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Month December 2009

The Invisible, Accidental Records, 2009, (UK)

by Alex Ferzan, Sparrow Media Contributor

While overseas on tour with The Urgency this spring, I revisited 15 or so of the larger cities in the UK and Ireland. Regretfully, I can’t say I was reborn. Though I love Manchester, parts of London, Edinburgh and a few other damp and dismal distractions in the region, for the most part the UK is “a bit shit”, to be honest. Culture and cuisine are always interesting, new people are always entertaining, but I promise I that any less-than impressed judgment I make is based on much time and many cities, much socializing and many historical tours and much booze and many moons.


I can however offer credit to the big island and its neighbors in one very overlooked category, the support for live music. Kids climbing from the walls and media outlets covering everything from the mega artists that sell out Wembley Stadium, to the shrimps that happen to impress them, music is widely appreciate and followed (though outdated, most of us Statesiders would argue). Coming from what my peers and I would like to consider one of the more influential (though now completely dead) underground music scenes of recent history and working in the Music Industry for the better part of the last 8 years, I have to admit that I am at best, completely jaded when entering into anything from a music based conversation to a music faced venue. All that being said, for me to be excited about a show takes a lot.

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Being on tour with a Welsh band is awesome. They are ball-busting, bowel-blowing descendants of amazingly interesting tribes and a families, most surnamed “Jones”, “Smith” or “Smith”. The Blackout were gracious enough to not only take us on a tour that saw 1,000+ new faces a night, but show us their home and their friends in what became one of my more favorable cities of the United Kingdom, Cardiff, Wales. After a hometown show, The Blackout took us barhopping just around the corner from the University we just played. Forgive me, but I cannot remember the name of the bar we went to. It was lit in red neon signs, very unassuming but very hip and guess what? The show was FREE!!! Real bands played there and real people came to see them. Upon walking into the cramped, crooked and loud venue, I took a non-autonomous turn for the stage, where normally my belly drives me to the bar. Setting aside for a moment what I heard, I looked toward the stage only to set my eyes on the quintessential counter-culture front man. At 6’6” and nearly 300lbs, the 3 piece’s leader was cloaked in a purple wizard’s smock, androgynously dressed in neck and arm accessories, dreadlocks and demanding an intricately delayed guitar solo out of what looked like a miniature telecaster in the hands of a giant African warlord. He was so captivating that I nearly forgot music was being played.

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Once I tuned in to sonic stimulation I realized how incredible the actual music was. The other two members (Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor), both skinny, white and disheveled, were in such perfect rhythmic coordination with each other that it afforded Dave Okumu, the lead singer and guitar player, the freedom to completely exaggerate every sound and texture possible. I thought I knew a thing about guitar effects until I saw Dave make a mess.

Digressing from my drawn-out introduction, all these wonderful things lead me to the point of buying their album and sharing my thoughts about it with you.

The Invisible starts their record with s theme that runs through out the entire body of work, texture. Within 16 bars of a minor acoustic introduction, space and ambience somehow creep there way into the song. The opening song, “In Retrograde”, eventually moves into a sound-scape that would be more appropriate in the movie 300, or Gladiator, some world music battle scene, if you will.

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After the less-than-comfy introduction, the band begins to showcase their song writing skills, never predictably. One who has real appreciation for how difficult it is to write a good song would admire how interesting the actual notes were built around such bizarre backing music. The songs move in and out of abstract noises and dissonant notes to a remember-able melody that may be a little dark and disturbing, but in a major key it could pass for a pop song.

I hate comparing bands to bands, but I find what The Invisible so interesting that it almost compliments them. They remind me of the choral guitar-ie feel of Prince, guitar effects of The Edge, the instrumentation of The Talking Heads, rhythm like Block Party, melodies that would make Robert Smith proud and the flavor of something a little more urban like Gnarles Barkley. Everything moves in and out of a very dance feel, while satisfying the core indie properties, innovation and deviation. The brilliance of it to me is that Dave Okumu gives off the vibe that he could have easily gone in and wrote an R&B record with Stevie Wonder, but his true passion was for something a little more interesting.

Some of my favorite tracks on the record include Passion, London Girl, and Monster’s Waltz. However, the track that makes me so glad I found this band is Baby Doll. The song is what I love most about music, the ability to fuse conventional melodies that would make anyone sing along with a Kandinsky, or a Jackson Pollock…something so bizarre that it just makes sense.

This band is not only a great album creator; they are an incredible live group. They’ve been praised by magazines as prestigious as NME in the UK and though I don’t think the US has the palette for them yet (regretfully), I really look forward to getting back over the pond and trying to catch another night with this band. It’s one of those bands that will inspire so many to follow, but maybe never be as recognized as they deserve to be. One of those bands I’ll stay up at night wishing I found them first and picked them up. One of those VERY few bands that I will listen to over and over again, finding new inflections each time I listen, like a good book.

For those visiting from outside sparrowmedia.net this article along with video originally appeared in the reviews section of the Sparrow Media Blog

All Bottled Up

by Danielle Thompson

Last Month I posted about the privatization of water through corporate control of municipal water systems.  As I mentioned in the previous post, the second way corporations are stealing our water is through bottling.   FLOW (For the Love of Water), a documentary which came out in 2008 brilliantly (and frighteningly) lays out the international water crisis, including the role of bottled water.   I would highly recommend everyone rent, borrow, or buy this film.  After watching it, I did a down and dirty post for Girlie Girl Army but here I’d like to dig a little deeper.

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As you probably already know bottled water is terrible in numerous ways.  It’s no safer (and in some cases, less safe) than tap water, much worse for the environment in many way than tap water and a gigantic waste of money.  In the U.S. and abroad Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are the chief corporations creating a false demand for bottled water by making people think it’s healthier and safer than water from the tap.  It’s a masterful marketing campaign the opposite is often actually true.  Then again, usually when a corporation tells us anything it’s probably safe to assume the reverse. Tap water is subject to state and federal safe drinking water standards by the Environmental Protection Agency, whereas bottled water is far less regulated because it’s done so by Food and Drug Administration.

More than just the plastic waste created with every bottle of water tossed in the trash after drinking, the making of plastic bottles and transporting the water-filled bottles all across the country takes a lot of energy and creates a lot of pollution.  Although this is of course an argument against all plastic containers, remember, the same water already comes out of the faucet.  The infrastructure for drinking water out of the tap already exists and it’s a lot more eco-friendly!  No plastic waste, no trucks driving water all over the place.  Its genius but unfortunately municipal water bureaus don’t have millions of ad dollars to market tap water the way Coca-Cola can market Dasani.

On top of the waste created from plastic production, shipment and destruction, corporations often devastate the environment to extract water at an alarming rate.  Nestle is a notorious offender.  In 2003, Nestle after failing in Wisconsin, set sights on Michigan and set-up a bottling plant, extracting groundwater at the rate of 400 gallons per minute.  Citizens won in court claiming that the pumping had a negative effect on the environment but Nestle appealed and continues to pump water while the legal battle with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation continues.

Finally, bottled water is a huge waste of money for the consumer (hopefully at least after reading this, not you) and communities. Buying bottled-water perpetuates the falsehood that it is safer than tap water and diverts concern (and eventually dollars) away from municipal water systems.  In my other post about bottled water I mistakenly said that when you buy bottled water you are paying for what you could get at home for free.  That’s not true of course, municipally-owned water you get from the faucet is not free to you or the government, it actually costs millions of dollars for government to provide safe and clean drinking water.  But that is still a fraction of the cost of bottled-water and corporate-controlled tap water.

To learn more on the ills of bottled water you can read the Take Back the Tap report.  In it, you’ll find the many local groups are fighting big corporations’ bids to set up bottling plants in their communities.  Additionally, groups like Food and Water Watch and Corporate Accountability International are helping convince individuals, governments, restaurants, campuses and stores to move away from bottled water and start offering tap water.  Both have many resources on their sites if you want to help.   Sometimes all you have to do is ask, or not even.  I’m so happy to report that after my friends who run Food Fight Grocery! in Portland, OR read my other piece on bottled water they stopped selling it altogether and instead now offer free water that customers can fill up reusable bottles with (thanks guys!)

Food and Water Watch suggests that it’s not enough to simply give up bottled water and they advise that government at every level needs to protect our sources of water as well devote needed dollars to drinking and sewer water systems.  I agree but would add that giving up bottled water is a great first step that everyone can take. Right now.  More than immediately decreasing demand for the product, when you buy and carry around plastic water bottles, you send a message that it’s an acceptable product.  So, go rent FLOW, learn more about the global water crisis in general, and take the pledge to give up bottled water.