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“Homecoming,” by Jamie Elmer

“Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease.” – Naguib Mahfouz

***

I took a seat on the worn couch, right on the edge, leaning my body tightly against the arm so as not to graze my leg against the guy passed out next to me. He had a penis with wings drawn on his cheek in permanent marker, his punishment for falling asleep before midnight with his shoes on. The party raged around me. I watched as my best friend, Lily, and a group of others cheered and squealed at the beer pong game going on not far from the couches. The hardwood floor around the table was sticky from spilled beer and overturned cups, similar to the coffee table in front of me, littered with every alcoholic beverage I could think of. I took a sip of my drink, rum and coke, hold the rum, and looked up at the sound of a crash. Alicia was pulled up from the floor she had fallen on and helped over to a lounge chair across from the couch where she collapsed and grinned widely over at me.

“Reina!” she yelled exuberantly. Her friend detached herself from her with a small apologetic smile at me and disappeared back outside, pulling a cigarette from behind her ear as she walked away. Behind the glass doors I could see more of the party: another beer pong table surrounded by players and friends; friends gathered around lounge chairs, smoking; a group of guys near a small fire pit passed a joint around. I looked back at Alicia, who waved at me to gain my attention.

“Reina! I love you, you’re great, ya know?” she said, smiling, her eyes unfocused.

“Had a little to drink?” I asked her, slightly amused, mostly tired.

“That and then some!” she giggled herself into silence, which took a solid minute and a half. She rummaged in the pockets of her incredibly short jean shorts and pulled out a small baggie. She shook it around like a treat for a puppy and the little white pills jumped around.

She pulled the shirt sleeve of one of the guys at the beer pong table nearest us. “Take a break?” she asked him, alluringly. He looked down at her and smiled, shrugged.

“Why not?” he said, and then looked back at the rest. “Time out!”

A couple of the others moved around the table toward Alicia and her pills, the same expressions of why not etched on their faces. I watched as Lily, a friend I’d known since grade school, and a number of friends from high school all encircled her.

Alicia looked up, back into my eyes after popping her pill. Before offering it to Derek’s outstretched hand, she moved to offer the baggie to me. I stared back at her and then up to see that most of the eyes of my friends were on me.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

“About a Grrrl,” by Taylor Farner

Canon used to sell cameras with boxes that would hold 4×6 photographs. Each box would hold a couple hundred photos, maybe more if you crammed them in there. On one end of the lid, there was the Canon logo, and on the sides was a clear film that peeled up that you could slide photos under. Monica decorated the box three different times in her life: once when she was 12 and her parents bought the camera for her birthday, again when she was 15 and got her driver’s license, and again at her best friend’s wedding. Dani’s wedding. And Dani was in 26 out of 30 photos Monica had cut up to decorate the sides of the box over the years. She’d been Monica’s best friend since kindergarten. And looking at the box now made everything that much harder.

Monica swiped at her face and cleared a bunch of the mucus away, but she was crying too hard, and kept coughing in deep rough whoops. She set the photo box down and went for the napkins. Wiping away the snot from her hands and dabbing at her nose, she went back to the box of photographs. She was looking for a picture from the hiking trip she took with Dani last year. Both of them had really liked the photo; Monica made a copy for Dani, but her parents weren’t sure where she’d have it. It was probably still boxed away. If it was going in the paper, Monica wanted the photo to be one Dani really liked.

First, Monica found a photo from her senior year of high school.

“MONICA CRUZ IS A DUMB CUNT” The text glowed across the brownish-white aisle of lockers in bright red spray-paint. Standing on either side of the graffiti stood Monica and Dani. Dani was sticking her tongue out, and Monica stood there with her hand over her mouth, seemingly astounded.

Ramon Darren was the one who wrote it, she knew. She’d dumped him the day before. He denied sleeping around with Jackie Hildebrandt, but Monica knew he was lying. When you’re a cheating dumb-fuck, throwing tantrums or writing a bunch of ignorant shit in public places are the only ways you know how to react to being dumped. Ramon chose the latter.

At first it only made Monica more pissed off, and she wanted to die in a pile. But thankfully Dani was there.

“Oh… oh my god, no, this is too good!” Dani said between each harsh gasp she tried pulling in through the laughing fit. “Ramon is such a baby!” she said, struggling to get the words out. Monica pulled out the camera. It was her safety net, and what she hoped would be her future. She wanted to be a photographer for Flipside. Photography was her thing. But life has a way of taking the things you like and putting them in the ground.

malice_vector_portrait

“Oh good, yeah, take a picture of it! We can put it up on the wall,” Dani said.

The wall was a scrap-book, on a wall. It was in Monica’s room. The wall started as three bulletin boards the girls had mashed together after their first concert, in 8th grade. They made a pact that by the end of high school they’d have the wall filled with ticket stubs. They’d made great strides in between the on and off fights, the highs and lows of teenage friendships. The girls had their share of ups and downs, but each time they fought at Alberta High, they knew that it would pass, and they’d be together again.

That day, Monica learned that no matter how enlightened you think you are, and no matter how much you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter what people think of you, when someone feels the need to tell the whole world you’re a dumb cunt, it’s going to eat away at you, a little.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

“Give ‘Im Enough Rope” by Gordon Robertson

Three days on the rope and Jonathan already had a fat milky blister on his left hand. It was in the groove between thumb and forefinger, and it hurt like fuck. He wanted to burst it himself, but he didn’t have the nails. He winced. Every left hand-hold stole a gasp of air from his mouth and sent a sharp scissor-stab of pain down through his left side. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.

The first two days after finding the rope–stiff and upright between two empty warehouses on the abandoned industrial estate he used to walk the dogs through, back when they were still alive–had been relatively easy. The thick knots placed at regular intervals for the hands and feet to hold on to obviously helped. He couldn’t imagine attempting the climb without them. It’d be like trying to negotiate rapids without a paddle. But this morning he’d woken to a dull throbbing in his hand and had recognized it for what it was. He’d briefly tried some single-hand climbing but it just made things worse. He was using up energy and fluids he badly needed. Who knew how long he was going to be up here for? He was in no way an experienced climber, but he at least had some amount of common sense.

Jonathan grunted. Common sense. Really? How sensible was it for a grown man to climb a suspicious, unattended rope in the middle of nowhere, with no clear indication as to where that rope led? How sensible was it to think everything would be okay once he reached the top? Was he even convinced there was a top? He glanced up, but the clouds that had hung over him these past three days hadn’t moved, and he couldn’t see a fucking thing. He was climbing blind.

Climbing the rope at least gave Jonathan a chance to think. And he had a lot to think about. Gloria, for one. He’d never known anyone who could keep an argument going longer than Gloria. It didn’t even have to be about anything in particular. It could be something as ordinary and mundane as which restaurant to go to for dinner, or what TV program to watch, or whether or not to have sex. It didn’t matter. If it had two sides to it, Gloria would argue one of them, sometimes both.

She certainly hadn’t listed her ability to argue on her profile. Nor had she been entirely truthful in other areas. Jonathan had been new to online dating and had assumed she would look exactly like her profile picture. That wasn’t the case. She was at least ten years older than she’d claimed, and over two stone heavier than she’d been in her photo. She’d clearly lived, and not well. But they’d spent two pleasant enough weeks in each other’s company before he’d murdered her. In the end, it was more the arguing than the looks that pushed Jonathan over the edge. He slit her throat while out driving one night, and tossed her naked body into a quarry.

Resting a moment on the rope, Jonathan realized the reason he was still thinking about Gloria wasn’t because of some child-like sense of guilt or remorse, it was because of her glasses case. He couldn’t recall what he’d done with it, or if he’d done anything with it at all. He’d burned all her clothes and wiped down the surfaces of the car, inside and out, but he had no idea what had happened to her glasses case. It worried him because he remembered handing it to her before she got in the car. If it wasn’t on her, or in or near the car, she must have lost it, which meant if the police happened to find it, they’d also find a couple of fat thumb-prints on it. And only one of those would be Gloria’s.

He’d been more careful the second time. Janice had reminded him of a girl he’d went out with when he worked on the bins, not long after leaving school. Helen? Hannah? Something like that. He’d taken Helen/Hannah out for a meal–somewhere fancy to impress her–and she’d asked him what he did for a living. Jonathan had just sat there, squirming, and too terrified to answer. But she’d wormed it out of him and had been totally fine with it. Janice had been a bit like that. Easy to talk to. Tolerant. But only up to a point. When he said he’d killed before and was worried he might be tempted to do so again, she’d freaked and ran for the door. Jonathan had felled her from behind with a golf trophy he’d won as a teenager and she’d dropped to the floor with a scream and a thud. He’d hit her twice more in the face with the jagged-edged trophy and then, satisfied she’d stopped breathing, had dragged her into the bathroom to clean her up.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

“Plane of Thought,” By Zachary Valladon

I died eating honey roasted peanuts.

“Ramjish.”

“Hm?”

“Will my father be okay?”

“I do not think so.”

“My guru has begun his healing process. I know he will be okay.”

Karesh was an old friend, or something like that, and I had long since grown disgusted with his perpetual positivity. When I was young, I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, I wanted to be a doctor. I did both of those things on my own terms. I practiced law first, in India. When I grew tired of the lawlessness in the endless slums I grew up in, I wound up on a one- way plane to America with my twin brothers. In life, I’d always had a natural (some might say god-given) tenacity. My ambition was unmatched in my family, and I didn’t need to worry about success. I knew, inherently, that I was destined for greatness. So, when America’s shores beckoned me to the fruits of my ambitious nature, I sought the respectable future of a doctor. Twenty long years studying and practicing medicine came and went before the call came.

Unlike me, Karesh was lazy — life seemed to hand him great things. He was good at fiddling with any of the primitive technology we could get our hands on and eating bland Indian sweets. We grew up and attended the make-shift excuse for a school in our neighborhood together. I excelled academically, but my instructors never gave me accolades for my intellect. Instead, they scolded me for believing myself to be superior to my classmates. I believed then, and continued to believe until my death that success warranted an appropriate level of arrogance. In order to be the best, I needed everyone else to understand that they were not.

Karesh believed deeply in the idea that the world could unite as a peaceful family. He followed the teachings of a renowned spiritual man, a guru, in India. Karesh meditated regularly, ate without regard for his health and had somehow managed to earn himself a career with computers in India that was equivalent to a six figure salary in America. I think that I hated him even as a boy, but he was always drawn to me. As a child, he was the only one who associated with me at school, as a teen, the only one who broke bread with me and as an adult, the only person to ever reach out to me from India. He disgusted me.

Of course, when he called me to tell me that his father was sick, possibly dying, and that he would pay as much money as he needed to assure that he could be transported from India to America to be in my care, I could not refuse. Being on life support, his father would need to have a doctor on the airplane with him in case of an emergency. Karesh insisted that I was the doctor to fly with him, so he also paid for my ticket to India and back and the labor. When it came time for the actual flight, I was so busy planning my European vacation that I almost missed it.

When I first saw Karesh again, he was the same as I remembered…bubbly, fat and smiling. All that changed was that he now wore a mustache and that his hair had begun to gray on top.

“Ramjish, I am thankful beyond words that you’re here,” he said.

I extended my hand out with a slight smile; to me, this was nothing more than a business transaction, but Karesh did not need to know that.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

The Observatory: Why We Hate to Love Screeching Weasel

Written by Taylor Farner

Screeching Weasel, The Queers, and The Mr. T Experience.

This was a long-anticipated show for me. Screeching Weasel, The Queers, and The Mr. T Experience, all playing together at the Santa Ana Observatory, August 8th. I was really pumped up for the show for months beforehand. I’d seen The Queers a few months back when they played with The Dwarves and Atom Age in Hollywood, but Screeching Weasel had been a long time coming.

I hadn’t been listened to them for very long. I had about a year or two of hammering out their discography under my belt, but plenty of time to find my favorites. From what I can tell, they don’t normally play in Southern California… I’m assuming a deliberate choice based on their lyrical distaste for anything not-Midwestern, very unfortunate news for fans in California.

I should probably start off at the beginning: The Mr. T Experience opened. They were really good, and I’m glad I got to hear them live. I am not a huge Mr. T Experience fan, but was not disappointed. The band was very cool and interactive with the audience, and they were likewise, very grateful to have such a nice turn-out. They played the songs I knew, along with tons of others I didn’t, and was surprised how different they sounded live in comparison to their recordings, but I suppose it has been over 25 years since Night Shift at the Thrill Factory was released; Dr. Frank’s voice has aged very very well with that in mind. I do love “Go Away,”….

The Queers came on next. Like I said, I’m a fan. When we saw them in Hollywood however many months ago that was, it was easily one of my favorite shows. Chip Fracture has been playing with them for the last few years, and it was pretty dope seeing him play a full set with The Dwarves and The Queers. They had a lot of people come up and play with them: the guitarist from Atom Age came out, Blag Dahilia sang some songs, and Richie Ramone closed out the set with them.

Richie Ramone also played with The Queers in Santa Ana, although not as much. I guess he could give up the thrill that comes with playing in front of die-hard fans. Although, I will say, it kind of cheapened his “special appearance.”

Anyway, The Queers played a handful of their older songs from the 80s and a lot of songs from the 90s. Kris Roe, from The Ataris, came on stage as well, if only because Joe Queer threatened that if he didn’t join them on stage, they’d play “Boys of Summer.” I never really listened to The Ataris. When they were big I wasn’t a huge punk guy. Metal was my cup of tea. Apparently in Ventura, The Ataris overplayed the shit out of the Ventura Theatre, so even if I was into them, it would have been short-lived. Nonetheless, Kris played a song, then scrammed.

The Queers played a few more of their songs before Richie came out. They played “Somebody Put Somethin In My Drink,” and “Judy is a Headbanger,” and it was mas dope. I went to the show with Harmony Hertzog, my lady and fellow zinester, and having seen The Queers with her twice, we had to share a look when Richie came out. It was cool seeing him again, but it turned our once-in-a-lifetime experience into a twice-in-a-lifetime shrug and a smile. Maybe I’m just not hardcore enough of a Ramones fan.

After The Queers, The Weasel was up to bat. Everyone but Ben came out to start off with their instrumental intro, “Il Tremendo Fantasma,” from Baby Fat, Act I. It was pretty good, but the pathway to backstage revealed an Elvisy-jacket clad Ben Weasel performing his pre-show deep-thigh stretches, and I honestly lost hope at that moment. I had a feeling it was not gonna go well.

Now’s a good time, I think, to bring up my pre-concert findings. A month or so before the show in Santa Ana, I really started digging into who Screeching Weasel was. I found out about the incident during their South by Southwest Festival that happened in March, 2011: Frontman Ben Weasel essentially just had a meltdown, decked a chick from the crowd in the face and started swinging at another to the extent that he had to be held back by roadies. Some time after the show, the other members of the band had collectively stated that they wouldn’t be touring for a while after that incident. Ben then turned around and stated that he’s going to continue performing and producing content, and replacing the rest of the band that didn’t stick by him, very shortly after Dan Vapid’s interview with Squid Pro Quo goes up about the upcoming tour, what it’s like to be in Screeching Weasel, and what to expect from the new album/line-up.

Before that, he tried to have a fight, via social media, with Fat Wreck Chords founder Fat Mike after they dropped Screeching Weasel from their label. The whole thing seemed a bit childish, but Weasel repeatedly tried calling Fat Mike out over social media. Fans rallied behind him because they thought it was bullshit, but it’s common sense. You write a song bashing all kinds of shit that the owner of your record label does, yeah… he might not like that.

Before either of those childish tantrums is a long line of ex-members in the Screeching Weasel history books… some with, and some without explanations for their leaving. In total, the band has gone through 21 members since they began in 1986, Ben Weasel being the only member that has been there through the whole show. Not a great picture to paint for the lead singer, here. It’s nothing to make a big deal about I suppose. Other bands have much more awkward circumstances surrounding them, like the monopoly over the Black Flag name and all it’s worth…

But hey, all that aside, I really like the music. They have a lot of really thought-provoking content. I’ll continue to listen to the music despite what I think of the singer. He’s definitely not the worse person in punk rock. It’s just sad that someone with such an insight could be so ignorant at the same time, and so careless about what his out-of-song words and actions mean to his fans. Yeah, he apologized for the girls from the South by Southwest Festival, but here’s what happened at the observatory:

Ben Weasel comes out, and they played a bunch of their old songs. It was really fuckin good. They played really well, proved that they could still play like they were 20… despite three out of four members being replacements for replacements twice over. They recently had a new album come out: Baby Fat, Act 1. Ben was cool enough to ask if we wanted to hear the new songs or not, which was an obvious no, and for the most part only played a couple.

There wasn’t much time left in the show. As I said, they were still very good. Their musical capabilities have not aged. If you long for Boogada Boogada Boogada, you’ll hear just that if you see them live. But towards the end of the show, a girl tossed her beer up on stage. Not an uncommon thing at a live punk show–but you wouldn’t know it by the way Ben and the roadies acted. They tore after her, Ben abandoning any attempt of finishing the song. The rest of the band kept going, but Ben, then standing atop a stack of amplifiers yells into the microphone, “fuck you, you fat fucking cunt,” over and over.
Taking a beat, Ben then tells us how people are “so pathetic that they tried and failed to throw me off my game.” Really man? Cause it looks like she did. I have a hard time believing that someone who’s played punk rock shows for 26 years hasn’t come to expect he might get some beer splashed on him. Hell, I don’t even drink and I usually leave punk shows with my clothes fully soaked in beer.

Like I said, the show was a really good show. In the end, after all the drama, I’m glad I went. I had a good time, and honestly, I was waiting for something to happen. I still listen to Screeching Weasel and NoFX; sorry if that makes me an unloyal, shitty fan. They’re both up there on my list of favorite bands. I don’t have a problem with it, and Fat Mike certainly doesn’t. He just stays the hell out of it, because reading all of the shit Ben tried starting up via social media is exhausting. And listening to him bitch about Fat Mike on his eponymous, self proclaiming and self indulgent podcast is one of the most painful things I’ve sat through.

Ben is the only one who still cares apparently. One kid at the show was walking around wearing a NoFX shirt, and Ben just haaaaad to say something. He said “aww, you’re still young. You’ll learn.”
If you have a chance to go to a Screeching Weasel show, do it. Just be prepared for some wacky shit. They play really well, they play a lot from the older chapters of their catalog, and they have been touring with a lot of great bands the last couple of years, but new and older bands. And don’t throw ice at the stage, no matter how drunk you are.

Fat Mike’s “Home Street Home.” Reviewed by Taylor Farner.

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This is certainly something very different from anything else Fat Mike has produced. Noticed, this is by Fat Mike, not NoFX. All of the songs were written by Fat Mike, as well as the lyrics, along with additional lyrics by his girlfriend (or wife now?) Soma Snakeoil and Jeff Marx, creator of Broadway musical Avenue Q. I’m reviewing the album, which is not really what the whole project was about. It was about the musical titled Home Street Home. The cover is even slugged, “Hit songs from the (s)hit musical.” It’s a musical about dirty drug abusing punks that are living out on the street. But it’s that… it’s a musical, not a punk album. The project as a whole is genius and puts a smile on my face; it’s an artist branching out and doing something other than what’s expected of him. Throughout his musical career, Fat Mike has been eclectic: NoFX changed from a hardcore outfit, softening up, playing melodic hardcore, pop-punk, ska, and doing a wide variety of covers from all different genres in Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. So, go Fat Mike!

Okay, the record… Some facts: the record has a lot of cameo performances by other members of punk bands. I don’t know who exactly sang what and where, but Matt Skiba was on the record as well as tried out for the musical. The story behind it comes from experiences in both Fat Mike and Soma Snakeoil’s lives. I don’t want to say I related to the album because I thankfully can’t, but it totally let me try on their shoes, or at least hear what it’s like to be in them. I grew up in a very fortunate house: I didn’t have to spend nights on the street, abuse drugs, or sell my body to get along. I know there were people out there and there are now. But it’s easy to forget and ignore when you aren’t walking around LA, or just being unfortunate enough to live in a messed up household. Some people are well off, but just fall into a bad situation.

The record also goes beyond that. There are people who were thrown into situations like that, but have become content with it, and have grown out of it, and made it a part of who they are. They’ve evolved out of the lifestyle and turned a bad situation, to them, into a good one. Through all of the misery and drug overdoses and the loss of friends, some come out of it stronger for it. Then you take people like them… the drug abusers, the people abandoned to the streets, and looked down upon because they don’t have jobs or didn’t grow up to be these contributing members of society, when really they had no choice. It’s a miserable situation, both then and now, and it’s very real.

Something like this coming from Fat Mike speaks to his ability of playing anything any way he wants. An immediate reaction might be to see the subject matter he’s written about, drug abuse, turning tricks, drinking your life away, trying to kill yourself… it might be easy to see all those things as trying to get shock value, especially in a Broadway musical setting. But really, it’s just honest. There isn’t a man eating a sheep out on the cover, they’ve made a point to put their own lives into these songs. It took them a long time to get the project finished, but it’s been well worth all the effort they put in. If you like punk, you probably have to be in the right state of mind going into it to really appreciate it, but it’s worth it to at least hear the stories.

Baldur’s Brews #1

Welcome to Baldur’s Brews: where a klutzy, overly curious engineer explores the often overlooked world of coffee.

By Luis Balderrama

Understanding My Coffee Background:
When I first began drinking coffee my first year in college, my whole world of coffee was based around a coffee drip machine. College was driven by it and it was one of the most useful tools I had to keep me up for hours on end. My coffee gradually got stronger and stronger the more I needed caffeine. I read that there was more caffeine in the less roasted beans, so I basically just loaded up light roasts in my machine as much as I could. I had great success with it. I got to try out lots of flavored coffee creamers and all that jazz to make your cup of brew even better. But in general the stronger the coffee, the better. Out of college, I never really looked twice at coffee. It just was. I knew some was better than others…and that was about it. I had heard about coffee snobbery, but it was something that I never really looked into. It was just a world I knew existed. It wasn’t until recently that I decided I would dive into this world of coffee, and frankly, I ruined coffee for myself. I utterly ruined my view on coffee.

How it All Started:
It began with my curiosity: I decided that I wanted to become proficient with a French Press coffee maker. I am fortunate enough to have a hot water faucet at my place of work, so I don’t have to boil anything or bring provisions to heat up water, so, I figured I would give it a try. At first, I began just pouring regular ground coffee into the pot and experimenting with that. It was indeed different, but I couldn’t figure out why people were so gung ho about the apparatus. Then I began to research the tried and true methods for making some seriously good coffee. I began to read about the 3 stages of coffee brewing, the types of flavors you can get from a coffee bean and how the grind of the bean affects the outcome of the flavor profile. Being an engineer, something went off in my head. I had to run experiments and figure out how all of these flavors came together and how they changed with grind coarseness. I acquired an old coffee grinder that had the ability to adjust the coarseness of the grind. Perfect. I started buying whole bean coffee and grind it myself with my snazzy grinder. Immediately, I was able to tell a difference in flavor. I began experimenting with the time I steeped the beans and the flavors that came out. It was a new discovery every day. One thing led to another, and nowadays I roast my own coffee and I manually grind the beans right before I make the start brewing, just to make sure it is the freshest and most flavorful pot of French Press it can be. Here is the beginning of the downfall of regular brew for me. The exposure to this amazing coffee has ruined a regular cup for me. I cannot go anywhere without analyzing the flavor profile of each cup. Don’t get me wrong, I will drink a cup anywhere I can get one, but I can’t help but analyze it the entire time. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. I rather enjoy being a connoisseur of coffee. Getting a cup of coffee now seems like such an adventure. I want to try out what different places have to offer. Like someone who has just lost his virginity, I want to go explore this new world. I have become one of those people.

Coffee Roasting: Experimental Tips
For those of you who are already roasting your own coffee, I urge you to give this a try. And for those of you who want to roast your own coffee, DO IT. Also, try this experiment. It’s very fun, DANGEROUS, and tasty. So I have been grilling for more than a couple years, but not a lot. One thing that I very much enjoy is cooking steaks. But what I like about it is the smoking aspect of grilling. I love trying different woods to see how the flavors affect the taste of a good cut. So, a couple weeks after I began roasting coffee, I had this idea. Why can’t coffee be smoked like a steak? It will still roast due to the heat, but instead of putting steaks on the grill, put in some green Burundi coffee beans. I gave it a shot. I started up my grill and got it up to around 450°F. I placed prepared wet cherry wood chips into the coals along with dry ones. Once the smoke was pouring out of the grill, I placed the beans, which were in a pan, on the grill. I monitored the beans and moved them around as necessary, but for the most part, I let them soak up as much of the smoke as possible. Once it was at about a dark medium roast [the second crack], I took them out and cooled them. A few hours later I ground them up and put them in a French press. Success. The smokiness did not overpower the flavor of the bean, but rather elevated it. It was delicious. So it got me thinking, why doesn’t smoked coffee really exist? Turns out, it does, but it’s a very small market. So go out there and smoke some coffee. You won’t regret it.

Feature Coffee Joint to Hit Up: Full of Beans, Ojai, CA
I cannot recommend this place enough. I very much enjoy going here and grabbing a cup of Joe. I absolutely love driving, so getting to this place is always a pleasure. It’s out on the CA 33 on the way to the CA 150. The drive is very scenic, but once you get there and you step in, you are met with this super cool, artsy vibe. Lots of warm, welcoming colors adorn the walls and the outdoor furniture. What I found interesting about the place was that among this cool artsy vibe was this touch of motorcycles, and being a fan of old-school stuff, I really enjoyed the combination. Enough about the location, let’s talk brews. They have a bunch of different types of coffees available and I can’t say that I favor any one more than another; it’s all solid coffee. They have different roasts and beans. Try them all, but be prepared to serve yourself your own cup. I liked that aspect of it because I could mix up any types that I wanted. I had that flexibility, but I know that some enjoy the service of having it poured for them. Either way, it’s still a great experience. They have snacks and wraps, but I recommend getting a cup of Joe and a dessert. They have brownies, and small little cakes that are delish. Also, Dave, the owner of the place, looks intimidating when he rides in on his old Shovelhead Harley, but he is such a cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. They also have live music on weekends which just makes the scene so much cooler. So, if you want to go out of your way a little bit for some awesome ambiance, great coffee, and cool music, check out Full of Beans.

Artwork by Michael Ishibashi
Artwork by Michael Ishibashi

Failure’s “The Heart is a Monster.” Reviewed by Douglas Peyton.

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Holy shit. After nearly twenty years, it finally happened.

Failure released a follow up album to Fantastic Planet.

If that means nothing to you, there is something missing from your life. Fantastic Planet is easily the most underrated, ambitious, and downright sonically awe-inspiring record of the post-grunge era; it’s basically porn for audiophiles.

That being said, it’s hard not to compare The Heart Is A Monster to Fantastic Planet; the sensation is akin to watching a movie rendition of your favorite book. But in order to give Failure’s newest release its due praise, it’s best to put Fantastic Planet back on the shelf. It’ll be there for you when nostalgia strikes back.

To be honest, I really wanted to hate the new record. I wanted to bitch and moan about creative authenticity, about how the angst of youth is lost on bands that survive the turmoil of their early successes and release material long after their seminal years.

Well, I was wrong. Sorry, Failure.

The Heart Is A Monster kicks ass. Thanks to band leader Ken Andrew’s audio wizardry, Failure’s sound remains signature: the guitars are layered thicker than a wedding cake sprinkled with delay and dissonance, Greg Edwards’s bass growls louder than a grizzly bear, and Kellii Scott’s cymbals splash like drops of dark matter in outer space. Not only that, Ken Andrew’s voice sounds as strong and melancholic as ever, drawing you deeper into the landscape of space rock Failure is famous for.

I gave the record a number of listens. On the whole, “Hot Traveller”, “Counterfeit Sky”, and “Come Crashing” seem to be the most accurate depictions of what the band has become over the years. Drawing upon influences of all their separate musical endeavors post-Fantastic Planet (most notably, Queens of the Stone Age, Year of the Rabbit, and Autolux), these tracks sound like a collaboration between musician’s who’ve spent the last twenty years writing music, not lamenting over what could’ve been. However, while they do retain a certain “hit” appeal, they lack some of the melodic intricacies that Failure’s songs typically embody—a quality that separated them from the masses of post-grunge imitators and lazier shoe-gazers. The songs drive, but leave you wishing for a longer ride.

For those looking for some good old-fashioned Failure head nodding, you’re in luck: two of the album’s tracks date back to the band’s formative years. “Petting the Carpet” and “I Can See Houses” originally appeared as live recordings on the band’s DVD release Golden, having never been laid down in the studio. Well, here they are, polished, full of the atmosphere and open-ended musical arrangements one would expect when listening to early Failure. And adding to the sentimental listening experience, The Heart Is A Monster is packed with “Segue” tracks (#’s 4-9), which branch off the original musical segues that appeared on Fantastic Planet (#’s 1-3)—a little Easter egg for the avid fans.

For all the record’s merits though, there are a few scratches on the surface of this gem. “Mulholland Dr.” and “Atom City Queen” are a bit of a detour. I imagined “Mulholland Dr.” as the brainchild of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, that is, if both bands dropped even more acid and turned up their guitar distortion. That doesn’t necessarily make it bad, especially considering the references it evokes, but the song felt misplaced, pulling the listener out of the Failure soundscape.

Despite the brief departures, The Heart Is A Monster is a great album. Failure tips their hat to sound that inspired their cultish fan-base, while remaining available to new listeners and adapting to the vast changes which have occurred in the world of audio production since the group last huddled in the studio. For those of you who have been waiting as eagerly as I have…well, you probably already bought the record.

I hope you can agree: it was worth the wait.

Thanks, Failure. We missed you.

A Trip Back in Time: Bad Religion’s “Process of Belief.” Reviewed by Harmony Hertzog.

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Rather than write a review of something new, which I almost always hate at first because I don’t like change and new things, I thought I’d remind everyone of The Process of Belief by Bad Religion, which was released in 2002. I know 13 years is kind of a random time, but I had to be honest with myself and admit that The New America, which came out in 2000, really did kind of suck. That album was the first one to gain mainstream attention with the title track “New America,” which sounded nothing like the Bad Religion everyone was used to. If you ask almost any veteran punk, they will tell you The New America is the worst Bad Religion album ever, they sold out, etc. I defended that album for a long time, as it came out when I was in my formative years, but I have to jump on the bandwagon (slightly grudgingly) and admit The New America doesn’t even break the top 10 of Best Things Bad Religion Ever Produced.

I feel like The Process of Belief was heavily ignored by the non-mainstream due to the reception of The New America. Obviously the album did well; everyone knows “Sorrow,” and it peaked 30-some-odd points higher on Billboard than The New America. But even then, I don’t know many people who are into punk without being Bad Religion fans that remember The Process of Belief. Since I don’t play music, I can only judge as a consumer. My standards are somewhat low; I like the basic instruments (guitars, drums, bass) played fast while still being more music than noise, with melodic vocals that are some combination of intelligent, witty, and/or entertaining (read: I am able to sing along). This album meets my somewhat mediocre standards, but music is so much more than that: this album makes me feel. The New America, overall, did not make me feel anything. In contrast, The Process of Belief really made me think and feel about things outside my 16 year-old inherently narcissistic self. I didn’t understand what “Kyoto Now!” was about at the time, but I knew shit was bad, and that song made me angry. Rightfully so, covering up nuclear disasters is generally frowned upon. “Sorrow,” even despite being completely played out, still encourages me to love my neighbor, in complete opposition to my general apathy toward everyone who isn’t my cat. “Evangeline” is rather cryptic, but it always made me proud to be an atheist, if only because what’s mine is mine and I don’t have to worry about any omnipotent being judging me. Similar feelings arose due to “Destined for Nothing.” That song is far more transparent, with lyrics like “headed for eternity and destined for nothing,” making me happy that I was living for myself and not for some interpretation of a 2000+ year-old book. The last song that gave me particularly peculiar feelings was “You Don’t Belong.” When I was 16, I was like, yeah, outcast anthem! But after hearing the song a few times I was like, no, wait, no one is special..? I didn’t know at the time who most of the people in the song were, save Milo, GG, and Jack, two of which I did, and still do, look up to as people who “don’t belong.”* I decided this song really was dedicated to me. And you. Yeah, you.

If you don’t know who Bad Religion is, The Process of Belief is a good place to start. No, it is not their best album by punk standards, but I feel like this is their most encompassing, mass-friendly album that is not offensive to long time Bad Religion fans. And if you are a Bad Religion fan, revisit this album. If you’re still holding a grudge about them being sellouts, maybe this last purist fact will help: The Process of Belief was their first album back on Epitaph Records and ushered the return of Brett Gurewitz. There is bound to be at least one song on the album that is meaningful to you, and meaning is what it’s really all about, right?
*Milo is Milo Auckerman of the Descendents, who took a hiatus from the band in order to obtain a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and still plays to this day in between bouts of scientific research.
*GG is GG Allen. Look him up.
*Jack is Jack Grisham, lead singer of T.S.O.L and infamous cross-dresser. He also ran for governor in the clusterfuck that was the 2003 California governor reelection. I, and approximately 2,000 other people, voted for him.

Blunt Knife Idol’s “Greed Heritage.” Reviewed by Luis Balderrama.

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Blunt Knife Idol’s Greed Heritage is the a solid example of some great grindcore. The guitars are heavy, fast,  and very aggressive and the vocals match that aggressive tone of the guitars and drums by layering on the very top of the mix.  What’s extremely impressive is how accurate and clean the entire band is during rhythm and tempo changes. It’s this organized chaos sound which just makes it that much better. It’s very nicely executed. They also incorporate some death metal and black metal styles into their music without straying away from rock solid grindcore.

“Perished” and “The Last Steps to Heaven” are the comedic breaks to the album. “Perished”   begins with the sound of a string ensemble,  so I was pleasantly surprised to hear something different, but quite suddenly, the serenity is cut short. It’s a nice and artistic statement. “The last steps to heaven” begins with a clip of “Stairway to Heaven” but again, the serenity is broken very nicely. Both of these songs put a smile on my face.

“Collapsed Into Nothing” begins with this eerie guitar riff. There is tons of dissonance in the chords and plenty of off beat rhythms coming from the drummer to challenge the listener’s sense of tempo. It brings a sense of black metal touch to the album.

“Celebrate the Indulgence” has an almost classic rock intro. The entire band really showcases how tight and clean their rhythms are. Tempo changes are clean and nothing seems to be off in terms of synchronization.

“Greed Heritage” is a solid first album for these guys and a solid grindcore album in general.