Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the Importance of a Band Mission Statement

Thanks to abundant media and new technology, everyone on the planet is in a band.

Few modern bands, however, issue a genuine mission statement. And we're not talking about some hardcore act or politically motivated band stating political intentions. That's a manifesto, and should have been left in the early 1980s along with your shaved head and G.B.H. patch.

Go to any band's MySpace page right now. Go ahead -- we'll wait.

Now scroll down a bit to the "About us" section. Chances are it's a band bio. With rare exceptions, band bios are dull and as rote as the story arc to the average slasher film. People meet and make music all the time. Few of the "how they met/who they are" stories are interesting to anyone outside the band.

But a mission statement is an opportunity for a musician to tell an audience what to expect and charm us into paying attention. Even clumsy attempts at humor in a band's letter of intent are better than telling us that they were born and raised in a small New England farming community but life really began the first time they heard a New York Dolls record.

Here's a good example of a successful mission statement from the thrash band Annihilation Time, verbatim from the quartet's MySpace page:

Quite simply the most powerful band in the world at the moment. Forget about the once-great dinosaur bands still roaming the earth (Metallica, Blue Oyster Cult, Winger): their time has past. This planet's future lays in the hands of the mighty Annihilation Time, who day by day, are slowly creeping their raunchy rock and roll across every inch of this dying heap of shit we call a world. Standing virtually alone in sea of garbage music played by garbage people for garbage people, Annihilation Time shines as a bastion of what was once great in rock music; Sex, alcohol, drugs, loundess, filth, and destruction. Taking cues from now deceased masters like the Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Thin Lizzy, and Black Sabbath, Annihilation Time sonically lays waste to your every brain cell and fiber of being. You have but two options: worship or be crushed.

Nice, huh? Is it true bravado, or self-deprecation disguised as impossibly lofty goals? It doesn't matter. The beauty of Annihilation Time's mission is in the group's directness. Move away old people and vapid entertainment, a scary group of white kids is here and they smell like sweat, beer and bong water. Also, they're loud and offensive.

Another approach to the mission statement comes from Girl Trouble's MySpace page, where they've made better use of the "influences" section by making a vow:

It is our solemn promise that we give you the most value for your entertainment dollar. In each town we will attempt to spread the goodwill of the Pacific Northwest and make sure we clean up afterwards. We sincerely hope you will enjoy our musical performance and manage to catch one of the complementary prizes that K.P. Kendall will distribute during each show. We will strive to be good citizens and obey all safety rules and regulations. Our goal is to entertain in a professional and courteous manner. This is our pledge to you!

The Typing Monkey has purchased consumer durables from paid sales staff who didn't try that hard. The Girl Trouble pledge forgoes the band's usual self-deprecation in favor of light humor and a genuine, almost church-potluck like level of sincerity. Yes, the band has a traditional bio further down the page, but it says more about them that they put the pledge as close to the top as possible.

Dear bands, combos, solo musicians and other musical entertainers: Try harder. Start by immediately removing the carefully crafted band bio you posted and replacing it with a mission statement, declaration of intent or oath. Your music is your product, and nobody wants to know how all the parts of their new sneakers came together. We just want to be assured that these shoes will help us run faster, jump higher and impress people we want to have sex with.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Club MySpace

Sorting through the PR e-mail to shake out the MP3s and links to band MySpace pages often feels like being forced to listen to only the opening bands while we wait for a headliner that will never take the stage.

Because of that, The Typing Monkey staff has developed a simple classification system for those bands that we will revisit after a cursory listen, even if we eventually decide they're not for us. This shorthand is a perfectly reasonable way to talk about the bands, much in the way you'd fill in a friend who has arrived late to the show and wants to know if the warm-up acts were any good.

We won't waste any space explaining the classification system because we respect you too much. Just grab your coat, get your wrist stamped and if you don't like any of the acts below, understand this is less than 10 percent of what we had to sift through.


A man from Montreal who makes soft-focus disco and pre-house instrumentals that could soundtrack a Golan-Globus movie. Add to that his remixes of hits he obviously wasn't old enough to remix the first time around (OMC's "How Bizarre"; The Jets' "Crush On You") and we have ourselves a winner.

Dark Dark Dark
Banjo, accordion, cello, drums and lopping sea-chanty rhythms pile into a gypsy caravan to do a Southern Gothic drive-by. That is to say, Dark Dark Dark will put a red scarf over the lamp and make next Friday night's $7 wine-drunk temporarily exotic.

Flowers of Doom
One-third of FoD is singer Simon Lord (ex-Simian, current The Black Ghosts), whose worried vocals help nail the information-overloaded mood. This music wedges in right between The Black Ghosts' club-friendly sound and The Good, The Bad & The Queen's bleak dub-tinted tunes.

Eliot Lipp
More top-shelf electro from an underrated gentleman who makes music that sounds like the 1980s we want to remember. Thank you once more, Tacoma.

The Rollo Treadway
It's been a while since there was a worthwhile British Invasion reenactment band, and this quartet's awfully good at it. Cherry-picking from The Kinks, Zombies and Hollies (and likely others) they're doing it well by not over-doing it.


Friendly Foes
Remember the wealth of solid, co-ed guitar bands that walked in both the shadows of the indie/college-radio ghetto and the glare of mainstream acceptance? Friendly Foes do, and they wear it well, Apples in Stereo vocals and all. Look, sugar's not good for you, but you still eat it, right?

Márcio Local
Sparkling samba-soul from an authentic Brazilian with a thing for mid-'60s Quincy Jones. Even your mom will do Charlie Brown dances to this, so get it before she finds it at a large-chain coffee shop in a year or so.

Maus Haus
Diverse, weird sounds that seem a genuine emulation and repurposing of early electronic experimental junk -- especially late '60s and early '70s obscurities that, if mentioned here will make us sound like elitist trash.

Busy, Tokyo train-station electronic instrumentals from Deastro's solo side project. Like his Ghostly Swim contribution "Light Powered," every song title involves the word "Powered" -- we recommend "Space Powered" and "AGE POWERED." Deastro's good, and now he can be his own opening act.

Boys with guitars give us too many reasons to ask them to please just stop. Yet here's some jerk from Seattle, with glasses and a natty sweater and he's doing fine. He knows his way around a radio-ready pop tune, his voice doesn't make us want to punch him in the face, and the lyrics don't try so damned hard.


Here We Go Magic
Oh, bearded Brooklyn, when will it end? "Tunnelvision" is a pleasant bit of acoustic psychedelia, but this is nothing spectacular.

"Voodoo Things" proves that meaningless but cool-sounding words delivered through a vocoder makes one-half of a good bit-crunched freak out. Larytta brought the other half as well and that cut could be the Swiss duo's one wonderful hit. The remainder of the music on their page stutters through too many stylistic ticks to hold our attention.

The Whip
We shook our Magic 8 Ball and asked if The Whip will be the Klaxons of 2009. "It is decidedly so."


Theresa Andersson
Leapin' lizards! She's a Dutch expatriate living in New Orleans, and has already performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Here's a link to a video of Ms. Andersson showing laptop IDM geeks -- and plenty of singer/songwriters -- how to make solo performance interesting. (And the tunes are good too.)

Annihilation Time
These fellows passed legal drinking age some time ago, but still play with teenage enthusiasm. You can guess what you're in for based on the band name. The quartet has been putting in hours since 2001 but only came to our attention recently. We sincerely regret the error.


Let's do this again real soon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Horror for Her

Note: We figure our intern, Francine, generally ignores the actual content of The Typing Monkey. Since we were the last option on the bulletin board at her community college, it stands to reason that she took the job here in order to get the credits required and will leave at the end of the school year. But it turns out she's been paying attention, and recently shared with us some notes on her dissertation, "Death Becomes Her: On Feminist Themes in Horror Cinema."

So we set Francine loose with a password and she began typing:

The casual film goer may think of horror movies as kids stuff, and more specifically, boys' movies -- a marginally acceptable outlet for adolescent fantasies of sex and violence that would bore Sigmund Freud.

However, a more informed viewer can view and review horror films from a feminine perspective, finding a surprisingly rich genre.

Yes, male fantasy stereotypes are doled out by the coffin-load. Horror movies often feature one or more of the following archetypes: The virginal heroine, the preying vamp, and even the ultimate failed-fantasy woman (The Bride of Frankenstein) for a certain type of man we should all avoid. (If ever there was a film that acted as an antidote to dreary romantic comedies, James Whale's comically bleak warning against "the fix up" is it.)

Every genre of fiction has certain tropes that can be as crippling as they are necessary, and when used well, exemplary. Some horror films recognize that the damsel in distress may stop running, falling and screaming at some point and fight back against whatever nasty nightmare the filmmakers dreamt up as an antagonist.

Ladies: If you're not a fan of horror films, you're not paying attention. If the gore bothers you, there are many less-gruesome alternatives that provide superficial scares -- the most basic enjoyment the genre has to offer, aka, the film-as-thrill-ride -- but also unexpected depth. Please understand though, eventually you're going to see a zombie gnawing on human flesh, or some other awful thing. It's only a movie.

Here is a short list of suggested viewing to get you started. Freak out the man of your choice when you invite him to watch one of these with you. He'll think he's got a free pass to watch a movie and nothing more, but you'll scare him good when the film ends, you turn off the television, and begin Platonic discourse on perceived feminist angles to the story.


Cat People
Dir. Jacques Tourneur
Context adds much to the feminine -- not necessarily feminist -- themes here. The United States had just entered WWII, and American men were leaving home to uncertain, violent conflict across the globe. So the story of an upstanding American male hero (Kent Smith) tempted by a dark, mysterious European woman (Simone Simon) is psychologically loaded. The wholesome American blonde (Jane Randolph) may prevail, but not before the lusty, unpredictable [batshit crazy? -- ed.] brunette nearly kills him. It's a beautiful black and white film with great performances and genuine tension ... and also gypsy curses.

Black Sunday
Dir. Mario Bava

What could be more offensive and terrifying to the shaky grip of the patriarchy than a woman who dares to master arcane knowledge of the pagan arts? For the crime of witchcraft, Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) gets the iron maiden and stake-burning treatment from the Christian men of 17th century Moldovia. Two centuries later she rises from the grave to make good on her promise to exact revenge. Her 19th century doppelganger, Katia (also Barbara Steele) isn't the alter-ego of Asa as much as a repressed version of her. Does Katia even want to be rescued by the valiant, well-intentioned Victorian men who would rather not see her possessed by a 200-year-old Satanist? Though the film isn't terribly scary, it's a visual feast with gorgeous gothic ruins and moody cinematography.

Season of the Witch
Dir. George A. Romero
This is the most openly feminist horror movie made, and an under-seen gem. Joan (Jan White) has everything a modern housewife could want: husband, kids, suburban home, and an endless string of cocktail parties to plan and attend with the other wives she calls her friends. She's bored to the point of numbness. Experimentation with witchcraft leads to real life horror. There is not subtext here, as Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero lays it out plainly in a film released at the height of the Women's Liberation movement.

The Descent
Dir. Neil Marshall

Is this the first true post-feminist film? Should it even be associated with feminist ideas? Neil Marshall's dread-filled tale of spelunkers trapped in an already occupied cave terrifies and thrills with an efficacy lacking in many modern horror movies. What prompts the inclusion of The Descent on this list is that all the leads are played by women and there's absolutely nothing remarkable about that fact. Yes, by design the dynamic between them is different than if they'd all been men. But the script, performances and directing does not comment on their gender at all, and that's why it works so well.


Some worthy runners up include Alien (Sigourney Weaver's consummate badass performance as Ripley set the bar high for tough women on screen) and Halloween, with the Freudian symbolism and Victorian subtext of the chaste heroine (Jamie Lee Curtis) surviving while sinners around her die. We'll toss A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream in there too though the former's a stretch and the latter might cause fights that fall outside the parameters of civil debate.

This list is meant as a launch pad. Get out there, find some horror movies with potential for feminist discourse and dig in. You may find more than you anticipated.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bye-bye Blossom

Her name is Blossom. She was raised in a lion's den. Her nightly occupation was stealing other women's men.

At least that's how singer, songwriter and pianist Blossom Dearie told it in "Blossom's Blues" from her self-titled Verve debut in 1956.

The lyric is standard-issue blues bragging, but when it comes from Dearie's chalk-soft voice it takes on a comic appeal. Does this woman who squeaks and toots like an alto saxophone in the upper register really mean that? Is she even capable of leading a good man astray?

What comes next in "Blossom's Blues" provides the answer, and quite efficiently at that: "I'm an evil woman / But I want to do a man some good."

That same bad girl in school-librarian's clothing fuels her hilarious delivery of Rodgers & Hart's "Ev'rything I've Got" from the same album. In it, she details all the reprehensible things about her personality and the even worse tricks she's learning (fisticuffs, knife-play, a mouth to make a sailor blush -- even witchcraft is mentioned). It's, as the title says, all she has and she's willing to share them with the right fellow.

Her girlish tone is not the babydoll come-on of a Marilyn Monroe, but a flower-soft and unassuming sound that can just as effectively deliver the sad torch songs and genuine romantic odes from the American songbook. Blossom Dearie could sell it.

That she sang a few of her friend and frequent collaborator Bob Dorough's spiffy songs for ABC television's "School House Rock" series makes perfect sense. What kid wouldn't respond to Dearie's gentle voice?

Here she gives the number 8 all the gravitas it deserves:

[Courtesy babiekitty1978]

Dearie never reached the mainstream, which is just as well. The rest of us can keep her like a secret. She died on Feb 7, 2009 at the age of 84. The New York Times has a fine obituary where you can learn more about her, if you don't already know her and her work.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Monkey Reads: It's Hard to Believe It

Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural
By Jim Steinmeyer
Writer Charles Hoy Fort's life, at a glance, follows a Victorian literature arc.

After a privileged but suffocating childhood and a stint as a cub reporter at a farm-league newspaper, he traveled for a short time as a hobo (albeit a vagabond with a secret property income), married below his station and struggled with poverty as he tried his hand at fiction, before finding his calling as an eccentric philosopher who may or may not have believed what he wrote.

Biographer Jim Steinmeyer clearly admires Fort's mercurial goals and Puckish stance of challenging both science and religion. As a result Fort can feel like a love letter. But it's easy to get caught up in Steinmeyer's appreciation and elevate Fort to a status he may not have deserved -- and based on this biography, didn't necessarily want.

Fort collected the odd stories from the back pages of small town papers, almanacs and published journals. The clips he sought were accounts of what today's audience would call unexplained phenomena, supernatural occurrences and mysterious sightings.

What made Fort's efforts noteworthy was his methodical yet playful analysis of the data. Fort shot down scientific explanations of a well-documented rain of frogs for being too sloppy. Alternately, Fort neither rejected nor embraced a divine machine behind such events.

So what's left? Fort's outsider ideas that are ultimately no stranger or less plausible than anything religion or science has to offer -- reorganizations of the cosmos and science-fiction sounding ideas on worlds above, below and concomitant to the one we know.

Steinmeyer avoids getting too bogged down in the tangle of Fortean philosophy -- a smart move that allows him to pull back far enough to show how Fort's writing inspired both outrage, scoffs and, worst of all, disregard.

The wider scope also gives an affectionate look at Fort's positively mundane, comfortable life once he settled in with his wife Helen. The man who discussed UFOs a good 20 years before the rest of the country paid attention spent his days in the library and his nights with his wife drinking beer, eating snacks and going to the movies.

Fort's contemporaries included ally/true believer Theodore Dreiser; harsh critics H.L. Mencken and H.G. Wells; and a few, such as Ben Hecht, who thought of the man as a crackpot savvy enough to laugh at his own cosmic jests.

Based on Steinmeyer's take, Hecht may have been closest to the truth.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We'll be right back after these messages.

No matter what it looks like outside your window, Feb 3, 2009 is Imbolc. Or, as the pagans call it: the first day of spring. Yes, per the Christian calendar and a groundhog named Phil, spring won't be here for another month and some change.

But if you're reading this from any location in the northern hemisphere of Earth, let's just agree that it's spring. It's been dark, wet and cold for a good three months now, isn't that enough?

Maybe if we concentrate hard enough, this will happen:

Still from Flowers and Trees courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts.