Behind Children of Mercy: Part III: Pre-Production [Exclusive]

I was sitting in the Spokane Airport early in the a.m., fumbling with my very first smartphone and waiting for my flight to Denver to arrive when I received an e-mail from said phone.  And then another.  And then another.  Christopher B’s influence was spreading like a fire in East Texas.  I don’t rightfully remember who the e-mails came from, but I do remember the shock and awe factor of trying to conceive the idea that I might have thunk up something people might give a damn about.  I wasn’t built with a strong ego.  When any sense of anything resembling pride builds up within me, my mind shuts down, and the fear sets in.  I was about to spend two weeks in what I considered the dead center of American hell (Wichita Falls, Texas), my career was in danger of a serious culture shift, yet here I was thinking it was a good idea to embark on a journey far beyond anything I had ever considered.

I arrived in Texas with a couple more offers from contributors.  And during my stay in desert land, I made a few more acquaintances.  I was there for a class of some sort, but I spent most of my time behind my laptop sending and replying to e-mails about this project I was so entirely frightened by (in between marathon sessions of Man Vs. Food, which in turn helped me gain 10 lbs).  And little did I know, four different amazing things would happen during these two weeks, that would create a no hold’s bar attitude, we are doing this, sort of feel.  Let’s count them down:

1.  A Portland Mercury contributor I decided to randomly contact had recently agreed to join the team, and he mentioned something about a new thing out entitled Kickstarter.  Apparently you can raise money for projects such as this one, through a severely creative way of offering free shit for every donation.  It seemed strange, but I put it in the back of my mind, and told myself to remember this in case it might come in handy.  (As most of you know, Kickstarter some became the platform in which we were able to make this whole damn thing happen financially.  So, yeah, Ryan Feigh pretty much saved our ass on that one.)

2.  Through a random British source, I had decided that I would go out on a limb to try to get one of my favorite female vocalists, Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William, to write.  I had known the former TW drummer during high school, and he was a close friend of some close friends of mine.  But, I really didn’t see myself reaching out to him for help for personal reasons.  But, there was hope across the pond, and I managed to get in contact with Anna and nearly pissed myself to learn that she would love to help out.  So, in a severe stroke of luck, we acquired the talent of an indie rock sensation who jammed out on a Chemical Brother’s Grammy winning record.  Things were truly getting strange.

3.  The idea to make this project a charity based collective was always the main idea.  The problem was finding a charity to donate to.  So I did the simplest cop-out idea I could muster….I asked everyone else.  This is when I received the now infamous e-mail from Swedish based musician, Ola Nyberg, informing me about his son Gordon who has Cystic Fibrosis.  I have to admit, I was only vaguely familiar with CF.  I though it to be just another health issue some deal with.  I would soon realize this was not just another illness.  This was insane, and serious.  Most important to note was the fact that it affected children of young ages.  The average lifespan of a person with CF is 37 years old.  And this age is actually a major improvement from original studies.  Improvements are being made, but there is still a lot of work to do.  It was with this information, and a few tears in my eyes, that I decided to skip out on any VH1’s Save The Music time charity, and go right for a source that would be more than worthy to donate to.  And alas, The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and The Cystic Fibrosis Trust became our sources of charity.

4.  It was a Friday night I believe.  I didn’t have class in the morning, and I found myself up far too late.  The stench of whiskey on my clothes, and fingertips stained from cigarettes.  I was an utterly drunken mess.  I decided that it was time to lay down and sleep off the misery.  As I often do, I loaded up a large batch of Menhirs of Er Grah songs onto an iTunes playlist, and allowed Thom Carter to sing me to sleep.  And just before I fell to the Sandman, I heard a song I hadn’t noticed before.  I’m certain I had heard it, but never like this.  That song was “Child of Mercy”.  Now let me tell you, I had been listening to Menhirs of Er Grah for years, and I’ve always been moved by Thom’s tracks.  But, something about this song got to me in a special way.  And in a epiphany like state, I yearned to be a child of mercy myself.  Then it struck me.  Children of Mercy.  Perfect!  The subtitle came instantly.  And I never felt more sure about anything in my entire life!

And although I would be the first to agree that not a whole lot comes out of Texas (save for some damn fine musicians, and SXSW), I think it was destiny that I was to live in solitude on Wichita Falls for a little while.  I had a bit of focus time this strange project I was working my way into, and some very crucial elements were mixed into the batch.

So what now?, I thought.  Well, there was promise of an album.  It was time to make that happen.  And then the essays would start pouring in.  And what is this Kickstarter thing?  I again felt in over my head, but so damn excited about the progress of it all that I quickly forged my way through the nervousness, and continued to move forward.  I’ll save the suspense by  letting you all know, for those who don’t know already, things ran pretty damn smoothly in retrospect.  The speed bumps were minor, and mostly unnoticed.

Read more in Behind Children of Mercy Part IV: Production,  coming soon!

Zip Line Tour Of My Musical Memory

The journey of a thousand songs begins with one step down memory lane.

I listen to the radio a lot. More than most people I suppose. It’s the background soundtrack to our jobs and really, life in general. I have a lot of time to think, so I’ve started to pull together my rather nebulous thoughts on music. Hopefully, some of you can identify with some of the thoughts I have.

Although I’ve listened to almost every genre of music in my life, rock has had the biggest impact on me. You can blame my taste in music on my brothers, both of which had their musical preferences shaped firmly in the grip of “Generation X”. By most accounts, I came about very slightly after that generation ended, which is unfortunate because I can easily identify with them, and not so much with the younger “Millennial Generation”. To start this, I suppose I should begin from my first recollection of music…

As I search the chronicles of my mind, the very first music video I ever remember seeing was George Harrison’s cover of Got my mind set on you in 1987. What a fantastic video! I sat in front of the TV and moved to the beat as best as I could. I had no idea what he was singing about, but I knew I liked it. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who liked it, the video went on to be nominated three times for MTV’s video music awards. The main thing I remembered from this one was all the crazy shit flying and flapping around in the background while George calmly strummed his guitar and sang like it was no big deal.

It wasn’t long before watching MTV was as regular for me as cartoons were for most kids. Those were some interesting childhood memories, from around the same time period I remember seeing the controversial (at the time) video for Don’t come around here no more by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. From what I remember, this one did win a VMA. I have to admit, as many times as I’ve heard the song, the video is more memorable. I always imagined that it was pretty close to what one would experience if you tried shrooms while watching Alice in Wonderland. Come to think of it, Alice in Wonderland probably encourages people to try shrooms anyway. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers remain one of my all time favorites even today.

My brothers, seeing my interest in all things that were totally rad quickly introduced me to their favorites, which of course became my favorites too. I vividly remember them sitting in their room listening to Guns N’ Roses new cassette tape Appetite for destruction and trying to decide which songs would be hits. Good Lord, how could you possibly go wrong with that! They even had a Guns N’ Roses poster that was so much more bodacious than my Roger Rabbit poster that seemed so out of place in my room. undoubtedly, that is where my love of silver revolvers and thorny flowers came from. There were others too of course, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Metallica, and many more.

My next memories came a few years later. By this time I had a radio in my own room and my oldest brother was already enlisted in the Army. My other brother had his own car by now, a white Pinto with red leather interior. His big thing now was the Grateful Dead, but he still listened to what he called classics. You know, Jimmy Buffett, and the Rolling Stones. Soon after, he would enlist in the Navy and I would be on my own to pick out what was cool for myself, and fortunately, there was a new genre on the block ready to greet me with open arms and dirty Dr. Martens, Grunge Rock!

Grunge is what I remember the most from my childhood. It was the first thing I ran to once my brothers were out of the house, and the first new sound of the 90’s. It shaped every aspect of my life at the time, and I can see how it affects my sense of style even now. Primarily, my liking of simple, cheap, durable clothing items, slightly baggy and comfortable jeans, my misuse of flannel, and love for thrift store pick-ups. In many ways, it’s very similar to early punk rock styling. Grunge was simple, and that’s what we loved about it. No flashy antics, no gimmicks, just straight forward music that spoke to the masses of a generation trying to find out who they were. Oh, the memories! Vaseline and Interstate love song from the Stone Temple Pilots were huge hits, and who could forget that freaky ass music video for Black hole sun by Soundgarden? Ah, I remember them all. Bush, Hole, Collective Soul, Candlebox, and of course, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. This began what I call the “post Bill and Ted era” of music. The one and only complaint I have about this era (other than the absence of “happy” songs) was the difficulty in figuring out the song lyrics. Even if you could use all your mad crypto-linguistic skills to decipher what they were saying, the songs largely seemed to make absolutely no sense at all. Really, what the hell was Yellow Ledbetter about? It was the one song you couldn’t help but (try) to sing along with and I had no freaking clue what they were saying or what the song was about and neither did you. Apparently, it may have been an anti-war song… Who knew?

Eventually, the sound started changing. Grunge faded into the larger genre of Alternative Rock, and that gave us the soundtrack to our junior high years. The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers probably spurred this change in sound more than anyone. Segments of punk rock and ska were going mainstream, and there were newcomers with a sound all their own. Harvey Danger came out with Flagpole sitta, Chumbawamba had Tubthumping, others followed. Pop was actually getting fairly good too. It seemed like the golden age of music! There was a lot of strange stuff that came out around this time too, like the Dresden Dolls, Marcy Playground and Aqua… But the rest was pure and great and shiny and new. Audioslave, Fastball, the Cranberries, Fuel, Third eye blind, they were all fantastic.

I took a quick trip into mainstream pop for a while around my high school years, but rock was always there. Linkin Park, Kid Rock, the Verve, Sugar Ray, Sublime, Tool, and the Offspring were the main ones I listened to. Along with Blues Traveller, and even some Creed. Now that I think about it, there’s no way to name all the bands I listened to through high school… Everything from Blink 182 to Bad Religion. Put on any music from 1999-2002 and I probably remember at least something about it. This was also around the time I got into punk rock and folk punk… There’s one you don’t hear much about. Remember the Presidents of the United States of America and their hit song Peaches? The timeline splits innumerable times here, everyday was something new. A new sound, a new band, the world was wide open, MTV was dead, and the internet was changing how everyone bought music.

It was a brave new world. Then I enlisted in the Air Force. Music took a back seat for a while I learned the finer points of folding underwear. I actually don’t remember much good music coming out for the next couple years, and it seemed like the bubble had burst. There was no new Aerosmith, no new Metallica, no new Ozzy… No one there to take their place and fill the void. Rock seemed dead and the best we could hope for was a rehashing of an old song or an old band coming out with something new that vaguely reminded us of the good old days.

However, in this modern age of information, many indie bands and independent artists are coming out with great stuff and unlike the old days where you had to see them in person to hear their sound, we can easily find them on the web. There’s a brand new day for finding good music now, and no shortage of small time bands to suit any connoisseur of rock. Find the good ones where you can, and support them. This is the grass-roots heart of music fandom, and if you’re lucky, maybe one of them hits it big. Then you can act like a snooty hipster and tell people you were into them before they were mainstream.

Enjoy the music. It’s the heartbeat of a generation, and an art that transcends canvas. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and rock out for a few hours.

Tacocat [Band]

Photo by Sarah Creighton

I’ve always had a soft spot for not so angry chick pop-punk.  I know, “chick punk” Susan B. Anthony would kick me from her grave for using the word “chick”, and nobody seems to like being considered “pop-punk”.  But, I will simply call it as I see it, and how I would like to appreciate it.  I’ve always dug groups like Portland’s Forever, Hotpants Romance from the UK, and Juliette Lewis & The Licks from….wherever the hell she thinks she is from (Hollywood?).  But, there is one definitive group that always tops my list of fun filling female oriented fun.  This would definitely be the Seattle based foursome, Tacocat.  Yes, there is a dude in the group (same for The Licks), and he is very talented.  But this is the lady’s hour, and it would absurd to not recognize this factor.

Although Tacocat has received some major praise over the last few years, it seems as though they do not wish to take themselves entirely too serious.  Which is awesome in my book.  They rock out for fun, and for nothing else.  They have an everlasting internet presence, but every single detail is not of the upmost importance.  They’d rather throw a quick quip on Twitter rather than detail every experience they ever encounter in 250 words or less.  They have toured the country over and over (including a strange shared stage with Phish in Montana.  Weird!)  Their songs are heard from here to Shang-ri-la, but again, no big deal right?  You can’t be “punk” or “hip” by giving a shit, right?  Right!

But, people are listening.  Thousands have turned out to see them rock their homeland of Seattle (not official numbers, but a good estimate).  And if you managed to make your way to their Bandcamp and Myspace (remember that?) pages, you are likely to have fallen in love with their hilariously awesome tracks like “Volcano”, “UTI”, or “Psychic Death Cat”.  Their music is quick, astute, and extremely entertaining.  As you would guess as well, it is a live show that would prove most entertaining.  This is where Emily Nokes spills her beautiful venomous words, Eric kills riff after riff, Lelah Maupin murders a kit(ten), and Bree makes us fall in love with ourselves and our inability to dance (maybe, that’s just me?).

Photo by Jesus Christ

It is imperative to subsidize the bulllshit rectal thermometry we are currently forced to endure in the modern day “punk” world.  Even the slightly embracing back alley acts of today have very little to offer that is either genuine, sincere, or at the very least, worth a damn.  Let it be known, it’s not about how damned weird you can be, it’s about the sound, joy, and emotion that can be relinquished when an escape is needed most in order to keep your sanity.  And a group like Tacocat is sure to make you feel great.  Like an Indian haircut/massage or a fresh kick in the teeth, you are definitely going to feel something special when you walk out of a Tacocat show, or stepping out of your beat up Honda Accord your mom still pays the insurance on, humming the last few lines you just heard.  This is the type of friendly chick punk everyone yearns for, whether they know it or not.

In Seattle?  Watch for Tacocat to perform live at EMP for Nevermind Cover Night on October 20th.  They will be performing “Loung Act”.  Discover more from the band’s Website.

The Ascetic Junkies [Band]

There are far too many great things to be said about this band.  I’ve been covering them for years.  Ever since I was a shy puppy of a music blogger digging around the internet (on the newly fashionable social networking site Myspace!), I have been a fan of The Ascetic Junkies.  Yes, it borders along the lines of obsession, but that is for my shrink, not Trainwreck’d.  No matter, it was about high time I put the dear AJ’s in the spotlight once again.

In late 2008, The Ascetic Junkies released One Shoe Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  This political (and Dracula) driven record turned out to be exactly what I was looking for during a period of political revitalization and the return of self-representation.  And it still holds up to date with the current shift of, well, damn near everything.  Tracks like “A Protest Song” and “Gone Shootin'” are just as relevant.  And maybe even more so, my personal favorite, “Windows Sell The House”.

A year later, around the tail end of ’09, and the beginning of 2010, I fell in love with the (then) free digital EP, Don’t Wait For The Rescue Squad.  It was a simple and quant lead into the magic that was about to come in the near future, but I was smitten.  The two original singles “Jenny Don’t Do That!” and “French Girls” where a phenomenal prequel to the band’s sophomore album that was sure to come.  Both of these tracks still sit somewhere around the top of my favorite AJ tunes, and I hope that when the proverbial Best of The Ascetic Junkies is released, they will be included.

And alas, we have the band’s pinnacle of recordings thus far.  In late 2010, Portland’s favorite Folk/Americana/Awesome band released one of the finest records to have ever come out Hipsterville USA.  This Cage Has No Bottom was a record that is still in my regular playlist.  The Ascetic Junkies took their old styling of passionate folk, and merged it with an indie rock feel that is as purely amazing.  And while I have always been a fan of lead songstress Kali Giaritta’s tantalizing vocals, it is her cohort (and now, husband!) Matt Harmon on “Water From Wine”, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest songs EVER written.  I say this with much ease, and little regret.  It is that damn good.  Matt has always been heard vocally on the band’s work (see the extremely catchy “Kali, All I Do” from their first record), but he absolutely kills it on this track, and several more spots throughout This Cage Has No Bottom.

The Ascetic Junkies are a non-stop dynasty in Portland, OR and their influence has successfully spread across the land as well.  They’ve landed a sweet gig during BIKETOBEERFEST alongside fellow PDX folk royal family, Jared Mees & The Grown Children on September 17th.  And Jared Mees and company can also be found with The Ascetic Junkies and other fine groups on the on insanely popular PDX Pop 2011 compilation album.  It’s been an amazing road for these amazing folk/bluegrass/punk/pop/whiskeystomp , whatever you want to call them, artists.  And the momentum is far from over.  Undoubtedly this is a group that will continue to shine brighter than a starlit sky for years to come.  Tremendously fascinating music such as this can never fade away.

If you find yourself in the Potland area on September 16th & 17th.  Do not forsake your oppurtunity to see The Ascetic Junkies live!

September 16th @ The Christmas Horse w/BELLS (San Francisco)

September 17th @ HopWorks for the 3rd Annual BikeToBeerFest w/Jared Mees & The Grown Children and The Wonderlust Circus

And of course, you can catch them all over the town, somewhere here or there.  Keep updated at the band’s WEBSITE.

Sadistik [Artist]

Underground hip hop has become a well received genre these days.  The idea that hip hop music can be not only a form of poetry, but literature in motion, has become a relevant and accepted tradition by most in these times.  In fact, it is entirely pleasing to know that an act like Atmosphere is now a household name even outside the artistic communities.  And yet with the explosion of popularity happening, the true essence of the music has yet to have been lost.  Wordsmiths are still all around us.  And one can not express the power of this lovely branded music without mentioning the master of lyrical wit, Sadistik.

Sadistik is the bourbon in the espresso.  The freshly rolled blunt in the moonlit dive bar.  This Seattle based MC is a merchant of rhyme slaying who rarely goes contested in his respected field.  With blends of indie rock and old school soul, this is a cat that brings an all new sense of enlightenment to an already engmatic field of soldiers for the pen.  He’s been putting it down for a long while.  In 2008, he released critical acclaim from the underworld with his debut album, The Balancing Act.  The album may have been promoted heavily by guest appearances from the likes of Mac Lethal and Vast Aire, but it was Sadistik’s own prolific abilities that really rode him along to the earned respect he has (or at least should have) today.  He managed to create beautifully spastic lyrics meshed a perfectly timed flow in motion.  It was damn good.

But, our man has only gotten better.  He proved it in 2010 with the release of The Art of Dying with the Chicago based style master Kid Called Computer.  Rarely has a follow up album been this amazing.  And since, and before, this inception, Sadistik has seen himself working amongst the likes of so many great artists (Sage Francis, Eyedea (RIP), Blue Sky Black Death, etc.) in which he has continually proven that he is either on par with, or better than depending on who you may ask.  As well has opening for/performing with the likes of major acts such as Bone Thugs N Harmony, D12, Lotte Kestner, Cage, and more.  And to top it all of, he just completed a nation wide tour with two other amazing artists from the underground scene, Bodi (formerly Alexipharmic) and Kirstoff Kane (P.S.  watch for these two on Trainwreck’d very soon!) on the aptly titled and Kickstarter assisted Never Ending Gun Show Tour.

And nothing seems to be stopping this kid.  He is currently prepping for a Canadian performance debut, and some spots with Sage Francis in the Northwest, an EP with Kristoff Kane,  a full length with a electronic supernova Emancipator (who can also be found on The Balancing Act), and a solo album due out very soon.  There should be no doubt that Sadistik is a mad man on the loose, and should be adored at any given moment.   Do not question it:  Sadistik is destined, and deserves to be, the next household name in underground hip hop.

Check out Sadistik  at his WEBSITE, and watch for him as he hits the road, most likely in a city near you.

And if you find yourself in the Northwest this month, find Sadistik performing with Sage Francis at The Roseland Theater in Portland (9/210 and at Neumo’s in Seattle (9/22) before he heads to Edmonton, Alberta to play the Avenue Theater (10/1).


Jason Michael Allred [Showcase]

Jason Michael Allred is not a paid artist.  In fact, you can simply refain from asking him to “like, draw me a tattoo dude!”.  He won’t do it.  No, Jason is simply an amazing illustrator who would rather not take himself too seriously.  His illustrations and own personal brand of “street art” are for his entertainment only.  And maybe Facebook.  In fact, all of the illustrations and pieces in this blog were stolen directly from his Facebook album, without any permission given whatsoever.  Isn’t the internet grand!

Allred is definitely an amazing artist.  But, it is his style and demeanor in which he works that is most impressive.  What this highly eclectic designer of the dark can “doodle” during a slow day at work is in itself easily on par with some of the biggest names in the illustrated and sketching world.  And should our man decide to movie towards a career in the art world, there is no doubt he would take the world by storm.  But, really, I can’t see him giving two to three shits what others really think of his work.  And that is undoubtedly what makes a true artist.

To find more work from Jason Michael Allred……….well, good luck!

Sophie Madeline [Artist]

I was sitting in the studio of KYRS 92.3 recording a session with the great Martin Hallanzzini when he schooled me onto another fascinating British gal with a ukulele obsession.  Little did he know that I had also become a total sucker for one of the hit songs of the summer, Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” (Once you get over yourself, it’s an amazing track).  And when he combined the two, I was instantly hooked.  I immediately ran home and Googled the hell out of this new-found sensation known as Sophie Madeline.

My research would prove that this is a woman with more talent that simply creating fancy, low-key covers of pop songs.  Her latest album The Rhythm You Started is a brilliant demonstration of how beautiful a stripped down sound can really be.  A woman and her uke, a dream, and taunting voice that sounds as those butterflies should constantly be floating around her hair.  Madeline creates some of the finest pop music to come out in a very long time.  Whether she’s creating a dance worthy cut like “Oil & Gold”, or spilling her heart out on a sandy beach on a sappy love track like “Hypothetically Yours”, her songs are catchy, warm-hearted, and overall a whole lot of fun.

Sophie has made a name for herself as of lately, by doing what thousands of people have already done.  Just better.  And very consistent.  In preparation of the release of Rhythm You Started, she released 30 cover songs in 30 days via YouTube.  And this brings us back to her stunning rendition of “Pumped Up Kicks”.  Yet, her song selection consists of a wide selection of obscure yet beautiful tunes.  Her voice was absolutely designed to do “Mister Sandman” and Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”.  But, when she movies into the Donnie Darko featured classic “Mad World” and Al Bowly’s “Guilty”, her versatility shines on.  She even manages to make Adam Sandler’s uber-cute “Grow Old With You” become, somehow, that much cuter!  The list goes on and on.  And once you begin, you will not want to end.  And unlike most “Hey watch me sing this” videos you see, Madeline’s videos are truly unique.  Watching her transition, and edit so smoothly, through each song is almost as impressive as her musical abilities.

Sophie Madeline has every bit of potential to be one of the next great pop singers of our time.  She brings a bright sense of realism to the far to surreal world of plastic pop stars.  With eyes that seem to be looking further into the future than the rest of us can actually see, this is the woman to watch in the years to come.

Check out Sophie Madeline’s work including her latest album, Rhythm You Started, at her WEBSITE.  And don’t forget to check out the 30 cover songs in 30 Days set featured on YouTube.  Just make sure you have a couple hours to spare before you start, you will be engulfed in pop goodness you just can not pull away from.

Watership Down [Film]

I was feeling bored the other day so I thought I’d watch a movie to pass the time. Something light, maybe even cheerful, so when I came across an older children’s movie with a cartoon rabbit on the cover, I figured it would fit the bill. What could be more cheerful and light hearted than happy bunnies right? Boy was I wrong!

The movie is called “Watership Down”. Not a particularly descriptive name, especially since they never actually mention the name in the movie. Apparently, Watership Down started as a book by Richard Adams, and was later adapted to an animated film in 1978. I suppose my first clue as to how this movie would be should have been the tag line on the cover; “All the world will be your enemy. Prince with a thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you… But first, they must catch you.” That’s pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s flick huh?

The movie starts out with a typical 70’s style of animation showing how the world of the animals were created. This story has it’s own god figure, and it’s own parables and unique mythology scattered throughout the movie, so this beginning stage is very important to understanding the rest of the movie. The main things they talk about in the beginning is how “Frith” (the god figure, represented by the sun) created all the animals in the world the same, and they all ate grass. But, because the rabbits ate too much of the grass, Frith gave gifts to the other animals to allow them to eat the rabbits to keep them under control. That’s where things start to get a little gruesome. So, after being chased around for a while with all his people getting eaten, it’s now the rabbit’s turn to receive a gift, but because he’s scared now, he turns his back on Frith and tells him that if he wants to bless anything, he’ll have to bless his back side, and so Frith gives the rabbits powerful legs to jump and run faster than their predators. Not much of a gift but Frith promises the rabbits that they will always be allowed to thrive so long as they can out smart and out run their enemies.

After that brief introduction, we cut to the actual story where we’re introduced to the main characters, Hazel and his brother Fiver. Fiver is the runt of the litter, and is also a psychic (he sees visions), but seems like he displays many symptoms of mental illness and is quite paranoid and prone to very disturbing fits. After some small talk, Fiver sees his first vision, the field they live in filling up with blood and all the other rabbits dying a horrible death. We’re not even ten minutes into this movie and already I’m imagining children watching this getting wide eyed and having nightmares. The scene reminded me of the part in “The Shining” where the kid sees a vision of the elevator doors opening and the hallway filling up with blood. Anyway, that sets the rabbits on a journey to find a safer place to live. The journey, however, is anything but safe. Each time they try to get anywhere, more trouble befalls them, and many rabbits perish along the way. What strikes me is how graphic the scenes are.

You remember in most children’s movies when a character dies, it’s usually off camera? You get a cut scene, and usually a sound effect to tell you what happened. Not in this movie. There are very few exceptions. One that comes to mind is when the rabbits are resting in a corn field and “Violet” goes just a little too far to get something to eat. We see a hawk flying overhead, then a close up of the hawk’s talons as it swoops down, then a cut scene with a “thud” sound effect, and then the spot where poor Violet was with nothing left but a tuft of fur left blowing in the breeze. You think you’ll get lucky with the next death scene as one of the rabbits run into a bush and you hear a “choking” sound like he’s caught in a snare… But then they show the rabbit caught with a snare around his neck as the others try desperately to get him out. The scene seems to go on and on as eventually the rabbit starts to cough up blood and even after the other rabbits free him, he appears to die. The other rabbits stand around his bloodied body and say a prayer for their fallen friend. This is one of the most gruesome death scenes I’ve ever seen in a cartoon. Luckily, the rabbit doesn’t actually die, he gets up a few minutes later, apparently he was only knocked out. This is one of the very few times in this movie where you think a character has died, but they actually make it. Most times here, it’s permanent. They move on, and other bloody, gory, and terrifying scenes follow quickly as they meet up with one of the rabbits that didn’t leave the field with the main group. He’s almost dead, and tells them that the vision Fiver had was right, the field was bull dozed for development and they don’t hesitate to show rabbit burrows clogged with dead and dying rabbits as he tells the tale. This theme continues through the rest of the movie with rabbits dying one by one in the most horrible and disturbing ways. There’s even some mild cursing. One thing is for sure, this ain’t Disney.

There’s not enough room here for me to describe all the deaths in this movie, so I’ll just jump to the one that people remember the most. Probably the saddest moments I’ve seen in any movie, let alone a cartoon. The end of the movie, the main characters have made it to a safe place to live and they are prospering. In my mind, this is where the movie should have ended. And they all lived, happily ever after… But, alas, it’s not to be. We see Hazel, now a very old rabbit, wandering away from the family group to graze. Then, he hears a voice, it’s the voice of the “black rabbit” (the grim reaper of the rabbit world).

[Black Rabbit] “Hazel… Hazel… You know me don’t you?”

[Hazel] “I don’t know…”

The apparition reveals himself as the black rabbit and Hazel gasps

[Hazel] “Yes my Lord, I know you”

[Black Rabbit] “I’ve come to ask you if you’d like to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you, and I know you’d like it. You’ve been feeling tired havent you? If you’re ready, we might go along now.”

Hazel looks back at his family

[Black Rabbit] “You needn’t worry about them. They’ll be alright, and thousands like them. If you come along now, I’ll show you what I mean.”

“So leaving his friends and no-longer-needed body behind, Hazel departs Watership Down, slipping away, running easily down through the wood where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.” This is shown by the rabbit’s body slumping over and his transparent spirit getting up and following the Black Rabbit away. Now that everyone who saw the movie is in tears, I’ll move on with the review.

I know in days past, cartoons were supposed to teach children something, and many cartoons taught children about death. However, I’ve never seen one quite so graphic or heart wrenching as this. Many people (like me) would say that this is in no way a children’s movie. Given the complexity of the situations and constant loss of life and mutilation in very dramatic fashion, there’s no way I could recommend this film for children. Now, it’s fine to explore the topic of death in a cartoon, but I really think they should have let the audience experience it in an easier way. But what could let you down easier than dealing with it by using fluffy cartoon bunnies? I suppose I see both sides of the equation, but the graphic nature of the film was more harsh than watching real life events on the Discovery Channel. Far from a light hearted experience, this film left me in somewhat of a somber stupor while I contemplated the meaning of it all. Do you think when the folks drawing this were depicting a rabbit dying in a snare with blood gurgling from his mouth that even one of them thought “hey, do you think this will freak kids out”? I can’t imagine anyone bringing up the question and then deciding that it was just fine.

I suppose, that even though we may be prepared for facing our own mortality, there really is no preparing for facing the mortality of loved ones. And this movie brings that to the surface in shocking fashion. This movie is harsh because life is harsh and the harshest part of life is when it comes to an end. Ignorance is bliss, but that’s why children are happy, because they’re ignorant of all the perils of the world and how it can all fall apart. This movie removes that innocence. Other than the constant and terrifying deaths, this movie is quite epic. The story is complex, the rabbits have their own caste system, religion, and even their own language. The story is one of searching for a safe place to live free. To endure hardship and trials so that those who come after you will have a better life.

So if it wasn’t for being scarred for life, nightmares of mangled bunnies, or losing your innocence and being scared shitless of horrible deaths, then the movie would be a masterpiece. One thing is for sure, it certainly leaves an impact on those who watch it. If you’re looking for a light hearted or inspirational film, look elsewhere. Black Hawk Down will be more likely to give you that than Watership Down.

The Dustbowl Revival [Band]

Americana is awesome.  There is no other way to put it.  The slapping of some spoons, the plucking of a banjo, and the illustrious storytelling is comparable to just about nothing else in this world.  It is just a slight taste of times of old, when things were (somewhat) simpler.  But, for those of us born far too late in life, we have to deal with a whole lot of cheap imitations.  Of course, the term Americana itself is nothing more than the imitation of OG bluegrass, jazz, folk, blues, and country all wrapped up in a neat little down home package.  Authenticity is hard to come by when you collaborate such classic sounds.  But, when it is done right, it feels oh so right.  And it is with this being said, I bring you….The Dustbowl Revival.

A few years ago I came across a little group form Texas known as The Lost Pines.  I was instantly smitten with the rebirth of the greatest forms of music, and thought they had to be the finest around.  Well, I was absolutely wrong.  As wonderful as they may be, The Dustbowl Revival trumps even the greatest at least seven fold.  And they’re from…..California??  Just more reason to find this amazing collective so damn entertaining!

The band’s debut album, You Can’t Go Back To The Garden of Eden, is a true testimony to what can happen when direct inspiration takes hold, and there is no turning back.  The music is so genuine, you can almost taste the PBR and port wine being passed around the front porch during the Great Depression on the bayou, or on the post-fire Chicago streets.  Trumpets blaze, guitars wale, and the spirit of a great revival (pun intended!) becomes you.  Frontman Zach Lupetin and fellow vocalist Caitlin Doyle create a perfect soul and swing male/female perfectly blended vibe over an amazing down home feel that will keep your feet tapping, your heart pumping, and your soul quite searching for anything greater than what your ears are hearing at the given moment.  This is real music!  And that is such a hard thing to find these days.

Check out The Dustbowl Revival, their debut album, and all their classic greatness at the band’s website.

Guilt Monkey [Band]

Let’s face it, we all love classic rock.  But, we don’t want to admit it sometimes.  I don’t like to call myself a hipster because of the ill qualities that are consistently followed with such an expression of interest, but I might very well be one.  I only like country music when it comes from the time of my grandfather, and I only like classic rock that is nowhere near The Eagles, and is slightly updated if recreated properly at all.  Chuck Klosterman would call me a hipster douchebag for this, and since his word is bond, I must conform.  But, no matter, I am in love with a new artist who epitomizes the old ways of rock and roll.  Introducing Brin Addison and his band of merry men, Guilt Monkey.

Upon listening to the track “Crash and Burn” from the little known Guilt Monkey, I was immediately reminded of one of my favortie, and most unrepresented, times of music….the post bullet in Cobain’s head period of the 90’s.  I thought I was hearing a b-side from Stabbing Westward, mixed with a bit of post Ozzy, Black Sabbath.  For those familiar with the differences, this has to be appealing.  And then I dug into a few more tracks, and intriguing became a loose term I could no longer afford to use.  Move right into the funkadelic yet extremely heavy “Checking Out” and you will realize that somewhere in Belgium, a motherfucker is developing the exact sound that so many new hard rock acts wish they could create (Dear Danko Jones, take notes).  Guilt Monkey is a mosh ready, tantilizing and heavy sound far superior to what your small town radio station could ever get away with playing.  This is a superior blend of blues chords mixed with in your fat fucking face hardcore riffs that will leave your ears bleeding if you are not ready for such a damn good time.

Guilt Monkey  knows their shit to say the least.  Addison recently produced one of the finest albums of 2010 (Jesus Rehab’s The Highest Highs and The Lowest Lows) that is far beyond his own personal sound, but still obviously holds a bit of his creative spirit and bit of his personal ambition.  No matter the man’s credentials, this guy is the definitely the heart and soul of hard rock and roll today.  We need more people like Addison to keep our minds boggled, and our hearts beating in an amazing fashion.  And when a man like Brin finds a team of such talented hard rockin’ musicians as he did with Guilt Monkey, it is amazing to see think of what the future might truly hold.

Check out music from Guilt Monkey on their SOUNDCLOUD page.  You won’t regret.  I promise.