Thursday, July 24, 2014

Winter is Coming

I know I'm late to the game, but over the past few weeks, I've been trying to catch up. I've been binge watching Game of Thrones and seeing as how I just watched the "Red Wedding" episode last night, it seemed as good a time as any to share my thoughts on this highly addictive series. 

Game of Thrones breaks nearly all of the rules when it comes to television, mainly when it comes to killing off main characters. In the first three seasons, there have been multiple times when after I've finished an episode, I wonder how they can continue now that the hero is dead. But that's where the show continues to defy traditions. Usually in a show like this, where the characters are divided up into sides, with various agendas, a viewer's allegiances tends to be settled early on. And though I initially made judgements on most of the characters, I've found my opinions ever evolving. 

A perfect example of this is Jamie Lannister, the Kingslayer. In the first episode of the show, he's seen pushing young Bran Stark from a tower window. In subsequent episodes, he didn't do much of anything to redeem himself. But after one scene in the third season, my opinion of him entirely changed, and it didn't even have to resort to anything that went against his character. 

Another aspect where I find my allegiances changing is on who I hope will ultimately win the game and be seated on the iron throne. Initially, I held the same opinion of the Targaryen's as King Robert and Lord Stark. Viserys Targaryen certainly lived up to the reputation of tyranny and lunacy established early on, but as Dany's character makes her long march to regain the throne, I find myself thinking that perhaps the Taragaryen's should rule. After all, they are the rightful heirs, and Dany seems far more competent than the ravel fighting it out in Westeros. (With the exception of Rob Stark...but alas, the Stark reign appears as though it will never happen).

Though allegiances and feelings towards characters are ever-shifting, there are two characters who feel like the moral barometer to me; Tyrion Lannister and Ayra Stark. They've been my favorites since the beginning, and thankfully both have survived the bloodshed so far. But curiously enough, even the characters I loath, yes I'm speaking to you Joffrey, I enjoy. They all serve a greater purpose to the story. It's rare for a series with so many story lines happening at once not to have at least one dud, one story that makes you want to fast forward to the next. Game of Thrones is exceptional in that manner. Every scene feels as compelling as the next...which makes it quite suitable for binge watching. 

All of that said, there's no telling what will happen next. It's unpredictable, and besides, winter is coming. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Yet another slow week for new releases, which gave me time to catch up on albums in the queue. I did manage to make good on my promise last week to listen to bands I'd never heard before. There are two 2014 releases from bands I'd previously never listened to. Both turned out to be enjoyable, which is an encouraging sign for me. I also listened to albums from bands that I'd only previously known from a few songs, so my attempts to broaden my horizons could be considered successful. This week's list is half new stuff and half old stuff, which pretty much represents my collection. Hopefully there's something on here that you find interesting. Enjoy.

Golden Animals - Hear Eye Go: Released last fall, this is the second album from Brooklyn indie psychedelic band, coming five years after their wonderful debut. Though I've had this in my iTunes for nearly seven months, it got totally lost. I loaded it, but never listened to it until this week, and I've been loving it ever since. This is the perfect blend of indie rock and psychedelic blues. It's uptempo, catchy, but just this side of weird to keep it interesting. It reminds me a bit of the new The Ghost of the Sabre Tooth Tiger, but also a bit like Dolly Rocker Movement and The Black Angels.  Every song on here is pretty great, but my favorites are "All Your Life," "Never Was Her Name," "Most of My Time," and "You Don't Hear Me Now." This is one of those records that should have been on my best of list for last year.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Ballade for a Strawberry Moon: Rachel Evans has released 36 ambient drone albums under the Motion Sickness of Time Travel name since 2009. This is her seventh album of 2014 and it came out last month, and has already been followed up with another release, yet another album in the "Moon Series" which began last winter and already includes 11 albums. Needless to say, it's hard not to think that perhaps the output is't too ambitious, but drone is the one genre where output is understandable. The album consists of one hour long track, which builds nicely as it progresses. There's a fairy tale forest ambiance to it that I find intriguing, and suitable for listening to while writing. Not sure I'll delve into the entire "Moon Series" but I'll certainly check out a few more.

The Orwells - Disgraceland: The second album from the Chicago area garage rock band came out last month and has been getting a decent amount of attention and doing quite well on the College charts. There's a rough unpolished sound to this record that I've been digging. It reminds me early records by The Go but with a Midwestern punk vibe. "Who Needs Love," "Let It Burn," "Gotta Get Down," and "The Righteous Ones" are the standout tracks in my opinion. Overall a solid album for fans of garage rock.

The Grass Roots - The Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles: Though the late '60s L.A. folk rock group never reached the heights of some of their contemporaries, they did manage to record a handful of unforgettable songs. I rarely go for greatest hits compilations, but for some bands it really makes sense, especially for bands that existed in the era of singles rather than albums. There's a racy side to their lyrics that easily show their link to The Doors, while their focus on melody shows their relation to Buffalo Springfield. Beyond the amazing "Let's Live For Today," there a couple of other wonderful songs, like their cover of Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Wake Up, Wake Up," "I'd Wait a Million Years," and of course, "Midnight Confessions." Quickly becoming a forgotten group, so definitely worth checking out. 

Saxon - Denim and Leather: The fourth album from one of the pivotal bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is considered a landmark of the genre. Not as crucial as their "Wheels of Steel" album released a year earlier, but taken together their first four albums, all released in their first three years, are pretty incredible. More blues influenced than Judas Priest, the band would end up having a bigger influence on American metal in the coming decade. This album has a lot in common with Bon Scott era AC/DC which just fine by me. It's blistering rock 'n roll that screams to be played loud. "Midnight Rider," "Rough and Ready," "Never Surrender," and "Play it Loud" are my personal favorites.

Golden Earring - Moontan: Formed in 1961, the Dutch rock band is still releasing music today, but it was in the early '70s that they hit their peak. This 1973 album contains their one big hit, "Radar Love," a rare thing for an album of progressive rock to contain a radio hit such as that. Beyond that song, this is a quite good bluesy progressive rock album. "Are You Receiving Me" is a nine minute plus trip and perhaps the best song on here besides the hit. "Candy's Going Bad" is another quality tune, though more hard rock than prog rock. Some other songs miss their mark in my opinion, but overall this is still a worthwhile record. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Little Snow Fairy Sugar (Episodes 7-9)

(Catch up on previous episodes here.)

When we left off, Saga had sent Sugar away in anger. Though their argument was over a misunderstanding, the hurt was very real to both characters. As they go their separate ways both characters face their regrets with stubborn pride. Saga goes through her day feeling distracted and guilty, but whenever she begins feeling sorry, she concentrates on the incident that angered her in the first place. I really liked how this showed the way we try to hold onto anger. So often in children's programming there's the emphasis on quick forgiveness, but in reality, most of us convince ourselves to remain angry long after we've stopped feeling the emotion.

For her part, kicked out of her home, Sugar takes up with two new weather fairy apprentices named Basil and Cinnamon. They are storm fairies who are leaning to make thunder and lightning. Cleverly, these two fairies are the opposite of the kind of cuteness given to Sugar and her friends. They are drawn, and behave like little punk rockers, causing trouble wherever they go. Sugar quickly learns to love their carefree ways and joins them in mischief. Salt and Pepper don't really like this new Sugar and decide that they must bring Sugar and Saga back together. And when they reveal that the message Sugar wrote on Saga's precious sheet music was really an apology, Saga's guilt overcomes her anger.

Saga's memories of her mother, and the interplay between a little Saga and her mother are important scenes to developing Saga and Sugar's relationship. I've said before that it a big sister/ little sister dynamic, and within that is a mothering aspect. Little Saga is a little like Sugar.  Saga finally realizes this and the accepts her role. After they've made up, the antagonism that had existed between them ceases.

It's clear that a fairy's growth is tied to a nurturing bond with a human. Hints were made earlier during the fairies' search for "twinkle" and the sprouting of their fairy seeds whenever the bond is strengthened. This is made even more obvious later when Phil, the neighborhood boy scientist, attempts his news experiment. Phil is trying to make an aurora, something that Salt claims is the domain of sun fairies, and requires powerful magic. At first Salt is worried that Phil will be able to do something that he hasn't yet been able to achieve. But when the entire class comes to watch Phil fail, Salt feels compassion for the boy who he has secretly been helping. In that moment of feeling, Salt is able to produce a beautiful aurora using his magic. 

The connection with a humans makes the little fairies powerful. I expect as Sugar and Saga's relationship blossoms, we'll soon discover the wonderful things Sugar is able to do. Stay tuned for more next week. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Welcome Darkness, My Old Friend...

Fascinating writing always seems to have a touch of evil lurking over it. There doesn't have to be a demon that breathes thoughts into your mind, but it can help. Part of what invests readers in a story is the ever-present potential that something horrible might happen to the characters they've grown to care about. It can also be a force that drives the writer to create. There's an excitement that comes with having control over your characters and their fate. It's like those cartoons where an angle sits on shoulder and the devil on the other, each trying to force your hand. Sometimes the angel wins, and sometimes the darkness does.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to another weekend of sound. This week was marked by new albums from artists I've been following for years, as well as a couple of pick-ups that had been missing from my catalog. There is only one band on here that was completely new to me, but as I've said over the past few months, my desire to delve into unknowns has waned with age and past experience of being utterly disappointed. But I don't think I could ever become one of those people who never takes a chance on new music. There is great music being made all of the time, and to discount it all based on a few bad apples would be foolish. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be able to find something new that thrills me, especially since I've caught up on a lot of cached music recently. There's a lot of psychedelic folk on here, as well as some British indie. Hopefully you'll find something to explore. Enjoy.

Morrissey - World Peach Is None of Your Business: The ex-Smiths leader released his first album in five years this month, his tenth solo album since The Smiths disbanded in 1987. In some ways it feels as though every few years he releases the same album. There isn't really any growth or movement from the last album, but fans will certainly appreciate his commitment to the things that make his music so unique. This is a solid album, but as always, I prefer Morrissey in smaller doses than the 18 tracks on here. Once again, he's bemoaning the current state of the world and the best of the bunch are truly great songs. They include "Earth is the Loneliest Planet," "Art-Hounds," and the title track.

Kamchatka - The Search Goes On: A rock band from Sweden, this is Kamchatka's fifth album and first in three years. There is a blues rock influence here, combined with elements of the old Seattle sound. You can hear the echo of Jerry Cantrell on this record, but with a much deeper '70s hard rock edge. Solid musicianship and song craft elevate this from being just another rock album. Though at times I wish it were heavier, or developed its progressive moments a little further, I enjoy this record. "Cross the Distance," "Dragons," "Thank You For Your Time," and "Tango Decadence" are stand out tracks. Worth a listen for rock fans.

The Skygreen Leopards - Family Crimes: The album that I'm most excited about this week is the eighth record from the San Fran psychedelic folk band. It's been five years since their last release, and eight since their landmark Disciples of California album. This album is reminiscent of their best work, combining the sunshine folk feel with the eerie haunting sound of fever dreams. They could be compared to other California psychedelic bands from the best, Grateful Dead and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band come to mind, but The Skygreen Leopards have a more relaxed feel about them, as if they were a band you'd expect to hear around a campfire while the listeners sat swaying to the internal rhythms of mind expanding substances.  "It's Not Love," "Reno Wedding," "Love is a Shadow," and  on a great summer folk album.

Television Personalities - They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles: The London indie psychedelic pop band released three amazing albums in 1981-1982 that contributed to the rise of England's indie sound in the coming years. This is the third one in that debut trilogy. Their rambling style is what I've always loved about them. They have the freedom of Syd Barrett's solo records, or Velvet Underground's early work. "When Emily Cries," "Psychedelic Holiday," "Mysterious Ways," and "Games for Boys" are my favorites, but there isn't a bad track on here. Definitely the perfect pairing the their fist two records.

Joker's Daughter - May Cause Side Effects: After Domino Records released her wonderful debut in 2009 and it failed to gain wide attention, Joker's Daughter decided to self-release this 2011 follow-up. Interestingly enough, the lack of big production seems to suit her psychedelic sound just fine.  As with the debut, there is a '60s psychedelic folk feel to this album, but wisely manages to update the sound by giving it a fuller feel. "The Book that Drew Itself," "The Fool," "The Raven's Ball," and the title track are standouts.

Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War: Since their emergence in the second of half of the last decade, the UK indie band has always managed to remain somewhere in the middle of the British indie pack. After a three year lay-off, and the departure of their primary song-writer, they returned this March with their fifth album. I'd put off listening to this album for months. Kaiser Chiefs had always been a slightly better than average band to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by this record. Unlike their previous releases, it doesn't feel derivative, but rather as if they are finally finding their own direction. The best songs on here are among their best ever. "Roses," "Ruffians on Parade," "Misery Company," and "The Factory Gates" are among my favorites. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiction Friday (31)

As a rule, I typically don't like to read books with a tone similar to one I'm hoping to capture in manuscripts that I'm working on at the time, but last week, I made an exception. I wasn't particularly looking for inspiration, I just really wanted to read this book. In the end, I did find a lot of inspiration that will guide me. But in some ways it is also frustrating to read something so well done, which makes one question their own writing choices. That is another reason why I like to avoid similar books while writing, not because I'm worried it will influence me but rather that it will discourage me. Thankfully, this book did more to inspire than discourage. And though from a place of personal jealously, I'm often upset by authors who receive praise upon praise, in Neil Gaiman's case, I've never felt it was unwarranted and therefore hold no resentment. His latest book is another gem. Enjoy.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
(William Morrow, 2013)

The title of this book alone was enough to have me believe it would be another interesting piece of imagination from the mind of Neil Gaiman. The title phrase alone, "Ocean at the End of the Lane", embodies the type of genius elements that I find in Gaiman's work, these sort of impossible things that exist unnoticed in the world. Coraline was like that, so was The Graveyard Book, and they both convinced me that the inclusion of these mysterious elements was well-suited for children's books, which have always been the realm of acceptable fantasy.

While The Ocean and the End of the Lane isn't a children's book, it does feature a child protagonist and exists within the world of childhood. When a man returns to his childhood home after the funeral of a parent, he visits the farm at the end of the lane where he grew up and then he begins to remember the remarkable tale which he'd inexplicably forgotten.

The story is filled with elements borrowed from fairy tales, myths, and the macabre, blended in an extraordinary way to reveal truths about the nature of the universe and the confusion that comes with being a child in a world that doesn't adhere to the sensible rules of a child's mind. After a man commits suicide on the lane, strange forces are awoken and the three Hempstock ladies, witch-like characters, are tasked with putting things right. The boy in the story inadvertently becomes involved in this drama, and gets caught in the middle of an ancient struggle between good vs. evil. The plot plays out in unexpected ways, capturing the dark spirit of horror and the noble expression of sacrifice.

This is one of those books that I wish would go on and on, but in a weird way, it's brevity proves to be its true genius.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Zazie in the Metro

Two weeks ago, I made the fateful decision to cut the chord on my over-priced cable television provider and began streaming like any good 21st Century boy should. As part of that transition, I signed up for a Hulu Plus account. It literally took days to go through all of the "networks" on there to find the shows I wanted to watch. And once that was done, I started to look through the movies and was shocked to discover they had the Criterion Collection version of Zazie in the Metro

This is a movie I've wanted to see for years, ever since I read the novel of the same title by Raymond Queneau. It is one of the funniest novels that I've ever read, starring a foul mouthed child and her wild escapades through Paris with her eccentric uncle during a Metro strike in the late '50s. After watching the film, I'm happy to say that the movie is nearly as delightful as the novel. It is a madcap series of visual gags that feel like a Looney Tunes episode come to life. Every frame is beautiful, with vibrant color and sets and a nod to mod style, and could be hung on the wall as art. 

Catherine Demongeot as the title character plays the brash little girl to perfection. She's like Eloise if Eloise swore. Philippe Noiret as her uncle is also wonderful. This film was such a joy to watch, I was laughing almost all the way through. It's easy to see this film's impact on European filmmakers. The Beatles movies certainly seem to have take inspiration from the zaniness. But perhaps the most striking connection that I felt was how this movie captured the same spirit as many of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's films. There are elements of Amelie, Delicatessen, and Micmacs that are born from the passion for serious silliness found in Zazie.  This is certainly a film that is not to be missed.