Category: songwriting

The Friday Funk

When even Twitter being adorable can’t snap you out of a melancholy mood, you know you’re in trouble.


1. Here’s something positive – I’ve read a TON of really good books recently.  The last time I wrote about books, I was in the middle of reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which was great and I only wish I hadn’t rushed through the ending as quickly as I did.  After that was John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester (very good, even if the initial premise ends up fading away towards the end), Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes (which started off a bit blah, but ended up being great, and has one of the most jaw-dropping endings I can recall), Ursula le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (my first le Guin, and what a place to start!), Liz Moore’s The Unseen World (which was beautiful – although it, too, starts off in a direction that it very slowly veers away from), and then last night I finished Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, which was astonishing the whole way through.  I realized that I’d bought his earlier novel Await Your Reply a while ago but never read it, and so I’m reading it right now.  Instant fan.

2. All this reading has not yet turned itself into lyrics, but I’m getting there.  Slowly but surely.

3.  Game-wise, I’m still very much enjoying Horizon Zero Dawn although it’s a bit more difficult than I expected, and I’m currently trapped in a dungeon that I may not be able to get out of.  At the very least, it’s keeping me thoroughly distracted from wanting Zelda.  My rental copy of Nier: Automata arrived last night and I played the first hour, and it’s… pleasantly strange, though I don’t know if it’s where my head is at.  I may just need to power through HZD until Mass Effect Andromeda lands.

4. Speaking of which, I already pre-ordered ME:A on Xbox One, and since I’m an EA Access member I think I get to play it a few days early, and if that’s the case, I’ll probably have to put HZD on the back-burner, which means I might not ever get back to it.  HZD is the sort of game where you need the controls to feel fresh in your hands, and if I’m gonna spend 60 hours with ME:A, then HZD is going to be very difficult to get back to.

Keep your chin up, kids.  Trump can’t be president forever.

An update on the album

I’ve been starting at this blank post for most of the day, feeling a vague need to fill up the empty space, but without any clear sense of what to write about.  I suppose I was hoping to let my thoughts accumulate until they spilled over – which I think they finally have – and now I’m in a rush to catch them and set them down before they fade away.

Ordinarily I’d set these thoughts down in my other, hidden journal, but I haven’t written there in ages, and in any event it felt more appropriate to put them here, though I can’t necessarily say why.  Maybe it’s just that they might have a better chance to get seen, I don’t know.

[And before I begin, please forgive me if any of this sounds familiar; I can’t remember if I’ve written this down in public before, and I’d rather not go looking when I could be writing instead.  I know I’ve emailed some friends about this, and I think that’s as far as I’ve gone with it, but in any event: indulge me for the moment if my memory is poor.]

Basically, here’s the gist of things:  I’m in a weird spot.  I have this album that I desperately want to finish, and the only reason why I haven’t finished it yet is because I’m at the hardest part, and it’s scaring me to death.

My creative process has had a number of different sizes and shapes throughout the years.  When I was in high school, I wrote a song a day – verses AND choruses AND bridges, full lyrics, and I did this all in my head during idle moments or dull classes.  I knew which ones were better than others, and the best ones I took to my band; there are still dozens and dozens of songs in that notebook that have never been played, not even by me.

In college, my process changed.  For one thing, I’d met up with other singer/songwriters, and so collaboration became a key part of how I worked.  For another, my collaborators were English majors, and they frowned upon my lyrics – too sentimental, too corny.  They wanted them to be more ironic and detached, but in fairness to everyone involved it’s hard to tell someone that their lyrics suck without the writer taking it personally, especially if the writer knows that the criticisms are quite valid.

I was never good at abstraction, like Beck and Pavement and Sonic Youth; and even when Radiohead made being depressed en vogue a short time later, there was still an artiness to their lyrics.  I’d always been told that it was more important to be honest than clever, and I still feel that way, but certainly one can do both at the same time, or at least incorporate honesty within obtuseness.  I never quite figured out how to do it, and so eventually I stopped altogether; when I was singing live, I mostly improvised, knowing that the club’s shitty sound system would render at least 80% of whatever I was singing unintelligible anyway, especially considering how goddamned loud our amps were.  Eventually I stopped singing altogether, and focused solely on guitar; my last band featured 2 far better songwriters than me, and I was more than content to let them lead the way.

I did come out with an album a few years ago (Untrue Songs, for only $7!), and there is singing on it, but that album is essentially a “greatest hits” of stuff from my hard drive, and some of those lyrics are transposed from poems that friends wrote, or are simply sketches of things that I never went back to finishing.  (I am guilty of succumbing to that as-yet-unnamed disease where you listen to your demos so many times that they end up becoming the finished product.)

So the thing about this new album, the one I’ve been working on for 2 years now?  This is a whole different can of worms.  This is all new material, and while I wouldn’t ever call it a “concept album”, there is a central and specific thing that I wanted to write about.  And, funnily enough, one of the people that inspired the whole project to begin with is someone I have absolutely no desire to communicate with anymore, or even think about, which, while being incredibly beneficial for my mental well-being, has taken some of the creative wind out of my sails.

So I’m at this point now where I need to write lyrics about a subject I’m no longer particularly interested in; and yet I can’t just simply sit down and write about anything, because I’m no good at that.  I need a specific idea in mind; I used to be a bit better about free association but I’m garbage at it now, and in any event when the time comes for me to get in front of my microphone and start singing, I need to feel confident in what it is I’m actually saying.  (I know I’ve pasted this link before, and probably in this exact same context, but, again, indulge me because it’s especially relevant here: this New Yorker takedown of the lyrics of Coldplay’s Chris Martin is my worst nightmare.)

I’ve been reading a lot of good books lately, which has certainly gotten my wheels moving in a vaguely turning-like motion, and I know I need to get my shit together eventually, because goddamn it I want to finish this thing – if only because the music part of it is still really good, I think, and I want you guys to hear it, and it’s killing me that you can’t yet.  But I also need to get back into an actual work routine, and that’s the part that I haven’t quite figured out yet.  The house isn’t really “new” anymore, and my music area in the basement is as “finished” as it can be given my current budget and space constraints (and keeping in mind that my almost-4-year-old loves to run around down there).  My excuse is simply that I’m lazy.

I really want this album to be good.  And if this album is going to be good, then the lyrics need to be good.  And that’s the part that I haven’t quite figured out yet.

The aforementioned books?  Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, which I think I’ve talked about already; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which is as brilliant as everyone says it is; and I just finished John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester, which is marvelously well-written, even if its tantalizing premise starts to unravel and turn into something else by the end.  I’m now reading Complicated Game, which is an in-depth look at XTC’s songs written by Andy Partridge; I’m also about to start Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, which is getting insanely good word-of-mouth on Twitter.  I remain hopeful that it’s actually readable, unlike Girl on the Train, which I found so annoying that I gave up about a third of the way through.

As for games – I’m continuing to slowly plod along in Yakuza 0, which is a very weird and yet strangely enjoyable experience.  (I should also point out that everything in Carolyn Petit’s excellent piece for Feminist Frequency is right on the money.)  I did in fact give up on Resident Evil 7 – I made it up to the first boss fight in the garage, died a few times, and then remembered that pretty much every review I’d read singled out the boss fights as being garbage, and so I decided to hang it up.  That game is creepy as hell, and I knew I wouldn’t last particularly long with it, but yeah, that first boss fight kinda sucks.

I’m also going through some backlog stuff – replaying a bunch of PS4 favorites on my Xbox One because I’m an idiot and re-bought a ton of stuff on Xbox One during the endless holiday sales in December.  I’ve been wanting something deep to sink my teeth into, but it’s tough – what I’d really love is to be playing The Witcher 3 for the first time, instead of the second.  Same with Dragon Age Inquisition.  I love both of those games, but they’re hard for me to come back to since I’ve already explored them so thoroughly the first time around.

I did play an hour or so of Psychonauts: Rhombus of Ruin last night, which is pretty good!  I needed an excuse to dust off my PSVR, and it was a pleasure to hang out with Raz and the gang again.  I’ll probably finish it tonight – I understand it’s rather short, and I’m probably at least halfway through it at this point.

Next week is Horizon Zero Dawn; that might be just the sort of game I need right now.  I hope so, at any rate.

a wee bit of self-promotion and navel-gazing

1. My final piece of Uncharted 4 correspondence is up over at Videodame!  Many, many thanks to Sara Clemens for indulging me in throwing thousands of words onto her site.

2. I know I’m somewhat slack in terms of regular updates here, but I was hoping I’d be able to finish ABZU tonight and then write about it tomorrow, time permitting.  Alas, I’m going to be at a family thing in Chicago and will be away from all things computer-related; and even if I do finish ABZU tonight, I don’t know that I’m feeling that motivated to write about it.  It’s certainly gorgeous and tranquil, which is something I could certainly use right about now; but it also remains somewhat obtuse, and I don’t have a sense if there’s anything under the surface just yet.


3. I’m finding myself in something of a holding pattern right now, given that No Man’s Sky is out next week and I’m sure I’m going to be all over it.  I currently have it in my rental queue, which means I wouldn’t get it until next Thursday at the earliest; if the official reviews say it’s worth checking out, I might ditch the rental and buy it digitally in order to get my hands on it sooner.  My boy Samit wrote up a thing over at Polygon about the pre-release hype and the rush to judgment based on one person’s 30-hour playthrough of an early-acquired copy; needless to say, I’m withholding judgment until I get my hands on it.  I do worry about what might be an infinity of monotony, but I at least hope that there’s enough in the early going to propel me along.

4. Speaking of Polygon, they’re putting out a request for freelance reviewers. I’m posting this here mostly so that I don’t forget about it, though I think it’s time for me to admit that I probably don’t have a future in freelance journalism.  Not if I want to finish this album before my son goes to college, at any rate.

5. Speaking of the album: it’s still slowly coming along, though it’s exceedingly difficult to maintain creative momentum.  I did manage to record some vocals this weekend, for the first time in… oh my god, I don’t even know how many years it’s been since I actually sang into a microphone with intent.  Even though it’s just a scratch vocal, it’s something.


further adventures in sleeplessness

This post will be somewhat random.  I am tired.  The boy’s sleep habits are continuing to evolve and change; last night it took him about 45 minutes to stop getting out of bed, which is better than most nights, but then he climbed into our bed at around 2:00am, and he does not necessarily sleep lengthwise.  (Funnily enough, when our alarms went off at 6:00am and we turned our lights on, he very slowly climbed out of our bed and very sleepily walked back into his room and climbed back into his own bed.)

There is also a faint, weird smell in my office, hovering near my desk.  The engineers have been here all morning; nothing’s on fire, but it has that dusty heat smell, like a space heater kicking on after a long period of dormancy.  I am distracted.


I would love to offer up some insightful comments after playing bits of both Superhot and Far Cry Primal, but I can’t.  The above-mentioned issues with my kid’s bedtime are interfering with my evening free time, and by the time he does finally go to bed I’m usually too exhausted to do anything.  If I’m repeating myself, well, what can I say?  It is what it is.

Superhot is awesome, and I am also not very good at it.  I’ve tried playing it with the Steam controller (which is very, very bad), with mouse and keyboard (which is better), and with the good ol’ 360 gamepad (which is probably best), and I continue to get killed very quickly.  I am tempted to wait on it until the XB1 version comes out, which is supposedly coming in a few weeks; I’m wondering if perhaps my couch and big TV might at least make the experience more comfortable.

Far Cry Primal, on the other hand… well, it’s basically Far Cry 3 and 4, but in the Stone Age.  So it’s not exactly the same game – there are no guns, cars or gyrocopters, obviously, and you’re speaking in caveman gibberish – but in nearly every other respect it’s the same game I’ve played over the last 2-3 years.  I appreciate the novelty of the game’s setting, and the game looks fantastic… but I really don’t know if I care enough to keep pushing through.  It’s not like the game’s story is all that interesting, and in the meantime the game suffers from that ubiquitous Ubisoft-ness where the map is covered with so many different things to do that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s actually important.  Mostly I gather flowers and light bonfires.  I’m holding onto it for at least a few more weeks, because there’s nothing else on my radar until The Division, but I’m not feeling pulled toward it with any urgency.


I’m kinda racing through Foucault’s Pendulum, now, which I don’t like doing.  It’s a book that I still have very fond feelings for, but it’s also somewhat tedious in its digressions; I didn’t mind that so much in my previous readings, but for whatever reason I’m finding it tedious now.

I’m wondering if part of this feeling of urgency is tied to the Goodreads challenge.  I’m still 4 books ahead of schedule, but I don’t particularly like feeling rushed.  And I’m reluctant to read some of the longer books in my to-read list for that specific reason; I don’t want to get bogged down in something enormous if I start feeling like I’m falling behind.  I’m fully aware that this is a ridiculous, self-imposed neurosis; I don’t win a prize for beating the challenge.  That doesn’t stop me from succumbing to it.

Two good reads to recommend:

  1. Holly Green wrote an absolute stunner of a piece about Firewatch and unrequited love; I only wish I felt as strongly about the game itself as I do about this essay.
  2. John Biggs wrote a pretty great piece about writing 11,000 blog posts.  That essay is why I’m writing this particular post right now, even though I feel like I have very little to say.

I need to get back to the album.  I took a little break from thinking about it, and that break got extended thanks to the boy’s recent adventures in stretching out his bedtime boundaries, but honestly I could come up with a dozen more excuses (Trump!  Thinking about getting a new car!  My day job’s impending office move!) and none of them would change the simple and obvious fact that if I wanted to find time to write, I’d make the time to write.  Well, I need to make that time happen.  So I’m logging off now.