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!