Monday, March 2, 2015

There is no one alive who is youer than you...

Today's literary birthday is Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss, though I'm pretty certain he was never a doctor. The only medicine he was qualified to prescribe was laughter, and he dispensed that in unmeasurable amounts. Like most every child, his books were favorites of mine. I still return to many of them now to read for inspiration. Not only were his rhymes wildly entertaining, but his artwork was so inventive. He was a true master of imagination. 

Happy 111th Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

The bitter cold returned this week, but this time it was kind enough to bring with it a whole host of records that I hadn't been expecting. If I had known most of these were coming out, needless to say, they would have been highly anticipated. Three complete surprises in one week is a lot, and three from some of my favorite artists is a rare treat. The first one, and the first album on the Roundup, sort of set the tone for my musical taste for the week. The cold weather, and my current writing project, led me back to the strange comfort of psychedelic folk. I figured it was a good week for it, besides, I need to get it out of my system before spring comes and wipes the slate clean. Hopefully you'll be just as excited to see these as I was. Enjoy.

Big Blood - Double Days I & Double Days II: Over the past half decade or so, this psychedelic folk duo has become one of my favorite bands, blessing the world with one stellar release after the other. Following up last year's two exceptional albums, they've released this two part album last week. It seems with each release, they just keep managing to get better and better. Their music always transports me to a world that somehow seems to match the universe inside my mind. "Double Day," "Babies Looking Weird," "Go See Boats," and "Endless Peace" are standouts. Also, there is an amazing cover of The Cure's "Disintegration" and Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" that are brilliant. But perhaps the most brilliant song is "You're Crushing My Heart" which is sung by a child. Easily a contender for best albums of the year.

Elvis Perkins - I Aubade: In the "Holy Shit! I didn't know this was coming out" category this week is the new record from one of my favorite songwriters. This is his first release since 2009, and his third full length album. Here, he scales back his folk style into a skeletal psychedelic folk that reminds me a little of Tim Buckley. The music is so beautiful and spiritual that it nearly feels holy. What it lacks in campfire singalong qualities, which his previous work did so well, it gains in artistic purity. "My 2$," "The Passage of the Black Gene," "All Today," "My Kind" and "I Came for Fire" are my personal favorites. Another album that is sure to be there at the end of the year for my Best Of List. 

Stoned Jesus - The Harvest: Due out this month is the fourth album from Ukrainian stoner metal band. Naturally, I was drawn to this by the cover and the band's name, both of which are brilliant. Heavy drums and guitar dominant this album, giving it a driving pulse that keeps it moving forward in ways that some stoner rock records forget to do. While it doesn't push the genre as far as say Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats or Electric Wizard, they still manage to deliver an electric set that satisfies. They have a dynamic sound, sounding a bit like Black Sabbath as times, such as the opening minutes of "Silkworm Confessions," but then changing into something more akin to Kyuss. A very solid album and a nice contribution to the collection. "Rituals of the Sun" is a must-hear track. 

Robert Wyatt - '68: This archival recording was released back in 2013, and chronicles the Soft Machine leader's creative burst that helped guide the band's first three albums between '68 and '70. This four song album includes two roughly 20 minute long tracks, one which would appear on the band's second album and the other on the third. They demonstrate the band's movement from the Canterbury Scene and into the jazz prog-rock arena. These versions are a little less polished, but also a bit more honest sounding. A really enjoyable listen. "Chelsa" is a gem and this version of "Moon in June" is fantastic.

Bill Ryder-Jones - Home Recordings Jan/Feb 2015: As the title makes clear, this is a set consisting entirely of covers that the Coral guitarist recorded over the past two months and released on his bandcamp page. This is his second such album, the other one covers recordings from the previous two years and is also available on his site. He chooses excellent songs, all of which fit his style perfectly. Rather than making them sound new or different, this is just a fan playing his favorite songs and enjoying it. Some of my all time favorite songs are on here, like "Baby Lemonade" and "Riverman," and every one is done in a scaled down acoustic version with just Bill's voice and guitar. A fantastic album of covers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scattering Demons

One of the most exciting aspects of writing is when fascinating new elements seem to emerge from the hidden depths of the imagination. This process happens all throughout the initial writing, but I find that the most interesting elements tend to come out during revisions. 

Sitting down to re-work a manuscript is sometimes daunting. Knowing that things need to be added, and that certain complications need to be solved can often lead to static thinking. One tries to logically solve these problems, but logic usually leads to boring solutions. However, somewhere along the line, a strange image or thought will pass through your mind, setting free the little demons that hide there. Once struck, the creative energies gather these snippets of madness, piecing them together in impossible ways, and suddenly those formerly difficult problems are given brilliant conclusions.

It's important for any artist to be comfortable letting their demons run the show every now and again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

As promised in the last Roundup, this week's selections have taken on a drastic change in temperament. But even as rock and hip-hop dominant the selections, there was still room for some cryptic doom atmosphere to go with the Siberian weather that decided to blow through with a vengeance. The combination made for an interesting week of listening, and one where several of the albums on here are records that I imagine will stay with me for a long time. Lots of unique albums, so do yourself a favor and dig into a few of these and find something surprising. Enjoy.

Lifeseeker - Nugz: Released at the end of last year, the third album from Lifeseeker is a double dose, and a crowning achievement that sees him pushing the boundaries of hip-hop, at times fusing it with space rock, metal, and prog-rock in ways that I haven't heard since New Kingdom. But even with all of these influences merged together, there is an undeniable groove that runs throughout and the rhyming technique is old school dope. This is classic hip-hop reborn for today's world. "Bittersweet," "How To Build a Plane," "Turn the Power Up," "Kung Fu," "Chips," and "That's How We're Living" are essential tracks.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday: Six years after the break-up of Oasis, their creative leader is set to release his second album with his self-titled band. Four years have past since the debut, which consisted mostly of songs that had previously been recorded as Oasis demos. That makes this really the first album fully conceived of in a post-Oasis state of mind, and it shows. These songs sound very different. They are much more layered, yet maintain the kind of mass appeal that Noel's songs have always contained. It's not the masterpiece some may have been waiting for, but it's quite good. "In the Heat of the Moment," "Ballad of the Mighty I," "Riverman," and "The Mexican" are my current favorites.

The Beatles vs. Hip-Hop Legends - An Adventure to Pepperland Though Rhyme & Space: Last week, this double album started popping up online. The second I saw it, I knew I had to listen. A few years ago, there was a mash-up of The Beatles and Wu Tang which made my top 10 albums of the year. This is the same concept, only it mashes recordings of the Fab Four with over 40 Hip Hop classics. Spanning the entire Beatles career catalog and pairing it perfectly with tracks throughout the history of hip-hop, this is pretty much a masterpiece of chaos and groove. Some of my favorites are "Brooklyn Walrus" which matches Ol' Dirty's "Brooklyn Zu" and the Crooklyn Dodgers with "I'm the Walrus." Another great on is "Hey!" with The Beastie Boys' "Hey Ladies" and The Beatles "Hey Bulldog." There are too many to go into, but this is certainly a must have album for hip-hop fans.

Goblin Hovel - The Great Reversal: For their first album of the new year, the changeable folk metal band draws on far eastern musical influences, which adds a new kind of eeriness to their sound. It still contains the same mix of soft and dark which seems to spark my imagination more than other things these days. Not my favorite of their records, but still one I quite enjoy. "The Earth Roars" and "Broken Circle" are my two favorites on this five song EP. Definitely worth checking out, as are all of their albums available on their bandcamp site.

Earth - Primitive and Deadly: The Olympia, WA drone metal band returned last Fall with their eleventh album, and it's one of their few which include vocals, something that isn't needed for them, but when there, make it feel like something special. This album follows the very strong two-part Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light project with a more psychedelic twist than we've heard from them previously. A record of doom and beauty, the band continues to push their creative peak. "Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon" and the epic "From the Zodiacal Light"are my personal favorites. A must have for fans.

Carl Barat and the Jackals - Let It Reign: We last heard from this creative half of The Libertines five years ago with his only solo album, recorded two years after the disbandment of Dirty Pretty Things. Now he returns with a new band, and a renewed energy which in my opinion had been missing over the past decade. Capturing the garage punk electricity of his early years, this album is a solid rock record from beginning to end. He also presents a more mature outlook on life that goes beyond the frustrated angst of youth while still sharing the profound disillusionment that made The Libertines a voice of their generation. "Beginning to See," "Glory Days, and "Summer in the Trenches" are stand out tracks.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Movie Game

The other day I went to the movies and saw Kingsman. Going into it, I didn't know much about it, only that it was based on a graphic novel which I hadn't read and directed by the same person who did Kick Ass, a movie which I'd seen and found to be entertaining. As it turned out, this movie was also entertaining. The action scenes were done well, the story had enough traction and there were enough tongue in cheek quips about its own cliche elements to let the viewer know it wasn't taking itself so seriously. However, that's kind of the problem. 

This film, like many I've seen over the past few years, felt very much like watching a video game. There were action scenes, which were the game play, and then exposition or plot advancement scenes, which would be the prerecorded elements in a game. Everything took place on the surface. The characters didn't have any hidden motives. There was no subtle interactions. It was all right out in front of the viewer. There weren't even underlying themes to the movie. It was simply two hours of entertainment to be absorbed and then dismissed.

Kingsman is another in a long, long line of Hollywood type of movies made for instant gratification, meant to be forgotten hours after leaving the theater. It seems in recent years that blockbuster movies are made to be disposable. One of the previews before the movie highlighted that very point. Coming this year is Fantastic Four, essentially a remake of a movie that was made only ten years ago. Not a sequel. Not a new chapter. It's the same damned thing, thus making the first one disposable.

One could say that the idea of blockbusters has always been that way, but I don't think that's true. Looking back on films from my childhood, movies like RoboCop, Back to the Future, even Top Gun, there were other elements going one. The films were made to be remembered. I honestly believe that this idea of appealing to the video game culture is hurting movies. As video games become more like movies, there is no reason to make the movies more like games. It's just not good film making.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week of desperate cold and snow meant another week dominated by singer songwriter folk music. It certainly fit my speed and schedule of this mid-Winter week, but as things begin to kick into gear again next week, I've already switched my mood and it will see a lot of rock and hip-hop returning to the Roundup. Until then, you'll have take pleasure in the easy sounds featured here. There's some great records on this list, ones that I've been cherishing for days, so hopefully something on here will inspire you to pick it up and give it a play or two or three. As always...enjoy.

José Gonzalez - Vestiges & Claws: It's been eight years since the Swedish indie folk artist's last album. His third album is finally due out this week and it's pretty much a triumph. After such a long break after his first two phenomenal records, this was one of those albums that seemed set up for a letdown, but it's anything but. The fragile beauty of Gonzalez's songs is as striking as ever. In many ways, this record seems even closer to Nick Drake's music than before. It has the same kind of simple and honest charm. Easily the most exciting release of the week and one I've waited far too long for. "The Forrest," "Let It Carry You," and "What Will" are my personal favorites, but the album should really be enjoyed as a whole. 

Iron and Wine - Archive Series Volume No. 1: Due out at the end of the month is this collection put together by the singer songwriter consisting of unreleased home recordings that date back to the time of his debut. These songs are similar in feel to those found on 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle. I love that record and to hear these songs which feel like a companion album, is simply fantastic. There's a softness and an innocence that permeates through these recordings. On later albums, Sam Beam's work matures into more elaborate and compelling themes, but that doesn't take anything away from the brilliance of these simpler times.

Goblin Hovel - The Roots That Broke the Stone: A few weeks ago I reviewed this band's other 2014 album, one that made my honorable mentions for the year. I figured it was time to give their second album of last year a proper review. Released in October, this is another dark folk record made by the ever-changing band made up of different collaborating musicians. Though I preferred Wonders Gone Dark, Shadows Brought to Life, this is also a wonderful record. More than any other music, these two records have shaped the revisions of the novel I'm currently working on. They capture the haunted mood that I've set out to recreate. "Ground Rot," "Chthon," and "Song of the Shade" are highlights for me.

Grateful Dead - Live Acoustic Family Dog at the Great Highway 4/18/70: Released two years ago on the inaugural Black Friday vinyl release day, this double album captures the fractured 1970 Dead in rare form. The band was just about to begin it's holy trinity of Workingman's Dead, American Beauty, and Wake of the Flood and this show really captures that country folk sound that will eventually make those albums so perfect in my opinion. The acoustic setting and ramble style recording only add to the magic. Of all the hundreds and thousands of Dead bootleg concerts, I can see why this one got the deluxe vinyl release. It's got such a relaxed and organic feel that it becomes flawless in its own way. "Deep Elem Blues," "Mama Tried," "Don't Ease Me In," and "New Speedway Boogie" are amazing, and the last side of the record is Pigpen's bare bones blues at it's best. A true gem and a must have.

The Lone Bellow - Then Came the Morning: Two weeks ago the Brooklyn indie folk rock band released their second album. The trio adheres to the current style of folk pop, blending country, rock, spiritual, and folk into a condensed sound that is enjoyable to listen to, but sounds nearly indistinguishable from a whole host of other albums. It definitely has a radio friendly feel that reminds me of Hozier. For me, this album suffers from its strive to sound so genre perfect. It hits all of the right notes in all of the right places, yet feels somehow soulless to me. Perhaps it's just one of those records I couldn't connect to, but I can certainly see this becoming a favorite of other people. So if you're into indie folk rock, certainly give it a shot. "If You Don't Love Me," "Telluride," and the title track were standouts for me.

The Shivers - Forever is a Word: The seventh album from the Brooklyn band is one that's hard to define. It opens with the indie soul sounding "I Got Mine" which feels like an updated hipper version of '70s AM radio soul. There are pub rock influences to be sure, but this is a soulful album with some to spare...too bad The Lone Bellow couldn't have borrowed some it. It reminds me a bit of Future Islands last album, and a bit like Richard Ashcroft's later solo work. At times it can be jarring, but at other times it's quite awesome. "Black Shades," "More Grey Than Green" and the title track are my personal favorites.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Little Snow Fairy Sugar (Episodes 13-15)

(Catch up on previous episodes here.)

It's been a while since I visited the small German town where this anime takes place, but I was finally able to catch up a little bit this week. In the last episode, Sugar's magic flower had grown a bud despite the fact she'd never found a twinkle, the element that is supposed to make the flowers grow. When rowdy Basil and Cinnamon found out about the flower's progress, they demand that Sugar tell them what a twinkle is and where she found one. Under pressure, and afraid that her friends won't believe her if she told the truth, Sugar lies and tells them that she did find a twinkle. Then she becomes determined to set out and find one to prove that she isn't a liar.

Symbolic of their strengthening bond, Saga decides to set out to help Sugar, something she has been reluctant to do in the past. Pepper and Salt join in the search which takes them into the woods. Each encounter with the older season fairies leads them to assure Saga that they are certain to find a twinkle. As their journey ends, nothing tangible is found, and Saga begins to realize that it's her relationship with Sugar that is the real "twinkle." 

In the next episode, the show departs slightly from the continuing story. We see the fairies trying to help Pepper's turtle friend learn to fly. Once again, Saga tries to help them even though she knows it's an impossible task. However, keeping with the positive messages of the show, they all learn that a strong wish and teamwork can make anything come true.

Another thread running through the series is Saga's relationship with her mother who passed away when she was younger. When a three year old girl comes to stay with Saga and her grandmother, this family friend stirs Saga's memories of her mother. Though Kanon, the little girl, calls Saga her big sister, Saga behaves more like a mother to the child. The experience makes her realize how special the time with her mother was, and how important her guidance is for Kanon. Surely this will translate into her relationship with Sugar in the future.