Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Going Solo


Last week, I finally made it to see Solo: A Star Wars Story. I will admit that I was more than a little skeptical of this film from the very first news that it was being made. Rouge One was different because it was an expanded universe project and I'm all about the expanded universe. This film was an origin story for my favorite character in the universe and therefore, I was nervous about it. One of the biggest concerns I had was watching somebody else play Han Solo. 

Not surprising, my biggest problem with this movie was the first third as I tried believing this guy was Han. I was also not so into the story of the first third, but once Han was off on his own, flying solo, the movie picked up for me. Woody Harrelson was the highlight of this film, in my opinion. He made the perfect Star Wars character. And by half way, I was able accept the new, younger Han. 

I enjoyed this film, but it was more of a space caper movie that followed the blockbuster format rather than a Star Wars format. That was disappointing, but acceptable. I just wished it was more steeped in the rise of the Empire. There were flashes of that, especially with the Join the Empire propaganda that showed up, but I wanted more of it. A solid okay, but in the future, I hope they chose to do more movies like Rogue One instead. They could easily bring in some Clone Wars characters, which I was sort of hoping they would do here.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Something About my Father...



This is a little story I told about my dad for a class last quarter. On this day, it feels appropriate to share it with all of you. Happy Father's Day, Dad! I miss you.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Weekend Music Roundup


The weekend is here and I'm enjoying some vacation time round my way, which means extra time for listening to tunes and finding more tunes to listen to. This week I bring you a few new releases that I'd been looking forward to and some albums that I found while looking for new things to get into. As always, there's a mix of styles on here, from stoner metal to jazz, Britpop to indie rock. Hopefully there's something you'll want to listen to. Enjoy.

Sleep - The Sciences: The legendary sludge metal band's first album since Dopesmoker was released 15 years ago was released back in April on Jack White's Third Man Records. Despite time away, these guys are still the masters of stoner sludge metal. These extended metal grooves are just the right amount of mellow and heavy and perfect for the soundtrack of their favorite hobby of choice. "Sonic Titan" takes up the entire second side of the double album, and I could stand another side of it. Side 3 features another full length track, "Antarcticans Thawed" which is a Melvins-esque if they ever did a sonic novel. The first and last side of the album each contain two tracks, with "Giza Butler" being my personal favorite. Pure audio satisfaction.

Roadkill Ghost Choir - In Tongues: Released in 2014, this is the debut album from the Florida based indie band. Having recently listened to their newly released second album, I have to say I prefer the sound on this one which is more honest. It reminds me of Wooden Sky, The War on Drugs and other indie bands of the past 10 years. "HWY," "I Could See Everything," "Womb," "See You Soon," "Lazarus, You've Been Dreaming," and "Dead Friend" are among my favorites on this solid effort.  Definitely one for fans of the genre to check out.

Mason Proffit - Wanted!: The debut album from early '70's country rock band out of Indy. This has a definite David Crosby vibe to it that I'm really digging. It's very much a precursor to the kind of folk rock that would become a radio staple in the years to come, but this is early enough in the expanse of this sound that it still borrows heavily from bands like Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds. It might not be the best thing out there, but I really love the sound of this album.

DMA's - For Now: The second album from the Britpop band out of Australia was released this spring. I just recently heard about this band on an Oasis fan site where fans were saying this is their new favorite band. Always in search of Oasis inspired material, I was eager to check this out. It's much more Britpop-y than Oasis's 60's and 70's nostalgia, reminding more of later Britpop bands like Haven. "In the Air," "Tape Deck Sick," "Do I Need You Now?," and "Break Me" are standouts on a solid sophomore album.

The Flying Eyes - Burning of the Season: The fourth album from the Baltimore stoner rock band. Like a lot of albums in the genre of late, it seems to take inspiration from Led Zeppelin and more blues grunge bands in equal parts. It has a sort of classic rock vibe the way Alice in Chains or Soundgarden did in their interpretation of punk and metal. Not the most original record but worthy of a listen. "Sing Praise," "Come Round," and "Farewell" were my favorites. 

The Amazing Jimmy Smith Trio - Live at The Village Gate: Recorded in '63 and released two years later, this album highlights the energy Jimmy Smith brings to the keys in a live setting. Already well into his career, this performance shows the improvisation that Smith was a master of. This swings from hard bop to soul jazz and rhythm and blues. A great bit of up-tempo jazz with a nice clear sound. Definitely worth checking out.



Fiction Friday (70)


It's a break before my last quarter at grad school, which has given me a brief respite to do some reading that was not based on peer-reviewed academic articles, and so I dove into this thin volume from one of my favorite French writers of the first half of the last century. A more serious book than some of Queneau's other more popular works, but still excellently written and equally captivating. This is a great author for people looking for someone they may have never read before. I have yet to encounter a book of his that I didn't enjoy.

Odile by Raymond Queneau
(Dalkey Archive, 1999 originally published 1937)

How does one fill the emptiness that has been left inside after the experiences of war? How does one search for meaning in a world where humanity feels bankrupt? These are the questions at the heart of Queneau's novel about a young man in Paris during the years following the first world war. Somewhat absent the usual wit and playfulness of many of his other works, this is a more serious look at human society (though to be sure, flashes of his wit and playfulness do show through). And while this novel is about a specific place and specific time, the overarching themes serve us well in our current climate of post-truth and increasing cultural bankruptcy.

The cast of eccentric characters who populate this novel embrace the politics of socialism to satisfy their unhappiness. But they never embrace the ideals of the movement, only the idea of being part of the movement while they find ways to subvert it and turn it into a game that attempts to create meaning, purpose, and amusement in their lives which feel rudderless. Travy, the main character, never fully commits to the charade, only to the destiny of unhappiness. As is often the case in life, love becomes the great equalizer, helping him to recover his sense of humanity and discover what the true meaning of life must be, because love is the only true thing we have.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Weekend Music Roundup


The weekend has arrived and as always, or mostly always, that means it's time for my ramblings on music that I've been listening to. This week there are a couple of newish releases, as well as some old vinyl ones that I picked up in the last few weeks. All in all, I really enjoyed each of these albums and I hope you will get the chance to check out a few of them. Until next week, enjoy!

Guided by Voices - Space Gun: Since properly re-forming back in 2012, this is already the lo-fi indie band's ninth album in that span. Needless to say, it's sometimes hard to keep up with their output. Robert Pollard is prolific if nothing else, but thankfully he's much more. He's one of the best songwriters of the past quarter century, able to create snapshots of brilliance that are perfectly fragmented into audio story clips that leave you wanting more. Another solid record with my personal favorites being "See My Field," "Sport Component National," "That's Good," and "Flight Advantage."


Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending: This is the fifth official album from Glasgow band, and the first in five years, not including the FFS album with Sparks. I was a huge fan of their debut 14 years ago and have enjoyed all of their records, with exception of their sophomore effort. This is their best since that debut. It fulfills the promise of that debut in a lot of ways and sees them perfect their dance punk sound as they morph into a Bowie-esque presence. "Paper Cages," "The Academy Award," "Huck and Jim," "Slow Don't Kill Me Slow," and the title track are standouts.


Eric Dolphy - The Eric Dolphy Memorial Album: This is jazz legend's 1963 Conversations album that was reissued a year later under this title after his death. This is considered a transition album and the groundwork for his classic Out to Lunch album that was released months before his untimely death. Like that album, this work features improvised structures and the addition of an accomplished bass player that gives Dolphy more room to wander through. I picked this up for a $1 recently, which is a steal, especially considering Dolphy is among my top 3 jazz players. 

Fatima Dunn - Birds and Bones: This is an album from a Swiss singer songwriter who is a one person orchestra, playing cello and using a loop control foot station. It reminds me a lot of other female European artists. It's ethereal indie dream pop that is in the realms of Dot Allison and Tina Dickow, even a mellow Bjork at times. It's a mix of english and german, but each song is compelling in it's own way. This is a mood album, perfect for rainy mornings or early evenings and definitely worth checking out. "This Night," "Dunna im Tal," and "See the World" are among my favorites. 


Michael Chapman - Fully Qualified Survivor: The 1970 album from the British folk artist was his third, and one of six released between '69 and '71. Released on Harvest Records (Pink Floyd's label), this has that Harvest sound, the kind of psychedelic folk found on Floyd's Obscured By the Clouds. This a beautiful and personal folk album that avoids the many traps of folk pop. The perfect summer afternoon kind of folk. "Aviator," "Stranger in the Room," "Fishbeard Sunset," and "Kodak Ghosts" are standouts for me. 


Friday, June 8, 2018

Are You American Enough?


One of the things that has really bothered me this week has been the whole nonsense about NFL players protesting during the National Anthem. The thing that Trump seems to not understand is that they are not disrespecting the troops, or America. They are saying that America is not living up to the promise it is supposed to live up to. If anything, that is more patriotic than standing in front of choir and pretending to know the words to the American hymns. Or perhaps he does understand and is simply using it to divide America, which is even worse.

But this whole idea of a President deciding what is and isn't patriotic, and the measure of how one is supposed to show that patriotism is terrifying. It's fascist. The entire scene in front of the White House this week was American fascism put into effect. And when he gets his military parade, it will be yet another step in solidifying a kind of neo-fascist coding of America. 

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention...and you are not a true patriot of what America is supposed to stand for.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Weekend Music Roundup


Well the weekend is here and after a week off, the Roundup returns with some fresh tunes for review. This week is mostly rock, but there's some jazz thrown in. Some new releases on here, but mostly some discoveries from the past. Came across a lot of used late '60s and early '70s psychedelic folk and rock records recently and will be including them over the next few weeks. Some great forgotten stuff. Hopefully you'll have the chance to make some discoveries too. Enjoy.

Dr. Dog - Critical Equation: This Philly band has been around for nearly 20 years, and I've been a fan for almost that long. Now on their 11th studio album, the band continues to wade through psychedelic pop, an exploration that began a decade ago with Fate. This is my favorite album of theirs since that record. So many good things about this melancholy album. "Listening In," "Virginia Please," "Night," and "Coming Out of the Darkness" are standouts on this album that feels like a visit from the Dark Horse. 

Willow Child - Paradise and Nadir: Released this month, this is the debut full length album from the German stoner rock band. I took a chance on this one for obvious reasons (namely, their band name's association with my daughter). From the opening track, I was immediately reminded of Heart, and by that, I mean how Heart had a way of sounding like a female-led Led Zeppelin. This has heavier riffs, and veers more into psychedelic rock but the connection to heavy '70s blues. "Little Owl," "Land of Sloe," and "Mayflies" are standouts on a quality rock record. 


Gypsy - In the Garden: Released in '71, this is the second album from the psychedelic prog band out of Minneapolis.  I grabbed this on a whim after spotting it in the local shop and after checking out what others had to say. This is blues derived psych rock with some great guitar work and a Traffic-esque vibe. It opens with the great "Around You," and side A concludes with the epic "As Far as You Can See." Side B gets a little more soulful and more prog folky. All in all, a solid album that is very much of a certain time.

Nazz - Nazz Evlolution: Formed in Philadelphia in the late '60s, this psychedelic garage rock band featured Todd Rundgren before disbanding after only four years and three albums. This recent archival compilation features the early years of the band and it morphed from a previous Rundgren band into this. This is heavy garage rock that would eventually pave the way for the glam and punk scene that would start up a few years later. Some great tunes on here, including "Leming Song," "That's Right, You're Wrong," "Why Is It Me," and "Magic Me."

King Curtis - Soul Meeting!: Before becoming a pioneer of soul music, King Curtis made his mark as a hard bop saxman. Released in 1960, this album is a journey into the soul of jazz. The interplay between the musicians is fantastic. This is the kind of late night, smokey room jazz that grabs me and I was lucky to discover a copy of this, along with his other '60 release, for a good price at the local shop. "All the Way," "Lazy Soul," "Do You Have Soul Now?," and the beautifully mellow "Jeep's Blues" are standouts on this fantastic record.


Edward Bear - Bearings: The debut from the Toronto blues rock band was released in '69 and the band would go on to release three more albums in the next four years, but never reach stardom. As a fan of these lesser known psychedelic and blues rock bands of the time, I was thrilled to come across this record recently, having no expectations or assumptions. This is a mellow psychedellic folk album that reminds a little of The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. A lot to like on this album, but by no means essential except for seekers of this of kind of stuff like myself. "Cinder Dream," "Hideaway," "Mind Police," and "Toe Jam"are among my favorites.