Weekly Discoveries 11.27.2014 – ODY-C, My Brother the Bear and Ien Levin

Mahlon Nobles

Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C 

As a fan of comics and Greek mythology, I owe it to myself to check out the latest effort from Matt Fraction. This limited series titled “ODY-C” is essentially a retelling of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, of course with some twists. Said twists include moving the setting from ancient Greece to space, gender swapping of prominent characters and more. The first issue came out this week and I can’t wait to check it out!

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Grant

My Brother the Bear

I got a text from Willy Tea Taylor the other day that read “look up My Brother the Bear – Deadball. Do it.” So I did. You should too. His real name is Daniel Beyer and he’s definitely a songwriter’s songwriter. And everyone knows I’m a sucker for a song about baseball.

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Alex

Ien Levin

Tons of people are seduced by brightly colored tattoo art, but the true measure of a tattoo artist rests in his or her line work.  When I saw one of Ien Levin‘s tattoos for the first time, I was floored. Ien’s tattoos are almost 100% line work, and he is damn good at it. From fine lines, to bold strokes, Ien is truly a master of his craft. Don’t believe me? Check out his gallery. 

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Weekly Discoveries 11.21.2014 – Floral Green, Steve Poltz, Pom Pom and Elephantmen

Grant

Steve Poltz

I like to ask great musicians what they’ve been listening to, and here’s a great reason why I do it. When I posed this question toTed Russell Kamp, he mentioned Steve Poltz. “If you like great songwriters, you’ll like him,” Ted told me. And so will you. It turns out Steve has written several hit songs for others, including Jewel’s “Meant for Me”. It’s his original work, however, that really struck a chord with me (and the fact that Steve is a big baseball fan didn’t hurt either). He even penned a great tribute to the recently deceased hall of famer Tony Gwynn and counts Giants coach Tim Flannery, an accomplished musician in his own right, as one of his closest friends. A good place to start is Steve’s autobiographic tune “Brief History of My Life” which pays homage to the influence of baseball radio broadcasters on his childhood.

John

Ariel Pink – Pom Pom

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I’ve been a fan of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti since I first heard House Arrest several years back.  That said, I didn’t check out his 2012 album, Mature Themes, just out of negligence.  I’m quite glad that I gave Pink’s first ‘solo’ record Pom Pom a listen.  It features a wide array of bizarre pop and rock ditties that more often than not sound like advertising jingles.  “Jell-O,” a song about the gelatin brand, is one of the strangest in Pink’s catalogue.  “White Freckles” is a classic Pink song with its frenetic bridge and sleazy, grooving verses.  The whole thing is full of cheesy synths and musical nonsequitors.  Think a Phil Spector-produced Hall and Oates record on acid.  Highly recommended.

Mahlon

Richard Starking’s and Elephantmen

Richard Starkings is the creator of comic book Elephantmen published by Image Comics. He’s also a Blackwing user. In discovering him, I discovered this article, where talks about his own discoveries in being a comic writer and the importance of owning what we create.  My favorite line: “Sharpening a pencil is like a cup of tea for your brain, there’s something about it.”

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 Alex

Title Fight – Floral Green

Floral Green may not be new to most, but it’s new to me. I’m a sucker for catchy pop-punk, so The Last Thing You Forget was right up my alley. Shed surprised me with it’s change in tone and tempo, but ended up being my favorite album of 2011. Why it has taken me so long to give Floral Green a chance, I’ll never know. As many have stated before, the album calls back to the sounds of 90’s emo, but with a bit more oomph than its predecessors. Give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean.

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John Clang’s The Land of My Heart

Postcards to a middle-aged nation

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Photographer John Clang’s new book The Land of My Heart celebrates Singapore’s 50th anniversary as a nation with a tribute to one of its most iconic exports.

The Land of My Heart is made up of various urban landscape photos ‘adorned’ with models in Singapore Girl uniforms. Clang includes on the photos short handwritten messages that range from irreverent to somber to sexual.

This combination of elements creates a complex and personal message about Singapore’s identity. The Singapore Girl’s symbolic sexual and racial objectification turns its model into another inanimate adornment within the urban landscape. The result is visually stunning, humorous, and subversive.

“The Singapore Girl is our island nation’s loveliest apparition,” the book’s press release reads. “She dwells within the airborne space that the rest of us fleetingly pass through; as we are upended through the wormholes of time zone differences, she is there with us.”

By featuring the Singapore Girl, Clang explores the lines between national, social and personal identities, all linked by the abstract sense of home that is simultaneously both extra-personal and a public construct.

Blackwing-scrawled vignettes

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John Clang writes a short snippet of dialogue with a Blackwing pencil across each of the book’s photos. The messages written across each photo come fragmented and without context. Many of them recall past events from Clang’s life.

Clang writes “No, Singapore is not China” on the balcony of an apartment complex while several Singapore girls pose with upstanding dispositions on the jungle gym in the courtyard. In another image, a Singapore Girl sniffs pleasant flowers with “I don’t want to die. Help me” written in the forefront. These sentences are often non-sequitors that have little concrete to do with the tone and mood of the composition.

A close look into each piece suggests meanings within each photo’s juxtaposition. Most generally, Clang “conjures a free space of contemplation about what might constitute Singaporean identity in a world that has become increasingly globalized [sic], borderless and porous.” It’s a portrait of a nation trying to capture its past while it loses its culture to homogenization.

Singapore Girls look out from the second floor of an apartment building, holding up the pristine façade of the tourism industry attempting to appeal to its Western customers. Written across the balcony is a casual, throwaway family exchange, perhaps between siblings: “Your plate is like a mountain. You know this is a buffet? . . . What is a buffet?” The snippets of thought and dialogue resemble the floating instances inside one’s subconscious that pop up throughout the day and time.

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The Land of My Heart features John Clang’s most stunning urban photography. Clang’s ability to scope out compositions in the capitalist landscapes of urban Singapore really shines – as does his masterful use of lighting.

Though the Singapore Girls are one of the book’s principal motifs, oftentimes the photos’ subjects are the overhead bridges, the balconies, the high-rise condominiums. In other photos, Clang creates ambiance surrounding the Singapore Girl in daily errands. Marketplaces, high-traffic streets and storefronts enchant the Singapore Girl, and are more localized than the impersonal, monolithic urban development.

Clang shows the viewer his unmediated view of Singapore, making not a big statement and instead favoring subtlety and objectiveness. He travelled through significant landscapes of his past growing up in Singapore to find sites that truly resonated with his own identity. Clang explores rather than interpolates these areas, creating “an in-between space… away from the deluge of images that inundate our sight and consciousness every day.”

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The Land of My Heart is newly available from TwentyFifteen. It’s a one-time pressing of 500 copies – you might want to get on it now.

Weekly Discoveries 11.14.2014 – Carl Anderson, LAZY, Mary Kaye, Silver Snakes and House of Leaves

Grant

Carl Anderson

I was familiar with Carl Anderson only as the writer of “Heavy”, a track off Andrew Combs’ debut album Worried Man. That a great writer like Andrew Combs would think highly enough of someone else’s work to cut their track on an album of otherwise original material indicates Carl’s talent. It wasn’t until I saw Carl and his band perform at Acme Feed & Seed Friday night in Nashville that I discovered his own music. I picked up an advanced copy of his upcoming album “Risk of Loss”, set for January release. Like Andrew, Carl writes and sings with wisdom beyond his 27 years.

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John

LAZY – High Density 60 CS (Great American Records)

Since playing with Lazy in Davis over Summer 2013, grabbing a promotional copy of the Obsession LP and becoming, well, obsessed with it, Lazy has been high up on my list of bands currently killing it. Lazy possesses the youthful ironical sting found in early records by The Fall, an undeniable male-female vocal chemistry reminiscent of X, and the tight musicianship of a group of seasoned musicians. All of it runs through a sci-fi filter, with samples and modulations abound. The brand-new High Density 60 cassette compiles the band’s singles, remixes, some live cuts and four-track demos recorded between 2012 and 2014.  “Soft Sheets” from the Volar Records single is worth the entire tape alone.

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Charles

Mary Kaye and Kristyn Harris

I’ve been on a bit of a Western music trend lately.  Here are two current award winning female Western music songwriters to look out for, Mary Kaye and Kristyn Harris. 

These were forwarded from one of my very best amigos Jay “Kelly” Veach.  Kelly writes many of his songs in the western style and it’s been a pleasure to watch his growing songwriting skills featuring  beautiful melodies and extremely poignant lyrics. He’s become a really nice storyteller with his music. I enjoy the chance to sit in on his songwriting group now and then so anything he recommends is certainly worth a listen.

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Alex

Silver Snakes

Last week, United Nations played at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley with Silver Snakes as the opener (a show I didn’t get to attend, but that’s another story). Aside from the awesome Legend of the Hidden Temple reference, their name didn’t ring any bells, but I decided to give them a listen based on a recommendation from a friend who did make it out to see them.  I haven’t listened to a band signed to Bridge 9 Records in years, so I was a bit skeptical, but a few minutes in I was sold. Their sound is a mixture of post-hardcore and melodic punk, with a bit of sludginess thrown in for good measure. I’ve only listened to their most recent album, so I’m looking forward to going back through their discography to hear how their music has evolved.

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Mahlon

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves

Written by Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves, at the base level, is about a family who discovers that their home is a quarter inch bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. After returning from a vacation, the family discovers a room has appeared in their house that should extend well outside of the walls of the home, but doesn’t.  Written in a nontraditional way, some pages feature text crammed into a corner on the page while others only contain a few words. Some choice words are even inked in different colors. This is done to illicit particular feelings from readers such as loss of breath, claustrophobia, confusion and more. If you’re looking to read something a little different be sure to check it out!

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Inside the Songwriting Process with Ted Russell Kamp – “Crystal Clear”

This is a project that has been a year in the making. It started last summer at the Blackwing Experience at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, CA. There, hundreds of guests drew on walls, wrote poems and played games inspired by the Blackwing pencil. For a full recap of that event, check out this video.

One of the activities guests participated in was a collaborative songwriting station, manned by LA-based singer-songwriter Ted Russell Kamp. The station tasked guests with writing down a lyric to a song on one side of a slip of paper and placing it in a bin. Then, guests were asked to pick up a slip with a lyric on one side and write complementary lyric on the opposite side. The finished lyric sheets were gathered and taken back to our headquarters in Stockton, with the end goal of using them to write and record an actual studio song.

Last month, we had the opportunity to head back down to Los Angeles to meet up with Ted and finish this project. We spent a day in Ted’s home studio, poring over lyrics, piecing together a song and, ultimately, recording it. Here are the results.

Weekly Discoveries 11.06.2014 – Wonder Woman, 10 String Symphony & Timmy’s Organism

Charles

Mary Norris’ Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

This week I received a galley copy of Mary Norris’ new book Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen which will be published by W.W. Norton during Spring 2015. Mary was kind enough to share this advance copy with me due to her fondness for Blackwing pencils. A lifelong pencil fan with a predilection for the extra soft #1 pencils, she fondly recalls receiving daily morning deliveries to her desk by the tray-full by the “office boy”. Mary shares entertaining stories and humorous but practical advice on language, spelling and punctuation gleaned through decades experience as Copy Editor at the The New Yorker. Of course, her fondness for pencils as a critical tool of her trade is covered as well in a chapter titled, Ballad of a Pencil Junkie. So, if you love language and writing in all its quirky and imaginative forms and want a behind the scene look at the trials and tribulations of a Comma Queen, add this title to your watch list for next Spring. In the meantime, here’s a past blog post from Mary which gives you a sense of some of her chapter on pencils.

Mary Norris Confessions of a Comma Queen

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Grant

10 string symphony

The duo of Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer (Jerry Douglas Band) are known affectionately as 10 String Symphony. I met them at the studio yesterday when they came in to lend their talents to the Willy Tea record. Even though Rachel played banjo in the session, they are known for their dueling five-string fiddles. I had a listen to what I could find online last night and I can’t wait for their record to come out next year. And they’re about as humble and friendly as it gets.

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John

Timmy’s Organism – Singles & Unreleased Tracks 2xLP (HoZac)

Detroit’s Timmy Vulgar has been a weird punk fixture for over a decade.  His garage-punk outfit The Clone Defects were considered one of the most explosive acts from the turn-of-the-cetury garage rock revival that spawned the White Stripes; his work in sci-fi punk scrappers Human Eye has transcended rock and roll in a way that Beefheart would be proud of.  His “solo” output as Timmy’s Organism has seen releases on mainstay underground labels like In the Red, Sacred Bones and now HoZac.  The upcoming “Singles & Unreleased Tracks” double-LP is my introduction to Vulgar’s inspiring recording project and I hope it will be for many others, too.  The percussive skronk of “Nocturnal Festering Bubblelites” feels as zoned-out as The Residents; “Sadness Walks” recalls contemporary home-punks like Dan Melchior with a melancholy croon and an underlying ironical sneer.

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Mahlon

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman

This past week comic writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang officially ended their run on Wonder Woman for DC comics. Having a new creative team take over a title after a story arc is finished or after a few issues is something fairly normal for the industry, which is why I wanted to take a moment to call out this particular book. Most story arcs last between 3 and 6 issues some even last upwards of a year. This arc lasted three years. Since 2011 Azzarello and Chiang have been focused on telling one story across 35+ issues of the comic. It takes a truly dedicated team to plan and execute a story that spans as long as this one has. Although I haven’t read the end of this monumental story yet, it’s been a great ride and I can’t wait to find out how they wrap this one up.

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Alex

Derick Watts and the Sunday Blues

I recently attended a conference in San Francisco that was MC’d by two comedians from South Africa who call themselves Derick Watts and the Sunday Blues. They opened with a parody of the intro to Full House that almost caused me to fall out my chair, and suddenly spending two days at a conference didn’t seem so bad. They had the unfortunate task of entertaining a room full of developers and, while many of their jokes were met with awkward silence, I hope they were able to hear my laughter from the back of the room.

Introducing Blackwing Music

Today is an exciting day for Palomino and the entire Blackwing Family. We’ve officially launched our newest venture, Blackwing Music, as another way to help emerging artists who deserve to be heard.

For our first project, we’ve signed folk musician Willy Tea Taylor to a record deal. We’re working with producer Michael Witcher, Grammy award-winning engineer Phil Harris and a slew of the world’s finest musicians to bring fans Willy’s next solo album sometime in the spring of 2015. The roster of players we’ve got lined up have recorded with some of the biggest names in music.

The recording sessions begin tomorrow in Nashville. Check back here and follow us on Instagram and Twitter for an exclusive look inside the recording process throughout the next seven days.

You can read the press release here and learn more about Willy Tea at BlackwingMusic.com.