Final Four: Bonnie & Tide, Jack & Brutus (Not Really)

“And tell me again about the man who went insane.”
-Shinedown, “Left Out”

It’s the most wonderful… I’m not going to finish that sentence, Christmas is pretty wonderful… time of the year. Shoot, I did it anyway.

As I noted in January, I’m a spoiled college football fan. I have connections to both Alabama and Ohio State. The former is where I went to grad school and the latter is where I fell in love with a community as a child. Fittingly, both schools are two-seeds on opposite sides of the NCAA Tournament bracket this season.

I cheer for six universities in college basketball. With the addition of Georgetown and St. Bonaventure making the tournament, I’m preparing myself for a very anxious weekend. At least both New Mexico and New Mexico State had pathetic and disappointing seasons, so I don’t have to stress over anything in the Land of Enchantment. Well, except for the state itself.

I love the stress. Perhaps I should start searching for other schools to cheer for in their respective dominance. Oregon track, USC water polo, Cornell debate, Webster chess…

Why can’t I just be happy? 

Hoya Saxa!

It was 38 years ago. My mother reached Georgetown Hospital, and shortly after I was born in the early hours of the morning. There I was, jaundice with a cone head and peeing all over the place—so I’m told. I’m a normal color, my head flattened out and I try to go get through the day with some decency now.

My father went to Georgetown, so did my sister and my two stepbrothers. I was born in D.C. and was too young to remember the school’s golden years, but I was alive, nonetheless, drooling at the television, processing the flickering lights and nothing more.

Now, decades later, I still cheer for the Hoyas. Patrick Ewing is at the helm trying to accomplish what he did as a player for the university in the ‘80s. Their run through the Big East Tournament was unprecedented, but even more moving. The great John Thompson, ex-Hoya coach and, more importantly, dominating and significant civil presence, passed away last year, and there appears to be some inspired play from the Hoyas of late. This season is dedicated to Big John, and a win in the NCAA Tournament would make it just that much sweeter.

Game Attire: Navy Hoyas’ long-sleeve shirt with Jack the Bulldog’s rough face on it and a white towel draped over my shoulder.

Prediction: Sweet 16

O-H-I-O!

We moved to Dublin, Ohio after leaving D.C. The small town outside of Columbus was a beautiful area, and the love for Ohio State everything stretched well past our borders. We fell in love with football, but the university is powerful in all athletics.

The basketball program has always been solid, but the last time they won the national championship was in 1960. Of course, the football team is in contention every year it seems for their respective title.

In 2007, the Buckeyes made the championship game, only to fall short. In 2012, they returned to the Final Four, but lost their semifinal game. This year may be different. The team reached the Big Ten championship game, and the conference was the best in the country. They won’t need much luck to get back to the Final Four, but I better not take any chances with tradition.

Game Attire: Dark gray Buckeyes’ long-sleeve shirt with buckeye leaves that dangerously resemble marijuana and a scarlet hat.

Prediction: Elite Eight

Go Bonnies!

The year I graduated from high school was a trying one to say the least. I was at the latter end of my teenage angst, and situations beyond my control led me to believe a fresh start was needed. I packed up and drove almost 2,000 miles east and settled in the small peaceful confines of a town in western New York.

St. Bonaventure had a beautiful campus and great people. I enjoyed my year spent at the university, I even made one of my best friends for life in that short time, and we’re still in contact today. However, timing is everything, and though I loved trekking through a foot of snow to get to class at times, the small-town feel and proximity to Buffalo and Toronto, I mind just wasn’t ready for college.

Though I left school early, that time spent at St. Bonaventure made me appreciate their basketball program and I will remain loyal. Watching the games in their small campus gym and how the community adored the Bonnies was special. The program has reached the Final Four once (1970). Bob Lanier led that great squad, and the team has had some good rosters since. This year is one of the better ones, and hopefully they can get past LSU and knock off Michigan, Ohio State’s sworn enemy, in the second round.

Game Attire: Gray Bonnie’s T-Shirt and maybe something brown lying around the house to hold.

Prediction: Round of 32 

Roll Tide!

The Crimson Tide are my newest love. I started my higher education at St. Bonaventure and finished my graduate studies at Alabama. Perhaps another school will earn my loyalty if I pursue a doctorate. For now, Alabama is the freshest fandom.

I’ve never felt so welcomed in a university setting. The faculty was tremendous and I’m still in contact with some of my professors. No, I’m not a brown-noser; I’ve just been enchanted by southern charm. Though, the humidity isn’t my favorite.

Like Ohio State, Alabama is most known for their talent on the gridiron, claiming their 18th national championship this past season. The basketball program has a great chance to help Alabama become only the second school in history to hold both men’s basketball and football titles in the same year (Florida, 2007). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet; that’s some serious jinxing right there.

On an awful side note, those Gator teams beat the Buckeyes in both basketball and football to claim their titles. Ugh.

Game Attire: Crimson Alabama T-shirt with angry elephant head stating “Roll Tide!” and a khaki hat with Big Al and the “Bama” scroll.

Prediction: Final Four

Just My Luck

Three of these four schools are in the same region. The NCAA Tournament committee is obviously against me. They sit in their little board room, ties loosened, passing around pitchers of what we all hope is water, laughing at an embarrassing candid photo of me taped to the whiteboard. How rude. Ideally, like the College Football Playoff championship, I would want all four of my teams in the Final Four. The only possible final-two pairing can be Alabama and Ohio State. Interesting. See above, and also way above.

Or would I want this?

I wouldn’t win, again. Perhaps having the teams I support play each other early erases any false sense of hope. Friday, I start my journey, but Saturday will be an all-day fest. How early is too early to start drinking? If tip-off is past noon in one time zone, does that validate opening a morning beer?

Friday and Saturday, and with any luck Sunday and Monday, I will be on my sunken cushion of the couch, skipping any temptation to be active outside or healthy in general, and superstitiously watch each of my teams advance or fall. I’m hoping for pure joy, will settle for a blend of bliss and agony, and ultimately wish I’m not completely tormented.

Let’s not forget about the total importance of this year’s NCAA Tournament, however. It’s been two years since a champion was crowned in front of a raucous crowd in a sold-out stadium. Then something terrible happened, and now society is gradually returning to form.

When the referee tosses the ball up at mid-court at the start of the first tournament game this afternoon, a shining moment will take place. Something close to normal for all of us. We should all be happy, for we have madness.

Freedivers Making Waves

“All the minds are falling into an empty space.”
-Freedivers, “The End Of The World

A trend in rock music is taking place, and it’s welcomed. As noted with Alien Feelings and Tarah Who?, there has been a surge in ‘90’s grunge influence. Freedivers continues that rush of nostalgia, but falls even deeper into the past.

“It’s time to play, I want to stay, forever breathing life.”

Spain is a country known for his incredible rhythm and masterful guitar. One of my favorite composers is Isaac Albéniz, and though mostly known as a pianist, his pieces have been transposed beautifully to the classical guitar. The moment I heard “Asturias (Leyenda)” I knew I had to learn it. I did my best piano rendition, but is mostly performed on an acoustic six-string now.

Over a century since Suite Española’s release, there has been plenty of instrumental innovation and progressive composition. Though many older classical listeners may not consider the grunge movement of the ‘90s worthy of recognition, many artists embrace the overall importance of that rock era.

Rafa d Villegas, bassist of Freedivers, explained, “We are influenced by the sound of Seattle of the ‘90s, it is undeniable. We have grown up listening to bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam.”

Yet, bands don’t just stick to one genre or era for inspiration. They incorporate different styles and branch well into the past to craft a song. For example, Iron Maiden samples “Astrurias (Leyenda)” in their track “Mother Russia.”

Freedivers is no different. From Barcelona, the trio of Villegas, Sergi and Xavi Blanch display classical training in their abilities and song structure.

“I was crazy from the chaos of this sick society.”

During 2019, Villegas was beginning to find his sound. He had developed some decent riffs and solid lyrics, but was in search for talent to finish and produce the songs. Brothers Sergi (guitar and vocals) and Xavi (drums) then joined him, and Freedivers was formed. The three Spaniards then added their personal touches and created with equal collaboration.

“It’s been said that our music is indie/rock,” Villegas said. “We talk about personal stories; we believe that they are the same stories as anyone else and that connects us with people.”

Relation is key, especially when writing for a rock audience. Writing, however, is all they can do at the moment.

“Isolation is bringing me down.”

It has officially been over a year since the world entered a global pandemic. As is the case with most acts, the lack of touring can hinder an artist’s progression. Exposure is key during a time like this, especially with things seemingly on the swing upward to being social once more. Real social, not social networking. Ironically, to sustain the possibility of future social gatherings such as concerts, bands must rely on online promotion.

“The pandemic situation made down most of our plans,” Villegas shared. “Any tour or concert was canceled. That is why we have tried to promote the sale of records and merchandising. These are hard times.”

The band is currently writing and recording and making the best use of their time. Freedivers is looking forward to getting back on stage and making a connection with their audience. It’s not about the size of the crowd, it’s about the magical environment created by musician and listener. The band is capable of providing such as aura with their sound, and live music always heightens the senses.   

“Xurupxuxu.”

Freedivers released their debut EP, Upside Down, on Feb. 6. The track listing is a gathering of pre-released singles they have shared since 2019.

Perhaps “The End Of The World” isn’t the most tasteful title for an opening track, but that’s just the times, and no one with a practical mind should take issue to it. The song provides a feel for Freedivers’ sound, and listeners can surely catch the ‘90’s rock influence through the distorted riffs and even Sergi’s vocals. It creates a standard for what is to come, and that’s part of a solid opening track’s responsibility.

The beginning of “Under Arrest” is dangerously close to “Have You Ever Seen Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not like there’s anything wrong with that; they are certainly a band other rock artists should like being mentioned with. The song structure flows well, and the chorus has an easy sing-a-long start, but also shows how the trio can harmonize their vocals. That is difficult to find right now in rock.

“Isolation” again showcases the band’s influences. The sound and vocal cadence is very ‘90s. The monotone drawl of grunge is apparent on this track, the guitar style is similar to Filter or Oasis, and it captures the essence of the era. Again, as I have pointed out before, it’s a good era of rock to incorporate while creating new music.

Freedivers slow down the tempo with “Walking Upside Down” which balances out the EP. It’s a beautiful melody with a deeper, poetic message. Every album needs a ballad such as this because it’s important to the overall flow. It also displays range and versatility in a genre where bands are sometimes labeled as having the same sound throughout. The old, “each track sounded like one big song” complaint. You can say that about a lot of popular artists and genres these days, however.

“Freerider” is the hit of the extended play. The track has a jam-band feel that was once perfected by Counting Crows or Sister Hazel in the ‘90s, but the rhythm definitely has roots that can be traced back to the ‘70s even. The small solo is fantastic and completes the song, and it’s a tune that can get stuck in your head. Upside Down is a complete EP.

The Spanish trio has a great sound and it comes from a variety of inspiration and overall understanding of music. They have captured a time and are re-releasing the experience through their uniqueness as an artist. Another win for the future of rock music.

Tarah Who? Looks to Shift the Narrative

“Let me be your mentor.”
-Tarah Who?, “Manners”

She took the stage; stories permanently etched from wrist to neck, her hair shaved on one side with the rest parted, allowing the opposite full strands to dangle and wildly match the energetic performance. By the end, red had stained her guitar strings and dripped to the floor from her fingertips, the strobe spotlighting the blood through the haze. For Tarah G. Carpenter, music is in her, and she’s fine exposing her passion.

Tarah Who?. It’s not a question that needs to be answered. Tarah Who? is a rising statement in the progressive punk/grunge scene. However, the duo of Carpenter and Coralie “Coco” Herve is prepared to become a brand whether the world is ready or not. 

They are an independent band. Though the industry has been over-saturated with amateur acts for quite some time, Tarah Who? has built a solid following the last half-decade. Yet, their end game isn’t necessarily overwhelming stardom, but rather motivating others to push through the obstacles that make sustainability difficult in the music industry—and having fun throughout the process.

Carpenter said, “I hope to inspire women to play and dare to do what they want to do, and everyone as a matter of fact, regardless of their sexuality, religion, race, etc. My end game is: if WE can do it, EVERYONE can.”

Though people have fought mightily for progression, female lead singers in rock music still must overcome hindrances that delay recognition and relevance.

Herve explained, “I don’t understand that in 2021 there is still this thinking. The best will be for artists to be respected for their art and not because they are a man or a woman.”

Tarah Who? has not only showcased their talents, but has proven their value, and are leading a new charge to shift the narrative.     

“There’s no going back, once you’ve made your choice.”

Carpenter was born in France. Many, especially visitors who have only experienced the country through stories, view the culture as romantic in a sense. Their musical tastes are deep and moving, and many French audiences expect poetic lyrics and masterful production from classical to pop. At 14, Carpenter decided to self-teach herself the drums. At the time, it wasn’t common for a lady to be aggressively slamming sticks against cymbals, snares and toms.

“I remember when my dad said that it was not an instrument for girls. I didn’t take it as a rebellion but more like ‘I don’t care I still want to do it’,” Carpenter said.

Even the drum teacher at a music school in Paris brushed away her aspirations based solely on assumption. Little did they know, Carpenter had already been practicing over tracks and playing in a band. It wasn’t the norm, it was too different, and it had been that way for quite some time.

“I found out a year ago or so that my mom had always wanted to learn how to play the drums, but my mom was born in 1943, so for her time it was really not something girls, women did. Especially after the war.”

The norm had been challenged.

Photo courtesy of Maria Quintana

Though she was an experienced stateside traveler since she was 10, Carpenter moved to the United States as an exchange student at 15. Positioned in Kentucky, she fell in love with America, though she had always been drawn to the culture. Her English teacher in France would praise her grasp of the English language. After earning her baccalaureate, she saved all her money and headed way west at 21 with just a guitar strapped around her shoulder and one piece of luggage in tow.

It was just years before she was learning to break musical barriers on the drums, and now she had thrown herself into a sea of intimidation and dreamers. She was in Los Angeles. With no plan or contacts and little money, she landed in Koreatown, and she knew her voice had to become louder than all the screamers.

“Tell me what you see, and I’ll tell you how I see you.”

A writer needs to be knowledgeable in a variety of industry and societal aspects. They don’t just understand their genre and instrument, they understand music as a whole. They don’t just understand their experiences, they understand the issues that affect their surroundings and beyond. They find a relation in human behavior through past actions and modern affairs. They’re capable of processing an obscene amount of content, and using the information to produce something to share with the world they are emotionally embedded in.

They also need to be able to rock out.

As Tarah Who? was first being formed, another French-native  moved to Los Angeles. Herve came to the states from Brittany, France, but her and Carpenter’s similarities and bond didn’t just stop at language and culture. She was a drummer since 10 and a well-versed music lover. After Coco graduated from the Musicians Institute in 2018, it was time for the duo to define and perfect their sound and start their legacy.

Music has the tendency to repeat itself every three decades. This doesn’t necessarily mean the sound is the same, but rather the style and attitude. The ‘60s and ‘90s brought us great rock, boy bands, and emotion; the ‘70s and ‘00s also gave the world great rock, disco and dance and high energy; the ‘80s and ‘10s spread pop throughout every genre, fantastic experimentation and some strange fashion choices. The ‘20s will give us yet another rock revolution.

In the ‘60s and ‘90s, societal conflict led to progressive voices rising from every form of status, and the start of the ‘20s have been no different, maybe even more demanding in that sense thus far. Also, perhaps these chance comparisons are subconsciously due to the generational bonds we have with our parents, or perhaps, on a less complex psychological note, we’re just in need or nostalgic influence. Fans get that with Tarah Who?.

“I have never written a song just to write a song,” Carpenter shared.

Does this signify the return of the quality album in the industry, something that has vanished since probably the ‘00s in rock music? As a ‘90’s teen, a CD was something of value, and every last track was part of that experience. In the modern world of digital downloads, all a band needs is a hit or two, and maybe land the audio for a commercial.

Both Carpenter and Herve have deep-seeded roots in “older” rock. From strong female-led ‘90’s acts such as Alanis Morissette, Bikini Kill, Björk, The Cranberries, The Distillers, Garbage and Sonic Youth to classics rockers like Bon Jovi, Heart, Joan Jett and Journey, the women of Tarah Who? have a superior catalog of influence.

Her love for these artists, and her drive, allowed Carpenter to enter the industry and a valuable network.       

“We can be ourselves and feel what’s it like to be free and happy.”

Jason Orme was, and still is, an established guitarist from the ‘90s on. He served as Morrisette’s guitarist, and provided support for other strong female artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Natasha Bedingfield, Michelle Branch, Idina Menzel and Kelly Clarkson. He has since added production to his credits.

Orme first met Carpenter when she was a teenager. He was on tour with Morrisette and they were playing a show in Paris. Carpenter attended the concert and was able to linger enough after the show to have a conversation with Orme. They would connect each time France was a tour stop, and after Carpenter moved to Los Angeles, their contact became more frequent. It wasn’t until 10 years after they met that Orme began to truly hear what Carpenter had to offer, and with production now a part of his resume, the timing worked out perfectly. 

Orme said of their relationship, “It just kind of developed over time. She’s really got a voice, and she has something to say.” 

Carpenter fits in well with the role of a strong female voice who has the ability to reach an audience. Orme has always respected her work ethic and independence, and it’s partially why he was excited to work with her and Herve.

“I have a lot of respect for her because I think she really sticks to her gut feeling on things. If it doesn’t feel right in her gut, and if she’s not representing herself in a way that she really wants to, then she doesn’t do it.”

Though Tarah Who? is in a good position when it comes to their genre, they still face an uphill battle. They have their sound, they have an audience, but now there is a call for broader respect.

“We are surrounded by no one at all just because of my gender.”

Progressive punk, grunge, hard rock and other closely-related genres have one thing in common: they are male-dominated. Yet, female-led acts such as Evanescence, Flyleaf, Halestorm, Lucina Coil and The Pretty Reckless have been able to maintain successful careers in the mainstream rock world. Not to mention the previously aforementioned acts dominated the ‘70s-‘10s. The industry isn’t necessarily the issue, though.

Gender norms aren’t something that musical artists themselves live by, but rather audiences and listeners tend to be more focused on what is standard. 

Carpenter said, “We had an interview with a French radio show not too long ago and there seems to be, still, an issue with female artists playing rock, metal, etc. Here in L.A., I feel that women, in general, are able to express themselves more in whatever area they are in. It is very refreshing.”

Cultural differences and mindsets are important to consider for international acts, and when placed in the right scene, it enables any musician with more opportunity and to be taken more seriously. And though the artist shares a common ideology with their colleagues, ignorance and sometimes strategy can delay progression.

Orme added, “I think women are held to a different standard sometimes than men. That’s something they still have to fight.”

Photo courtesy of Maria Quintana

There is also the danger that comes along with being a female in not only a male-dominated genre, but in front of male-dominated audiences. Precautions need to be taken, and there have been instances where both Carpenter and Herve have felt uncomfortable, even at risk from persistent vulgar drunks.

“We usually are able to either calm them down or they get kicked out,” Carpenter explained. “We as artists can’t really get into it since it is also our show on the line.”

It is a difficult balance. Carpenter and Herve, who tour alone most times, must be careful of not only the information they provide, but from any sort of physical altercation or theft. On the other hand, they also have a name to keep and a brand to promote. The duo does it the right way: through their music and onstage presence. They don’t need shock value or degrading sexiness to prove they belong or draw an audience in, and most spectators appreciate the genuine act. 

“Trying to write this without letting a tear go.”

In 2014, Tarah Who? released their debut album, Little Out There. It screamed progressive punk and grunge with loud rhythm, low riffs and heavy distortion and Carpenter’s signature blunt lyrics.

Carpenter admitted of her style, “I am not good at making up stories or using metaphors. When I write I have this burst of emotions, and I am about to explode. Well, I actually do end up in tears of anger or sadness. For a few minutes, I am just writing and writing until my hand hurts and almost until the dark cloud is gone. I feel like I can breathe again.”

Her methods are full of emotion and energy, but nothing is ever forced. Everything is developed with thought. After Little Out There, Tarah Who? released three EPs, Federal Circle of Shame (2016), Half Middle Child Syndrome (2017) and 64 Women (2020). Recently, a slew of singles have been available for streaming, including their latest release on Feb. 16, “Manners.”

Though many of Tarah Who?’s songs contain aggressive riffs, anger and sadness, like “Copycat,” “Pantomath” and “Swallow That Pill,” the band does showcase versatility. “Human To Be” slows the tempo and promotes acceptance and hope within personal frustration, and “Hurt,” “14 Months” and “In A Rush” bring a deeper, softer musical touch to their cadence.

Tarah Who? has shifted their sound a tad. Little Out There had more of a standard ‘90’s rock feel, especially on tracks such as “Rainy Day” and “Too Much Thinking.” The best thing about the album, however, is full balance. It’s loud, heavy, up-tempo, but can shift and transition into melodious ballad songs like “Here All Ears” without any abrupt choppiness. In music, or at least in the past, it’s not just about inner-song structure, but album structure as well.

Releasing singles and EPs are a newer strategy recycled from decades ago. It works on many levels, especially for independent bands. However, Tarah Who? has proven they can write an album, and another full release like Little Out There, not necessarily a retreat to the sound, but rather the structure, may push them further into the scene—and even more so in the community.   

“Ready to get you to be so kind.”

The EP title 64 Women isn’t just some random grouping of females; it has significance. On Nov. 19, 2014, 64 women were detained at an immigration detention center in downtown Los Angeles. Carpenter and Herve also reference the Manchester bombing at Ariana Grande’s concert on May 22, 2017 in the track “Numb Killer.” Through the hard riffs, the punk-grunge sound and attitude, there are important messages connected to Tarah Who?’s music. Carpenter sings about accepting yourself, loving one another despite our physical and ideological differences, and affairs that affect society as a whole.

Tarah Who? can possibly be an influencer—an important one, that is, not the pointless millionaires on social media. Fame isn’t a primary aspiration because there are drawbacks to that level of status. It’s sometimes just about developing a core audience in order to make a living and keep doing what an artist loves to do. That happens on and off the stage.

Carpenter said, “I think that it is the responsibility of any influencers, musician or not, to inspire others in what you believe is right. If you are able to make an impact on someone, you should try to make a good impact. For instance, voting, Black Lives Matter, etc.”

One such cause in Carpenter’s heart is the LGBTQ+ community. “For communities like the LGBTQ+, the way I am making an impact is by not hiding, nor do I need to mention it on every post. The way I see it is that if I want the LGBTQ+ to be ‘normalized’ (because I think it is normal in the first place) is just to be. Do your thing.”

Photo courtesy of Maria Quintana

She lives her life as she chooses, and if she receives any flack for her style or preferences, she realizes that sometimes reaction is useless. It’s regression in a way. When issues are brought to light, and norms are challenged, it’s about progression, and the petty arguments only hinder our development as a society.

Orme added to Carpenter’s plight, “The thing that always impresses me about her is her drive. I think Tarah can keep moving forward and do what she wants, but she’s putting in the work of probably 20 people.”   

What’s most impressive is that Tarah Who? remains an independent band, which comes with freedom. However, there are the financial uncertainties and the stresses of booking gigs and managing tour logistics. Yet, one of the main issues an unsigned artist faces is being taken seriously. Tarah Who? works just as hard, or even harder, than other acts in the industry; they don’t sit around and wait for opportunities to be presented.

Orme said, “In my experience they are some of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever met. Tarah is so dedicated and their story is deep and touches on so many facets of what it takes to be an artist and remain true to what you want to put out into the world.”

Tarah Who? just wants to be heard. 

“Don’t be scared to open up ‘cause we’re just lost souls.”

Tarah Who? has a great opportunity to lead a new charge of female empowerment, as well as being an influential act for young musicians. It’s the story you always hear about, but one in which the ending still needs to be written. Carpenter and Herve can be more than a talented rock duo, they can be an industry symbol of perseverance and progression.

Herve simply said, “I hope we can, as humans and with our music, make the world better. I know it’s cliché, but that’s what I’m hoping for.”

Tarah Who? is doing exactly that. Cliché or not, that’s something we can all aspire to achieve with our respective passions and talents. You just have to go for it whether the world is ready or not.

Carpenter added, “We want an open-minded audience.”

And that Tarah Who? audience is set to grow.

Featured image courtesy of Maria Quintana

Vulgarithm Looks to Perfect Its Style

“There is no shame”
-Vulgarithm, “Piece of Shame”

Experimentation in music, especially when mixing genres, has led to progression within the industry. Vulgarithm is looking for similar success, and is using an old style to help.

Vulgarithm is a one-man outfit created by Andy “Dirt” McGurk. With a decade of rock and metal experience, he decided to make a change and challenge his artistic abilities.

McGurk explained, “I felt my previous solo stuff started getting stale and I needed a creative reboot.”

Bands, or artists, in need of invention look to the technique of blending styles, or in many pop culture cases, collaboration. Look what’s going on with country and hip-hop, for example. Blending sounds is different, though, especially when it’s one person creating and programming the composition. McGurk knew what he liked, knew what was becoming flat, and decided to venture into the uncertain world of providing unique content.

Based in the U.K., McGurk has concentrated on music since he was a child. There wasn’t a thought toward anything other for his future. He learned the piano at six and eventually picked up the guitar. He studied his craft, learned structure and sound through listening to songs and attending festivals, and eventually followed the industry as it has drastically shifted the last two-plus decades. He realized a personal change was inevitable and vital to sustain in an overcrowded scene.

“Am I just a shell, an entertainer to the few?

Vulgarithm’s style could best be described as riff rave. It takes deeper riffs, especially the low distortion popularized in the ’90s and 2000s, and mixes in some 90s dance music. Sound strange? There’s a little more to it, so it’s a tad difficult to explain. Yet, within the variety of beats offered, nu-metal is also present.

“Bands with big riffs and grooves always stick with me,” McGurk said, “but the two biggest influences on my writing has been anything Trent Reznor or Maynard James Keenan have done. Constantly reinventing themselves to make their music unique.”

Those inspirations, and also the vocal tone of Serj Tankian at times, can be heard. More so, the bass usage is similar to The Prodigy and the nu-metal act Ultraspank. Yet, he also mixes in remains of the old rap-rock genre on some tracks when the vocals are added. A good comparison may be Hed PE.

Then there are the visual elements, and this derives from McGurk’s time as an audience member watching bands such as Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Orbital. I’ve personally seen Nine Inch Nails and Tool before, and the production quality of their performances is incredible. It’s an art; it’s an act. Of course, they have the funding to offer that level of entertainment on a grand scale, but adding those elements are important factors to consider. 

The combination of visuals with energetic sound can take a live show to the next level. However, there first needs to be live shows.

“Is anyone afraid I’ll never be left behind?”

Vulgarithm uses projections and costumes to enhance the experience for its audience. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many performances to showcase its fresh act and sound. In fact, the only shows McGurk has been able to share are virtual, having never played in public as Vulgarithm due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McGurk said about his shows, “I’ve had a grand total of 3, maybe 4. Sadly, all of these have been online as Vulgarithm has only been around since the start of 2020.” He added, “My main aim as an individual performer is to look engaging as well as sounding good.”

As many in the industry know, live shows are where artists make a majority of their money, and for McGurk to miss out on that type of revenue and promotion is difficult to swallow. In the meantime, it’s about finding other avenues in order to sustain.

“This is where Vulgarithm has to step up now,” McGurk explained. “It has only known lock-down in its existence so I’ve had to really push the word out through music, videos, online shows, and merch. Anything other than gigging to let the general public know I exist.”

Release and sustain.

“Maybe leave it and see what the future holds.”

In 2019, Vulgarithm released Share If You Agree, and offered its sophomore EP, Share If You Disagree, last year. The single “Out My Way!” was recently shared on Feb. 19. More tracks will be released leading up to McGurk’s next EP, Share In The 3rd Degree.

There are a couple tracks by Vulgarithm that best defines the sound McGurk is attempting to develop and perfect. “Piece of Shame” off Share If You Agree provides listeners with an idea of Vulgarithm’s influences. It has similar energy to the nu-metal group Spineshank. McGurk really finds his sound and attitude on “The Vulgar Rhythm” and “I Cannot Take This Country Seriously.” The latter is his hit, in my opinion, and it’s because the song is one of the most consistently rhythmic and structured tracks McGurk has produced.      

Though Vulgarithm is in no doubt creative and versatile, which is most apparent in its tracks “Still Have Doubts” and “I Can Only Find Nothing,” there is a small issue to consider. Occasionally, when blending styles, consistency suffers. You can use different styles to make a unique sound, but it’s better to keep that unique sound instead of flirting with other combinations on the same track or album. Experimentation is a necessity for the creative mind, but so is organization for the final product.

There is some Reznor in “Out My Way!” but it also displays Vulgarithm’s ability to make infectious hard rock beats. On the contrary, it also makes abrupt changes to the sound, including the insertion of the Independence Day speech. No complaint there. Great movie, great speech. The one thing Vuglarithm can work on is its in-song transitions, and then it will have its unique sound.  

Nine Inch Nails, Tool, The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers maintained their sound and style, and they are definitely great acts to be influenced by. In the case of Maynard James Keenan, when a new sound was developed, it wasn’t developed necessarily through Tool, but rather A Perfect Circle or Puscifer.

What Vulgarithm is best at, in my mind, is rhythmic nu-metal, or perhaps industrial metal. There are parts of each song that McGurk can use. He has a good hard rock vocal range and tackles issues with his lyrics, he can make excellent beats and riffs, and can visual stimulate an audience. The key is bringing those aspects together more consistently and organizing each song and EP for a better flow. And if he can do that, he has the ability to become a known brand.

Heavy rhythmic acts, whether straight riffs or with the addition of synthesizers, do work on an international level. Danish band Volbeat has some of the best cadence for a hard rock band, especially with the distinctive vocals of Michael Poulsen. However, if Vulgarithm wants to take note of any band to learn from, it would be Rammstein. The Germans not only blend hard rock distortion with synthesizers almost perfectly, they know how to structure a song from beginning to bridge to end. Not to mention Rammstein is one of the most electrifying live acts in the world. Trust me, I’ve seen them and I will always remember that show.

McGurk is on the right path with Vulgarithm. One thing is for sure, he is creative and true to his style, and once he perfects it, it can take him places.

Alien Feelings has Arrived, but we Must Wait

 “And where were you when I lost my mind.”
-Alien Feelings, “Town That Made Me”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been problematic for new bands such as Alien Feelings. It also doesn’t help that they’re musicians from a town that doesn’t know much about music outside of the charts.

Alien Feelings formed in Coedpoeth, North Wales. The small village sits outside Wrexham on the industrial borders of North Wales, and there isn’t much of a music scene outside of open mics at the local pub. In a way, a small town with little knowledge of music is a perfect setting to band together like minds. After all, rock music is full of young outcasts primed to prove their worth.

A small town leaves little room for strangers and secrets as well. The band all knew each other, or knew of each other, before forming. Whether it was from school, open mics or being co-workers at the factory, Alien Feelings came together with little hesitation.

Josh Evans explained, “The band formed when I was working on a little home demo and quickly realized I had no clue what I was doing. I had the tunes, just no real knowledge of music production.”

After some group sessions, a brand new musician—not just to the band, but to an instrument—and a fresh demo, Alien Feelings found their sound.

“Dust floats like ghosts around me, memories start to flood.”

Not every band can create a genre and ooze out utter uniqueness. In fact, they shouldn’t have to. Rock is rock, and Alien Feelings fits directly into the genre because, well, they know how to rock.

This decade we could possibly see another revolution in rock music, similar to the ‘60s and ‘90s. Perhaps the thirty-year full circle is some subconscious generational bond between ourselves and our parents, but we don’t need to psycho-analyze something we don’t want to hear. We just want good quality music.

The boys in Alien Feelings grasp on to ‘60s roots. The Beatles, The Doors and Pink Floyd all serve as influences for the band, but so do acts such as Blink-182, Nirvana, NOFX, Reel Big Fish and Slayer. The artists are well-versed in rock royalty, and it is heard in their sound and through their style.

To expand, there could be some late-20th, early-21st century Aussie influence to consider. The basic and rhythmic distortion sounds a little like Jet and The Vines, as does the shrill raspy vocals—more so to match the latter.

Their music is raw, vibrant and infectious, but the self-loathing emotional theme enchants rockers back to the ‘90s. We shouldn’t, but we strangely enjoy the bittersweet relation of worthlessness and imperfections. These reflections should be shared because they offer hope, especially when the world has provided us with an unprecedented break in normality.    

“If you find that I’m still breathing, beat me again.”

Alien Feelings was ready to release quality tracks, tour the world and leave their mark in rock music. And then, forced seclusion happened. In the modern era of file sharing and streaming, it’s difficult for artists to make money directly from content produced. Their living primarily is made booking gigs, landing tour spots and selling merchandise. A band shirt at a concert isn’t overpriced just because the tour dates and locations on the back cost more to print.

Evans explained, “We missed out on a few gigs early 2020, including The Brighton Great Escape festival and The Day and Night Café in Manchester. We have been trying to keep really active on all our socials.”

This unexpected pause needs to be utilized wisely, especially for bands who are just entering the scene. Staying active on social media is a full-time job it seems, but being prepared for when restrictions are lifted is just as important.

Evans added, “We have been writing like mad.”

An artist’s mind is dangerous, and it needs to be occupied. Perseverance is important for bands that have arrived at a bad time and fortune seems unreachable in more ways than one. They need to do what they do best: create.

“Oh la la la, good looking.”

Bondage & Lipstick was released Sep. 4, 2020. This four-song EP is a preview of what Alien Feelings is capable of achieving in the rock world.

The mini-album opens with “Good Looking.” This is a quintessential rock song from theme, to sound to energy. Their guitar play shines in this track and defines their style right from the beginning through the solo and to the roaring end.

“Scream,” in my mind, is a perfect opening track though it sits second on the EP. It starts tame, then gradually becomes aggressive, loud and encourages listeners to do exactly what the song’s title asks. When Alien Feelings gets back on the road, I can visualize this opening the show and setting the tone for what’s to follow.    

“Lie To Me” is the hit on the EP. The bass is established, the melody is extremely catching, the lyrical relation is simple and can spread, and the guitar rhythm leading into the bridge is pristine. I instantly thought The Fratellis, Alien Feelings’ U.K. brethren and one of the more genius acts in rock music, when I heard this song, and that is a good thought. It seems like it could have been written for Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, but that is more of a compliment rather than a suggestion.        

Alien Feelings gets more autobiographical with “Town That Made Me,” but coming-of-age songs are always appreciated and valued. The tempo softens a tad, but the drums and vocal rhythm, along with a classic guitar solo, help this song toward a fantastic lyrical bridge. Take something like “Story Of My Life” by Social Distortion and add some quick montage storytelling like Butch Walker does in “Going Back/Going Home” or “Summer of ’89.” The tempo increases toward the end, but perfectly leaves us wishing for a full album.

That’s something rock fans can look forward to.

Last Night, I Couldn’t Win

“One, two princes kneel before you.”
-Spin Doctors, “Two Princes

I’m a spoiled college football fan, and my two favorite schools, Alabama and Ohio State faced off in the National Championship Monday night. It was bound to happen. The Crimson Tide defeated the Buckeyes 52-24, giving unbiased fans an unfulfilled but predictable ending to a tumultuous year, and me some pretty impractical anxiety.

The what-ifs leading up to contest actually started at the beginning of the season. First, I was worried if there would even be a season, but when the first pigskin was kicked off the tee in the Southeastern Conference, there was hope. The Big 10 finally obliged to the fan and financial pressures and allowed games to be played, and the possibility of the Tide and Buckeyes meeting in January became real.

Of course, there were plenty of speed bumps and stop signs along the way. Cancellations, postponements and some sketchy conference rule changes stretched that hope and reality until the end of the regular season.

Though there were a scarce amount of fans dotting the aqua seats of Hard Rock Stadium for the College Football Playoff title match, the feel before kickoff was as if the camera was hiding a sell-out crowd. After the ball sailed through the air for a touchback, I forgot how anti-climactic kickoffs are. And then one play later, OSU running back Trey Sermon got injured, and that set the tone for the night.

O-H-I-O!

In 1988, we moved to Dublin, Ohio. Just outside Columbus, we were in the shadow of a mammoth horseshoe that was speckled with scarlet every Saturday in fall. With Georgetown and Southern Connecticut State roots, we had a college football void to fill. Ohio State University became that program.

The state of Ohio has always been perplexing, and I’m not speaking of the strange reliance politicians have with its population. No matter where you go, somehow you’re going to meet someone from the small Midwestern state, and chances are they will be OSU supporters. With over half a million living alumni already, the university’s enrollment ranked third in the 2019-20 academic year with 61,391 students—and I didn’t go to school there.

Still, Ohio is a community not just confined to each big or rural city, and one that welcomed my family. I grasped the culture at a very young age, and though short and broken, our new roots were planted, nonetheless. And adopted and experienced memories are engrained.

The impact of Sermon’s injury was eerily similar to Ted Ginn Jr.’s in the 2006 BCS National Championship against Florida. The Gators routed the Buckeyes 41-14. Ginn returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown (obviously kickoffs were much more climatic back then), but sprained his left foot during the celebration. He didn’t play the rest of the game. That changed the dynamic of the game greatly. Monday night, Sermon injured his shoulder and was taken to the hospital shortly after. The good news is that Sermon is doing well, the bad news is that his injury was seemingly not as significant as Ginn’s 2006 debacle.

Alabama was just too good this season, and it was proven early and often—most notably, by their three-headed monster: Mac Jones, Najee Harris and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.

Smith is the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard did for Michigan in 1991. The quick and uncoverable wideout proved why he was worthy of the honor. In the first half alone he set a College Football Playoff record by snatching 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He got injured early in the second half and did not return.

Smith also can be remembered for his game-winning catch in the 2017 National Championship as a freshman. The great thing about memories is that new ones can always be created.

Roll Tide!

Nearly three decades removed from Ohio, with my loyalty challenged via an acceptance letter, I decided to attend the University of Alabama. Oh, how I used to loath those crimson tops and white pants, but I soon became accustomed to the classic look and unmatchable passion of storied tradition. We visited Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide hosted the New Mexico State Aggies in September of 2019. My support was solidified when the crowd erupted and the band boomed after Alabama scored on their first offensive play of the game. We were also happy the Aggies beat the massive spread.

Though I earned my master’s degree via Alabama’s online platform, our visit to the state was special. Birmingham is an amazing city with important history, and Tuscaloosa is a beautiful gem among an eclectic landscape. People said “hello” on city streets instead of their face buried in a small screen; they waved, offered assistance and smiled.

On game day, the Communications department hosted my family at their tailgate. We gathered on the veranda that overlooked the quad and immersed ourselves in tradition and expected greatness. Southern hospitality on both sides of our shoulders, and below, the Million Dollar Band strutted toward the stadium in perfect formation and tone. They grasped the attention of all, and then students and fans followed the ensemble to the stadium, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, except with a less-offensive and creepy paraphrase. It was extraordinary—also engrained. It wasn’t just fandom I generously paid for through tuition.     

On Monday, The program showed why they are storied, and Nick Saban added to his argument as the greatest college football coach to ever pace the sidelines. The decorated general has now won seven national titles, six at Alabama—the most by a coach in NCAA and university history. It wasn’t just Smith’s legendary performance, or Jones throwing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, or Harris rushing for 79 yards and two touchdowns—doubling his yards from scrimmage and accounting for another score receiving. No, the game didn’t come down to the dominance on the offense and defense, it was the first Alabama drive of the second half that was an interlude to the fat lady’s solo.

The Crimson Tide were up by 18 at halftime, a lead that could have easily vanished with OSU’s offensive firepower. For example, the Buckeyes went 75 yards on three plays in just 1:02 for their first drive of the second half, which ended in a touchdown. Alabama scored a measly 20-yard field goal after receiving the second-half kickoff. It was one of just three series that didn’t end with an Alabama star crossing the goal line, but it took 7:13 off the clock, and allowed for anxiety to trump the hope of a momentum shift. That drive was a great example of well-executed strategy—one that a fan comes to expect in Tuscaloosa.

The Ending We Anticipated

It was a year of disruption and uncertainty, one that is still lingering even after we tossed our 2020 calendars out of our homes and into a fire as if they were cursed. Though there were plenty of arguments of why OSU shouldn’t have been in the playoff, or the field needs to be expanded, or a G5 school should be given an opportunity to compete, they really didn’t matter. Alabama was going to win this championship whether you liked it or not.

Maybe we needed this, though. It could be argued that it was oddly satisfying to have a little normalcy right now. Nothing is more normal than Alabama competing for a national championship. And OSU, for that matter.        

I was hoping for this day, but didn’t know what to expect. Even though it could be claimed that I couldn’t lose, I actually couldn’t win. Either way, there would be a sense of disappointment. Maybe that’s the pessimistic narrative the pandemic created. Or maybe it’s just the delusional reasoning of an obsessed fan.

Or maybe we all needed this win. Roll Tide! And, still, Go Bucks!

Foxy Shazam Returns with “Burn”

“Dancing on the ceiling, tonight we’re going out.”
-Foxy Shazam, “Dreamer”

We broke from the hot early-summer dusk for a moment. Inside the hazy bar we ordered a beer and waited for the shade to cover the last open spots of the sidewalk patio. A publication usually used as a vagrant’s blanket printed an article that brought us to the small venue—that, and the desire for whimsical randomness to fill our lives of little responsibility. What we witnessed the evening of May 1, 2010 will never be forgotten.

It was early in the night. As we waited for our order, one that shouldn’t have taken as long as it did judging by the audience-capacity ratio, a rumbling stumble descended from the upper level. The staircase’s carpet was as thin and delicate as a stale wafer, and it was shocking the shadowy figure between two other silhouettes made it down walking on different portions of each foot.

The pair placed their inebriated third party on open sticky dark plastic. The man stretched his legs out and rested his back against the chip paneling, his top hat tilting over his eyes, but not far enough to cover his wide grin and accompanying chortle. One man, the one with the drooping frizzy curls, waited with his mate. The other approached us.

He was a squirrely fellow with a baseball tee, tight and faded black jeans, and uneven bangs. His straight black strands dropped just below the back of his neck, and he sported a long moustache with an unintentional gap underneath his apex. He acknowledged our presence with the softest timbre.

It was a brief cliché conversation, one in which minor details of the encounter were remembered while the dialogue was easily forgotten. Perhaps it was because of the thin man’s mousy voice.

We toasted our fresh beers to our new concert acquaintance and exited to the patio. The sun had traveled farther west and dropped behind the building, at least. A group of young men laughed and worked on their pints. They took up a majority of the space, so my friend and I joined in on their harmless antics and banter before we would all reenter the venue for what was hoped to be a good show. We had no idea.

“Waiting, waiting, waiting for something, I don’t know what.”

The venue manager jutted his aging face outside, grasping onto the frame of the open sliding door. He summoned our new pals, “Guys, you were supposed to be on 10 minutes ago.”

The band, Bad Rabbits, consumed what was left of their drinks, and casually entered the building in direct route to the stage. There was barely a body for them to navigate around, so as polite and friendly as they were to us, we figured we should reciprocate the mood and check out their performance. We wouldn’t be let down.

My friend and I ascended the stairs that survived the gangling gait of a drunk moments before—and countless times before and after that. The three scalawags had disappeared from the booth we last saw them. Perhaps they were asked to leave. Perhaps they found a quieter locale to sober up.

We moseyed to the front of the loft and rested our forearms on the rail. There were just a few more bodies upstairs, but they allowed us the best view of the unknown act below. The boys from Bad Rabbits finished tuning their instruments and adjusting their amps and mics. The show began; we were immediately drawn into the catchy basslines, soulful vocals and funky rhythm. Their music was a blended cadence of rhythm and blues, rock, pop and punk. It was hard not to gently bob our heads and tap our heels against the stained deck above as we watched a small, increasingly-loyal crowd gather in front of the band. Our movements became more rhythmic with each passing song and beer. Bad Rabbits was a well-suited opener who could have headlined—if it wasn’t for the next act, of course.

“Always knew there was something special about that boy.”

Foxy Shazam was once compared to Queen, and also the likes of Meat Loaf and The Darkness, due to the theatrics of the band and operatic lyrics and vocal range of lead singer Eric Nally. Though there are similarities to an extent, the band wasn’t exactly like any predecessor, nor will they be replicated in the future. Foxy Shazam can be compared to no one other than Foxy Shazam.

The Cincinnati outfit formed in 2004, and self-released their first album, The Flamingo Trigger. Their sound was bellicose and maniacal in a way, different from what was to follow and their current style, but it still landed them a record deal.

Introducing Foxy Shazam was released in 2008 by Ferret Music. The album created a media buzz about their potential arrival into mainstream rock, and they were slated onto bills that included The Strokes, Portugal, The Man and Panic! At the Disco. Foxy Shazam was being talked about, but yet, they were still trapped in the shadow of past great acts and casually compared to bands on lineups they supported.   

Foxy Shazam’s uniqueness reminds me—and this is not a comparison at all—to the band Zebrahead. When the Orange County group became mainstream, there was really nothing like them on the airwaves. And, having seen them twice live, their stage presence was also slightly different than bands in their genre—which was difficult enough to firmly label. They incorporated so many styles and traits that they made their own sound, which is fascinating.

Foxy Shazam did the same, whether through inspiration or progressive innovation. In 2010, as their name appeared in more music publications and they booked stage slots on festivals like Lollapalooza, the band changed labels and released their self-titled album. Foxy Shazam is, and always will be, one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The tracks are structured brilliantly; each song has a distinctive tempo and timbre, as well as a defining lyric. Keyboardist Schuyler White’s composition is versatile. He shifts between traditional pop rock piano to sultry jazz at times, and all styles mesh with the standard rock distortion and Nally’s powerful, occasionally high-pitched vocals. In addition, Alex Nauth bringing brass into rock music without other ska elements completely supplementing the rest of the record is something difficult to accomplish—almost as difficult as fashioning a perfect horn solo in a drunken state.

“For you I wear this mask, At home I tear it off.”

Foxy Shazam took the stage. We still weren’t sure what to expect, especially when the squirrely fellow with the mouse voice stood behind the microphone. How could a man with such a soft tone be able to lead the vocal charge of a rock act? Then, to our left and his right, his intoxicated comrade stood with a horn dangling to his side, the spotlight reflecting off the well-used yellow coating. The last of the trio we earlier met lifted his axe on the opposite side of the stage, and joined by an additional three mates, the show began as the third member of our party arrived just in time.

It was powerful, glamorous, exhilarating. Nally belted his deep words without a crack in any tenor he chose, and Nauth played his instrument flawlessly as if his earlier intoxication was merely part of the act. The drum beat and bassline were pulsing, the guitar riffs crisp, and White tickled a captivating melody over the black and white keys in front of his waist. Soon after, he would play the notes upside down, with his feet, and then lift the keyboard off its stand while maintaining his fortissimo dynamic throughout.

The musical talent of the members of Foxy Shazam was incredible, and their stage presence matched their level of melodious aptitude. Nally would twirl the microphone wire, pedal and shift the stand with the balls of his feet, tell convincing fibs as filler between songs, and jump on the shoulders of his bandmates—each musician staying in precise form during any antic. 

Toward the end of the performance a mishap almost hampered the whole show. Nauth, during a horn solo, tumbled over a large amp. Perhaps the drunkenness wasn’t part of the act. While on his back with his legs resting atop the tipped-over device, he continued to hit each note. After his section of the movement completed, he vigorously tried to lift the large amp, but instead stretched his torso across it and jokingly pretended it was his faux lover. At some point during the joyous debauchery, the frizzy-haired man who partook in the preshow festivities, Loren Turner, had his guitar damaged. A flipped amp, a broken guitar and a raucous back-and-forth between members on stage didn’t serve as a hindrance. In fact, the imperfections only strengthened the experience as if it was part of the show. As if this was Foxy Shazam, and we weren’t ready for it, but gladly adapted to and accepted their brilliance.      

“Perfectly crafted, that’s why it’s lasted.”

The key to a great album is balance and changeability. In other words, not every song should sound the same, but still contain a band’s distinctive sound. It needs a strong opening track to set the tone, “hits” staggered throughout, some power, some clandestine catchiness, something cool, and, of course, some emotional and meaningful ballads. Foxy Shazam accomplished that with The Church of Rock and Roll in 2012, just like they did with Foxy Shazam. The album, a compilation of music to blast with your windows down, did produce the first single I heard on the radio in my town, “I Like It.”

In 2014, the band released Gonzo. Their sound shifted a tad for this self-release. It became softer, more experimental and seemed to reach decades into the past for inspiration. Soon after, Foxy Shazam announced their breakup.      

The band members each took on different projects, most notably Nally’s inclusion on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit “Downtown” in 2015. Though he brought his distinctive flare and range to a broader audience, the pop world may not have been completely prepared for his unique genius. In 2020, the like-minded musical minds of Foxy Shazam got back together and released their sixth album.

“‘Cause it’s been so long, We’ve been moving on.”

Burn was released on Dec. 11, 2020. There is a cosmic feel to the album in its entirety—similar to Gonzo. It’s hard to depict if the band is reaching into the past or giving the music world some sort of post-modern sound.

The opening title track presents not only the anticipation of power, but also a darker shift in Foxy’s sound. Yet, “Dreamer” changes tone and slows the tempo which is unexpected for the second track of an album. With that in mind, the song’s goal doesn’t seem to want to keep the musical momentum at first, but rather state a message as the character of the album—until about two minutes in when the pace increases and the volume strengthens, and continues on through “Doomed.”

“Dreamscape 2020” is the song that won’t be a hit, but will be a favorite. White’s piano is intoxicating, the dynamics of the track will make you tap your foot and bob your head in whatever direction you choose, the structure flows without fail (until the abrupt last ten seconds), and Nally’s lyrics and story are relatable and worthy of sharing.

“Never Ever” falls a little short if compared to “Forever Together” from The Church of Rock And Roll and “Evil Thoughts” off Foxy Shazam. “In My Mind” and “S.Y.A.A.F.” have infectious beats to keep the album rolling along. Unfortunately, “Into the Wild” is severely out of place, but could become a cult favorite among Foxy’s listeners, as is the case with “Never Ever” I suppose.

The album ends with two strong tracks. “Suffering” is a solid rock song, and “The Rose” was already popular before Burn’s release. Something was missing, however. The album just kind of ends, and though each song contained a good structure for the most part, the track listing didn’t possess a very solid flow.

I will forever be a Foxy Shazam supporter and listener—I even pre-ordered Burn (and it still hasn’t arrived). The album, however, is to own solely for the nostalgia of their collection. It’s an average grouping of tracks that may not be appreciated beyond the circle of Foxy supporters, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are definitely a few songs that are catchy and deep enough to have on repeat, but as a whole, the album needed something more, but it’s tough to say what that is. It needed closure, in a way.  

Lastly, though the thematic elements of the songs may focus on relationship issues, perhaps they’re not directed toward the standard. There’s a battle going on throughout Nally’s stories, and this ultimate conflict could serve as a bigger interpretation than just a simple courtship between two people. It could be the fight that is the journey of life and our respective struggles not only with love, but with industry and societal censorship.

Overall, the music and lyrics are good, and Foxy fans won’t be hugely disappointed. However, this is just a return and not necessarily a step forward for the band. I will always support Foxy Shazam no matter which way they move. I gladly bought the album, and I will certainly see them live once again.    

“Life is a bitch but she’s totally doable.”

The show had ended and the small crowd made their way to the bar or out the door—all smiles and immediate recollections. We stayed a bit longer. I bought an album and a shirt one size too small. We noticed Foxy Shazam packing up their instruments and equipment. The candid moment of docile labor exemplified the trials and dedication of a band on the road.

We approached, not to bring up our earlier encounter, but to show our appreciation and wish the band luck. As a pianist and amateur composer, I spoke to White. It was the second to last stop on their tour and he was ready to return home. He explained how he had broken fingers due to the intensity of his performance as if it was just a casual occurrence.

We laughed and chatted and expressed our gratitude for them coming to Albuquerque. Our friend then asked one of the band members, I can’t quite remember if it was Nally or Nauth, to sign the album he purchased. He asked them to write their favorite lyric on the CD jacket.

The band shuffled out the back door of the Launchpad, tired and toting their heavy gear. We reminded ourselves of how great the night had been, and agreed it couldn’t end quite yet. Our friend opened his CD as we meandered toward the bar counter. It read:

“Life is a bitch but she’s totally doable.”

She sure is. And Foxy Shazam, even after a breakup and subsequent reunion, continues to prove that to be true. You should, too.

Rock on, friends.

Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster Merge

“Come on, come on, listen to the moneytalk.”
-AC/DC, “Moneytalks

German company Bertelsmann has agreed to acquire Simon & Schuster for $2.175 billion from ViacomCBS. This is a massive deal in the book industry, and one that could either help or hurt indie publishers and amateur authors.

Bertelsmann is the parent company of Penguin Random House, and this agreement turns the media giant into a complete publishing conglomerate. Both Penguin and S&S are two of the five brand leaders in book publishing. The deal took eight months to close, and is set to become official next year.

Markus Dohle, Penguin’s CEO, told Publishers Weekly that the deal was a, “good day for books, book publishing and reading.”

HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan still remain strong outlets in the publishing world, but it will be hard to compete against Bertelsmann’s combination of houses.

Bertelsmann Chairman & CEO, Thomas Rabe, said in the company’s press release, “This purchase marks another strategic milestone in strengthening our global content businesses. The book business has been part of Bertelsmann’s identity since the founding of C. Bertelsmann Verlag more than 185 years ago and has lost none of its appeal to this day.”

On the contrary, the book business needs competition, and this transaction may reduce the possibility for deals and only present lower advance offers for authors. ViacomCBS explained that both Penguin and S&S would be managed as separate publishing units, just under the same umbrella. Though that resonates an assurance of market rivalry, the revenue is still filtered into the same ownership. 

CEO Robert Thomson of News Corp, parent company of HarperCollins, told Fox Business of the deal, “This literary leviathan would have 70% of the U.S. literary and general fiction market.”

HarperCollins was also bidding for S&S, but the house couldn’t outdo the substantial, almost desperate offer from Bertelsmann. If News Corp was able to land the deal for their publishing unit, it would have helped HarperCollins catch up to Penguin’s sales. The U.S. sales for both are estimated at $1.1 and $2.2 billion respectively.

Thomson added, “There is clearly no market logic to a bid that size. Bertelsmann is not just buying a book publisher, but buying market dominance.”

Despite the fierce challenge that lies ahead for HarperCollins, Hachette and Macmillan, this is the business of the industry. With that in mind, there needs to be less business and more diversity.

Independent Publishers   

Bellevue Literary Press is a non-profit publisher. The press was founded in 2005 as part of the New York University School of Medicine, and was stationed within Bellevue hospital. In 2010, the house made a mark in the literary world by publishing a Pulitzer Prize winner, Paul Harding’s Tinkers.

Bellevue has been dedicated to providing quality work that engages readers and creates conversations and debates. They have several award-winning titles in their catalog. Now fully at independent status and located in lower Manhattan, the press has become one of the more consistent and sustainable names not only in the non-profit world, but across the independent publishing landscape as well.    

Publisher and Editorial Director Erika Goldman said of Bellevue’s goals, “We simply wish to continue publishing great books at the same rate as we have been so far.”

Independent publishers have grown tremendously of recent, and more boutiques and presses open yearly. Due to the modern form of self-publishing and a variety of smaller outlets, major houses have seen a drop in market shares. Penguin and S&S combine for just 18.2% percent of the book market—and the giants rank first and third respectively.

“Consolidation of the commercial corporate publishing world has been going on for decades now,” explained Goldman. “Independent and small press publishers represent true diversity in the publishing industry and great alternatives for authors. I believe that authors and agents will understand that they may be better served by independent presses.”

Smaller houses tend to focus on producing a handful of excellent titles per year while corporations simply seek to increase revenue to benefit their shareholders. Quality over quantity should prevail, but that unfortunately isn’t always the case.    

Self-Published Authors

The plight of a self-published author is a difficult one to combat. The market has become over-saturated due to free platforms such as Amazon and a plethora of author services companies. There are some sub-par works being produced and made available to the public, but there are also great novels by undiscovered writers.

Scott Kujawa, author of four trilogies and a variety of novels and short stories, not only has had to battle in order to get noticed among the crowd, he also writes in a niche-romance genre. There is hope, however.

“My income is growing,” Kujawa said. “However, indie/selfpub is a different mindset compared to trade pub. I’ve heard many trade pub’s say they have to work to market their books. They don’t help the way they used to when it comes to selling certain authors. The help they receive depends on who the author is.”

Advertising and marketing rule the world. Many self-published authors and independent presses know how to expertly navigate social media. Their strategies have put the pressure on major brands. Even though Penguin’s and S&S’s market share percentages seem low, book sales are up in 2020 so far. Print sales have increased 3.6% and ebooks are up 4% from last year.

Yet, the merger may hurt self-published authors in the long run. “Many authors might struggle with finding anyone willing to contract their stories,” Kujawa predicts.

Looking Ahead

Smaller presses must be more select with the work they choose in order to strengthen their brand, and independent authors must increase their presence on social media. Bertelsmann’s acquisition promotes a strange forecast for the publishing industry next year. The independent sector could continue to grow, helping the industry overall with quality works and diversity within authors and trends, but authors may still struggle financially. Penguin and S&S can both expand their sales through synchronized rival marketing and taking advantage of famous author names and well-known brands. However, the merger could limit the scope of opportunity for unestablished writers, swaying them toward independent houses and platforms.

It’s still beneficial for an author to be traditionally published because of editing services, promotional strategies and media exposure. On the other hand, less opportunity at the highest publishing level may saturate the industry even more below. Dohle mentioned that the market was highly fragmented, but that doesn’t mean this merger is going to fix anything. We will wait and see.

Good luck, authors.

Jo Won it for Joe

“These hearts are wireless, This ain’t no crowd control.”
-Nothing But Thieves, “Wake Up Call

Before the results of the 2020 presidential election, or whatever our definition of “results” is, I wrote an article expressing the disappointment and ignorance of some people who believe supporting a third party is a selfish, wasted vote. With that in mind, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen may have won the election for Joe Biden—even though it was primarily Democrats claiming the choice would be a waste.

A Libertarian strongly believes in individual liberties, free markets and less government among other varying principles. It’s generally a middle-of-the-road party being fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but philosophical priorities widens the gap of which political side a person is more likely to risk abandoning their major party.

Though Libertarianism would seemingly fit the ideology of liberals on the surface, it’s not a system that completely parallels with democratic thought. However, the aforementioned basic assumption created uneasy paranoia within some registered Democrats. It should have been worrying loyal republican supporters, and the argument had already been in place from past presidential elections.

A Libertarian has been on the ballot since 1972. Of those 13 elections there were 11 nominees, four of them being Republican transplants from their respective past seats in public office (Roger MacBride, 1976; Ron Paul, 1988, Bob Barr, 2008; Gary Johnson, 2012 and 2016). The other seven nominees always held or ran for office as Libertarians. The first Libertarian candidate, John Hospers, believed in Objectivism, the system developed by Russian philosopher and radical capitalist Ayn Rand. Hospers was the only Libertarian candidate to ever earn an electoral vote—coincidently, the tally was given by Virginia then-Republican representative Roger MacBride, the subsequent party nominee as noted above.

With this in mind, republican voters were more likely to stray than democratic voters in 2020.     

One important factor to consider of the pending results is voter differential in major battlegrounds. Here’s the rundown of the votes that separated Biden and Donald Trump and the votes Jorgensen received in key swing states Biden claimed, as reported by the Associated Press.

Wisconsin: Difference= 20,547/Jorgensen= 38,492
Pennsylvania: Difference= 68,558/Jorgensen= 78,893
Georgia: Difference= 14,122/Jorgensen= 62,056
Arizona: Difference= 10,377/Jorgensen= 51,465

Those four states combined for 57 electoral votes. If the current totals had swung in the other direction, Trump would have earned 289 electoral votes and a second term. There’s no concrete proof that the votes Jorgensen received were solely from fleeing Republicans, but it promotes an argument beyond the numbers just being coincidental.

Also, some Democrats have claimed that Jorgensen may have taken votes away from Biden, and the polls wouldn’t have been as tight if it wasn’t for her “selfish” supporters. On the contrary, Democrats wouldn’t have been as willing to “waste” a vote in the most unprecedented vital election in history—as advertised by the media. The skeptic desperation and compulsive negativity will never fully be vanquished. A win still isn’t good enough, but just accept it for the time being as the country suffers through the petty legal disputes, childish impracticality and delusional conspiracies of a certain incumbent.

That’s something to think about, however. Is voting for the “lesser of two evils” as some claimed settling for good enough? In an election where it seemed many were voting for a candidate to lose rather than another to win, maybe “good enough” isn’t actually good enough.

As reported in USA Today, Jorgensen said that the election was a wake-up call for both major parties, claiming that if she could get both sides to start acting on their respective platforms and following through on their promises, then she would be very pleased.

Maybe that’s improbable at the moment, unfortunately. Maybe it’s time to actually start taking third-parties, especially Libertarians seriously. They may have cost someone an election in 2020, and if enough voters become more informed, the trend will grow stronger in the future, showcasing our diversity and strengthening our democracy.

Some people may actually like what they discover, and stray from settling for stale conformity.

Jo for President

“Changes, Turn and face the strange.”
-David Bowie, “Changes

I’m not a political person, and don’t like talking about it, but sadly, I have to explain myself, which is a problem in itself.

I’ve been told to vote for Joe Biden just to take away a vote from President Trump, and also that supporting a third party is throwing away a vote. That’s not what voting is about, and the country should be ashamed at their retrograde idea of democracy. That’s why I’m voting for Libertarian candidate Dr. Jo Jorgensen.

I’m an American citizen with the right to vote. Therefore, I would like to exercise my right in the best way that represents my ideology, not by the persuasion of others who hold a desperate obsession with victory—and then anxious hope for retribution. Some interesting first-hand data collected via an accidental social experiment is that when I tell others I’m voting for Jorgensen, democrats tell me I’m wrong to do so while republicans support my decision to vote for whomever I prefer. I felt I was transported to Biazrro World, but I realized the close-minded pretentious former is nervous while the old-fashioned stale latter isn’t threatened.

As a registered Independent, I take time looking into the platforms of both main parties of our political system; I read and listen only to be left unfulfilled and uncertain, trapped in what’s just a cycle of power and bitter opposition until the next wave swallows all that was accomplished by prior administrations. Rinse and repeat.

That may have been an exaggeration, but it appears democracy has plateaued, which creates the possibility of regression. As a response, we play the blame game; no figure is safe from scrutiny from reputable media sources to a pre-teen on social media. Others live in the near and distant pasts and somehow develop a communal cry of impractical entitlement or unrealistic variations of a functioning society. Negativity leads to regression while positivity leads to progression.

Yet, the public continues to be pawns for the government and media. If you’ve studied the history of journalism, one of the constants is that of government meddling in news. However, another similarity that media ages share is that the government somehow reclaims some control of the narrative until a shift happens and power is redirected—until circulation is once again contaminated. We are handcuffed by republican and democratic candidates, and the media essentially picks a team—one side of the scale weighing much more than the other.

I hear people pleading for change all the time, but yet they are conditioned to believe that the only way the country functions is through one party or one other. The key to this is money. Ross Perot, arguably the most notable third-party presidential candidate in history, had billions and his rise had people questioning the norm. Perot received 18.9% of the popular vote in 1992. This isn’t about the money, however, it’s about the chance to be heard (which took money, ironically).

Other notable third-party candidates to gain popularity have been James B. Weaver (8.5% in 1892), Theodore Roosevelt (27.4% in 1912, after his 1904 presidential term), Eugene V. Debs (6.0% in 1912), Robert M. La Follette (16.6% 1924), George Wallace (13.5% in 1968) and John B. Anderson (6.6% in 1980). Now, of course, not all of these candidates promoted the best values (cough, cough, Wallace), but they were a popular third option nonetheless, promoting the fact that we could possibly have a diverse political system—like the first years when no one knew which labels would last quite yet. George Washington was an Independent, and swept the election–twice.

To take a page out of sports franchises, I propose a salary cap for campaigning in order to erase ballooned donations and self-funded races by uber-rich figures and organizations. This could limit respective party representatives from being plastered all over television and social media reminding us how the other guy is just so awful without actually telling us how good they are outside of a tidbit of positivity. Just like voting for someone to lose, slanderous political advertising on state and federal levels to tell us what someone is doing wrong instead of what the approver of the message will do correctly is just backward.

I saw a Facebook post that stated voting for a third party is selfish, and once again that type of ignorance came from a democrat. If I were to respond asking if it would be okay voting for President Trump then the same person would disapprove. So, essentially, the only person I should vote for is Biden? I bet they would also call someone “deplorable” (remember that fun term last election?) if they didn’t vote, think or act like them. Do people not understand the hypocrisy they create when it comes to democracy? Everything is not black and white, and we live in a diverse country with different forms of culture, expression and opinion, which means that representation is impossible to just be two-sided. People are entitled to vote for what they believe in, not what someone else does.

Each voter should agree with at least 75% of issues their favorite candidate proposes. For example, here are points on Jorgensen’s platform that I support:

-COVID-19: Reduce federal regulations on testing and treatments to quickly get to patients, almost making the FDA obsolete.
-HEALTHCARE: We shouldn’t have to shop for insurance. When I looked into Obamacare after being laid off due to COVID-19, I was hounded by over 100 phone calls trying to sell me healthcare in the span of a couple days, and it’s still going on. The irony in this is that I was laid off because of forced medical precautions, but now I’m being forced to have health insurance when I have no money, and if I don’t get the health insurance I will be fined. We should be in charge of our own health dollars and be able to shop for our own care like any other product we search for, which would decrease overall coast as a result.
-GOVERNMENT SPENDING: Block new borrowing, audit the Federal Reserve giving investors accurate market information, decrease spending by eliminating unnecessary departments and balance the government’s checkbook.
-ENVIRONMENT: I’ve been a supporter for clean and efficient nuclear energy for some time now, and also letting states decide what’s best for their landscape, limiting federal responsibilities.
-SOCIAL SECURITY: Actually preserve it instead of just saying it’s there, and allow workers to put their tax dollars (the ones supposed to be going toward Social Security) into individual retirement accounts the government can’t touch.
-TRADE: Limiting tariffs, allowing us more access to the best products, and providing goods of what we do best as a country.
-IMMIGRATION: Repeal entry quotas, shorten waiting times and expand visas. Just make the process easier to enter the country LEGALLY.
-CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Take away VICTIMLESS drug incarcerations and allow substance abuse programs and social workers to handle addiction, and also defund federal involvement (not the police) in state police issues unless requested by said state authorities.
-POVERTY: Eliminating government regulations and allow for more jobs and more affordable costs of living, and also allow more charitable organizations to offer free health clinics, among other services, to help the less fortunate. We need to create opportunities, not limit them through laws.
-TAXES: No income tax. We earned that money, and if we had it, we would spend it, boosting the economy. Also, slashing federal spending means the people will be less taxed. Lastly, make the IRS less intrusive and taxes less complex.
-EDUCATION: Dismantle the Department of Education and leave regulations in the hands of each state. Also, take the federal government out of the student loan business which would allow colleges to provide AFFORDABLE (not free) programs for everyone to pursue. Lastly, putting trades on an even playing field is important because without trade workers, all “educated” people wouldn’t be able to function in daily life.
-NEUTRALITY AND PEACE: Armed, neutral and open to trade and travel. Let’s get out of everyone’s business.    

This can all be found on Jorgensen’s website. A Libertarian won’t win the presidency, but the more votes earned perhaps creates a conversation about other options, and as the percentage of support increases, so does the possibility of getting a third-party candidate on the debate stage. They would have won the first one this year, that’s for sure.

Old white men and money rule the political landscape of this country, and we’re conditioned to believe we only have two options for leadership. Why are so many people unhappy then? Continuing to be sheep to what you’re told to believe is selfish, not thinking freely and exercising your constitutional right for a chance at change.

Instead of demeaning third parties, maybe it’s time to do research, not only on both major parties, but all the candidates, and become a fully informed voter. Many may be surprised that the views of third parties may suit their ideology the best, but it’s on the individual to explore and broaden their political horizons. We can’t advance and change if we’re stuck in an endless cycle of the “lesser of two evils.”

Or we can bring back the old Liberal Republican Party of 1872 and lessen the two parties into one dysfunctional collaboration. Wait, that’s kind of what Congress is at the moment. On second thought, we’re doomed for the foreseeable future.