A Decent Human Record


I don’t know much of anything about hxc, emo, skramz, Brand New, or the Midwest. If you listen to Indian Runner and wonder why I even bring up the previous, you only lend credence to my ignorance. A Decent Human Being is a definite departure from the Indian Runner debut. The continuity is maintained by Michael White’s lyrical concerns, which now contain less Jesus, more laughter.  Everything is anthemic and lies near the surface. What continues to lurk under the shouts and climaxes is White’s obsession with mythologizing the proletariat and parking lots through images delivered like asides. Because of the unfamiliarity of the container, I can’t trace the sum total of the record so well, and it escapes my grasp. It operates in folds I am unfamiliar with. Born in the USA appears in the foreground sometimes, and Mike’s machine still kills communists. I swear I hear Morissey skulking around in there too. It’s worth listens.

How to Raise Awareness​/​/​How to Start a War – a pamphlet

Adam Bishop is as exuberant as Andrew W.K., pre and post bricking.  How to Raise Awareness​/​/​How to Start a War opens with a reworking of the “Brown-Eyed Girl” riff, and the up-beat never comes down. The Old Refrain is incessant in its rock-and-rolling, and this attitude is exemplified in the cute cheerfulness of “Hate,” a love song. For all the critique and political discourse at play on the record, nothing seems to slow down. Genre is primary for the band, and any kind of weight or musical stakes on given lyrics is rare. In this respect, the music bears much in common with pop. Kanye, Drake, and Beyonce all have club-ready songs that deal with cry-into-your-pillow subject matter. The strongest exception to this theme is “Folk Singer,” the (ostensibly) final track on the album. I have to assume that, at this point, Adam is ironic when he sings that he “has no message in [his] song.” Is it a moment of parody? Document of history? Dialogue? Post-modern reference party? The album arguably depends on the interpretation of its closer.

But wait, let me explain.

Adam Bishop, especially as frontman of The Old Refrain, is concerned with genre. The trajectory of his songwriting reflects this preoccupation, centered as it is around country, rock, and assorted minutiae. The songwriting is less nostalgic, more anachronistic. I shouldn’t have to specify that music, as sound event, does not intrinsically impart content, in the same way that the word ‘tree’ does not contain any objective connection to a tree. When I say there are no musical stakes on the lyrics, I mean the specific relation of The Old Refrain’s choice of genre to the lyrics.

Adam has written a protest album at a time when real-world protests far outnumber their musical representation. The album is critique through music. It fixes its gaze on a theme and apprehends it through variously negative, sarcastic, and ironic commentary. In this sense, the record is severe. The themes are navigated, however, by a face that smiles through pain. The “bonus” conclusion, “By and By,” is emblematic of Adam’s tendency to conflate cheer and mirth. What fascinates me then, is the decision to employ given song containers.

Genre is a valuable tool. It provides frameworks that allow for the relation of different musics. Interpretation occurs against a relative backdrop, and genre allows for the relation of history to the artistic object. Sad, serious music these days has specific containers. Adam does not opt for screamo, flannel folk, or whatever: he puts his words into rock-and-roll structures that draw freely from punk, 90s indie, and Adam’s cataloging of Carter-Family songing. I wonder then, if his lyrics would have more weight in a different setting, and how Adam’s choice ultimately impacts the message in his songs, or what genre itself does to the procession of medium/message.

P.S. the music rox.

Review: French Cassettes – Golden Youth

The French Cassettes’ full-length debut, Gold Youth, released earlier this summer. I meant to write something about it a long time ago. I Kickstarted it, I went to the shows where they played the songs, and Thomas Huerta cooked me his virginal bacon. So here is a roundtable discussion of French Cassettes’ Gold Youth by a 14-year old fan, a music professor at a community college, and a Modesto music scenester. They are abbreviated, respectively, as OF, CC, and MS. Continue reading “Review: French Cassettes – Golden Youth”

Interview with Chris Haupt

Photo by Queen Bean Open Mic staff.

On May 1st, 2012, I interviewed Chris Haupt. Chris has been playing in Modesto and the area forever. I don’t know his full resume, but I at least know he played in A Colourado (with Travis Vick and Lindsay Pavao), Project Fairway, not an Airplane, Matt and Rosie, and Alto. It’s been a year and a half since I recorded the interview. At the time, I didn’t think I had the full story and thought I’d fish it out over various interviews that I never did. The story grew bigger each time I tried to put a rubber band around it. So here is the first half of the chat I had with Chris Haupt, mostly unfiltered.

Ricardo: Where did Project Fairway come from?

Chris: So it was the Almond Blossom Festival in Ripon, and Steve’s girlfriend, Amanda Cookson, had just been crowned the Almond Blossom Queen. So we were going and celebrating, and Scott Bartenhagen walks through the door. All of us had this idea at the same time: we need a fourth member (for Project Fairway). Continue reading “Interview with Chris Haupt”

Review of Penultimate Off the Air w/ Rose Droll, Dana Falconberry


February 27th, Greg Edwards hosted the second-to-last (Modesto) Off the Air show featuring Rose Droll and Dana Falconberry. If you’re not familiar with Rose Droll or Dana Falconberry, go listen. Continue reading “Review of Penultimate Off the Air w/ Rose Droll, Dana Falconberry”

Review: Broken Things – Micol Cazzell


Last year, a friend asked Micol Cazzell who is biggest influence is. I drunkenly interrupted to say that it was definitely Elliot Smith. Who knows what the real answer would have been, because I am a bad person. Either way, Micol Cazzell’s Broken Things goes beyond any Elliot Smith pretensions. The five song EP is carefully knit together; more crochet than stitched. The songs are founded on a guitar with aspirations of being a piano laid on the perfectly flat horizon of an August sunset in the Central Valley; the mountains are visible as green-screened fantasies beyond the grasp of the tired subjects stuck in pits and ruts. 

Cazzell’s musical vision is spare. The writing is less Roy Harper and more Leonard Cohen. If Cazzell is a folk artist, the sound is not “wild, thin Mercury” or the various pop-folk thieves of the 60s, but interweaving counterpoint not unlike the production of Closing Time or Linda Perhacs. Drums appear in the middle of the album on “The Unraveling” and “1961,” lending the EP the feel of a traditional narrative structure with “The Waiting Song” sitting at the end of the album as a definite conclusion to the mystery of “1961.” 

Broken Things is a flawless album. It was the best release of 2012. Visit his website and purchase the album at http://www.micolcazzell.com/.

A Bounty of Releases

I don’t normally do posts like these, but a season of local releases deserves an article in Internet space. Beginning with Adam Bishop’s To Someone Special, With Love, (though technically, not an Airplane’s It Could Just Be This Place was released this year in January), this fall of 2012 is seeing an unprecedented amount of delicious local music releases. Allow me to guide you through the Modesto scene, Waterford scene, every scene within reach of our northern Central Valley. Continue reading “A Bounty of Releases”