Introducing: Celebrity Friends

This week I'm proud to say that I've made my debut on the iOS App Store through a collaborative effort with my good pal and Punchline bassist/sometimes vocalist Chris Fafalios!

You see, on occasion, celebrities will call Chris and Chris will record those calls and animate them too. We decided to make some iMessage stickers out of Chris' celebrity friends to make your messages with family and friends feel a little more famous.

You can get Celebrity Friends on the iOS App Store here. There will be plenty more stickers to come. If you have any suggestions, let us know with a tweet!

If you need any assistance using iMessage stickers, you can check out this handy dandy guide to get you started!

#VBR 14: 'Have A Nice Package Together', with guest Nate Sirotta

Nate Sirotta of Impulse Artists sat down with me this week to share some great tips surrounding PR. Whether you're in a band, write for a blog, or have an interest in doing publicity yourself, this is a great episode. Nate's done work for Total Assault and a whole bunch of your favorite artists. I love this guy because he picks up bands that don't have the budget for him simply because he loves them. My friends in Late In The Playoffs really needed a big push when their full-length dropped and Nate took them on knowing that they wouldn't be able to pay him for a lengthy campaign. He's a great business man and a fantastic friend.

Nate Sirotta is the founder and playmaker at Impulse Artists, a boutique publicity and digital marketing agency that's worked with some insane talent to great success over it's few years in business. Nate and I talk about PR and how to get into it from any angle. He's been doing this thing for a while and has some really great tips. So don't miss a thing and take notes!

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

VBR #13: 'Treat Every Band Like The Next Big Thing', with guest Ian Baldwin

Ian and I have been in contact since 2012 whne his band States Away wanted to premiere their album on my music blog. Since then, I've been lucky to have Ian as a sounding board for my design ideas. He's often sent samples my way as well. Ian is one of those guys you hope to meet in this industry. Over the past 4 years, I have never heard a poor word said about him professionally or otherwise. Considering that we live in bordering Ohio music scenes, I think that means something. Word travels when people are shitty and such word has never reached my ears about this guy. He's the real deal and talented too.

They say to never judge a book by its cover, but isn’t the cover a part of the book itself? The face of the body of work? This week we talk to Ian Baldwin of Hear&See about design and how it applies to the music industry specifically.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

Frank Ocean: A Look Back At Four Years

In February of 2013, Frank Ocean sat down with Zane Lowe for a chat. Like most Zane Lowe interviews, some exclusive knowledge was dropped regarding his anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Channel ORANGE.

It’s another cohesive thing, bordering on a concept record again

At this time, Frank said he was 10 or 11 songs into it and mentioned that he liked the idea of picking up from where the last record left off with “Golden Girl,” a hidden track featuring Tyler The Creator. Now that Blonde has dropped—with Endless as an added bonus—I’ve been pouring over the speculation and footage from the past few years to see what we got right, what we got wrong, why the albums dropped the way they did, and what might still be coming.

To start, in that interview with Zane Lowe, he mentioned working with Pharrell Williams who ended up getting the production, credit on “Pink + White.” He also hinted that he’d be getting studio time with famed producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells, Danger Doom) and English musician King Krule. If those sessions did take place, we haven’t heard anything from them yet. Neither received mentions on the Blonde credit list within Boys Don’t Cry Issue 1.

Before July twice became an all important month to the Frank Ocean fanbase, July of 2013 had us hoping that Frank’s remix of Migos’ “Versace” would come in the form of an audio recording as well as the lyrics he posted on Tumblr. Alas, that has yet to show and—unless it was recorded at the time—likely never will. I think the ship has sailed on that one.


On his 2013 European Tour dubbed “California LIVE”, Frank opened the show with a simple tune the Internet has called “Feel California.” [1] Complex assumed that the song would make it on the sophomore record, but it did not. No studio version has yet been found.

On the other hand, this one from the tour became “IVY” which appears on Blonde. “Seigfried” was played too, at that point referred to by Frank Ocean stans as “Brave” or “Pray.”

“Wiseman” was a track written for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was ultimately cut from the film and soundtrack, but Frank Performed that live as well.

Said Tarantino:

Frank Ocean wrote a fantastic ballad that was truly lovely and poetic in every way, there just wasn’t a scene for it. I could have thrown it in quickly just to have it, but that’s not why he wrote it and not his intention. So I didn’t want to cheapen his effort. But, the song is fantastic, and when Frank decides to unleash it on the public, they’ll realize it then.

If that situation wasn’t sad enough, Frank’s performance of “Pure Imagination” for a Chipotle sponsored project promoting responsible farming was held once Frank pulled out of the deal. Frank wasn’t happy with the branding on the video itself (he was promised no Chipotle logo would appear) so he refused to send them the song. Chipotle responded with a lawsuit for the advance he was paid for the campaign. He paid them back and Fiona Apple replaced him as the performer for the video.

Converse’s Three Artists One Song series made up for it, giving us “Hero,” a collab with Frank, Diplo, and surviving members of The Clash (Paul Simonon and Mick Jones)

After killing verses and hooks on records by Jay Z, Earl Sweatshirt, and John Mayer, Frank hunkered down over the summer to finish the record. During that time Frank also worked with Nas on a Hit-Boy produced single rumored as “No Such Thing as White Jesus” which was tragically lost due to a technical mishap. Turns out, Hit-Boy might have recovered it though. Fingers crossed?

The sweetly staccato demo of “Memrise” dropped on Frank’s Tumblr in November of 2014. A cover of “(At Your Best ) You Are Love” was released the same way in January as a tribute to the late Aaliyah. Then things go pretty quiet on the Ocean front until spring time.

via Frank Ocean

via Frank Ocean

On April 5 2015, things looked good for Frank Ocean fans. Frank’s new website was updated with a mailing list sign up form. Two riddles were attached that neither I, nor anyone I’m aware of could solve with any assurance.

Riddle #1:

What gets whiter the dirtier it gets?

Riddle #2:

What’s moving faster, the tea or the cup?"

The very next day, a photograph of Frank appears with two stacks of magazines at his feet. These are the first glimpses of Boys Don’t Cry, the magazine that would get released to lucky fans in metro areas in select cities a year and a half later.

The caption:

‘I got two versions. I got twoooo versions.’ #ISSUE1 #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY.

This has since taken on multiple meanings. There are two covers of the Boys Don’t Cry magazine [6], there are now two new Frank Ocean records, and Blonde has two slightly different track listings between the physical release from the pop-up shops and the iTunes copy. Personally, I think it’s the hashtags that are the most interesting part of the post.

Frank promised album three in July of 2015. We know now that we didn’t get a record then nor the following July, but in August we did get album three. Not two, mind you, but three. If anyone had questioned this at the time, it may have been reasonable to believe that he was counting his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, as album one. The question today remains, did he know then that he would be releasing another album in between? July was only 4 months away at this point, so maybe not. Still, if he had any intention leaving Def Jam at the time, the decision to get out of the deal would have been made after the first public delay.

He addressed the elephant in the room a week or so later in a post asking another physics question. Then he legally changed his name from Christopher Edwin Breaux to Christopher Francis Ocean.

While Frank and Lil B hung out months earlier, Frank interviewed The BasedGod for his magazine. Christophe Chassol tips off the deejay on BBC 6 Radio that Frank had been working with Rick Rubin in the studio.

Christophe Chassol:

Ocean invited me to Abbey Road to record on his album. I asked him when I came how he heard about me. He told me his friend Diplo was listening a lot to Indiamore, and they started to listen to it, and they were wondering how I was doing the speech harmonization, so he called me.

Chritophe Chassol is credited with piano accompaniment on track 5 of Endless, “U-N-I-T-Y.” This means that Frank was, in fact, working on Endless before the planned drop in July.

In May 2015, a Soundcloud playlist called “states” was added to Frank’s account. No songs were ever added and the playlist has since disappeared. At the time, it seemed like a sure sign that music was coming. July came and went with no record. Everyone was pretty bummed out.

Summer is over. Love wins and Frank’s younger brother trolled the internet with a bogus link to the new record.

image via Frank Ocean

August gave us some slight changes to Frank Ocean’s website. A placeholder for a “Nikes” music video was visible for a short time. Sure enough, that was the first video we got from Blonde just days after Endless premiered. In September, a model named Vasilisa Forbes, a director named Tyrone Lebon (who also directed the Calvin Klein ad), and Tyler, The Creator himself verified that this was a thing—months after Trina slipped a clip of herself filming a part in the video on Twitter.

That my little cousin, he got a little trade
His girl keep the scales, a little mermaid
We out by the pool, some little mermaids
Me and them gel
Like twigs with them bangs
Now that’s a real mermaid

Acid on me like the rain
Weed crumbles into glitter
Rain, glitter

Ian Connor lets the world know that Playboi Carti was working on a song with Frank Ocean in NYC. Turns out Carti was supposed to appear on “White Ferrari,” but was apparently left off.

photos by Wolfgang Tillmans via Daniel Buchholz

photos by Wolfgang Tillmans via Daniel Buchholz

Frank celebrated the big 2–8 on October 28th, which happens to also be my lady’s birthday. [2] On that day, he got a buzz by a barber named Rodney. [3] He teased that the album cover was really cool looking, which makes sense. This guy likes hair-dos and Frank had an exotic one in the photos shot by Wolfgang Tillmans.

A-Trak spoke up a year too soon to say that a song from Boys Don’t Cry called “White Ferrari” was dropping soon. That track very much exists (confirmed earlier by a user on Kanye To The) and is one of my favorites on Blonde, but he and Rostam Batmanglij unfortunately had the timing wrong.

December comes and the trail goes cold again until a file of Hudson Mohawke demos ends up online. The title: “frank oOOOOoocean.” It was never confirmed that any of these were intended to be used with or by Frank Ocean. Film producer Rohan Scully updated his resume with a production credit for “Drive In.” Neither this track or any video featuring his credits have yet been released. Rich the Kid claims to have worked with Frank as well, but there’s nothing yet to show for it.

In January 2016, Frank’s ex girlfriend Alycia Bellamy uploads a Snapchat story from the studio. In the background, you can hear Frank covering John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” Hodgy Beats’ snapchat is apparently hacked and gives us a peak at more unheard Frank Vocals which also haven’t been properly released.

Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo debuts on Tidal in February. A new version of “Wolves” is on it which features vocals by Frank Ocean. This part was later moved and retitled “Frank’s Track.” Around the same time Def Jam artist (and amazing musician in her own right) Alessia Cara told Line Of Best Fit:

I really love Frank. He makes visual lyrics. His songs are all visual. I’m trying to get to listen to the new record but Def Jam says he doesn’t share anything with them until it’s finished so…

A foreshadowing of the departure yet to come. Turns out Frank wasn’t sharing anything with his label at all.

On my birthday [4], Frank and Alycia were hanging out making ceramics and listening to some music. Someone there leaked some recordings and dubbed it a “listening party” against the insistence by Alycia that it wasn’t. The only existing link I can find with the clips shows that this was indeed an early preview of Endless.

What’s more—Frank’s mother, Katonya Breaux, may have hinted at Endless just after Beyonce’s Lemonade debuted.

Note: #visualalbums is plural.

Malay produced all of Channel ORANGE, so chances were good that he’d have a hand in the follow up as well. In late March, he confirmed to Pitchfork that he had worked on Blonde and that the record was ready to go.

A lot of the stuff on this new album was done with a handheld mic sitting in the control room. Frank’s exploring different vibes completely on this album. I wouldn’t say it’s vocally looser but just his mentality; it doesn’t seem as meticulous at certain times.

When he’s ready, the world is gonna get it. It could be tomorrow… well not tomorrow but maybe a month [laughs]. He’s been working super hard. I feel like he’s working harder than he’s ever worked in his life. I’m excited for everyone to hear it. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised, for sure.

Indeed we were.

Pitchfork also grabbed some quotes from James Blake who revealed that Frank had helped him out with his record and vice versa.

[He] was a huge inspiration for this record: his process, the way he writes, the strength of what he does, who he is. We became very good friends.

Ocean co-wrote “My Willing Heart” on The Colour In Anything and lent a sample of Blonde’s “Godspeed for Blake’s track ”Always.“ Blake played synthesizers Endless’ ”(At Your Best) You Are Love“ and vocals on Blonde’s ”White Ferrari."

Finally, in July, a full year and change after the first promised release window, Frank’s website updates with a library card that indicates the album would be coming out sometime that month. Naturally, that didn’t happen either. What we did get was a Calvin Klein ad featuring Frank and a reddit user’s tip that Frank was working on a novel in conjunction with his magazine and music.

On August 19th, Frank Ocean released a visual album called Endless exclusively on Apple Music. This was released via Def Jam Records, ending his recording contract with the label and allowing him to release Blonde the very next day independently.

Let’s quickly recap a summary of the timeline so far goes as it pertains to the record(s):

  • February 2013 - Frank tells Zane Lowe that he has 10–11 tracks finished for the album.

  • November 2014 - Frank posts “You Are Luhh” which would be rearranged and released on Endless.

  • April 2015 - launches, the mag is revealed, and a July 2015 release window is released.

  • May 2015 - Christophe Chassol reveals that he worked on Frank’s music at some point in the past few months, he would appear on Endless.

  • July 2015 - No record.

  • August 2015 - “Nikes” placeholder is found on the website.

  • October 2015 - People have seen the Blonde artwork and “White Ferrari” is confirmed to exist.

  • February 2016 - Def Jam still has nothing from Frank and Endless has been at least partially recorded.

  • April 2016 - Katonya Breaux hints at Endless visual album.

  • August 2016 - Endless drops on the 19th and Blonde on the 20th.

Boiled down to the basics of what is public knowledge and what is now hindsight, Boys Don’t Cry/Blonde apparently came together over the first two years. Production on Endless began around the time launched and Def Jam is hardly involved in the process if they are included at all. It seems to me that a record was intended to launch in the summer of 2015 with “Nikes” as the lead single. Whether the label or Frank Ocean himself put a hold on it, that delay started a chain reaction that would eventually culminate in Frank self-producing a record that he could give to the label to get out of his deal and release the record he intended to make on his own, making Endless in every way an experiment.

It seems to me that after an undetermined amount of time in contention with his label regarding the record, Frank headed back to the studio within the last two years to record Endless. I don’t think the wait was intentional. I expect the release cycle would have been standard if not for his bad dealings with Def Jam, but who can blame him for wanting to get out?

Tricky Stewart, the guy who signed Frank to RedZone Records, a Def Jam imprint had this to say to Fader:

The label wasn’t motivated by the signing. They didn’t give him the respect that I thought he deserved. I couldn’t really get Def Jam to respond to him the way the way that I wanted them to respond to him.

Tricky said that Def Jam “created a monster they couldn’t control” and that Frank “just treated them how he was treated” by releasing Endless to get out of his contract. To those that say that something like that couldn’t happen, read the entirety of Tricky Stewart’s interview. When Nostalgia, Ultra dropped, the label didn’t even know.

Frank’s plan worked much to his financial benefit. According to Billboard, Blonde made about $2.12 million based on his assumed 70% revenue share of 232,000 first week sales and 69.1 million streams. After royalties, that’s a net sum $1.77 million to Frankie’s bank account. Endless’ figures, due to its format, are harder to pin down.

What's clear though is that the sales figures for Endless are significantly lower than that of Blonde, meaning Def Jam was royally screwed over in terms of profits on Frank's success. Kudos to the boy for whipping up such a gorgeous loophole and making the dollar his way.

As I mentioned on my podcast recently, Endless was not only a financial success, but a pretty record with interesting parts and collaborators. Even if he went into the studio with the sole intention of just making something to end his relationship with his label, he left with some amazing additions to the catalogue. The visual album provided a gentle barrier which dampened the expectations built up for a sophomore record over four years and, if my guess that Endless was in fact created almost entirely after Blonde was finished proves true, we technically got the third LP before the second. Overall, Endless shows that there is a new layer of depth beyond to the artist beyond what he wrote two and three years ago. Will that toy with the world’s expectations for the fourth? I hope so. I’m eager to see what he’s able to do beyond Endless.

This whole affair has been a fascinating case study, but there is still much that we’ve yet to see from Frank Ocean. A worldwide release of Boys Don’t Cry issue 1 for starters. [5] The novel he’s supposedly started would be great too. Then of course there are the countless snippets and tracks we can’t find in the far reaches of Internet forums or Google searches: his John Lennon cover, the Hodgy Beats snapchat leak, “White Jesus”, “Pure Imagination”, and several collaborations that may or may not have happened. I guess, just like we have before, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Thank you to Pigeons & Planes and Complex for their respective timelines of Frank’s last few years which helped immensely with this post. Blonde is available now via Apple Music and iTunes. Endless is only available to Apple Music subscribers.

  1. Genius has the lyrics here.  ↩

  2. I won’t tell you which I remember because of the other.  ↩

  3. This guy cuts the hair of Mac Miller, Anderson .Paak, Left Brain, Fetty Wap, and more. I imagine he has an interesting life.  ↩

  4. February 28th, if you’re interested in sending me Funko figures.  ↩

  5. Frank’s mother says to “hang tight.”  ↩

  6. Looks like there could actually be 3 variants out there according to Genius. ↩

VBR #12: 'Nothing Too Big and Nothing Too Public' with guest Dana Reandelar

To start, we get to know Dana. Dana is a freelance writer that has a secret past as a talented musician. Then, as promised, Dana and I go long on Frank Ocean's Blonde.

This episode is the first to feature both the show's new color scheme and show artwork. I opted to nix the faded blue for something of higher contrast that fits the blog a little better.

Dana Reandelar didn't think that she had enough to say to be on this show. In this episode we prove that she was wrong. Dana is a music writer that has a secret past as a multi-instrumentalist. She's also up on the latest in Frank Ocean, so we spend a good deal of time dissecting Blonde.

Variable Bitrate artwork by Jacob Tender

Variable Bitrate artwork by Jacob Tender

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

VBR #11: 'When You Eventually Unfollow Me', with guest Jack Appleby

Anyway, Jack and I have worked together and around each other in a number of ways over the years. He gave me a real job in college that was both really fun and super helpful. To pay him back, I allowed him to listen to me talk about Frank Ocean for 20 minutes.

Oh yea... It's important to note that I went long on Frank Ocean here but we recorded the day after Endless. This was a short period in history where we knew there was probably a second record coming. Naturally Frankie dropped Blonde as we were on the phone...

There will be more.

Jack Appleby is a Social Media Strategist by day at Ayzenberg Group, a killer marketing agency in California that's worked with really awesome brands over the years. In his spare time, he talks music at a number of publications and has even dabbled in the label/management side of things once or twice. Get to know Jack as he spills the beans on just how many copies of intheclouds' 12 Lathes records were cut as well as a certain supergroup follow-up LP that exists somewhere in the world.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

VBR #10: 'It Was Probably Misplaced Enthusiasm', with guest @anamericangod

A lot of the folks on this show have been people I've never spoken to in person before. Joe is one I've only seen a single photo of. He's sort of an enigma, that @anamericangod. Intentionally ambiguous about his identity online, but very open about his emotional state. I've followed him for a few years now and taken solice in some of the more thoughtful tweets on his timeline and laughed outwardly at many more. It was interesting to get Joe on the line and hear his voice and get to know him outside of the 140 character limit.

Joe is the founder of American Dream Records, an independent record label that put out vinyl releases from some pretty amazing bands in the early 2010s. Since then, he's amassed an impressive and growing Twitter following as @anamericangod. Nostalgia swings it's mighty fist as we talk about the old days of music discovery and early Internet hangouts for music lovers. Then we talk Twitter, a lot of Twitter.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

Frank Ocean's 'Endless' Visual Album Arrives

Apple Music

It's been a long wait, but the time has come. Frank Ocean has released a visual album, Endless, on Apple Music. Watch it here. Thank you Frank.

It's going to take a few days to absorb this, but so far so great.


  1. Device Control (written by Wolfgang Tillmans)
  2. At Your Best (You Are Love) (The Isley Brothers Cover)
  3. Alabama
  4. Mine
  5. U-N-I-T-Y
  6. Ambience 001: “In a Certain Way”
  7. Commes Des Garcons
  8. Ambience 002: “Honeybaby”
  9. Wither
  10. Hublots
  11. In Here Somewhere
  12. Slide on Me
  13. Sideways
  14. Florida
  15. Deathwish (ASR)
  16. Rushes
  17. Rushes T
  18. Higgs

Rolling Stone seems to believe Endless is a seperate project from Boys Don't Cry which has yet to appear online and may have been renamed as well. It's worth noting that in the credits of the Endless video, after numerous Endless logos, a Blonde/Boys Don't Cry logo appears as well.

STT #02: Chapter Two: 'The Weirdo on Maple Street'

James and I are back to our respective states after his wedding (which was really fun). That means we can continue watching Stranger Things! Naturally, James' recording laptop took a bath before recording so we're working with Skype audio until he gets it fixed, but we just couldn't wait any longer. Enjoy!

Jacob and James dive into episode two where the search for Will Byers truly begins.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

VBR #09: 'A Place For Us To Write Freely', with guest Brian Leak

After months of following up with the poor guy, I got Brian "Lion" Leak on the show with me. Initially, when this thing was going to promote Under The Gun and its writers, Brian would have been my co-host. It's wild how quickly things changed. Now Brian has jumped over to Substream to take over editing duties across the board. I've read through his first issue and it's quite good. I'm very impressed and eager to see how the rag changes moving forward.

This episode, like just about every one so far, had some issues with the recording process. First, Brian got ridiculously sick, but stuck to his commitment to record. What a saint! Second, it was lawn care day at his apartment complex, so there's a super brief intermission in there. Then there's the product of his feverish delusions that tacked a few additional hours (over several days) in the editing process: he forgot to put on headphones.

It's not a huge deal. It's only noticeable when either of us "crosstalk", but whatever. Like I've said before, I've got to learn to roll with it everyone's set up and access to equipment is different. I still think this one came out better than most skype-centered programs. Pre-recording reminders is something I'm working on in my efforts to ever improve the quality of the show. Hope you dig it.

When this thing started as an Under The Gun branded show, Brian Leak (aka The Lion) was initially supposed to be my cohost. Alas, a change in career led him to Substream Magazine where he is now Editor In Chief. A week removed from dropping his first issue there, we discuss how starting at a local rag evolved into a career.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals on Tiny Desk

Yes Lawd! Those who listen to the podcast will know that I greatly love two things, Tiny Desk Concerts and Anderson .Paak. Today, those things collide and it's a wonderful thing.

I normally listen to the audio podcast for Bob Boilen's concert series, but I made it a point to find the video for today's show. It takes the "full scope" so to speak to fully enjoy Anderson .Paak's energy.

Set List:

  1. "Come Down"
  2. "Heart Don't Stand A Chance"
  3. "Put Me Thru"
  4. "Suede"

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


When I was in the first grade, I read both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber Of Secrets. By the time I reached the third grade, I had mastered the existing four books multiple times.[1]

This pattern continued until the series came to a devastating end in 2007. I would read through the books that had been released thus far in constant anticipation of the next one. J. K. Rowling was good like that. She penned seven books that left me wanting more every time I closed the back cover. The audiobooks did that for me too. Since I didn’t have to do the reading myself, Jim Dale’s performance of the Harry Potter series opened my mind to further exploration of the world Rowling created. To this day, no book series has quite captured my attention like that of Harry Potter and I expect none ever will; Harry’s is a wonderful and nearly perfect story that I enjoy still—frequently.

I’ll admit. My anticipation for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child wasn’t nearly as exaggerated as the books that preceded it. I love it when a good thing ends. When it does, it remains good. At least, history is more kind to an aging franchise than one with an unsolicited sequel—which I find this particular play to be. To be fair, the “8th book” in the Harry Potter series is a published Jack Thorne script used by the West End production of a play of the same name. That play debuted the day before the script’s release and I’ve yet to see it. Obviously, I’d love to. I tend to appreciate Harry Potter stories in all mediums. [2] Until then, however, I could hardly wait to dig into this new story—wary, I may be.

The play reads like a play. Not simply in the structure of the script or that dialogue and scene are expressed in their own lines, but that the dialogue itself is very much written to be spoken aloud. For those like me that read fiction visually—conjuring images in their mind about what is happening as they read—they too may find it difficult to place this one in their mind’s theater. I found it more enjoyable to place it on its own stage, with its own cast of stage actors playing their parts.

The story is short; just 308 pages. That’s less than books three through seven. If you took a word count, I’d reckon it’s significantly lower than books one and two as well. Overall, it’s an easy read which most could probably finish in one or perhaps two short evening sittings. The brevity may make for an enjoyable night in the theater, but left me wanting in the comfort of my bed. The want would make for a positive feeling two days removed from finishing it if it were that I wanted more like all of Rowling’s books before it. The issue with this one is that I wanted less.

In its essence, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a next generation tale which follows Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus Potter. Although the setting of the first scene is nearly beat-for-beat the same as the epilogue of the last in book seven, it’s made clear from the start that Albus is going to have a rough road ahead. He’s likable to small degree, but only through pity. His story is perhaps relatable to many, but to me it seems that his apparent differences from his famed father would drive every action from start to finish. To be clearer, Albus’ obvious dissimilarity to Harry in terms of skill and popularity are allowed to take control of every aspect of his life. In this, he makes friends with the only boy on the Hogwarts Express that could possibly sympathize with being cast, Scorpius Malfoy—son of Draco Malfoy.

Scorpius had a fairly interesting, if not comic book twist of a story. By the books, his parentage follows the Malfoy line of pure blood. His mother, Astoria Malfoy (née Greengrass) is ill from the start and passes within a number of pages. This is less a motivator for the boy than it is the husband. Draco has been working hard to “make good” since the Battle of Hogwarts, but fate continues to push him down the path of tragedy. Once she’s gone, all that remains the remains of his family wealth and his son—a boy the wizarding world rumors is actually the son of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort himself.

As the years roll on, the relationship between Harry and his son are strained. We hear almost nothing about his other children, nor of Teddy Lupin. In fact, apart from passing mentions of Professor Neville Longbottom and a few brief appearances by Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore, there are few of the original Harry Potter cast to catch up to.[3] Naturally Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Ginny play their parts, but that nearly the whole of the reunion party.

As Albus and Scorpius take off on their misguided adventure through time to save Cedric Diggory, events are altered in ways that completely change the reality of the present we’re first introduced to. I think perhaps this would be interesting if the world had been drawn out over the course of several lengthy chapters. Had more characters been explored and the state of the wizarding world in the aftermath of Voldemort’s near-rise to power explained, the changes made in the boys’ efforts to “save the spare” would have been more compelling. Alas, the nineteen years since Dumbledore’s Army saved the day have apparently delivered little to be accounted for and due to that lack of detail, the resulting changes in the course of their lives in each level of their meddling are just as interesting—if not more so.

Millions of copies will fly off Barnes & Noble bookshelves this year as Harry Potter fans the world over hand fists of cash to find out “what happens next.” What they’ll get is less than riveting and adds so little to the wonder of the world Rowling built that I can’t help but feel disappointed. I think there are lessons to be taken from the seven books that make up Harry’s primary story. Lessons in life, loss, and love primarily. The Cursed Child has bits and pieces of all three, but one clear statement resounds most loudly: be good to your dad. And hey, that’s fine. Dads deserve a son’s love and sons too deserve loving dads. The way the script reads is sweet and has emotional moments, even some fun and lighthearted ones that briefly reveal the magic of J. K. Rowling’s fantasy world. Beyond those small glimpses of nostalgic bliss, sadly, this story lacks depth and ends with a twist that seems more Hollywood sequel than thoughtful addition.

I so wanted to return to Hogwarts and learn more about Harry’s kids. I wanted to feel invested in their adventures within the castle walls as I did with their parents. Sadly, I just don’t think it is possible. To replicate the feeling a reader has means more than familiar locations and references to prior work. The story of Harry Potter was magical because it had seven books to breathe. 3,407 pages full of adventures, mishaps, and incantations. Perhaps this story will find such air on stage. The show’s first preview had a run time of two hours and forty-five minutes. In that time I expect the characters could sell the story with personality that reads better in person than a book. I hope so. I think the story is fine, albeit contrived, and will be better received in person.

I can’t recommend Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I understand it. I can even tolerate it. What I can’t do is add an 8th book to my occasional Harry Potter marathon.[4] As readers and consumers of media we have the privilege of maintaining levels of personal head canon—what we perceive as true events where holes in the story exist. Having read this, aspects of my own have been altered forever. As a purist, I have to respect what was published as fact. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m committed to and anticipate more of this particular branch of the tale. Both The Cursed Child and my love for the series can live in tandem. They will sit on the shelf side-by-side, but they are not equal in the way that many sequels are not. They are simply there.

  1. Yes, I read at a 6th grade reading level in my first years of primary school. Thanks very much to my parents and some old stuffy copies of Tolkien’s works I inherited early on.  ↩

  2. Save for Stephen Fry’s taped readings of the books. Though I love most everything about the man, those are rubbish.  ↩

  3. The Hogwarts Express trolley witch was given more background than anyone else we’ve previously heard of.  ↩

  4. This should be easy enough, considering they are not doing an audiobook for this one. That’s how I prefer to reabsorb the books anyway.  ↩

VBR #08: 'It's Just A Lot Of Teenager S**t', with guest Mark Garza

I started this music writing thing "officially" in January of 2011. I was a senior in high school at the time. Mark Garza, founder and owner of Funeral Sounds (a record label and online publishing company), Label Manager at Broken World Media, and occasional PR/Freelancer has just graduated. In comparison, I didn't do a damn thing worth a damn before graduating. That means Mark is probably superhuman, but that doesn't mean they can withstand the burnout and jaded feelings that can often come when you've explored so much so fast. I've been there and I knew they must be feeling it, so I probed him about it.

The result is a two hour conversation surrounding Mark's career so far, his future potential, and the mindset that sits somwhere in between. Mark truly impresses me in a way that most their age haven't. This episode is good for teens and young adults that are trying to find their way in this industry as well as the older folks that want to feel worthless.

Everything is not bad, Mark. Just James Cassar.

Mark Garza graces us with his presence to discuss what it's like being 18 with a 3 year old record label. Mark is starting college this year and already feels jaded, so Jake tries to help him through. This is a must-listen for young music industry professionals.

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VBR #07: 'I'm Giving You A Hard Maybe', with guest Joshua Hammond

Joshy boy, joshy boy, cast me a pod.

My good pal and longtime friend calls in to talk Americana, a mature genre of music that truly speaks to him, but we eventually start talking about My Chemical Romance and All Time Low. Typical.

Josh is a unique and wonderful human. I sat on two panels with the guy at SXSW last year and gushed over Julien Baker with him after both. My dude recently switched PR firms in NYC, so we talk about that and his initial move to the Big Apple. Oh yea, and that time Josh completely shit on a band in a review I assigned him because of a bad day. GOOD times.

Joshua Hammond is a blogger turned publicist that's been writing around the Midwest for about a decade. After a while, he switched ends of the email chain and picked up publicity, which moved him from Kansas to The Big Apple. We discuss everything from the start of his career at Popwreckoning to today, as a publicist at Press Here.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

Bantha Fodder #11: I Am An Awful, Terrible Nerd

We're back! After a short hiatus imposed by our increasingly busy podcasting schedules and the sheer length of time it took to prepare and produce this episode, Mike and I haves something really special for you.

We've had collecting on our topic list since we started this thing and we wanted to talk about it with an interesting angle. Further, we've been playing with the format just to show our range. Well, for Mike to boost his portfolio. Mr. Fancy Pants landed a gig as the East Coast Editor for Headgum! Anyway, this one is more in line with what you'd hear on Radiolab or an NPR program. Listen through the first half of the show and you'll see what I mean.

The both of us talk heavily about our childhoods and our collections. Things got sort of deep in certain moments in a way that can only occur when you're discussing the toys and methods of play that made the foundation for such a time.

In the eleventh episode of Bantha Fodder, Mike and Jacob discuss collecting, a phenomenon that goes hand in hand with the pervasiveness of the Star Wars franchise. Mike and Jacob have very different perspective on things, so Mike brings in a friend to balance it all out and provide a unique look into a New York City collector that has a big collection, but a tiny place.

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STT #01: Chapter One: 'The Vanishing Of Will Byers'

I've got the podcasting bug and a lot of ideas. As a result, I wanted to try a pop culture show centered around one specific television program called Stranger Things. Netflix has been crushing it with the exclusives all year and this is no exception.

My friend and colleague James Shotwell are digging into the show epsiode by episode to find the nuances in the plot and inspiration behind the hit show. If you've watched through all of Stranger Things, or you're making your way through it now, subscribe to the show! We set up a Twitter account as well so that you can share your theories. Just don't spoil anything beyond our latest episode, please!

James and his fiancée are getting married next week and I'm in the ceremony, so it's quite possible we won't have another episode out for a little while. Still, we wanted to get this thing off the ground while the show is hot. We hope you enjoy!

Jacob and James crack open episode one and get to know the people of Hawkins.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

VBR #06: 'Don't Start The Night Before', with guest Michele Stephens

Yea, I uploaded this one roughly 12 hours late, but it's still Monday so guess what? It counts.

Some scheduling conflicts two weeks back—as well as some heat-induced illness this weekend—ended up affording me the buffer time I had made for myself, but it's fine. Also yes, Two Hearted played it's part in the aforementioned illness that left me bedridden for a 12 hour spell post-canoe trip. I digress...

This marks the first episode I had to record fully from my end. Typically, that would bother me to no end, but I've come to terms with the fact that I will undoubtedly have to contend with recording limitations on the guest end if I continue on with the project at the pace that I've been going thus far. It's simply not realistic to expect every guest to have the means or know-how to record locally. This isn't WTF and I'm okay with that.

P.S. Almost immediately after publishing this evening, Maria Gironas (guest on episode 3) made me aware that some of my automation on the theme song track was screwy at the beginning. At this point, my Macbook decides the 90°+ in my office is no longer bearable and locks up before I can bounce a fix. Fun! Thank you for looking out, Maria.

Our good friend Michele Stephens swings through to chat about tour PR, the lifeblood of her career in music. As a tour publicity pro at Epitaph Records, she lends her expertise and drops some hints about what not to do when trying to cover the alternative music scene's biggest roaming festival, Warped Tour. Naturally there is some talk about Troye Sivan, My Chemical Romance, and Cute Is What We Aim For to be had, for Michele is a pop lover through and through.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

VBR #05: 'Live In The Chinese Factory', with guest Ian Kenny

After years of jamming his music in my car to and from school, I finally got the opportunity to talk to Ian Kenny of King Neptune. Ian spilled all the juicy deets on the fate of NGHBRS and revealed what he's been up to since the project went quiet. He promised me that this was an exclusive, so there you go. I'm a reporter again. How about that?

This is my first artist interview for the show, but really it was just a fun conversation between two dudes with mutual admiration.


We had some Skype issues halfway in, which I considered leaving in for those that enjoy two people saying things such as "hello" or "can you hear me?" for minutes on end. The Survey Monkey market research I conducted following the recording revealed that number to be few. Enjoy a prolonged, yet condensed chat with Ian Kenny.

It only took five episodes of this thing to land a juicy exclusive. Jake talks to Ian Kenny of King Neptune about what exactly happened to NGHBRS, the project he’s been known for leading into this new project.

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VBR #04: 'I'm Probably Going To Be Honored Forever', with guest Connor Feimster

A few years ago, a photographer on my Facebook feed was asking for the names and contact information for graphic designers that could make him a logo for his photography business. Swept up in a gust of inspiration, I mocked one up for him and he bought the design from me. Despite paying me in full for the work, he still gives me rights to his photos whenever I ask him for permission to do so. Connor Feimster is nice like that. I've followed and admired Connor's work for years, so it's only natural that I grill him about everything he's about on the show.

There were a few audio hiccups with Connor's recording about 2/3 of the way through. I did my best to level them out, but it's still going to sound funny. My apologies. Through those glitches, I hope you will enjoy what I considered an imeasurably pleasant chat between Connor and I.

Connor Feimster calls the Variable Bitrate hotline to banter over the news and his life as a working-class music photographer slash actor slash editor slash tour manager. Turns out Connor is a big Paul Simon fan, and super knowledgeable to the Swan-core scene. Enjoy!

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.