I wasn’t planning on writing about any EPs in doing my album reviews, but I made an exception for this particular one. Firstly, The Four Postmen is a band that is pretty special to me (more on that in a moment). Secondly, it’s a really fun EP. Thirdly, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want.

4postmenMy discovery of the band is kind of a fun story. When Katie and I were living in California, she was listening to a Moxy Fruvous album while in the costume shop at school (she was getting her Masters in costume design). The shop manager said that if she liked that band, he knew a guy in a similar type of band, and not too long after that he asked us if we wanted to go to one of their shows with him. We said yes, of course, because it had been a while since we had gone to any shows. We got to the venue rather early, so we decided to walk to a local restaraunt and grab some dinner. Lo and behold, the entire band showed up at the same restaurant, and we ended up eating with them! They were all really nice and super funny guys, and it was fantastic intro to them.

We became sort-of groupies after that first show. It was hard not to. Their shows are goofy and energetic, with a lot of banter and joking around in between songs. Not to mention that most of their songs are silly or at least humorously creative. Not being able to see them anymore was one of the hardest things about leaving California (I’m not even joking about that).

The Four Postmen are pretty much straight up rock-and-roll. Their earlier albums are much more acoustic, almost early Barenaked Ladies sounding. Subsequent albums have had much more energy and traditional rock elements (i.e. electric guitar) in them. Most of their songs incorporate harmonies between the members, and it’s hard not to sing along.

5-Pack Volume 1 has (surprise) five songs, and they were all songs that we heard played at numerous shows. It begins with “The Karaoke King” (written for an independent movie of the same name) and ends with “Parachute”, the two most energetic songs on the EP. “Bed a’Nails” and “Drivin’ Me” are a little more subdued, and are similar in their sarcastic and cynical (but still fun) lyrics. “Coffee Girl” is Katie’s all-time favorite Postmen song, and it’s a ballad of a man in love with a coffee barrista, and it’s chock full of coffee puns (and inappropriateness).

The Four Postmen are a band to listen to when you’re in a good mood and feeling a little goofy. Once you learn the lyrics, it’s impossible not to join in on the singing. And after a while you really learn to appreciate the wordplay and overall writing of the songs. They are truly underrated geniuses, and I’m glad I got to see them as much as I did when I had the chance.

It’s been a while since I talked about the writing of a television show, and since I just finished up the two seasons of BoJack Horseman available on Netflix, I figured now was as good a time as any.

When BoJack Horseman first came out, I kept seeing people posting about it on Facebook, always in a positive light. But I didn’t get around to watching it until recently, long after the posts had stopped. I needed something to watch while doing other things (I often throw a show on while I’m doing dishes, because it typically takes me the 20-30 minutes of a short episode), and I figured it was time.

BoJack_HorsemanIf you’re unfamiliar with BoJack Horseman, it’s an animated series that takes place in a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live side-by-side like it ain’t no thang. The show centers around BoJack, a washed-up sitcom star, as he navigates life post-career and deals with a massive amount of baggage from his childhood. The people he surrounds himself with – either willingly or otherwise – include Diane, a young woman who is ghost writing his autobiography; Mr. Peanutbutter, an overeager and sometimes oblivious golden lab who had a sitcom that rode the fame of BoJack’s; Todd, BoJack’s roommate who often finds himself in the middle of or the cause of wild tomfoolery (or as he likes to say, “Toddfoolery”); and Princess Caroline, a pink cat and BoJack’s agent (also occasional girlfriend/booty call).

While the show was amusing and interesting enough to keep my attention through both seasons, I felt like it had so much more potential than it actually reached in twenty-four episodes. The animal/human society paved the way for a handful of pretty funny jokes and gags (penguins running Penguin Publishing, BoJack’s sitcom being called “Horsin’ Around”, etc.), but they all but disappeared in the wake of drama. Drama-laden drama heaped on top of more drama. Oh my God, so much drama.

Now, I’m not adverse to drama or any kind of seriousness in an animated series. My favorite animated series of all time is Mission Hill, which perfectly mixed serious and funny. But BoJack just got too darn serious at times, and it was cliche sitcom tropes. There was the “he-loves-her-but-she-loves-the-other-guy” thing in the first season, followed by the “does-she-really-love-the-other-guy?” thing, followed by the “the-first-guy-kissed-her-and-made-things-weird” thing. Oh, and I should mention that the whole “he-loves-her” thing was telegraphed loudly from the very beginning. Opposite sex character who is frustrated by the other character? Yup, there’s gonna be romantic tension there… sigh.

And the second season was just… well, it felt like it was all over the place. There were several through-lines of story in the season, but none of them were particularly interesting. Even the “resurrection” of J.D. Salinger as a show runner for a ridiculous game show only gave a short moment’s worth of amusement before disappearing in the wake of – surprise – more drama.  Drama is only interesting when a character learns from the trials and tribulations he goes through.  If BoJack learned anything in two seasons, it doesn’t feel that way.

The show definitely has its strong moments, though. When the writers hit a good joke, they really hit a good joke. Case in point, when Mr. Peanutbutter is explaining how in love he is with Diane, he makes a comment about how he spends his day – curled up on the couch, often after digging a little nest for himself, and then getting excited when he hears the car. Get it? He’s a dog. It was really clever and didn’t call attention to itself blatantly. That’s the kind of writing I would love to see in all of the show.

I think the best episode was the fifth episode of the second season. This was one of those episodes where the B story out-shined the A story, and then both came together in the end. The A story was a rather uninteresting one of BoJack trying to bond with the director of the movie he’s working on, and the B story is Todd trying to rescue an escaped anthropomorphic chicken, who he starts to bond with, from having to go back to the chicken farm where she’ll be slaughtered and eaten. It’s just the right amount of ridiculousness with a bit of emotion thrown in, and it had me laughing and hooked through the whole thing. I can’t say that about most episodes.

However, despite all my negativity about the more serious aspects of the show, there is enough good writing to keep me invested in the characters. Even though the drama and bad decisions that BoJack make get tired and annoying after a while, you still want to root for him to get his shit together. Even though the relationship between Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane seems rocky in an overdone way, you still want them to be happy. And Princess Caroline has the right amount of life problems, mostly stemming from her internal struggle over having a stable life or pushing her career ever forward, and the right amount of humor and sass to balance each other out and make her probably one of the most complex and interesting characters on the show.

The short summary is that BoJack Horseman needs to stop taking itself so seriously. The writing needs to scale back on the drama and integrate a lot more of the wacky humor that keeps me interested in the show. And it needs to lose the common sitcom tropes! It’s kind of sad when a show with a neat premise like animals and humans living together ends up not doing anything original with that premise (what I call Third Rock From the Sun syndrome).

I do look forward to season three just to see if the writers learned anything from the first two seasons. If not… well, Netflix has a lot of other things to watch.

Ah, Green Day. What musically-minded person who grew up in the 90s wouldn’t have at least a fleeting appreciation for Green Day? Green Day was one of the bands that pushed me into world of music beyond the classic rock that my parents would listen to (which I also appreciate). And while that album was actually Dookie, today we’re here to talk about 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.

While most casual older fans of Green Day probably started with Dookie, I don’t know many who have 1,039 in their collections. I actually got my copy by trading for it with my younger brother – who had it for God knows what reason, since he was never really into music – for the Spin Doctors album Pocket Full of Kryptonite (which I had received from someone else for free). I know… trading albums? Nowadays you can just download both for free if you know where to look. I’m old, I get it.


Green_Day_-_1,039-Smoothed_Out_Slappy_Hours_cover1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours isn’t technically Green Day’s first album; it’s a compilation album that includes their first album (39/Smooth) and two of their EPs (Slappy and 1,000 Hours), all of which are out of print. So, really, 1,039 is just referred to as their first album for the sake of argument.

The sound of the album is much more raw than Dookie and everything beyond it. But in that rawness is an energy that started to fade a little once their albums started being produced differently. You can definitely tell they were young punks putting their hearts into their music.

That all being said, 1,039 isn’t really my favorite album of theirs. It’s a fun album, and I’ll throw it on once in a great while for nostalgic purposes, but if I want a Green Day fix I’ll typically reach for Kerplunk or Insomniac (and, yes, Dookie of course). Still, there are some gems on there. It opens with “At the Library”, a catchy teenage anthem about being infatuated with a girl from afar, which is great to listen to as an angsty teenager. And speaking of angsty songs, “Disappearing Boy” is a great one about feeling invisible, something I greatly understood in my youth. “Paper Lanterns” is definitely a musical prototype to some of their later songs on Dookie, and is yet another angsty song about a girl (seeing a pattern here?). And then there’s my personal favorite, “Only of You”, a sort of love letter to a girl. Funnily enough, I used the lyrics of this song to write an actual love letter to someone I liked in high school. It didn’t work. Still, the song is a nice one because it’s not angsty and has a nice energy to it.

I’m not entirely sure if modern Green Day fans – those who are more into American Idiot and beyond – have an appreciation for 1,039. I can’t see that many would, really, as Green Day’s sound (and image) has changed massively over the years. But I would hope there are a good number who can enjoy it for it what is is – a glimpse into the roots of a band that helped bring punk into the mainstream during the 90s.

The Monster and the Muse

It’s always funny how the muse strikes me when I’m least expecting it. I’ve recently been schvitzing about Blood of the Father because I haven’t had time to work on it. When I don’t have time to work on a story, I tend to fall into the trap of telling myself negative things about it.

“You’re using too much exposition and not enough action.”

“Plot, man! Where’s the plot??”

“Seriously, why did you think this story was a good idea?”

I don’t know if this is something other writers can attest to, but I’m least worried about my writing when I’m actually writing. When I’m left to stew about it, that’s when the negativity monster rakes me with its deadly claws of self-doubt. Which is good when I’ve finished a story and I want to go back and edit it, but not when I’m 1/4 of the way into the story.

But sometimes I get lucky and my muse will step in front of the negativity monster, and she’ll slap him around a bit. She paid me a visit yesterday, and rather than wading in a pool of self-deprecation, I had flashes of inspiration. One led to another, that led to another, and so on. And then I found myself energized and excited to work on the story again. Which is good, because I have a writers retreat this weekend and I need to keep that ball rolling so I can take advantage of the writing time.

I wish I knew how to thank my muse, other than to continue writing that is. Do muses like gift cards?

Album Review: +- by Mew

My review for this album might be a little lacking, because I’ve not had the album for very long, and it’s a band I’ve only known for a short time. I first learned about Mew about a year ago when someone in a forum directed me to their album Frengers. I fell in love with that album, but didn’t seek out any of their other works until +- was released.

Mew is a Danish band whose sound is pop-influenced indie rock. While +- shares many similarities in sound to Frengers, it has a little more of a pop feel to it than the indie sound that dominates Frengers. However, where I would normally find this as a minus (see what I did there?), I actually think it works for Mew.

Mew_+_-_coverFrom the spacey sounding intro and twinkling guitars of the opening song (and album single) “Satellites”, I knew it would be a good listen. “Satellites” is probably my favorite song on the album, and it will get stuck in your head for days. The tone of the album mellows out a bit with the next few songs, sliding into the pop-heavy “Making Friends”. Again, not being a fan of pop in general, it took me a few tries to get into the song, but it’s pretty well-composed, and I’ve come around to it. The pace of the album starts picking up again with the next song, “Clinging to a Bad Dream”, and then we fall into the hands of the catchy “My Complications”. After that we’re treated to another poppy tune, which also happens to be the second single off the album, “Water Slides”. The last three songs bring the mood back down to mellow, which probably the most disappointing thing for me, because I would have loved at least one more rock-inspired song before the album ends. As it stands, after “Water Slides”, I tend to tune the album out. They aren’t bad songs, I just think there could have been a little more energy before the end.

While I would highly recommend Frengers over +-, the latter is still a very well-done album with fantastically composed songs and haunting vocals. Give it a try if you’re looking for something different.

Well, my new experiment is already off to a roaring stop. This was such a busy week that I couldn’t even think of writing a blog post until today, and now I actually have something to write about. That’s a “problem” I can deal with, though.

Recently, I jumped into some old files on my back-up drive and was reading my earliest work. Some people might cringe at that thought, and sometimes it makes me cringe, too. But typically it’s a humbling experience.

My very first novel that I ever wrote to completion was called The Dragon Slayer War (or rather, that was the title of the series; I can’t recall what I named the first book). At the time, I was proud of it. I shopped it around to agents and received a number of rejection letters (which I still have in a binder as trophies of a bygone era). After a while, I decided to take another pass at it and polish it up, as well as change up a few things that started to bug me about it.

Thus began a chain of uncompleted rewrites that ultimately resulted in the hard decision to scrap the project altogether. I just could not get it to a point where I was happy with it. I was depressed about the decision, but at the same time it felt good to untether myself from it and to move on to other things.

However, as I was reading my old pages this past week, I began to feel very wistful about the project. Sure, the writing is terrible. It was a story I started writing at the beginning of high school and completed by the end of college (with the ensuing rewrites taking place over the course of several years after). I’ve gotten much better and more self-aware of what I’m doing since then. But the story…

Yes, it’s overcomplicated and convoluted. Yes, there are one or two Mary Sue characters, as well as characters that don’t need to take up page space. Yes, the dialogue is hokey and unbelievable. But I found myself sucked into it. Sucked into my own story. And that’s when it hit me.

I spent much of my time during the rewrites trying to make it less of a traditional fantasy. I had elves and dwarves and an evil villain in there, and I was worried that it wouldn’t be taken seriously, that it needed to be original and different. And I was so worried about that, that I forgot how fun the original version with the elves and dwarves and evil villain in it was. I had written a story that I wanted to read, something like the Dragonlance books that I had grown up reading (sometimes over and over again). And I realized that its a book – and a series – that I want to see completed.

It may not be the next book I work on, but I think I’ve decided that it’s time to once again take a pass at this monster that I created nearly two decades ago. Because, seriously, I think at its core it’s a story that’s worth sharing. I just need to mold it into something that works and that I’m proud of. And I need to just say “Who cares?” to the fact that I’m putting traditional fantasy elements into it.

I’ve spent so much time trying to write “different” stories that I think I’ve earned the right to be self-indulgent for once.

A Reality Check

This post will not be an overly positive one, but that’s the point of it – life is not always positive. So, if you don’t want to look down the barrel of a negative, albeit realistic, post, you might want to wait until I do my next album review post later in the week.

I grew up hearing the age old axioms “If you try enough at something, you’ll succeed” and “If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it.” And I fell into the trap of believing that for a long time. But when you boil it down to its essence, it’s just words.

Now, I’m not saying don’t try. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want something with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I’m not saying that you’ll never achieve your goal or succeed at something important to you. I’m telling you that much of what gets tossed around as inspiration pep-talking is not infallible doctrine, so don’t build up yourself on that foundation.

I’m only thirty-four. I understand that I have many years to try to become to a successful writer. But it’s hard to maintain that positive outlook when I’ve been writing non-stop since I was fifteen or sixteen, working my butt off at publishing my own stuff, and sacrificing so many things to do both, and I still feel like I’m treading water. And guess what? There’s the distinct possibility that I might never reach that success point that I’m aiming for.

My realizing that doesn’t make it a forgone conclusion. My realizing that doesn’t mean I’ve given up. What it means is that I’m not blindly running forward going, “I’m going to win, I’m going to win, I’m going to win…” I might never reach that finish line. Then again, I might. But I can’t be sure.

I know people who believe in the power of positive thinking. And I do try to stay positive. But as a writer, I’m aware of reality and what life really is, and what it can do to someone. I can’t turn a blind eye to that; I have to accept it, but at the same time I have to keep up the fight. Why? Because the possibility is still there.

In short, don’t be a fool and leap blindly, trusting for the best. Check to make sure your parachute is fully functioning and jump with knowledge that you might hit the ground hard.

I warned you this wasn’t a lighthearted post.


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