Category: songwriting

a few words from the sad guy, plus some new (old) songs

So I’ve been kinda fucked up lately.  With the news.  Like, really kinda fucked up.  As in, I am really needing to go to therapy on Saturday.  I want to clarify:  I’m not in a dangerous place.  But over the last few weeks, with news shit really starting to get, like, absurd, I’ve been aware of my face having the sort of thousand-yard stare that can accompany the late stages of devastated, turn-out-the-lights-and-listen-to-Disintegration-over-headphones teenaged heartache.  There’s really no other word for it than sad.  But in a really deep, really fucked up, please get me offa this thing sort of way.

We all have different coping mechanisms.  I’ve been too frazzled to play video games lately, which is frustrating.  I’ve been reading very escapist fiction, but only a chapter or two at a time – and I’m also reading two collections of short stories, and alternating between all three or four at any given time.  I can’t focus, is what I’m saying.  I get home, I put Henry to bed, I kiss my wife, and then I get just sad and also perhaps a little or a lot very stoned in my basement while I listen to music or try to think about maybe one day writing lyrics to songs that I haven’t finished recording from three years ago.

SUDDEN TANGENT:  You know what, fuck it.  It’s killing me that I haven’t finished this album after all this time, and so I need to do something about it.  All these tracks have been slowly burning tiny holes in my iPhone since 2015.   So rather than release a B-side of a B-side, I’m gonna throw on one of the stuff that I actually really like and still intend to finish.

So this thing right here is a loop I recorded on a 4-track through my looping pedal in, like, 2001.

 

So that’s a thing I’ve always kinda liked.  I later reworked into a bridge section for a latter-day Good Evening song in 2006-7, and then I kinda just kept it in the back of my mind; when I signed up for the RPM challenge in 2015, and for lack of any better ideas, I decided to revisit it and see if I could fit it into something new.  I never did find a definitive beginning and/or end to it, but the section itself still sounds quite lovely to me:

 

And then this other thing, which is just a fun doodle of an idea that is perhaps too-obviously informed by The Forms, also happens to be the most recent substantial thing I’ve recorded here in Maplewood, (but again, that only means November 2015):

 

OK.  You are now the first people in the world (aside from 3-4 beta listeners from three years ago) to have heard that.  Thank you for indulging me.  I HAVE PLENTY MORE AND WILL PUT THEM UP, PERHAPS LATER IN THIS VERY POST THAT I AM PROCRASTINATING FROM FINISHING.

[END TANGENT]

So I’ve been sad, is the thing, and it’s frustrating as all hell, because it’s a sadness that exists beyond me; it’s not a sadness that I can control.  It is a sadness of the very reality that we are currently living in, more specifically the cruel feeling of hopelessness about it all, and that even with the amazing and surprising and good-heart-feeling election victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s immediately driven back by the 1-2 punch of the SCOTUS mess and the mass shooting at a Maryland newspaper (which, I want to make clear, I’m writing this at 9:23 while very stoned and don’t yet know if a motive has been uncovered – the more important issue is that, in the words of @igorvolsky, “any motive + easy access to firearms = death & horror.”

And so anyway, about half an hour ago or so I went upstairs to pee and get some ice cream because I’m sad and binge-eating and munched out and I was looking at Facebook and saw this video.

Now, look.  I think Donald Trump is, perhaps, the most dangerous man in American history.  He is vile and repellant and morally unfit and profoundly unethical and we all know it.  There isn’t a day that goes by lately where I don’t spend my day within a deep and disturbing dread that something truly awful is about to happen.

But the thing I find most loathsome about him – despite his endless blustering and bravado and chest-bumping – is that he’s a fucking coward.  This shooting in Maryland is tragic and horrible and he is so scared about having to deal with a real crisis that he just keeps on walking.  He’s the President of the United States, don’t tell me he didn’t yet know.   He absolutely knew.  And he was too scared to speak to the press to offer any words of condolences.  He has no empathy for other human beings in pain, and so there is nothing for him to gain out of offering solace to the grieving.  So he just walks away.

I was going to get into a whole big rant about it.  I was gonna just vent and spew and vomit all over the internet.  This is a very small and insignificant part of the internet, the whole of which you’d never call pristine, but whatever – now I’ve just covered my little tiny part of it in venom.

Then I decided to not do that.  Maybe I’d write about not writing.  Because even though I’m hurting, I don’t know that throwing my hurt onto you is the right thing.  I’m not saying I should be keeping this to myself – like I said above, I’m really looking forward to Saturday morning’s therapy session.  And so I worry about having my only contribution to this shrieking nightmare to simply be another lonely howl at the moon.

I think what I really needed to do is just tell you guys that I love you.  Times are fucking terrible right now, man, and it fucking sucks.  But you’re not alone.  I’m not alone.  We’re not alone.  I love you guys.  I need to remember to love you guys more.  I need to remember to keep love in my heart.

(And then, after some cleansing breaths, I say:  if they go low, continue to kick them in the face.)

How The Hell Is It June Already

There are any number of reasons why it’s taken me so long to get back here; none of them are terribly interesting.  Suffice it to day that sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day; and sometimes, when there are, those hours are best spent taking a nap.

I will say this, even if it sounds corny:  I am trying very hard to only put positive stuff out into the world.  And sometimes that means not saying anything at all.  I know I’d said not too long ago that this blog might turn into something a bit more LiveJournal-y, but to be honest I think I’d rather keep that stuff between me and my therapist.  I don’t want to use this space to whine or complain; it’s not fun to write, and I’m sure it’s not interesting to read.  So I’m gonna try to… um… not do that.

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It’s been almost a month since I’ve been here, so let’s dust off the cobwebs and get up to speed.

BOOKS:

In my last substantive entry I wrote that I was halfway through volume 3 of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  I finished it shortly thereafter, and I’ll say this for it:  the series is great, but it’s also exhausting, and I’m probably not going to re-read anything before volume 4 comes out.

And in the intervening time I’ve also read:

  • Agents of Dreamland, Caitlin Kiernan
  • Black Helicopters, Caitlin Kiernan – I’d read Agents last year, and remembered loving it, and wanted more of it because it was so short.  Black Helicopters has nearly the same cover art, and so I thought it was a sequel; it’s not, and the two books are only very tenuously related.  You can read them in a few hours, for whatever it’s worth.
  • The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt – I thought this was going to be a collection of horror stories; it’s not.  But it’s still very good, and certainly there’s more than a few stories that got under my skin.
  • The Outsider, Stephen King – Tangentially related to his Bill Hodges trilogy, this is more of a supernatural mystery novel than anything else; it’s also much better than the Hodges books, and largely devoid of his usual tics and mannerisms.
  • Dead On Arrival, Matt Ritchel – Great premise, super-shitty writing.
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro – I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this, but I did, and it’s great.  It didn’t necessarily knock me over the way it has for friends of mine, but it’s still a marvel.
  • The Thief, Fuminori Nakamura – A very short philosophical meditation on pickpocketing, power, and fate.  Illuminating, though slight.
  • Clockwork Boys / The Wonder Engine, T. Kingfisher – I’m not sure what prompted me to pick these up; I’m not sure I’m going to finish them.  It’s almost as if the author conjured up an unlikely band of misfits based on standard fantasy tropes and then decided to write fan fiction about them.

MUSIC:

My last post made a loose promise that I’d start livestreaming from my basement the next time I started writing music.  Ha ha ha ha ha, no, that didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to until I re-learn how to use all my software.

I am listening a lot, though, which is usually a good sign that I’m going to start working again.  Spotify’s Neo-Psychedelic Rock playlist is really, really good.  The new Neko Case is also really good, as is Oneohtrix Point Never, Wooden Shjips, Ryley Walker, and Stephen Malkmus.  However, I’ve mostly been listening to Peter Gabriel, now that most of his catalog is back on Spotify.  I’ve been wanting to do a cover of “Digging in the Dirt” for 25 years, and I’m only now starting to get an idea of how to approach it.


GAMES:

I’m gonna be honest – I’m a mess right now, game-wise.  I have a backlog that is too intimidating for me to deal with, and an attention span that can only handle about 30-45 minutes at a time, and shooters are starting to feel distasteful again.  I picked up OnRush and Vampyr, and they’re both very conceptually interesting, though somewhat rough around the edges… and I’ve been dabbling in DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins and Far Cry 5, and I’m not necessarily feeling those…

The one thing that I have been playing – and enjoying quite more than I ever expected to – is Yoku’s Island Express, which is a 2D platformer that uses pinball mechanics.  It is lovely and charming and gorgeous and totally the sort of whimsical escapist adventure that I need right now, and I cannot recommend it enough.  I liked it so much that I bought it for both my X and my Switch – it’s a perfect handheld game, and it’s also beautiful on a big TV.

I don’t have any E3 predictions to offer up, and there’s only a few things that I’d like to hear are coming:

  • release date for Psychonauts 2;
  • the existence of Portal 3;
  • any news whatsoever on whatever Rocksteady Studios is working on; rumors point to a Superman game, which, meh.  But I’m willing to check out anything they’re working on, if only because their Batman games are so phenomenally good;
  • and also Diablo 3 on Switch.

a plan, of sorts

Lots of good new music out today.  Lots of good music from all over the place in my head.

I’ve been thinking that I need some sort of external motivation in order to finish this recording project.  When I’m left to my own devices, I tend to get sidetracked.  So I’m contemplating setting up some sort of livestream – probably on Facebook – and putting on a sort-of impromptu songwriting / jam session / performance / workshopping thing.  Even if nobody watches it, it’s something that could hold me accountable.  And if someone does watch it, then, hey, you get a world premiere of whatever it is I come up with.

This may happen as early as next week, so, look out.

self-care for the self-aware

 

In these troubled times, it’s important to take time out for self-care.  Self-care comes in many different forms.  For me, lately, one of those methods has been to do some serious heavy-duty organization of my digital media.

Last night, I spent almost two hours curating smaller playlists out of my gargantuan “Favorites from the Spotify Discovery” playlists.  While I appreciate that Spotify’s algorithm knows me so well, it’s made my “best-of” playlists untenable; until last night I’d simply been putting my favorite tracks into a mega-list for each year, and by year’s end I’d have 150+ songs, and so when I’d start a new list for a new year I’d stop listening to the previous year, and so there’s dozens of songs that I’ve kept that I haven’t had a chance to really absorb.  This is nonsensical, I know, but you have no idea how nice it is to know that all the weird space jazz that Spotify feeds me can live in one readily identifiable place.

There’s a lot that I don’t miss about my high school / college / post-college years, but one of the things that I do miss quite terribly is that back then, it was very easy for me to carve out a solid chunk of hours to obsessively listen to music.  I don’t have that luxury any more; my commute is too short, I can’t listen to music at work, and my evening hours are hit-or-miss.   There were a few moments last night while I was in the midst of this curation session when I’d say to myself, ooh, that’s an album I want to spend some time listening to, I’ll get to it later… and then I’d realize, wait, when exactly is “later”?

Anyway.  I know it’s ridiculous, but I sorta have to do this organizational stuff in order to streamline my creative process.  My new computer arrived last week, and it’s awesome, and everything works the way it’s supposed to, and now I have to accept the fact that I haven’t done anything creatively as far as music goes in far, far too long.  (Hell, I need to remember how some of my software actually works.)  And I know that the first few times I sit down to start composing, I’m gonna be rusty and turn out some stupid shit.  But rather than beat myself up about it, I need to make sure that I’m showing up to my sessions in a good mood, and that means I need to listen to inspiring stuff.  And so while it’s fair to say that this could be seen as a highly contrived excuse for procrastination, it’s also productive and useful.


Similarly, I spent a very satisfying hour last week sorting my PS4 Pro’s game library into folders – Sony Exclusives, PS VR, Indies, Multi-Platform.  I sincerely hope that Microsoft lets me create folders for the X, someday; they sorta do this already, in terms of how you can sort your library, but it’d be nice to be able to further customize those categories.

Look, I know this is a super-ridiculous thing but I love it and it makes me very happy.


So last week I took a much-needed (though not terribly satisfying) staycation, and I played a bunch of stuff.

1.  Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.  I’d gotten this on PS4 last year, got stuck, and then forgot about it; but I figured I’d give it another go on the X – I was, if nothing else, curious to see how the X shaped up to the PS4, and the developer happened to mention that if they sold a certain amount of units, they’d be donating a certain amount of their proceeds to certain mental health charities, and that felt like a worthwhile thing to contribute to.  So, yeah – this game is fucking amazing, and it looks extraordinary on the X, and I’m really glad I finally finished it.

2. Yakuza 6 / Ni No Kuni 2.  You couldn’t pick 2 more different games to start playing at the exact same time, but here we are.  Of course, these have been put to the side because of God of War, but I’ll get to that in a sec.  I really like both of what I’ve played of these two, so far, though, and I hope to get back to them in a bit.

3.  Far Cry 5.  So I’ve beaten 2 of the 3 sub-bosses, and I’ve done a fair amount of side stuff, and I’m honestly not sure I need to 100% this.  When I’m goofing off and exploring, it’s fine; when I’m paying attention to the story, everything sucks.

4.  God of War.  Well, look – this is gonna be the main thing I’m playing until I finish it, and even then I don’t know that I’ll want to put it down.  It’s an extraordinary experience on nearly every level.  This is the clear frontrunner for Game of the Year until Red Dead 2 comes out later this year, and the bar for RDR2 is very, very, very high.  I don’t really want to talk about it until I’m done with it; it needs its own post.  Just get it and play it and enjoy it and love it.  And also hug your children.

The Friday Funk

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

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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.

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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.

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