As Cool as….

Kim Deal Boz Scaggs: A Very Limited, Very Opinionated Retrospective of the 1970’s (and perhaps the 1980’s and 1990’s) by an Aging Neo-Hipster with a Terrible Memory in an Unknown Amount of Parts with Spotty Updates. (Intro)

The other day I was struggling through a terribly long drive. Due to an unfortunate accident involving iPhone/iTunes syncing errors, my music library was wiped clean. I have this ‘rushing around in the early A.M.’ issue that  usually means one of the following:

  1. I forget my phone and/or wallet
  2. I forget my nutritious and smartly packed lunch
  3. I do not check my calendar and realize that today is a suit and tie army day (meaning I have to turn around and do a wardrobe change).
  4. I realize it is Saturday and I don’t have to be anywhere right away (true story and happens more than you think).

I have not had the pleasure of forgetting my pants, but the threat is always in the back of my mind. Yesterday’s unfortunate mind fart involved reloading my library with new albums that I’ve been promising myself (and others) to review. The night before, I promised myself as I slipped under the sheets that I would replenish the currently empty  music library on the cursed thing. You can figure out the meat of the story which ends with a hearty facepalm 30 minutes into my trip. Luckily, I have a back-up plan to protect myself from the zombie like effects of terrestrial radio. That isn’t to say that I listen to music via my satellite receiver; it’s only a relatively minor step up from the FM band. I do, however, enjoy talk radio, news stations, and rarely, the comedy stations. I will say that there are some fine music stations in my package, but, for some reason, I have a limited listening tolerance. My theory is that I am very spoiled when it comes to the musical content blazing through my speakers. When listening to music, I’d rather pause the live playback so I can skip through selections. I become frustrated when the playback catches up to the broadcast. Satellite listeners understand the frustration of such a state.

Coincidentally, I dropped a note to the author of the Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement (pavementandbeerforpeace.wordpress.com/) expressing my appreciation for his work and, in an off the cuff manner, requesting a collaboration. Seemed like a good idea, but implementing such a plan seemed to be a bit daunting. When you are on the road for six hours, your mind starts to drift into a brainstorming mode and my thoughts were shuffling around potential ideas.

I was deep in thought when I hit the wrong buttons on my radio. Instead of going to an alt country channel (the talk radio channels were on replays of earlier broadcasts), I was directed to a 1970’s music channel; Boz Scaggs was crooning through the smooth funk progressions of Lowdown. As a failed bass player, I absolutely love the subtle back beat of the song. It’s a guilty pleasure, but the appreciation has more to do with nostalgia than that of a true deep music knowledge. I was four years old when this song was rising through the popular music charts and was somewhat imprinted in the grey matter. I started drifting into a thought thread that involved the idea that music of our early years impact our tastes as adults. I also realized that while I get all misty eyed at a mid tier pop/funk song from the land of Billy Beer, what do today’s youth view as music of their baby teeth years? Do they view the bands that I obsessively saw live in my salad days as old foggy music that is appreciated through old youtube clips and random satellite scanning?  I know from the various emails I have received over the course of S&M that many of my readers were pushing their developing audiophile teeth during the commercialization  of alternative music. In their minds, most of today’s music is influenced by the music of their youth. Conversely, I am no different beyond a shift of calendar dates. While I can related a modern release to say Madness , they are more prone to compare it to Korn. To quote a non musical Kurt, “so it goes”.

So, what will this Fiona Appleish titled series entail? I have a few ideas but tipping my hand is akin to blogverse suicide, so stay tuned. Better yet, drop me a line, make a request,or give a suggestion. Writing about childhood influences is a rather flawed operation and your input would help push this series along. Of course, this could be nothing more than a rather idiotic state of sentimentality marking the passing of my personal 40th benchmark and misses any sort of reader investment. “So it goes.”


Hear those crickets a chirpin’

Wow, it has been a long time since my last review. Life catches up with all of us from time to time and I could not fit a proper review into the mix. I have a few reviews on the back burner and will get them out to the masses in the next few weeks. Instead, I will ramble on nothing in particular; after all, isn’t useless babble the fruit of life?

The world is a wonderful, if not bizarre place. I am not saying that it’s bad by any means. My life is pretty damn good. I really have no complaints. You may be saying to yourself “is this why you switched from pop culture rants to music reviews and then slipped from the face of the planet”? This is a very normal thing to ask yourself after all. Ok. If you find yourself ranting to your reflection in such a manner, perhaps you should evaluate your life. All I am saying is that the world can be pretty damn strange (and wondrous) at times. Over the past two years, I have noticed that my personal outlook has gone from overly Emo to that of a metaphysical smirk.  The curve balls that the big guy throws at us are mostly, well, they can be pretty amusing, if you aren’t suffering from some sort of rash I guess. Regardless, with the bad mojo removed I have found life rather enjoyable.

The odd thing is that I rebelled against such a state for a period of time. I think this has more to do with being a Couplandesque Gen X’er. I was one of the few who really thought I would end up on a beach of whale bones swamping stories with disinterested hipsters. Looking back, I realize this is a pretty absurd notion. Whale furniture tends to be a bit uncomfortable. I have this minor theory (one of many) that the hipsters of the 1990’s never wanted to be comfortable or secure. We wanted to suffer and become martyrs to some sort of artistic pursuit. I still carry my torch, why else would I slog through the basements of music critics? I don’t need the cash and those private messages from English toughs who insist you are tone-deaf are rather painful. Nothing against the Brits; I dig your culture. It’s just that the young American hipster scene is dead or at least buried under commercialism so mostly my hate mail is from the other side of the pond. My point is this; when we were young, we strove to fit this disenchanted ideal; somewhere along the line, it became our central mantra. As we moved from the Universities and flea bag apartments into successful careers, deep down we were faced with this sinking feeling that we were nothing less than epic sell outs. Every promotion, every purchase at the big box home improvement stores added additional layers of guilt. I am not saying that this was some sort of epidemic; but I’ve noticed that some of my past friends all share this dark shadow around them. Is it guilt or disappointment? I have no idea. I am not that smart. Perhaps this is something that every (idealistic) generation faces as we age. Maybe this is a typical midlife thing. I don’t know but I am not rocking the silly sports car, you know?

If I was trying to be clever, I would insert all kinds of amusing oddities in this space, but I just wanted to rant for a bit. The fact is simple, I have faced down my slacker/adult interface and I feel pretty good. I am not sure why it took so long, but guys are pretty damn stupid at times. I am no exception.

For those of you who still check in from time to time and haven’t given up on the blog, thanks! I promise more tidbits/reviews/rants/yawns/laughs/facepalms soon. Stay tuned.

– The guy behind S&M.


Music Review: Cults

Cults (Self Titled). Released June 7, 2011 on ITNO/Columbia.

The most difficult hurdle to reviewing Cults self titled release is ignoring their unique rise from the chaotic nature of the Bandcamp music store to major label signing. Usually, such buzz is created by an army of slick dressed PR types leading a horde of well placed advertisements and whispers in the (virtual) ears of audiophiles. Honestly, Cults did it the old fashioned way, through their music. This is a band that follows the drunken advice brandied about in bars all over the world, they shut up and play.

The other issue with a proper review is avoiding all of the typical buzzwords that are thrown around too often, like “revelation”. Cults certainly fits the bill yet this word (and others for that matter) is a poor descriptor. I think it is best summarized in the following thought; the songs are a mix of shiny arrangements that grab your body, inducing movement, yet the subject matter is sprinkled with longing, disappointment, and numbness. Madeline Follin’s soulful voice is a real treasure and subtly guides the listener to ignore the meaning of each piece. I have sought to find other descriptors to properly describe the band, but always come back to writing about the state of culture instead of the actual music. In my opinion, this is a hallmark of a great album; it uses sleight of hand to subtly push you into other realms of thought. Simply, buy it. Stand out tracks include trippy sampled Oh My God, the bleak Abducted, and heavily Detroit City influenced Most Wanted.

Perhaps the reason that this band resonates so strong is that they are a reflection of our society. The vacant commuter on a city bus, the computer slave staring off into space, and the woman who secretly cries for lost love in the dark of an empty house; the people who put on their best face in social situations but are otherwise vacant. The late David Foster Wallace, in a speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, once mused that the human condition is merely a struggle against being dead inside. Perhaps this ideal is too generalized and bleak but it can be argued that such an ideal certainly does sell. Perhaps we should be content with finding comfort where we can.



Music Review – Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Released March 29, 2011 on Collective Sounds

The second album by New York’s  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart finds the band polishing their sound in an attempt to expand their fan base. While fuzzy guitar filler is still prevalent on each track, the back beat is more straightforward and has a retro college radio cross over feel reminiscent of post-shoegaze releases by industry stalwarts such as Chapterhouse. Bringing 1990’s studio wizard Flood on the payroll to handle production duties seems to indicate that the band does not mind such comparisons. While Flood’s production is flawless, it borders, at times, on sterility as all of the songs, with the exception of My Terrible Friend and Girl of 1,000 Dreams, share a similar volume. Sonically, the songs have an almost muted feel as if you found a dusty CD at the back of your closet from your college days. Compared to today’s balls to the wall red line studio levels, this is a bit of a head scratcher.  While the production may force the average listener to raise the sound level on their stereo equipment, it does not take from the quality of the songs. Kip Berman’s airy lispy whisper and sharp brainy lyrics are a nice counterbalance to the layered guitars and retro keyboard flourishes. Overall this is a strong album, but given the band’s outstanding debut, this has the feel of an album that will be viewed as a transition/filler piece when compared to future releases. Simply, this is a solid Sophomore release and should be taken as such.



Call for Contributors

Salt & Maelstrom is considering leaving the comfortable confines of WordPress and moving to a formal website. Part of our evaluation will be recruiting talent writers to contribute to the website on a regular basis. We are currently looking to fill the following positions.

Music Reviews

The music reviewer should possess a deep knowledge of the history and cultural significance of the independent music genre. Reviews should be between 400-600 words and will be smart, insightful, well written, and provide a concise analysis to assist individuals with purchase choices. The candidate must be able to provide 2 music reviews per month.

Pop Culture

The candidate should be able to express a fresh and insightful look at pop culture trends. The entries may be based upon opinions, but trends and statistics should be utilized to support the point of the piece. Subject matter is not limited to a specific trend, but should be relevant to independent music or underground movements. Submissions will be accepted on an individual basis.

Hot to Get Started

Feel free to send an email to salt.maelstrom@gmail.com that outlines your desire to contribute to the website. We are not necessarily looking for experienced writers, just individuals with insightful opinions who possess a strong ability for the written word. While we cannot offer monetary compensation at this time as we are a non revenue generating website, authors will be given full credit for submissions in terms of byline. This is a fantastic opportunity to establish a reader base and increase your exposure on the web.

Submissions will be evaluated for relevance to the independent ideals of the site. Submissions may be rejected at anytime. Salt & Maelstrom has a strong anti-piracy policy and wishes to support the independent music scene. All music reviews will be performed on legal music obtained by direct sale or by permission of the band or record label.



Music Review: The Head and The Heart

The Head and The Heart - The Head and The Heart. Released January 10, 2011 on Sup Pop Records.

One can imagine the members of The Head and The Heart crammed into a musty practice space tirelessly crafting wholesome indie pop songs to ward off the drudge of Seattle weather. This debut album is chock full of indie pop hallmarks; the crazily catchy sing along “ba dap a ba’s” featured in Ghosts, the acoustic trinity of guitars, violins, and piano on Down in the Valley, to the three-part melodies of the closer Heaven Go Easy on Me. While, overall, the album follows the same formula of mixing equal parts Belle and Sebastian, Bon Iver, Rufus Wainwright, and the gentler, more reflective Ryan Adams, the shared vocal responsibilities of Josiah Johnson and Jon Russell (with backing vocals from Charity Thielen) add enough zest to ensure the listener that this is a band with a clear vision of their work. While there are some songs that border in dirge territory (Down in the Valley and Rivers and Roads), the band balances country twang, harmonization, and tight instrumentation that guides the listener to a gentle reflective state. Simply, The Head and The Heart have hit upon a formula that will be sure to please a wide audience and I would not be surprised if the band did not break free of their indie chains. One hopes that they hold their roots and influences close with future releases.



Music Review: Viva Stereo – Endure the Dark to See the Stars (Prerelease)

Viva Stereo, Endure the Dark to See the Stars. Release Date: May 9, 2011 on De-Fence Records (Fence Records).

Viva Stereo is a fine example of the indie ethic in today’s world of digital recording and publishing. They hold day jobs; toiling away as a means to further the development of their music. This year, they celebrated 10 years as a formal band. Such longevity is rare; even for bands who are fortunate enough to focus solely on their music without the hassle and worry of punching a time clock. Remaining somewhat obscure in the realm of indie music, Viva Stereo has spent endless hours in the studio and in the bar scene honing their sound. While past releases have suffered from aping the sound of other contemporary influences, their fourth formal studio release, Endure the Dark to See the Stars, proves that the band has honed a unique sound.

There is something very familiar about this album, and a number of direct comparisons to stalwarts of the genre, such as Primal Scream, come to mind. The subtle variation between tracks show that while the band is orbiting the same ideal as PS, they are tapping into their own interpretation of the sound. The songs are amazingly well crafted and produced for a small label release. The music is very organic, each song is instrumented in a manner that speaks to a single emotion or thought. The lyrics are a bit simplistic. In most cases this would deteriorate the quality of a song, however, the sparse imagery adds to the over all lushness of the composition.

There is an overall sonic, far-reaching feeling to the album and plays well from track to track. The sonic nature is very subtle and matches the varied instrumentation and tempo throughout the album. In other words, this album will not peel the paint from your car, nor will you find yourself absently breaking speed limits as your foot gains weight on your accelerator. This is a heady album and is best served as late night/after the bar closes chill music. Stand out tracks includes the epic feeling title track Endure the Dark to See the Stars, the falsetto, stringed pop gem New Life, and the down tempo closer We Set Sail. The lone slow moment on the album is the opener, Vultures.  The guitars are muted and should have been placed  in the forefront to give the song a bit more grit. Regardless, this is a fantastic album and is worthy of your download dollars.

I have a soft spot for small indie labels. Most of these fledgling organizations are run on a shoe string budget, but are a hot bed for great music. The wonderful thing about the state of music blogging is that many of these small labels are gaining exposure from the arm-chair critics, which, in turns into album sales. I sincerely hope that this relationship proves fruitful for the small labels; the world would be a much darker place with out them coloring the atmosphere in rich sound. My thanks to the folks of Fence Records for providing an early copy of this record.


Tree Surfing

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