Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stains on the Memory

Over the past year and a half, I've had little interest in inventing new stories to construct. This isn't so much due to a lack of imaginative urges as it is a result of half realized stories lingering around like so many spiders on the brain. Coupled with my fair share of industry frustrations during the course of the past half-decade, I came to the conclusion some dozen or so months ago to focus my efforts on stories that I had already worked on to varying degrees, not in hopes of gaining anything beyond my own sense of satisfaction.

Beginning last summer, I started to write the first draft of a story that had been thoroughly outlined some years ago, while also revising a manuscript that had been completed even years before that. I've since completed two revisions of that story, which now awaits its fate in the aforementioned world of "industry", leaving me the chance to return to the first draft of the other one. Though it's been a busy month, welcoming my first child into the world, I've since begun reading over the chapters that were written last summer and starting the process of reclaiming my train of thought and my mastery of the characters. 

These days I feel that I'm more of a completest when it comes to my work. In my younger years, I was so eager to simply write, write, write...but as I grow older, I feel the urge to compose. There's a fine line between writing a manuscript and building a story. So far, I'm enjoying the carpentry of it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup (Baby's First Records Edition)

My baby daughter continues to deter from my new music listening time, but it's opened up a whole new kind of listening this week. Over the last few days I've been listening to two or more records with her when she's fussy, and since she is my child, it's no surprise that it calms her. I've been trying to share with her not only some of my favorites, but also songs that I remember from my childhood. My up bringing was solidly based in '70s folk rock, and I see hers being steeped in 2000's folk. So without a lot of blabbing, her's what we have been listening to this week.

Rockabye Baby! - Lullaby Renditions of the White Stripes: We've listened to a few of these, so far this is the best one. She was extra fussy during this listen, so hard to gauge her interest. I honestly think she'd rather the real album. Luckily, I got that covered as well.

 Oasis - Definitely Maybe: A modern classic from the Fab Five. As expected, her favorite song was "Live Forever" but it perhaps it was a bit too rocking for the time of evening that we played it. Still, there will be plenty of Oasis in her future.

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife: Took her to a record fair yesterday and we picked this up on vinyl. She adored this album. "Shankill Butchers" was her favorite, the ideal anti-lullabye. She's also heard parts of the new album, but will get a proper listen soon enough.

Jim Croce - I Got a Name: A favorite from my childhood, I was excited to share the Croce with her. She loved "Lover's Cross" and the title track, as do I. Still want to share other great songs with her like "Operator" and "Time in a Bottle".

Langhorne Slim - The Way We Move: This album always reminds me of my dad, not only because it was the album I listened to as I drove home the night he passed away, but also because there are so many references in it that remind me of him. I was happy to share it with her, and "Past Lives" was her favorite song. 

Iron and Wine - Ghost on Ghost: The soft rhythms of his work, along with the complexities that exist under the surface make him an interesting listen. To my surprise, "Joy" was her favorite song, one that I hadn't paid much attention to before.

Neil Young - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere: One of all time favorites, also picked up on vinyl yesterday and listened to it with her. It would have been devistating if she didn't like Old Shakey, but she does. "Down by the River" was her favorite song. 

Elton John - Madman Across the Water: Another favorite of mine, and an album that I believe it is impossible not to like. She liked it, too. Another surprise here, the title track was her favorite, even more so than powerhouse hits like "Tiny Dancer" and "Levon".

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Montage of Music

In case anybody was wondering what happened to the Weekend Music Roundup, the answer is simple. The birth of my daughter last weekend listening to music has not been in the plans. Well, that's not say I haven't listened to music, just haven't had time to absorb new music. However, I did have time to watch the wonderful Kurt Cobain documentary on HBO, Montage of Heck, which did feature some new music, most notably an acoustic Kurt cover of The Beatles "And I Love Her," which is absolutely brilliant.

The entire film was actually quite brilliant. Combing through home videos, interviews, and most strikingly, Kurt's own journals and drawings, the film offered a glimpse into what Kurt was truly like as a person. So often, the prevailing myths about Kurt, and media portrayal of him a depressed junkie, overshadow the creativity of his work and the humor which he displayed so often. Montage of Heck was able to show this legend in such a way that the legend became a man again, one with flaws and genius in equal parts. Bravo!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Spreading of Wings

After several long months, the revisions of my newest novel have finally been completed. Finishing a third draft, which this essentially was, is never quite the same sense of jubilation that finishing a first draft is, but the sense of accomplishment, while not as enthusiastic, comes with a greater sense of satisfaction. The finished product feels more developed, more complete. 

It's not the last time I will be revising this story. It is off to my wonderful and insightful agent who will surely have more creative feedback. Then, if it's lucky enough to be picked up by someone, there will be more to do. It's hard to say for sure, but one thing I do know is that with each step the story comes nearer and nearer to the images that play out in my head.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Another busy week passed by, and given that I was still savoring my Record Store Day buys, it left little time for me to indulge in new music. However, I did manage to listen to four 2015 releases, all of which I'd been anticipating. So this is one of those quality, not quantity lessons. Besides the strange, unplanned theme of black, white, and grey covers, there seems to be a focus on albums with boldness (at least the first three). It's nice to see so many bands taking risks, especially in a market where everybody mostly seems to try and sound like everybody else. Enjoy.

San Fermin - Jackrabbit: Two years after their intriguing debut, the Brooklyn indie band released their second album this past week. I really enjoyed the genre-bending chaos of their first album and I'm glad to see them push the envelope even farther here. Their combination of indie rock, electronic, and orchestral arrangements keep the listener engaged throughout. They remind of Menomena and Boggs, but with they go even farther, including songs that are more pop infused, though could never really be pop songs. Definitely one of the newer indie acts that is worth watching. "The Woods," "Philosopher," "Parasites," "Emily" and "Two Scenes" are among my favorites.

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color: The second album from the breakout indie blues rock band of 2012 was finally released this week. I was one of the hoards of people who were impressed by their debut, though I admit I never truly fell in love with it. This record is a bit more dramatic, and definitely a brave exploration into music as they push their boundaries, trying to further their sound. Like the last album, it draws heavily on early late '60's and '70s blues rock of Janis Joplin and even some Stones mixed in. However it also draws from contemporary indie rock, giving it a current feel. At times it's down right stunning, and I have no doubt it will be a blockbuster album of the summer. "This Feeling," "Don't Wanna Fight," and "Gimme All Your Love" are my personal favorites.

Björk - Vulnicura: The Icelandic pixie released her 12th solo album in January and it's pretty damn close to a masterpiece. Her career has been a lot of hit or miss for me. There's never been an album that I didn't like, but there are definitely ones that I enjoy a whole lot more than others. This is my favorite of hers since 2000's Selmasongs. It's perhaps the most coherent and consistent record since 1995's Post, but musically far more superior than either of those albums. She sometimes has a tendency to veer too far into electronic weirdness, but not here. These songs are genuine and beautiful, and always seem to know exactly what they are and what they are supposed to be. Easily a surprise candidate for my end of the year list.

Rocky Votolato - Hospital Handshakes: Released last week is the eighth studio album from the Seattle singer songwriter, via Dallas. His blend of contemporary folk is infused with an alt country style, and I've been following him over the course of his last four albums. This is his first in three years and it's another solid record. At times he feels like a version of Ryan Adams with less attention to stardom. As with his previous records, there is nothing to really make it stand out from the crowd, though it certainly holds it own with his contemporaries. "White-Knuckles," "A New Son," and "Sawdust & Shavings" are stand out tracks.

Guns N' Roses - Make My Day!: This bootleg from 1991 is basically a collection of songs that can be found on other bootlegs. It focuses on early unreleased GNR classics, like the Hollywood Rose songs and demo versions of "November Rain" and "One in a Million." Many of these can be found on the three disc bootleg Appetite for Outtakes or the CBGB's set. Despite that, and despite my extensive collection of Guns bootlegs, there is one song that I didn't have before. Though I have many versions of their "Jumping Jack Flash" cover, I had not heard their acoustic version before. As expected, it's dynamite. Certainly worth owning, especially if you don't have any boots, or the Hollywood Rose album. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From Where Things Come

The other day I was packing up the last remnants of my old office and came across this sticker of Jabber Jaw. As a kid, I loved Jabber Jaw. He never failed to crack me up. Anyone familiar with that '80s cartoon character, and my picture book The Shark Who Was Afraid of Everything, must surely know that it was the inspiration for the story. It's funny how things like that can stay with you, and as I eagerly await the birth of my first child, I can't wait to see what she discovers and watch what things will inspire her.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the weekend again, one day after my favorite music related Saturday of the year. That's right, yesterday was Record Store Day! And while there weren't really any special releases that I was coveting, I always make it a point to visit at least one store on that day to show my support, and splurge a little bit on some gifts for myself. Because I'd recently bought a bunch of new releases, I decided to visit the nearby used vinyl store this time around. I hadn't been there in a while, and was curious to see what they had. I found some pieces that I'd been looking for, most I probably won't review as they were re-buys of albums I have on CD, but needless to say, it was a good day. It's also been a good week for new releases and I've actually had some time to listen to them. Hopefully you'll find something here to seek out on your next record store day. Enjoy.

Built to Spill - Untethered Moon: Due out this Tuesday is the eighth album from the indie rock legends, their first in six years. Always one of the most consistent indie bands since the late '90s, they've always created intelligent and interesting music, and this record is no different. From the opening nostalgic affirmation anthem, it is clear that this isn't the work of a band trying to capitalize on the summer festival reunion/comeback circuit. This is the sound of an artistic band that still something to say. "All Our Songs," "C.R.E.B.," "Living Zoo," and "Never be the Same" are among my personal favorites.

Trickfinger - Trickfinger: Released last week, this is John Frusciante's first full length release under his acid house name. Given his ever increasing interest in glitch pop and experimental music, this is a natural progression for him to make. Definitely more listenable than some of his other recent side projects. This basically amounts to a DJ set, only with original music. As with everything John does, the quality is high and there's an attention to groove, which is maintained throughout. Definitely worth a listen for fans.

The White Stripes - Under Amazonian Lights: As part of Jack White's on-going Third Man Records vault releases, this famous 2005 concert in Brazil was released last month in a vinyl box set to fan club members. The first rock band to play in the historic Opera house, this show was groundbreaking, and the band was in rare form, partially due to Jack's recent marriage and high spirits. The recording quality is brilliant. One night of a band at their peak, when they were the biggest rock band on the planet, forever captured in all its glory. A must have, but the limited edition assures the set comes with a hefty price tag.

Cancer Bats - Searching for Zero: Released last month, the Toronto punk band's fifth album is perhaps their most accessible to date. That's not to say it is any less heavy than their previous records, but there is definitely more attention to rhythm. It reminds me of the change Fugazi made with their fourth album, turning away from hardcore and toward indie rock. This has a Death From Above dance punk feel that suits them well, though it's much more metal leaning than anything Death From Above has done. "True Zero," "Buds," and "No More Bull Shit" are standout tracks for me.

Josh Rouse - The Embers of Time: The native Nebraskan singer songwriter's eleventh solo record was released earlier this month. Though I'd listened to him in the early days of his career, about a decade ago, I didn't ever follow his work too closely. Then last weekend, he was doing a radio show on the Woodstock station and played a few tracks from the record that made me take notice, including the stunning "New Young," a brilliant lament about how he, and the current folk singer crop, will never be as iconic as the likes of Neil Young, and yet somehow that song seems just as good as any of the "classics". For most of the album, Josh sounds more like Paul Simon than Neil Young. There's a beautiful simplicity to his melodies and a clarity to his voice that makes this feel like an old familiar record. Besides the previously mentioned "New Young," "Ex-Pat Blues," and "Time" are outstanding tracks on a very good album.

Kath Bloom - Pass Through Here: For nearly 30 years, Kath Bloom has been recording her unique style of folk music. In a way, she reminds me of Marianne Faithful translated into American roots folk. She has a similar tragedy to her voice that makes it unforgettable and beautiful. Though it definitely should be noted that she has one of those "love or hate" voices. "Criminal Side," "Bubble Bath," and "Pacify Me" are my personal favorites. Definitely something to check out if you are tired of all the folk-pop crowding the market today.

Cinderella - Night Songs: The '86 debut from the Philly rockers is an album from my youth that I'd been really into lately, and on Record Store Day yesterday, I found a copy on vinyl and quickly snatched it up. This is a blues soaked shot of east coast glam that never quits. I've always felt they were an underrated band of the era. Their best songs rank up there with any rock group of the time. Tom's vocals, and their deep rooted blues style, combined with genre perfect bass and drums make this a solid record. "Somebody Save Me," "Nothin' for Nothin'," "Shake Me," and the perfect "Nobody's Fool" are essential tracks of '80s rock.