Daily Drivel
May 3, 2015

The Novelists: Book One

Something has come to my attention, and that is The Novelists’ album Book One. For reasons I can’t explain, I haven’t previously given The Novelists a chance, so let me be the first and most likely, only person to apologize on my behalf to the aforementioned parties. Your work on this album is nothing short of incredible.

Fans of music with long memories might remember adult-contemporary pop bands like The Beautiful South, Marc Cohn, or Mike + The Mechanics (and many, many more.) These were musicians’ pop bands where the point was to deliver an incredibly clever piece of music with lyrics that really make you pay attention. The production values really matter. The style of music the band plays varies based on whatever song they’re playing. It needs to sound great and have something interesting about it.

This album by this band has that quality.

To find out the lineup of this band, I looked them up on Facebook. It turns out this band includes Justin Kruger, who was a member of the incredible jazz fusion band The Electrosonics some years back. I find this out after I have already started rocking out to this album, and it certainly makes me feel like the dots connect. Talented people who love what they do can acheive amazing results.

New to my ears are the voices of Megan Slankard, Eric Andersen, Joel Ackerman, and Zac Teran. They all shine on this album. Production quality of this album is high. The vocals are well recorded, the lyrics are very well written and the instruments are played very well and everything is mixed perfectly.

The album’s first track, Morris & Estelle, sets the stage for what the band are going for. Piano, guitars, drumming and time signatures too elaborate for me to count blend together with lyrics that are intended to tell an actual, digestible story. They pull it off well.

The duets are one area where this band shines where other bands might have a hard time. Pattern and I’m In No Pain couldn’t be more different except for the fact that they are both sung by both a male and female vocalist. On Pattern, the production capabilities of the band are on display, as the songwriting lends itself well to going back and forth between the two vocalists, and the hooks and bridges are very tight and pull everything together. I’m In No Pain is a piano-and-strings ballad that would sound at home on the radio.

While most of the songs are focused on relationships and other love-related topics, four songs take on a philosophical dimension, mostly relating to self-empowerment. You Will Know My Name is about religion. They Will Follow is about self-empowerment. Above the Hiding is about getting outside your comfort zone and doing your thing. Finish Line is about how the work is never done. The clever lyrics and tight arrangements on these songs are more good examples of what this band is capable of.

The band don’t get every song right. The lowest point on the album is War Paint, a song that should be a standout hit, but which makes a great lyrical error about 2/3 of the way through and to my hears, hardly ever recovers. This is unfortunate, because the singing and the piano playing really set a powerful mood, and it meets, by some definition, Phil Collins’ law that a pop song should state something universal in a universally digestible format. “A simple idea, simply sung, that simply sounds like it was sung with conviction.” This song shoots for that by saying “I miss you all the time, I miss you in my life,” and while this is something everyone can identify with, the rest of the song tells an incomprehensible story. Another song that falls a little flat to this reviewer’s ears is No One Watching Us. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the song, it just doesn’t measure up to the quality of the rest of the work on this album.

Regardless, this band is tacking close to the winds of the Collins Law, and they pull it off almost perfectly with We. This is a song of a life together ending that comes across very straightforwardly, and manages to be a worthy torch song. Worth a listen.

It’s refreshing to hear music by a band that’s got something to say, and manages to say it while getting important performance aspects right. Hopefully The Novelists will have more to say soon.

February 27, 2015

Park Lane, The Grove, and the Future of Reno

A while back, I wrote about the plan that had bubbled up about Park Lane Promenade (I did not like it.) Recently, there has been some press about it in the RGJ, and Mike at ReReno also wrote about it. I thought Mike’s post was great, raised some nice questions and the comment thread had a great discussion about urban-development killing parking requirements.

Virginia Street has been designated a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) corridor. Virginia Street is already where the RTC Rapid bus runs every ten minutes all day long and the RTC Connect bus runs every 30 minutes almost 24 hours a day. With that infrastructure, projects that touch Virginia Street can comfortably be a little more intense, mixing in residential uses alongside the commercial/gaming/convention that already exists there, with less concern for parking.

The developer’s current proposal

The main issue I have with the developer’s proposal for Park Lane Promenade is that the development doesn’t respect Virginia Street – putting a few single restaurants separated by parking and other easements in front of a giant parking lot with a big box store on the other side. The opportunity with this location is to inject some life into that entire corridor from the southern boundary of Midtown into the two big casinos and the convention center. The opportunity is to transform that area of town into a place people want to be, on foot and on transit.


The Grove

Another issue in that area is the street grid – or lack of it. The whole part of town south of this project down to Moana Lane between Kietzke and Virginia suffers from a what appears to be a complete lack of any design concept. It just turned into what it currently is from a gradual intensification of old farm roads. This part of town is now closer to the center of the whole metropolitan area than it is to the edge of any part of it. It needs to be newly subdivided into a grid of honest-to-God streets, which have sidewalks, and stop lights, and crosswalks. In short, something most modern developers and cities don’t have much experience doing.

A more charming pattern

Ever wonder why cool houses or apartments in parts of town that aren’t completely devoid of soul are so expensive? Well, it’s because nobody knows how, or is willing, to build that stuff anymore. Want a strip mall? You can build one of those anytime you want. Want an apartment complex? Easy-peasy. Want a warren of cul-de-sacs full of identical houses governed by a stifling HOA? That’s child’s play.

This  developer has a large lot to work with. It’s almost half the size of Downtown Reno. That’s big. With that much space to work with, imagine a mixture of public space (park or plaza), plus retail, plus residential, on the location of the former Park Lane Mall and a transformation of the surrounding neighborhood. The public space would serve as an anchor for a new neighborhood, not a new strip mall. This neighborhood would have some key attractions: the movie theater, for example, remains an attraction.

Want a city laid out on a grid that’s easy to walk around and owned and built by many individuals over many years? There don’t seem to be too many people or developers or cities that know how to do that kind of thing anymore. The last 60 years or so has been a time when almost nobody knows how to build any new old stuff.

The future belongs to those who can figure out how to build new cities that increase in desirability as they age.

February 21, 2015

TV Covered Walls!

Hopefully not too late to the party here, but a bit of noteworthy music of the shoegaze-influence variety just came to my attention. I present Reno’s own, TV Covered Walls. This is well played, well-produced shoegaze, always a nice surprise in Reno.

Have a listen, won’t you?

December 31, 2014

Farewell, 2014

It’s time to send out 2014. On this site, I wrote almost nothing, but at least I got that thing about My Flag is on Fire off my chest.

Somehow, I missed this, or I probably would have posted about it. So, while it’s still the same year this material claims to have been released…

If it was a lo-fi year for you, maybe you’ll appreciate this. It’s the Instagram filter of music, and it’s welcome. If it was a hi-fi year for you, and you just need to lean back for an hour or so and drift in and out of consciousness, this’ll do, too. Good work, whoever.

I’ll try to keep the lights on here.

February 25, 2014

We’re Post Pop. It’s about time.

I’ve had a tortuous relationship with the band My Flag is on Fire, for quite a while. Actually, since the release, and subsequent abandonment of the sound on their eponymous EP. I respect the band immensely, enjoy their music when I hear it, I like songs off all their albums, but they haven’t released a collection of songs that I wanted to listen to from beginning to end without skipping since the EP.

Phew, it feels good to get that off my chest. I’m here to tell you something. They’ve done it again. They’ve made an album I want to listen to the whole way through, that is. That album is their new one, Post Pop.

Let’s start off with the most dramatic change in direction for this band in years. Songs is a sweet number that, at just under 5 minutes in length, is a pretty short MFioF song. (Hey, that’s just how it is.) Synth pads play a prominent role; this song feels decidedly electric and dare I say, organized in advance. With some horns that key to White Bicycle, this song seems to be tying all kinds of dimensions of this band’s sound into one song.

Then there are the songs the band recorded years ago. Doom Decibels & Destruction seems to be telling us, “this is a way that these songs can sound.” And Harmony seems to be saying, “… and here’s a less electric take on an old classic.” I Quit is reimagined as a country ballad. (It fares well.)

There’s new material working here, too. In Un-titles, we are requested to please “don’t fuck with my heart.” Absolved is pretty and short.

Urban Farms is a number that mixes prog and folk influences. With this 9-minute track, you’re listening to My Flag is on Fire at their best. It’s a completely new sonic dimension for them, but it uses things that you know they’re good at using. It unites the accordion and electric guitar and synthesizer instincts of this diverse group of musicians better than any previous effort.

This album has some other interesting things. For example, on Natural Love, it sounds like the band is mixing Weezer influences (Island in the Sun) with The Cure (Just Like Heaven.) They get away with it.

Rounding out the mix, New Classic gives us a moment’s pause to bask in melody and soul… albeit from a melancholy point of view. It’s a big song, and it really showcases the diversity of compositions that this group of musicians is capable of arranging and performing.

If this album has a theme, it’s that the old is new, and so is the new. Effortlessly mixing musical styles from the band’s influences as well as the band’s past, this is quite an album. Highly recommended.

February 18, 2014

Beck ‘Morning Phase’

Beck has a new album out, called ‘Morning Phase’  Clever title. Caught a track off this album on the radio a few weeks ago and have been waiting to hear more about it since. It’s more Sea Change than Hollywood Vultures. NPR will let you hear the whole thing free.


January 16, 2014

Evil Baby. Evil, evil baby.

Apparently this is a thing that’s going around. For good reason.

*sigh* Kids these days…

January 9, 2014

5 Crazy Reasons We Need to Stop Clicking Linkbait

Hi there! You’ve reached Burncards’ shameless plea for help.

It’s getting to be time to put a little bit of work into Burncards. It ain’t easy to run a great, engaging website, and from where I’m sitting, there are a couple things that are keeping this site from being what it could be. Those things are:

1. Needs more frequent content and by more voices, too
2. Needs a bit of a design update to work better and look better on phones and tablets

If you look at this site regularly, I’d appreciate a shout-out in the comments. It would be great to know what sorts of things people would like to see. I am going to work on point #2 in the near future.

Also, if you want to get involved in posting content to this site, please send an email to

January 7, 2014

Today in pretty cool ideas: A digital trailhead for Reno

One of the great things about Reno is that it’s full of people who know how awesome it is. One such person is Eric Hatch, who wants to build a digital trailhead for downtown Reno. The vision: Anyone with a gps-enabled device could sync that device to this trailhead, and the trailhead would draw maps showing the pedestrian activity patterns of those who had synced up to the trailhead.

The video is great and highlights a very important point: Reno is a great pedestrian environment.

Better yet, there are a lot of locations around downtown that would be perfect spots for the trailhead. The one that springs to my mind immediately when I see the drawing of the trailhead is the train trench cover at Virginia and Commercial Row.

Eric Hatch recently presented this idea to the City Council (link). The reception was good, but the project could still use some actual financial support.

January 6, 2014

Park Lane Promenade – ugh, another strip mall

Mike at ReReno is right on the mark when he calls the latest proposal for Park Lane Mall “absolute crap”. It’s just another strip mall. And I’ll go one further. If what this part of town needed – this far from the freeway – was another strip mall, then the strip mall with Save-Mart at Plumb and Lakeside wouldn’t be full of empty storefronts. The strip mall next to the Atlantis wouldn’t be full of empty storefronts. All of Shopper’s Square would be leased up.

This part of town needs an entirely new concept. It is an area ripe not for redevelopment – but for development. The form that development takes will determine whether the area is set back or advanced–for years.

The developer's proposal for Park Lane Promenade.

The developer’s proposal for Park Lane Promenade.

The future of the part of town between Plumb and Peckham along Virginia Street is very important to Reno’s identity – both its self identity and that which outsiders perceive. The potential is there: the transit service, the TOD plan, the three major attractions (Peppermill, Atlantis, and Convention Center ). But what has to follow along and make the area live up to its potential is a catalyst. A major developer – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be this one – needs to take that next step forward and break out of the strip mall mold and build something that will cause the entire area to transform along those lines.

It’d be a useful thought exercise for these guys to sit down with Google Maps and look at two things side by side. Here, I’ll facilitate.

On the left, downtown Reno. On the right, the Park Lane site.

On the left, downtown Reno. On the right, the Park Lane site.

If this were a greenfield development–part of Damonte Ranch, say–it wouldn’t be weird to build a giant strip mall the size of half of downtown. But, this development is half a mile from downtown. It’s directly adjacent to the epicenter of urban Reno’s (not downtown Reno’s) renaissance. It is a slap in the face to everything that the TOD plan stands for to build the strip mall this developer is planning on this site. And we need to tell the developer, and we need to tell the planning commission.

The proposal has a few nice elements to it. These elements are included in the “intensification plan” – to be read as beyond phase 1. Phase 1 includes a pharmacy, a couple of fast food restaurants, some “shops”, parking lots, and landscaping. Despite the proposal’s language to indicate that parking areas are not visible from the street, most of the Phase 1 Plumb Lane frontage is parking.

This project should be mixed-use. It should go beyond “interfacing” with surrounding uses (in terms of where driveways connect on different sides of Plumb or Virginia), to the point of reconnecting or forming new connections in the street grid. The way forward for this part of town should be to break up these giant lots by connecting the street grid through them. Of course, modern day site planners must be subjected to electroshock therapy at the academy if they so much as say a single word in defense of the concept of well-connected street grids. This site plan is a textbook example. All the “roads” inside this giant megablock are curvy affairs that terminate in or are redirected by either culs-de-sac or small traffic circles.

Since all the architectural renderings in the plan are merely this elevation or that elevation drawings of various cookie-cutter strip mall architecture, one gets no sense of the vistas, from within, without or looking through this project. How does it relate to the surrounding scenery visually?

Finally, the language in the project proposal treats pedestrian amenities as some kind of cosmetic feature. Pedestrian orientation is a design philosophy. What are the pedestrian pathways in this project? That is not accounted for. There will be sidewalks and there will be landscaping. That is what is accounted for.

It’s good that someone wants to do something with this lot. But what they do with it matters greatly to the future of the city. This developer should try a little harder.