Cloud Cult

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In music, the idea of an underdog is somewhat hard to pin down. According to Merriam-Webster, underdog means “a person or team that is expected to lose a contest or battle.” It’s obvious how this applies to sports, which is where you typically hear the term, but in music what does that mean? The working definition I’m going with is a band that just can’t seem to get the break it deserves. The band I’ve chosen to write about has been around since 1995 and has released 12 albums in those 19 years. Their music is difficult to describe because one album can contain art rock, experimental music, and singer-songwritery tunes, so let’s just call them “indie rock” since that’s such a catch-all genre. They have two strengths that set them apart: their songwriter Craig Minowa, and the fact that their band includes a painter. One might ask how a painter can perform with a band, but they’ve made it part of their identity. They have a painter, Connie Minowa, paint along with the show. She paints the vibe she feels from the concert, and then they sell the painting at the end of the night. Cool, eh?

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Craig Minowa, as I mentioned, is the songwriter for Cloud Cult. He brings a spirituality and curiosity to his lyrics that just isn’t seen much in the music I tend to listen to. There’s a mystical side to life that Minowa explores with great frequency. His songs are incredibly personal, yet entirely relatable. A fantastic example of this is “You Were Born” from 2011 album Light Chasers. This song means more to me than any other song I’ve ever heard because I apply it’s meaning directly to my own child. I heard the song for the first time only a few months before she was born, and I think of it as my song to her because it encapsulates how I feel about the parent/child relationship in context of life as a whole, but it doesn’t come off as corny. Lyrics like “I don’t know where we come from, and I don’t know where we go / But my arms were made to hold you, so I will never let you go” resonate deeply with me as a father.

 


 

So why are Cloud Cult underdogs to me? Well, it seems to me that as prolific as they’ve been over the last two decades, they’ve never really gotten a whole lot of attention for it. I’ve seen their documentary No One Said It Would Be Easy a while back and there was a point where they got excited because they charted somewhat with regional radio. And I feel like that’s about as far as it’s gotten for them. With every new album, I say a little prayer that this will be the record that really gets them the recognition they deserve, but it never comes. They’ve carved out a fiercely loyal fanbase, but it doesn’t seem to get much larger as time goes on. They deserve to be a lot more well known than they are, but hey, maybe they like the level of fame they’ve achieved and they’re happy with it. Either way, you should give them a listen. You can stream all of their albums since 2000 at their webpage.

-Brandon Telg-

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Comic Book Round-Up

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                 When it comes to finding out what comics to pick up, I tend to sample a lot of voices. Friendly suggestions are the top priority, because I tend to like what my friends like. Failing that I tend to look at reviews. Not just one review though, I sample a lot. It’s why I really like the site Comic Book Roundup, it collects reviews from various sites from around the net. It’s very helpful when I’m on the fence.

I will talk about this book, don't worry.

I will talk about this book, don’t worry.

Comic Book Roundup does two things I really like, it averages the reviews over a whole series or can show an average rating of a creator’s various work. The first is helpful for series that have been going for a bit that I might want to jump in on. The second helps when there’s a new series I’m not quite sold on yet to see what I should expect. It’s really helpful to see what it’s like over time and not just one or two issues. It’s also just a really good way to keep an eye on the buzz, just looking at what gets good reviews can occasionally inspire a look into a book. It’s how I found out about the new Ms. Marvel, which is one of the books I look forward to most every month.

You can also tell when a book took a giant step up in quality.

You can also tell when a book took a giant step up in quality.

In the end though reviews are tricky. You have to know what you like and what you don’t, otherwise you’re going to miss series you would like. For example I have discovered that I and most of the reviewers at Newsarama tend to disagree on most books. Books I enjoy, they pan. Books they recommend fall flat on me, generally speaking at least. I’ve found what we look for out of books is very different. On the other side is IGN, the reviewers there are a little harsher on scoring than I would be, but even if I disagree with them I still think they make very valid critiques. That’s why I like Comic Book Roundup so much; having such easy access to different viewpoints on a book helps to get a fuller picture than just one review.

It’s kind of a short week, but I don’t have that one person whose opinion I defer to. For one thing I’m a lot more forgiving than a lot of reviewers and comment section critics. If you want a good sample of opinions on books then check out comicbookroundup.com.

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour

Okay, so this week our blog features not one, but two NPR podcasts, and I’m totally fine with that.

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I discovered NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour while driving from Florida to New York. I was in the midst of moving from my childhood home to New York City and I was pretty terrified. I listened to that year’s Tony’s episode and laughed my way through it. At my next rest stop, I started furiously downloading every episode. A few months later, I had listened to them all, and I’ve been a devoted listener ever since. Every Friday is PCHH day for me, and I can’t wait!

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PCHH panelists Glen Weldon, Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, and Trey Graham.

Pop Culture Happy Hour is NPR’s entertainment podcast. Each week, panelists discuss one or two timely pop culture topics and close with “what’s making them happy that week.” (Get ready for that to be a Rec Room topic one day, because it will happen.) Recently, the show has also started producing ten minute “small batch” episodes, either expanding on a topic they discussed that week or talking about a topic they couldn’t fit into the regular show.

Linda Holmes being perf.

Linda Holmes being perf.

Panelists typically include the podcast’s two creators: Linda Holmes, the editor of NPR’s pop culture and entertainment blog, Monkey See, and Stephen Thompson of NPR Music, who Brandon also mentions this week. Also almost always present is Glen Weldon, who writes about books and comic books for the NPR website and who also writes books about comic books. The fourth (and sometimes fifth) panelist space is now reserved for a guest, but was once occupied by Trey Graham, who mostly contributed to the realm of film, books, and theatre. He left to travel the country by train and see a ton of theatre (pretty much my dream).

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I think what makes this podcast so addictive and enjoyable is the combination of topical content, insightful and witty discussion, and consistent and wonderful panelists. I love Linda, Stephen, and Glen, and after listening to every episode I have come to recognize their voices to the point where if they were sitting behind me in a movie theatre, I would know (and die). But even the guest stars are consistent. A recent episode about the newly released film adaptation of Gone Girl featured (my favorite guest) Barrie Hardymon, because she was on the original episode that discussed the book. It’s like the cast of experts on Pawn Stars, except with pop culture.

Linda Holmes and Bob Mondello read movie reviews from the interwebs, and are adorable.

Not only am I an avid fan, but I’m also a PCHH evangelist and will proselytize, spreading the good word of Linda Holmes to all who will listen. I’ve gotten my entire family as well as some of the employees I supervised at my former job and a few friends to start listening. None of them have regretted it, and neither will you.

Pop Culture Happy Hour can be found here or on iTunes, under podcasts.

All Songs Considered

Oh All Songs Considered, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

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When I think of the names of those who have influenced my personal music taste the most, a handful of names surface immediately: Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Stephen Thompson and the rest of the critics that make up NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast team. I follow a number of music blogs and music recommendation outlets to keep up with what’s new, but All Songs Considered is, by far, my favorite. The hosts of the show have impeccable taste that is, unlike many music sources on the internet, open-minded and spans an extremely diverse spectrum of musical styles.


Kishi Bashi – Bright Whites

Off the top of my head, I can name you a string of artists I LOVE that I heard first on All Songs Considered. Kishi Bashi, Sharon Van Etten, Jonsi, James Blake, Olafur Arnalds, Delicate Steve, Here We Go Magic, Jim Guthrie, Ty Segall, Bombino, DakhaBrakha, Haley Bonar, Alabama Shakes, Shearwater, San Fermin and The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt. And that’s just off the top of my head. If I were to go through my music collection artist-by-artist to find all of the bands that I remember hearing of first from All Songs Considered, the list would be unbearably long.


The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt – Ride Frindship

All Songs Considered has shaped my taste, clearly, but more importantly, it has helped me better appreciate music. Especially music outside of my “wheelhouse.” The hosts of the show are so adept at describing why songs are good that, even if I don’t care for the song, I leave with an appreciation of it. This development of open-minded music appreciation has been a quality I treasure, especially when I see how snobbish some people can be with their music.


Jim Guthrie – The Rest Is Yet To Come

Look, I don’t want to sound weird, but I want to be Bob Boilen when I get older. The dude is in his 50’s and he sees more shows in half a year than I’ve seen in my entire life. I think he said that in 2013, he saw over 500 bands. I just… I want that to be me. Now, granted, he lives in Washington DC, where you can actually see multiple good bands each night, as opposed to Gainesville where you’re lucky to see 2 in a month, but still…


Bombino – Azamane Tiliade

If you want to hear some of the best music coming out today but can only devote 30-45 minutes each week to music discovery, let All Songs Considered be your guide.

It’s free. You have nothing to lose, but oh so very much to gain. Listen to the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes. New episodes are available every Tuesday.
By the way, if you do start listening to All Songs Considered regularly, you will begin to pick up the fact that the majority of the music I recommend to others, comes from this show. So… secret’s out.

Sex Criminals

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                Adult content is mostly the realm of the “lesser” publishers. The big two, DC and Marvel, tend to keep it PG13. There was a time when both had specific lines for more adult comics, but they’ve mostly let that go. No, the more adult stuff is left to Image and other publishers, and they capitalize on it. Now you can get violence a lot of places, and even the mainstream publishers aren’t too afraid to push that. So let’s talk about Sex Criminals.

Sex Criminals is a creator owned comic by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. Let’s start with the elephant in the room, it’s not quite what it sounds like. I kept hearing about this book and how great it was, but that title put me off. Then a good friend, Brandon who posts here on Mondays, was raving about it to me. I knew if he recommended it that it couldn’t be entirely what I thought it was. And it’s not. Not even in the slightest. It’s quite a bizarre premise actually. Two people who have the power to stop time with their orgasms decide to rob a bank. The series is a rather humorous look at the crazy lives of these two individuals, but it also can be extremely poignant about the trials and tribulations of sex and relationships, among other things I won’t spoil. It also uses the wacky powers of its stars, Jon Johnson and Suzie Dickson, to explore just how lacking sex education can be even for people who don’t stop time with their orgasms. The book is surprisingly deep for something with a rather juvenile concept.

This isn't a poignant moment.

This isn’t a poignant moment.

But don’t worry it is predominantly a comedy, and will have you laughing out loud at many of the things that occur. I’ve stopped reading it in public places. Even though I read it in a digital format where the name isn’t plastered for all to read, cackling in the middle of a doctor’s office tends to get weird looks and lots of requests to keep it down. The creators can’t even keep their humor to the actual pages of the story, some of the best jokes are in the letters page at the end of each issue. Just please don’t take any of their sex advice, I feel so sorry these guys’ lovers. They’re even creating a spin off book of the letters pages called Just the Tips. I don’t usually read, much less recommend, the letters pages, but they’re pretty good for a laugh.

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Chip Zdarsy’s art is great. It’s kind of bouncy and poppy. I can’t really describe why, but the art is such a perfect match for the tone of the story. It’s fun, you can tell Zdarsky has a blast drawing some of these panels, without losing emotional resonance when the book does get heavy. On a side note the male lead kind of looks like Brandon, which makes the book both infinitely more humorous and uncomfortable for me to read. Zdarsky also does his own colors, and they are perfect, capturing that light hearted feel with bright pop art colors. Even when there are more colors on a page than a tie-die shirt it doesn’t become over whelming, which is a hard thing to achieve. It perfectly represents the poppy tongue-in-cheek feel of the series as a whole.

Infinitely funnier

Infinitely funnier

Sex Criminals is a fantastic book. It’ll make you laugh, but it’s not all fluff. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of some of the weirdness this book has. It deserves every good word I’ve heard about it, and I’m very happy this got a recommendation from someone I trust. So I’ll pass that recommendation right along. I will warn, its 8 issues in at the moment, and so far it’s all building off of itself so there’s currently not a great starting point besides issue 1. Still it’s worth it.

“Adult Content” in Music

What does “adult content” mean in music? Is it when an artist chooses to use curse words? Is it when an artist refers to sexual things in his/her lyrics? Violence? Remember Cee-Lo Green’s hit single “F*** You?” I don’t remember people calling it an “adult song” even if it’s chorus is not much more than an expletive. I mean, even Kidz Bop and The Muppets covered that song.

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The “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker has never been anything much more than a marketing tool. Slap that sticker on an album and teenagers who don’t know any better will see listening to it as a rebellious act against their parents. Most labels don’t even bother with the sticker anymore, since regulation doesn’t mean anything when hardly anyone buys music in stores anymore. Personally, I don’t put much stock in the label anymore. So what if a song has some dirty words? It could be in the interest of making an artistic statement. Case in point: Sufjan Stevens’ song I Want To Be Well from Age of Adz. Sufjan is an artist whose name is attached to both beautiful folk composition, but also to “religious lyrical themes.” In a song about a physical ailment he suffered a few years ago, he repeats multiple times: “I’m not fucking around, I want to be well.” Who hasn’t felt the same way? Is this expression worthy of being considered “adult content?” I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right to say “yes.”

Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

Is adult music something that only adults “get?” If so, please, name me one song that only adults can possibly “get.” Perhaps there are lyrics and poetry that mean more as an adult than as a young person, based on life experience and cultural exposure, but still, don’t think you can say that something with complex lyrics or complex music is something a younger person can’t “get.” Case in point, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, both artists who are praised for their lyrical genius, and certainly, they both use metaphors that I don’t even fully understand sometimes. But would you call their music “adult” because of it? I’d say no.

There are, of course, plenty of examples of over-the-top vulgarity in music. This would be the strongest contender for “adult music,” but even then, in my experience, grown people tend to stay away from that kind of thing.

I guess this is all to say… in my opinion, adult music is a misnomer. What do you think? What music do you consider “adult” and why do you feel that way?