Monday Morning Fuel: Boulevards - Got to Go

 

This ear worm can't be stopped, and I don't want it to. I'm strangely okay with the chorus to this track being stuck in my head for the rest of my natural life. When something reminds me of The Gap Band, that's a good thing. Boulevards' "Got To Go" ticks off all the right aspects for a chunky piece of electro-funk. I've never heard a song that makes breaking it off with someone sound like such infectious FUN. In between a rapid-fire guitar shuffle, a slap bass line that oppresses with manic delight, and a runtime that just breezes by through the verses and a perfect breakdown of a bridge, there's nothing to stop you from just putting this song on repeat forever. That and the rest of Boulevards' music. 

TRACKED: Corinne and Midnight Juggernauts' "Lara Versus the Savage Pack" (Prophet of Chaos)

My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc. 

The Track

One word comes to mind when I think about this track, and that’s “propulsive.” That’s exactly what I needed Corinne’s story arc in Prophet of Chaos to be. The Midnight Juggernauts are one of the many musical finds I’ve come up with after plumbing the depths of a Spotify radio station based on the stranger corners of my listening portfolio. I really fell for their odd dance-rock, heavy on the synth. This one in particular stood out. Its simple drum rhythm plunges forward, trilling guitar with layers of percussive synth pulses entwined around it. The organ chords come in and out, providing a background resonance over the chorus that feels like a force rising from defeat to strike back, something rising in flight as it battles its way through the danger. I had included Corinne as a character in Hand of Chaos and knew I wanted to bring her back, but I didn’t know exactly what her powers and skills would be or what role she would play in the overall story. 

I knew she would be a warrior, a lethal weapons-expert whose combat skills would be unparalleled. That said, I wanted her to be more than simply a bland tank of a character that was good with swords or guns or what-have-you. After all, Corinne is an agent that works for a covert government entity that fights and uses magic. Simply being a ninja or killing machine wasn’t good enough. There had to be something special about her. I toyed with a lot of ideas, but as I thought of her as this warrior who could evoke a brief and powerful surge of flight, things began to click. The rhythms of “Lara Versus the Savage Pack” helped me think of how her fighting style and plot arc would work, how she would soar and slice her way through the adversities thrown her way in Prophet of Chaos. She starts out in a dark place, the grief of losing one of her best friends and a plague of questions rattling her to take on a fight she never expected to find. 

The Character

Corinne Massey was one of the first of her family to go legit. A badge, a gun, and a job that gives her the authority to right wrongs that most of her relatives and ancestors had to resolve through extra-legal means. Descended from a long line of mystics and mages dedicated to fighting black magic and arcane menaces, Corinne is a Devastator. A warrior with Arcane powers that vary by their evocation, a Devastator calls on the power of Limbo to enhance their fighting skills and prowess to super-human levels. In Corinne’s case, her evocation is the Roc, a bird-of-prey that frequents the more savage parts of Limbo’s Planes. Paired with expertise in swords, archery, and a variety of martial weaponry, her evocation grants her temporary bursts of flight, speed, and strength that she’s used to drop all sorts of supernatural threats from human to Demon to Angel in the name of Limbo. 

She holds a badge from the NSA’s Division of Unconventional Weapons and Tactics, known colorfully as DUWAT, where she works as a field agent. Knowing what some of her relatives have to go through without the same protections she has, she’s comfortable at her job. She never questioned DUWAT and the degree of protection and latitude the organization gave her, until now. After a routine surveillance operation turned into an ambush, her partner and best friend Dorian lies dead. Eager to even the score, Corinne finds her superiors hesitant to take the risk of pursuing Dorian’s killer given more clear and present threats that need DUWAT’s immediate attention. Sidelined with a paid suspension after an emotional outburst over Dorian’s death, Corinne finds she can’t let it go. She has to find Dorian’s killer and know why they were targeted, especially since she has a feeling Dorian’s murder is just the beginning. 

Risking her job with an unauthorized investigation and grasping at some tenuous leads, Corinne finds that it’s all connected to a string of missing enchanters and a mysterious group of Hell-worshipping acolytes operating under DUWAT’s radar that are up to all sorts of bad. Before she realizes the danger she’s found herself in, she’s faced with some of the worst Hell has to offer, and with the one man who actually is trying to stop it all: a man known to most as the Prophet. What started as a simple quest for answers has turned into something much more fundamental: a quest for survival.

Monday Morning Fuel: NVDES - Don't Fvck Your Neighbor

Where to start with this obscure gem. The detuning slide guitar and whispery feminine growl set it up perfectly. Is this the song of a woman scorned? Or a woman delivering the scorning? Who cares! It rocks! The dissonant harmonies that are like pop through a fun-house mirror and the drunken wail of the guitar instantly transport you to a hookup gone off the rails. It's short, but it's not sweet. It's magnificently sour. 

TRACKED: Derek and TVOTR's "Repetition" (PROPHET OF CHAOS)

My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc. 

The Track

TV on the Radio has always been a cerebral kind of band, their sound veering in and out of experimental territory. It’s always very resonant stuff, though. Particularly the stuff that either celebrates, frets, or freaks out about the mundane aspects of modern life. “Repetition,” in that respect, is the apotheosis. Both the lyrics and instrumental start at a calm and simple place, and end up growing increasingly frenzy as the motif gets louder and more frantic. 

As I shaped the character of Derek, he always struck me as the sort of person that a lot of TVOTR songs are about (See Also: “Dancing Choose,” which is almost as good of a theme for Derek as “Repetition”, but not quite). He sleepwalks through most of his life, regrets slowly building in him, suppressed by a thick layer of denial. All of it eventually starts to become too much for him. The sameness, the boredom, the feeling that he’s taken a wrong track somewhere and suffocates at his rapidly disappearing future. Almost to the point of reaching a breaking point. Derek’s there, ready to break the cycle, ready to snap out of it and find a new life when we meet him in Prophet of Chaos.

The Character

Derek’s a graphic designer at a small, boutique firm in Washington, DC. How he ended up in the job, he can scarcely recall. He’s viewed as a wunderkind of sorts, able to scratch out eye-catching designs, logos, and pages that strike people. Judging by the way his firm’s clients seem to rake in the cash and business after Derek’s done his thing to help them promote their latest cloud-based solution, maybe they strike people a little more than they should . . . If only Derek cared about any of it. As the only person of color in his entire office, he feels alone and isolated by the way his coworkers act around him. He’s never fit in very much, and he’s not sure why. 

 

He longs for the promise of his early art school days, before he decided to go for the safest bet to a comfortable career. As safe as art usually gets, anyway. The more he thinks about it, the more his own choices disappoint him. Ever since a particularly brutal run-in with the police he had when he was younger, one he was lucky to walk away from alive given the color of his skin, he’s been scared. Scared of sticking his neck out, scared of taking the risky path. He still longs for more, though. Longs for an end to the boredom and stale corporate life he shambles through during the week.

 

A chance encounter at an art gallery show changes things for Derek. He meets a beautiful woman, who seems far more than what she seems. The next thing he knows, a smooth-talking, Demon-worshipping Reverend and his gun-toting cultist minions are knocking down Derek’s door. They say he’s an Enchanter, and that he’s going to help them whether he wants to or not. That was the moment the Prophet, Nathaniel, entered his life. Whisking him away from his pursuers, Nathaniel seeks to keep him safe. Nathaniel knows, somehow, that if they get a hold of Derek some truly awful things will follow. Derek just wants to stay in one piece, and preferably avoid this whole kidnapping business. But is he really an enchanter? Does he really have powers? Nathaniel has some answers for him, but can Derek handle them? Derek’s beginning to realize that there’s something more to him than he ever knew, something that could change everything. 

TRACKED: Nathaniel and Jimmy Cliff's "One More" (PROPHET OF CHAOS)

My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc. 

Nathaniel and Jimmy Cliff’s “One More”

The Track

To me, “One More” is about a lot of things. It evokes so much, from the repetitive perseverance of the lyrics and that rousing chorus to the weary but belligerent horn line, all staccato brass in a way that meshes perfectly with the banging piano chords. It’s smooth, but there’s a rawness and tension there that fits the subject matter of the song perfectly. Particularly in this case, the Alternate Take, the instrumentation and vocals really weave together to form an expansive mix that reaches out to you. 

This track was something I played dozens of times (maybe more) while I was writing Prophet of Chaos. I had trouble at first solidifying the character of Nathaniel, my homeless drifter of a Prophet, but it was “One More” that crystallized both him and to a large degree the book itself. When I originally conceived of this book, Nathaniel was a mentor figure to the other characters. His “versions” of the future were what guided others to action. That arc never quite fell flat, and Nathaniel always seemed to want to bust free from the narrative straightjacket I’d put him in.

Jimmy Cliff’s anthemic track helped me see what I needed to do. It helped me see beyond the mysterious mentor I had originally conceived Nathaniel as to a fighter. Almost a revolutionary, Nathaniel was someone who’d lived a life of taking dangerous risks to help others, often at great personal cost to him. But he’s someone who feels he has to keep going. He’s always got one more task in front of him, one more life to save, or one more sadistic evildoer to stop. He always has more to do, even when he’s got almost nothing left to do it with. “One More” helped me see that Nathaniel was hero material, flawed as he was, and he could bring the world-weary struggle to the forefront in a way that would enliven the entire narrative. If there was a theme song not just for Nathaniel the character, my Prophet of Chaos, but for the entire book, this would be it. 

The Character

Nathaniel is a powerful wizard of sorts. He can bend people’s minds to his influence, read their thoughts, distort their perceptions, even see their futures. With power like that, why would he ever live as a homeless drifter? The reasons for it and the man himself are complicated. At a young age, he realized his powers of mentalism and what they could bring him. He did what any foolish young man would do. He used his powers for ill-gotten gains: stealing, manipulating, and scamming tourists on St. Croix, where he was born and raised. Eventually, it all fell apart.

You see, Nathaniel wasn’t just a scammer and a thief. He was gay. All of it was too much for his thin-skinned father, who cared far more about his reputation and the homophobic opinions of his neighbors and family and than about his son’s emotional well-being. The two grew estranged and Nathaniel left St. Croix. A series of hollow misadventures and crueler lessons led him to understand his powers were for a greater purpose, that he was wasting them on his petty crimes. The gift of Prophecy was growing in him, he could see futures, “versions” of his life and others that he could twist and derail with a few choice acts. He could turn tragedies into triumphs, disasters into miracles. 

He knew what he had to do. Nathaniel wandered all over the Islands, then the US to prevent wrongs and set rights on a massive scale. Those acts and his powers put him on more radars than he could’ve imagined. He made friends and allies with every person he saved, every hero he created with a few choice pieces of information that placed the right person in the right place at the right time. He created far more enemies, though. Increasingly, he saw the dangers to himself, his friends, and his lovers appear in his own dreams. Versions of everyone and everything he held dear set upon by vicious killers and dangerous zealots. He had to keep a lower and lower profile, dodging and evading the swelling list of people that wanted him dead. That’s Nathaniel’s weariness, his toil and his conflict as he pushes forward again, into one more deadly situation that could set humanity on a bloody path if he can’t stop it. And this one might be his most important one of all.

#TBT Morning Fuel: TV On the Radio - Dancing Choose

Morning Fuel: TV On the Radio - Dancing Choose

Way back in the year 2008, I really didn't get TV On the Radio. I wanted to, but I just didn't understand the appeal. As Pitchfork and all the other music review sites went nuts for them, I just stared in confusion, much like I still do now at latter-day Arcade Fire albums. That's a topic for another day, though.

Part of the problem is that my first exposure to TV On the Radio was as the opening band for The Pixies on their nostalgia-stoking Pixies Sell Out reunion tour in 2004. I was all like "who are these noisy screaming guys with all the sound-effects droning the same guitar chord over and over again?" It wouldn't be the first time or the last time I horribly miscalculated on an opening band due to my impatience. That performance, weird as it was in the DAR Constitution Hall where I saw them with its fancy chandeliers, put me off TV On the Radio for a long time. 

Then the buzz built behind the Dear Science album like a fierce juggernaut, yelling "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" as I saw it on best albums of the year list through December and January all across the internet. I broke down and gave Dear Science a listen. The first two tracks did nothing for me, the same aimless noise, odd vocals, and droning guitars that bored me to death before. 

Then I hit Dancing Choose, and I suddenly understood this band. I understood how the weird horn flourishes fit in, how the repetitive guitar built tension, how the noise and unusual vocals could work together to build something compelling and beautiful. It didn't hurt that the song itself, about a life that seemed devoid of color, built on banality and disappointment resonated with me so much at the time. It was one of the many wake-up calls I needed to put more effort into my writing, and has been a talisman of mine against personal stagnation ever since then. I often listen to Dancing Choose, telling myself "Don't be that guy. Don't be that guy from the song." There's one lyric that has always stuck with me even through all of it: "I've seen my palette blown. To monochrome." It's chilling and so deadly accurate. I do everything I can to fight for that day to never arrive, though sometimes on days when I'm stuck on stalled out metro trains and have 7 hours of meetings scheduled in a single day it feels as though it's closing in.  

I can't argue this is the best TV On the Radio track. Others came afterwards in their masterpiece of an album Nine Types of Light that I like more, but this one is always special to me because it's the first one to make me take notice and understand what they were trying to do. The first one where their sensibilities really gelled to me, and one that has made me appreciate their often deep lyricism. It made me look back on even their older stuff with renewed curiosity. So yeah, I got that Pixies opening band wrong. Really wrong. 

Like the track? Support the artist and buy it wherever you do these things. Oh, and check out the Morning Fuel Playlist.