Saturday, December 16, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

'Twas the weekend before Christmas and all through the house, speakers were blaring, annoying the spouse. Well, not really. I have a pretty damned awesome spouse! Welcome to the last traditional Roundup of the year before I roundup my personal favorites of the year the was in music. This week I take a look at some new releases that I finally got around to listening to. Over the next several days, I will revisit my favorites records of the year and try to settle on a final list. Until then, enjoy.

Jim James - Tribute to 2: The My Morning Jacket's lead singer releases his third solo record, and this time it's an album of covers that range from country classics, 70's pop, and legendary folk all reinterpreted in James' eternal groove. As with any covers record, the key is to put your own signature on the songs, and he accomplishes this. All of these sound as though they could be James originals. Certainly something fans will want to check out.  "Baby Don't Go," "Crying in the Chapel," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," and "Lucky Man" are my personal favorites.

Simon Joyner - Step Into the Earthquake: The indie singer songwriter's new album follows suit with his catalog of releases. For the past two decades, he's been one of the more prolific, and yet still widely unknown indie artists, despite playing a brand of Americana folk that has a wider following than he. I've come in and out of his albums, certainly not hitting every one, but enjoying those I have. This album reminds me of Silver Jews in it's delivery. An honest and interesting album with "Hail Mary," "I'm Feeling It Today," and the amazing "Flash Forward to the Moon"
Elizabeth and the Catapult - Keepsake: The new album from the Brooklyn based indie band pays homage to '70s pop-rock and folk-rock, as does her previous albums. I love her Carol King meets Karen Carpenter sound, though to be sure, steeped in contemporary indie pop. There's something timeless about her work, something the reminds me of the radio of my childhood. "Magic Chaser," "Better Days," "Land of Lost Things," and "Wishing Well" are my personal favorites.

Bjork - Utopia: Two years after her last record, which was fantastic, the Icelandic icon returns with another record that combines chamber music, ambient, and electronica into an elevated piece of art. Probably not as accessible as some of her work (though some would argue that none of her work is accessible) this is what she does best. She experiments with voice and sound until she creates something new, and that's what I really like about this album. It doesn't sound like anything else, and that's a rare thing these days.

Morrissey - Low In High School: It's been three years since Moz's last album and the ex-Smiths leader hasn't lost his touch. At nearly 60, he's angrier than ever at the world, yet hasn't lost his touch at expressing his frustration at world futility in most poetic terms. Musically, this album is more aggressive than recent albums, and it benefits from it. Easily his best since 2004's You Are the Quarry. "My Love, I'd Do Anything for You," "Spent the Day in Bed," "All the Young People Must Fall in Love," and "Who Will Protect Us from the Police?" are standouts for me.

The Sun Machine - Turn On To Evil: The Austin five-piece's newest record is a fuzzed bit of psychedelic bliss that takes from the '60s and adds a California sunshine glow to it. Reminds me a bit of Skygreen Leopards in mood, but with more of a lo-fi garage sensibility. I really enjoyed it, as did my 2 1/2 year old, who asked with each song, "Is the The Sun Machine? I like this music." So there you have it, straight from the mouth of babes...this is music worth liking. " I Want to Do Drugs (With You)," "The Wasp," and "The Wolf" are my personal favorites. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Fiction Friday (67)

As the year winds down, I'm continuing my recap of recent books read. As I mentioned last week, there are a bunch of graphic novels prepared for upcoming weeks as I chose the genre for my focus during the final project for the course that has been providing me with material for the Fiction Friday segment this Fall. This week I look at a fun and somewhat silly book that I enjoyed. I hope you enjoy it too.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson
(First Second, 2015)

Is romance dead? Well, if you're the princess of the Underworld, then technically yes, it is dead. But is it as difficult as it can be for the living? When Princess Decomposia has to hire a new royal chef for the many diplomatic banquets she is hosting in the castle, she is introduced to Count Spatula, a vampire with gourmet taste and a gift for baking. But his treats aren't the only thing about the Count that the Princess finds extra sweet. For her entire life, nobody has treated her like a person rather than a princess, that is, nobody before the Count. But will her father, the laziest king in the Underworld, approve of a romance between his daughter and a vampire cook? Will he banish the Count from the castle forever? Or is it true that nothing can stand in the way of love?

This lighthearted story is told in comic strip panels with quirky illustrations that match the quirky story nicely. This was a quick read, and entertaining, though like the Count's deserts, it's very sugary and doesn't stay with you for very long.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the weekend, the first of the season where snow is expected here in the Hudson Valley. The whole day has that snow feel and it's nice and seasonal and perfect for staying inside and listening to music. It's been another week of new releases that I've been looking forward to. Most were as good as expected, though there was one that was a bit of let down. You can't win them all though, so I'll take it. Hopefully there's something here you'll want to check out. Enjoy.

Electric Wizard - Wizard Bloody Wizard:  The ninth album from the now legendary UK sludge metal band may just be their finest album to date, which is saying a lot considering how much I love this band. It was a bold move to name it after Sabbath's classic, but it lives up to the name. Since their early heavy days, they've embraced psych metal more and more over their past few releases.  "Necromania," "Wicked Caresses," and "Mourning of the Magicians" are standouts on a fantastic record.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon: Noel's third album since leaving Oasis doesn't stray far from the sound he's established for his new project. It's hyper-produced and filled with lots of guitars, the marked difference on here is the lowered vocals, which I actually believe to be a mistake. Noel's voice gets lost in the sound, falling into background noise. It picks up on the second half, after starting off very sub-expectations. "Black and White Sunshine," "Be Careful What You Wish For," and "Dead Man in the Water" are standouts. It sounds more like an album Ian Brown or Johnny Marr would put out than anyone associated with Oasis. It's okay, but Liam's album is better.

Langhorne Slim - Lost at Last Vol. 1: The seventh album from the NYC based singer songwriter is another gem to add to his catalog. After a slightly disappointing album two years ago, this is a return to the stellar form of 2012's The Way We Move. Though I still prefer that album, this is one of the better folk rock albums of the year. His storytelling has always been one of his strengths, along with his pickin' skills, both of which shine on this record. "Life is Confusing," "House of My Soul," "Never Break," and "Alligator Girl" are my personal favorites. 

Kadavar - Rough Times: The fourth album from the German stoner metal band is their best since their 2012 debut. Though I've enjoyed all of their work, this one shows some real growth as they delve into the heavy psych genre with great success. With this album, they've cemented themselves as one of the premiere bands of the genre. "Die Baby Die," "Tribulation Nation," "The Lost Child," and the title track are among my favorites.

Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps: The debut album from the L.A. indie singer songwriter is a truly beautiful piece of moody folk that reminds me a bit of Conor Oberst in it's honesty (who guests on this album), and a bit of Catpower in it's soft strength. A truly beautiful album that is perfect for early mornings (or late nights that turn into early mornings). "Scott Street," "Would You Rather," and "Killer" are standouts on a wonderful debut.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fiction Friday (66)

As the current grad quarter comes to a close, so does my reading marathon. Though I still have a few more Fiction Fridays ready to go, they will once again become far less frequent than they've been during the past few months. It was great to be forced to read so much YA fiction over these past few weeks and I'm glad I was able to share them with you all. For the past few weeks, I concentrated on Graphic Novels, which was a good excuse to read a bunch that had been sitting on my To-Read list for a long time, including this one which I bought several years ago with the intention of reading it right away. Enjoy.

Saturn Apartments Vol. 1 by Hisae Iwaoka
(Viz, 2011)

In the future, the entire Earth has been declared a nature preserve and humans have taken to living in a manmade structure orbiting 35,000 kilometers above the surface. The structure consists of three levels of apartment complexes, with the wealthy inhabiting the top, sunlit floor and the lower classes living on the dingy bottom floor where it is too risky, and far too expensive to ever clean the windows. After graduating junior high, Mitsu goes to work in the guild responsible for cleaning the windows on the structure, the same job his father did before a tragic accident sent him spiraling down to the surface. The work is dangerous, but Mitsu continues with it, hoping he might uncover some secret about his father’s accident. During the course of his work, the windows give him a glimpse into the private lives of the Saturn Apartments’ many inhabitants. Mitsu learns that people are a lot like the window, and that there is much to discover if one looks below the surface.

Amazing art and very interesting, subtle story. I can't wait to read Vol. 2, which is sitting on my shelf. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Entering the last few weekends of the year, I'm frantically trying to catch up on some 2017 releases and offer my thoughts on a few of them this week. It's a pretty mixed selection of bands that I've been following for years. Some were nice surprises, others not so much, but all in all, an interesting week of listening, not so much musically as simply for personal reference to my own not so distant past. More to come next week, so make sure you tune in. Enjoy.

Radio Moscow - New Beginnings: This is the sixth album from the hard rock trio, which has new members joining founder and core contributor Parker Griggs. This is another band, like last week's Buffalo Killers that is a bit of a classic rock throwback band, though on this record they leave the '70s hard rock sound in the rear-view a little bit more than on previous albums. It's heavier and faster than they were, but still blues based. "Driftin'," "Last to Know," and the title track are my favorites on a solid album, but one that I wish had a little more diversity. Too much of it sounds the same to be truly great.

Gwar - The Blood of Gods: The 14th album by the thrash medal outfit is their first record since founding singer Oderus Urungus returned forever to the Underworld. Blother, the founding bass player, takes the lead on this record which is certainly more traditional metal than some of the band's other offerings. Never one to take themselves seriously, this is exactly what it is supposed to be, fun metal that takes the music seriously if not the industry. "Swarm," "Fuck This Place," and "Phantom Limb" are my personal favorites.

Starsailor - All This Life: After eight years of silence, the Brit Pop band returns with their fifth album. There was an undeniable beauty to the sadness on their debut sixteen years ago that I still identify with. Later albums saw them move farther into pop rock, and this album represents their rebirth into that genre. Those who follow my Roundup will not be surprised to find that I'm not such a fan of this change. This is one of those albums that's okay if it's on, but not one I'd put on. At best, it's tolerable and mildly entertaining, but in the wrong mood, I could see myself hating it. 

Masta Killa - Loyalty is Royalty: The Wu-Tang member's fourth solo record comes just as the full Clan releases their new album, and that's both good and bad in a way. It's nice that the Wu should get some visibility with the two releases, but it's not so great for Killa that his album is far outdone by the Wu. While this is classic Clan rap, it suffers from being uneven (as does the Wu album to be fair). But one of things that makes the Wu so appealing is the variety of styles the members bring. And while this album has the typical slew of guest appearances, it's far from being as dynamic as the group's effort. Worth listening to if your a Wu fan.

David Gilmour - On An Island: Released in 2006, this was Gilmour's first solo album in over 20 years, and only his third as of then. This is a very quiet, moody record. When Gilmour is playing guitar, it's as brilliant as ever, but the album suffers from its own quietness. There are a few standout tracks, but even more cringe worthy tracks that makes this one that even hardcore fans could do without, though I would still recommend giving it a listen, because as I said, when Gilmour plays, it's always great to listen to.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fiction Friday (65)

As we enter the last month of this quickly passing year, my reading habits have continued at a frantic pace. For the next few weeks, you'll be seeing a lot of graphic novel reviews from me as I chose that genre for the focus of my final project in the class that is responsible for this burst in reading accomplishments. This week I look at one of the more cherished graphic novels of the past decade, one whose art and subject matter are exceptional. Enjoy.

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
(Top Shelf, 2008)

Ruthie has a thing for insects. She collects them in jars which she compulsively arranges and rearranges on the shelves in her room, convinced that if she can just get them in the correct order they might open a door to another world. When her obsessions evolve into episodes of hallucinogenic visions, the adults in her life take her to see a doctor who prescribes medicine that might help her cope with the onslaught of her acute schizophrenia, a disease that has ravaged her grandmother and also effects her brother, though his goes undiagnosed in the story. The visions continue, and grow stronger, until they threaten to swallow Ruthie whole.

Having done a lot of research on this disease for my own novel on the subject, Life is But a Dream, I can say this is an engaging and heartbreaking view of the disease that really captures the panic felt by those who suffer from it. The one thing I will say is that I felt as though the book didn't explain what was happening thoroughly enough for younger readers. I would have liked to see Ruthie be a little more aware that something was wrong with her, but I understand the choice that Nate Powell made as a way of remaining honest about a character who was lost in her own illness.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The holiday weekend marches on, the weekend that began two days ago for most of you. After the blockbuster new releases that made up last week's Roundup, this week is also made up of new releases from bands that I've followed for a long time, though less blockbustery. I was really pleased with these albums, most exceeded my expectations. There's a nice mix of varying rock here, so hopefully you'll all find something to listen to out of this offering. Enjoy.

Buffalo Killers - Alive and Well in Ohio: Eleven years after their debut the Cincinnati band release their sixth studio album (which this is, despite the title that would suggest it's a live album). This has always been a throwback band, bringing a classic rock sound that is authentic and engaging. They channel their John Lennon on this album as many of songs fit the type of groove he went for on his solo records. This is my favorite of their albums thus far, and I've been following them since the beginning.

Nik Turner - Life in Space: The former Hawkwind frontman continues his space odyssey on his new album, released at the end of September. His last three records, released over the past four years, have revived the legendary Space Rock sound that Hawkwind trademarked back in the '70s. It's a guitar filled soundscape that tours through the regions of the mind's outerspace. "Why Are You?," "Back to Earth," and "End of the World" are standouts on this groove fest. 

The Horrors - V: The London neo-psych band's fifth album, not so cleverly titled V, is their first in three years. They don't stray far from the sound they worked to develop for the last record, a sort of psychedelic version of shoegaze. The result is that music that can sometimes lean toward the boring is kept interesting. They also throw in enough elements of their earlier punk style, albeit updated with an 80's vibe, to make the album flow. "Pres Enter to Exit" "Machine," and "World Below" were standouts for me.

Stars - There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light: The Montreal indie pop band's first album in three years is the first of theirs that I've checked out since 2010's The Five Ghosts. I was pretty into this band during the last decade but got kind bored, I guess. This album reminded me why I was into them to begin with. They embrace their pop and disco sound, much like St. Etienne, and don't try to disguise it as artrock the way fellow Canadians Arcade Fire have done. "Privilege," "Alone," "The Gift of Love," and "California, I Love That Name" are my personal favorites on this enjoyable album.

Carved in Bone - Higher Consciousness: The second album from the Spokan WA metal band is heavy sludge metal that is is one riff after another that pounds out of the speakers. It holds some similarities with fellow Pacific Northwest band Earth with their instrumental soundscapes. It can get a little repetitive but that speaks a little to my patience with instrumental drone metal. "Mountains of God," and "Against the Grain" were my personal favorites.