My Time at UFO X Fest, or; The Morning I Didn’t Drink Enough

San Leandro is a wonderful little city directly south of Oakland, about to be overrun by the great hipster exodus, as the number of barista roommates you need in order to subsidize your art in a 2br apartment has everyone fighting because Steve didn’t label his organic kombucha in the fridge properly. Despite having 3 breweries and a coffee roaster, the city just got its first gastropub, and the food isn’t anywhere near on par with the world famous sports bar that you should go to instead. Basically, San Leandro is one of the few regular-ass-towns in the bay area.

This should bring about no surprise that the historic Bal Theatre, a beautiful landmark left over from the 1940s currently hosting cover bands and touring comedians, is run by a guest speaker on Ancient Aliens. Dan Dillman, the tinfoil-hat-in-chief of the venue, hosts an annual event devoted to conspiracy theories and UFOs because of course he does. A candidate in the 2014 mayoral election, Dan Dillman gained notoriety after an altercation with police in 2010, which apparently resulted in a sentence of 4 months in jail, but I can’t find any follow-up on that and he was running for City Council later in the year.  Really though, you could say the guy truly represents The Dro.

A couple friends of mine advised that I get completely fucked up and go to this with them. I got stuck in traffic so was not able to sufficiently pre-rage. The first chunk of this presentation I was half-way sober for.

Image source: Facebook event page

It opens with Dillman giving a slide show presentation on the subject of time travel, which was this year’s theme. They were essentially presenting that there were time travelers among us, and they had been influencing us throughout history. He starts out by showing clips of classic films where characters were seen holding one hand against the side of their head. This was clearly proof that time travelers from the future were talking on their cell phones. How were they getting signal before cell towers were invented? Fuck if I know.

The rest of this thing was such a meme-fest that you could basically live-Snopes the event. They started showing old pictures of figures who resemble John Travolta and Vladimir Putin, indicating that they had actually traveled through time to different points. If I would believe this about anyone, it would be Putin.

Election meddling resulted in the election of Warren G Harding, I’m sure.

By this point, we’re talking so much shit that the guy in front of us seems rather perturbed. I mention to my friend, “You know, anyone sitting by themselves is really into this and not here ironically.”
“Oh shit. We should simmer down.”
“Nah, let’s sit with him, he looks lonely.”

The next half-assed rabbit hole is about science-fiction films. They were discussing how technologies appeared in such films that came to actually exist in the future. Yes, because people growing up watching Star Trek didn’t set out to invent that shit. Much like aliens built all of our old stuff, time travelers built all of our new stuff. I snarkily mention to my friend, “I’m surprised they haven’t got into the Simpsons yet.” BOOM! Ask and you shall receive mother fucker!

Please consult the following image:

This was presented to the crowd, with the question posed: “How did the Simpsons, in 2008, predict that Barack Obama and John McCain would run for president in 2012?”

If you do not know what is wrong with that comment, please stay far, far away from me.

Next, they showed this adorable image, which you can consult Snopes for right now:

Now, to make things even better, in his narration, Dillman said that the Simpsons “predicted Donald Trump’s 2015 victory.” Look, Dillman isn’t good with numbers, I get it. The following is from his campaign website:

This November you’ve got two choices for Mayor, two incumbent city council members, who are making promises to the future, when they have already had 12 years between them to get something done, or me “Dan Dillman” who has fresh idea’s passion dedication and experience.

So, the Q&A starts. OH, OH YES, THERE’S A Q&A! I already know my question.

I was excited to see you brought up the Simpsons, because they are well-known for predicting the future. One thing that’s bothering me is that, as I recall, Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee in the 2012 election. Could this be the Mandela Effect, and could you tell me how you feel the Mandela Effect pertains to time travel?

I begin to stand up to indicate that I have a question. My friends immediately interject, “Blake, what the fuck are you doing?”
“I have a question.”
“Dude, sit down.”
“What? It’s a good question.”
“You really shouldn’t.”
“Are you afraid I’m going to get us thrown out or something?”
“Probably.”

Moments later, another person at the convention asks about the Mandela Effect and the Simpsons. Not on the same error, but goddamnit that was my fucking question!

This is the end of Dillman’s presentation. We move onto Servando Gonzalez, who was so fucking boring that it was like watching a professor from an underfunded community college trudge through shit he doesn’t understand. In trying to explain time travel using quantum mechanics, he on multiple occasions admitted to not really understanding quantum theory.

Half way through this, we realize we’re too sober for this shit. One of San Leandro’s best bars is about a block over. We’re venting about this, trying to get lubricated enough for the rest of it to be fun. We come back in during a film presentation, UFOs and Nukes: The Secret Link Revealed.

It’s the tail end of it, so I’m not sure what event we’re hearing about. Something to do with a UFO appearing as an ICBM compound starts having problems with their missle systems. All of this is paraphrased as I was drunk and don’t have a transcript:
Several air force personnel identified a mysterious cigar shaped object in the sky.
“You mean a missle?”
It had no cockpit…
“So, like, a missle?”
…or propellers.
“So, definitely a missle.”

Next up was Ruben Uriarte, publisher of several books mostly obsessed with an alleged UFO incident in Chihuahua, Mexico, and Deputy Director of Investigations at MUFON (Mutual UFO Network). After talking to us about Chihuahua and his adventures with his co-author Noe Torres for what seemed like a million years, it turned into a MUFON recruitment seminar.  He was showing some infographic of the most reported UFO sightings in California, and I’m excited to report to my Sacramento friends that you were #1! I was trying to find a source on their website, but have given up because I’m a terrible journalist.

After this, Dillman was due to speak again. Looking at the program, there were another 2-3 hours of this shit. We decided to pub crawl Oakland and forget half of what we just learned.

On the way out, I got to shake hands with Dan Dillman, who I still wasn’t sure was a believer or an expert con-artist. I got to look him in the eye, but will not disclose my judgment as he seems like the type of person to sue you for libel. Opinions aren’t valid, people. I was handed some amazing information to take home, including this declaration of independence from our alien overlords.

Despite all of this, please support the Bal Theatre. I would hate to wake up tomorrow and find a Whole Foods in its place.

Album review: Summer of Glaciers – Small Spaces (2012)

It’s not shocking that wanderlust leads to homesickness. In the case of Summer of Glaciers’ new record, Small Spaces, that homesickness can lead to an album. The one-man-band being Ryan Wasterlain’s previous record Concentric was very enamored with San Francisco. The sounds of that album were full of city lights, fog, concrete, and ocean air. Small Spaces on the other hand, doesn’t sound so much like it’s about his new home in Dallas, it sounds like it’s looking back home through a telescope, and the city is simply floating further and further out of view.
With this record, Wasterlain adds his vocals to the foray of guitar loops, drum machines, electronic glitches and post-rock crescendos. A lot of guitar players tend to fumble on this transition and are uncertain of their comfort zone. Wasterlain doesn’t have this problem; he gives his voice the same abstract treatments as his guitar. The record opens with “Inches Mean Miles”, where a simple 2 line lyric is almost indecipherable as it rolls through heavy delay, ironically expressing loneliness in multitude. Guitars come and go by the dozen, sometimes sounding like anything but a guitar, in this song vaguely sounding like a trumpet at points. 
 
Wasterlain doesn’t write songs, he writes albums. The build up of “Inches Mean Miles” morphs into “To the Ground”, a track which brings back some of the night driving energy of Concentric. The vocals are so saturated in distortion that they simply become an abstract instrument in the mix with no lyrics being intelligible. The energy chugs along with a darker tone before the car eventually crashes and everything slows to a crawl. This drone leads into “Elevators”.
Somewhat unusually chosen for a single and a video, “Elevators” is pretty minimal compared to the tracks that came before it, but probably represents the theme set better. The song slowly moves up in a linear fashion, but remains claustrophobic until the end. Soft singing is accompanied by a guitar trekking along underneath, and the noises and melodies just build on top from there, but never expand. This and the record’s other isolated moments are the small spaces for which it is named, and they lend a poignancy to Wasterlain’s emotional state after how wide open his prior output sounded.
The record’s second half kind of lingers in the air and plays as a whole. It adopts the Brian Eno philosophy of not demanding your attention. Melodies drone on, additional parts creep in without you noticing, and the feeling of loneliness grows further. “Removal” opens as what could almost be considered a piano ballad, with the vocal performance being more ragged and vaguely hostile. The guitar sounds more like a synth and is abrasive, but mixed so it just lurks on you. “When We Part” wraps up the album with sombre tones and words, “Will you come back for me some day? Time is all we have to lose.” This line repeats continuously, and is deconstructed as if on a breaking down recorder, and everything falls apart around it. The ultimate message is, no, nobody’s coming back for you, now or ever.
I was initially surprised that the press materials said the mp3 version came with a bonus track that the CD didn’t. It just seemed backward to me. After hearing it, it made sense. “The Use of Mirrors” doesn’t fit in on Small Spacesat all. Mostly, the song seems to rise out of a feeling of despair, gets in motion again and starts to progress out of the funk that preceded it. It sounds like it should be the first song on the next album, where that idea would be explored as a complete thought. 
 
I like this album, obviously for different reasons than Concentric. I’m really impressed that the emotional message cut so clearly through the swamp of electronics. Naturally, this record probably isn’t for you if you prefer your music upbeat and sunny. I got in touch with Mr. Wasterlain the other day and told him that this made his last album look like Sgt Pepper in terms of mood. I personally find it easy to relate to, and I’m curious to see what the next direction is going to be.

Listen to Small Spaces below.
Small Spaces by Summer of Glaciers
The video for “Elevators”:

Elevators by Summer of Glaciers (Official Music Video) from Christopher Bryan on Vimeo.

Album review: The Common Men – Let It Burn (2011)

 
It can be difficult for a band to shake the shadow of their influences. In the case of Sacramento’s The Common Men, whose fascination with early 80s Great Britain has hardly been subtle, this has become a life or death scenario. The post-punk revival of the 00’s has fizzled out, leaving Interpol uninspired, The Killers (fortunately) without much radio play, and fewer reviews unfairly comparing new indie rock artists to Joy Division. Some inner-city bar bands may choose to drop their white collars and reverb units on the spot to tackle whatever the next fad is, but for The Common Men, a more mature and artistic path lay before them.
 
To understand what’s happening here, you should get into the head of band leader/guitarist/singer Kevin Ian, who only jumped on this trend because he sincerely loved it. Here you have a man that spends thousands of dollars trying to perfect his guitar tone, but deliberately applies a lo-fi production to his records. He compulsively deletes his back catalog, then revives it. His fascination with horror movies weighs in on his creative output as much as music. He has more chops than most local flashy metalheads, and deliberately buries them. Rock and roll is a mental struggle here, and with the band’s latest and best album Let It Burn, he thrusts the full force of his personality into the music, and if there were a time for the band to break through, it’s now.
 
Rather than jumping ship or hopelessly remaining stationary, Let It Burn finds The Common Men maturing into its own entity from the platform they started on. Noise tangents, progressive buildups, and dance floor mayhem form a dark, winding rock-and-roll monster that manages to be cohesive as an album, but clearly defined from track to track. The album’s opener, “Vital Signs”, drops the record’s strongest hook right off the bat, and knows exactly how hard to milk it. Being sparse with the vocals, it allows the delay soaked guitars to dominate. This is a recurring theme throughout the record, as it demonstrates some of the fiercest delay driven hooks the world has heard since U2 traded rock-and-roll in for activism and self-importance. These guitar heroics are quickly set aside for “Hanged Men”, which starts off with jagged, twin guitar chord banging that in all of its gothic nature, demands the audience keep moving.
 
Bassist Joshua Sims appears with his usual Simon Gallup-isms, keeping the genre-piece intact. The major boost to the rhythm section, however, is that this is the first Common Men record to feature Kimberli Aparicio on drums, who has been a member of the band for 2 years now, and has a defining sound that works well here. Sacramento punk rock veterans may remember her from Butch Vs Femme, where her oddly tuned kit and tom heavy approach created a volatile hypnosis for the 2-piece. Backing her brother Kevin, who is more melodically inclined than BvF’s howling punk rock approach, enables her to show a wider array of diversity from the subtle points to the ferocious goth rock the band occasionally dives into. From her forward blasting on “Rumblemaker” to the tribal overtones of “The Headshrinker’s Ritual”, she helps make the band sound the heaviest they ever have, and that’s a good thing.
 
From L to R: Joshua Sims (bass), Kevin Ian (guitar, vocals), Kimberli Aparicio (drums)
I want to take a minute to address the album’s major ballad, “Wendigo”. To get to the point, this is easily the most beautiful song the band has ever released, and also its greatest departure. Lacking the post-punk stereotype almost entirely, the group freely explores brit-pop with overtones of Bruce Springsteen, starting out the first half as a patient ballad, and then traversing up toward its nearly 9 minute mark. The lead guitar is thoughtful and melodic, supporting a softer vocal approach compared to the rest of the record. As it begins its second half, it slowly scales through variations on a theme, pulling the listener along with the current. After reaching the climax, it gently pulls the listener back down with more guitar melodies, echo, and lighter handed rhythm. Clearly offset from the rest of the album’s darker tone, it doesn’t feel out of place; it just seems like another piece of a grander experience that wouldn’t work in one dimension. Unfortunately, the doomy drop off into “Impulsion” is a bit strange, and makes it seem like this should have been the album’s closer.
 
The record’s not short on rockers either. Aside from “Vital Signs”, “Panic” is get-on-the-freeway-and-speed music, “Search Party” kicks the door down, and “Impulsion” allows Ian to fully immerse in his new found love of noise and guitar mistreatment.
 
Production is clearly better than on the band’s previous record, Hearsay. Still obsessively self-producing, Ian has a stronger grasp on what gives the band its sound. Unfortunately, the vocals get a little pushed out. It would be an obvious stylistic decision to place in some plate reverb and tube-pre overdrive here, but instead we more or less have the telephone-voice dominating the record. It’s a fun effect when used sparingly, but it takes away from songs like “Wendigo” and “Vital Signs”, that could have benefited from a cleaner sound in the mix. Other than that, despite its self-glorifying lo-fidelity, it’s still easy to pick out what the bass, drums and guitar are doing at all times without too much effort.
 
I like this album. I feel the band has really managed to translate the fun effect of their live show to disc. In scaling back their goth-rock/post-punk tendencies without altogether eliminating them, the group has created a more well rounded set of jangly guitar rock that is destined for a larger audience, and also offers more sustenance. The band releases the album online tomorrow (August 30th), and will be appearing at Kimo’s in San Francisco on September 8th with physical copies on hand. You can listen to “Vital Signs” below.

Album review: Summer of Glaciers – Concentric (2010)

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If you were to only listen to the record without reading too much into it, you would probably assume that Summer of Glaciers is a 5-piece band, milking San Francisco’s post-rock fan boys and being the obvious choice to open for God Is An Astronaut when they spring up on tour. You’d probably think they rehearse like crazy in order to pull off this material live without slipping up. With its massive layers of sound and carefully integrated guitar parts, this would be a safe assumption to make.
But you’d be wrong. Summer of Glaciers is a one-man-band. Ryan Wasterlain, who looks like your company’s IT guy, goes on stage with an understated demeanor, adorned with a Gibson guitar and more complex machinery than most guitar players would ever want to keep track of. Using a drum machine, a mixing console, and a heavy amount of computer software, Ryan performs each guitar part, manipulates it after the fact, and then continues layering, all while maintaining a conventional progressive-rock structure to the music without ever sounding like he’s compensating somehow. The slightest mistake could wreck a reasonable portion of the set, and with a metronome in his ear piece, he maintains patience and perseverance throughout the performance.
This brings us back around to Concentric, his latest record released through SF collective Ascender Descender records. The record features a sharp production and sounds impossible to pull off live through the method I just described. The use of drum machine works out nicely as it doesn’t do much impersonation of real drums, but rather relies on it’s own digital personality. The guitars roll in and out with razor sharp hooks at every turn, sometimes kicking 3 of them up at once, then descending into stuttering noise. It also doesn’t hinder to too many of the “post-rock” stereotypes that linger around these days, by maintaining quick paced tempos, rarely staying in place for too long, and bringing a well directed energy that makes it into get-on-the-freeway-and-do-90 music.
 
It’s hard to pick stand out tracks from the album, since most of it is daisy chained together to flow as one dynamic prog-rock epic. Although never meandering, you’re hard pressed to find an obvious end to anything on the record. There is one obvious track however in Touching Down, featuring Emil Rapstine on guest vocals. His performance almost sounds like a more Americanized take on Dead Can Dance, and lends desert imagery and a slight psychedelic feel to the juxtaposing futuristic musical foundation in place by Wasterlain. The production efforts on his voice also have more of a lo-fi sound amidst the ultra-clarity of the instruments, giving his voice a bit of a surreal presence. As it sweeps to its chorus toward the center, it is quite epic.
 
This track is followed by the album’s eerie closer, Ceremonial Ghosts, which carefully moves out of a simple arpeggio into an eerie keyboard percussion piece, then shifts gears all at once to a quiet chugging guitar. It in a way stands as a dark reflection of the album’s first 9 tracks, setting the sun on the journey.

Concentric has been one of my main walkman albums of late. Summer of Glaciers is presently on tour (dates listed below), check them out if you can. Due to Bandcamp’s very liberal sharing policy, you can listen to the player below, and if you so enjoy it, follow it to put money in Mr Wasterlain’s tank by buying a copy.
 
07.07.2010: pa’s lounge. boston, ma. w/ rob byrd, lazar house.
08.07.2010: rebel sound records. pittsfield, ma. w/ cabinet of natural curiosities.
09.07.2010: green line cafe. philly, pa. #
11.07.2010: loft show. toronto, on. w/ valley of the shadow of death.∍
12.07.2010: pat’s in the flats. cleveland, oh. w/ presque vu, two left ears (france).
13.07.2010: no fun house. kalamazoo, mi.
14.07.2010: turf club. st. paul, mn. w/ gerald prokop, telepathos.
16.07.2010: day show – independent records. denver, co.
16.07.2010: night show – astroland. boulder, co.
17.07.2010: sweatfest. grand junction, co. – thepanthernaut.com/sweatfest/
18.07.2010: necropolis. sacramento, ca. w/ (waning), noisepsalm.
19.07.2010: mama buzz. oakland, ca. w/ james & evander, posted.
20.07.2010: johnny v’s. san jose, ca. w/ lady lazarus.
21.07.2010: tba. san francisco, ca. w/ lady lazarus, sarah june.
22.07.2010: tba. oakland, ca. w/ lady lazarus, sarah june