Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dialectical Observations


A year ago, I released my first EP after Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Elemental was - and remains -  an EP I was extremely proud of and excited about. It may have contained three relatively old tunes, but it also contained three new tunes, two of which started my journey toward this album. "Signor Fancypants" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy" represented, to me, a raising of the bar in my abilities as a composer. When I isolated a single note in the persistent piano track that had been bothering me - the change prompting the altering and rerecording the metallic guitars - an Alternate Spin of "Fistfuls of Whimsy" was created, and I counted it among my most epic achievements, alongside the now-dated Selenophilia Spin of "The Cloud Walkers," and "Passage Through The Veil." I was very pleased when it was accepted by, and put into rotation, on both indie and mainstream radio stations.

Matching the quality of those two songs set a challenge that I met head-on, crafting two Patreon-exclusive B-sides to Elemental, which were tacked onto the end of an extended Elemental Artist's Edition - the first EP to have a running theme through its track art, all of which was derived from works by Cyril Rolando, whose generosity in our trade arrangement remains a massive contribution to my covers and Artist's Editions. These songs were "Movement" - a song that remained solid in its original form for almost an entire year - and "Less Sinister Cousins," which has evolved ever-so-slightly in each of its subsequent publishings. While the former was the best example of what I call piano-metal (but is more accurately described as an industrial-metal/piano-rock fusion) that I had written in quite a while, the latter captured my heart. I felt it was the best example of the odd combination of neoclassical and industrial elements that I often seek to achieve.

Those two songs were eventually made public on the EP Counterbalance, somewhat at odds with a sociopolitically-themed record. I blew smoke out of my ass to explain how they could be interpreted as being part of that theme, but I was mostly taking advantage of its release as an excuse to publish them publicly. However it was with those two songs, along with those two fine achievements on the prior EP, that made it feel appropriate to start crafting a new EP or album. I started with a track list of "Signor Fancypants," "Fistfuls of Whimsy," "Movement," "Less Sinister Cousins," new song "Familial Germs," and the bonus tracks from the Artist's Edition of Counterbalance - an instrumental version of its title track and a more acoustic, intending-to-be-balladic version of "Matriculating." I also had two more songs that were still under construction but looking promising, "Butterflies on Ganymede" and "Fleeting Fractals." However, the softer and more ambient songs "Quietly Matriculating" and "Butterflies on Ganymede" were shoved to the side of a track list that was wildly in flux, as was "Counterbalance (Sin Palabras)" for being too electronic, though I tried it as the album's (yes, it was pretty clear I was constructing a full-length album) finale several times.

I was being more focused and deliberate than I had ever been before as I was crafting "Ganymede" and "Fractals," and they took much longer than any song had before. The mastering process was grueling, not helped any by trying to nudge the volumes on isolated sections of two tracks - on each song - only to find that some idiosyncrasy of my DAW was preventing me from doing so. It took forever to find a way around that, but I believe my extreme attention to detail was quite successful on "Ganymede," which became a must to be included on the album. It was one of the first concrete new songs. However, I thought that "Fractals" was more of a crowd-pleaser, with trip-hop and post-industrial elements that were very apparently inspired by How To Destroy Angels, even though it turned out to be more of a piano-pop song. I made it an advance single to try to generate enthusiasm for the album. Unexpectedly, I think "Ganymede" accomplished that goal to a greater degree, especially among fans of ambient and neoclassical music. Still, I was able to get "Fractals" in rotation on my most supportive radio allies.

During all of this, I was playing around with a much more somber composition of cello and piano over recorded rain. Yes, I recorded rain specifically for an ambient-rock song, because it seems as though pretty much all composers of ambient music inevitably use rain in one of their songs. Hell, even Tool has done it, as they lean more and more toward ambient and atmospheric styles. Anyway, what I found myself writing and recording was an evolving theme of a neoclassical/ambient style, eventually accompanied by throbbing, sustained bass kicks and muted hand drums, bringing more familiar elements in my music into a melancholy ballad. This song, of course, became "When Anchorage Became An Island." Although the title was originally inspired by the SyFy series The Expanse (as was the title for "Butterflies on Ganymede") it took on a very intensely specific meaning for me, when applied to this tune. Anchorage was the site of a double-homicide within my family, and it was a very divergent event for me. It was split from the rest of my life, a separate world. So you see, this gracefully sad song's atmosphere was a natural fit. And I think the cello of this song could also turn into a recurring theme, such as "Jade's Theme." Fun fact: there actually is an uninhabited Canadian Arctic island named Anchorage. Anyway, this song seemed natural for the opener of an album; I immediately made its position concrete, even though it was still an evolving composition.

All of the songs that made it onto the album turned into continually evolving tunes in order to fit together, and were remastered, cropped, extended, rerecorded, altered, or otherwise "improved." In the end, there is not a single song on here that is as it was previously published. "Familial Germs" had two measures cropped; "what if"s that were subtle in theory evolved into a new Alternate Spin of "Movement;" "Signor Fancypants" had a guitar chord added and was cropped into an abrupt ending in order to be deliberately cut off by a new intro to "Less Sinister Cousins," which had a small section rerecorded with slightly adjusted levels. Even "Fleeting Fractals" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy (Alternate Spin)" were remastered for this album, the latter having its opening piano chords rerecorded. Then there was the comically-named straight-up ambient-rock tune "Man Seeking Cocoon (For NSA LTR)" - No Strings Attached Long Term Relationship, for those who don't get it - that had so many "concrete" versions, I'm surprised I ever felt confident enough in it to make an incarnation public.

So here we are, a year later, with an album that - albeit short - has been meticulously constructed to be what I consider my finest album yet. I like to think of it as a "cinematic" experience, and I hope you all have an opportunity to listen to it from the beginning, to the end. Its construction has been an emotional roller coaster for me, and I hope that it has such an effect to listeners. As of now, it can be streamed on YouTubeSpotifyGoogle PlayApple Music, and TIDAL. I've also posted a playlist at my YouTube channel. You'll notice that "Signor Fancypants" and "Less Sinister Cousins" are combined on my playlist. It's because "Cousins" intentionally cuts off "Fancypants" with its new intro, and I wanted that effect in there. I'm also considering changing "Anchorage" and "Cocoon" into a single track, as the snare-edge tapping at the end of "Anchorage" flows nicely into the synth that runs throughout "Cocoon."

This album can also be purchased at GoogleiTunes, Microsoft, and Amazon, but you're better off purchasing it directly from me at my Snail Tunes store, where you'll find it for its lower price. Purchases include a download in a format of your choice - from standard MP3 to lossless audio - as well as unlimited streaming on Bandcamp and the Bandcamp app, which are worthwhile in themselves. An Artist's Edition (see previous article) is also available through my Patreon.

Now, because I always like to end with something special, I'm now letting everyone download the single version of "Fleeting Fractals" for free! Or you can tip anything you'd like to support me and art...

I hope y'all enjoy the music, and that your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dialectical Artist's Edition

Well, folken, I've done it. After giving it a test run last night, I confidently called Dialectical Observations finished and flung it out into the world as a Patreon-exclusive Artist's Edition, almost a week earlier than the album's public release date of July 30th. My hope had been to make it an actual week, but the gods laughed at me and threw some kinks - mostly in the form of technical difficulties - in my plans. I had all the artwork ready. I had the songs uploaded with the track art in place and I had all the pages for the PDF booklet ready to merge into one file. And then, of course, it took four tries to upload and then download the booklet, as I realized that I hadn't flattened the artwork into a single layer for the pages, and therefore the pages looked all screwed up once I had downloaded the booklet. It was a lot more time-consuming than it should have been. Also, my Internet connection slowed to worse-than-dial-up. One of the drawbacks of living ten miles outside the middle of nowhere. My plan (ha!) had been to download the Artist's Edition for its test run and listen to it while uploading the remastered-for-the-album version of "Fleeting Fractals" to YouTube, which I would then share in my almost-nightly Jukebox post on Facebook and Google Plus. Yeah... The download took over two hours, and uploading "Fractals" at the same time was out of the question.

I did test run the album in its entirety last night, which kept me awake until five in the morning, but it gave me the confidence that I had done my best - that this was my best work yet - and it was time to make it officially done by publishing it. So the Artist's Edition that I had been hoping to release in advance of the public date was put out into the world at around nine o'clock this morning. It felt really good to get it out there so I can turn my attention to other promoting the bastard, then publishing it publicly and doing the promotional circus for that release. Still, I've been allowing myself such a relaxed pace to make the most intentional and perfect piece possible that I was able to upload the public edition to my distributor and make it a single click away from being published at my Snail Tunes store. So hopefully this means that it will pop up everywhere at midnight on the 30th. I've been warned by my distributor that it might take it longer than a week to pass through the internal review processes of certain stores and streaming platforms, but that's mostly to avoid angry emails, I think. It's been my experience that most of the time a release is in all stores in the first week of its distribution. This is my first time getting it all out there this far in advance, so we'll see how it goes!

Meanwhile, I'm going to be really pushing for people to pledge at my Patreon. Any amount pledged before the end of the month will gain access to download the Artist's Edition, on top of the rewards in the three tiers. This Artist's Edition has been painstakingly crafted: In an unusual turn, I designed the album cover myself, from one of the tree photographs that I took for the "Fleeting Fractals" single. That led to the track art, for which I strayed from my usual formula. Instead of creating a uniform background with uniform text placement, I took sections of the cover image and flipped them or inverted the values, and then overlaid them with modified artwork by Cyril Rolando to keep with the theme of Elemental and Counterbalance, the two EPs leading up to this album. Again, the images are grayscale, sometimes with inverted values, and I've played around with the brightness and contrast to best suit them as such. Then, the titles are in shades of gray, placed where they work best and shadowed where appropriate. This took a lot more effort on my part than usual, and there were some cases where I had multiple goes at the track art entirely, or spent a significant amount of time playing around with the elements to see what worked best. The end result is that unique images are displayed for each track on media players when possible. You can see two examples of them in the previous article.

After that was all done, it was a matter of converting them for the book and, of course, creating additional pages. In addition to hi-res PDFs of the track art, the booklet includes the cover image, a track listing, and credits and acknowledgements pages, all with the same Dialectical Tree design running through them. For this booklet, I also took a new artist photograph; in all the previous booklets, I still had short hair in the photos. Well, I have shoulder-length hair now, so it seemed a new picture was overdue. Then, like I said, merging the PDFs into a single booklet was a bitch; I'd forgotten that the images need to be flattened (instead of the several layers that each is comprised of) or the PDFs are rendered out-of-whack in some way. In the end, I had to revisit each of the images to merge all of the layers and reconvert them to PDFs. Then there's the uploading, merging, and downloading process that is the consequence of doing it through a free online program. Have I ever mentioned that I had to switch to doing all of the artwork on GIMP instead of PhotoShop long ago? It was a whole new learning experience, but it's more than adequate for my purposes.

Artist's Editions usually come with a bonus track or two, but it was more important to me to work on my existing material and release the album on the anniversary of Elemental, which contains the first track published that is included on Dialectical Observations. Also, I felt that I'd want any bonus tracks to match the quality of the rest of the album, for which I'd have to give myself a lot of room to work with. So instead of up-front bonus tracks, I'm going to do what I did with the Elemental Artist's Edition and publish Dialectical B-Sides further on down the line, free of charge for all Patrons that contributed to this campaign. As with the Elemental B-sides, they'll undoubtedly be merged into a new expanded Artist's Edition, also available to Patrons free of charge.

You can expect further behind-the-music and song-specific details when the release article is written for the public edition of the album. Until then, I'll leave you with the album version of the first track, "When Anchorage Became An Island." May your inner snails remain resilient and determined!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dialectical Release Date - July 30th

I can't believe it's taken me this long to get around to posting this on my "official website"... I'm just terrible at keeping up with this. You'll find the most in-depth reporting on my music here, but it's much easier to keep track with what's going on by following me on Facebook and Google Plus. Hell, I'm even getting better at remembering to post all the important shit FIRST on my Patreon, as well as offering all the previews (and sometimes downloads) that others aren't privy too. Mostly, my Twitter is just ads, song posts, and the occasional tidbit. If you'd really like to know what my daily life is like, and to keep track of everything that's going on in my musical world, Facebook and Google are the way to go.

Back to the subject matter: Yes, a release date has finally been set. July 30th will be the one-year anniversary of the EP Elemental, which was the first stepping stone toward this album, introducing "Signor Fancypants" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy" to the world. Now, it's going to be the Alternate Spin of "Fisftuls" on Dialectical Observations; it's the version that's been on radio rotation on multiple stations, and it's been remastered for its inclusion on the album. "Fancypants" has undergone more minor changes, not quite earning the Alternate Spin qualifier, but does have an abrupt ending for a creative transition into a new introduction for "Less Sinister Cousins," which is another song with some changes. For the original versions, you really should get your hands on Elemental and Counterbalance, respectively. Or add them to your streaming libraries.

Pretty much every song on the album that has been released before is not as it has been heard in previous publishings. Not even "Fleeting Fractals," which has been remastered (I believe to its benefit) for the album. "Movement" is the only song that has remained untouched, but I'm planning on going over its bass guitar track today; there may be an Alternate Spin offered. I know I've been saying that I want to use that qualifier less, but sometimes art is never really finished - the artist can obverse places they would like to touch-up/modify the longer they spend with their works. Artist's prerogative. It's why I've been spending more time with my songs before I release them to the world, but it seems I just can't leave them alone. I still believe it's been beneficial to let them breathe longer, but you may hear slightly different versions of most every song that finds itself published on multiple releases, even without being an Alternate Spin. I just don't think it's always necessary, as sometimes the changes are really minor, and I simply don't want to use that label all the time. But be aware that, in this case, there will be varying Elemental, Counterbalance, and Dialectical spins.

Oh, look, a humming bird! Sorry, I tend to write these posts outside, no matter the season or weather.

I pretty much have the album finished right now, even its Artist's Edition, which most always takes longer with significantly more effort put into it. It's how I make them really special. I took several cracks at designing each track's artwork this time; usually a background gets established and a formula is created. It still takes a long time, but it's been far easier than what I've done this time round. The backgrounds change, as well as the positioning of the song titles; the images borrowed from Cyril Rolando have been changed multiple times, and each has been changed to grayscale with varying brightness/contrast; and there's varying inverted values. It took two days to design them all, and they still may be subject to change. Here's a couple of the previews I've offered on my other social media accounts:

And to leave y'all with something a little special, here's the version of "When Anchorage Became An Island" that was on the demo I sent out to Fluttery Records - I love everything they release and still have yet to be picked up by them; sigh... - but be warned, it's been changed since then. Of course. Until later, may your inner snails be resilient and determined!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dialectical Preview

This post comes from a place of wanting to keep more up-to-date with this blog and to treat readers to something special. As I've said before, there's been a long pause between posts because there hasn't been much to report; but as the new album - Dialectical Observations - draws nearer (a vague "sometime in July") I have some details and a rough draft to share that can be compiled here, rather than the somewhat random posts that have been shared on social media. Let's start off with the track list, which is pretty much set in stone:

1. "When Anchorage Became An Island"
2. "Man Seeking Cocoon for (NSA LTR)"
3. "Familial Germs"
4. "Movement"
5. "Butterflies on Ganymede"
6. "Fleeting Fractals"
7. "Signor Fancypants"
8. "Less Sinister Cousins"
9. "Fistfuls of Whimsy (Alternate Spin)"

Much shorter than the usual formula of compiling songs from two or three EPs, it comes in at a breezy fifty-minutes. Though shorter, this album offers what I feel can be described as a "cinematic" experience. Previous albums have expressed my delusion that "longer means better." They have also been better described as "compilation album." It may seem that my discography isn't so, but I've released pay-what-you-will "non-commercial" EPs in the past that have been compiled into the albums Instrumentality, Occultation, Jaded, and Revolutions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was released after a change in tactics, but was still a compilation-plus-rarities. All were sixteen tracks, all coming in at around an hour-and-a-half, and all making for a bipolar experience. This album comes from a place of intention, as the EP Counterbalance did. It offers some mournful grace, along with some lighter pop, a little industrial-metal fury, and a gentle reprieve.

It may seem, with three songs from Counterbalance and two songs (sort of) from Elemental, that this is another compilation, but I could have added every song from Counterbalance (which were all original to that EP) as well as a bonus track for a thirteen-track album, plus the songs original to Elemental, but felt that "Yours To Burn," "Counterbalance" - which were very expressive of that EPs theme - "Cerebellum," and "Quietly Matriculating" were contrary to a certain experience that the album is aiming for. So, as I was building the track list, one song after the other was thrown out, and I have ended up with a presentation of five songs from the EPs, and four songs original to the album. Okay, enough disclaimers and excuses.

This album will pretty much have been a year in the making, with progress that has been much more stuttered than in the past, when I created four albums from the debut EP in February of 2015, to celebrate its one-year release with my fourth album, Revolutions. My excuse here is that in the summer of 2016 I was both moving and helping with the preparations for my mom's wedding. I was able to pull off Counterbalance following Fall and Winter, but Spring and now Summer has seen me attempting to be a farmer, now that I'm far more able to do physical labor since my hospitalization in 2014. So working on Dialectical Observations has often taken a backseat to fertilizing soil, sowing seeds, weeding crops, and raising chickens. I also blame the fact that I now sleep during every twenty-four hour period, compared to the two-hour naps every thirty-six hours with a crash of twelve hour once a week. This is due to the advice of, and prescriptions from, my psychiatrist. Sometimes I think binaural patterns interrupt creativity, so I'm forcing this schedule upon myself less and less.

I thought I was done with excuses! Well, maybe they're more explanations than excuses. I can stop with the self-flagellation. My therapist says I'm too hard on myself, and that I am not lazy, even though I often think so. But what does she know? She only has a doctorate.

Speaking of therapy, it's about time for me to take off for an appointment, so here's the "something special" I promised. It's a very early draft of "Man Seeking Cocoon," which has been completed and shelved as "done," as I move on to exploring some "what if"s and adding some finishing touches to the other songs. This preview, which Patreon patrons were privy to six weeks ago, is among the ways I find to make Patrons feel special. A pledge now will receive a download of an Artist's Edition of Dialectical Observations in July, and won't be charged until the end of that month.

Until the album's release: may your inner snails remain resilient and determined.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fleeting Fractals

It seems I'm always apologizing for how long it is between posts to this blog - after all, this is supposed to be my main site. But it seems as though it would be really obnoxious, and time consuming to post every little development. That's why I save the major events for You Have Failed Us. As you know, it's getting longer between releases. It's been almost two months since Counterbalance. This is partly due to a more regulated and binaural life rhythm, as well as trying to put enough original material onto a release to make it worthwhile. But I've also been putting a lot more work into each individual song. My work up to Elemental has been somewhat inexperienced and sloppy, and it shows. I used to think that recordings that were entirely done in a live take (not digitally altered) made my songs feel more organic, but I have to take into account that playing on a touch screen doesn't capture the intended volume or timing, and that going over each measure in the editing process can produce a more professional sound. I still play each riff by hand, but I polish it up as I go, trying to retain the organic sound that people are used to in my music, while also producing a product that would better impress radio stations and record labels, and that are just more pleasant to listen to.

I also continue to gain a better grasp of my tools. I know how to customize specific synths to produce a desired sound. I understand better what tools are available to me to assemble a song. It makes for an improved sound that can be glimpsed in "Signor Fancypants," "Fistfuls of Whimsy," and the entirely original material published on Counterbalance. This is leading to an album that has a more professional and polished sound for the songs that will be included on the upcoming album, which has the working title (that I think will stick) Dialectical Observations. I am currently undergoing dialectical behavioral therapy, which I considered for a title, but I didn't want it to sound like a sequel to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I wanted it to have a more individual identity. So I looked up what exactly "dialectical" means, which has nothing to do with variations in language due to geography. I'll save explaining the intention behind the title for its release article.

I blame my therapist and my meds for the more optimistic tone Dialectical Therapy is beginning to develop, though there is some sadness and fury injected into it, here and there. I'm excited about it. It's probably going to be a shorter album than people are used to; I'm not aiming to fill a sixteen-track quota, or making it a compilation of every song from the previous EPs, which has been my basic formula in the past. I'm not even sure if all of the new material - even songs that I have finished and mastered - will be included. The flow and tone are going to be much more intentional than past albums. This keeps in line with Elemental and Counterbalance, which also won't have all their original tracks on the album. I can tell you that the Alternate Spin of "Fistfuls of Whimsy," as well as "Signor Fancypants," "Movement," "Less Sinister Cousins," and (of course) this song will be included. As for the rest...I'm shaping it as organically as possible.

About this song: it was very much inspired by How To Destroy Angels' "Keep It Together." I focused on trying my hand at a similar heavy, sliding bass line, with trip-hop style beats, with subtle use of metallic guitar in the rhythm. I used a basic piano riff that I had recorded as a jumping-off point, which was complimented by a treble piano melody that came out of nowhere, infecting the song with its more optimistic vibe, and called for some psychedelic synths and electric lead guitar. It really wasn't meant to be so upbeat-downtempo, but it came out reflecting the vibe of much of the material that's being considered for the album, and I felt that it would be a fitting advance single as a teaser.

The title came from my trying to put into words the ways that veins, roots, trees, river systems, etc. have a similar structure, when looked at micro- or macrocosmically. All I could find was that Lichtenberg fractals can predict these systems, up to a point, where they become wild and erratic. I originally titled it "Fluttery Fractals," but I felt I was too close to a common theme with "Butterflies on Ganymede," another song I was working on at the time. Then, while I was listening to my progress on my studio's (car's) speakers, I was looking out the window and the thought "fleeting" came to mind, so the name became the current title. I almost didn't keep the "fleeting" to opt for simply "Fractals," but the eventual unpredictability of the natural systems I had in mind seemed to make sense for keeping "fleeting."

My intention was to publish this single first, at my Snail Tune store, at midnight (my time), but after a day spent creating artwork and ads, and uploading and tagging (all this takes a lot more time and effort than it sounds), I lulled myself into a sense of being done for the day. So I woke up this morning realizing that I was eight hours late in my publishing timeline, and by the time I pressed the button, it was already available on Google Play. I can't believe it; I had input on my distributor's upload page that it wasn't to be published until today, and it usually takes a day to a week to see it in stores. Oh well, I can't do anything about it now! But I will be posting links (watch for the highlights and underlines) at Apple Music and iTunes, Spotify, YouTube (meaning YouTube's The Lady anoNYMous page, not my official YouTube channel; remember, you can find The Lady anoNYMous in the YouTube Music app as well), Groove, Amazon, and TIDAL. Amazon is still slacking in making my music available on their Unlimited streaming service, so it will just be for the store, but why buy from them when I undercut them at Snail Tunes? Also, Snail Tunes offers unlimited streaming on Bandcamp and the Bandcamp app, along with a download offered in a variety of formats.

In closing: y'all should know by now that I like to whet the appetite by sharing a bonus song in these blog posts, so I'll leave you with the finished and mastered version of "Butterflies on Ganymede," which hasn't even been posted on Patreon yet (I'll be referring my Patrons to this post for them to hear it). I'm not if sure this will make it onto Dialectical Observations. It's certain, at least, to be a bonus track, but it seems as though it may be to0 ambient-classical for the public album. I'll have to see how well it fits into the final track list. But I want to keep the other new songs close to my vest. So here you go:

Monday, March 13, 2017

We Are Your Counterbalance...

Well, this time it's only been just over a month between articles! Hopefully I'll start getting back to reviews and other writings, rather than only doing release articles that are so far apart, but life hasn't really allowed for much art these days. That's part of the reason an EP of original content has taken so freaking long to come about, since my former days of furious output seem to be behind me...maybe they'll be ahead again, but for now I only have seven songs to put toward a new full-length album, so the follow-up to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - an album that just keeps getting further and further behind me - is probably not going to come about until the summer or fall. That's a little disheartening after 2015-2016 produced four full-length albums, but at the same time I was feeling the need to slow down and work at a more relaxed and deliberate pace. And that's something I can say about this EP: it's been a far more deliberate and well-honed release than a lot of my post-Revolutions work, and I'm extremely happy with my more-polished post-CBT work, which I believe shows an obvious leap in my evolution as a songwriter. Everything from "Signor Fancypants" to "Counterbalance" sounds so much less like experiments thrown out there for the sake of producing art; they sound like art that has taken its time to shine as much as me, at any rate.

This EP was crafted around a central theme, even though the intent began after the writing of "Movement" and "Less Sinister Cousins," which were more appropriately tacked onto the Artist's Edition of Elemental, unfortunately long after its original publication. Those songs, and even "Familial Germs," are on here more because they are new and original material, though they can be interpreted to belong among the rest, which were crafted with the United States' current sociopolitical climate in mind. As I stated in the politically-themed articles surrounding the election of President Trump, his inauguration, and his executive orders that obviously targeted immigrants and minorities, I have been an angry (and somewhat self-righteous, though I believe it's time for some righteous anger) leftist liberal that has been wanting to champion causes in the defense of racial and sexual minorities, and, yes, patriotically defend the Constitution. This was somewhat obvious in "Yours To Burn," which I created as an anthem of empowerment during a time in which it was so easy to succumb to anxiety and despair. I'm very proud to present a more polished version of that song as part of this EP, which can so directly be tied to its overall theme.

That theme is succinctly and concisely summarized in the simple poem that wound up bookending its content; a poem that came to me as I was wrapping up the long-but-rewarding process of crafting the titular track. I felt its ambience, with relaxing lulls between the almost flute-like melodies, would lend itself to the inclusion of some hippie-ish spoken-word poetry But no inspiration was dawning on me, and I chose not to force the issue. So it seemed that "Counterbalance" would be a sin palabras track - without words - which might include vocals by the time a full-length album rolled around. However, a simple poem did randomly occur to me late one night, inspired by a slogan for misfits that I've been wanting to put on a T-shirt: "We walk among you." Wouldn't that be great on a T-shirt, for the sole purpose of making people wonder? It could work very well for any minorities.

Anyway, I ended up jotting down "We walk among you / we don't need permission / we won't apologize / we're here for a reason / we are your counterbalance..." which summarized the theme I was aiming for on an EP that I had already titled Counterbalance; which, in no-small-part, is a nod to a youth group I belonged to, from my teens to my early twenties. When I say "youth group," it brings something Christian to mind, but this was very much a small-town version of a gay-and-lesbian high school group, in a place where no such group could be found at the high school. No, this could not be affiliated with our schools (even though it was put together by one of my high school's guidance counselors) but it was fortunately formed anyway, and named Counterbalance. This group largely became a way for misfit teens to congregate - not just GLBTs. Its existence helped me survive my teens, and it formed some lasting friendships for me, including one of my oldest friends, whose birthday was chosen for the release date of this EP. And while I was writing it - especially after the election, when minorities started to feel the weight of persecution by extremists who think "Trump's America" means a free-for-all for racists, homophobes, Christian fundamentalists, and bigots - the term "counterbalance" kept on surfacing in my thoughts.

Though the poem can very much be seen as more all-inclusive way of saying "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" I very much like that it can be interpreted to include anyone who has felt persecuted. It can even be used as an anthem for right-wing extremists. But I feel it's very important to make the point that it is not intended for right-wing nut-jobs. After all, Obama didn't take your guns away, he wasn't successful (unfortunately) at socializing medicine, and Christianity is still the most widely practiced religion in the world. I hate to include Christians the "nut-job" category - I know some who are quite decent and very intelligent - but I have seen up-close-and-personal just what the Christian majority thinks of this past election and its results: preachers and "prophets" proselytizing that Donald Trump is some sort of savior from sexual deviants, Muslims, and witches, under the belief that the United States is some sort of refuge from the rest of us. Yes, they really do believe this. So the overall message here is that the rest of us are here; we do feel persecuted and threatened by this election and new administration; and us leftist liberals will whine and be angry because we are here to counterbalance the extremists who would like to deport us all, or set our progress back fifty-to-a-hundred years.

A family member of mine recently wrote a diatribe on Facebook about how there has always been persecution and unequal rights, how unfortunate it is that this is currently making people so angry, and that we all need to just focus on ourselves. This was an old Christian white guy. To him and others who think like him, I have only to point out that such a thing is easy to say when you have never known true persecution; when you have never felt fear or violence just for being. And it's funny that this family member has been trying to reassure me that the new administration is nothing to fear, when almost all the fears of liberals are quickly becoming realities so soon after Trump's inauguration. He told me to wait four months before jumping to conclusions; it's only been two months and the conclusion is self-evident. Propaganda and fear of "the rest of us" are quickly taking over this country's policies.  I can't help feeling slighted when my own family members are taking to Trump as a champion of values and labeling me as "basically good, but misguided," while vehemently fearing and hating others like me. My sexual orientation and gender dysphoria are not, and have never been, choices that I made. My theistic views have been formed by experience. My complexion and facial features have often been perceived as non-arian, which has put me in danger of physical violence. My agnostic leanings toward a non-gendered god or polytheism, as well as my neo-Pagan spiritual practices, are viewed by many-a-Christian as "witchcraft." I was born in this country, I have often felt privileged to be a citizen of this country, and I do not want to see it to all go to shit based on the fears, values, and propaganda of an unfortunate majority.

Okay, I'll try to get back to the music, but this has all formed the intent and themes of this new EP. I hope this work can empower and comfort people. I'm proud to have made it, and I'm proud to offer it on multiple platforms. Those who wish to take it as they will, and who wish to support me, can buy it for its lowest price at my Snail Tunes store, which includes a download in any of a variety of formats - from standard MP3 to lossless - as well as unlimited streaming on your Bandcamp feed and the Bandcamp mobile app. An extended Artist's Edition - with bonus tracks, individualized track art, and a PDF booklet of album art and liner notes - is available for a pledge of support at my Patreon. I would be completely remiss to not mention Cyril Rolando's support in not only letting me use his artwork for the cover art and track art, but allowing me to incorporate the "elemental" wheel from his piece "The Human Orchestra" into my new logo, which I've begun to use in my advertising, artwork, and social media across the board. You can view more of his work at his DeviantArt page, and purchase it at his online store.

You can also support my art by streaming it from royalty-paying sources such as Google Play, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, MS Groove, and TIDAL (links appearing as they become available). You may notice that I've started including the link to YouTube Music's The Lady anoNYMous playlists. They pay me royalties, so it's pretty much all the same to me, but you can find even more of my music, with rarities and new songs, at my own YouTube channel. You may also notice that Amazon is not listed among these platforms. That's because Amazon Music Unlimited hasn't been including my latest releases in their streaming service, for reasons unknown. They're still available at their store, but why would you want to buy them there when you can download them for cheaper, while supporting me directly, at Snail Tunes? So far, The Instrumentality Project, The Nocturnal Dervish, and Counterbalance haven't been included on Amazon Music Unlimited. I'll try and let y'all know if this changes. It's rather disheartening and unfortunate, and my distributor says that it's not up to them, so I guess I'll have to find out how to contact Amazon directly and figure out what's up.

A little about the individual songs... 

"We Are Your..." sort of happened last minute with the thought of "Wouldn't it be cool if the poem was also used as an intro?" and was written in a day...then mostly rewritten the next morning. At first I experimented with two vocal tracks, with one in a different distortion echoing the other, from opposing speakers. But that was just too convoluted sounding, making the words harder to discern. So I went with a single vocal track with a heavy echo. The most amusing story behind this track is that I shared it with my therapist, and she said it sounded like part of the soundtrack for a movie like The Purge. I didn't quite know how to take that, so I guess I'll just take it as a compliment. I sort of hope that I'm moving in the direction of writing soundtracks, following in Trent Reznor's fact, I hope I'm getting closer and closer the nipping at his heels. He is one of my greatest influences, after all, especially his later work and How To Destroy Angels.

I think I've said all there is to say about "Yours To Burn," except that this differs from the previously-released demo mostly in the recording of more melodic vocals, as well as some altered guitar chords. It was my intention to include an extended version on the Artist's Edition. The unreleased original includes a lengthy cello solo, but I've been continually dissatisfied with how the surrounding instrumentation clashes with the rest of the song; in particular, a bass-line that I can't seem to get right. The solo itself bridges a lull into the climax quite beautifully, but I haven't managed to get the rest of the instrumentation just right, and after setting a release date, I decided that - if it ever works - it will be released to Patreon supporters later. The sin palabras version of "Counterbalance" was included instead.

"Familial Germs" has undergone some revisions since the preview that I included with a previous article, mostly in terms of minor instrumentation and some cropping. As for the title, well, the way that families and close-knit groups of friends seem to heedlessly share germs was fascinating me that day. It can also be interpreted in a larger context, with the way society is forced to "cross-contaminate," in a way...the United States being a melting pot and all.

As I've said in a previous article, "Movement" was written in movements and hopes to inspire movement. It can also be as a danceable, instrumental anthem for "the movement."

"Less Sinister Cousins" was inspired by the "Cousins," or Animal People, in the stories of Charles de Lint. The name came about by way of other faery tale creatures: naiads being the "less sinister cousins" of sirens. In a sociopolitical context, the "rest of us" are less sinister than the right-wing consensus generally paints us; we're not trying to destroy the country, but uphold it as a safe space for people of all races, religions, and creeds. On that note, I'd like to mention the alarming statement of a preacher on YouTube that I overhead: that this country is made for "freedom of religion," not "freedom from religion," with the meaning that the separation of church and state is wrong. Never mind the law, this country is supposed to be a haven for Christians, not a melting pot of people of all religious beliefs, agnosticism and atheism being the second and third majorities. Anyway, it pissed me off. I try really hard not to have anything against Christians, but when they act like they're being persecuted for not being allowed to shove their beliefs down the throats of absolutely everyone, I get very angry.

...which is part of the reason why concluding the EP with an ambient, relaxing tune - with its message in a more peaceful context - was pretty important to me. Let's say it's meant to have a more "can't we all get along?" tone. The instrumentation was a move in a radical direction for me. It began with experimenting with new simulated drum sets that were included among the updates to my DAW. I mixed a few tracks of different styles to accomplish this relatively simple, trip-hoppy beat. Everything that was built on top of that developed in a more and more psychedelic direction, very much inspired by the theme of the television show Orphan Black. I was watching the show one evening and thought, "Hey, I could do something like that," and chose my instruments accordingly. However, it became a much more sprawling epic than the show's theme, which is condensed to a climactic triumph in electronic composition by Two Fingers. The song kept moving inexorably forward with my losing track of its length, similar to my experience in writing "Lily White." A nine-minute tune felt to me as though it were three minutes, and it wasn't until my first time listening to it in an AIFF format that I realized its length, which made me feel the need to crop it severely. But no matter how I sliced it, it became more and more clear that no part of it could be left out. And with the lulls so obviously lending themselves to the inclusion of vocals, I'm very happy that the "Counterbalance" poem occurred to me in time for inclusion on the final product. However, the lulls are rather masterful at promoting peace, relaxation, and contentedness, so it wasn't a great sacrifice to include the sin palabras version as a bonus track on the Artist's Edition, in place of an extended "Yours To Burn."

The other bonus track was also inspired by the soundtrack of some-show-or-other (I can't remember what, specifically), which made me realize that the piano chords in "Matriculating" (from Revolutions and Matriculated) could be slowed down to create a ballad. I slowed the tempo, for which I had to rerecord the piano to lend itself to the quiet tone, and I picked out more acoustic-sounding instruments. It couldn't quite stop the song's natural buoyancy, however, which still shines through. Also, I was unable to resist including some crunchy, post-metal guitar work, as well as another whirring synth solo. Still, it's a mellower take on the song that I'm quite proud of, and have grown somewhat addicted to. In the end, it was really hard not to put this on the public version of the EP. However, I really wanted to reserve some bonus tracks for my Patreon now I'll just include it here for my blog readers! I can't resist, and I always try to throw something special in these articles for y'all, so here it is:

And with that, folken, I will bid you to let your inner snails remain resilient and determined!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Return of the Dervish

I'll try to keep this short and sweet: I made a blunder when I removed the album Instrumentality from my "official" discography by removing "Dusk Devils" and "The Nocturnal Dervish" with it; "Dervish," in particular, having been one of my most popular songs ever, and being in rotation on several radio stations. It does no good to have a song getting airplay without being available, except for maybe getting my name out there and attracting attention to my other songs. But it seems like kind of a tease (which is what most radio singles are before they make it onto a release, I guess) to have the song playing on the air and no way to purchase or stream it. Anyway, I saw the error of my ways almost immediately after replacing Instrumentality with The Instrumentality Project. The "Simplified Mix" was supposed to offer an alternative, but seeing the original's airplay tweeted to my attention over and over again cemented the feeling that I had to make it (the original) available to stream and download again.

Another catalyst for this was coming across a photograph by Loni Nicole Hoots called "In Mysterious Ways." See, I've always imagined the Nocturnal Dervish from the Snail Tunes mythology (more on that a little further on) to be a hooded, druidic, androgynous figure, which I had previously used images by John Jude Palencar and Jeremiah Morelli to depict. In the case of John Jude Palencar I didn't have permission to use his artwork, and I received a rather uncalled-for, lengthy reprimand when I asked for permission (I mean, shit, I was asking!). Jeremiah Morelli, however, gave me long as it wasn't for commercial use. So I was out of luck for a cover image until I saw "In Mysterious Ways" on Twitter (I must say that I've come across the majority of my artistic and music industry connections through this reviled form of social media) and secured the permission of Ms. Hoots - I hope that's the correct gender assumption, which I shouldn't be making if I were overly concerned about political correctness, but fuck, that gets tiresome sometimes. I just couldn't come up with an alternative title and felt weird about using their full name again, so if anyone has an alternate suggestion, I'll take it!

Anyway, I asked for a higher-resolution file of the photograph, waited a very long time, and failed to get a response, though they responded to other tweets, so I assumed that I just wasn't getting one, and I went forward with publishing the single with the cover I already had arted (my term for cropping, titling, and overall altering or constructing artwork for track art and cover art). I decided to not only republish "Dusk Devils" and "Dervish," but to map out the song's evolution. Two steps are notably missing - the "Whirlwind Mix" of "Dusk Devils" and the original "Replicant" - but I was much more satisfied with the next steps in the song's progression; respectively, the "Nocturnal Dervish Mix" that later became known as simply "The Nocturnal Dervish," and the Alternate Spin of "The Replicant." Those versions occasionally pop up in the rotating rarities available to Patreon patrons; I'm just not overly concerned with their absence from the official discography.

Now, for those who aren't familiar with the mythology behind this song, or the Snail Tunes mythology in general: a protagonist in much of my music (in fact, I maintain that the Snail has a story behind each of my songs, even if I don't know what it is yet) is the Snail, which is why it's used as a sort of mascot. In the songs "They Delving" and "Dusk Devils," the Snail has been traveling with the Bagman, who, after a harrowing journey through a dark wood, leaves our intrepid gastropod at the edge of a desert. There, it encounters the spirits of dust devils, only visible at dusk, who have been determinedly eroding the landscape to uncover the way down to a subterranean, otherworldly celebration, presided over by the king of the Dusk Devils, the Nocturnal Dervish. An EP called The Hypnotic Jamboree was once devoted to a musical telling of this chapter in the Snail's journeys. A version of it may pop up again someday, but it was removed when I decided to no longer hope to support my music career on tips alone, as it was a non-commercial EP. Not introduced in this chapter was a synthetic copy of the Dervish, known only as the Replicant, which has yet to be storied.

That about wraps it up, except for noting that I am offering this four-track single for free download at my Snail Tunes store. Just enter zero when asked to "name your price." However, tips are appreciated, and anything over $0.50 USD counts as a purchase qualifying for unlimited, DMR-free (no subscription required) streaming on Bandcamp and its free app. For those of you who subscribe to a streaming service, this release will be available on the usual suspects: Spotify, YouTube, Google Play, Apple Music, MS Groove, and TIDAL, which we be linked as they become available. If "Dusk Devils" and "The Nocturnal Dervish" were among your favorites of my songs and you've been missing their availability, please accept my sincere apologies. I hope this makes up for it!

OF NOTE: The Instrumentality Project and The Nocturnal Dervish are not available on Amazon Music Unlimited. They are available at the store, but for some reason have not been curated for Unlimited as yet. All my other releases are, so I'm not sure why; I emailed my distributor and they're clueless. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Please, enjoy, and may your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Burning Desires

It's been over a month since I've done a blog post and for that, dear readers, I sincerely apologize. It seems I'm doing that at the beginning of each article lately... I tend not to do these unless there is something significant to report, and - while there has been a fair amount of songwriting going on - there hasn't been a lot to share. I've been trying to keep my cards close to my chest in regards to the upcoming EP. I've already shared that the writing process has slowed down a bit these days, but there has also been a lot of distraction surrounding President Trump's inauguration and his extreme actions so soon after being sworn into office.

It's no secret that I'm a bit of an extreme leftist. I've had an anarchistic lifestyle and leanings in the past; I've flirted with Wicca and am now an agnostic with Neo-Pagan spiritual practices; I'm a bi-gendered queer who was born male and identified as wholly female in another lifetime; I got married naked at the top of a large sand dune in the middle of the Columbia river (and it was the happiest day of my life); and I've always tried to fight sexism, homophobia, and racism with various forms of art.

My current career of composing mostly-instrumentals has provided music that is largely open to interpretation, appealing to a wide, diverse audience. People of all religions and walks of life follow me on social media, and for that I am very flattered and grateful. I try not to beat people over the head with my personal beliefs these days, though there are some songs in which I am blunt and abrasive, with explicit lyrics and specific messages. These tend to be marked as "explicit" ("Sublime Like Swine," "The Creeps") or have obvious titles indicating the song's intention ("Xenophobia," "Waltz with Lilith (Everything's Fucked Mix),") and can be set aside in favor of less vulgar and contentious tunes. Likewise, people can choose to Follow me and learn more about the person behind the music on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and this blog if they want to, or they can just enjoy the music and leave me out of it. It's not a problem with me. I've continually tried to have the attitude of "take what I will from it and leave the rest" - and to let others do the same - when it comes to political or spiritual systems and beliefs.

My personal belief is that a vile man is now one of the most powerful people in the world thanks to a campaign of fear and propaganda, and that he is surrounding himself with other vile people that are being placed into other positions of power. I've seen "prophetic" religious campaigns painting him as a saint while inciting intense Islamophobia, and I've seen people saying "hail Trump" while giving the Nazi salute. There are some frightening parallels to Hitler's fascist campaign and seizing of power. And now an Executive Order has been issued banning immigration and refugees from specific Muslim-majority countries torn apart by other religious extremists, while right-wing extremists and white supremacists are feeling empowered and crawling out of the woodwork in response to Trump's presidency. I'm more frightened of and threatened by them than Muslim terrorists. I've felt the hatred and been victim of the violence that white Christian extremists are capable of, and it's a time of high anxiety in my country right now. I am only reassured by the intense pushing back of civil rights activists and the resistance of people who refuse to succumb to a campaign of blatant racism and intolerance.

I've read right-wing publications and have several Christian and right-wing friends who have tried to "educate" and reassure me, but it will take a lot of convincing. Meanwhile, Trump has already put into action some of the left-wing's fears and made public statements in support of "religious freedom" (as if there wasn't already discrimination and refusal of the recognition of certain civil rights running rampant) and the desire to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. An artist friend of mine actually said she supports this, saying that this country "needs more homes and less museums" - as if any of Trump's proposed actions would reduce homelessness, and that all art is paintings and sculptures in grand buildings. As an artist, I think it should be obvious what my stance on this is. Art is essential to our culture and the nurturing of our souls. That the NEA is such a small percentage of the national budget makes the proposition even more offensive and absurd.

So, now I've weighed in on my political stance and my country's current events. I've been plagued by intense depression and anxiety over the past few months. Part of my response to empower myself and not succumb to fear, paralysis, and even suicidal ideation, has been to be more vocal about my beliefs and to create art that specifically reacts and responds to these events. A particular song, "Yours To Burn," has been in development, and it seemed appropriate to share a demo with the public as a way of protesting the recent Executive Order.

This song was actually inspired by a line from the series finale of the SyFy werewolf drama Bitten. Yes, I like supernatural trash TV; don't judge me! Anyway, Bitten exceeded me expectations in several ways. I'll try not to share too much, but there's a scene when the pack's ancestral home needs to be burned to the ground, and the former pack master hands the new alpha a book of matches and says, "This house is yours to burn." It was such an eloquent gesture of bequeathing power that I had to write it down immediately, and a rhythm of metallic guitar, resonating synth, and an acoustic-and-electronic beat quickly formed in my head. Then, the inauguration happened, and the "you don't have to wait your turn" - as in, you don't have to wait for power to be bestowed on you - was my empowering response. I'm really not trying to advocate fire and destruction in response to Trump's presidency, but I am metaphorically urging people to fuck shit up and "take the power back" (a little Rage Against The Machine for ya; I actually kind of think of this song as my "Take The Power Back," though I know it doesn't really compare).

Though the song isn't really ready for publication - I'm taking a breather from it in favor of developing other song ideas - this seemed a particularly good time for a public release. While I can respect that immigration reform and government vigilance are topics that should maybe be discussed, taking the extreme action of an Executive Order blatantly targeting a religious minority and Middle Easterners in general really pissed me off, and seems to me to be a frightening flirtation with fascism. So not only have I shared a preview on my YouTube channel - which was only going to be shown to Patreon patrons (it was actually shared with them a day earlier) - I decided that, similar to the Fuck Your Hatred EP that was my response to the Pulse nightclub shootings, a free (or name-your-price) EP was called for.

"Movement" and "Revolutions" are included because their titles can be politically interpreted, and because they're fun to groove to; "Xenophobia" and "The Creeps" are both songs meant to provide sociopolitical commentary; and the "Everything's Fucked" mix of "Waltz with Lilith" just seemed very appropriate, because everything is a little fucked at the moment. "Lilith" also brings about a feeling of solace for me, and I hope it provides it for others, even if it's kind of a downer to end the EP on. Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy it! An important aside: if you're going to leave a tip for this EP, please note that Bandcamp will be donating its portion (15%) of all sales to the American Civil Liberties Union as its own response to the Executive Order tomorrow (February 3rd)! So it will also be a great day to buy any my other songs, EPs, and albums! I've always been proud of sharing my music through Bandcamp, which I believe is absolutely one of the best platform for indie artists, and that their share of sales has been more than fair. That they will be donating their share tomorrow is absolutely awesome! I looked into making donations from NoiseTrade tips myself (NoiseTrade includes an option to donate to charities) but could only find credit card options, and I do all of my online transactions through PayPal. So I'm thrilled that Bandcamp is doing this!

Because I always try to make these blog articles a little extra special, I thought I'd share one other thing: another preview of the upcoming EP, a song called "Familial Germs." I already have ideas for altering it (hell, I already have ideas to alter "Less Sinister Cousins," and that's one of my absolute favorites!) so this isn't exactly as it will be on the next release (which is tentatively called Counterbalance; actually, you can pretty much count on that), but I think it's pretty damn close.

This song preview has already been up at Patreon for a while now, so I'm demonstrating just one of the many ways in which I reward patrons for their pledge supporting my art. Unreleased tracks, rarities, and Artist's Editions of the albums and the EP Elemental, are permanently available, and early downloads and previews are a couple of the ways that I try to make my Patrons feel special. All pledges automatically include a download of an Artist's Edition of the release that the pledges are for. Artist's Editions typically include bonus tracks and a PDF booklet of artwork and liner notes, and feature individualized track art. The above version of "Yours To Burn" is actually a shortened version; a longer cut has a cello solo that I'm trying to iron out, and will probably be a bonus track on the Artist's Edition of Counterbalance.

Okay, that's enough of plugging my Patreon. So anyway, enjoy the music, consider making a pledge, and shop at my Bandcamp store tomorrow to directly support indie music as well as the ACLU's fight against Trump's Executive Order!

And, as always (but especially now), may your inner snails be resilient and determined.