Is Reading a Creative Process?

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When you sit down and read a book — a novel specifically — are you being creative? This is a question worth debating. On one hand, you aren’t really creating anything. There is nothing visible to show for it when you close the book and put it aside. On the other hand, the ideas you are getting from the book, the visuals you are weaving and constructing in your mind, are all intangible materials that you can be applied to your creations.

With that being said, is watching a television show being creative? Is listening to an album being creative? Is watching a hockey game being creative? Where does one draw the line between entertainment and creative research?

For me, the creative process is an intent-driven process. You are present with all that is happening. You aren’t simply walking through an art gallery, but you are stopping to admire each painting and sculpture along the way. You are processing it.

If a novel, a television show, or an album is being consumed with the same frame of mind as one simply moving through it as quickly as possible, as a means to an end, then it is not a creative act. However, if one pauses occasionally and consider why the writer, cinematographer, or artist chose to use this word, this lighting, or that note, then what is being done is perhaps the most important aspect of being a creator.

Yes, I consider reading a creative process, but not everyone does. Some will simply read for pleasure. A filmmaker will watch a movie and consider it a part of the creative process while a mere civilian will watch a movie as a means to escape.

There is this hallway and you get to walk through it at your own speed. That is how I see a piece of work. What you get out of that experience is up to you.

 

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The ‘Blurred Lines’ of artistic plagiarism

Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke. Image via zenfs.com

We are reaching the end of artistic originality

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 16, 2015

There is an old saying by Pablo Picasso that I take to heart every time I work on a creative project: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” While it might sound like Picasso is supporting the notion of plagiarism, I actually believe he is condoning something different; he is saying that great artists are able to take ownership of their creation, which is inspired by a pre-existing work. But isn’t that what Robin Thicke did with the hit single “Blurred Lines”?

After listening to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” from 1977, I am disappointed that the quote I have lived by—that Picasso probably stole from someone he overheard at a bar—had no support in the court of law. It might have seemed like millionaires arguing for a slice of a pie baked from a familiar recipe, but the event that took place will now open the door for many more lawsuits to come.

It’s clear “Got to Give it Up” and “Blurred Lines” share similar beats, but the two songs are not the same. The two songs do not have the same lyrics, the same theme, or the same audience. How many dance clubs are playing Gaye? With each passing generation, artists draw inspiration from works from the past. That is how creativity functions. Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Artists take pieces from here and there and combine them. Can a cinematographer copyright a camera move? Can a painter copyright the scenery they painted? Can a musician copyright a series of musical notes?

More recently, Sam Smith was on the radar for his song “Stay With Me,” which to many sounding suspiciously similar to a slower version of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” In this case, Smith accepted a settlement and credited Petty as a co-writer. The not-so-petty Petty will now receive a portion of the money for “Stay With Me” and this may be a common trend for the future. Artists will be credited for works which merely influenced, or that coincidence caused the two to clash.

There is more music than there is time to enjoy it. Because of this, notes, rhythm, and melody will be replicated in some form. We call it plagiarism and perhaps it is. But the same way we don’t copy and paste words from Wikipedia, musicians don’t crop and paste music from iTunes. You take the content and you make it your own.

I still believe in the idea that great artists steal, because the artists today will always be standing on the shoulders of giants that preceded them. What’s different now is the system protecting those giants. We as artists need to craft our creative work better so that it doesn’t resemble that from the past. More than ever, we need to make our work our own. If that means adding a banjo, so be it. If that means a sitar, well damn it, play that sitar. If that means more cowbells, well, it’s about time we cure that insatiable thirst for cowbells already. Then we wait for someone else to copy us.

Road-tripping with My Mother the Carjacker

Where do Vancouver musicians go?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 11, 2014

Beside the industrial waves of the mighty Fraser and alongside the barbwire fences and railway tracks is a building long past its prime. Weather-beaten but still venerable, the musical dormitory is both a rehearsal space and a hangout spot for My Mother the Carjacker (MMC).

I joined them as they took shelter from a rainy night in the late winter of 2013. The trio set up their equipment for a session in their humble abode—the sprinkler room. Dan Whittal, Liam Worthington, Allan Heppner, and a 12-pack of beer got down to work; nitty-gritty work, hold-all-my-calls-I’ll-be-here-awhile work.

“We take it really seriously,” said lead singer and guitarist, Whittal. “But we don’t act serious, and that makes all the difference.”

Every band has a different dynamic and MMC’s characteristic is very distinct, since they have one central understanding: “At the beginning we agreed, ‘Don’t tell anyone they can’t do something,’” said bassist, Worthington. “If they write the part, let them write the part. If it doesn’t work with the song, obviously the guy would know anyways.”

Logo and Van

The Road

Vancouver’s live entertainment scene is not always welcoming to newcomers, so MMC embraces the bumpy ride. It’s all up and down, resembling their fast-paced tempo and off-topic banter during their live performances. Still, it’s difficult for a unique band to stand out in a big crowd—like a car with a funky paint job honking in rush hour traffic, there just isn’t enough room.

“The thing about Vancouver is that it is really tough to get people out, we are kind of spoiled for music,” said drummer, Heppner. “There is also a lot of it, because it is a big city. So people see a lot of shit bands, while there are good bands playing all the time. If they don’t like one, they could go to another, because there are 50,000 clubs and bars.”

Like so many other local musicians, they are choosing to take their talents out of town. MMC is not ignoring Vancouver or trying to escape it; they simply know that they must meet their fan base halfway.

“The thing is with booking out of town, you will need to give yourself a three-month window,” said Worthington. “So yeah, we are definitely actively looking towards a fall tour. We are always trying to play out-of-town shows. We are looking at Whistler, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Victoria. We want to do an extensive BC tour. Prince George, we’ve been asked to go there so many times. And then there is Nelson and Revelstoke. You can have a full-month tour of just BC.”

In early February, MMC returned from Kamloops after a short three-day trip to enjoy some good ol’ Vancouver sushi with me. They all nodded in agreement that the trip, albeit short notice, was both profitable and invigorating.

“We were cruising down the highway when a guy beside us was like, ‘Pull over! Your tires are fucked!’” Worthington, the designated driver in the band, retold the experience. “Oh God! We pulled over and checked it out and it was gone.”

“We didn’t notice at all,” said Whittal, “but it had been dragging for a while.”

“The truck belongs to Hey Ocean!,” Worthington said. “We borrowed it for four hours and fucked it up. They knew it was coming soon so they gave it to us. Whatever, it happened and we dealt with it thanks to the most brilliant man alive, Brian from FortisBC.”

The band laughed off the experience of standing on the middle of a highway during one of the coldest weeks of winter, lifting up their three-wheeled truck in order to fit a jack underneath. In retrospect, the situation could have been disastrous: they could have missed their show, or worse. Adversity comes with the territory when you’re touring as independent musicians. Safety is first, fun is second, but money is always a close third.

The Campaign

The sacred title of musician is respected by MMC: none of them would openly announce that that is what they are. Like judges, doctors, and politicians, Whittal, Worthington, and Heppner don’t feel they have legitimately earned the honours yet—not as a professional title, at least. The definition is still debatable between the three as they contemplate their own identity in the grand scheme.

“When someone asks you, ‘What is your job?’ you cannot say that,” said Worthington. “It’s what I aspire to be… and it’s getting closer and closer every year, but we’re not there yet.”

They speak enthusiastically of other bands, bands they look up to, while drawing a line for themselves. This mark keeps them grounded as they continue to strive for that ultimate goal.

In the summer of 2013, they took on a new initiative: their second album. But before they could return to the studio they decided that they wouldn’t half-ass the job. This time they were serious. Even if they couldn’t call themselves professionals, they would behave like professionals.

“You have an album coming out?” said Heppner, impersonating the public when he told them about their first album.

“Do you even play an instrument?” Worthington mocked.

“Your name is Liam?” Whittal added as the band laughed off their anonymity.

Campaigning for their Kickstarter was a brand new challenge for the group. On stage they were exuberant, but individually they were reserved and far from forthcoming when it came to asking for money. Getting someone to come to a show was one thing, getting them to download music was another, but getting them to chip in to a creative piece of work that has yet to be created is a whole other beast. Sucking up their pride and doing what they needed to, MMC, with the help of many, met their $6,000 goal.

“It gets easier over time,” said Worthington. “When people actually start following you, it does get easier for sure. Especially on social media when we can get the word out about the Kickstarter. Now people know that the album is coming out and we put out little teasers of the album and the recording process. We are just slowly building hype.”

 

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The Studio

The day after they returned from their harrowing road trip to Kamloops, the three members of MMC were putting in the hours at the studio, recording layered tracks for their new album. I placed myself on a couch and watched as they worked.

Occasionally an error would arise, one would notify the other, and instead of countering with defensiveness, the response would be in jest and with appreciation. Jokes played in the background just as the music played in the foreground. Even though every moment spent in the studio was precious, there was no indication of anything being rushed. There were no shortcuts.

When it comes to the importance of studio time versus show time, MMC recognizes the value of both and doesn’t take either for granted. That being said, it’s not every day they get to work on recording their new album.

“You’re not going to be recording as much as you are playing,” said Heppner. “If you have nothing to record, then you need to be playing because that’s how you exist as a band.”

“But the way you keep on existing as a band is by having something to record,” Whittal added. “And that is a hard one to—”

“It needs to be a really good exposure show!” Worthington interrupted. “Or we are recording an album. The show needs to be absolutely worth it. In my opinion, studio time is so much more expensive than a show is, so it needs to be a really well-promoted show with great exposure. It would be the show for sure! ”

“Especially for us,” said Whittal, “shows are kind of our thing.”

Genres are harder to define than ever. Avant-grunge, funk rock, and danger polka punk are just a few attempts at characterizing MMC’s sound with words. But they don’t care about creating a theme or focussing on a certain category. What they want is to generate music with unpredictability—the I’m-up-on-my-feet-and-moving-without-knowing-it kind of music.

…Or of Something Else, their second album, will be available in the spring of 2014, and although they are always looking for new roads to explore and new places to play, you can catch them around town at local venues playing their balls-on-the-walls-all-hands-on-deck-feels-so-good-it-can’t-be-butter kind of music.

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For more information about My Mother the Carjacker, their music, and where they’re performing, visit their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/mymotherthecarjacker) or follow them on Twitter (@MyMotherCarjack).

New Canadian App Encore Helps Concert Fans Relive Memories Of The Epic Nights

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The bass drop, the drum beat and the roaring applaud and cheers of the crowd, urging the band back on stage for just one, maybe two more songs: those are the fleeting moments of a concert.

Those moments are what Toronto-based Encore is hoping to save for fans and concert lovers all across the world. The new app will act as a storage bank containing photos, videos, set lists, past and future shows and other sharable content, as well as the convenience and accessibility to purchase tickets and invites friends.

According to Encore’s Summer 2013 Survey of concertgoers between the ages of 18 and 30, 72% will take pictures, 49% will post it to Facebook, 41% will film videos, and 35% will tweet about it. Concerts are spectacles that fans will wait months and years for, and there is little doubt that it is worth remembering.

“We know everyone needs a good concert app,” Nicholas Klimchuk, co-founder at Encore told Techvibes. “We know what a good concert app entails. We don’t think people have designed it well. What makes Encore different from other concert apps is that we don’t just focus on upcoming shows—we focus on the past.”

“Users add every concert that they’ve been to and we suck in all the photos and videos, so you have a time capsule of the experience,” he continued. “And then it’s really cool to see a profile of every concert you’ve been to.”

Nostalgia is an important element of being human. The ability to recall the past and feel the warmth of a memory is something unique to us. But people evolve too and habits change. There was a time when concertgoers would keep their ticket stubs and place them with their collection after the show. They would keep it all in a box, an album or make a collage, frame it and hang it on the wall—some still do that, but most have transitioned into the digital age… and Encore is embracing them.

Yes, gone are the days of raised lighters, sign of the horns and peace signs, instead people are holding up recording mobile devices during the performance. Although the percentage shows that the majority is behaving this way, the act itself is still a little irritating to other attendees.

“It is kind of annoying that you have an iPad in my face and I can’t see the artist,” said Klimchuk. “There are ways to do it where people get used to it or it’s less annoying. But I think it makes a great beginning line for Encore, because people click through things they hate and people hate phones at concerts. Even if you don’t like the product, this will get people to click through.”

Encore puts the photo taking pressure on someone else. We have all tried getting the perfect shot through the crowd and even if we are competent iPhone photographers, the result may be a little disappointing. Sure, we put a higher value on the photos we take, and Encore is not trying eliminating that, what it is doing is sourcing the crowd and collecting the images and videos from the audience as a whole, allowing you just to enjoy the show in the moment, and the pictures after, should you choose.

“If you look at the past seven Beyoncé concerts, all the different angles and photos, they all look the same,” said Klimchuk. “I can a take a photo from the England concert and say it was the Toronto concert and no one would be the wiser. But the interesting thing is that people prescribe a higher value knowing that that is the Toronto concert and I was there.”

We continue to anticipate concerts and reminisce about them long after it’s over. It’s not just about the music, the venue or the artist, but the memories we share with the people we went with. If you live in a big city, odds are there is a concert you would like to attend every other day; this leaves a lot of possibilities. Whether you end up going or not, Encore knows that we all need a moment now and then to recollect our thoughts, think about the good times and prepare ourselves for the next one—whether it is the opener, the headliner or the encore.

Canadian Startup Indiloop Remixes the Way We Listen to Music

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Put your hands up in the air! Vancouver-based Indiloop is remixing the way we listen to our favourite tunes. The cloud-based platform enables users to mix, match and create songs that might have otherwise only existed in David Bowie’s dreams.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of pop ballads, grungy rock or soulful R&B, because when it’s blended together the result is often unpredictable. With Indiloop, users have the ability to create a genre never before heard. Audio-mixing platforms are recognized as being notoriously complicated software, but Indiloop dared to be user-friendly.

“We wanted to build this platform where anybody can get into it even though they haven’t done it before,” founder and president of Indiloop Media, Erik Ashdown, told Techvibes. “But we wanted to make it customizable, so that someone who knows what they are doing can actually make something very nitty-gritty with it.”

Indiloop offers a selection of songs with each instrumental and vocal stem tracks dissected. Users can then preview each track, determine whether or not it’ll fit with their mix and then drag it down onto the mixing track at the bottom of the platform. Then they can press play and listen to see if it’s any good.

When I took Indiloop for a test run, my initial instinct was to combine the Seinfeld theme song with 50 Cent and Bruce Springsteen; what I created was a bit terrifying (and perhaps musically sacrilegious), but mostly it was intriguing—because it didn’t sound awful.

The time-stretching algorithm that Indiloop uses to blend songs together counts the beats per minute of each stem track, and through some technological/musical alchemy, the creation ends up being at various levels of listenable. What could have been hours of work on high-end software such as ProTools and FL Studio, Indiloop achieved in seconds.

“I went to Nimbus [Audio Engineering School] and I showed it to the guys there and their jaws dropped,” said Ashdown. “They were like, ‘we have been learning this for two years and you come and show us in 30 seconds?’ But at the end of the day they get that [Indiloop] is just for fun. It’s a game and a consumer-facing product. We are not trying to pose a threat to their industry. They can be in a studio mixing a track professionally for a film or something like that and then stop, use Indiloop for 20 minutes, clear their head and then go back to work.”

The same way Instagram had allowed all of us to create professional looking photographs with ease, Indiloop is doing the same with music. The ultimate goal is not to disrupt the DJing landscape or change the attitude of sound designers and mixers, but rather to bring the art form to a level where normal everyday people can enjoy.

Achievements, levels and the ability to share newly created mixes on social media offers another aspect to Indiloop. A community of mixers and listeners is built through the gamification and user interaction. Anyone on Indiloop can peek into your account, check out your latest mix and become a fan. And artists are noticing this new form of marketing.

“A lot of people have been coming to us because they see us as a way of marketing their music,” said Ashdown. “Let’s do a remix contest where you can mix the artist’s music on Indiloop and whoever makes the best mashup can have free concert tickets or a free shirt. From a marketing perspective, we’ve cut the barrier to entry.”

Indiloop is currently teaming up with Beatstar to hold a contest with a $2,000 grand prize and a $500 second place prize. The contestant’s objective is to remix a song featuring The Jets, Bostich+Fussible and Alexander Spit. To enter or to find out more about the contest visit Indiloop’s website.

In addition to the contest, Indiloop will also be releasing their platform for iPad in January and the iPhone version will be available in March.

“We’ve taken something that is so conventionally complicated and we’ve simplified it so much that when we tell people about it they are generally skeptical,” said Ashton. “They say, ‘well, I can never make music,’ Well, they can—look, it’s that easy. And they are always genuinely surprised when it doesn’t sound bad.”

Canada Still Discover the Most New Music via Traditional Radio

Music comes at us from all directions now. Songza, Grooveshark, and Youtube are just some common online alternatives to discovering new tunes. But according to Nielsen’s Music 360 Canada report, 61% of Canadians still find new music in the old fashion way—radio.

There was a period when the industry thought terrestrial radio signals would just fade out into the ether, to be replaced by some higher form of technological entertainment. Although those new advancements now exist, the radio is still a reliable source for new music, at least that is what the report shows.

Most music enthusiast tends to veer away from the radio after years of recognizing its repetitive format and endless advertising. With iPod adapters and auxiliary cords available in any car, anyone can now customize their soundtrack for their commute instead of being at the mercy of a radio station. Yet, it goes to show that music is not the forefront of people’s problems, most just want their songs force-fed to them and that is why there is still the radio.

Music video destinations such as VEVO are another new solution to music listening, with 27% of music discovered through these newer channels.

Only 9% and 8% of Canadians use satellite radio and digital music service Rdio to discover new music respectively. Those who listen to those services will discover 25% and 21% more music than the old school methods of movie soundtracks and television.

Fresh music is everywhere. Even though most Canadians still rely on the convenient radio to access new music, there is a rewarding sensation for stepping out of the comfort zone. There is no better time than now to venture online or through a blog and magazine and find a band, an album or a song that will strike a chord with you.

Uploaded: a profile of Andrew Huang

Formerly published in Ricepaper Magazine.

by ELLIOT.CHAN on Apr 27, 2013 • 4:23 pm

Andrew Huang’s musical mystique is an exploration. Different environments conjure different personalities, different auras and different sounds. Like a chameleon, he is able to instinctually morph to suit his surrounding, whether it is the soulful rhythm of a heartbreaking ballad or the fast-pace delivery of a tongue-tying rap song. One scroll down Huang’s YouTube channel and you could witness his musical range.

“I made my YouTube account in 2006,” he said, “just because I thought I should have one. But I didn’t put anything on it right away.” Now with over 260 videos, Huang had fully embraced the platform and not only does he consider it to be a jumping board to higher achievement, he feels YouTube might just be the next grand artistic movement. “I started seeing how fast an audience can grow there, because there was already a community. It started making sense.”

Limitation is the stratosphere determined by artists’ platforms. While some are trapped within a glass jar, Huang feels he could reach the stars with his creative freedom. Marching to his own beat, he focuses his attention away from creative roadblocks such as administrative, logistical work. “If I want to upload 10 videos in a month, I can do that. You can publish stuff anytime you want,” he said, “and anyone on the Internet can just stumble upon it.”

Despite all the fun, it is still a livelihood. The business demands a lot of him and the effort it takes to produce a product do not always yield a gratifying or satisfying profit. Huang is a brand, and he understands the dark side to marketing. “The question of how much you can get back from it is a question of how much you can engage a community and reach new people,” he said, “At the end of the day, I can be doing the exact same amount of work, but for whatever reason I get twice the subscriber base and in theory there would be twice the people downloading my songs.”

The Internet is an intimidating place, especially when artists are uploading such vulnerable pieces of work. Huang takes chances—a lot of them. Although he is fueled by positive reinforcement, a negative comment can drain the tank pretty quickly. Still, there are few put downs and snarky remarks that can keep Huang down. In a piece where he took a viewer’s ideas to use a 1000 pairs of jeans to formulate a song, he was met with a sarcastic comment asking, “how much time do you have?” To which Huang replied, “24 hours in a day like everyone else… I just have a more interesting job.”

“If you are getting any amount of views on YouTube, it is hard to avoid those hateful and ignorant comments,” said Huang, “I usually ignore it and focus on the positive. But every once in a while someone will bring up a point that I feel is good to response to.”

Feedback is vital to all artists and the same goes for Huang. But he doesn’t allow it to interrupt his creative progress. While writing a song or filming a video, the little critiquing voice in the back of his head can be an asset and a torment. “This part of the video someone is going to make fun of or the fact that I decided to wear this, someone is going to call me a name,” he said, “These things occur to me, but I don’t change the work I am doing because of those thoughts.” Huang takes compliments and criticisms when they come, but none of it is precious.

Forward is the only direction for Huang. Moving from one project to the next, he has few motives except to create. “The stuff that I’m most proud of I’ll go back… I mean I’m proud of most of it, but the stuff I really love—it is nice to be able to enjoy it from a distance,” he said. “But for a lot of it when it is done, I am ready to move on to the next project.”

But being so prolific comes with its own downfall, and for Huang it’s organization. “I love having an organized space,” he said, “but the actual sorting out where things have to go and cleaning up. And organizing in terms of events and productions.” Being a jack-of-all-trades requires him to juggle many tasks at once from printing CDs and vinyl to corresponding with other artists for collaboration projects. “It has to be done, so I do it.” If Huang isn’t bouncing from one instrument to the next in his studio, he’s on the Internet, rather emailing or searching up the latest trends.

Creativity and curiosity is the air Huang breathes. From the computer to the microphone to different instruments, if there is a blockage in inspiration, all he has to do is shift gears and keep going. “I enjoy so many different types of things,” he said, “I’m working in video and music, but I’m also doing different types of music and video. Within the world I work in different genres. The fact that there are so many different things I could be doing keeps me from those creative blocks. It’s a constant state of creativity or emailing.”

As a morning person, Huang takes advantage of the longer day, spending anywhere from eight to 12 hours being creative. But despite working such long hours, his craft is still an unknown. “It’s kind of tricky,” he described the complexity of explaining his work in a social situation, “It depends on the type of person I’m talking to. I might introduce myself as an independent musician or I might introduce myself as an Internet content creator. Or I just call myself a musician.” Regardless of what Huang sees himself as, it is always a process communicating his job to others. “I make YouTube videos for a living,” he said with an air of pride, “but there are certain preconceived notions of what that can mean.”

The Internet is a forest of celebrities, from great Sequoias to plain Danaes. With acres upon acres of content to explore, Huang believes it is the new world of entertainment. “All these people who have hundred of thousands and millions subscribers, they aren’t on TV, they aren’t in the magazines, they can walk down the street and not be recognized,” he smiled about the oasis he created for himself, “maybe one day it’ll be more than saying, oh I make stuff for the Internet.”

‘Lightning’ strikes, but it’s not ‘Grand’

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Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2 2012

By Elliot Chan, Contributor

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If the fleeting moments of summer could be captured on an album, then Matt & Kim have done the job. The indie-pop duo’s fourth album, Lightning, came out on October 2—just in time to help you cope with the looming monotonous seasons ahead.

Those familiar with Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino’s earlier works will know their music arouses the body, forcing you onto your feet, and percolating the senses to dance. You could resist it, but sitting still through a whole song is like holding in a sneeze, something they’ve managed to accomplish yet again on this album.

…their music arouses the body, forcing you onto your feet, and percolating the senses to dance.

In fact, Matt & Kim bring all the elements we love back into their new album. That said, their lack of risk-taking can’t be ignored. There is something about Lightningthat just didn’t spark me the same way their last album Sidewalks (2010) did. I feel like I am arriving at the same party, with all the same people, and talking about all the same things.

Regardless of the party’s familiarity, if you let loose, then you’ll have a good time. But the songs are not all fun and games; most of the lyrics derive from nostalgia. Their eighth track, “I Wonder” contains such savory lines as, “Maybe (maybe) I’ll learn all I need to know from bottles and their broken glass/ Maybe (maybe) these streets were my teachers and I sat in back of class.” Then there is their harmonized finale, “Ten Dollars I Found,” which has a melancholy overtone as they begin fading out: “I’ll buy the next round, with 10 dollars I found.”

Like the memories of summer, Lightning is short and sweet, containing 10 songs and, as usual, just surpassing 30 minutes.