Saturday, September 23, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

This weekend, summer has returned to the Hudson Valley with a vengeance! Needless to say, I'm not happy about it. I'd been enjoying the Fall weather, and the even cooler weather in Switzerland last week, only to return home to this messy heat. But weather doesn't stop the music and I'm happy to share thoughts on some albums I've been listening to on my travels. Most of these were designed for cooler weather, which justifies my ramblings above, so think of these as something to checkout as soon as this heat wave moves back down south where it belongs. Enjoy.

Iron and Wine - Beast Epic: It's been four years since the last true album from Sam Beam under this moniker, and not much has changed in that time. He is still one of the best and most consistent songwriters of his generation, and he can still infuse Americana with indie folk with the best of them. This album is a little more bare bones than the previous two, resembling his earlier work. "Summer Clouds," "About a Bruise," and "Last Night" are my personal favorites.

Big Blood - The Daughter's Union: After releasing a two-part album back '15, the freak folk duo from Portland, Maine worked on some collaborations. This summer, they released this new album which once again reaffirms them as one of my favorite bands. They have a sound that taps right into my imagination and illustrates thoughts of mine into sound. "Reproduce and Get Dirty," "Thank You for the Path," "All is Clear," "Stars Sewn Into Our Skies," and "On and On," are standouts on one their best albums to date.

Warhorse - Warhorse: The UK hard prog band is one of the handful of innovators who developed the heavy psych genre, along with Sir Lord Baltimore, Gun, and Horse. Released in 1970, this is a stunning debut album that is much heavier than most of hard rock at the time. Though still blues based, it moves away from that sound and into a heavy psych vibe. "Woman of the Devil," "No Chance," "Vulture Blood," and "Burning" are my personal favorites on this epically underappreciated album.

The Experience Nebula Room - Ouroborous: The debut album from the Rio band is a brilliant instrumental record that is perfectly paced between heavy psych sounds and gothic folk. It all comes together to produce a sound that feels like the soundtrack to a pleasantly horrifying dream. I gave this a chance because from the cover I had a hunch it would sound something like Goblin Hovel, and I was right. The softer gothic songs are similar, but there are also moments that are more like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Definitely worth a listen.

Nektar - Magic Is a Child:  The seventh album from the German space rock band was released in '77 and sees the band follow the general trajectory of 70's psychedelic space rock bands. By that, I mean this album feels far safer and more radio friendly than earlier releases. As a result, it also feels a little less interesting to my ears. It feels more like Kansas or Styx than Pink Floyd or Hawkwind, which isn't necessarily terrible, just not quite as good. "On the Run" and "Spread Your Wings" were my personal favorites on this album that is just okay.

Kids United - Un Monde Meilleur:  Formed in 2015, these six French children recorded this debut record, a second would follow a year later. My longstanding interest in kidcore recordings led me to check out this album. I expected yet another bubblegum pop record, and was pleasantly surprised to discover this isn't that. This is far more club friendly dance pop, which is certainly over produced, but not unbearable. These kids all have very powerful and soulful voices that sound grown up and very Adele influenced. "Des ricochets," "Toi + moi," and their cover of "Imagine" are standout tracks on a record that is a curiosity interest for those into this kind of thing.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fiction Friday (57)

I've returned from a brief stint across the pond, and on the return flight, I was without child and had time to finish reading the graphic novel I'd been reading between fits of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. In the coming weeks, I will be posting many more Fiction Friday's as I attempt to plow through 20 YA novels for the course I'm taking this quarter. So look forward to many more thoughts on a genre that I should, repeat should, know a lot about. Enjoy. 

To Terra: Volume One by Keiko Takemiya
(Vertical, 2007)

In the unspecified future, the home planet of human beings which has been renamed Terra, became inhabitable. The air was polluted, fish could no longer swim in the oceans or rivers, trees would no longer grow, and non-degradable toxins had built up underground. Humans searched the far reaches of space for a new home, but were never able to find a new Terra. Eventually they came to the conclusion that Terra wasn't the problem, humans were. The decision was made to reform humanity and a system was put in place to raise humans in a new way.

Having handed control of humanity's course over to a computer called "Mother", children are born in test tubes and raised by designated parents. They are given an ideal and loving upbringing until the age of 14. It is at that point when all children must undergo the maturity evaluation. Those who pass have the majority of their memories erased and are sent to an educational space-station to complete their preparation to return to Terra. By the opening of this epic science-fiction graphic novel, there are rumblings of discontent in this seemingly perfect system.

In the first volume of this trilogy from Keiko Takemiya, two storylines emerge, destined for a collision as the series progresses. Conflict between the Mu (human mutants with telepathic powers) and humans over control of Terra and the fate of humanity has begun with both sides being led by charismatic young leaders determined to secure the safety of their way of life. Outstanding art helps prop up this story whose text is a little too vague at times.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Time once again to celebrate the week that was in my music listening. This was one of those weeks of exceptional albums, some of which were new discoveries, others were albums that exceeded expectations, and another was just something that was a surprise release. Mostly straight up rock on this list, with a few minor exceptions. Hopefully you'll find something on here to check out. Enjoy.

Brand New - Science Fiction: The rock band's fifth album is their first release in eight years and it's the album I've always been waiting for from them. While their last two records were both fine albums, both had moments that didn't appeal to me. This one is a complete album that showcases what the band does best, which is moody post-hardcore rock. There isn't a weak song on this album, making it their best since the demos for The Devil and God... and one of the most solid albums of the year so far.

Jamie Aaron Aux - Close the Circle: The Seattle singer/songwriter's third album was released in June and it's pretty awesome. This eerie psych folk record reminds me of some of my favorite work by Lightning Dust and Warpaint. Perfect for late night or early pre-dawn alone listening to create a wonderful moody experience. "Optiks," "Black Tourmaline," "Fake Gold" and "Sights in Overdrive" are among my favorites.

Mozzy - 1 Up Top Ahk: Though this Cali rapper has been incredibly active over the past three years, releasing a ton material, this was my first encounter with his work, but certainly won't be my last. The beets are exceptional and his flow is hypnotic. He reminds me a bit of 2Chainz, but seems to take his craft much more serious. There tales of criminal activity, but tales that feel genuine, and by that, I mean believable. He doesn't try to sell himself as something he isn't, a mistake too many hip hop artists make. He's not trying build himself into a legend, he's telling his story and it's up to you to decide whether it's legendary.

Ty Segall - Fried Shallots: The ever-prolific Ty continues his quest to be the most prolific artist around with this new EP that came out at the end of July. It's his signature fuzzed out sound, a little more fuzzed out than some of his more recent full-length albums, but no less fantastic. "When the Gulls Turn to Ravens," "Another Hustle," and "Is It Real" are standouts on this nice addition to his growing catalog.

Metallica - Self-Destruct: The 10th true studio album from the iconic thrash metal band was released late last year to pretty positive reviews as it sees a return to form from some recently poorly reviewed albums. This is the "Metallica" sound through and through, and in fact, there are moments throughout the album where you can almost hear parts of other songs coming through. It's not easy for a rock band, let alone a metal band, to remain relevant thirty years into their career, but this album manages to that. Certainly not on the same level as their 80's catalog, but can stand alongside their 90's catalog just fine. At times it almost feels like they are trying too hard, and perhaps there was no need to make this a double album. "Now that We're Dead," "Moth into the Flame," and "Am I Savage" were standouts for me.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Sound of Something Clawing Through

With a short break in the graduate school season, I've had some time to get back to work on writing. The new novel that I began a few weeks ago has turned into a nice stack of pages, which means the structure is now calling for me to get into the really crazy parts that I imagined when I cooked up this insane journey through the tortured imagination of my adolescent self. That's not to say there isn't insanity to be found in the existing chunk that has already been written, but the truly surreal is yet to come and I must admit that I'm excited for it.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The long weekend has arrived and with the extra day, there's plenty time for thinking about music and finding new sounds to discover. For this week, I took a few chances this week to listen to things I hadn't heard of before. As always with a gamble, some paid off better than others. Of course, I also threw in a few albums that I'd been looking forward to listening to. There's mostly rock on here, but several different varieties. Next weekend I'll get a little more diverse again. Until then, enjoy.

Sleepy Sun - Private Tales: On their fifth album, the San Fran psych rock band feels to have matured into one of the finer examples of the genre. This album is pure psych rock, not heavy psych, not psych folk, something few do very well. This album reminds me of Black Angels and even Morning After Girls and The Coral. "Crave," "Throes," "Reconcile," and "The Plea" are standouts on a really enjoyable album.

Savoy Brown - A Step Further: After their '67 debut, the British Blues band released six albums in their first three years, this being the fourth, and second released in 1969. Built around the classic British Blues sound, this album sees the sound taking a heavier turn that would continue throughout the '70s and eventually lead to blues based hard rock and heavy metal. The first side of the album is dynamite. The second half is a live set that is a little messy, but in a boozy sort of way that works for the style. 

Miraculous Mule - Two Tonne Testimony: The third album from the London blues rock band was released this past spring and is pretty much by-the-book hard blues rock. There's nothing on here that will surprise a listener educated in the genre, though young listeners will probably be impressed and seek out older bands that have done this sound before. "Where Monsters Lead," and "The Fear" are my personal favorites on a solid album, but nothing really essential.

American Opera - Small Victories: The debut album from the Michigan indie duo is an interesting blend of indie folk and emo that feels uneven while still quite listenable. It feels like one of those debut albums where the band has developed a few different styles and hasn't quite decided where to focus their attention. They will get there. "Jack Pine" and "The Farewell" are standouts for sure.

Black Kids - Rookie: The second album from the Florida indie pop band was a pleasant surprise for me. I tend to steer away from indie pop, but took a chance on this one. Heavy new wave influences make this record very enjoyable. It feels a lot like The Kooks with a healthy dose 80's pop thrown in, which is fine by me. There's absolutely nothing original about this, but it doesn't make it any less fun. A nice ode to teen longing and 80's rhythms with "Illin'," "Rookie," and the fascinating "Obligatory Drugs" as standouts.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Winter is Here

The seventh season of Game of Thrones ended this week with a blockbuster feature length episode. Though only eight episodes, this season was still packed with plot and saw the story advance farther than any previous season. We all know the game is coming to an end next year, which has forced the show to move closer and closer to the eventual conclusion. 

All sides have been clearly drawn, though some uncertainty lies in the reception for the Targaryen family in the North. The Great War has begun in earnest now that the white walkers have acquired their blue fire breathing dragon to break through the barrier of the wall. And though that battle is sure to be costly and deadly, the real intrigue still lies in the future occupant of the iron throne. We have one true heir, one sitting line from a rebellion built on lies, and one who has shown to be a worthy ruler but whose claim can be challenged. 

Whatever happens in the final season, I will be glued to each episode and watching with an active brain, because that is what this show does best. It causes you to think and speculate while it entertains. And though I want to know how the game turns out, I never really want it to end.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The next to last weekend of the summer has arrived and with it comes my thoughts on some of the summer albums that I'd been looking forward to by some favorite bands. There is also an unexpected return of a favorite artist, a few curious pickups and a vinyl find that I finally got around to spinning. Mostly indie rock here, but a few twists on the wide-ranging category to keep you interested. Hopefully you'll find something on here worth checking out. Enjoy.

Jason Furlow - Last Man Standing: The former frontman of New Kingdom and formerly known as Nosaj, or Nature Boy Jim Kelly, this is Jason's triumphant return. Released as a Double A-Side cassette single, these two songs re-invent his earlier style into a full-on trip-hop with abstract elements. As brilliant as ever, this was a nice surprise to see Jason's work streaming. I still wish I were able to get some of his mixtapes he released during the last decade because I'm loving these songs. Definitely check this out on Bandcamp. 

Arcade Fire - Everything Now: I entered into the new album from the indie band with mixed expectations. During their career, I've loved every other album they've done. I was enamored with their 2004 debut Funeral, left flat by the Neon Bible follow-up, loved The Suburbs and really did not like Reflektor. So I hoped this would follow the pattern, and for the most part it does. Definitely better than the two albums I don't like, though there are some songs on here that veer far too deep into indie pop electronic noise (I'm talking to you horrible "Creature Comfort"). "Good God Damn," "Infinite Content," and "We Don't Deserve Love" are my personal favorites. A solid okay.

Sonic Death - Space Goth: The Russian lo-fi band's fifth album is a pleasant dose of insanity that reminds me of the hypnotic flavors of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. True to the album title, there are space rock influences in this post-punk psych journey that gives it moments that feel like classic Syd Barrett, while remaining extremely current. "Space Ark," "Enter the Trip" and "LSD" are standouts. Definitely worth checking out.

Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface: The sixth album from Georgia indie band is yet another sublime mixture of folk and rock that bleeds with honesty and vulnerability. Having followed this band since their debut, I can that they are always pretty consistent. Sometimes that shows a lack of growth, but in their case, I wouldn't say that because there is growth there, mostly in the arrangements and the depth of the music. That said, this doesn't vary much from 2014's Cope. "The Sunshine," "The Gold," "The Mistake," and "The Silence" are my personal favorites.

Blue Oyster Cult - Mirrors: The sixth album from the NY hard rock band was released in '79, two years after Spectres. This sees them take a more commercial turn, while staying true to their hard rock past, but with a defined effort for more radio friendly rock, which can be heard on tracks like "The Great Sun Jester." But the majority of the album's second side shies away from this and delivers the same great rock sound of their earlier albums. "You're Not the One (I Was Looking For)," "Lonely Teardrops," and "I Am The Storm" are all killer tracks on fine rock record.
Neun Welten - The Sea I'm Diving In: Released in July, this is the third album from the German dark folk band. I've been into the darkwave recently and was hoping this would scratch that itch, and while it is moody enough, it's not as dark as I would've hoped. I was looking for Goblin Hovel or Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows. This is more conventional than that, but still decent.