Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup


This has been an extremely busy week, but one where my activities lent themselves to music listening. Granted, a lot of that listening time was spent on one four disc box set, but even so, I still had time to catch up on a few new releases. I'm also continuing my rediscovery of albums from the past during the great reorganization of my collection. I found a few old favorites as well as a few albums that for whatever reason I never spent enough time with after purchasing. That's one of the aspects that makes going through the work worth it. I always find things I forgot I owned. Hopefully there's something on here for you to eventually forget about and rediscover as well. Enjoy.

Wilco - Alpha Mike Foxtrot (Rare Tracks 1994-2014): This four disc set encompassing the Chicago alt-country band's entire career was released this week, yet another wonderful gift for their fans, something they have always done well. This was a two day listening experience, and quite a fantastic one at that. There's a wealth of live versions, some with great guests, like Andrew Bird on "Jesus Etc.," and Fleet Foxes on a cover of "I Shall Be Released." Hearing this set in its entirety is a great reminder of just how amazing this band has been for the past 20 years, and how important Jeff Tweedy is as a songwriter with the ability to capture the weariness of these times. This is a must for fans, even ones who think they have too much Wilco as it it. It's also a great item for the casual fan who doesn't know where to begin. Way too many individual songs to list.

TV on the Radio - Seeds: The Brooklyn indie band made their return with their first album in over three years with the release of their sixth album this past week. Over the years their sound has come to incorporate more and more electronic elements, and this album certainly continues on that path. Like their last few records, I found this to be very enjoyable, yet sort of forgettable. Nothing particularly stands out or sticks in my mind. It all easily blends in, making it a nice mood album but not necessarily a cherishable one. "Happy Idiot," "Test Pilot," and "Trouble" were the real standout tracks for me. Who knows, this may be album in ten years that I forgot I owned and rediscover.

The Beta Band - Three E.P.'s: This is an album I've owned since it's release in 1998, and one I used to listen to religiously during that year. I listened to it this week for the first time in over a decade and was reminded on the joy these early works of the Edinburgh indie band evoke. Part folk, part neo-psych, part indietronica, there is a beautiful groove to this album. They were part of that late 90's post-Brit Pop wave of bands from the UK who were trying something different, along with Gomez and Belle and Sebastian. This release saw them get some fame, and even appeared in High Fidelity, but the band ended a handful of years later without ever fulfilling the promise shown here. "Dry the Rain," "Inner Meet Me," and "It's Over" are personal favorites of mine.

Soen - Tellurian: Released this month was the second album from the progressive metal group comprised of members from Opeth, Testament, Death, and Willowtree. Given that a good portion of the group are Scandinavian, they definitely resemble the current trend of symphonic metal coming out of that part of the world. It feels sort of like a later day Porcupine Tree record, yet explores different paths. At times it can be very appealing, but I suppose I'd hoped it would be slightly more progressive. Unlike Mars Volta for example, they don't venture into new areas, choosing to follow courses already set out in progressive metal. All in all, a solid okay and worth a listen. "Pluton," "Ennui," and "Void" are my personal favorites.

Boris - Amplifier Worship: This is the second album from the Tokyo kings of sludge metal. Released in 1998, just when the genre was beginning to blossom, and long before their 2005 breakout "Pink," these five tracks of epic length are a blueprint for the coming drone metal wave that followed a decade later. The great thing about this album is the amount of metal in each song. Sometimes Boris can emphasize the 'drone' too much and forget the 'metal', but not here. It's really one of their stronger albums, right up there with "Akuma no Uta." The nearly fifteen minute "Kuruimizu" is my favorite track on here.

Detroit Cobras - Seven Easy Pieces: One of the less widely known bands of the early '00s garage rock revival, the Cobras were unique in their incorporation of rockabilly into the sound of the times. Another CD that I've had for nearly a decade, this E.P. dates from 2004, when the band is probably at its tightest. Rachel Nagy's sultry old school voice is as seductive as ever on these seven tracks that are a throwback to swinging '60s garage style. One of my favorites of theirs, definitely worth checking out. "My Baby Loves The Secret Agent," and "Ya Ya Ya (Looking for My Baby)" are two really excellent tracks. 

The Explosion - The Explosion: This Boston punk band emerged in 2000 with two E.P.s and a full length. This is the second of the two E.P.s and one I bought on a whim about 13 years ago. Listening to it again this week, I've had the same positive reaction that I had back then. It's rare to hear an authentic sounding punk record that wasn't recorded 30 years ago, and these kids manage to do that. Despite the trend of the time to move towards power punk, this record stays true to the original aggressive sound of punk and for that, it's definitely worthwhile for fans of the genre.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fan Mail Friday



As I've said many times in the past, one of the best things about being a children's book author is getting letters from children who loved the books. They are always fun, and always make me smile. Most have a character that is all their own. The reason I love this letter so much is that she loves the pony book, not because it has ponies, but because it has kitties. Brilliant!

This letter is in response to a Hello Kitty book that I wrote about ten years ago. For those who didn't know, I've written three Hello Kitty books. Of all the media related tie-ins I've done, these are my favorite, probably because I'm also a huge fan of Hello Kitty (she was my first cartoon crush back in first grade).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

As I promised last week, this list is chock full of new sounds that span many genres. In addition there are a few unearthed albums thrown in. I'm in the process of reorganizing my music collection, a labor intensive task, but one I thoroughly enjoy because it forces me to sort through shelves of music that typically I only skim over. So as part of the process, I've been pulling out things that strike me for their long absence from my ears, coupled with a past attachment. I decided to upload a bunch of those onto my computer, putting them at my fingertips for easy listening. As I go through those, some of them will make their way onto the Roundup in the coming weeks. There's a few here, and more to come, sprinkled in with some noteworthy new releases. Enjoy.

Pink Floyd - The Endless River: It's been 20 years since their last release, and now comes what will most likely be their swan song, these 18 tracks comprised mostly of pre-Division Bell outtakes. This is an ambient type album, sort of long goodbye to a career that produced some of the greatest records of all time. This is little more than an mood piece, but it's quite a good one. It was never going to be the Atom Heart Mother, but as a instrumental album, which this is with the exception of "Louder Than Words," I can't say that I didn't enjoy it. It's very calm and peaceful, as the cover art would suggest. This is a grande closure to their career, and feels like a fitting way to wind things down. Probably only for dedicated fans, but certainly worthwhile. It's also a noble homage to the late Richard Wright and his many influences on the The Pink Floyd sound.

Goat - Commune: The Swedish heavy psych band followed up their impressive 2012 debut with this release back in September. The interesting thing about Goat is the abundance of influences that finds a way into their music. There's a lot of World Music and Far East elements that are deftly mixed with rock to create something entirely new. In some ways it's the perfection of what Cornershop tried and failed to do in the 90's. I really enjoyed the debut, having recently just rediscovered it, but I think this album is actually better. "The Light Within," "Goatchild," and "Gathering of Ancient Tribes" are my favorites. Definitely worth checking out.

The Growlers - Chinese Fountain: The Long Beach psychedelic garage band released their sixth album back in September and it's become a hit on the college charts. I first started listening to this band several weeks before this album came out, and after my initial encounter, I'm not at all surprised that this album is taking off. They have an effortlessly feel to their music, yet it never sounds dull or lazy. There's definitely laid back Cali vibe that works great, completely unpretentious, much like a West Coast version of Kurt Vile. "Magnificent Sadness," "Big Toe," "Rare Hearts," and "Love Test," are standouts on an album without any bad songs.
Temples - Sun Structures: After two EPs, the psychedelic UK band released a full length debut of interstellar sonics earlier this year. Their sound is expansive, creating huge spaces within the music. There's also a good deal of prog rock influence that adds to the mood, especially in songs like "Shelter Song." In a way it reminds me of Tame Impala but with less focus on melodic hooks, choosing to explore the wide breadth of the soundscape instead. It's funny pairing this with the new Pink Floyd album, because in some ways this feels more like old Floyd than Floyd has sounded since before "Dark Side of the Moon." It has the experimental flair that Pink Floyd's "The Man and The Journey" incorporates. I really enjoyed this record. Quite an impressive debut and a band I look forward to following.

Jenny Lewis - Voyager: It had been six years since the former Rilo Kiley singer released a new album before this one came out back in the summer. It's the follow up to 2008's "Acid Tongue" which had been a comeback of sorts following the horrible last Rilo Kiley record the year before. This time around, she's tuned into the current wave of indie pop, bringing her own blend of California sunshine to an updated Stevie Nicks' Fleetwood Mac vibe. There's an AM radio feel to many of the songs that I find enjoyable, though at times it tends to be a little too poppy for my tastes. "Just One of the Guys," "The New You," and "Late Bloomer" are standout tracks on an album which should please fans and win over new ones.

Bauhaus - The Singles 1981-1983: The short lived Goth post punk band didn't leave a wealth of music from their prime, but they still managed to make a huge impact. This is a CD that I've owned for years but hadn't listened to in probably ten of them. These tracks fall into the band's transition away from the heavy goth sound of their earliest days and into a more glam rock style that echos Bowie, a fantastic cover of "Ziggy Stardust" cements their love of the Thin White Duke. I've always loved this collection, so glad that I found it again. "Lagartija Nick" and "She's in Parties" are outstanding tracks, along with the aforementioned cover.

The Birthday Massacre - Hide and Seek: This is the Toronto based rock band's fifth album which came out back in 2012. It's one of those records that has been sitting around for a long time waiting for me to give it a listen. I was initially attracted to it because of the cover art, something that in the past has steered me to many wonderful albums. This is one of those difficult to define rock albums because the mild industrial music elements are balanced with pop ballad vocals. It's a very 2000's kind of sound. It reminds a bit of Gossip though it's certainly setting out with different intentions. While there is nothing to really dislike about this album, there also isn't anything to love about it. I found it simply existing in the background, and sort of forgettable. My favorite tracks are "The Long Way Home," "Need," and "In This Moment."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Watch and Wait


Sometimes being too busy to write is the best thing that can happen during the process of writing a manuscript. Over the past few days, I'd only had sparse moments to sit down and write, but I've had lots of time for contemplation. Having reached a crucial scene, one where I didn't exactly know what I wanted to happen, the lack of time became a blessing. 

If I sat in front of my computer, chances are I would've felt pressured to come up with something ...anything. I would've plowed ahead simply to get words on the page. And if I couldn't figure out what should happen in the scene, I may have decided to defer the scene to a later spot in the story, even though I knew this is where it belonged. But with time to mull over the situation, I finally figured out the perfect way to choreograph the scene the way I wanted it.

Patience is an important trait that every writer must learn...and one that must continually be learned because it is rarely mastered.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup


Welcome to a Throwback Week here at the Roundup. While next week promises reviews of plenty of new albums, this time around is the complete opposite. As I started to compile the albums that I'd been listening to during the week, a theme started to emerge and I went with. This is a collection of Hard Rock and Punk recordings from the past, many of which had been on my wishlist for quite a long time. It features some solo records from rock legends after leaving their bands, a few records by bands in their prime, and a spattering of UK punk bands that who never seem to get enough attention. It was a fun week of discovery, visiting places familiar yet new. Hopefully it will spark a similar urge within all of you. There's lots of old music out there, I suggest listening to it. Enjoy.


Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe: For the last half dozen years or so, I've been a pretty ardent fan of the Hollywood Devil Man's work, and finally got around to seeking out his 1998 solo debut. Released basically at the same time White Zombie disbanded, this album ushers Rob's transition into horror movie music. One of the things I love about his albums is the way each song is like a sketch of some horror film character. This album is a perfect example of that, usually casting himself as the monster in each song. As always, it's pure metal and straight up rocks. "Meet the Creeper," "Demoniod Phenomenon," "Superbeast," and "Dragula" are standout tracks.

The Damned - Damned Damned Damned: Among the first wave of punk bands out of London, this was one of the most explosive. Their 1977 debut opens with a burst of energy found in the punk classic "Neat Neat Neat." What sets them apart from the Sex Pistols for example is their adherence to blues rock guitar elements that come through at moments when the music isn't sped up to a blistering speed. To be honest, I can't believe it's taken this long for me to get on board with this album. Though I've known of the band, and many of these songs for years, it was yet another of those seminal albums of the era that had eluded me. This is a punk classic and one that ages very well. "I Feel Alright," "1 of the 2," and "Fan Club" are other tracks worthy of mention.


Mötley Crüe - Wild in the Night: Out this past month is this never before released live broadcast from 1982, during the L.A. glam band's tour for their amazing debut album. This recording captures the energy of a band that was just beginning to enter their peak. The Sunset Strip scene was built on live shows, and it's nice to hear them perform their early material when it was fresh, and to hear the emergence of "Shout At the Devil," performed here for the first time and already it's fantastic. Also included is the early club favorite "Running Wild in the Night," which never managed to make it onto an album. The set closing rendition of "Live Wire" is pretty spectacular. All around a solid record, even with some recording quality issues.
KISS - Love Gun: Released in 1977 at the height of their popularity, the glam rock band's sixth album is one of their classics. A deluxe edition has recently been released, which prompted me to finally acquire the original in all it's glory. This is really the last great KISS record. Their demise begins shortly after, but for this album, the band is as its peak. Everything is clicking on here and Ace Frehley shines brighter than he had on any previous releases. There are some misses, of course. The band frequently took the lazy road in their songwriting. "Shock Me" is a perfect example of this. But when they were good, they were really good. "I Stole Your Love," "Got Love For Sale," Hooligan," and the title track are all wonderful rock songs.

Generation X - Generation X: Before he was an '80s icon, Billy Idol was the face of pop punk in the late '70s as the front man for this UK band. Their self-titled debut from 1978 is very influential in bringing punk to the mainstream. That's not to say that it's any less punk, but Generation X understood how to bring a catchy element to the angst. The Clash would later follow along, bringing a more mainstream style to their music. Interestingly enough, Billy Idol doesn't feel like the featured element on this, which is surprising considering that throughout his solo career he was so magnetic. But the bass and guitar really stand out on this record. It's a solid record all the way through, but "One Hundred Punks," "Listen," and "Ready Steady Go" are real standouts.


Penetration - Moving Targets: The last UK punk band on this week's Roundup is the Durham band led by Pauline Murray. Legend has it that at the age of 18 she attended a Sex Pistols show and immediately formed this band with friends. One of the interesting things about this record is that you can hear the coming New Wave sound emerging in songs like "Life's a Gamble." There's definitely the possibility that while they were inspired by the Pistols, the Pistols mastermind Malcolm MacLaren was watching them when he decided to form Bow Wow Wow. Definitely an under appreciated album and one that still sounds quite interesting today. "Nostalgia," "Lovers of Outrage," "Silent Community," and the fantastic cover of "Free Money" are my favorites.

Ozzy Osbourne - Diary of a Madman: After being expelled from Black Sabbath at the end of the '70s, the Oz Man began on his coke fueled solo career in the '80s. After a successful debut in the Fall of 1980, he released this, his second album, the following year. Despite the silliness of the album art, this rock album falls somewhere between hard rock and metal. My problem with this, and most of Ozzy's solo records, is that they feel somewhat watered down and far too heavy on the treble over bass, even in the newly issued remastering. Also like his other albums, this contains a few dynamite songs that are surrounded by much weaker ones. "Believer," "Over the Mountain," and "S.A.T.O." are the real shining moments, along with the title track.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vote! It's not that Hard.


I've always been one who follows politics closely, and care deeply about the issues that face us all. Usually, I find myself significantly vested in the outcome of Election Day. This year, even my dedication to the process has been tested. Not that I would ever consider not voting, but it's easy for me to see why those who are not typically interested would be completely turned off this year. 

As a staunch liberal, I naturally lean Democrat on the ballot. Well, maybe "lean" isn't the right word considering I can never envision a scenario that would cause me to cast a vote for a Republican. But I still refuse to register as a Democrat, because I feel that party is also beholden to many of the same special interests. This is what causes so many people to say that both parties are the same. The truth couldn't be farther from that. While neither party serves the public in a way that we should expect our governing branches to serve us, one party does value, and vote, with many of the issues that I hold dear. 

One of the things that shocks me about this election season is all of the momentum that seems to be on the side of the Republicans, though I suppose it's less on their side as it's against Obama. So the very people who are going to vote these horrible people into office seem to have no idea that Republicans have controlled the House for years, which has obstructed any progress from going forward. This non-action is one of the major things that fuels these voters frustrations, and in response, they going to give those very politicians control over both houses of Congress. So even though new polls show that more than two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage, more than half support gay marriage, more than half support legalization of marijuana, more than half support immigration reform which includes a path to citizenship, and more than half support women's equality....all Democratic positions...they are going to essentially vote against their beliefs in order to send a message to a lame duck President. Yeah, that's smart.

On the other side, Democrats have fallen into old habits of running without a spine, refusing to explain the accomplishments that have been achieved simply because it's too hard to shout over the misinformation their opponents have been spewing for years. Though I voted for them again this year, I didn't vote on the Democratic party line. I voted for the candidates on the "Working Families," "Independence," and "Women's Equality" party lines, because if we don't start getting other parties involved, we're going to continue playing this losing game forever. Plus, I wanted that party to see that they are losing my support, even if their candidates are not.

Even with all of my misgivings, there was never a question of not voting. The less we vote, the easier it is for them to continue to not pay attention to us. So go out and vote! Be heard!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

This week showed a massive slowdown in the onslaught of new material that had made this Fall a wonderful time of year. Without any albums that I'd been waiting on, I spent most of this week listening to things that were new to me. And as the weather turned frigid, most of those explorations were in the realm of folk music, but not exclusively. It's a been a while since I spent an entire week listening to so much unfamiliar music, which gave me some time to get more acquainted with a bunch of the albums I've reviewed recently. So, without any more rambling, here's what I got for you. Hopefully you'll find something you want to explore. Enjoy.


Pink Floyd - Secret Rarities: Preparing the the legendary band's return next week, this bootleg surfaced recently. It includes a couple of rare demos from the '80s, including Gilmore's cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" and instrumental demos of "Learning to Fly" and "Dogs of War." The majority of the album consists of untitled tracks from 1993, material from The Division Bell era. Most of the upcoming album is comprised from the same material from what I've read, but these are just instrumental sketches and shouldn't spoil the band's first album in over 20 years. In fact, just the opposite has occurred for me. Hearing how tight they sound on these demos makes me more excited, as I've quite forgotten how interesting they still were back then. This is really only for hardcore fans, especially those eager for the new record.

Hozier - Hozier: Released in September, this is the debut album from the Irish singer songwriter. It follows two well received EPs, and also includes most of the songs from those EPs. This is the kind of album that can be categorized a lot of different ways, it could be uptempo folk, or soul folk, or chamber pop, or just indie rock...it all depends on what aspects you're focusing on. I suppose the closest comparison I can think of is Cold War Kids, which is a fine comparison in my opinion. It's easy to see why this album is getting a lot of attention, it's catchy but cleaver at the same time. Some songs are little too radio ready for me, but there are others that I love. "Take Me to Church," "Angel of Small Death," "To Be Alone," and "It Will Come Back" are standout tracks.

The Factory - Path Through the Forest: In 1968 this UK trio released a masterful psychedelic single, the title track of this compilation, which made it onto the Nuggets II album, bringing it out of complete obscurity and into minor obscurity. The band only released two singles, all four songs included here, along with two other songs never released. These are garage quality recordings, but there's something magical about this band's sound. The guitar is haunting, the vocals wonderful in a San Fran sort of style, and a great British Invasion style back beat. The title track is definitely the best song of the bunch, but the entire album is worth listening to for fans of the genre.

Olöf Arnalds - Palme: This is the fourth album from the Icelandic folk singer and it is rich in that island's native style with lots of celtic sounding string instruments accompanied by her fairy-ish voice. If you imagine a calm version of Björk with classical folk elements, then you'll have a good idea of what this album sounds like. The album is actually on the same label as her Icelandic counterpart, One Little Indian. It's not for every occasion, but every once in a while it's fun to visit this sound space. "Patience," "Half Steady," and the title track are my personal favorites.

Sonne Hagal - Ockerwasser: One of my new discoveries this week if the new album from the German neo-folk band. There's something delicate about the music, which is a nice contrast with the earthy vocals, giving this entire album a gentle eeriness which I really enjoy. There's something that reminds me of Legendary Pink Dots, but far less surreal. There's also elements that remind me Natural Snow Buildings, but without the drone. This is one those perfect albums for a dark winter day, and I hope to spend more than a few of those in that manner in these coming months. "Devon," "The Shape of Things to Come," "After the Rain," and "Black Spring" are among my favorite songs on this wonderful record. 

Zodiac - Sonic Child: The third album from the German stoner rock band was released early in September and it reminds me a bit of The Screaming Trees with a mellow edge even in it's heavier parts. Unlike most hard rock bands, this is one that sounds better when slow it down and immerse themselves in a heavy blues style. There's nothing about this that's unforgettable, or really all that original, but it's solid and enjoyable. They are what they are, and they do it well. "A Penny and a Dead Horse," "Rock Bottom Blues," and "Sad Song" are standout tracks.