Nobody's creekbed

songs, prayers, poetry, stories, art, photographs, moving pictures, fondnesses, tall-tales and meditations

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The Anterior Insula and Hwy W

Friday, June 28, 2013

'Houston Zoo' and 'Earthlodge' -- Justin Stone, 30 September 2011, Glasbox, El Paso

Glasbox is a special place in El Paso, a home to community, education, empowerment, art and industry. A place of events, openings, workshops, classes, seminars, shows and fun. A place for networking and sharing. It is a growing, experimental space that is in sharp need of support right now. Please visit the Glasbox website, read the details, ideas and plans, and please, if you are able, consider donating or joining as a member in the It's a Wonderful Life fundraiser. The good ideas grow, bring all of us closer together. Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A good place in El Paso

Looking for allies

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sentimental Monsters, the new album by Austin-based band Through the Trees (which I love and wrote about here), is now available for purchase from both iTunes and CDBaby. It is some delicious new rock 'n' roll for the summer.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Yadier Molina is baseball's unequaled genius. No one in the game shares his unique combination of imagination, instinct and execution. He sees, does. He wills. He is both perpetual learner and spherical thinker. Most importantly, Yadier Molina is a smile.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hello, Shiny
December 2006

String a few hits,
Go Deep.

Happy Team

I think my shit really stinks.

Saturday, June 01, 2013


Through the Trees
Sentimental Monsters

By Justin Stone

Sentimental Monsters, the new record by Austin-based band Through the Trees, is a hook-heavy rock-pop epic. “Lost” opens the album on a catchy, surf-like instrumental passage, guitar, bass and drums rolling together, clean at first, but then the first break hits, distortion lifts the wave, and the riffage continues. Rock ‘n’ roll. Then another break and a quieter melodic passage gives way to a haunted, repeating lyric: “Hey, I lost my way.” Then the voice gives way and the surf passage is urgently revisited, before another big break in which the song slows again, epic power chords and keys dropping a rain on the sea. Voice quietly returns: “You tried your best / They’re not impressed / Optimism has always been / Your Achilles heel / It’s hard to feel what others talk about.” Then, a devastating truth: “We are all sentimental monsters.” The song carries out quietly, in lament: “I overheard you / What you said was not true.” It is a familiar hurt, and the narrator too is complicit. He ends the song quietly singing, “I forgive you.” Heavy. Pretty. The whole of the album plays like this. Exploring its twists and turns, absorbing its shifting tones, contours, shape and definition, feels to me like wandering a large, many-roomed house in dream, a place familiar but continually new. A haunted house. And there are others here: foggy shapes, faces from the past and future. Many others. But maybe only two. Maybe only one. Friends and lovers, ghosts, me. People I can recognize but whom I can never know, always lost but always returning again and again. Seeking connection but more often bumping into and past one another. Reaching out, pulling away. Both calling to one another and calling one another out. Accusation, disbelief. Hope. Ego run amok. Sentimental Monsters.
Ben McCormack writes songs I love. Heady, hearted, dynamic rock ‘n’ roll songs. They get into me, into my ears and my guts. Song after song, he creates spaces I am compelled into. I like to “be” with Ben’s records. They are records I attend to, that I play in entirety.  Each record a many-parted whole unique and deep in song. They are always dexterous medicine.  I was first introduced to Ben’s songcraft via The Stags some 10 years ago in El Paso, Texas. That band, both live and on record, remains for me a personal highlight of the form. Art rock. Story rock. Weird and classic. Angular and disarming. There have been other bands, Sweetdust and Mockery Birds to name a couple. I tell you I have liked all of it, every single song. I think McCormack’s output a standalone body of work. He is a student of songcraft. It is not surprising to me that he is also a longtime, grateful servant to public education, a caring teacher and heady administrator, humble and committed. I have always felt Ben’s professional craft speaks to his musical/story craft and vice versa. He believes in the journey that is being alive, being a learner always. Empathy and hearing highlight his songcraft, as do keen, discerning observations. He sees forest and trees. I think he speaks to aspects of the modern American condition. A haunted house where little is at it seems. Image-driven bullshit. Liars and fakers. Thieves and opportunists. Starry-eyed boys and girls. Loss of meaning. What to believe in? How and why to have a human voice in a cacophony of manufactured messages that seek to render the all of us one monstrous, consuming ego? In “Forgiveness” the narrator intones, “At night I dream in curses shaped like you / And I always disappear in your foggy truths.” In “Statue” the narrator admits, “I don’t say no / I just say never / I find it much safer to be grandiose.” We are all sentimental monsters.
These songs are gut gifts. Butt kicks. Soothe sayings. A densely-packed masterpiece, the song “Everyone” is another multi-part sonic journey, weaving vivid imagery into a lyrical, haunted narrative: “Well it’s been a long since / Since I found out / What you were talking and talking about / You were talking too loud / Right over my shoulder / During our embrace / In a truthful mirror / From a dark place / I met your two face / I met your true face.” He repeats, “You were talking too loud.” And you were. You know it. You were talking too loud. The marriage of music and story here is captivating. The sound is rock ‘n’ roll, a mix of punk and pop and old school, classic, r & b, but it is not a derivative exercise. It is fresh and personal. There are so many great payoff lines and musical moments. Tension built to be relieved.  “Everyone” continues, “You’re talking too loud on the lips of another / You’re stealing my words / And singing to my lover / And now you can take / Your true place behind my back / Just like everyone else.” And then the song breaks into pretty finale, an epic outro, keys brightening the rock melody as we hear a powerful, repeating cry: “And you / You’re like everyone else / You’re just like everyone.” Gawd. It feels true. Mysterious. Maybe inscrutable. I find myself wanting to listen to it over and over again. But then the next song starts, just as good, just as catchy, just as layered, and I’m propelled forward to a new chapter. For me, the whole of Sentimental Monsters moves like this.
McCormack’s is an intelligent, complex rock songcraft. I am going to throw a few names out for reference: Greg Cartwright, Elvis Costello, Frank Black, The Kinks, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mark Knopfler. Literate, insistent story rock. In the dramatic song structures and complex compositions, often dark explorations that journey toward and in the hope of release and light, I hear echoes of the songcraft of Roy Orbison. This is theatrical rock writing but not showy or flashy.  It is ambitious but workmanlike. Reaching. Also, Sentimental Monsters has an epic pop feel to it. It is decidedly catchy. I hear The Cars in this album, Ric Ocasek’s timeless ear for hooks and craft. “Hopeless” opens on propulsive hard rock waves and then breaks into precise lyrical declaration, “See the couple in their modern home / They don’t look happy / They don’t look sad / So glad not to be alone / But they are lonely / In their modern home.” A pretty break follows, keys brighten the urgent riffs, and then the lyrics return: “Right off the balcony of hope / Leap the hopeless / Into each other’s arms / Now they make craters everywhere that they go / They treat their friends like tourists / In their modern home.” I think it powerful stuff. Moody closer “Wolves” is simultaneously beautiful and perilous: “Trapped / Under a tree / With my sworn enemy / Waiting for the wolves / To come down the mountain.” I am obsessively precious about songcraft, which to my thinking is something like an impossible to define coming together of so many elements, among them voice, story, melody, mood, mystery, dynamism, uplift, shift, intrigue, seeking, questioning, loss, discovery, heartache and humor. It can arrive in many different modes or genres. It is something I only know when I hear it, and I hear it in the music of Through the Trees, the album that is Sentimental Monsters. 
Through the Trees is the best vehicle yet for Ben’s songs. This band is a power trio, sharp, heavy and precise but also expansive in reach and breadth. It is rock textured and nuanced. The rhythm section of Benjamin Howard on bass and Joe Meier on drums is a primal, intuitive, and dynamically flexible force. The sound of Sentimental Monsters strikes me as expertly crafted and studied. It feels like the work of people committed to their individual crafts and how each serves the whole. Recorded, engineered, mixed, and mastered by Lars Göransson at Sounds Outrageous, produced by Göransson and McCormack, the record is always just enough. Never slight but also never overdone with tricks and bells and whistles typical in so much indie and mainstream rock today. The songs here are first and foremost. The structure is built that the listener can go there and wander. Move and be moved. See yourself, others. Run, hide, take cover. And when you can escape the haunted hallways dark with apparitions and enemies and past selves and you and dreams, you lay in the sun. You feel new, a part of everything else. It is a literary thing, giving back, revealing, shading like good literature does. In it one feels less alone, more aware. Sentimental Monsters is a complex, compelling summer album. It burns through the fog and lives.

(You may now purchase this record at iTunes or CDBaby.)