Things We Like: “Wait in the Car”

Colors! Layers! Bricks!

The Breeders are back with a new 7″ single and a super-saturated new video by former Vaughn Oliver associate Chris Bigg. Oliver and Bigg are, of course, praised for their cover art and design expertise on so many 4AD projects including every single Pixies release. This video is right up there with the best of them.

You’re going to need to watch this one full-screen.


SUMMER TUNES: Ocean Blue, “Between Something and Nothing”


Picture, if you will, a bunch of college kids rolling down a rural road in a beat-up set of wheels, windows down, tunes blaring, bright blue skies and not a care in the world. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s a pretty exasperatingly tired indie-rock cliche. Yet this song from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s dream-pop poster boys seems worthy of the picture.

Sort of. Just replace the farms with colorful flower gardens and the late-summer heat with a refreshing late-spring breeze and you’re just about there. That, and they’re probably a little better dressed than those other kids.

Here, big, bright, shimmering atmospherics and sweet, somewhat straightforward (but no less sublime) imagery collide, expand out, and go on for miles. It’s the perfect soundtrack for catching the rays as you cruise to the beach to catch some waves.

Further Listening: “Drifting, Falling”, “Give it a Try”

Summer Tunes: Heavy Water Factory, “Painfield”


The humid heat of summer has finally settled in and has us thinking of classic summer songs. First up: Heavy Water Factory.

Not many bands can capture a specific mood or aesthetic and ride it out successfully over a career. Not many bands can do it unintentionally, either. Heavy Water Factory made the heavy, humid heat of a classic Mid-Atlantic summer palpable and managed to do it time and again, consistently bringing the heat over the course of a two-album-plus catalog in the mid-90’s. While it surely wasn’t their intent, their songs feel like summer.

Heavy Water Factory was brought to my attention in the summer of 1996 by a college roommate who boasted of this “new” talent from Michigan (the songs were written two years prior to the record gaining true promotional traction). Their debut, Fluid & Meat was a curious collection of songs – definitely not we expected from the electro-industrial scene of the time – with a slow, heavy atmosphere clouding the body of work. The songs were there but not there. There was a nuance and texture and delicacy to the tracks unlike what were looking for at the time. I came away from my first listen totally zapped of energy and found it surprising that the soundtrack totally meshed with the view outside my window: bright sun, blazing pavement, few people.

“Painfield” is a prime example. The mid-tempo track slowly plods along, building steam at a snail’s pace and mustering just enough energy to hold a groove. Just when you think it’s on the verge of something substantial – a big chorus or massive breakdown – it consistently recoils back to the same easy groove, seemingly succumbing to the weight of the sweltering heat. It’s like they’re gassed out, happy to simply coast along for the remainder of the track and not move too much.

The atmosphere conjured up by Heavy Water Factory is hazy and hot, lazy and lethargic, sultry and sort of sexy. They offer the perfect soundtrack to those blistering summer days you just hope to survive – riding out the day and waiting out the sun for the cover of darkness when you can crawl out into the night in search of something more substantial.

Further Listening: “Shreck Bild”, “Vampire”

Things We Like: Xeno & Oaklander


Deceptively simple, minimal, synthetic pop. Catchy melodies with dark undertones overlaid with dueling male/female vox. Distant, detached, haunting, enchanting, exotic, inviting, seductive – all of these things.

One thing that that keeps us coming back is the duality of moods that permeates nearly every track. Sweet and sour, dark and light, sleek and leaden sounds all add to the complexity and depth of the songs. They’re intoxicating, addictive, irresistible. It’s kind of like switching between sweet and savory treats – the contrasting flavors simply feed your appetite for more.

Fans of early electronic pop will find a lot to like. If you dig classics like Kraftwerk and Chris & Cosey or contemporaries like Solvent – or perhaps more accessible reference points like very early Depeche Mode, OMD, or Gary Numan – then this is your sweet spot.

Things We Like: Charles & Ray Eames’ “Solar Do-Nothing Machine”


Modern furnishings, sure. Landmark exhibits, yep. Groundbreaking films, uh-huh. But what you might not be familiar with is the Eames’ Solar Do-Nothing Machine, a sculpture for Alcoa, the Aluminum Company of America, created in 1957.

A kinetic sculpture that lures you in with wild colors and patterns that shimmy, shake, sparkle and spin, the Solar Do-Nothing Machine takes a potentially boring subject (solar energy) and dazzles with accessible, whimsical, high-modern style.

But the film—culled from footage unearthed in 1995 by Eames Demetrios—is where the magic really happens. Close-ups and panning shots bring you right into the piece backed by a jazzy soundtrack that pairs perfectly with classic aesthetics and bouncing, spinning parts. And just like a good sugar rush, the party ultimately comes crashing to a halt—in this case when a cloud passes overhead. Science. Bummer.

For me it’s all nearly too much, too perfect. The glimmering geometry, the pop colors, the choreography of moving shapes, and, of course, the soundtrack all make this thing utterly hypnotic. Pity the fool who puts the film on repeat. Sure, that’d probably be me. If that happens and you see me sitting there totally zoned out, just know I’m in a high-keyed happy place. And pick my jaw up off the table on your way out.

Things We Like: “Number 14-1953”

We happened upon a painting cryptically titled Number 14–1953 on our latest visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art—our first to their new Renzo Piano-designed outpost in New York’s Meatpacking District. We were there for the Frank Stella retrospective and, of course, to see the classics from the permanent collection. And, As always, the curators hung the textbook classics and familiar favorites along with a few little-seen pieces by “overlooked” artists. In their Abstract Expressionist survey that meant personal favorites like Franz Kline’s Mahoning, Willem De Kooning’s Door to the River, and Lee Krasner’s monumental The Seasons. Masters all, of course, but the collection’s rarely displayed moments are often the most satisfying. In this case the prize was Alfonso Ossorio.


We didn’t know much about the work of Mr. Ossorio, but here he was given ample wall space right next to Mr. Pollock. Good company and an interesting juxtaposition. Number 14–1953 is a nice counterpoint to the allover, widescreen approach of Pollock.

Pollock’s work looks like it done swiftly, all spontaneous action, the evidence of sweeping thrusts of the arm throwing pigment down across the surface and letting gravity take control. The arcs and implied speed of the gestures show that Pollock stood at some distance from the canvas. Conversely, the Ossorio is smaller and looks to be done up close with great attention to detail. It feels like a true labor of love, one painstakingly built over time. Sure, there is an allover composition and there are spontaneous, chance moments throughout, but it’s a process-heavy piece with layer upon layer of material, pigment and process. It looks like a science experiment or an excavation.

There’s so much going on that it’s difficult to orient yourself, eyes darting all over the surface checking out the details that just keep on coming. And it’s difficult to figure out what exactly it’s composed of. Is it a photograph that’s been manipulated in the darkroom by burning and dodging? Is it a collage with bits of newspaper strewn about, all peeled back and pasted over again? Has the canvas been torched like a Albeto Burri piece? Or56 maybe it’s ink that’s soaked in and spread throughout the canvas? It’s really hard to tell, but in a word it’s gorgeous. And in reality it’s ink and wax on board.

At a glance it looks like a black and white piece, but upon closer inspection hints of color peer through like smoldering embers just below the surface. Red, violets, and deep cobalt blues dominate the palette, seething beneath a lava flow of gestures.

We spent nearly twenty minutes looking at this thing. Great art reveals new things over time and in just this short window of time we were transfixed and consumed, absorbing every detail.

Photographs don’t do Number 14–1953 justice, but since you can’t take it home with you, photos will have to do.


Things We Like: Summer 2015


Remember summer? Yeah, so do we. So while everyone else did their year-end, best-of lists (with the usual duplication of some of the very same things, just in a different order) and have started looking forward, we’re kicking off the new year by looking back. Here’s to warm weather and summer fun circa 2015.

Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires & Riots: California & Graphic Design 1936–1986 by Louise Sandhaus

It’s tempting to dive right into all the cliches about the “wild & wacky”, “outsider” design aesthetic associated with the west coast. But that’s so east coast, right? I mean, to go there right out of the gate—just because we east coasters cling to the mantle of clean, classic European modernist tradition so devoutly—is too easy and, frankly, lazy. Doing so basically perpetuates the premise that everyone else “out there” are mere barbarians in some sort of Lord of the Flies scenario. It’s like a snob reflex, automatically imposing some set of arbitrary rules because, supposedly, we know best. Really, though, it’s more of an inferiority complex stemming from the burden of European influences that we bear. Deep down, we’re just jealous of all that creative freedom and so we deny west coasters (Californians specifically) any sense of seriousness—because it’s play time out there, mere silliness. Or so it seems. But that’s not really fair and not very productive, so we’ll keep those cliches to a minimum.

So where to begin with this thing? Much like the sprawl of southern California, this book oozes and meanders all over the place. It’s a rejection and full-on embrace of all those cliches that are grafted onto the idea of California: image, facade, speed, cars, film, technology, day-glo colors, surfboards, pools, natural disasters, eco this, drug that all bound up in a heaping, heaving brick of a book that’s hurling your way whether you like it or not. To quote author Louise Sandhaus, “all you have to do is look.” And, really, that’s all you can do. Just give in, accept your fate and enjoy the ride because this book is packed with so many artifacts, essays, and graphic devices that you’re going to need your strength. Like walking against a landslide, it’s hard to keep your footing and feel like you’ve gained any ground. It’s total short attention span viewing designed for repeat visits.

And that’s okay. It’s not a cover-to-cover, once-and-done read. Just like California, Earthquakes forces you to spend some time with it and discover the nuances and differing voices baked in. You’ll certainly catch things you missed the first time and get more chances to let things soak in. But it’s totally worth it. Just seeing this big, bright book sitting on our shelf begging for another look fills us with joy.

Sandhaus doesn’t even bother trying to concoct some sort of “complete” history of California design. As she said at the AIGA National Convention in New Orleans last October, there’s not one story that can be told. Lorraine Wild echoes that same sentiment in her essay, “Forward Into the Past!”, noting that that task would be impossible because there is simply so much work, not to mention so many competing aesthetic agendas that would cancel each other out. It’s a story of parallel tracks. As such, the book develops four of these—of innumerable possible narratives—”Sunbaked Modernism”, “Industry and the Indies”, “Sixties alt Sixties”, and “California Girls”. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s room enough for a sequel.

Sandhaus’ book design, too, supports this premise of pluralism by going all out in production mode with joyous fluorescent colors, rainbow-metallic foil stamping, and mix of coated and uncoated papers. And the content is designed with a distinct push and pull between tight grid and loose flow, using contemporary fonts and colors within a nuanced framework when necessary—and abandoning it completely when the content demands. It’s overwhelming, really, so just close your eyes, pick a page and dive right in.

But the question remains: is yet another book on California visual culture necessary? Yes. This one. Not only does Earthquakes offer an overview of California graphic design specifically—an area severely lacking in the swollen visual survey market—it also digs deep into the archives. Sure, Earthquakes gives you some of the hits, hits, hits, but it also mines the flat files and unearths a mountain of forgotten, neglected, or flat out ignored pieces of graphic design (at least to these east coast eyes) and gives it all equal billing. It’s refreshing, too, to see modes of expression that have fallen out of fashion—like 1970’s color and typography, vintage video game graphics and archaic title sequences from the roughest edges of primordial tech—all proudly on display.

Earthquakes taps into our desire for escape and creative freedom, and serves as a reminder that the opportunity to stretch out and loosen up, to take advantage of the expressive release we long for is not unattainable and has really been here all along. One need only seek it out, feel the flow, embrace it and never let it go.

Miniature Golf at the Beach

We love miniature golf. Especially down the shore where aesthetics, like visitors, go on vacation. Goofy Golf in Ocean City, New Jersey is a classic course that’s been around as long as I’ve been alive. And while she’s gone through some rough years of neglect and sometimes non-goofy moments, she’s back in all her glory with retina-searing, snap-crackle-pop colors and totally restored goofiness.


The Black Dog – Neither/Neither

The reanimated Black Dog project continues in its current incarnation with Neither/Neither. Long associated with Warp Records’ classic 90’s IDM stable (Aphex Twin, Autechre, LFO) Black Dog’s founder Ken Downie has been plugging away with Richard and Martin Dust since 2001.

At a certain point words cease to accurately describe what you hear and, frankly, it’s hard to come up with a string of sentences that aptly describe the sounds and the emotions they evoke. So basically, yes, this is electronic music. And, yes, we like it. Oh, and it’s all instrumental.

Snark aside, we’ll try again. The tracks are moody and atmospheric, sometimes grinding, sometimes sweet, sometimes delicate, sometimes menacing, sometimes throbbing, sometimes with a groove (and sometimes not). We also like to say that it’s something fans of industrial music might like without being, you know, “Industrial.” There are no combat boots here and it’s not Nitzer Ebb, but it has a certain energy about it that feels quite right in that arena.


The break in the album’s eponymous track obliterates the building tension, “Control Needs Time” calls to mind a downtempo Front 242 with all the clicking, hi-hats and hand claps , “Them (Everyone is a Liar But)” for some reason reminds us of Tangerine Dream, and  “Hollow Stories, Hollow Head” could be a dance floor killer if not for the elastic breakbeat that snaps things out of whack the whole time.

There are so many interesting sounds, moments and moods on Neither/Neither that it’s hard to pick out favorite tracks. We recommend putting this one on, hitting the “play” button, letting it roll and zoning out. That is, of course, if you have the luxury of time. If you don’t, this one would work just as well on the treadmill at the gym, meandering the aisles of the grocery store, or scanning images on your computer.

Mr. Robot Title Cards

Short, sweet, bold, cut to the chase. These remind us of the no-nonsense title slides of Stanley Kubrick. They’re quick, superimposed directly over the action, and sometimes appear well into the episode–blink and you might miss ’em. There’s a blunt, bland, retro, sort of sci-fi, matter-of-factness that feels totally fresh.