Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Hello, Stranger

So, I'm super late on this train, but I recently began watching Stranger Things the past week. After finishing Series of Unfortunate Events, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. For years, people have been telling me to watch this show, that I'd love it, and I avoided it partially for that reason. I'm not sure why, but I really hate when people tell me that I'm going to love something. Subconsciously, I take that as a reason to avoid something. It's a disease, I know.

Now nearly through the first season, I can admit that I was wrong and I do actually love it. Everyone was right about that. I guess I should start trusting people more. What I love about it is what everyone loves about it. It's a perfect combination of 80's blockbusters. Strange things going on, smart kids being the only true believers. It's part Goonies, part E.T., part brat pack, part Aliens...and all fascinating.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the weekend and that means more ramblings about the on-goings of my musical world. This week I'm looking at a mix of new releases and old discoveries. There's a bunch of genres, from rock to rap to jazz, and lots to love. I've been really go through a bunch of new releases of late and hopefully will have reviews for those in the coming weeks, until then, enjoy these picks.

The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger: The third album from the group featuring Jack White and Brendan Benson is their first in eleven years. I've loved their previous efforts and was super excited when this finally put into the works. There's something about the partnership of Jack and Brendan that just mixes wonderfully. There's a softness to Benson's songwriting that files off the rougher edges of White's impulses. "Only Child," "Shine the Light on Me," "Help Me Stranger," "Now That You're Gone," and the unexpected and brilliant Donovan cover of "Hey Gyp" are my personal favorites. 

Jethro Tull - The Broadsword and the Beast: The legendary band's 14th album, released 14 years after their debut. When I was younger, the idea of an album released 14 years into a career seemed silly to me. Now that bands that I listened to when I was in my 20's have been around for decades, 14 years seems pretty much in the heart of the career of a good band. I've been a Tull fan since my early 20's, but haven't ventured past Heavy Horses before listening to this recently. This has more of an 80's sound to it, with the inclusion of keyboards, but still retains the basic elements that make Tull what they are. "Fallen on Hard Times," "Flying Colours," "Broadsword," and "Seal Driver" are my personal favorites. 

Nacho Picasso - Nachferatu: The new album from the Seattle rapper isn't exactly a darker album, but slower tempo which adds an eeriness to it that suits his drawl and humor, while making it a bit more menacing. Nacho has always been a bit of Pacific Northwest version of Tricky. He has the same sort of swagger and attention to the style of the beats working with rhymes to create something more atmospheric. You can stream this on his Bandcamp and I recommend it. 

The Deviants - The Deviants: The third album from the London psychedelic garage band was released in 1969. This was their final album before disbanding. Members would go on to play with bands like Hawkwind and Pink Faires. But this band is more garage, proto-punk based than space rock. I only got clued into this band about two years ago when their debut was playing at my local shop. I recently came across a copy of this one (in a different local shop) and snatched it up. This is certainly one of those lost bands that more people should dig around for. Great and groovy stuff. "Billy the Monster," "Broken Biscuits," "First Line (Seven the Row)," "Rambling B(l)ack Transit Blues," "Playtime," and "Metamorphosis Exploration" are all fantastic tracks. 

Art Pepper - The Omega Man: Released in 1974, this is a collection of material recorded in 1958. This the period right before the jazz icon's life grew increasingly chaotic. This falls in that pinnacle era of cool jazz that swirled around the Beats and brought everything into total wildness. But the players on this are true professionals and keep it tight even as they explore that side of the scene. A wonderful piece of music and well worth the $1 I paid for it. 

Cats in Space - Day Trip to Narnia: This is the third album from the London power pop act, and it should come as no surprise why I took a chance on giving this a listen...I mean, look at the cover, the band title, and the album title. 'Nuff said. I had no expectations except to hear a fun album, and that's what this is, and essentially what all power pop is meant to be.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Series of Unfortunate Events (The End)

There's a bitter sweet feeling that comes over me whenever I reach the end of something that I've thoroughly enjoyed, be it a book or a movie or a television series. That is the case with the Netflix adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I even waited a few days before hitting play on the adaptation of thirteenth novel, aptly titled "The End," because I didn't really want it to end, yet I desperately wanted to know what happened. And that folks, is how great storytelling works.

While we had been told over and over not to expect happy endings by the "author/narrator", we discover that he doesn't actually know the ending, because knowledge ended before the actual end. 

As I've mentioned in previous posts, one of the amazing things about this epic is that despite what we know as spectators, we can't help but hope for better things to happen even as every chapter ends in tragedy. This is because we learn to trust and believe in the resourcefulness of the three doomed orphans and as refuse to believe that good won't triumph over evil.

Naturally, the saga does not have a traditionally happy ending, but it certainly isn't tragic. We do see some redemption for the arch villain who we loved to hate, and that was rewarding. As for the orphans, much of what happens to them is wisely left up to our imagination...allowing us all to give them our own happy ending depending on our imaginations. 

Truly one of the most rewarding television shows I've ever seen.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Weekend Music Roundup

Another summer weekend has arrived and I find myself thrown right into the HEAT of summer, a place I really do not like. Thankfully, the fall is only a few short months away and I can leave this dreadful season behind me. This week I'm listening to a bunch of new releases and still going through a ton of recent vinyl additions to the collection. I'll never understand people who only listen to albums from the past (or those who refuse to listen to albums from the past), because it's the mix of new and old and the co-mingling of sounds that reveals the true spectrum of that miracle we call music. Enjoy.

Kadhja Bonet - Childqueen: Released last year, this is the second album from the psychedelic soul artist out of L.A. I picked this up at the shop I used to go to as a teenager, which happened to be closing that location, so everything was 40% off, so I picked this up for a cool $6. Psychedelic soul in the U.S. sounds a lot like the quieter dreamy trip-hop of the late '90s, think Black Box Recorder and Scala and Portishead. Her beautiful, soulful voice blends perfectly over the smooth beats to create one of those fantastic dream soundtracks. "Delphine," "Joy," "Wings," and the title track are personal favorites on this gem of a record. 

The Kinks - Sleepwalker: Released in '77, this definitely falls in the final era of Kinks. By this era they had long moved away from their garage rock days, past the mod opera stage, and moved into their more introspective pop rock sound, which I'd avoided in the past, but have really been enjoying these days as I explore it more. It has the upbeat groove that was popular in the late '70s, people just wanted to feel good (except for the punks, who hated everything). There's some great rock tunes on here, including "Mr. Big Man," "Sleepless Night," "Stormy Sky," and the title track.

David House - Kick: The fourth album from the Philly indie artist was released back in the spring. I always like to take a chance on Philly artists this is a decent enough effort. It's very socially conscious, as David espouses on a long list of grievances with society, the music industry, and politics. It feels like John Cougar Mellencamp in that way, but he lacks the Cougar's ability to write a great hook that reels you in. Worth a listen, but fell short for me.   

Band of Skulls - Love Is All You Love: It's been ten years since the London indie rock bands debut, and they've just released their fifth album. It doesn't stray from the sound they've built over five albums, and while that isn't something I ever hold against a band, I will admit that this record feels a little uninspired. I really enjoyed their last album, and their first, but found this to be more on par with the second and third records which failed to impress me. "Gold" is my personal favorite. 

Supertramp - Crime of the Century: The third album from the London prog band was released in 1974 and was their big breakthrough album, and considered by many to be their best. This is really the early days of what I consider "real prog" which features structure complexity and multiple influences from blues, space rock, jazz and hard rock to form a style of art rock. It opens with the great tune "School" that really sets the pace for the album. From there it goes into one of their most well-known songs, "Bloody Well Right." Other great songs on here include "Asylum," "Rudy," and the title track. Definitely a missing classic of the genre from my collection. 

U.K. Subs - Subversions: The new covers album from the punk band that never died is a shocking display of fury and energy from a group of old punks (though only singer Charlie Harper is an original member, the rest of the band came on two years ago). This contains some expected covers, like "Roadrunner," "1969," and "Kick Out the Jams," but the inclusion of some more blues based numbers like the Yardbird's "Train Kept a Rollin'", and Bowie's "Suffragette City" are nice inclusions. All in all, this is a covers record that is the expected level of commitment. A fun listen.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Fiction Friday (83)

Most of the books I read come from my own tall stack of novels in my office that await my interest, but sometimes they come to me in other ways that open new topics for me. This is one of those book. The author had come into the library I work out, shortly before I started working there, to let the staff know that her debut novel had just been published and that she would be interested in coming in to do a talk. As our library did not have a copy, I requested one and it took some time for it to arrive. Once it did, I dove in and absolutely loved it, and happy to report the author will be coming in do that talk after all.

The House Children by Heidi Daniele
(SparkPress, 2019)

I went into this historical novel having never heard of Industrial Schools and being completely unaware of this practice. Now, having read it, I've been educating myself on this shameful piece of history where women were punished for having out-of-wedlock children, and even worse, the children were meant to suffer for it as well. AND this is in post World War II western Europe!

It would have been easy for Heidi Daniele to write about the well-documented horrors associated with the Industrial Schools, but she chose to tell a different story. Through her careful use of prose, she has crafted an absolutely beautiful story that deals with the emotional turmoil associated with the practice, but also examines the aspects of compassion that existed within the terrible setting as she tells the story of a young girl named Peg growing up in this world.

Through Peg (whose name was changed from Mary Margaret upon entering becoming a "house child"), we see the unfairness of it all. A childish confusion settles in as it concerns her real mother and the difficult relationship they share. The author handles this difficult situation with such tenderness and care that we are able to feel both character's pain, even when they are not quite able to understand each other's actions.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The American Experiment

It's America's birthday and every year it feels like she is getting closer and closer to dying, despite the endless stream of lies stating that we are getting great again. My biggest problem with our divided country these days is not the differences in opinions. Differing opinions is healthy for democracy. But we've entered an age where it's not differing opinions that are expressed, but different facts. 

When both sides are adhering not only to opposing ideals of what progress should look like, but are also adhering to opposing perceptions of what is truth, then democracy inevitably fails. One of the things that is not essentially new, but certainly more pervasive today, is the complete dismissal of opposing political views. There is no debate in that kind of atmosphere, there are only insults and accusations. 

Unlike some, I don't believe that Trump is the cause of this further breakdown, but rather a symptom and an enabler. He subscribes to a strengthened divide. Her perpetuates the division. He, like the GOP has done for decades, tries to paint the other side as Anti-America...which ultimately the most anti-american thing one could do. We've all fallen into the trap, and sadly, on this day of reflection, I don't see a clear way out.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the weekend and it's been flat out HOT out here in the valley ever since the calendar marked the beginning of summer. I don't adjust well to summertime, but I'm managing. Music always helps me manage that a little bit better. This week I'm taking a look at one of my favorite new albums of the year and some classic records that I recently heard for the first time. I love digging into albums from the past and filling in gaps in my musical knowledge. It feels a little bit like taking a graduate course. Lots of great stuff on here, so escape the heat and check out something new. Enjoy.

Black Mountain - Destroyer: This is the fifth studio album from the Vancouver heavy rock band, bordering between heavy psych and stoner rock. I've been a fan ever since their debut fourteen years ago. This one is heavier than all previous efforts, fuzzier, and totally rocks. This is one of those albums drenched in psychedelia and knows how to swim through it rather than drown. "Horns Arising," "High Rise," Pretty Little Lazies," and "Licensed to Drive" are standouts on this fantastic record.

Yes - The Yes Album: The third album from the iconic prog rock outfit out of London was released in 1971. This is one of those bands that I wrote off back in my youth (along with others that have since become bands I really enjoy). It's strange that I never went back to listen to these guys in my late 20s and early 30s when I started getting into prog rock. I will mention that when I was in 7th grade, I had an Atlantic Records comp tape that had "I've Seen All Good People" and I loved it. So, here I am, trying to catch up and this is certainly an album that was sorely missing from my collection. It reminds me of Traffic from this era, groovy and experimental at the same time. The musicians are flawless and pretty much every song is epic.

Abjects - Never Give Up: The debut full length album from female trio psychedelic garage punk band out of London was released this past winter. This straight-up lo-fi indie rock that feels very much born out of the garage revival of 20 years ago, which isn't a bad thing at all in my opinion. These ladies sound like a more digestible Bikini Kill, a band I also enjoy but admit that a lot of people have a hard time getting into them. This is easier to get into and enjoy. "Never Give Up," "Dream Song," "The Secret," and "Sad Song" are my personal favorites. 

It's A Beautiful Day - It's a Beautiful Day...Today: The fourth and final album from the San Fran psychedelic rock band was released in 1973. This is steeped in the sound of the area at the time, a mixture of blues rock, soul, folk and psychedelia. Their debut is a landmark album, and this is a proper bookend to their brief career. This was a $2 pick-up on Record Store Day and is the kind of 70s sound that I could listen to almost all the time. Great stuff. 

Count Basie - One O'Clock Jump: This compilation of the NJ native includes recordings from '42 - '51 and released in '56. This was his Big Band, swing jazz era and it's jumping from start to finish. I found a copy of this recently and gladly added it to my Count collection. He's not the cool jazz figure the likes of Monk, Davis, or Coltrane, but he's definitely a cool cat who knows how to get things rolling. He obviously has fun playing and that makes for music that is fun to listen to.  

Kansas - Kansas: The 1974 debut from the prog rock band from, where else, Kansas. Not surprisingly, this is more blues based than their later work and it really grooves. That's not to say there aren't heavier moments on here, because there are. It's clear how this is a proto-metal album and how prog influenced the development of metal as much as heavy blues. Lots of shredding guitar, pounding drums, and screeching falsetto on this solid album.  "Bringing It Back," "Belexes," and "Death of Mother Nature Suite" are standouts.