Meb Byrne

23

In personal, storytelling on August 29, 2011 at 3:39 pm

i’m losing weight.

the fabric of my stomach is loose,

ribs and hip bones straining against my skin

as the flesh falls away.

.

i drink too much coffee now,

cheap and black and bitter.

i like the way it makes me feel,

all jittery and parisian,

like a model.

.

my hair is past my shoulder blades,

knotted and braided,

unmanageable.

it falls in my face.

i don’t think i’ll cut it.

.

strange,

to come from new york city,

all tight clothes and tight smiles,

stilettos and concrete,

where i was happiest;

.

to come west,

where i feel so lost

(but the good kind of lost)

.

where all i want is open space,

old books and big sweaters and vegan food,

yoga and mountains and my record player

and the feeling of your skin on mine in the morning.

Any Man In America

In album, music on August 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Justin Furstenfeld never claimed to write generic rock songs. The founding member, lead singer and guitarist of Blue October has penned six albums of autobiographical material, focusing on his stay in a mental institution in the mid-90s and subsequent recovery. His early albums (The Answers, Consent To Treatment, History For Sale, Foiled) are poignant, painful and intensely personal, resulting in some of the most sumptuous rock music recorded today. Justin’s new role as a proud father created a fresh, ebullient direction for the band’s last production, Approaching Normal, and opened doors for new musical possibilities.

Unfortunately, much has changed since we last heard from Blue October. The group’s newest album, Any Man In America, released on August 16th, centers on Justin’s bitter divorce and custody battle over his beloved daughter, Blue. There isn’t bone-breaking anger on this album; the pain is deeper, more confused and unresolved. Only two of the tracks edge toward the explosive rage that punctures previous albums. Justin’s vocal performance remains as intimate as ever, and you get the sense that he’s still working through the issues he sings about.

The musical composition of the album is gorgeous, and harnesses the tools that have made Blue October great since the beginning: inventive drums and a heavy reliance on strings, blended with Justin’s soulful, echoing vocals. The finished product is layered, complex and infinitely listenable. “The Feel Again (Stay)” and “The Chills,” both singles, sport a classic Blue October sound, and it’s brilliant. If anything, the band is too comfortable in its own sound, and, for the first time, willing to bend for commercial viability. Tropes that defined Blue October’s early success, like the use of voice mail recordings to open “Hate Me,” the band’s most famous single, feel tired when they’re used on half the album’s tracks. As well, the melodies take the easy way out on too many of the tracks, wending through deliciously experimental verses to hit choruses of obvious chord progressions.

The shift of subject material from psych wards to divorce courtrooms plays havoc with Justin’s lyrics. Arguably Blue October’s greatest strength till now, his lyrics have always bordered on the poetic, tackling weighty subjects with a descriptive, poignant script. Any Man In America is comprised of scenario-specific libretto, vacillating between strings of stream of consciousness, shrink-wrapped to fit Justin’s personal experiences, and overblown generalities, scrambling to encompass all human emotions. As a listener, I can’t empathize or identify with much of anything on this album. Several songs, including the title track and “The Flight (Lincoln to Minneapolis),” even experiment with rap solos and a weird, disjointed vulgarity that doesn’t let Justin’s poetry shine through.

In the end, Any Man In America has a sound that soars, but doesn’t make sense as a coherent whole. It’s a muddle of simultaneously potent and pedestrian emotions that never go far enough and end up vanilla. Justin may undergo a whole spectrum of passions, but he doesn’t own them; instead, he equivocates, and he leaves his audience out in the cold. The album doesn’t climax. It just feels unresolved.

Glitter Sleuth Goes West

In american, inspiration, storytelling on August 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm

We can live anywhere.

Thirty-eight days ago, I quit the East Coast. I shoved a suitcase full of shoes and a lunchbox full of muffins into the back seat of my boyfriend’s car one grey July morning, hugged my parents goodbye, and pointed the car toward California.  Tom and I were San Francisco-bound: him for work, me for… well, I wasn’t quite sure. I had never seen San Francisco. We had been dating for two months.

Our week-long, cross-continental trek passed in snapshots, like a montage sequence in a chick flick. Here we are in Chicago, catching fireflies in Millennium Park. Here we are in Kearney, Nebraska, setting off Fourth of July fireworks in an abandoned trailer park lot. Here we are in Albuquerque, arguing and crying into our dinner plates in a tacky late-night bar. Here we are in the Grand Canyon, outrunning a torrential downpour to save my beloved Canon. Here we are in Vegas, broke and sober, people watching at the Bellagio Fountains. There’s the food poisoning Tom contracted. There’s the rattlesnake that nearly bit my ankle. There’s the $42 breakfast bill. There’s the wrecked car bumper. I scribbled notes in my Moleskine the whole way, trying to soak it all up, take it all in, not miss a thing.

In San Francisco, I took a job with a political campaign for the next mayoral election. I spent several weeks as a signature gatherer, canvassing bus stops and brunch lines, approaching every person I passed and asking for their support. I met dozens of crazy characters in the City by the Bay: the pro bono balloon animal artist at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market; the tough-looking Latino youth with a staggering amount of political savvy; the cross-country biker from an “intentional community” in Portland; the leather-skinned philosopher writing at a tiny Italian coffee shop. I talked to fashionistas, homeless men, sunbathing hipsters, couples with their dogs, nannies with their charges. Invariably, the best conversations were the ones where I walked away with an earful but no signature. The stories these strangers told filled, and fulfilled, me to a completeness I’ve never known.

The tales Tom and I accumulated on our westward migration, and the people I still meet every day in the Bay Area, normally would not merit a Glitter Sleuth review. I have purposely kept my personal life out of my writings on this website, striving for objectivity and an authoritative air in my posts. If I’ve learned anything in these thirty eight days, though, it’s that heart-pounding, breathless, messy emotions make the best stories, and that everyone has a story to tell, if you let them.

And so, with a more narrative style in mind, and a broader focus than ever before, Glitter Sleuth is going west, too. In the spirit of Studs Terkel, Ira Glass, and Harry Chapin, I want to find not simply the places, but also the people that make this world weird, wild and wonderful. The mission statement is intentionally vague, to see where this California odyssey takes me, but the vision of the blog remains the same: to challenge you, the reader, to step outside your comfort zone, whether through new hobbies, new destinations, or new friends. Try that new vegetable. Play that new sport. Talk to that stranger on the subway.

Join me.

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