I’m often critical of Sioux Falls.

Although I admittedly spend very little time there these days, it’s always struck me as a bland suburbia with no emotional weight, grit or real identity. It is the outlet mall of small cities — a collection of brand names signifying nothing.

Is that unfair?

I can’t say with any certainty. I simply do not spend enough time exploring its crevices for signs of the kind of life that excites me.

But I will say this, the residents of Sioux Falls gave Future Islands and the Operators the kind of enthusiastic welcome that makes you proud to be associated with the city’s fandom.

I don’t go to shows in Sioux Falls on a regular basis, but I’ve been told that Sioux Falls crowds have been going the extra mile to make bands feel at home — the recent Jason Isbell concert was an example of that, I was informed.

I just know that I saw it firsthand Monday at the very cool and stylish Icon Lounge.

The Operators are a very new band that most prominently features Dan Boeckner of bands such as Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs and Divine Fits. They have a synth-heavy new wave sound that tends to tickle my funny bone in a wonderful way.

The band informed the crowd early on that they were having a rough day, in part because of some equipment failures.

As they soldiered into their set, the Operators were clearly taken aback by the gusto of the crowd, which was cheering them on as if they were the main act. It was a warm and impressive display, and the band ended their set with a thank you to the crowd for turning their day around.

“This is just what we needed,” keyboardist — and, according to one press report, “enigmatic Macedonian electronics whiz” — Devojka said.

Now let’s rewind.

Shortly after arriving at the venue, I noticed the Future Islands lead singer, Samuel T. Herring, walking among the crowd.

Through performances and interviews, I had the impression that Sam is a very nice, sincere guy who appreciates his fans. Without really thinking, I called out his name and he politely began to speak with me about the tour, Baltimore and our shared love of film director Matthew Porterfield. I’ve become a huge fan of Sam during the last six months, and it was a genuine pleasure to have a relaxed, five-minute conversation with him.

I first remember hearing Future Islands on the “Sound Opinions” podcast perhaps a year or so ago.

“The Great Fire” became a favorite song of mine (which Future Islands did play in Sioux Falls!).

When “Seasons (Waiting On You)” was released in advance of the album “Singles,” I went from being a casual Future Islands fan to a devoted one.

The “Late Show with David Letterman” performance sealed it.

Sam brought everything you see in that clip and more to Sioux Falls Monday.

His intense, theatrical performance places him among the best front men (or women) I’ve ever witnessed and made the concert one for the history books.

I’ve heard people (including a gentleman at the Icon Lounge) describe Sam’s dancing as terrible. I disagree. I find it unique, physical, emotional and really endearing. Like David Letterman said after the Future Islands performance: “I’ll take all of that you’ve got.”

This is the rather shoddy cell phone video I got of the song “Balance” at Monday’s show. (I was pretending to not be filming, because I didn’t want to be one of those guys). It’s got a lot of Sam’s trademark moves for your enjoyment.

I will note here that a strange thing happened prior to the show.

I was standing at the front of the venue after the Operators and noticed some people were giving me strange looks. I did my best to ignore it.

However, one of them approached me and asked, “Are you the lead singer of Future Islands? We were just looking at a picture of him, and you look like him.”

“Uh, no.”

“Are you lying to me? Are you maybe his brother then?”

“I don’t have any Herring blood in me that I’m aware of.”

“So you’re not going to climb out of the crowd and onto the stage?”

“No, that’s not among my plans for the evening.”

The stranger — Ezra, I later learned — eventually accepted my denial, and we had a nice conversation about our favorite bands.

As far as the issue at hand, I happen to think Sam is a handsome fellow and maybe I can see myself passing as his brother. However, I don’t quite understand how I could be in the least bit confused with the man himself.

FutureIslands_2415Yes, that’s Sam is in the middle.

It’s not me.

I know that’s hard to believe.

But I’m telling the truth.



Balance (Love And Loss)

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Fiction
Tags: ,

“Lovers” by Milan Hrnjazović. Find out more about the artist at http://www.hrnjazovic-milan.com.

It’s Sunday, and I won’t see you.
I say the words again.
Even though I don’t want to believe them.
“I miss you.”

Yes, I miss your subtle scent.
And, yes, I miss your fervent kiss.
Of course, I miss your gentle hands.
I miss the way you lifted me in the darkness.

In the end, you won.
I didn’t have a next move.
I had thought we’d play as a team.
But that was before I really understood you.

I can’t blame you, even though I’ve tried.
You had burdens that I’ll never know.
Still, you were stronger than most people.
At the same time, you were more fragile, too.

I couldn’t figure out what you needed from me. I couldn’t find the balance.

You were acid in my mouth.
You were fire in my heart.
You were nails in my stomach.

You were the soul of my song.
You were the warmth of my tears.
You were the distance disappearing.

I walk these halls where you still glow.
It’s so strange to think you were happiest here.
This is where your heart felt healed.
I guess I don’t want to let that go.

I’ll wander with hope it will heal me, as well.
Little by little, maybe a tunnel will appear.
And if it does, I’ll want to believe it’s you.
Maybe you’ve found happiness, and you’ll want that for me, too.

Matt-Cox-Record-CoverA structure as consequential as the Gavins Point Dam deserves its own song.
After all, it is the final gatekeeper of the Missouri River. And, as we saw in 2011, it wields a lot of influence over all those who live along the river below it.
Perhaps those powerful images of water raging through the dam during that Missouri River flood of a couple years ago are what inspired Omaha Americana/country artist Matt Cox to write a song called “Gavin’s Point Dam.” (Geek note: I know from many years of writing about it that Gavins Point Dam has no apostrophe in its name. I’m not sure if Cox included one for artistic reasons, but I get an involuntary tic to hit the “delete” button when I attempt to follow suit.)
Instead of sticking to history, Cox seems to imagine a world wherein the dam didn’t hold and unleashed the power of the Missouri River across the heartland.
It’s a thoughtful and well-composed song, and a must-listen for those of us who know and respect the Gavins Point Dam.
HearNebraska debuted the recorded version of the song this week and writer Chance Solem-Pfeifer stated:

“Gavin’s Point Dam” doesn’t start small — a deluge of muddy water wipes out a dam.
But it does grow. After Matt Cox’s song chronicles the soaking of Midwestern flood-planes, it presses beyond just water into various social onslaughts. The song sees social security failing, politicians floundering. The breaking of Gavins Point Dam was, perhaps, the proverbial last straw for humanity.

The song will appear on Cox’s album “Nishnabotna,” which will be released Aug. 8. Curious what Nishnabotna refers to? I was unaware that the Nishnabotna River is a tributary of the Missouri River in southwestern Iowa, northwestern Missouri and southeastern Nebraska. According to Wikipedia, Nishnabotna is an Otoe (Chiwere) word meaning “canoe-making river.”

Here are a couple of Cox’s live performances of “Gavin’s Point Dam”:

I admit it: I often enjoy toilet humor.

However, why a couple people in this area decided to combine the Fourth of July, outhouses and President Barack Obama has me a bit baffled.

When did everyone with an outhouse decide that they need to put the president in it?

The Fourth of July parade float in Norfolk, Neb., has garnered a lot of attention this weekend. It featured an outhouse with “Obama Presidential Library” written on it, along with a creepy-looking, freaked out President Obama dummy.

Here’s the photo many news sites have featured:


As I was traveling home from a family gathering Saturday, I passed through Bridgewater, S.D. Along the highway through the town, there is an outhouse. When I passed it, I looked over and saw President Obama staring back at me. It caught me by surprise, and I wondered if I actually saw it. My parents were coming through Bridgewater today, so I asked my mom to take a picture of the outhouse just to make sure it was real.

Sure enough, it was:


This outhouse with a President Barack Obama dummy sits along the north side of SD Highway 262 in Bridgewater, S.D. The photo was taken July 6, 2014.

Even as someone who has political disagreements with the president, I find this “humor” disconcerting. It gives me chills, and that’s probably because I can’t shake the feeling that there is a strain of racism associated with it. I know the people who find it funny will vehemently deny that, but given the larger picture of what this president has had to endure — continuing questions about his birth place or the accusations that he is a Muslim and perhaps even a terrorist, as well as outright racist attacks — I think it is naive to believe racism does not play a role.

Matthew Whitaker addressed a strange phenomenon on CNN while discussing an anti-Obama protest last year in Arizona:

One of the most disturbing aspects of the anti-Obama protest was the inclination of some participants to fault the president for increased racial tensions. “We have gone back so many years,” Judy Burris told the Republic, insisting that Obama’s presence and policies have engendered a racist backlash. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”

This mind-bending perspective has become one of the leitmotifs of the racialized anti-Obama movement, which laments regressive race relations, but which attributes increased racial tensions in Obama’s “disruptive” and “exotic” presence, rather than their own racial stereotypes, hateful rhetoric and divisive behavior. Despite myriad efforts to foster civil dialogue in Arizona, the state has proven to be fertile ground for the kind of chauvinistic crusading that greeted Obama this week.

This also reminded me of a 2011 study called “Whites See Racism As A Zero-Sum Game They Are Now Losing.” Its findings were rather amazing and demonstrated just how threatening some Americans view the changing demographics of the nation. Political Blind Spot described the results:

Their findings claim that self-described white Americans believe they have “replaced blacks” as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America.

The authors say that their study highlights how the expectations of a “post-racial” society, predicted or imagined in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidency, has far from been achieved.

The study finds that while both Caucasian and African Americans agree that anti-black racism has decreased over the last 60 years, whites believe that anti-white racism has increased. Moreover, the study finds that the majority of Caucasians believe that anti-white racism is a “bigger problem” than what African Americans face.

For those who argue that these displays are nothing more than political cartoons, perhaps I missed this meme all the years we had white presidents?

I guess Nebraska and South Dakota don’t have the “presidential outhouse” market cornered. Similar displays have been reported on in New Mexico and Montana.

Despite the latest craze, I’m going to stick with toilet humor involving bodily parts and functions. That’s how it was originally conceived, and I believe it is best left that way. Keep politics out of it, please.

We’re at the half-way point of 2014.

It’s as good of an excuse as any for talking about some of my favorite music to come out this year.

I’m going to follow the lead of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” for how I proceed with my list. I love listening to Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson, so I’m going to join their conversation about the year’s highlights.

Favorite New Artist:

Post War Glamour Girls: I came across this band thanks to a shout-out they got from fellow Leeds musicians iLIKETRAINS. Artsy. Political. Aggressive. I’m hooked on their debut album, “Pink Fur.”

Biggest Surprise:

Future Islands: I’ve been listening to some scattered Future Islands songs for a while and really enjoyed them. However, I wasn’t prepared for “Seasons (Waiting On You).” The song is perfect from the opening, awkward electronic sounds to the heartfelt lyrics. The entire album, “Singles,” lives up to the name. Combine the music with their breakout performance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and Future Islands are definitely the surprise of the year so far.

Favorite Album:

Nothing – Guilty of Everything: This Philadelphia band combines 90s alternative rock with shoegaze to melt my heart and rattle my soul. I can use it to work out or chill out. I love their sound. This album is perfect.

Best Song:

Lykke Li – Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone: It’s quite possible you’d have to be made of stone not to be crushed by this song.

Other albums I’ve fallen in love with this year:

  • Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon
  • Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
  • Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  • Mogwai – Rave Tapes
  • Mica Levi – Under the Skin Soundtrack
  • Royksopp and Robyn – Do It Again
  • Peter Murphy – Lion
  • The Faint – Doom Abuse
  • Liars – Mess
  • Metronomy – Love Letters

Here is a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs of the year so far from the above artists and more:

I’ve gone to the theater to see the last three “Transformers” movies.

As a kid, my brothers and I loved the cartoon series. In the days before VCRs and DVRs, we would use tape recorders to capture the audio of the show. It was the only way we could enjoy the cartoon over and over again as the edicts of juvenile fandom demanded.

I went to the first installment of the current “Transformers” franchise with curiosity and excitement. I didn’t know what to expect. The world of the cartoon wouldn’t necessarily make a smooth transition to live action, so I expected some adjustments.

Well, I definitely did not care for it. As to why, I can’t say with much certainty any more. I watched in in the theater so long ago and never returned to it. It was just kind of big, dumb and messy. Certainly, there was a lot of technical mastery on the screen, but it didn’t grab my heart.

My friends and I went to the following two installments out of a sense of obligation. It was “Transformers.” It was one of the movie events of the year. Maybe they will get it more right …

This time around, we’ve decided to spare ourselves the three hours of bombast and ultimate disappointment.

Instead, we’ve entertained ourselves with the reviews:

Brian Orndorf: “Much like the other installments, if you leave the theater without a headache, you’ve disappointed the producers.”

Kirk Baird: “Even by the low IQ standards of the three previous Transformers films, Transformers: Age of Extinction is grave and exceptionally stupid, with a plot as bewildering and incoherent as a caffeinated 5-year-old’s explanation of the multiverse theory.”

Katherine Monk: “Turns out Transformers: Age of Extinction actually lives up to its title and chronicles not just the death of our bond with the Autobots, but the death of cinema, and that once-fearsome T. rex called American culture.”

Peter Keough: “One thing you have to give Bay credit for: He has a knack for bringing A-list talent down to his level.”

Peter Hartlaub: “Imagine if instead of creating new music, a recording artist kept putting out the exact same album, just playing the songs a little louder each time. That’s what it feels like watching “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

James Rocchi: “Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t a bad movie; it’s the worst possible product of a big Hollywood system drunk on a cocktail of fermented nostalgia and rancid profiteering while driving moviegoing into the ground.”

I think you get the picture. Ha.

But there is an aspect of a movie like “Transformers: Age of Extinction” that does intrigue me. How is an approximately $200 million film made and marketed around the world? This film was produced specifically with a Chinese audience in mind, for example.

This is where the “desktop documentary” “Transformers: The Premake” comes in to collate a lot of that information. It’s a fascinating 25-minute documentary. I’ll let filmmaker Kevin B. Lee describe his intentions:

Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth installment of the Transformers movie franchise directed by Michael Bay, will be released June 27 2014. But on YouTube one can already access an immense trove of production footage recorded by amateurs in locations where the film was shot, such as Utah, Texas, Detroit, Chicago, Hong Kong and mainland China. Transformers: the Premake turns 355 YouTube videos into a critical investigation of the global big budget film industry, amateur video making, and the political economy of images.

The Premake utilizes a “desktop documentary” technique that acknowledges the internet’s role not only as a boundless repository of information but as a primary experience of reality. It creatively depicts the process in which we explore a deep web of images and data to reach moments of discovery and decisive action. In a blockbuster cinema culture rife with insipid remakes of franchise properties, The Premake presents a critical counter-image in which personalized digital media asks what Hollywood is really doing in the world.

Do yourself a favor and check out this short film. I highly recommend it.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/94101046″>TRANSFORMERS: THE PREMAKE (complete version)</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/kevinblee”>Kevin B. Lee</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Has a bicycle ever been music to your ears?

If it’s never occurred to you before, Johnnyrandom  (aka Flip Baber) could change your world.

The composer and musician released a single earlier this year that had music made entirely from the sounds of a bicycle. The song has really taken off, getting Baber all kinds of media attention. When I interviewed him this week, he had just visited with “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Baber will be in Vermillion at the National Music Museum today and tomorrow (May 9 and 10) doing some free presentations. I have a feeling they will be quite interesting.

Here is the story I wrote about Baber in advance of his visit:

When Johnnyrandom (musician Flip Baber) released a single composed entirely with sounds made from bicycles earlier this year, he knew it had potential to find an audience.
However, the Emeryville, Calif., composer and sound designer has been pleasantly surprised at just how large the audience for “Bespoken” has become.
“You never know what will resonate with a global audience, especially when you’re not on a record label and releasing a single digitally, etc.,” Baber told the Press & Dakotan during an interview this week. “It was nice to see it take off online. The metrics show it was received well internationally, as well. I think the only thing I didn’t expect for a debut single release was being interviewed by ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ this past week. That was a lot of fun.”
Baber will appear at the National Music Museum on the campus of the University of South Dakota today (Friday) and Saturday.
Today, he will do two free presentations at the museum — one at 12:05 p.m. and the other at 7 p.m.
“I’m really looking forward to speaking at the National Music Museum,” Baber said. “It will be a TED-style presentation with lots of audio, video and insight into the creative process behind ‘Musique Concrète’ or ‘Found Sound’ music. I’m hoping to have audience members come up onstage to coax sounds from bicycles, as well.”
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Baber will be featured in free demos throughout the second day of the museum’s open house, which is taking place during USD’s commencement weekend.
Most people are familiar with Baber’s work, even if they don’t realize it.
He created of the “Doritos® crunch” sound effect and has also done commercial work for companies like Adidas and Google. Additionally, he has composed sounds for museum installations.
“It does seem odd to have my foot in both worlds, if that makes sense,” Baber stated. “I sort of view my past commercial work as my ‘day job.’ I am currently transitioning away from commercial work into long-format film scoring, specifically using the combination of orchestral instrumentation with found objects as my medium.”
The idea for “Bespoken” stemmed from a childhood fascination with the sounds that could be made by a bicycle, according to Baber. He describes his younger self as a bit of a recluse who liked to learn through his years.
“There was a fair amount of isolationism involved in the germination of these ideas — although, I wouldn’t want to equate that with being lonely,” Baber said. “I was a very happy kid, experimenting, composing, exploring. I felt a tremendous amount of creative freedom without the burden of expectations. Presently, I do require intense focus to record found objects, but none of that interferes with a healthy social life!”
In order to make “Bespoken,” Baber recorded various sounds, such as spinning pedals, changing gears and clicking brake levers. He also employed things like a violin bow or a guitar pick to use on a spoke or a rotating tire. The intense process took seven months.
Baber said he developed approximately five ideas for a possible song while recording material for “Bespoken.” In the end, he came up with what sounds like an electronic pop song.
“If there was a source of inspiration, it was probably Radiohead’s ‘Kid A,’ he stated, referring to the popular British rock/electronic band. “Even though my composition may have sounded electronic, it was 100 percent acoustic.”
It’s likely that bicycle sounds will be used in future compositions.
“Out of thousands of sounds, only 50 ended up in ‘Bespoken,’ so there is enough material to create several albums of music,” Baber said. “I’d be surprised if I didn’t come back to it at some point.”
He is currently recording the sounds of kitchen objects for a new composition.
“The kitchen-based project is called ‘Clarify’ and should be released towards the end of the summer with a short film,” Baber said.
“Bespoken” and future releases follow a theme of awareness of one’s surroundings, he added.
“It promotes tuning in rather than tuning out,” Baber said.
People hoping to see and hear a live performance of “Bespoken” at the National Music Museum this weekend will have to curb their expectations.
“I did get a call from ‘America’s Got Talent’ a few weeks ago, inquiring if I could do a live performance,” Baber said. “It is possible, but you’d need 50-plus bicycles, advanced robotics and some software development.
“I’d estimate it would cost $1.5 million to develop. Maybe it’ll happen if there are some applied technology and bicycle music grants out there …”
Baber does hope people leave his presentations and/or demos with a creative spark.
“I hope people expect the unexpected,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to inspire.”
To see a video about how “Bespoken” was made, visit http://vimeo.com/jrandom.