Album review: The Perms “Miracle”

Miracle_front cover

Canada has a knack for pumping out pop-rock masters. The Perms meet criteria for honest go-getters making flashy, catchy, simple tunes. Miracle (Hugtight Records, 2017) is actually their fifth studio release, although it sounds as fresh as a band’s beginning. Miracle harkens back to early 90’s rock glory, pulsing with the same veins as Butthole Surfers, Crash Test Dummies, and Blind Melon. Only one song here breaks three minutes. We’re talking tight songs from Shane Smith (bass/vocals), Chad Smith (guitar/vocals), and John Huver (drums).

On the opener, “Julie”, the guitar work has a familiar, blissful air to it, and lines like, “She had to take what she could give… That is how she wins/ She has to always win,” vibe so nicely. The lyrics aren’t deep, but they’re not cliché either. Everything here is spot on; the quick guitar solo, the one-word chorus, the vocal harmonies… All right on.

This intentionality carries the album through. “Busy Izzy” could have ended up on the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack, had it come out a decade ago. The whiny verses and the shiny, upbeat chorus offers interesting juxtaposition.  “November” is just as glorious. “The days are long…It’s freezing cold… I know it’s tough.” And while this power trio seems to be in utter synchronicity, John Huver’s drums give The Perms their signature sound, and this track is a perfect example how.

The Perms is wholesome fun. Rock music at its purest. The songs avoid sounding rehashed because The Perms clearly didn’t set out to sound like anything in particular. They just like loud music. Coming in at nine songs and 23 minutes, my only criticism is that Miracle is too short. Had they been able to make it to 12 tracks, the album would fall directly in the cannon of fireball short albums, (thinking Green Day’s Insomniac, Weezer’s Blue Album, and The Strokes’ Room on Fire), but the EP status doesn’t suit a band who makes short songs.

Seriously, though: if you like power trios, 90’s- era alt. rock, fun but not silly music, and Canada, The Perms are going to be your new best friends. I really like this album.

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What It Means When We Use “Okay” Around Kids

WHAT IS “OKAY” AND HOW IS IT USED?

First and foremost, “okay” is a noun, adjective, adverb, and interjection (e.g. “Okay! I get it!”). It is also an “Americanism”, a folk word adopted into our language that has basis in English but no real history. Therefore, it is a rather arbitrary word that can be used in many, many contexts to mean many, many different things.

Humans learn from language in what’s called “derived relations”. In simple terms, when we’re young, someone will hold up a toy dog and say “dog.” They will point to a picture of a dog and say “dog.” While going for a walk and spotting the neighbor’s poodle in the yard they’ll say, “There’s the doggie!” These derivations happen because “dog” as a word is arbitrary. Three letters. The first example is a toy, the second a photo, and the third an actual dog. However, as children we begin to derive connections among them and discover how all of these represent the canine species.

Also, all three could be different breeds. “Dog”, therefore, relies on relations developed over time. The more arbitrary a word, the more relations must develop to make up the difference. For example, “vegetable” requires more derivations than “broccoli”.

“Dog” doesn’t mean one thing only. Relations tend to group from the more personal to the more foreign. For instance, I grew up with a drooling, loud, smelly, vicious, loyal dog who, for much of our time together, was bigger than me. If I were to hear arbitrarily something like, “They have a dog,” my mind would be more inclined to draw from my hard-adopted relations, and I would be caught off guard when I meet their dog and it’s a tiny, yippy thing that’s quite kind.

We overlook this use of language severely when raising children, and even though contemporary research tells us plenty about how language can be used to help children grow in healthy ways, our own methods (brought to us by relations from our parents, etc.) are mildly inflexible. What we say matters more than we think because thoughts can draw from more context than words can. A thought can be filtered from a history of experiences and derived relations and end up with a simple stretch of words such as, “There’s a dog.”

What does this have to do with “okay”?

Well, what, exactly, makes something “okay” or “not okay”?

Think about that for a moment.

Did your mind tell you something like, “It depends on the situation”?

That’s right. It sure does.

For an example, someone responding to the question “How are you?” might answer, “I’m okay.” It’s now up to us to evaluate their inflection, tone, posture, and our previous experiences with this person to derive what okay means in this context. It could mean things are on the upswing, or they’re hiding how miserable they are, or they’re busy and don’t want to be bothered with silly questions.

If you ask me how the two-week old soup looks, I might answer, “It’s okay.” I might mean that it’s good enough to still eat. But your standards are likely different than mine. What’s okay for me might not be okay for you.

Let’s transfer this to the adult/child relationship. Is it “okay” for you to eat a chocolate bar before dinner? Again, this question becomes arbitrary because you might be on a diet, so no, it’s “not okay.” And I might think it is okay because as an adult we really can choose what we want to eat and when. We, personally, derive what “okay” means to us when it comes to chocolate bars and dinner, and even though we might disagree on whether or not the candy ought to be eaten, what’s okay or not okay can really only be from the perspective of “I” and “you”.

UNDOING OUR OWN WORK

We might ask our child, “Are you okay going to sit on Santa’s lap by yourself?”

What, in this context, does “okay” mean? Perhaps “confident”, “feeling safe”, or “capable”.

So, our child derives that “okay” is similar to- or synonymous with- confidence, safety, and capability.

The following day, on the playground, we see our child climbing up the slide from the bottom and we rush over to them, pull them off, and shout, “That’s not okay!”

But doesn’t “okay” have to do with confidence, safety, and capability? Now our child is confused because they were feeling quite confident in their ability, and they felt quite safe, even if we didn’t. For us, however, “okay” in this context means something different, referring to “meeting social norms about how to use the playground”, “the safest way to use the equipment”, and “worrying us that you’ll get hurt”.

The following day we ask, “Did you have an okay day at school?” If our child is deriving “meeting norms”, “being safe”, and “managing worry” from “okay”, then they might confirm your evaluation. If the child is deriving “capable” and “confident”, then maybe they struggled in Math and Science, so no, it was not an okay day.

Here, though, you really want to know how they felt, overall, about their day, as in, “How was your mood and attitude throughout the day while at school?”

Overtime, we come to learn all that “okay” can mean and we internalize its usefulness. But children, especially young children, are learning all day every day. When they hear “That’s not okay”, they’re forced to use their experience with the word to understand what it means to them- and then to you- in this context.

“Did you think running out the door by yourself was okay?” is not informative. “Okay” can be so many things that undoubtedly, in some form, yes, they thought it was okay. A different way of saying this is, “I worry about you when you run off, and leaving without me can be unsafe because you could get hit by a car.”

This is longwinded. It’s work. So, no wonder we like “okay”, because it can be used in place of longer explanations. Adults have derived so many associations with “okay” that they’re likely to be able to discern what you meant from this arbitrary response. Yet, because we aren’t specific about why we’re upset, a child begins to internalize the function of the word “okay”. What’s “okay” becomes less and less clear.

We can further this by examining the phrase “It’s not okay…” as in, “It’s not okay to hit your brother.”

What is the “it’s” and what is the “okay”? From a developmental perspective, hitting your brother is actually quite “okay”: it asserts dominance, sets boundaries, and is an expression of internal emotional experience. The “it’s” may be perceived as relating to the child’s predisposition to form boundaries with their siblings. If that’s the case, “It’s not okay” could be internalized as, “Your desire to take care of yourself is bad.”

ENDING SENTENCES WITH “OKAY?”

The next step is to look at how we might use it at the end of a sentence to turn it into a question, such as, “Don’t go on the playground, okay?”

And just what the heck is “okay” supposed to mean in this context?

Is the playground okay or not okay? Is not going onto the equipment “okay”? Is listening to this mandate “okay”?

I hear this use of the word very often when an adult talks to a child, but I rarely hear this when one adult talks to another (although it does happen). Often, the function of “okay” here is to lessen the impact of hearing a mandate, and it’s part of the current young-parent’s cultural shift away from parent-as-warden and towards parent-as-friend.

This shift is neither good nor bad; it’s simply a change of the times. Egalitarian parenting is possible, yet many people use subtle changes in language to achieve this, and it’s worth, now that we’re a couple of decades into this new style, to begin troubleshooting.

When you end your mandate with “okay?” you’re essentially handing over the validity of your asking to the child. It’s like, “What do you think about me asking you not to go onto the playground?”

The response to, “Don’t do that, okay?” for a child could be, “No, it’s not okay! I’ve been helpful at home. I’m safe. I need to run around. I’m very wound up.” Unknowingly, you’ve created more tension between you and your child than if you’d simply said, “Don’t go on the playground.”

TRY IT OUT

You may be thinking, “So what? Is this a big deal?”

So, experiment a little. Try using “okay” with your kids for a week and pay close attention to their responses- not whether or not they do the same behavior again- we have to get over thinking that if we tell a kid not to do something that they’ll learn it without reminders.

However, the following week I invite you to get specific: Use “Doing your homework is part of being a responsible student,” instead of, “Slacking off is not okay,” and see what changes. My guess is you’ll get grumpiness, defensiveness, or the comment will be shut down as it typically is, but test that against the less nuanced response from “not okay.” “Not okay” typically trains a patterned response, such as, “Sorry…” or a simple nod, or perhaps a verbal battle. I bet you’ll notice getting specific elicits a broader spectrum of responses. We want to see this because it means the arbitrariness is undone.

When you replace “okay” with a valuable connection to self, then you increase awareness. “Okay” is a judgement, albeit an arbitrary one. Naming something as unsafe, rude, scary, etc. helps define context. For your child, they probably weren’t thinking when they ran out of the store. Saying it’s “not okay” is similar to saying “is bad”, and what’s bad about running?

Say what you mean, which is, “You’re short, and people in cars might not see you. I’m scared when you run away.”

Also notice how the examples I give refrain from any sort of accusation. Saying “I’m scared” is much different from “That’s not okay.” Children come equipped with empathy. Empathy is actually how we learn as kids, by tuning into facial expressions, emotions, and mimicking behavior. “That’s not okay” leaves much to the imagination of a young child. Then we get mad at them, shouting, “You never listen!”

Yes, they were listening. You just weren’t giving them much to work with.

Try watching your use of language, okay?

 

Album review: The Ries Brothers “The View From The Outside

Ries

The View From The Outside (Self released, 2017) is a fitting title for Charlie and Kevin Jordan’s debut. People have been cataloging this LP under reggae and rock, but I’ll call it straight-up pop. With that in mind, consider John Mayer, Dave Matthews, or Ed Sheeran. Tons of soul. Blends of genres. But mostly, the ooz is laid on thick. To listen in a way that does the duo justice, I had to get into a late adolescent headspace, where so much of life is about “selfing” and findings one’s place. TVFTO is laced with love songs and the meditative meanderings of a couple-a kids staying out late and getting a feel for adulthood.

Now, I know that’s not giving these two enough credit. Overall, they write funky, soulful, songs, and they generally have good lyrics, and they generally pull them off nicely. And an average album is not a bad album. A debut at all deserves accolades. Conversely, none of the songs are that catchy, and many come off as flat. The guitars and bass lines are monotonous, and Charlie’s vocals sometimes melt into inarticulate whining. Again, this is neither good nor bad. Dudes like John Mayer have built an impressive career off this kind of songwriting, and yes, I like John Mayer (for the most part).

“Sentimental Games” is a perfect example. From the corner of the room, the song is pretty melodies and well-designed song construction. On closer listen, here’s the verse: “Walking down the road/ on the way to meet a girl/ But all the while thinking what’s the use of trying anymore?/ ’Cause it’s so hard sometimes/ to lay it on the line/ When love don’t treat you good/ it ain’t easy to get by.” These lyrics are neither fresh nor too engaging. And this kind of writing continues through all 13 songs. One song is even boldly titled “Unrequited”, on which Charlie expounds, “I believed you when you told me that you’d always feel that way/ But now I feel so foolish for expecting you to stay.”

There is, of course, an entire niche market for this kind of music, and it sells very well, and it isn’t all indigestible. The Ries brothers certainly have an integrity that’s apparent, merely through the quality of the album’s production. They took their time addressing all elements of their songs. For what they’re trying to achieve, they nail it. The issue may even be that they accomplish too much. They integrate so many styles of music and instruments that the heart of what they’re after gets lost.

“Street Lights” rides the cusp. The melody is sexy and creative, and the chorus flutters with ambiance. Eighteen-year-old Kevin has a flawless guitar solo, and the song builds and builds. It’s golden pop.

In fact, Kevin’s guitar work is really quite good all the way through. Both brothers have tons of talent. In time, maybe their scope will expand beyond girls walking down roads. Then again, I wasn’t making high-production albums and going on tour when I was 18… And if you look up any live videos, you’ll see that what they’re really all about is a live performance. Part of that talent is multi-instrumentalism and the ability to plays drums, keys, and sing simultaneously. Or to loop instruments and build a song from the ground up. A great live show just doesn’t always make for a great album of the same songs.

This is the beginning of the journey for the Ries Brothers, and they’re going to have to decide not only which road to take, but how they plan on walking it.