January Reads


I’m unconscionably late but I’m still gonna drop everything I’ve written and publicly published (under my name) in December here! The links are the titles and the titles are the links. Check them out if you like. I’d certainly like it if you did!

Ma-Te Lin leads Taiwanese trip-hop with their new album “嗨!又相遇了 HI! MATELIN

A review of a new album from one of my favorite Taiwanese bands. It’s a great electronic album that’s a bit more fun and bouncy than their norm.

King Gizzard’s “Gumboot Soup” is fine but forgettable

A review of the last of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s 2017 albums, “Gumboot Soup.” It’s a solid album and something you’ll probably like if you’re a fan of the band but it lacked cohesion and felt ultimately forgettable to me.

N.E.R.D. doesn’t miss a beat with “No_One Ever Really Dies”

I reviewed N.E.R.D.’s new self-titled album and loved it! It felt like a total return to form and a very fun and unique pop record.

The Neighbourhood plays it a little too safe with “To Imagine”

Yet another review! The Neighbourhood put out a new EP that I felt played it a bit too safe and didn’t lean hard enough into their unique ideas.

DEAN captures social media melancholy with “Instagram”

Finally, a non-review article. I broke down Korean R&B artist DEAN’s music video and song “Instagram”. I loved this track and this music video and felt it was the perfect example of how to deliver a strong slow-song and how to nail that unique feeling of social media melancholy.

~Austin R Ryan

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December Reads


I’m gonna drop everything I’ve written and publicly published (under my name) in December here! The links are the titles and the titles are the links. Check them out if you like. I’d certainly like it if you did!

Review: Snail’s House’s “Alien☆Pop”

A review of electronic artist Snail House’s EP “Alien☆Pop.” It’s a fun EP that delivers on what you expect from Snail’s House but not much more.

Hyuna (현아) releases a new, surprisingly clever single and music video

A look at the clever subtext of a new video from K-Pop Idol Hyuna, which takes on the somewhat illusory body goals of K-Pop idols.

President Trump wins the latest round in the travel ban fight

A news article on an injunction to allow President Trump’s travel ban to go into effect while the courts decide on it.

The Dear Hunter’s “All Is As All Should Be” rewards fans in the best way

A review of the December The Dear Hunter EP. It’s a great tribute to fans done in a unique way that only a band as creative as The Dear Hunter could have thought of.

Why you should listen to (and watch) Louie Zong: King of the short and sweet

A dive into the animation and music of Louie Zong, a master of short and sweet media with a wonderfully colorful and cute aesthetic.

Grime godfather Wiley drops a new single, “Bar”

A simple and short report and review on Grime legend Wiley’s new track “Bar.”

Democrat Doug Jones pulls off a shocking win in Alabama

A news and analysis article on Doug Jones’s victory over Roy Moore in Alabama that explains why the victory is historic and how it happened.

MGMT makes a beautiful nightmare aesthetic for “When You Die”

An exploration of MGMT’s absolutely gorgeous and haunting music video for their new single “When You Die.”

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is enjoyable but not good

A review of “The Last Jedi” that explains in detail the movie’s worldbuilding and plot failings that make it a mediocre film even if it is a fun film to watch.

Thanks for reading! This month was a fun one where I got to explore some of my favorite artists’ works, got to write about some of the best music videos I’ve seen in a while, and wrote my first movie review. Happy 2018.

~Austin R Ryan

November Reads


I’m gonna drop everything I’ve written and publicly published (under my name) in November here! The links are the titles and the titles are the links. Check them out if you like. I’d certainly like it if you did!

Why you should listen to Wang Wen: Mainland China’s premier post-rock 

A deep dive into the music of Wang Wen, one of China’s oldest and most accomplished post-rock bands.

Dan Terminus’s “Automated Refrains” is a step into a new synthwave world

A review of Dan Terminus’s new album Automated Refrains. It’s a synthwave epic that creates its own world and story using lighter tones than is normal for the genre.

“Montage” shows a mix of effort from Block B 

A review of K-Pop act Block B’s new mini-album Montage. Montage is entertaining, fun, and breaks new ground in most spots but it has some disappointingly uncreative slow jams.

Australia votes a strong “yes” in same-sex marriage referendum 

A short news article on Australia’s referendum on gay marriage. In it, I touch on some demographics behind the referendum vote and what it means politically.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard creates a psych-rock fantasy land in “Polygondwanaland”

A review of King Gizz’s 4th album of 2015, Polygondwanaland. It’s a progressive rock styled epic that knows what it’s doing and nails it.

“Perfect Velvet” is Red Velvet at their most and least interesting 

A review of Red Velvet’s bipolar new album. This album has some of the best girl-group songs in K-Pop, but also some of the staidest and least interesting ones too.

Thanks for reading and sorry for the silence!

~Austin R. Ryan

Instant Ramen


Instant ramen is like the heat that drips up from a fresh cup of coffee or tea. Instant ramen is chicken flavored sodium packets that smell like home. Instant ramen is my most unhealthy healing potion.

When I was really young I got stomach bugs pretty frequently. They may not have come around much more than for a normal kid, but I feel them heavy on my memory like parental hands on my back; I feel them thick like retches over cold toilet seats. When my stomach was a mad sea we’d send it ramen because the square noodle packet was like a full empty: nothing but sodium and noodles all laced up in tame flavors. Things would calm enough and fill enough to not have hunger pains churn under nausea like earthquakes inside storms. Older, nursing hangovers, it was the same deal – but much less dramatic.

As I got older I thought ramen might drop out of my home and head but it kept up with me. About two or three years ago I started getting sleep problems and when I’d stay up until I was too hungry to pass out I’d rip the orange packet half open and eat the noodles like a candy bar. Sitting up at 5 AM grinding dry noodles into paste feels a bit weird and desperate at first but after it works a few times it is all pleasant; it is all pleasant to break up the cool night with the tactile feeling of teeth churning.

The ramen got older too; it grew up with me. When the plainness of it wasn’t enough anymore I’d throw in new spices and learn what I liked on top of the bland noodle base. When noodles and broth stopped filling me up I’d dice up meat and veggies too. It was still a half-assed attempt at a meal – never the best I could make for myself – but it’d keep me running. Sometimes it even felt rejuvenating, breathing the scent in like distant incense, feeling the powder on the tips of fingers like sidewalk chalk, absorbing the odd magic of my ugly instant food. That magic could walk me back through time to when I was feeding friends while parents were out working; to when Dad would drop an egg or a cut up hot dog into the soup so that “it would at least have protein;” to when Mom put ice cubes in the soup so my sisters or I wouldn’t burn our tongues.

Instant ramen was healing in the way returning to home and wholeness is healing. This food has been there nearly as long as I can remember. When adulthood and identity shifts rattle my mind until I feel scattered I drain the noodles and the broth from the bowl and feel like all the fractals and bits of me fit tight together into one whole.

~Austin R Ryan

American Plain Views


I currently live and work in Minneapolis as an educator in an Americorps program and freelance writer. Sometimes it is peculiarly pretty here. It is pretty in a way that’s as much a sensation as a view. These little snippets will hopefully let you in on some of those American plain views.

View Heading Down Penn from Olson:

Olson Memorial Highway pushes out in both directions like big tar rivers and the grey-black backs of big straight serpents swimming into and out of center city. If the light allows, you can ford it all at once and if it doesn’t you are in an island in the middle watching the rust and the shine of cars sprint like metallic fish up and down stream. It is dirt, mud clot, and trash spotted right by Olson but further on past is the Harrison neighborhood where things get cleaner, greener, squarer and on with lawns and their houses. A little black girl cast in bronze statue welcomes you. Here the hills rise and sink slowly as the gentle undulation of a half-urban half-suburban dragon. The way the road stretches, the way there are no trees to block the skies or the hills as they rise, you can see right down Penn as it weaves up and down and up until it is too high to see past; just from seeing how the sky goes and goes and the earth goes and goes you’d guess there wasn’t any end to it. But then, eventually, you’d hit the highways and the interstates.

View From the Back of the 19:

Metro Transit buses have big windows to soothe you that bit they delayed you when they came late. Metro Transit buses are blood capillaries that pump in and out of the downtown heart where folks are moving but not wanting to be seen. Uptown, Northeast, by lakes and by campuses and by dive bars on rise is where people tell me you want to be seen. Metro Transit buses have big windows where these thoughts float out of sight and mind like clouds in the wide sky.

On the good days it feels like a Venice high in the sky. Your four wheeled gondola shared with a smattering of other people goes sailing down the light blue sky; your four wheeled gondola gliding on heaven to get you to the next earthly mess. The 19 – my four wheeled gondola – goes under the dark arches that connect concrete block buildings stretching out over two streets, making Hennepin Medical Center. Sunlight peaks out from the Hospital’s shadow until the 19 plunges fully into the bright light. It weaves up to the long and grassy green lawn in front of the Government Center. That building splits into two dark pillars wrapped together by a glass midsection and pulled tight by heavy black cross-lines so it looks like the corseted back of a boxy, cartoon-ish dominatrix.

After that the 19 comes through downtown where things look new and glassy and the construction turns everything to congestion and tightness. When it pops out into Hennepin it looks like one of those true downtown stretches full of bars and avante-garde buildings twisted up into modernist shapes. When breezes by the stadium, passes the brown and flat Transit Center, and leaks into Olson, it is just apartments and peaks down long and short residential roads.

On the bus a woman – White or Latina – sits and babbles brightly to her child. Another mom – Black – comes on and her toddler rushes up to the other kid and they seem to just stare before the parents direct them away, smiling and managing awkwardly. People come and people go. The driver lets a man know where to get off. The child leaves and the toddler cries for bit. Another mother and her kid – elementary age – comes on and picks up the transparent green binky the toddler dropped. The two mothers talk about the wide blue sky and the hot sun and the children all wrapped up in it; they talk on and past when my stop comes and I go.

~Austin R Ryan

The Top Screamer


I am the Top Screamer and I scream so loud that the volume can be felt and makes the boundaries of all things porous and thin. All the men and the women and the children shriek furiously for me to stop but I can’t hear them over how loud and victorious I am all the time. I have screamed so loud before. Really, you just won’t even believe how loud I have screamed before.

~Austin R Ryan

Mood and Vision and Ma-Te Lin


This Taiwan band is a singer-DJ combo with a penchant for animal rights and a solid range of sounds that can feel floaty and fun as froth on hot chocolate and heavy and lurching as raw wrath. In practical terms Ma-Te Lin bears similarity to Lana Del Ray and Lorde – and they claim as much – but their range of sound contains much more, including Nujabes style grooves, beats made from animal noises, chip tune rhythms that seem to come from video games, and more. At first listen it might seem that Ma-Te Lin is mostly pleasant and airy atmosphere music, but even their pared down songs pour out so many interesting sounds that the songs become so much more than just decently well composed, soft-sounding chillwave electronica that litters the internet. Ma-Te Lin is impressive in a way that many atmospheric electronic acts aren’t because they maintain laidback moods through an entire track while also constantly developing the backbeat, often in radical ways using sounds that are traditionally jarring and arrhythmic – such as dog barks, fuzzy guitars, mewing, harsh beeps, and whirring video game sounds. So many odd sounds weave into the songs that it is hard to separate out and define all of them, yet each one fits so tightly into the composition that they rarely register as an erratic noise that draws away from the beat.

The band’s ultimate chill song, “Manchi” is a great example. Though the song always feels atmospheric, light, and relaxed, there is still an impressive amount of dynamic noises layered over one another. Manchi does not just sit on one sample or sound that is aesthetically pleasant and ride it to the finish line, but it actively constructs and deconstructs rhythms of noise around the main, snappy drum rhythm. The whole thing culminates at around two and half minutes to three minutes in where the song features very low bass thrums, clapping, a smooth synth line, and a sharper, more robotic one. By the end an array of sampled sounds synthesize into an off-kilter rhythm that dies gently and smoothly into an echoing end. Despite a decent amount of layered complexity, the song still feels stripped, simple, and straightforwardly pleasant due to strong guiding vocals and very smart composition and mixing that emphasizes sounds – like the snappy drum rhythm – that keep the listener moored in a very full and sweet mood.

Ma-Te Lin excel at making mood through unorthodox noise and can maintain their unique sound selection over far more than just the happy and chill too. In “My Place” Ma-Te Lin reveals the dark and haunting end of their sonic grin. Instantly the song opens with the low thrum of a stand-up bass given a bit of dirty twang during the mixing. The singer falls into the rhythm with a smokiness that builds a dark little lounge around the light percussion and the twang of stand up bass. Gradually all sorts of dissonance in form of synthesizers that make a sort of wom-wom-wom sound and guitars that squeal and scratch out notes of half-formed solos erupt like spots of magma until the whole lounge of sound melts into itself. The singer gradually becomes more terrifying as her emotions spike and her words echo and lord dark messages over the listener (buhaoyisi is a light way to say sorry in mandarin and pounds furiously in the background as the song climaxes). Dense and rich with different sonic touches, “My Place” is Ma-Te Lin showing that they can do nasty and heavy without tearing apart their style of layer cake electronica.

Where this duo experiments they do sometimes falter as well as they lean too heard on over-saturated rhythms and downright cheesy phrases. Ma-Te Lin sometimes over-saturates their lyrics and rhythm so that some songs can feel overdone and less striking. “Pet Palace” uses a set of crooning baby animal noises that are inventive and bubby but also indistinct compared to their other more energetic and loaded tracks. The chorus similarly is invenetive and bubbly, “Have you heard of the pet palace? / Do you want to find the pet palace? /  Do you know you are in the pet palace?” but it feels a little saccharine, cheesy, and less intriguing than in some other songs. “Hope Popo” similarly leans on an awkward chorus (“we need a hope popo / no more cry oh oh”) that definitely borders on cheesy, but unlike “Pet Palace” it has a snappier and more interesting composition which keeps the song alive as it enters into verses full of layered vocals and varied sounds ranging from dog barks to distorted guitars to the tings of what sound like triangles or light bells. Even in less interesting songs Ma-Te Lin stays creative with their sound and style.

The creativity in Ma-Te Lin seeps out from the music and into their image to make them a monstrously comprehensive artistic force. They have a clear vision and theme, promoting rights of humane treatment for animals and a generally gentler touch with nature; they have a beautiful, colorful and consistent aesthetic that involves a recurring cartoon character ala Gorillaz; they even collaborate with a talented Taiwanese artist (Little Oil) to make gorgeous music videos which fit perfectly to their dreamy sound. All three of these things bleed into each other so that animal noises enter as samples and beats in songs, the cartoon character is animalistic, colorful, and composed of sharp but clean angles that evoke the sound it embodies, and every collaborator aligns well with their spooky and smooth mood. All of this makes Ma-Te Lin visual material match so tremendously with their audio that it is a struggle to pick which of their music videos to showcase over the others. The calm and melancholy Nujabes vibes captured by the paints in “Circus” are as wonderful as the magical and fantastical puppet show in “The Girl in the Magic Shoes” or the serene sweetness in “Manchi.”

Ma-Te Lin may be too corny or too chill for a few people, but if you like a relaxed sound or strong, rich, and thick vocals Ma-Te Lin is worth a listen because Ma-Te Lin is never lazy; the duo does not lean on the vocals to carry everything; the duo does not rest on a nice central beat; the duo does not mistake soft for simple or complex for difficult. For some, the language and culture barrier that a Taiwanese act presents might seem to much to overcome, but when a band has strong enough a creative mindset they can fashion their own language to speak through – that’s exactly what Ma-Te Lin does. Ma-Te Lin bounces between English and Taiwanese, between audio and visual, but through all that they are always speaking and showing their own stern message and dreamy form. Through all the noise they layer around the rich and thick lead vocals, they are always. Oh, and for what it’s worth, their live show looks pretty damn good too.

~Austin R Ryan

The 5 Up and the 5 Down


I am in a new town so I am on new transit. For job training I have to go to up and up to the north end of Minneapolis so I am riding the 5 up and the 5 down. It is early and chilly and dry here. September is ending and everyone is huddled tight and small into jackets. When I left without one I doubled back so I could slink into it too.

The 5 stop is a few blocks down, on an intersection of two large streets. Where I am couchsurfing there are a lot of Somalian stores just on the near corner, and on the far corner where that street ends there is a hip record store called The Electric Fetus; in between all that there is a Wendy’s. About mid-way through the walk there is an overpass that looks through a rusted iron fence at the Minneapolis skyline. The buildings are tall and wide and glassy, mostly new but for some odd eggs like the Foshay. The sky is very wide and very open. The wide and blue of it is caught and pushed out a second time by the reflective skyscrapers so that looking at the cars all pour seamlessly inward feels like slipping into an undertow. It stops me for a minute and I let myself fall in and get washed around in the noise and the scenery.

It strikes me walking down the sidewalk that everyone here is unfamiliar, but it starts to matter less after each new city. At first it seems strange and indecipherable to be in a new brand of hectic city but after a while the elements bleed together. Nothing is so like Beijing or D.C. but nothing is so unlike them either. That feels very refreshing to me – akin to relapsing into a Jones soda or catching up with a friend from a while ago; familiar and unfamiliar. It scares me to imagine rural living because I don’t even have a frame of reference – wholly unfamiliar.

There are only a few people waiting at the same 5 stop as I am and even fewer that I can remember the look and bearing of. It takes a little while for the bus to get there, but it does and the man in front lets me know, friendly and folksy, where to swipe the bus pass I am borrowing. I am not feeling fine and out enough to reflect that energy well.

The first leg of the trip is through the city proper, us going underneath big buildings and near large malls. People really come and go around here. Once we clear into the north that’s when people quit their coming and going for settling and sitting. North Minneapolis has its troubles from what I am told and I believe all that, but in the daytime it does not matter so much. Walking to a specific destination down a big street during the day isn’t asking for trouble or anything else. It is odd to me that people feel keenly otherwise – imagining maybe rioting streets or lawless gang rule – but my worries over rural areas are as irrational – imagining horror movie sequences and serial killers. It is just difficult to get a frame of reference – planted wholly in the familiar.

As we get out of downtown and more towards the near north a woman gets on and starts to talk on the phone with some kind of legal counsel. It becomes clear she is prosecuting a case against someone as she reads out a list of charges in a perfectly flat and casual voice. It is hard not to eavesdrop because of how her casual and informal flow grinds against the seriousness of the various charges. After a while, overhearing her just becomes hearing her and it starts to feel zen to listen to the manifold charges wind out calmly – almost in procedure. I feel less worried; that might be a backwards response. I figure you could read her words backwards or forwards but what you should do was not read them at all and let them just be hers. It was already too late for me, and now it is too late for you too.

When I get off the 5 I actually missed my stop by a bit and pulled the wire before we had even reached a cross street. The bus driver stops right away anyways and I get back headed the right way. Coincidentally the right way has a cool look and a load of interesting stores – including what I think was a gas station painted entirely over with this somewhat abstract mural that my mind grasps more for the colors and swirls than the shapes and substance. I think there might be a Wendy’s up here too – in between everything else.

 

On the way back down the bus is at first empty of any other passengers. I am feeling fine and out enough to squeeze a small conversation from quiet bus driver while we figure out if my transit card has enough money on it. A really trendy and smartly dressed young woman comes on and graciously waits for me to sort myself out. For a while there is barely anyone on the bus but as we near downtown, it gets more crowded. A pretty drunk or just bizarrely enthusiastic and loud man swaggers on board and instantly tries to befriend the quiet bus driver. After a minimal interaction he declares success, screaming, “This is my man! This is my brother!” about the bus driver to the rest of the bus. He eventually saunters over to the middle of the bus and his thoughts spill audibly out – about half the full portion of his head tumbling out in accidental volume spikes. When another man comes on and is taking his time to pay at the front, the (presumably) drunk man offers to cover the charge. The whole bus, he declares, is family. The man paying upfront, maybe not feeling like family or too much like family, refuses the drunk man’s help once, then twice, and then sternly. The drunk man returns to his seat but he still holds on to the family point for a bit.

In what feels like just an instant we get downtown and people pour the bus back up to full. A girl who sounds about high school age sitting behind me. A bit later another man comes onto the bus and makes some kind of loud noise for some reason – I had stopped paying attention. I had stopped paying attention at a bad time because the girl behind me says, “damn son!” so loudly and resolutely and naturally that a good chunk of the bus chuckles; a middle aged woman even giggles herself into tears. She laughs and laughs, gearing up so much that a second wind sweeps over me and the rest of the bus and we all laugh and chuckle and smile again.

“Oh thank you.” She says to the girl, “I needed that.” Afterwards the laughing woman reassures the man too, “we are laughing with you not at you.” Being a good sport about the whole thing, he agrees that it was pretty funny. I still don’t know if it was pretty funny, or if it was even a comedy at all, but it might have been better that way.

A few stops down the line another girl who knew the first one comes in and they both settle quickly into a conversation. The one tells the other how she got the bus to laugh – seeming as surprised by the whole thing as I was – and the other tells the one how she just got done with a fight.

“Well, you look pretty good for just getting out of a fight.”

“Yeah she didn’t even have time to hit me.”

It all feels very nonchalant, but energetic and excited at the brims and edges.

They both sound pretty young, but I don’t really know how young they are. They go on for a bit back and forth about how some neighborhood folk gave the second girl’s pregnant sister some trouble. The first girl notes how that should be out of line while an old woman in a pink overcoat, with thick black sunglasses sits down next to me. She smells faintly like cigarettes in a surprisingly pleasant way and we both make eye contact and smile at each other for a moment. This woman is the stereotypical picture of the urban old woman – covered in fuzzy pink, clutching a cane and a plastic bag, big hat and big glasses that leave only her little grin showing – but I don’t really know how old she is.

Not long after that the drunk man stumbles off the bus angered and with others around him encouraging him to get gone. In a little bit I’ll leave too and so I get up and stand by the exit door. A man gives me a hello so warm that you’d think we knew each other. He thinks we do; he asks if we had talked to each other earlier and I say no, because we haven’t. When we get off he wraps an arm around my shoulders and tells me that he’s a homeless vet named Lorenzo and ask for three dollars for a bite to eat and I say I used up the last of my cash on the bus fare, because I had. His lips knit into a tight and small frown and his arm falls limply off of me. I apologize and wish him good luck before slipping off, away from the bus stop.

Public transit can be one of the most interesting sights in a city but also one of the most dull. The lottery of it is as much part of the city character as anything. Flitting moments of realities far outside of all my self-obsession drift into orbit for a second. It draws me out like a spectacle but it isn’t one. The moments are not mine and so I don’t have to chase them down for completion or explanation or plainly owe them or have them owe me anything at all. The moments apply like a texture on top of the smooth, simple, scheduled rhythm of city transit and blend in with the other sensory memories on top of other buses and subways and characters of other cities until it is all this familiar and unfamiliar thing I feel like I’ve seen and never seen.

Pee-Paw’s Tater Brain


Heydee-hoo there neighbo! Droppin’ a peep in ta letcha knah you better get yer kickin boots on. Yer Pee-paw’s back at the saloon hooting and hollering at all the hollies and hanks how he seen the legendary outlaws Gosh Darnold and Josh Dammit! Third time this week he’s been tall tale-ing the day away – I think. I ain’t peachy pleased to speak it but his tater brains is really mashin’ up the townsfolk ya know.

~Austin R Ryan

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