A Little Night Music

I never listened to music when I went to bed as a kid. I don’t remember wearing headphones with tunes blasting into my ears as I floated off to dream land. I don’t even recall having a music box playing lullabies as a little one, either. What I do remember was using a fan to go to sleep. Even in the dead of winter the slow hum of an oscillating fan would get me to sleep faster than anything(even to this day it does.) Something about white noise always lulls me into sleep.

In my early 20s, when my wife and I moved into an apartment together, that changed. We bought a Sony Dream Machine, which was basically an alarm clock with a CD player. We started listening to CDs as we went to bed. Bela Fleck’s Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream, an Andres Segovia collection, and even some new age-y “nature sounds” CD were featured during Hubner bedtime.

I don’t know what changed from childhood to adulthood, but music was something that became a staple of bedtime. Maybe it was the fact that we had a CD player in our alarm clock, so why not? Now that I think of it, it was probably more because we lived in an apartment complex with lots of buildings with lots of tenants moving about all hours of the night. We were on the second floor, so it wasn’t as bad. But things were still noisy and anything we could do to drown out the banter from 2A or the arguing in 3C or the partying at the pool, the better.

From adulthood to parenthood that process of music at night continued. Each of the kids had some sort of night music contraption. First in their cribs with a night light that played lullabies. My favorite was one that attached to the side of the crib and played these beautiful versions of lullabies. The songs were very jazzy but sweet. I can remember, with the light off in their room, pushing the button to turn it on. It would begin playing and these low-glowing lights would come on. I’d sit in the rocker that was in the nursery and I rocked two out of three of the kids to sleep with that music box(our oldest essentially slept with us the first 9 months, so no rocking was necessary.)

As they got older, we went from a music box to a boom box. Our daughters shared a bedroom for awhile when our son was born. You wouldn’t know it now that they’re 18 and 15, but when they were 6 and 3 they got along really well. My wife and I gave them our master bedroom while we moved into a smaller room. They had a bunk bed and lots of room to play. I would often tell them bedtime stories, which consisted of bizarre, on-the-fly tales about Dr. Mindbender and his two assistants, Claire and Audrey. Or sometimes there were tales about Claire and Audrey going home through some Gothic woods and being chased by forest gnomes and aliens disguised as their least favorite grandma. Though the stories may have scared them, they asked for more adventures every night. When the tales were over, I tucked them into bed and put on Bedtime With the Beatles by Jason Falkner.

My son never quite caught onto the music at bedtime ritual, but my 15-year old still falls asleep every night with headphones on. She says it’s hard for her to fall asleep without something playing. My wife and I upgraded the Sony Dream Machine years ago, but the CD player no longer works. So we fall asleep to the oscillating hum of a tower fan. Through the mechanical wind and the mini-motor mechanism housed in Chinese plastic I sometimes think I can hear a faint song. Maybe Monk? Maybe Fleck? Or maybe a soft jazz version of “Rock-a-bye-baby”.

Before I can figure out that imagined song I’m usually asleep, lost in thoughts of simpler times and sweeter times. When bedtime was made up adventures involving two little girls, a crazy scientist, and aliens disguised and grandmas, and everyone fell asleep to “Across The Universe”.

Night Fantasies and Other Indiscretions

I’d always heard the name Umberto in musical circles here and there over the years and assumed it was the name of some aging Italian composer. Maybe by day he wrote scores for Giallo films and Italian daytime soaps, then by night he hit the Milan discos and laid down some serious disco grooves for Monica Vitti, Laura Antonelli, and Claudia Cardinale to lose their minds to. I mean, with a name like Umberto that narrative seemed to make the most sense. I bet he even double dated with Giorgio Moroder from time to time.

But of course I was completely wrong. The name Umberto is the nom de plume of Los Angeles-based musician and composer Matt Hill. I delved into his musical world around the same time I picked up his collaborative LP with Antoni Maiovvi(aka Anton Maiof from Bristol, UK) called Law Unit. The first album I heard was his newest called Alienation. A mixture of subtle dance grooves and melancholy eeriness, that was a good starting point for me. I delved back further into the Umberto discography and listened to La Llorona, From The Grave, Prophecy of the Black Widow, and Night Has A Thousand Screams. All of these albums varied in different ways, but all carried with them the feel of melancholy and the macabre. They all lived within groove and gruesome.

Out of all the albums in the Umberto canon, the one I seemed to connect with the most was 2013s Confrontations.  There seemed to be just the right amount of distant techno dance grooves, eerie vibes, and Gothic, melancholy sadness to sustain me for a lifetime in the crypt. This record would be the perfect score for an alien abduction, a stroll through a haunted castle, or a demonic possession.

It’s very multifaceted.

I’ll start out with the track that hit me the hardest. “The Summoning” is just pure melancholy and melodrama. It seems to beckon from beyond the grave, inviting the living to join the dead in some ritualistic and macabre dance. Dario or Lucio would have definitely asked Umberto for his musical handiwork back in the 70s had that been a possibility. It’s such a great track.

“Final Revelation” feels like it skips a decade with its ‘DX-7 filling in for 80s electric piano’ sound. It sits somewhere between Phantasm and Nightmare On Elm Street in regards to mood. Then the song shifts gears a bit halfway thru for an almost videogame sound, ala Castlevania. Still very 80s, but we go from movies to NES. I quite like that.

“Initial Revelation” has a opening credits lean to it. You can almost see a slow, steadicam shot thru some abandoned city streets that lead up to a dilapidated house where horrors beyond horrors occurred. Credits roll by as we make our way thru this “house of horrors”.

“Confrontation” goes for a Walter Rizzati vibe. Very House By The Cemetery, and the Gothic voices doing their “Ahhs” send chills down the spine.

“The Invasion” is the last thing you hear before you’re whisked up into the spacecraft and are never heard of again. Subtle, slow moving, and ominous as it makes its way into your ears, it’s the perfect way to say goodbye to this great album(and this reality as we know it.)

As far as imagined soundtracks and spooky grooves go, Confrontations has it all. There’s also a subtle sadness that permeates the entire album that gives it an almost timeless feel.

I can only imagine that Matt Hill was as directly affected by 70s and 80s horror and sci fi as I was. He captures that late night movie vibe perfectly. As cheesy as they may seem now, back then those films captured my imagination like no other film did(yeah, even more so than E.T.) And those scores that accompanied scenes of dread and gore, they lived on far longer than the films themselves. That’s obvious when I listen to an Umberto album.

Confrontations, especially.

‘Hereditary’ and the New Age of Horror Cinema

I sat for just a little over two hours last night in a cold, darkened theater and watched a film unfold into one of the most disturbing horror films I’ve seen in a very long time. It wasn’t horror in the sense of monsters, jump scares, demons thrashing about, or horny teenagers being hacked to death in the throes of drug-fueled passion. No, the horror I watched on screen yesterday ran far deeper and dysfunctional than anything a guy in a ski mask or fedora could come up with. It was a family in turmoil because of a death. A death that caused more relief than sadness(at least for 3 out of the 4.) But it was a death that opened an existential wound from which deep dark secrets made themselves known. A supernatural force rose from this family rift and wreaked havoc for two hours, leaving my son and I sitting in that cold, darkened theater as the end credits rolled with a sense we just watched pure mind-melting brilliance. We were also left reeling from two hours of dread, tension, disturbing images, supernatural violence, and an ending that completely hollows you out.

It was everything horror should be.

What we saw last night was Ari Aster’s Hereditary, and if you couldn’t guess I absolutely loved it. From the cast to the writing to the cinematography to the score, everything came together brilliantly. The film is a tour-de-force of a family melodrama; a family melodrama steeped in cults, ghosts, overwhelming tragedy, resentment, mental illness, intricately-created dioramas, creepy grandmas, a treehouse, lots of getting high, and truly disturbed teens. It’s not an easy film. It’s densely layered with hints of what this family is about, but nothing is laid out for you to easily digest. And when you get to the point in Hereditary when you realize you are indeed seeing what you’re seeing you have no time to prepare yourself for those last 15 minutes. It’s utterly fucked up in the best way possible.

As a lifelong fan of horror, I’ve seen my share of bluster over “the scariest movie ever made” and “the most disturbing film in years”, as well as “the most frightening film in years”. I cannot stand that sort of hyperbole in regards to horror cinema(or any cinema.) It’s disingenuous(while I loved It Comes At Night, that was sold as something it was not.) Everything is subject to the person watching. One might find it absolutely brilliant, while another is going to call it rubbish. That’s how it is. So with that in mind, Hereditary isn’t “the scariest movie ever made”. That goes to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer(don’t argue!). But what Hereditary is, is one of the best horror films I have seen in a long time. From the get go you have the feeling that you’re watching something quite unique. There’s a psychic dread that hangs over everything; from the opening shot of grandma’s newspaper obituary to that last batshit, haunting shot. Aster has a clear vision and a unique voice from which to tell this story. He is also quite brilliant in his casting choices.

With Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as the mom(Annie Graham) and dad(Steve Graham) you have two veteran actors which to build the story around. Ann Dowd as the mysterious friend Joan adds both a smiling, great aunt sort of comfort as well as a twinge of silent speculation in regards to her intents. The true two surprises here are Alex Wolff as Peter Graham and Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham. The children in the Graham family play the biggest roles in this spiritual and psychic battle of sorts that’s raging throughout the film. Both of these two are incredible in their roles and portray these characters as real teens, not hyper-stylized versions of you’d see on Disney XD or a CW series. Of course, given what’s going down in this film there’s a morbid and disturbed lean happening with both of them.

The cast is small, but super tight. Everyone clicks(just like Charlie) perfectly here. And for my money, Toni Collette should win a damn academy award, with Wolff getting a best supporting actor nod(my opinion, leave yours below.)

Is this movie for everyone? Hell no it’s not. Then again, neither was The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook, Blackcoat’s Daughter, RAW, The Devil’s Candy, and It Comes At Night. There seems to be a new generation of voices rising from the ashes of shitty slasher films and regurgitated horror remakes that want to truly disturb us, while also telling a real story. There’s a lot of horror fans that don’t want to necessarily think about what they’re watching. They just want to be “entertained”, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s like going to the circus, or a football game. You don’t have to think about that kind of entertainment. You sit in your seat with a bag of popcorn or a warm beer and you laugh and yell “Look at the clowns!” or “DEFENSE!! DEFENSE!! DEFENSE!!” while your brain goes on autopilot for a couple of hours. There’s no intellectual engagement involved. I do that with baking shows and reruns of Burn Notice and Regular Show.

But as someone who does enjoy higher thinking and sometimes difficult art I am very excited about the prospect of a new generation of horror filmmakers that want to get our synapses firing and truly disturb us with their art. I want to be challenged. Much like I want more in my music than a good beat and catchy melody(but man I do love a good beat and a catchy melody), I want my horror films to challenge me. And challenging horror has been hard to come by the last 15 to 20 years(with a few outliers thrown in here and there.) With filmmakers like Ari Aster, David Robert Mitchell, Robert Eggers, Sean Byrne, Oz Perkins, Julia Ducournau and Trey Edward Shults making films in the future I feel confident that I will be intellectually and viscerally stimulated for years to come.

I think it’s a good time to be a fan of horror cinema. Hereditary made me very aware of that yesterday afternoon. Go see it.

Sleep’s “Leagues Beneath”

As if our 4/20 surprise wasn’t enough, Sleep have continued to put a big, dumb smile on my face into June with another track courtesy of the Adult Swim singles series. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the mammoth, and woolly, “Leagues Beneath”.

Truth be told, Sleep’s first Adult Swim single series track “The Clarity” was the first thing I ever bought from the California band. I can remember hearing the song back in 2014 and then buying up a copy of the 10 inch single as soon as it was offered up. That song showed that the band could continue to sludge through Sabbathian riffs as if hatched from eggs laid by the doom metal pioneers themselves, while still sounding modern and “of the times”, as it were. I listened to that single often that summer, and then quickly found an indica-colored copy of Dopesmoker to frighten my family with for years to come(the family wasn’t that scared of it…the boy and I used to have Beyblade battles whilst jamming out to the hour-long ode to the Weedians.)

As far as how “Leagues Beneath” sounds? Well, it’s the proto-Sleep track: trudging rhythms, churning riffage, and chanted vocals that are part grunt and Gregorian chant.

It’s classic Sleep, man.

Matt Pike lays on some serious noodling within this 16-minute chugging metal epic. Towards the end things get ethereal; doom heavy is replaced with a mellow, floating in space vibe. Somewhere between Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” and Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. This part gets me excited, because I’d love to hear Sleep delve into some more dreamy, spaced-out soundscapes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Weedian riffage and Vibranium-heavy tunes as much as the next guy that doesn’t get high but digs Sleep’s trip, but adding in those quieter moments would only make Pike, Cisneros, and Roeder that much more dynamic(and really, what does a stoner love more than heavy riffage? Spacey vibes. And Doritos.)

Okay, so get out there and enjoy your Friday, people. I’m continuing to work hard to bring you the quality reads. Me and my army of monkeys will keep offering up music and life musings as long as you’re reading. Hell, even if you’re not reading I’ll still be here.

TGIF, folks.

Vi Res : Cold Century

Michael Figucio’s musical project Vi Res dabbles in the darker, colder realms of heavy synth music. When I listen to something like Lost Score or Silent Collective I get the feeling of watching some deeply abused VHS tape I rented for a Friday night viewing. Seedy scenes of city streets and midnight clubs, black leather and neon lights. Those first few releases captured the feel of those single synth scores that ingrained themselves into my brain as an 80s kid watching things far beyond my maturity level. Stuff like Maniac, Ms. 45, The Keep, and Escape From New York made as much an impact on me with their scores as they did with their B-movie exploitation and neo-futuristic shock. Figucio locked into those vibes and brought them back with his releases.

Since 2016, Vi Res has dropped a couple collections of music, as well as several singles(and were featured on the excellent SNDTRK compilation.) Vi Res just released a new album called Cold Century, and Figucio’s knack for mood building continues with this excellent new release.

There is as palpable mood shift when you first hit play on Cold Century. The darkness usually associated with a Vi Res release is decidedly lit with neo-futuristic tones as “Intro To Cold Century” opens the album. The bubbly, analog moods are more reminiscent of Vangelis and Jean Michel-Jarre than Slasher Film Festival Strategy and John Carpenter. It hits you in the face like a chilly ocean breeze. Title track “Cold Century” continues the Blade Runner vibes to stunning effect. Figucio has set out to create something bolder in scope here and these two opening tracks are proof of that. “Love Theme(From Cold Century)” wavers and pulsates like the best love themes do.

Despite the grander scope and neo-futuristic themes there is still a low key vibe here. The main synths used are the Yamaha CS-80, Juno 60, and the DX-7, which if you know much about classic synths are kind of the holy grails of classic early 80s sounds. Figucio’s deft touch proves immeasurable in world building with these masterful machines.

But all is not steeped in cold light and phosphorescent glow on Cold Century. “Sub Zero” emanates with sickly waves of dread in the best ways possible, while “Intermission Music” sounds like what would’ve happened if Devo had gotten into scoring science fiction films in the early 80s. Ghostly synth wavers like a theremin over a synthetic motorik beat. There are also two tracks included here that were recent single releases. “Staple” and “Pulse” are both epic tracks that capture desolation perfectly within their dark corridors. “Pulse” toils and turns with droning perfection while “Staple” ends the record on a melancholy note, revisiting those Jarre vibes as we’re sent off into the cold, dark night to fend for ourselves.

Cold Century is the best Vi Res album yet. It feels to be the strongest narrative-wise and concept-wise, as well as being emotionally engaging. It instantly grabs you and doesn’t let go until the journey ends. Darkness and light engage with each other here, giving us more of a dawn or dusk kind of record. It’s either a beautiful beginning or ending. Either way, it’s beautiful nonetheless.

8. 2 out of 10

Grab a copy here, both digitally or on limited edition cassette. 

What Next?

It’s really starting to settle in. The whole graduation and college thing. Before, we were so worked up about the process of graduation and planning an open house that I didn’t really have time to let all of it sink in.

It’s sinking in now.

18 years have come and gone. We started out not knowing what we were doing as parents. Feeling our way through it all, hoping we wouldn’t stumble along the way(we did now and again, but we got back up.) When you’re concentrating on the little moments, you sometimes miss the bigger ones. That’s parenting, though. If you could go back in time you’d tell your younger self all kinds of things(enjoy play time, and nap time, and don’t be so uptight, and put $100 back a month for college), but that’s not how it works. You can’t go back in time. You just have to live with the choices you’ve made and hope there are no regrets.

I have a couple, but not how I raised my children. They argue and nitpick at each other. There’s some petty whining now and again and disagreements about who is doing what chore, but they all love each other. They can sit at the kitchen table and make each other laugh like nobody’s business. They occasionally speak in their own language; secreted code that is revealed in various “vines” and weird Youtube channels. Movie and book references are strewn throughout the day, and harking back to nearly forgotten moments when they were kids that they seem to recall as if it were yesterday.

The dust has now settled on high school graduation. The last two years of going to school two hours from home have ended. Her stint at the prestigious Indiana Academy came and went, leaving great memories and lifelong friends to take with her for years to come. It was challenging for me to see her leave home at 16-years old, but she proved me wrong in that she handled it all with maturity and grace. We are now settling into the summer break before college. Work schedules have been made, appointments scheduled, and payment plans negotiated with what will be our daughter’s home for the next four years. Maybe we can all get away for a few days before the summer ends, but that aforementioned payment plan might not allow that.

So we just enjoy being together while we can, when we can. We’ll take the laughs and dinners around the dining room table as they come. Afternoon coffees, and Friday night movies. The bigger moments will come whether we’re ready for them or not. They’re inevitable. But those little moments, those are what build a life and a home. Those are what fill 18 years and make it seem as if they just blew by like a three-day weekend. Photo albums filled with memories trapped in chemicals and light prove I existed as a young dad wondering if I was doing the right things. Putting these words down prove I survived it and maybe even did right by my high school graduate.

I still don’t know a hell of a lot, but I’m getting closer to not worrying so much about it.

 

Oneohtrix Point Never : Age Of

Daniel Lopatin’s musical worlds are labyrinthine to say the least. A Oneohtrix Point Never record is like some vast, crystalline museum where you bask in the beauty of art, ancient objects, and philosophies that you don’t quite understand but they entrance you nonetheless. Lopatin curates walks through his psyche with each successive record; each one becomes clearer yet harder to define.

On 2015s Garden Of Delete, Lopatin took OPN into its most accessible direction yet, attempting an alien melding of both metal and pop music. Of course, coming from Daniel Lopatin accessible is a relative term. There was also a teenage alien blogger name Ezra. No matter how upfront and accessible Daniel Lopatin wants to take his music, there’s always going to be an element of the bizarre or ethereal.

I thank him for that.

After last year’s excellent Good Time S/T, along with Lopatin’s recent MYRIAD multimedia show in Brooklyn, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a couple months ago that OPN had a new record coming out. That record, Age Of, is here and it’s yet another confounding and brilliant album. It is OPNs most accessible and alien work yet.

“Age Of” opens the album with harpsichord. A baroque, melancholy instrument, it actually feels right at home on an OPN album. You get the feeling of being trapped in a bubble, floating in space as time melts in front of you like a Dali painting. Soon enough the melody pitch shifts and sways as if its being pulled apart at the seams. It’s exquisite, gorgeous, and mildly frightening all at once. “Babylon” has Lopatin’s autotuned vocals singing with an almost country sway. This is probably the most pop-centric Oneohtrix has ever sounded. Of course, the song ends abruptly as if the alien overlords pulled the plug.

Regardless of how accessible Lopatin wants to take OPNs sound, he will always carry with him the early sounds of Oneohtrix. Those ambient landscapes of Betrayed In The Octagon, Drawn and Quartered, and Returnal, and thank Christ for that. As much as I love seeing artists I admire progress and evolve, I don’t want the weirdest of them to stop being weird. I live for moments like “Manifold”, “Warning”, and the ghostly “We’ll Take It”. These spots where Lopatin reveals the darkest and most honest recesses of his musical world. And really, there isn’t a more perfect OPN song title than “Last Known Image of a Song”, is there? I can almost see a tattered Polaroid lying on a console in some space station. Nothing showing but light with shards of darkness poking thru. It’s an obliquely exquisite track to end this odyssey. It’s a mix of Eric Dolphy, David Cronenberg, and Philip Glass.

Elsewhere, “Toys 2” is a “proof of concept” for Lopatin’s agent showing how he would score a Pixar film, using this as an imagined score for a sequel to the Robin Williams’ movie Toys. “Black Snow” was the lead single, another pop-leaning track with Lopatin singing, along with backing vocals by Anohni. It’s bizarre video set the stage for what we had in store with Age Of.

This is the most collaborative OPN album to date, with guest musicians like the aforementioned Anohni, along with James Blake helping out on production and mixing. There is a bit more of a sheen here. It’s less busy than previous albums, which gives the songs room to breathe a bit. I think with Daniel Lopatin producing and writing on various projects it gave him a view of what collaboration can be. The results here are telling.

Age Of sees Oneohtrix Point Never ever evolving, but not losing those eccentric qualities and vast musical soundscapes that separated Daniel Lopatin from the rest of the electronic music world. This is a sparse and tight record that encapsulates all the greatness of OPN, while continuing the forward motion Daniel Lopatin began with 2010s Returnal. Age Of is an exquisite oddity that shines bizarre and beautiful.

8.4 out of 10