The boss fight that is Guidance, by Russian Circles

a0095785674_10Russian Circles’ recent release, Guidance, proves that instrumental rock is not dead. With their grinding effects, these guys have created art on wheels, hurling listeners into a dreamlike trance where ghosts and goblins lunge for your throat, and Guidance is the soundtrack to get you through the battle.

I first got sucked into Russian Circles with their album, Empros, when I was on a Red Sparowes, pg.lost kind of kick a few years back.

Up until recently, taking the song names to heart, I thought these guys were actually Russian, but they’re from Chicago, Illinois.

For a three-man band, they get creative with a crapload of pedals to construct an orchestral sound that comes at you from all sides. Each song leads you on a journey of the mind, where stories play out behind chord changes and varying rhythms, dragging your mood either into the gutter or lifting you up to fight the next boss.

It starts out, inobsequious, just slow-jamming, tending toward lighthearted melodies as they’re looking forward to new beginnings, then the static of an untapped FM-radio station starts coming through near the end of the first song, Asa, blighting the sound, and the drums slowly pick up to carry you on to the next leg of the adventure.

Vorel would be the perfect song for fending off demons in Gods Eater or Monster Hunter. It’s almost too much to take in, all the sounds colliding. Then it gets dark and grindy, while maintaining the constant hum of Brian Cook’s up/down strokes, and Dave Turncratz goes wild on the drums, manic, yet somehow still maintaining the pace of the song.

All the tracks on Guidance run seamless into each other, as if they weren’t individual songs, but one 41-minute long story.

Mota‘s a little more hopeful sounding, then it changes, and you’re thinking, “What’s gonna happen?” Then Cook comes in with a single powerful note, left hanging in the air. It’s a predictable turn of events, satisfying the need to take a long drought of water on an arduous hike through the woods, and Mike Sullivan backs up the track taking his time, drawing out long bass notes, while Turncratz is just hacking away. Sullivan’s fingers are running like a spider along the fret board.

With some consistent crashing toms to bring us back from a slight pause, you’re not ready for the end. Russian Circles doesn’t give you a break, as individual notes rush into quick strumming and the next song takes shape.

Afrika has this weird didjiredoo-type sound, Cook’s doing, as he fills the room with bass. With their scientific looping thought experiments, it almost sounds like there’s a xylephone coming through one of the lower layers, or someone’s running their hands along telephone keys. Is there an army of flying monkeys banging around on trash cans in the street? Nope. It’s just Sullivan, messing with effects, giving the impression that 10 guys are all playing guitar simultaneously.

There’s no real structure to the songs. They pluck when they feel like it, roll into drums when it seems appropriate, and let the notes hang when the moment’s right.

Taming things over a bit, with Overboard, the sequence ramps back up with Calla, with super dark, grungy riffs. The image of a burly hulk creature materializes into view, Frankenstein’s take on Highlander, climbing sharp rocks cliff side during a storm. He’s seeking vengeance. His name is Calla and he’s here to kick your ass.

The track gets nasty around the 32:00 mark and Turncratz does not relent and Cook starts djenting. Then the song sizzles out, electricity crackling on the surface of the ocean at night. The giant reaches his hard-earned ascent.

Lisboa proves a quaint little ending to the album, slowly reminding us that it’s all over. The song says, “Go home, sucker,” thus leading you to play the entire thing again, while your eyes glaze over, mesmerized by the guitar’s delay, the crashing cymbals, and the beast roar of a blaze that is the bass.

How fast is Cook’s wrist, anyway? As a child unfamiliar with the mechanics of musical metaphysics, you’d never guess that this guy is likely drenched in sweat while he’s working through a nasty breakdown, cutting off the audience from what might have been another 40-minute voodoo ritual.

On the whole, listening to Guidance is twice as satisfying as devouring loads of heavy comfort food during one of those long-awaited holidays.

And now I’m sucked back into the tar pit of instrumental metal, thanks to Russian Circles. Their sixth studio album will have you gripping the edge of your seat, trying to stave off visions of dark beings with an insatiable thirst for blood.

I’ll listen to this album on repeat until pg.lost releases Versus on Sept. 16.

 

Featured fractal by Deviant Artist, zy0rg

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E.L. Doctorow is too addicting to put down

During Camp NaNoWriMo, last month, I read five books, and started a sixth. Three out of six of these books were written by the same author: E.L. Doctorow.

There’s something about the pacing of his writing that keeps you enthralled. We either see events steamrolling out of control or he’ll pluck his way gingerly through the morass of details, holding fast to your feet as you wade into the mire with him.

My favorite of his, so far, would have to be Homer & Langley, based on the true story of two hermits who hid themselves away in their home in Harlem.

The entire novel is like a poem about two brothers (Homer and Langley Collyer), myths themselves, who have been strung up among the stars, a constellation at last.

Did these two fellows really befriend a mob boss, by the name of Vincent, in a strip club, who promptly forgot who they were when he was in dire need of a place to heal after a gun fight? And how could two millionaires possibly waste away in a house with tiny ivory figurines, a rotting Model T, and thousands of editions of the daily newspaper piled high to the ceiling?

Unlike most of the books you’re likely to read, all of these strange things you interpret through the ears of a blind man.

“I had my own medical theories, perhaps this was a disposition given to the progeny of a doctor, but I believed my eyes and ears were in some intimate nervous association, they were analogous parts of a sensory system in which everything connected with everything else, and so I knew what had been the fate of my vision would be the same for my hearing.”

The rhythm of his words is like music for the eyes. I’m not sure whether he labored over their order within a sentence, but it feels more like they just rolled off his tongue, as if Doctorow was actually Homer typing out his autobiography, while Langley pushed his fingers down on the keys. While he’s speaking, the musician in him comes out in full force, the meter indicative of someone singing in time to the synapses firing in his head.

I’m not sure if anything really happens throughout E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley, like a few of Henry Miller’s more meandering works, but there is a prevailing theme of time and its degrading effect on the human form, dragging with it strong sentiments you hold onto like the grudge of a lost love or the sight of a maid cleaning a chandelier years ago, the memory of which has just begun to materialize, in present day, as the entire crystal assemblage comes crashing to the ground; the result of steady burrowings of unidentified vermin.

Ragtime was the first E.L. Doctorow book I was introduced to. It’s dangerous, living with a fellow bibliophile, there’s never a shortage of material immediately at hand for one to gorge upon…

I must say, I really enjoyed Ragtime; it quite reminded me of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, the latter I have not finished, but I promise to get back to some day. Too sensitive for my own good, I’ll set aside a novel if it affects me in such a way that I become traumatized by developments I might not have been able to predict. In this way, I paused many a time, reading Henry Miller’s works, too, but The Colossus of Maroussi had me hooked straight through. I can’t quite put my finger on a reason as to why I might have suddenly stopped short while reading The Tropic of Capricorn. That man has a tendency to leave the mind unhinged, verging on alternate realities.

Now, reading The March, it’s as if Doctorow was there during the Civil War. The ever diligent historical aficionado, it’s as if his home was ransacked and he and his fellow slaves ambivalently joined the militia, coming out of a few skirmishes unscathed, to put on the uniforms of enemy soldiers on a whim, saying, “This is the life, my man!” as they pat each other on the back, while pulling dregs from a dead man’s bottle. Thus is the appeal of Doctorow’s all-encompassing world building.

But back to Homer & Langley and the sightlessness which lends much to imagination:

“There are moments when I cannot bear this unremitting consciousness. It knows only itself. The images of things are not the things in themselves. Awake, I am in a continuum with my dreams. I feel typewriters, my table, my chair to have that assurance of a solid world, where things take up space, where there is not the endless emptiness of insubstantial thought that leads to nowhere but itself.”

Not all books need to be tied up neatly with a bow. Some plotholes are meant to gouge like a knife hit to the side, leaving you somewhat empty by the end of the ride.

There is something almost warm and cozy about this one, in particular, that I think back fondly on. Somehow I felt the need to write about it before I could continue on with The March, it’s affected me so. And how could it not when the main characters’ morals are so thoroughly mapped out? You can relate to the idea of being hospitable to a few hippies for weeks at a time, who situated themselves into the Collyers’ home as if they were permanent fixtures on the walls themselves. Yet the brothers would push away any propagandizing fiends who tried to darken their doorstep, aside from the one journalist, Jacqueline, who we meet for a brief few moments, then never heard from again.

Either way, among the three Doctorow’s I’ve been priviledged enough to read, Homer & Langley has been my favorite so far. The story is so deeply rooted in philosophy, without a  hint of objectivity as to the main character’s plight while his senses slowly begin deteriorating.

You really don’t know what is real by the end of the book. Is that how it happened in real life? The two brothers didn’t see it coming, as the ceiling collapsed on top of them? Maybe they preferred it that way, blind to the world around them, yet analyzing everyone else with minute scrutiny.

 

Featured image via Dinah Williams Dark Alleys of American History

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Why upgrading to Windows 10 is no big deal

My first experience with Windows 10 is nothing out of the ordinary. The average person upgrades their OS every 5-8 years. So, if you’ve used Windows-based operating systems for the last 20 years, chances are you won’t freak out when you finally install Windows 10.

UI

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The user interface isn’t all that different from Windows 8. In the native start menu, you’ll see tablet-style tiles for news, Facebook updates, and suggested apps. If you don’t like this revolving flipboard of notifications, you can always install the Classic Shell and your start menu will go back to Windows 7/8. My favorite feature exists for the sole purpose of efficiency. When you click on the little arrow (woh2) near one of your frequently used programs, you have the option to click on one of your most recently opened files. So you can pick up right where you left off.

The Action Center is more for businesses, I think, what with the VPN controls and such, but maybe you want to see your Pinterest notifications, weekly alerts, and system status messages all in one place? I tend to ignore this thing on the right-hand side of the screen (it’s connected to the little thought bubble icon (woh) on the system tray/task bar). blog4

Naming Conventions

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See “All apps” instead of “All programs”, “Quick access” (boop) instead of “Favorites”. I find Quick access very handy, indeed. Quick access learns which folders you’re using the most, whether you’re frequently accessing a folder within your Desktop, somewhere in the cloud, or even on a remote server. So, instead creating a shortcut (how ’00s of you), now you can just click on the folder on the left-hand side of your File Explorer.

Edge

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Instead of Internet Explorer, we now have Edge. The icon (ee) is still quite similar, so I’m hesitant to click on it when I see it in the taskbar. I mostly use Chrome, as this wonderful browser has all my passwords, cookies, and bookmarks saved. And it loads fast. Why would you switch to Edge?

Cortana

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A long-winded sidenote about Cortana:

Cortana lives under the guise of a small circle (cort) lurking on your taskbar. She’s an AI named after the character popular in the Halo franchise, I imagine, and she’s hailed as the Windows equivalent to Apple’s Siri. However, she’s nothing like Siri. Cortana is a glorified search bar. So, instead of the Windows 8 version of the start menu search bar, you have to use Cortana, or look through your files yourself (see Quick Access section above).

Nothing personal about that at all. If I asked Siri, “What’s up, doll?” She responds with, “Helping Liam recycle solar panels, so we can all have a brighter future.” Now, that’s cute. Siri actually understands full sentences, too, so that’s comforting. Like Siri, Cortana does do things I tell her to. For instance, if I say, “Make a note,” she would start dictating for me, just like Siri.

However, when you activate Cortana, the stipulations state she tracks your browser history, she uses your location, she suggests things, and sends you alerts when it seems like you have all these other options to receive reminders (see Action Center above), and maybe you don’t want the office knowing you’re looking up guacamole recipes at work?

I’m disabling Cortana, FYI. (The circle icon then turns into a magnifying glass [meep].)

So, come on, Microsoft. Get with the times already. If you name an app “Cortana”, I expect her to be kind of buggy, severely accurate and timely, yet full of personality. Maybe I shouldn’t have played Halo and/or read the books so thoroughly…

Overall, switching to Windows 10 isn’t all that daunting. Sure, the text seems a little smaller and crisper than you’re used to, but you can always enlarge it in your Settings. So, don’t be scared to upgrade–especially if it’s free.

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