over your walls.” Such is the sensation at the climax of this story, the lurid vision that remained always at the terminal, with increasing resolution - at least, that is what it seems, and thus would the song have had a more fitting place nearer to the album’s end. This song is of Kristen Gradwohl’s conception, and it seems her most prominent brainchild. In the moment of the song, however, there is a dusky ascent away from the other tracks, as though not into a heavenly realm, but a sidereal one, where all therein is but another beacon of brilliance from Earth. Firefly is a ubiquitous ballad of introspection. “When I was a child,” Kristen opens in a voice shrill and innocent, “I was a firefly, lighting up the way, until the day I die.” A suspenseful pause, as Valley Soul so adores utilizing, and the song picks up its feet, initiates its long and despairing attempt to leave the ground. “Grandfather always told me I was his brightest star. Now I am growing older… but where are my wings to fly?” Already the lament is clear. The metamorphosis we all must undergo, regardless of its incarnation, to liberate ourselves of the untruths of our innocence, to interpret the wisdoms we gather in childhood when the successive years seem to only dampen the light. So few are equipped to accommodate even the stark, universal motifs that Kristen translates of her own personal tribulations, which is why so many ought to understand the song’s discipline. I will not describe too heavily the structure of this one. You are better off listening to it for your first time if you have not yet heard it. I certainly recall my first time hearing Kristen shatter flames with her singing in Firefly. Cohesively, this track is the story of shadow’s encroachment, the story of how we are born into a very apparent world, a world wherein we think we know so much because, in our childhood, it is just small enough to contain us. This is the story of how the world expands around you, while the light you emit with which to see it diminishes, and it is the story of how one’s self, and no one else, must become their very own firefly.
“I’m one step further inside your head,” is rather appropriate a thing to hear while coming down from track five, but otherwise, the intro to track six, By Your Side, is almost instantly slack, like a fisherman whose excitement in the wake of a few successful casts makes a struggle of measuring his line’s tautness. That does not last long. After the intro sits us through a dancy chord progression and carves its groove in whatever fissure it finds, I found myself thinking, My, it’s another Valley Soul song, as though I expected more variation. Varied I’m sure it sounded to the band, to some adequate degree, for it is the sounds of their own myriad consciences. However, I found myself sinking into dissatisfaction, believing, after Firefly flew me to a domain deep behind cognitive frontiers, that the rest of the album might live up to the holy trinity of tracks preceding this song. However, when Adam and Kristen begun their serenade, when the harmony effused from the purple lights and the trembling fog, I was only reminded that I dig Valley Soul’s sound, and that this song is, if anything, a wonderful example of it. In this case, I forgave the lack of stylistic deviation that I pretentiously demand of my peers, simply because this fucking gypsy disco makes gyrate my shoulders and writhe my neck with an ecstasy unfounded on previous musical preferences.
Sympathy is a miser bastard, though, despite the pricelessness of compassion. It can consume opinions in its genteel maw, for so comfortable they sit upon its lips, and thus it steals away the arrogance and apathy that make people critics. People tell me that I am compassionate more often than they tell me how much of an asshole I am, but parts of me refuse to believe, so should anyone be discontented with my abrasion, let them be satisfied that such is simply the way I am. Now, onto the hard portion: telling artists how to art. I never liked creative writing classes (though I took two), cause I didn’t want to be told how to art, but here I am, about to tell Valley Soul that they did not cater properly to my specific and completely unwarranted tastes. And I will refrain from suggesting more mandolin, or more psychedelics, or more polskas, or more angst. With that out of the way, Awaken was perhaps too underwhelming, too ordinary of their style, or too… too… jovial? Fuck. I just did it, didn’t I? Well it’s true, to me, anyway, that on an album where so much melancholy is communicated through so much elation, an acute manner of concluding the sonic holiday would have been through a more contented subject sung upon a melancholy tone. Soul’s music is highly constructive, a talent that is so difficult to forge as any weapon - it is the heat of the anvil singing, while most succeed only to discuss the sound the sword makes when they shatter it. In lieu of this leeway, the band has accomplished more than most with the efficacy of their message. For my personal flavors, however, such construction requires temperament. I do not take any of Valley Soul’s members for alcoholics, but rather, I appreciated the dampening of their typical stylizations by Kristen Gradwohl’s unique brand of lamentation, and by Pretty Boy’s four-minute outro sequence, and yearned for more of these deviations. I was not rewarded.

Then there are two songs about which I am very tepid, titled Opening the Door, which is the second track on the album, and Friends, which is the eighth track. Both songs are powerful in their own respects. On track two, Tommy Howbert wails as though heard calling desperately through the door just slightly ajar. His emotive facility is wielded as though it were another instrument, an extension of himself harnessed and holstered but still a wild sort of beast, yearning at open vistas and eager to take risks. I like Tommy’s risks, and honestly, it was what salvaged Opening the Door from merely an indistinguishable Valley Soul song, to a piece that I recall fondly. It was the song’s remainder that, although well composed and well performed, was too safe. As technically the first single of the album (meaning it saw a Soundcloud release before the rest) and a long-time staple of their shows, Friends is far from forgettable, but it is just as far from fresh. This opinion, of course, is marred by the fact that I have seen Valley Soul perform enough times that, should I recall the number, I would have to start counting on my fingers (alas my fingers remain on the keys). It seems to me that it was created in the genesis of the album out of their EP, and was likely among the first to achieve completion. The song feels like less of a tale than many of their others, and is more of an anthem to each other - a beautiful thing, that, and it is thus pieced together with a clean and concise deliberation, as though each member wrote their portion of the song in dedication to the others. Even if not for my preference of a more begrieved tune to balance the album’s conclusion, of the songs present already, this one would have made an excellent outro. It feels somewhat like the proper conclusion to the journey that is so spiritually communed with us. The album is intimate, as should most albums be, and maintains its sense of earthiness, of solidarity, which grounds it even amidst such heady notions as those to which we are enlightened in Human Condition and Firefly. Even for a mild shortcoming in diversity, Talking Pictures is well and piteously ordained as the debut of this band, and I could think of none better. Their future is still, as we speak, conditioning to itself, to the peculiar folks they will encounter and with whom they shall also commune. Their lights are growing brighter, even as their world grows, and even as the growing world dims. There must be some reason folks like Kevin Call seem to suppress their worry, or some reason why folks like Tommy Howbert seem to worry so much. They have much of whose protection they are keen, foremost among these possessions being the very subject of that aptly-titled track, Friends.

Thank you again for reading my first attempt at an album review - it'll probably go down the memory-shitter and won't be as fondly remembered as the first part, or as this album, but I tried, dammit. If you dig Valley Soul and want to keep an eye on them or keep track of their tour dates/locations, like them on Facebook, subscribe to them on Soundcloud, or follow them on Instagram. To buy their album, check out their Bandcamp. To pay your homage to the creator of this blog, check out KAE9mm on Facebook and hear his savagery on Soundcloud.

If you want to get in touch with me, the author, shoot an e-mail to widmer.wyatt@gmail.com and I'll get back to you promptly.