Friday, July 31, 2015

A Story Heard and Seen


My approach to writing has always been a multi-media experience. It's not uncommon to ask a writer what his or her favorite book is, or which writers have influenced them. While these are valuable questions, they will never give readers a full picture of the writer's craft, at least not for me. That's because books are not the most inspirational art form when it comes to the way I approach writing. Literature was crucial in my early development of style and structure, but so was music and images.

Whenever I start a project, part of my note taking process includes collecting images that will inspire me. It's not unusual for me to translate an image into words and insert my characters among the chaos they depict. My imagination is very visual, and for me a picture is literally worth more than a thousand words. I always aim to create a story that the reader will be able to see clearly.

Music has always been the way I set tone. When I'm working, I chose albums that generate a similar mood within me that I hope to project into the work. For me, it's important that a piece of literature cause the reader to share the same emotions that the character is feeling. The rhythm of the words, the language that is used, all this helps achieve these ends. I wouldn't be able to do this with the sounds that steer me through the pages.

Writing like any other art is one that borrows from all sources. It's not something created in a vacuum of the imagination. It everything around the artist filtered through the imagination.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup


Back from a trip abroad, which shockingly was one that did not include music in any sort of way. The summer heat regulated my days to swimming in rivers and pools and long lunches complete with beer. I'd loaded a bunch of new music to listen to, but never got around to it, choosing to read in those spare moments instead. Now that I've been back for a few days, I've been feverishly trying to catch up and satisfy the void of song that the trip has left. The good thing is that there are now a ton of albums for me to choose from and I should be bringing some wonderful new sounds to you. Enjoy.

Samantha Crain - Under Branch & Thorn & Tree: Perhaps the album I've most been looking forward to this month is the the fourth full length from one of my favorite singer songwriters of the last half-decade. Just out last week, this is another wonderful record from the Oklahoma native with the amazing voice and gift for constructing folk songs of emotional depth. An artist that truly deserves a wider audience, I really hope this builds off the momentum of her last record and becomes a breakout release for her. "You or Mystery," "Kathleen," and "If I Had a Dollar" are among my favorites.

The Legendary Pink Dots - The Wednesday Mass: The latest in the UK psychedelic legends archival releases capturing live shows throughout their decades long history. Recorded in 2000, this album is another stellar piece of ambient psych that gives flashes into the kind of music Syd Barrett might have made in these modern times. There's also a bit of Burroughs' Interzone in the stories told. I absolutely love this band, and their range of sound that is at times Happy Mondays, at times Joy Division, at times Brian Jonestown Massacre, but always unique and unlike anything else. 

Hardy and the Hardknocks - Drownin on a Mountaintop: T. Hardy Morris (of Dead Confederate) returns with his second solo album, this time with a new backing band. Released last month, this is one of those records I was looking forward to because he never seems to disappoint. That holds true once more with this exceptional followup to his 2013 record. A mixture of lo-fi americana and some higher tempo rock, this is one of those albums that is full of great tracks. "Young Assumption" and "Likes of Me" are stand outs.

The Tallest Man on Earth - Dark Bird is Home: The Swedish Bob Dylan returns with his fourth album, released back in May. Though his early offerings felt more Zimmerman than this one, the spirit of Dylan's scratchy voice remains in these more melodic efforts which feel more in line with Langhorne Slim than Bob. This is perhaps my favorite of his and proves that he continues to mature and evolve as his career goes on. "Timothy," "Beginners," "Singers," and the title track are standouts for me.

Jenny Lysander - Northern Folk: The debut from the Swedish folk artist is a beautiful lazy day record that takes its roots in 70's folk while being very much contemporary. There is a softness to her voice that is carried over to the music, bringing to mind rolling streams, light breezes, and a distant sun that keeps everything just warm enough to enjoy. A timeless feel that reminds me of Nick Drake, especially on tracks like "This Boat." A promising beginning to a career and well worth checking out. 

Goblin Hovel - Goblin Hovel: In my continuing exploration of this fantastic and innovative folk metal band, I recently enjoyed their self-titled release from 2013. I seem to be working my way backwards through their four year catalog. Of all of their albums that I've listened to so far, this one is the most "metal" leaning musically. Though it still maintains the otherworldly fairy tale tone that makes their music so appealing to me, and my current goblin writing project. Definitely check them out on Bandcamp.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fiction Friday (37)

Given everything that has been going on in my life these past few months, well not everything, mostly just the baby, but either way time has been in high demand and very short supply. One of the things that inevitably got lost in the shuffle was my time for reading. For years, I've reserved a little time before bed every night for that activity, but find myself often too exhausted to last more than a few pages. As things begin to grow more and more under control, I'm making more of an effort to engage in the single most important research activity for a writer. As a result, I finished reading the book I began back in April, one that I entered into with the best intentions to finish quickly because it was a story I'd been waiting for ever since I picked up The Search for WondLa a few years back. Though there's always a bit of sadness when a trilogy ends, the satisfaction almost always outweighs it. Enjoy. 

The Battle for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
(Simon & Schuster 2014)

The concluding book in the Middle Grade science fiction fantasy trilogy that follows a young girl as she traverses a troubling new world in peril is a fitting conclusion to the epic story. As with the first two offerings, this is a story of trusting those who are different than you and uniting under shared values and goals, despite clashes of tradition.

Picking up right where the last book left off, the opening chapter sets the tone for the entire story as Eva finds herself in imminent danger. There are very few moments of safety in the story as the war for control of Orbona rages between the humans and the new inhabitants, a war based on mistrust and misinformation. Eva has the unique position of being free of any ties binding her to one side or the other. Having recently "emerged" from her underground home, she has stepped into the middle of this conflict without feeling particularly attached to anyone but the few close friends she has made. She doesn't side with either the humans or the aliens, siding instead with the notion of peace and togetherness. Her detachment allows her to see things as they actually are, removed from the filters that too often blind the others. It's because of this that Eva is able to discover the truth that lies hidden under the surface and eventually expose the lies that have been guiding the events on her world.

Some point towards the end of the second book, it was clear that Eva would emerge as the hero who would save her home from repeating the horrible history that once devastated it in the past. This novel shows her stepping into that role, but not without making some mistakes, and not before much damage is done. Balancing a sense of reality with the fantasy is one thing the series has always done well, and nothing ever comes too easily for Eva. It is her belief in herself and her love of family and friends that always allows her sense of right to triumph over wrong.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

It was a strange week with the first half being cool and dreary and the second half being bearably summery, lending itself to two drastically different musical moods within me. The albums that I chose to listen to this week reflect both ends of my spectrum, from low key mood pieces to high energy rock 'n roll. It's also a collection dominated by familiar favorites thanks to exciting new reissues, new recordings, and new additions to the collection. Hopefully there's something on here to fit your many musical moods as well. Enjoy.

Natural Snow Buildings - Night Coercion Into the Company of Witches: A four album set recorded during 2007-08, just before the release of their of epic 7+ hour Daughter of Darkness. It has a similar vibe musically, and fits in with those recordings, being heavier on the drone than some of their more accessible albums. Each album side is basically one song, all of them leading into the next song, which is typical of their releases. One of the things that I truly love about them is how they are able to tell stories in the subtle complexities of their songs. At their best, their albums feel like novels, and this is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Death and Vanilla - To Where the Wild Things Are: This is the third album from the Swedish dream pop band and one of the finest albums of the year so far. A blend of "Pygmalion" era Slowdive neo-psychedellia with Mazzy Star inspired dreaminess, this is the kind of record that never fails to produce comforting feelings and wonderful visions. This is a perfect headphones record, or for listening in a dim room on a rainy day. Highly recommended, as I seek out their previous recordings and continue to enjoy repeated listens of this one.

The Rolling Stones - The Marquee Club Live in 1971: The Stones were at their most decadent in the early '70s with landmark rock albums like Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and Goat's Head Soup and this newly released set captures them in rare form. The energy on this performance is unmatched and possibly the best live record of theirs that I've heard. Keith's guitar is perfectly dirty and Mick is simply magnetic. This is a must for fans!

Goblin Rebirth - Goblin Rebirth: The debut album from the Italian progressive metal band was released this week and I was drawn to it not only by the cover but also the title as I'm currently steeped in goblin thoughts. This is a solid instrumental album that reminds me of later day Porcupine Tree without the vocals. For some people I know that would be a plus, but I do enjoy vocals, especially on heavier albums to prevent them from sounding repetitive. Worth a spin if you're into the genre. 

Ryan Adams - Burn in the Night: Still on my Ryan Adams kick and this is his latest single. Like a lot of his releases over the past year, these two and half songs have an 80's summer vibe. It's nice to hear him having a little fun even if he seems at his best when he sounds down and out. If the title track were released in '86 it would have been a stone cold hit. It's still enjoyable now. 

Iggy Pop - Psychophonic Medicine: This box set of Iggy rarities features the early '80s, post Stooges phase when Iggy was still the wild child of the punk. These are songs that really bridge the punk movement with the New Wave movement. He lends his manic energy to more New Wave sounding tunes, making them heavier and more chaotic than anything that was radio friendly, though hearing these versions, it's clear to me that if had been poster-boy pretty, Iggy would've been bigger than Billy Idol at the time. Definitely a must for fans, a fantastic set. 

Neil Young - The Monsanto Years: Given the blunt political message of the songs on Neil's latest album, it's no wonder he's supporting Bernie for Prez. He rails against the greed and ever-expanding reach of corporate American into our political system and agriculture, particularly and repeatedly attacking Monsanto (and rightfully so). Thankfully I agree with the messages he's spouting, otherwise I'm not sure this album would be digestible. While it's great to see an artist stand up for what he believes and bring politics back to folk music, it doesn't necessarily lend itself to repeated listens. That said, every fan should listen to it at least once, we deserve Neil at least that much respect. 


Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Land of You and Me


It's America's birthday once again, and like any birthday, it's time to celebrate but while celebrating, it's also time to reflect. I can't help thinking that it's an interesting time in our history. We seem to be at a crossroads with the ideals of progressive thinking splitting drastically from traditional conservative views. Nothing illustrates this more than the recent reactions to the Supreme Court ruling which propelled us out of one element of our backwardness. In the land of the equality, we can now hold our heads up knowing that our laws allow for equal protection of love. 

Of course not everybody sees it that way. There are those who want to keep the status quo. I listen to them use religion as a shield to justify bigotry and know they are the same people who decades ago used religion to justify separate but equal, who a century and a half ago used it to justify slavery. What's infuriating about this argument is that allowing gays to marry has absolutely zero affect on their religion. When I hear them talking about county clerks not issuing marriage licenses because of religious objections, I can't help but think that if your religious beliefs interfere with your government job, then you are not qualified to serve in a country that clearly lays out a separation of church and state.

While there are certain things that give me hope, there are far more that cause frustration. We are still an incarceration nation, one where kickbacks and the big prison industry are controlling sentencing and destroying people's lives. We still live in a country ruled by the richest of the rich, whose money buys endless influence among the politicians who pretend to represent us. We still live in a country where corporate profits rise and rise and rise, while wages stand still and prices of goods go up. We still live in a country that spends exponentially more on the business of war than on the business of bettering the lives of its citizens. 

This current presidential election cycle, one that really began three years ago, I feel more disillusioned with our government than I ever have in the past. I see very little difference between the parties, except for the same social wedge issues. Not that it really matters if there are few differences, because none of them seem to be talking about anything that matters...with the one exception of Bernie Sanders. His campaign of ideas gives me hope, but that hope rests on the chance that my fellow Americans will finally wake up and see how they are being manipulated. Not sure that will happen, but for the sake of my daughter's future, I hope they do.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

As another week draws to a close on a cool and dreary Sunday, I find myself listening to the comforting sounds of drone folk and reflecting back on the music of the last several days. This was one of those weeks where I gathered a bunch odds and ends together, hoping for something spectacular to emerge. None of the albums on this week's list were ones I'd been particularly waiting for or anticipating, which always leaves the door open for surprise. However all the artists were familiar to me, so it was a lot of safe bets. Enjoy.

Robert Pollard - Faulty Superheroes: The Guided By Voices, Boston Spaceships, Circus Devils, et al, frontman released his millionth solo album in April, the first in two years under his name. Like the aforementioned projects, the songs on here are brief lo-fi pieces. What I love about his music is how the songs feel like fragments of William Burroughs novels, full of surreal imagery and the hint of some bigger story. Probably not essential, but as always, it's a quality album. Fans won't go wrong with this one. 

Riff Raff - Hologram Panda: This mixtape from the Florida dope boy came out in 2012 and is available for free on datpiff.com. One of his most consistent efforts, there really aren't any true "skip" tracks on here, and the beats are trippy brilliant. Like all mixtapes, there's a repetitive feel to some of the songs as artists try to work out rhymes, playing with them in a variety of ways. Great for the summer and definitely worth picking up.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Live in Paris: It's hard to believe the San Fran rock band has been around for over a decade, and though they've consistently released quality albums, they are still relatively unknown. I saw them live way back during their debut album and to hear them on this record proves how much they've grown over their career. This double album contains their last album played live in order, while the second disc is a career spanning set. Most surprising is how great the last album sounds, because while I liked it, I didn't love it until I heard it here.

The View - Which Bitch?: Released back in 2009, this is the second album the Scottish band and one of the greatly overlooked gems of the British indie revival of the past decade. While The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys are constantly acknowledged for bringing youth angst back to UK rock, The View are just as creative and inventive. If anything, this album shows them to be far more creative than their contemporaries at the time, fusing many different elements and influences into this collection of outstanding tracks. I've been a fan of this album since it came out and recently broke down and ordered it on vinyl. Definitely one that shouldn't be overlooked.

Ryan Adams - Jacksonville: This single came out last fall in the wave of releases from the singer songwriter that preceded and followed the release of his self-titled album. None of these three tracks are found on the album, but the title track would certainly have fit. It's a classic Ryan Adams sound,  a sort of Neil Young inspired piece of nostalgia about time passing. "I Keep Running" is another solid effort, and the last song is more of gag kind of song, playing with old blues themes and styles. More of curiosity track than anything else. 

The Jayhawks - Live at the Belly Up: In the mid-80's this Minneapolis quartet pretty much re-invented the alt-country genre, reaching the height of their success with 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass. With all the core original members back in place since 2008, they are once again making the rounds and recently released this live set featuring a career spanning set list. I'm a sucker for their Neil Young inspired sound and they really nail it here. A must for fans.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Distraction Nation


Once again our nation seems bent on diverting attention away from its problems to focus on lesser, slightly related issues. A week after a hateful young man killed a number of people inside of a church, the public debate has turned to one about the Confederate Flag. In my opinion this is just another way of distracting people from the real problems in our society. 

Is there a segment of the population that uses the Confederate flag as symbol of racism? Of course there is, but does the flag make somebody racist? Absolutely not! Removing a flag will do nothing to remove racism from our society. It will do nothing to solve the mental problems of hateful young people with access to guns.

As long as we continue to refuse to address the real core issues that cause violence in this country and stop focusing on band-aid side issues, nothing will ever change. It's time for us to stop allowing the media and politicians to steer us away from meaningful public debate and demand they engage in real discussions rather than sound bites. As of now, that seems only like wishful thinking on my part...nearly as wishful as those who believe hiding a flag will solve a deep rooted issue.