Blue October

March 11, 2010

  3:45pm – So it began. The quest to see a band that was marveled for their stage performances, and that had drawn a few thousand followers since their big release last year; "Calling You." A testament to sharing love across the miles, touring, and rock star life. The rain pelted down on the roof of the car, and as we drove, there were times when it was so bad that you couldn’t see the road in front of you. We didn’t think that this trip was going to be worth it, however, as we entered Galveston, miraculously the rain slowed, and calmly ceased. It was fate, definitely fate.
  We arrive at the venue, and though it was cold out, and I had left my pack of cigarettes in the car, I was determined to not miss a single minute of the so-called Blue October phenomenon. We walked around the streets of Galveston, in the middle of a poor excuse for Mardi Gras. Though there were no naked breasts around, there were quite a few drunken fools, lots of beads, and a vibe so thick you could cut it with a knife. We stood around for about 20 minutes, caught a local Austin act by the name of Jason Boland, and decided that we should go out to the main stage to see if Justin and the gang had decided to cancel, or just go on late. On the main stage an act from Tennessee, Ingram Hill, was finishing up their set. It was very modernistic. As soon as they finished, the crowed tripled in size, and under a sky that looked as if it could spit lightning and rain at any minute, Blue October took the stage. Previous conversations, between spectators were silenced as the entire crew stepped up to the microphone and  asked how the crowd was “Tonight.” Carnival mayhem in the form of shouting, bead throwing, and fist-in-the-air angst, was slowly drawing over the some 300 people who were there. Some of them, like myself, had driven 3-4 hours just to see this performance in the rain.
    Justin Furstenfeld, the ringleader on this psychotic circus trip though mental and emotional torment, is a born performer. He exudes a slick confidence in his vocal styling, and at times, seems to be portraying someone other than himself. He’s not your cookie cutter rock star. He speaks softly, and seems inhibited, until the mask comes off, and his inner self comes screaming to the surface. The favored “H.R.S.A” a cut from the 2000 release “Consent to Treatment” was the opener, and as soon as the first licks were barreled through the speaker stacks, the crowd immediately became entranced.
   “Ugly Side” a model song that proclaims “I only want you to see, my favorite part of me.” was another crowd favorite. So was the bands 2003 debut “Calling You.” A song that was featured in the release of American Wedding as part of the soundtrack. With national acclaim slowly building, Blue October has what it takes to woo a crowd of 200 or a crowd of 200,000. The torment that Furstenfeld puts into his music is a Blue October trademark, and decidedly so, remains the strongest aspect of their music. Songs such as “Somebody,” “Razorblade” and “Independently Happy” seem to speak volumes about Justin’s past, yet it is hard to determine the true origin of some of them.
  The band was cool, concise, and at the same time, Furstenfeld exorcised the demons living inside of himself. His hand motions, and raspy screams delighted the crowd. With the finale “James” he seemed relieved to have left whatever inner evil, dying on the stage. The pulpit of spectators now given their sermon, left with them, and as quickly as the crowd gathered, it faded. Furstenfeld is a magician, Houdini-esk, in nature, and with disciples chanting back his angst to him, he is most at home. 
  With the rain slowly starting to fall, we departed, off to our own realities, yet somehow envying the fact that someone had let us share theirs.


Greetings From Alaska

March 11, 2010

Greetings From Alaska
Matt L. Hall

The Band: Halloween, Alaska
The Disc: Too Tall To Hide

“Mail Call!” My roommate stands in the center of the room in his pajamas. It’s 4:00pm in the afternoon, and his normal day job has been overruled by a mild case of the truants. He hoists a brown paper package in my direction and I almost spill my late day cup of coffee trying to grab it before it hits the floor. In my head “Chariots Of Fire” plays while the slow motion grab of my fingers misses the airborne package entirely. It falls to the floor with an audible “Thump” and I remind myself that Too Tall To Hidewood floors and compact disc cases don’t mix.  However this package has been carefully padded “With Recycled Material” and I breathe a sigh of relief as I tear open the sealed fold. Reaching inside I flinch as I pull the package contents out and lay them on the center of the living room table. Nothing cracked, nothing broken.  As I remind my roommate that he is indeed an asshole, I open the folded, one-page note that accompanies a pre-release compact disc by a band I’ve never heard of. A band from Minneapolis, MN interestingly named “Halloween, Alaska.”
I have a ritual with CD’s that I receive in the mail. I open them furiously, and with the roaring excitement of a child at Christmas time I proceed directly into my bedroom to listen to them in air-conditioned silence. This time is no exception. However, when the first nuances of “A New Stain” invade my eardrums, I’m reminded why I love good music once again.

The album art is simple, a light blue with a large red man sitting cross-legged on the front cover. The title, “Too Tall To Hide” reminds me of an Adam Sandler bit I’d heard just hours earlier. The back cover lists nine tracks, and has a picture of the same red man, only this time he is ominously holding what can only be described as a large, two-handled (and quite bloody) knife. Death metal imagery perhaps? No, what I’m hearing out of the speakers sounds nothing like the latest hardcore, grindcore, skatecore, or any other –core bands. Instead, a bouncy synthesizer and a reverb-laden voice claim this real estate for indie pop.

Although Halloween, Alaska has been compared to the likes of pop giants Death Cab For Cutie, Everything But The Girl, and TV On The Radio, this troupe carves a special niche in the genre. At the center, the unique voice of James Diers is nothing short of spectacular. The beginnings of the second track on the album “Drowned” starts with Diers crooning softly and almost insecurely into the first few bars. By the middle of the track he has refocused his energy and in a startling crescendo you are blasted out of your chair onto the floor beside you. Couple Diers’ voice with the drum technique  of David King and the bass lines of Matt Friesen and you’ve got solid song foundation. Piano player and keyboardist Ev, who adds intimacy to the Halloween, Alaskastyling of an already talented group of musicians, builds upon that foundation. Standout tracks like the aforementioned “Drowned” and “Forever” show the duality of this album. It’s deliciously decadent, one part morning coffee, and one part after dinner mint.

With the eighth offering “Receiving Line” we are greeted by an ode to the next-door neighbor, Emily, a seemingly beautiful Catholic girl who has caught Diers’ eye. From the lyrics “In the attic, empty / we are k-i-s-s-i-n-g / and in the company of everyone else / we are less than meant to be” we realize that this song is told from the perspective of reflection, in the tongue of an adolescent boy. With rave reviews from such publications as Amplifier, Splendid, and Pulse to their credit it’s clear this is an act you don’t want to miss. From fizzy textures to sonic layering this is an enduring group that will have to be listened to multiple times just to revel in its genius.

At least that’s the way that the musical director over at Fox’s The O.C. feels. Last season, Halloween, Alaska featured two tracks from their self-titled debut album on The O.C. and many producers are itching to license more tracks. While not your conventional method of media promotion, Halloween, Alaska is also embracing podcasting as a proprietary vehicle. With terrestrial radio listenership on the decline, more and more independent bands are waking up to the fact that technology can help them reach a larger audience. With methods like satellite radio, podcasting and streaming internet radio, bands can reach thousands more people than by conventional methods.

Overall, “Too Tall To Hide” is a lyrical and musical delight. It pulses with an ambience all its own. It plays hide and seek with musical genres and while generically labeled as pop music, sometimes we find ourselves lost in Jazz country. While at other times it feels like the lost recordings of an unknown 80’s super group. Though the name Halloween, Alaska states a place that is not on any U.S. map, you can be sure that these guys are making their mark in a place that hovers somewhere around Minneapolis.

  More information on Halloween, Alaska may be obtained at the official website,, or by visiting East Side Digital at