Saturday, October 13, 2012

Classics from an Alternative Universe

The break up of USOT kinda bums me out. Sure, there are new projects, and if the band is untenable, it's better for them to pursue their best course, but I really did want to see them live, just once. So, I listened to my favorite record of theirs, this week: When the Revolution Comes, Everything will be Beautiful . I still think they didn't get their due for that record.
So, that, in combination with some posts on facebook by some friends got me thinking about some other great records that I liked, but few others, or at least too few others, noticed. So, I've been listening to them, too.
First, Arcwelder's Entropy. Amazing band that sounded like Shellac meets Archers of Loaf with Bob Mould singing They Might Be Giants songs. Yes, post-hardcore, indie rock, but something a bit more than the sum of the parts. They distilled a certain post punk awareness of certain midwestern hardcore types: the whole Reflex/Ruthless/Touch And Go/Homestead B-list type thing- as in the kind of band that would have been written about in Your Flesh magazine, but forgotten soon thereafter. While I might be an all-day sucker for that whole thing, certain of these deserved A list status, and Steve Albini including Arcwelder in his ATP line up says that I have this one right. (BTW, If I had a spare 3 large, I'd go. Jeebus, lookit that line up!)
So, Arcwelder playing ATP got me thinking about my big regret this year- not seeing the Quicksand reunion. Sure, I like Gorilla Biscuits and Rival Schools and so on, but Slip by Quicksand, that's a stone classic, and I genuinely pity you if you don't think so, as well. It's the punky reggae party of the Clash and the Ruts brought headlong into the post-hardcore 1990's, with Killing Joke and Helmet styled metal-isms thrown in to shine it up. Furthermore, I dare you to be excited by the second half of Fugazi's discography after hearing Slip. Quicksand dominated that sound so thoroughly that I really don't know why anyone took up that sound until The Refused came along. 
That leads me to The Rise. I've mentioned them before but I talked more about their second LP. The first one,  Signal to Noise is amazing as well. Yes, it clearly owes a debt to The Refused, but it carries that torch a bit further into electronic music territory than the Refused did. And, well, The Refused did break up, and the members did other, very worthwhile projects, but they weren't exploring that post hardcore meets Techno meets Jazz meets folk sound. The Rise kept most of that, though they lowered the folk elements, and really brought up the Techno, making it a different thing from The Refused. That the Metalcore folks bought in was surprising, and I think if people were a bit more candid, they'd probably admit that Signal to Noise was the gateway that brought them to The Refused- meaning that the influence The Refused had on The Rise paid back dividends in the proper way, much like Metallica championing the Misfits properly brought focus onto Glenn Danzig and company. On top of that, much like The Refused, The Rise were made up of very creative individuals, involved in everything from great rock bands- Aeges, Juliette and The licks,  and ...And You Will Know Us by The Trail of Dead, to magazines and design- Law of Inertia magazine, multiple albums and of course, production and engineering. So, much like USOT, the fact that there will be no more records by The Rise is a bummer, but not a catastrophe, and there's some classic documentation left behind.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Specs, the ongoing optical odd-I-see

So, yes, I've been spending money on Specs. Apart from my generic specs that I bought on my insurance policy, I've purchased 3 pairs of specs this year, so far, and I got one pair for free. Remember this post? Well, yes, I got the Parkers at Lookmatic, , and I bought a pair of the Tippis for my wife.  I also won a pair of the Uncleonards ( they have many contests, just scour the net) and now, I've got a pair of the Hoppers  from Mezzmer.
Here's what I've learned- Lookmatic is definitely going for the Women's Sunglasses market. They getting designers involved, they are getting celebrities to wear them, and  they're advertising them heavily.Still, they put out a lot of very high quality specs and while they are not the cheapest, I'd say they have some great deals because the quality level is very high. Mezzmer produces some very high quality specs as well, and they have excellent customer service. If there were no Lookmatic, I'd probably shop at Mezzmer an awful lot. Truthfully though, Lookmatic has insanely high levels of customer service- they'll even answer random questions I email them at 1130 at night- within a half hour! In comparison, Mezzmer takes between 12 and 24 hours. However, they will ship up to 5 pairs of glasses for you to try on for a dollar, and they pay shipping. Like I said- excellent, excellent customer service. Lookmatic practically become family members, and I actually know at least two of them on a first name basis- but Mezzmer still kicks most brick and mortars to the curb. I won't name the names of other places I've tried, but I'll just say that some of the more "hip" options have fairly lousy customer service, so I'd still give Mezzmer a very strong recommendation- and I don't want to give the impression that I think you should choose Lookmatic over Mezzmer, because they're just as good, I just like Lookmatic more.
There are other considerations, of course- I'd say the quality is top notch for both. The Lookmatics have a slightly higher quality frame, while I have to admit the Mezzmer lenses are higher quality than even the Lookmatics . Still both are very high quality- easily better than most brick-and-mortar options. If either one gets into the business of making progressive bifocals, I'll take the insurance hit, and never buy from a brick and mortar, again.
Then, there's style. I, personally, think they both put out some very stylish frames, but I'm a big fan of "retro" designs ( I think Men's fashion peaked in 1963) but with modern twists- and that's exactly what both of them specialize in doing. Very "Mad Men" styles- and if that's not your thing, you may not find them as stylish as I do. Still- I think that kind of style seems to be fairly universal, so I expect I'm not alone.
Finally, there are some ethics involved- while none of these keep up with certain companies' charitable giving, or ecologically sound business practices, both are more green than 90% of  the other options out there- and Mezzmer has a 6% charitable giving policy- which is still nicer than going to Walmart, right?
Overall, I'd call my online spec purchases a success- and, if I have my way, I will continue to purchase a few more- and if you think me a gluttonous consumer, I'd like to point out- I cannot wear contact lenses, and if I'd just gone with the brick and mortar my insurance favors, I would have bought two pair- glasses and sunglasses, and would have spent roughly 1/5th more than what I've spent, in total. So, if I buy two more pair, at the prices I'm paying, I'd be at the same place as if I'd bought two higher end pairs at a brick and mortar- in other words, had I been able to buy all my glasses at these two places, I could buy at a rate of 3 to 1. So, I don't feel too bad about it at all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

a Programme note

Hey, I'm not certain how many posts I'll be doing for next few months. Several things: I'm not excited by a lot of what I see on the horizon. There are few things, but not a lot. Also, I'm saving my pennies for a few things- I'm not done buying glasses, I've got birthdays and holidays to buy for, and I'm hoping to purchase a few larger items ( new car, a couple of appliances, possibly a new computer or tablet computer). Also, I'm a bit involved in a few non-pop culture things that are eating my time. If that's not enough rationale for you, I'm not saying there will be no posts- just that they might be fewer, and more... creative. But, hey, who knows? I'm might get enamored with a buncha crap....

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Buying Good(s)

Ideologically, I'm not exactly a big supporter of the "buy green", "buy handmade" or "buy local" thing. The way I see it, there are two words in there: and the one that's the same in both cases is "buy". I really don't think we can buy our way into anything good. I spent way too long in too many economics courses, and worked for too long as a banker and accountant to think that we can buy our way into peace, a better environment, love, or justice. However, you can buy happiness, and prosperity- but it's not the most efficient route to either one.
However, buying crap is the secret underbelly of a lot of what I do support, so I'm willing to overlook some truths in order to get to better ones. For example, I believe in supporting creators of culture- and the way we do that, in this time and place, is buying stuff.  We buy Mp3 downloads, CDs, T shirts, Bumper Stickers, Wall Art, Sculpture, Jewelry,  Books, eBooks, Movie Tickets, Concert Tickets, Restaurant Food, DVD's Licensed Streams, Blu Rays, and Hotel Rooms, and we're essentially "voting" which way culture goes. So, buying a lot of things goes part and parcel with adding my voice to those stating they want the world to be a different place. So, since I want the world to be greener, and since I like doing things myself, and since I like my friends, I do buy a lot more green options, a lot more handmade things, and I  do shop locally, as appropriate. However, I also think that I do more to create a greener world, and a more just world when I vote with a ballot, and when I work towards different laws, and when I don't buy, you know?
What all that means is that, ultimately, if you buy something, you should buy it because it is the best of whatever it is.  How did William Morris put it? If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful . So, I buy local craft beers when they are tastier, not when they are more ideologically sound. I buy  handcrafts when they are handsome, and well-made by people I know to be talented. I buy CDs when the band sounds good, and I like them and know them to be talented.. I patronise places that serve me well- in the quality of the goods, the aesthetics, and the relationship. I see bands and movies that I like, not that fit some self-created profile. I think we, as modern people, have a glut of stuff, and I think that glut does not serve us, but instead serves people we may not like. I see no need to add to that glut in service of some misguided notion that by doing so we are somehow making ourselves better- that smacks of a smug  self-satisfied rationalisation . I might rationalise, but I'm never smug, nor self-satisfied!
So, with that overly intricate preamble, I'm starting to assist in the promotion for the Crafty Bastards craft fair, in Washington DC.  Yes, I said "assist" in "promotion" for what is, essentially a marketplace. Furthermore, this year, it even carries an admission price., and will be held inside a literal market. If I said that none of that made me uncomfortable, I'd be a liar, and I truly believe that most people can tell when you're lying. So I think an explanation is in order, and part of that explanation was in my preamble. Some of the event organizers are my friends, and yes, I've bought stuff at previous Crafty Bastards. I don't want to sound like I'm being too precious with my "brand" here- but if I'm to stand for anything, more than socialism, more than aesthetics, more than I would stand for anything else, I stand for simple human relationships.  No, that's not the same as love- what I mean is that I am convinced that the "I-You" relationship is the building block of anything good in humanity. Now, of course, my friends are not the same as Crafty Bastards. It's still drenched in capitalism, and therefore still is in the "I-it" relationship, so, I'm not necessarily endorsing Crafty Bastards as a concept. But, the opportunity is there for me to experience the "I-You" relationship. Because that opportunity exists within that space, I can endorse Crafty Bastards in practice. Get it, or have I gone too high concept for you? 
What I'm saying is that buying at a craft fair is still buying things. That's a dead relationship. A simple transaction, dressed up in "Alternative" rhetoric, but ultimately just that- buying stuff, and the person at the till could just as well be an application. However, because of the scale of the venue, because it's possible to actually accept the humanity and the validity of that humanity at this venue, I can endorse that opportunity to shake off the transaction, and interact. Put this way- if I buy a T shirt at Amazon, that's all there is. I bought a T shirt from a collection of machines, literally. If I buy a T shirt from a friend, the T shirt and the transaction of buying that T shirt is secondary to the relationship with my friend. I can get behind any arena or venue that emphasizes the friendship more than the transaction. If we can spread that notion- that making and having friends is better than making and having things, that really is a way of doing good.