Notes From the Underground: Part one The Shaggs

Every artist fancies themselves as an outsider. After all, you have to be kind of crazy to want to make a living making art. From the low success rate, low pay, constant rejection, and constant scammers who promise you the world–it’s not a easy road to walk. There’s a reason why most people don’t aspire to become an actor, musician, filmmaker, or whatever. Automatically it’s an aspiration that separates you from 99.9999% of the population. Regardless as to whether you like it or not, you’re already an outsider.

Yet there are those of us, even in our community of outsiders, that are even more of outsiders than we are. I won’t even spoil, who I’ll be looking into, every artist that I will review will be on the album Songs in the Key of Z. I implore you to look into each of these artists on your own, and do your own research. Because in this album there are school teachers, bisexual cowboys, a proto-punk band comprised of all sisters, a divorced janitor, a man spoke gibberish, a geriatric experimental electronic musician and poet,  and last of all Daniel Johnston. A man whose story in and of itself, is as uplifting as it is tragic.

To begin with, let’s go straight to the Shaggs. An all sister quartet, that somehow in the 60’s, sounded more punk than punk. The story is kind of like the Jackson 5 (without the abuse). A strict disciplinarian Dad who finds out his kid’s passion for performance, and does all he can to make them realize their dream. Actually scratch that. A strict disciplinarian dad who forces his kids to play instruments and form a band, because his Mom did a palm reading and foretold that he’d marry a strawberry blond woman, and that his daughters would form a popular band.

So imagine being in these girls shoes, their Mom and Dad WERE NOT musically inclined. Even though it was the 60’s they weren’t even hippies. They were just normal blue collar people who were incredibly superstitious. Just imagine your Dad coming home one day, bringing home a bunch of instruments, and telling you that you need to form a band. It’s so strange and bizarre that I am almost 100% positive that there is at least one Simpsons episode based on this premise.

Yet, remember when I said that their music is more punk than punk? Well the thing about punk rock is, it’s stripped down rock n’ roll. It’s simplified Chuck Berry chords, it’s simplified Led Zeppelin, it’s a response to all the excess of late 70’s rock. Everybody said that punk rock was all about learning four chords, and forming a band. Yet everybody got better with their instruments. The synthesizer came along. Then we got post-punk, and new wave. It was a natural progression, because the goal wasn’t to transform music, it was to transform rock n’ roll.

So again let me reiterate, group of sisters are forced to form a band, with NO musical training, NO innate desire to make music, hell they weren’t even in A MUSIC SCENE. Even No-wave the movement that tried to do everything in it’s power to rebel against punk, and go back to it’s experimental side–still had a scene. And if there is a scene, there is some cross pollination of ideas, which leads to some cohesion.

Yet the Shaggs were all alone. It’s such a bizarre circumstance for any artist to be in, where they are completely out of their element, essentially swimming in the deep end, and trying to learn how to swim. This struggle though has created some of the most unique and compelling music ever to listen to.

To begin with, nearly everything is off kilter, whether it’s the drum beat, the chords being played, the vocals, nearly everything is off. Even the vocal melody which is the easiest part to nail down, because let’s face it, everybody can sing a song. Ask anybody off the street to make up a melody, and nearly everybody can do it. You could probably even go as far as figuring out what band/music they listen to. Yet with the Shaggs that is so off kilter, so bizarre, and so strange that you wonder, “What music DID THEY LISTEN TO?”

It’s due to this aspect of their music that I think what makes them so endearing. It’s kind of like when you try to find out how somebody came up with the idea to drink milk from a cow. Like what kind of person goes up to a cow’s titty, starts squeezing it, and then begins to drink the liquid that comes out? Reading that seems so strange and so foreign. Yet we all drink milk. So when we think about the fundamental rules about music, melody, harmony, chords, scales, etc. Imagine if we didn’t know the history behind it, it would seem incredibly strange how all of these rules, and structures came into place.

As artists we’re all influenced by somebody, and as a result you can hear the residual influences in all of our sounds. You can hear Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and go, “Oh that’s just a Pixies rip off.” Yet it doesn’t discredit Smells Like Teen Spirit because it’s still an amazing song. It’s just that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

This makes it all the more impressive that this was all created in a vacuum. It’s like in the ending of Fight Club. You see there are two endings, in the movie Tyler Durden succeeds in destroying major financial institutions. He doesn’t outright want to destroy society, he just wants to change it. Where in the book, Tyler Durden wants some form of anarcho-primitivism where a busboy and CEO are on equal footing, hunting some elk with spears, wearing loincloths. Tyler Durden in the book wants to destroy all of history, starting with the nearby history museum. Rewrite everything, and do it all over, starting from the stone age.

Now the Shaggs are by no means nihilists. Yet everybody who has tried to accomplish what they accomplished, by wiping the slate clean, doing it all over again, have almost always failed. Because eventually, they get good at their instruments, they form a scene, certain motifs are used over and over, and innovation simply becomes a new music genre. Yet the Shaggs rose above that, and accomplished something, that I firmly believe cannot ever be accomplished or replicated.

Or that’s what should be the case. The Shaggs were lightning in a bottle, how can anybody ever replicate that? Well as we go down deeper into the underground, we’ll find how deep this rabbit hole goes.


To begin this review, I have to ask a series of questions: Why does everybody like Homer Simpson? Why were the Beatles so big? What’s the appeal of the girl next door? The answer: it’s all attainable.

So when reviewing a docseries about some underground hardcore bands, there’s a whole set of circumstances, group identity, and a whole other slew of problems that pop up. Mainly the scene itself, the musicians involved, the fans, the experience etc. Yet when looking at this, you have to ask yourself is this attainable?

Everything in this docuseries is filmed fantastically. The cinematography was great, the music was outstanding, and there are some parts that do an incredible job at capturing the energy that these bands put out during their live sets. Yet there is a sort of central problem with this docuseries in that because it’s so focused on music, and in particular a music scene it doesn’t capture those little moments that make a scene so great.

For example let me relay a story, I remember I went to some Hip Hop show in San Diego. The show was really boring, I felt incredibly out of place, and the only upside was the fact that my girlfriend at the time was finally twerking on me. Yet it was when the show was over, and we went to an In N’ Out and I saw that everybody at the concert was over there. That it made the whole concert experience really worth it.

It was also when the people who I saw waving their hands up and down, like a scene from 8 Mile humanized. Or more specifically, in my mind I was out of place, I was uncool, I didn’t fit in. Yet here I am now eating In N’ Out and cracking jokes with them. I’ve been to other shows like that, whether it was some local shoegaze band, reggae, metal, country, etc. Each time what struck me most about the experience was actually talking to the people involved with that scene. The weird quirky personalities that you’d never find anywhere else.

I’m sure that anybody who has been to a concert has a similar experience, that it wasn’t particularly the show that blew them away, but the individuals that they met. Which is why, in my wholly subjective solipsistic view point, the docuseries needs a bit more work on.

I can see the passion of the music from the musicians on stage, the audience members, and even how well it’s put together. But I don’t know them as people. What are their fan’s jobs? What made them so passionate about this music? What are the bandmembers like? Can I hangout with them after the show? Can I sit down and have a beer with them?

Which brings me back to Homer Simpson. Everybody who fell in love with the Simpsons fell in love with Homer. Because he was like us. He hated his job, was lazy, overtly emotional, dumb, gluttonous, etc. Everybody can immediately relate to him, because we’re all in the same boat as he’s in. Yet if we take away all of his faults, and flaws he’s a man who has literally been an astronaut, has had every job under the sun, has a nice house, with a great wife, gets paid to do nothing. He’s living the dream.

Which if we bring that down to music, I can’t tell you how many people wish they were able to play guitar. Who were able to make music, but just didn’t have that creative spark. When musicians are playing on a caliber, as the bands mentioned in this docuseries are, it’s hard for the average Joe Schmo to relate.

Now you could argue that, “Doesn’t this mean that musicians shouldn’t aspire to virtuosity? That the dumb masses are too stupid for good music?” Which now I bring up The Beatles.

Which yes, I know is an unfair comparison, yet even if you look at most band interviews you can see a little bit of yourself in them. There are very few bands without personality. Everybody has some endearing quirk about them, even if they are the most depressing band of all time whose leader singer killed himself they still know when to let loose and have fun.

Which finally brings me to my last point the girl next door. Now when Gilligan’s Island came out, everybody thought that the redhead bombshell Ginger Grant would be the sex symbol of the show. Nobody would have predicted that the girl next door Mary Ann Summers would be the sex icon of the show. Now why is that?

Well to illustrate my point it’s because she was more attainable. She was more approachable, she was the girl who would give you a chance to talk to. That maybe if you played your cards right, and were able to say the right things she would fall for you. You didn’t have to be a movie star, millionaire, or Chad Thundercock, you just had to be you, and not fuck that up.

Which when we’re talking about Hardcore music, whether you think it’s hardcore or not. There is going to be some timidity when approaching it. I can read between the lines and see that there is a passionate community, that people are uninhibited when expressing themselves in this community. Yet is it only for “Hardcore” scene people? Can I join in? What the show is after my job, where I have to wear a suit and tie, and I don’t have time to change so I show up in a suite and tie, will I be ridiculed? How inviting is the scene, and the community?

All in all the thing that is lacking in the docuseries is a focus on the people who make the music, people who listen to the music, and the fans of the music. Because I can see quite clearly the passion of the artists and the fans of the community, but I don’t know them as people. Which is the central complaint I have with the docuseries, and which hopefully will be remedied, because I can see a lot of potential with the amount of passion that was on display. I really look forward to this docuseries and I hope that it grows, and that everybody achieves great success.

Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack and Why It’s Important for Independent Artists

Now for my first analysis of an album, I wanted to do something relatively different. I could have done any of Joy Division’s albums since they’re my favorite band, but I would be missing the mark. The fact of the matter is, they were at the right place, at the right time, with the precise set of perfect circumstances to create their music. For me to write praises about them would be too easy, and it would be antithetical to this blog to write about people who already have enough written about them. Especially since most of the blog articles written are about underground musicians who are trying to make it.

So, to set the stage why I am reviewing this album, we gotta go back in time. Back when I was a struggling make believe filmmaker. When I quit trying to make films because I kept encountering the same problem. That I, and everyone that I worked with, couldn’t make the art we wanted due to some unforeseen circumstances that we couldn’t overcome . The actress didn’t like the script and refused to be apart of it, the cameras were cheap and the image quality was poor, we didn’t have good enough audio recording equipment and we could barely hear dialogue over the background noise, we didn’t know what we were doing etc.

We all had grandiose ambitions, they wanted to be Meryl Streep or Marlon Brando; and I wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. I wanted so badly to make movies, that every film I watched I would take notes on: where the camera was placed, how the shot was framed, the lens filter they used, the mis-en-scène, where it was filmed, how the director got the performances he wanted etc. I wanted so badly to be an independent filmmaker. To have complete creative control over my art.

Yet my family was down to one car, and for a few weeks we had no car. I applied to every job where I lived and couldn’t even get a job in McDonalds. Reality forced me to abandon those ambitions, and with no other options I joined the Navy. The people I tried to work with stayed in school studying acting, and at this moment are still in school studying to be actors.

I didn’t do anything creative until two years into my navy career, when I found a guitar in one of our shops. I began playing it, and fell in love with it. I had complete control over it–strumming a few chords–I could create a new world. A world that was mine, a world filled with everything I liked, that I could escape to and seek shelter in.

Orson Welles’ had a great quote on this, “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.” So when I was reading Akira Yamaoka’s interview, it struck a chord. When asked about what he thought about other video game composers, he said, “Unfortunately, there isn’t any game music I like. I do not have any favorite game music composer, either. It seems to me that many of the game music composers do their work as their side business. I cannot really have respect or a close feeling toward much of the game music I’ve heard. I suppose many of the video game music creators are really shallow… In other words, those people seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc.

“Of course, that is not true for all game music composers, but in any case I think there are many shallow creators who seem to do their work as a side business. Also, as to the music style itself, I don’t think there are many composers who are making really interesting music. The structure, the focus on ordinary music theory, regular instrument formations, etc… Everything like that seems very boring to me. The originality is often lacking and that’s very boring.”


This is from a man from an entirely different set of circumstances from most rockbands I admire. Most of them came out during the end of the punk scene, or were–as mentioned before–in the right place, the right time, with precise set of perfect circumstances. This was a guy who was making video game music in 2001. Back then to see video games as anything other than a kid’s toy, or some nerdy niche, was absurd. Now in hindsight, we can see that video games especially during that time were art, but the rest of the world didn’t.

When reading his interview, I couldn’t help but see myself in that quote “[Video game composers] seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc..” It could be that I’m solipsistic, but I believe that no matter what circumstance a creative person is in, a creative person is going to create. Yet no other video game soundtrack I had ever heard then sounded anything like Silent Hill 2.

Take the opening song Theme of Laura, when I first played the game I couldn’t believe my ears. Firstly that it was really well done rock song; and secondly, that was so moody, and introspective. It wasn’t the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure, or some leftover soundtrack from some action movie that was never used. It was different. It was unique. It was something that I could have heard in all those bands that I admired so much, it had a unique vision that could rival Kubrick’s. In other words, it was art.

So compare Theme of Laura to another video game soundtrack by another–not so blind–Japanese video game composer.


Does that invoke any emotions in you other than confusion? Does that sound like an artist trying their hardest to make the best possible music? Are they doing the best they can to express themselves? No, of course not. It sounded like somebody who was in the business of making video game music because their dreams failed.

Akira Yamaoka stated that his influences for this album was Angelo Badalementi, Trent Reznor, Depeche Mode, and Metallica. I bet you that if any of them heard any track from this album–even if it wasn’t their cup of tea–would still respect the music. There wouldn’t be anybody calling Akira Yamaoka a sell out or anything like that. In fact, take listening to a track like Black Fairy you can’t help but feel the intense sense of foreboding, and creepiness. Yet most horror music, even for films, at that time sounded quite like it.

The whole album is drenched in an introspective melancholy, the kind that is so beautiful and sincere that it almost becomes comforting–which is why sadness always seems so hard to get rid of. Until, like most things melancholy it devolves into a dark sinister sound that devours any trace of hope, and you’re left with nothing but pure misery. Yet there is still hope, like when people jumping off the Golden Gate bridge still hopes that someone reaches out to save them. For a video game album to convey such deep and rich emotions, is so bizarre. It’s an album that can stand on it’s own on the music scene. Even without the video game associated with it, with it’s tank controls, obtuse puzzles, and dated game mechanics.

So why is this album important to independent artists? Quite simple. Even if your dreams fail of you being the next Marlon Brando, David Bowie, Ernest Hemingway, or Stanley Kubrick; it doesn’t mean that your dreams are over. It just means that you have to adapt. And by adapt, I don’t mean join the music industry because you know how to make music–what I mean by adapt is to work your hardest to make the best music you possibly can. To make it yours, and for your vision to shine. Even in a field of video game composers, in an industry people don’t even consider art, Akira Yamaoka created a timeless masterpiece that people will still listen to 50 years later.

Don’t stay fixated on one idea of what it means to “make it.” Stay fixated on one thing and one thing only. To make art, and music that is yours, and yours alone. And no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, stay true to yourself.

(Insert name here)wave: Review

It all started with New wave, which makes sense, it’s a “New wave” of artists that are making NEW sounds, and experimenting with NEW genres. So it makes sense that the term would eventually come into existence. Then “No Wave” comes along, which was a tongue n’ cheek response to New wave. Flash forward a bit, and then Vaporwave comes a long. How can something be a wave and a vapor? Then you read up on it, and oh you find out that “It’s about some Marxist critique against capitalism.”

Alright then so where does Zeldawave fit into this narrative? Well I have my own personal theory on this, but basically everything that can be made lo-fi, reverbed out, and sound like hypnagogic pop is a wave now. So here I am to review it.



Are we even able to be nostalgic about Ocarina of time? They literally just released a game for the 3DS a few years back. Plus does the original track really need trap music over it, or for it to be lo-fi? The music video is nice, but after a few views of this type of aesthetic, it no longer has it’s retains it’s novelty. Plus the video itself is over 20 minutes long and doesn’t really craft a coherent emotional story like other “waves” do, and as a result is lot less substantive than other videos. It breathes life into a few songs, and gives it a new spin, which I do appreciate. But at the same time if you look up on soundcloud any Ocarina of Time song, you’ll find 3,000 remixes. At the end of the day this is just a Ocarina of Time soundtrack remix with VHS glitches from footage from the game. So it’s not breaking any new ground. I give this one a 2/5 Hey, Listens.



This type of wave is only for those lobsters who have climbed up the top of the socio-hierarchy, cleaned their rooms, and washed their balls. I can unpeel this onion but it’s going to be a pain, and I’ll end up crying.

This “wave” is so bizarre since the music video contains two anime women, some lo-fi hip hop, and Jordan Peterson monologues. This video is less about music, and more about a descent into madness. Jordan Peterson’s monologues taken out of context–or even in context–can at times be a bit of word salad that devolves into gibberish. But having this music over it, just makes me lose my mind. Like seriously what the fuck did the person have in mind when sampling Jordan Peterson? I don’t know what he’s talking about! The samples seem to be chosen at random, they have no theme or anything. Just imagine taking anybody speaking, randomly sample large parts of their speeches, and then put a lo-fi beat over it. Which makes it impossible to listen to what he’s saying, and completely detracts from the MUSIC–which is crazy I know, that a music video should contain music rather than random samplings of a Professor speaking cleaning your room, socio-hierarchies, and lobsters over music for 45 minutes. I give this “wave” 1 lobster out of 5.


Technically not a wave, and not as popular as its constituents this one actually makes a bit of sense. Since lo-fi hip hop uses so many jazz influences and Cowboy Bebop contains some of the best jazz music ever in Anime, it would be fitting that someone would make a wave of this. Jazz itself really works well with hip hop, where the complexity of jazz gets reigned in, and put into a simpler and more digestible form than it would have otherwise been. The visual aesthetics of Cowboy Bebop gives it an edge over it’s competition. That and the fact it was played on Adult Swim all the time, which always had on this chill type of music, really gives it an advantage in the nostalgia department. I give this “wave” 4/5 cigarettes.



Obviously I had to include this one in there. Considering I’ve reviewed countless synthwave albums, and this is a “wave” that makes sense, since it’s a “wave” of musicians who use synths, and have an 80’s aesthetic towards everything they do. If there is any genre that deserve legitimacy in having “wave” in it’s name it’s this one. Plus who doesn’t like the 80’s? I give this one 5/5 cars driving on virtual grids towards a virtual sunset.



The most popular of the “waves” this one really became loved at one moment and hated the next. The formula is simple, find some already popular vaporwave/electronic/retrowave music cut up some Simpon’s clips. And bam. You got a youtube video. The problem with this, is that when it’s well done, it’s really well done. This track above is surprisingly emotional, and is rich in aesthetics, more so than any recent Simpsons episodes. Not to beat a dead horse, with the Simpsons circling down the drain, it makes me recall those fond memories of watching Simpson’s episodes in the 90’s. The reason it became stale is that like anything popular, imitators come along, do poorly constructed versions of it. To the point where the original music, and the original music videos lose their mojo. When done well Simpsonwave can be enjoyable (as seen above), but when done poorly, makes you hate life. I give this bipolar “wave” a 3 d’ohs out of 5



Well that’s all the waves that I found this morning on youtube. It’s all marketing and whatever. Like how in the early 2000’s there were AMV’s playing Linkin Park, it’s the exact same thing, except with vaporwave, lo-fi hip hop and whatever. It’s all gibberish, because in the end it doesn’t even matter.


Also 10/5 for Chester Bennington RIP press F to pay respects.