Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

On this rainy Saturday, it's time to focus on some music. I'm still working far ahead with music reviews, so I actually listened to these two weeks ago, but it's a good list. There are a few new releases that I'd been looking forward to, one deluxe reissue of one of my favorite albums, and a couple of back catalog curiosities. All in all, this was a good selection and I hope you find something that strikes your interest. Enjoy.

The Growlers - City Club: The new album from the Long Beach garage psychedelic surf rock band is a bit more electro-dance than their previous material, but manages to maintain the established sound. Two years ago, this band was one of my favorite new discoveries and I'd been looking forward to this record for a while. This record had more of a summer feel to me and I wish it had come out a few months ago because it would be a great heavy rotation summer album. Worth checking out, as are their previous releases.

Bob Weir - Blue Mountain: The Grateful Dead founding member released his first solo album in 17 years a few weeks back and it's pretty great. I've always been a fan of Bob's. A lot of his Dead songs are among my favorites. This album is bare bones Americana Folk rock. There's nothing fancy here, but its power stems for the rawness of it. The lead single, "Only a River" is a true gem, along with "Lay My Lilly Down" and the title track. Definitely a must for fans, and even if you're not a Dead fan but like the current trend in roots folk, this is an album that is worth checking out.

Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows - Songs from the Inverted Womb: The German darkwave band has been making their unique brand of neoclassical gothic music for over twenty years. I was introduced to them two years ago with the release of their most recent album, which I loved, and have begun to look backwards on their catalog. This album from 2000 is considered one of their best. The mood is like a dark fairy tale about dead children in a world of shadows. The varied instruments create a sound that seems forgotten from time. This wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch movie if he were to do fairy tales. Certainly worth checking out if you don't know this band.

The Verve - Northern Soul: This is one of my all time favorite albums, and is the soundtrack of my life in the mid to late '90s. It was recently given a deluxe treatment, including two bonus discs of unreleased material. The majority of that material consists of early versions of songs that would eventually make the album, or become B-Sides as 90's British market was still hot for CD singles. This is one of those records that should be a million times more popular than it is, so if you don't know it, you must do yourself the favor and listen.

Seasick Steve - Sonic Soul Surfer: For the last decade, the California born electric blues man has been making waves on the indie circuit with his updated old timey sound. His most recent album, released last year, is one of his most complete. There is an authenticity to his music that feels transplanted from the days of the blues with the fire of late '60s electric reinvention of the blues. "Dog Gonna Play," "Swamp Dog," "Sonic Soul Boogie," and "Your Name" are personal favorites.

Eazy-E - It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa: In the continuation of my month long revisiting of NWA solo albums, I finally got around to Eazy's 1993 EP. I remember when this came out, and to most of us on the East Coast, E was kind of a joke and Dre and Snoop were huge. So this was ignored by me and my friends. That's too bad, because this is a great album and holds its own with Dre and Snoop. It's one of the best feud albums ever made, and it's a too bad it came out after The Chronic and Doggystyle, because E was the truest to what he was rapping about. "Real Muthaphukkin G's" is dynamite.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Very Peculiar...

Two weekends ago, I went to see Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I've been a huge fan of the Ransom Riggs novels since the first one came out and was excited to see what Tim Burton would do with the material. I knew it would be different, but hoped that a wonderful story in the hands of another wonderful storyteller would produce something magical.

Tim Burton has been a visionary his entire career, which fortunately for me, has spanned my own film viewing life. Not everything he's done is among my favorites, but many are. Beetlejuice is a movie that helped define my late childhood. Nightmare Before Christmas sparked my teen imagination. Sleepy Hollow and Sweeny Todd were favorites of my creative adulthood. So, despite my abject abhorrence to Alice in Wonderland, I went into this movie with high hopes. 

Before I get too critical, I want to say that I enjoyed Miss Peregrine as a film. I was entertained throughout. I thought it was visually interesting. I thought the plot held together, for the most part. But as with any film version of a book that I adore, I found myself constantly puzzling over why certain changes were made. The main thing that I couldn't fathom was why he would swap Ella and Olive's peculiarities. Yes, the transposing of their abilities was one of the things that made the plot come together, but it was a plot not taken from the book. So if you were changing the plot anyway, why not figure out some way that worked while keeping the characters as they were created. But that was a minor distraction, and one that shouldn't play into the enjoyment of the film for anyone unfamiliar with the books.

Another thing that I found unsettling was how the last third of the movie was completely devoid of the source material. This was necessary considering a book trilogy was made into a stand alone movie. But that is another thing I couldn't understand. In this era of trilogies and sequels, why take a mega-bestselling book trilogy and make it one film? 

The last third of the movie was the biggest disappointment for me. The ending of the books is so incredibly imaginative and intriguing. The big Hollywood action style ending to the movie felt so false to the creativity of the story told in the books. All of that said, I think this is a movie that tweens will remember the way I remember Beetlejuice and I believe many will be turned onto the books, and feel confident that they will then discover the brilliance to be found there.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Weekend Music Round Up

The week is over and the long weekend has begun and there is no better time to check out new music than a long weekend. This week's selections are a mixture of new releases and some older stuff that I finally had the chance to check out. I also had some time to dig through a few Bandcamp goodies. All in all, another fine week of audio satisfaction. Take some time and explore. Enjoy.

Alcest - Kodama: In the nearly ten years since their debut, this French band has always been rather hard to define. They walk a fine line between shoegaze and atmospheric black metal, appropriatedly termed "blackgaze", creating ethereal music that inspires a wealth of visual inspiration. This new album came out last week and it's quite dense and powerful. Recently, the French, with bands like Alcest and Natural Snow Buildings, have begun to do with this kind of drone, folk, shoegaze music what their authors had done years before with the novel, adding layers that have previously not been there. This is beautifully rich album, highlighted by the brilliant last track "Onyx" and one that is definitely worth checking out if you're into this genre.

Chaos Chaos - Committed to the Crime: The two sisters who had formed the indie band Smoosh and made three wonderful albums as children in the last decade went on to form this band in 2012 and released this debut album two years ago. I'm a really big Smoosh fan and can't believe it took me this long to listen to this. Much more indie pop than their earlier work, this is a catchy and fun album and worth checking out for fans. 

Death From Above 1979 - Live at Third Man Records: Since reforming more than two years ago and releasing their follow-up to their 2002 debut, the Toronto indie band has been touring. This year they added their names to the Live at Third Man Records collection by doing an in store performance that was recorded directly to vinyl. This is pretty raw show, and as a result, lacks the crispness that gives their studio work such a fantastic sound. Enjoyable for fans, but otherwise I highly recommend checking out either of their two albums instead.

Lizard Professor - Eccentricity: The debut album from the Texas metal band has been getting a fair amount of attention from Metal blogs and I was intrigued, not to mention thrilled by the album art. The musicianship is high quality. There are so many chord changes and mathmatical progressions that it reminds me of a little of Mar Volta. However, vocally, it features mostly growling, barking, Cookie Monster type black metal vocals, which I've never been a fan of. An interesting listen, but not something I'll return to.

Mermaidens - Undergrowth: The debut album from the New Zealand based indie band is one that I checked out on their Bandcamp site. It's pretty stunning. There are folk elements infused in their rock music, which seems inspired by '90s indie. They remind me a little of Sparrow and the Workshop. "Cold Skin," "Seed" and the title track are among my favorites. This is definitely worth checking out.

John Lennon - The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 11 & 12: I finally got around to listening to the next volume in this bootleg series, and this is perhaps my favorite to date. This features a lot songs that you don't hear very often. Lennon is channeling his Buddy Holly on a lot of these, and the demos from his early solo work are intimate and fantastic. "Call My Name," "What You Got," "I Know," "Honey Don't," "I'm Stepping Out," "Run for Your Life," and "When a Boy Meets a Girl" are standouts.

White Owl - In League with the Devil: This British band's self released new album is a fine piece of lo-fi psychedelic garage rock with gothic roots. It reminded me of the recent album from The Frights and was quite decent. "Of All the Things We Could Have...," "Don't Give a Shit," "The Witch's Tear," and the title track are standouts. Definitely worth giving a listen on their bandcamp site, linked above.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's Mad Hatter Day!

Today is the day we celebrate nonsense and silliness in all of its forms. I know I will be celebrating plenty with my daughter, enjoying all of her toddler shenanigans. Every day is Mad Hatter day with a toddler.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Now that the calendar has turned over to a more appropriate Autumn month and the weather has grown significantly chill, my tastes begin to switch to quieter and darker sounds. In my house, I've been spinning lots of favorite folk albums of the past, something I always do this time of year. This list features some great new mellow music from some contemporary favorites as well as some recent discoveries. Hopefully there's something on here that will fit your autumn moods. Enjoy.

Warpaint - Heads Up:  The all female psychedelic dream pop band from L.A. recently released their third album. Their self-titled second album was one of my favorites from 2014, and this is a solid follow-up. It features the same type of subdued mood that sustained that album. One of those perfect lazy day albums to put on and space out to. Definitely one to check out and possibly will be on my list of favorites for this year.

The Warlocks - Songs from the Pale Eclipse: The LA psych band returns with their seventh album, and their best since 2007's Heavy Deavy Skull Lover. This is like a heavier Brian Jonestown Massacre complete with the golden Cali vibe and psychedelic groove. Over the past 15 years, this has been one of the most consistent underground bands, with only one letdown several years back. "We Took All the Acid," "Drinking Song," and "Love is a Disease" are my personal favorites.

Molly Hatchet - No Guts...No Glory: The fifth album from the Southern rock band came out in 1983 and was a recent $1 bin purchase. These guys gain obvious comparisons to Lynyrd Skynyrd due to their southern sound and duel lead guitar attack, but they are a little bit heavier than Skynyrd. Though the '80s were blooming, this is still an album that belongs to the '70s in its style. A very solid rock record and well worth a buck.

Craig Wedren - On In Love: Though this project from Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren was released two years ago, I only found out about it the other week. Being a fan, I definitely wanted to give it a listen, which I was able to do on bandcamp. Unlike his solo records, this project is more akin to Shudder to Think, especially their earlier chaotic stuff. It was very nice to hear this kind of noise again. "Fight Song," "The Well," "Famous Planets," and "Glacier" are standouts. 

Wilco - Schmilco: The new album from the godfathers of alt-country movement is their eleventh studio album and another example of why they are one of the most consistent bands of their generation. This is quieter album than they've made in a while, but still is very much a Wilco album. There are some interesting arrangements as Jeff Tweedy continues to prove that he's a master songwriter, up there with legends like Neil Young and Garcia. "Nope," "Common Sense," "Happiness," and "Locator" are personal favorites for me.

Jimmy Smith - The Cat: Recorded at the height of his career, this 1964 album is a great example of Smith's upbeat type of jazz. This is the kind of cartoon jazz that I love so much, meaning it's the kind of jazz often used to score cartoons of the era. That's not an insult, and much of this album is film scores. This was a $1 bin find a few weeks back and it makes for fantastic Sunday morning album to get into the groove of the day.

LP - Death Valley: LP is a Los Angeles artist who has released three albums in the past fifteen years, but is finally getting some attention from the lead single of this recent EP. "Lost on You" has been garnering a lot of attention online, and the artist recently performed the song on Late Night. This is in an interesting five song release, with some great trip-hop elements mixed into its pop rock. LP's voice reminds me of Cyndi Lauper, which is not something you hear very often. I found this to very surprising and enjoyable.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Everything Changes

The last few days have finally begun to feel like Fall. Perhaps it's simply that the days have been grey and the cool winds have blown down from the mountains, but it's also the smell of Fall that has taken root. I love this time of year, not only for the beauty and the weather, but also the memories.

Over the last week, I've had a flood of long dormant memories come flooding back to me, as they always seem to do around this time of year. It always starts with the back to school days and the memories of starting each new grade. Then it's the afternoon after school memories that come and the faces of long ago friends and long forgotten childhood adventures. 

For me, these feelings are more than simple nostalgia. They often inspire me to write, to dig into the past for inspiration and insight. I will continue to enjoy these days as they lead us into the holidays. I hope you all do as well.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the first weekend of autumn, a season which has always been my favorite time of the year for music. I'm starting the season off with some much anticipated releases which match the weather, a few discoveries that do as well, and one classic hip-hop album. There are some great albums on this list, some I'd been meaning to check out for a long time and a few that I'd never thought about checking out until recently. A perfect list to make a pot of coffee and find something new to hear. Enjoy.

Jack White - Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016: This career spanning collection of acoustic tracks covers songs from the White Stripes days, The Raconteurs, and his solo career. Nothing he does is without giving his entire being to it and this is no different. The track selection is amazing and there is a flow from one to the other that you could never tell they were recorded over nearly twenty years. This is absolute must for fans. Outstanding stuff.

Eddie Money - No Control: The Cali rocker's fourth LP was released in 1982. Five years earlier, the first track on his first album, "Two Tickets to Paradise," had made him a star and by this time, he was the epitome early '80s cool and this album, with it's sax and beach night atmosphere is the epitome of early 80's pop rock. I've been getting into that sound lately, after shunning it since I hit puberty. But this is the music of my formative elementary school years and there's something groovy about. "Think I'm In Love," "Shakin," and "Take a Little Bit" are standouts. 

Okkervil River - Away: Here another album that I have eagerly been awaiting. Over the last decade, this Austin indie folk band has been one of my favorite contemporary bands. It's been over three years since their last album, their longest stretch between albums yet to date. During that time they must have revisited the places of the past because this is reminiscent of their best work. There's a darkness hanging over the album, as there was on classics like Black Sheep Boy and Stage Names. It felt as though their last album was trying for a wider appeal, but this one goes back to the honesty that made them great to begin with. "Frontman in Heaven" is one of their best ever songs.

Elton John - The Captain and The Kid: Released ten years ago, and thirty years after Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, this album is a follow up, meant to bookend that album. Teamed with lyricist Bernie Taupin once again, they explore the way the song writing relationship has changed from the time of stardom to the present. I'm huge fan of these two working together and love all of their '70s work. I was nervous about this one, seeing as how Elton hasn't done anything in three decades that I'd care to listen to, but this is actually quite decent. There are moments where Elton's Broadway/Disney musical sensibility shows through, but there are also moments of greatness.

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted: Continuing to work my way through the NWA catalog, I've moved onto Cube's first solo album after leaving the group. Back in the day, I was partial to Dre, but Cube was the real lyrics mastermind behind NWA and it shows on this aggressive and angry album. His rhymes are tight throughout and the samples are uptempo funk and disco make it nostalgic, but not outdated. There are hip-hop albums from the era that age well, and this is one of them. Still as dynamic and raw as it was back then.

Squeeze - Sweets from Strangers: Released in 1982, this is the fifth album from the UK new wave band, though by this time, they were moving away from the new wave sound and into a pop rock style. That's not to say it's boring. There are a lot of lounge elements that make this interesting, and more interesting than a lot of the American contemporary pop rock of the era. As mentioned in the Eddie Money review above, I've been getting into early '80s rock and this is a good example. "Black Coffee in Bed," "Tongue Like a Knife" and "I've Returned" are standouts for me.

Odetta - It's a Mighty World: Released in '64, and the height of the southern gospel folk singer's career, this album is another example of her powerful voice. Odetta performs in a classic folk style, with simple folk arrangements that are carried by the deep spiritual nature of her singing. I found a perfectly clean copy of this on vinyl a few weekends ago. The vendor who sold it to me couldn't believe how good of shape it was in. He said it seemed that whenever someone had an Odetta record, they tended to play the hell out of it...and for good reason. This is a great weekend morning record to listen to as the day starts.