Thursday, September 18, 2014

Goblins Can Never Stop Me

The whispering begins somewhere unseen, faint but tangible like the sound of leaves dropping in the slow autumn wind. - Opening line from my Goblin Market manuscript.

After months of reworking a manuscript that I had first attempted more than two years ago, this past weekend I finally completed my second draft. Three years is certainly the longest space of time between first and second drafts that I've ever experienced. Given the time that had gone by, the rewrites were extensive. 

A story cannot stay the unchanged when the storyteller continues to grow and learn. This is one of the hardest parts of trying to "finish" a project, because every time you look at it, you are seeing it through different eyes. In this case, the view was extraordinarily different. Thankfully the base structure of the tale was inspired from source material, otherwise I probably would scrapped the whole thing after a three year layoff. 

Though the plot changed, quite drastically in some places, it was the tone that I concentrated on altering. Sometimes that can be an even harder process. Seeing as how I tend to scrutinize every sentence, phrase, and word, changing the tone through the course of an entire novel can get a little exhausting. But alas, I made it the end. Now I just have to read through it and make sure I've achieved what I set out to do.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Sometime in the night over this past week, the seasons changed in the blink of an eye. Autumn has arrived in the mountains, bringing with it a change in the leaves and a fresh craving for folk music. And while I did find myself attracted to folk releases this week, I still have quite a few rock albums that need judgement passed upon them. So in another Roundup of all new releases, I give to you a mix of some highly anticipated albums, and a few interesting surprises. Hopefully there is something on here that will peak your interest. Enjoy.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Mended With Gold: Due out at the end of the month, this is the third album from the Toronto based indie rock band. Their previous two records were ones I quite enjoyed, making this a band to watch over the last five years. Three years have passed between this and their last album, but not much seems to have changed in terms of their musical sense. An indie rock album with heavy Neil Young undertones and a rustic vibe that fits in extremely well with the rest of their catalog. This is a great Fall record which should get a lot of play in the coming season. "On the Rocks," "Runners in the Night," "Not Love or Death," Terrified" and "To Be Scared" are among my favorite tracks. 

Tina Dico - Whispers: Released a few weeks back, this is the Danish singer songwriter's ninth album, and possibly her best yet. This is a more scaled back, spiritual folk album than her previous work. Though I appreciate the pop folk sensibility on her wonderful 2010 album, "Welcome Back Colour," there is something special about the raw power of this record. From start to finish, this is one of the most beautiful records I've heard this year. As always, her voice shines through, all the while accompanied with a perfect sense of minimal instrumentation that creates the sweet sadness that permeates through the album. "I Want You," "You Don't Step Into Love," and "The Woman Downstairs" are standout tracks.

King Tuff - Black Moon Spell: The Vermont garage rock artist is set to release his fourth album later this month. This is an artist I've been wanting to check out for quite some time, so I figured this was as good a place as any to dive in. This is guitar driven rock that could easily draw comparisons to Ty Segall but with a psychedelic darkness to it. There's also something sort of '90s and playful about it that feels fun, and strangely refreshing. It feels to me like the kind of album Bevis Frond might make after spending a summer at the Jersey shore. "Rainbow's Run," "Magic Mirror," "Eyes of the Muse," and the title track are my personal favorites.

The Vines - Wicked Nature: It's been three years since the Australian rock band's last record, which could be why they decided to make this month's release a double album. This album goes back to their roots, opting for a more direct garage rock feel on the almost universally short tracks. I've always enjoyed Craig Nicholl's vocals, a sort of post-grunge voice. It's no wonder the band started as a Nirvana cover band, the influence is still clear, but unlike other bands, they are inspired by Kurt's sound rather than attempting to ape it. Super catchy guitar hooks, rumbling drums, and Craig's howl make this album perhaps their most complete release. "Ladybug," "Green Utopia," "Rave It," and "Everything Else" are among the many great songs on this album, one that will most likely go down as the band's landmark release. 

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams: After an excessive output over the past decade, the former Whiskeytown songwriter, and alt country pioneer, recently took some time off. The result of his time off is this self-titled rebirth album which came out this past week. Easily his best effort in over ten years, this record sees him channeling '80s Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen in order to filter them through an indie lens. Though there are a few misses here, the highlights more then make up for it. And as it turns out, the EP I reviewed a few weeks ago hinted at nothing that appears on this album. "I Just Might," "Stay With Me," "Trouble" and "Gimme Something Good" are the best songs in my opinion.

Joy - Under the Spell of Joy: In August, this little known heavy psych band from San Diego released their third album in three years. Taking a '60s jam approach to the genre, the album wanders furiously from one groove into the next with blazing energy that is more Captain Beyond than Cream. There's no denying the spirit they play with, it's almost never ceasing as they plow through the songs. The only problem I have, one which I have with most jam-oriented bands, is the repetitive feel that sinks over the course of an album. Interestingly enough though, the second side of this album is far superior than the first, and by the end, I was very much enjoying it. "Evil," "Driving Me Insane," "Back to the Sun," and "Death Hymn Blues" are my personal favorites. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fan Mail Friday

Another classic Pirate School moment, expressed and illustrated by a third grader. This is the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ender's Game...Now I Can't Wait to Read the Book!

As anyone who follows this blog can tell you, I'm a sucker for sci-fi films and television. Combine that with coming of age literature and the appeal is irresistible. It's like mixing peanut butter and chocolate, the two great tastes that taste great together. So with time on my hands last night, and access to HBO GO, I took a plunge into Earth's future to follow the challenges of a boy named Ender.

The first thing I can say about the film is that it's visually stunning. I've always thought CGI works best when it isn't trying to create moving active beings that end up looking like a fake mess (Transformers anyone?). When it's used to create settings, especially in space, the results are typically breathtaking. Ender's Game is a visually beautiful movie, almost any frame can be taken and looked upon as art. But visual wonder is only worthwhile if there is substance behind it.

Ender's Game definitely has substance. At the heart of the story, it deals with issues of leadership and command, not to mention those of loyalty that go hand-in-hand with leading. It tackles these things in interesting, if not exactly profound ways. In some ways Ender is too much of a natural leader, never struggling with the obstacles in his way. His struggles stem more from authority as he remains forever suspicious, though too trusting, of those above him. 

The aspect of the story that really appealed to me was this idea of mass indoctrination of the selected children and the way they'd been manipulated into treating war like a game. When the book was written in 1985, that was simply science-fiction projection, but today it's reality. We've seen our military use video games to train soldiers, and you know they secretly love the way Call of Duty and the like desensitize their potential soldiers. The problem with violent games is that they are fun, and winning is fun, but while in the game, the player easily disconnects the situations from any sense of reality. The consequences of this show themselves to dramatic effect in the film, giving the climax an emotional weight that the rest of the film seems to lack.

In the end, Ender's Game suffers a little from the same symptoms of many movies of the past decade. Visually Stunning. Emotionally Vacant. Though Ender is faced with many opportunities to develop a deep sense of character, the film never really goes there until the very end. Definitely a worthwhile film that I enjoyed. There was nothing to really dislike, but then again nothing about it that I truly loved either. By the time it was over, I found myself really looking forward to reading the book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

The floodgates have opened, ushering a tidal wave of new releases to end the late summer drought that I've suffered through. For weeks I've been talking about upcoming albums that had me drooling, well it seems a good number of them finally emerged this week, leaving me with enough albums for the next few Roundups. It's been one of those weeks that feels like Christmas morning, not knowing what to listen to first or next. As I look at the list of what I've chosen to review, it appears that I was in a rock mood and gravitated to a lot of those albums, probably because of the weather which decided to hit us with the hottest temperatures of the summer now that Fall is right around the corner. So the folk vibe will have to wait another week or so before it gets into full swing. For now it's time to turn up the volume and gets yer rocks off. Enjoy!

Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World: Ten years after their epic debut, the two-piece Toronto noise rock band will finally release their follow-up album this week. A rather long split separates the releases, along with a few solid solo releases from Sebastian Grainger, but this album proves that no matter what has transpired between, the chemistry is still there. Consisting only of guitar and drums (just as The White Stripes and Black Keys) the band manages to squeeze an incredibly full sound out of the instruments, and actually go much heavier than the other mentioned bands. They take their influence from punk rather than blues, and it shows. Perhaps the most anticipated release of the year for me, actually I've been anticipating ever since the reformed two years ago, this album has not disappointed. There isn't a song that I don't like, but as with the first album, it will take several listens for the real standout tracks to surface. Welcome back!

Kill It Kid - You Owe Nothing: The third album from the UK indie rock band, released last week, is a blues influenced indie rock record. It reminds me a little bit of another blues rock band I've been listening to of late, Black Pistol Fire. Like that band, this shows equal parts influence from contemporary garage blues like Dead Weather and '70s blues hard rock like Deep Purple. The result, while nothing particularly groundbreaking, is thoroughly enjoyable. "High Class," "Sick Case of Loving You," and "I'll be the First" are among my favorites. Definitely worth checking out for fans of heavy leaning blues rock.

The Icarus Line - Avowed Slavery: My favorite L.A. noise rock band surprised me this week with the release of this so-called "mini-album" which they declare to be a companion to last year's phenomenal "Slave Vows" record. These five songs, most longer than 6 minutes, were apparently recorded at the same time as the record and it shows. They have the same dark energy that made that record one of my favorites of last year. It also seems to contain a lot of the chaos that made there 2004 album "Penance Soiree" one of my all time favorite records. "Junkadelic," "Raise Yer Crown" and "Salem Slims" are standouts, but honestly, all five songs are brilliant.

The Kooks - Listen: The UK indie pop rock band returns after a three year silence with this typically upbeat album. I've always enjoyed their way of blending BritPop influences with contemporary indie rock, creating a sound that feels like Suede mixed with The Magic Numbers. It's catchy, but frayed around the edges just enough to feel special. This is their best album since 2008's "Konk" and perhaps after a few more listens, might even equal that record. Wisely, they've infused a disco dance element into most songs in order to appeal to the new trend in indie pop, but they do it well, without abandoning what fans have always liked about them. "Westside," "It Was London," "Bad Habit," and "Backstabber" are standout tracks for me.

J Mascis - Tied to a Star: The Dinosaur Jr. front man's first solo album since the wonderful "Several Shades of Why" in 2011 was released two weeks ago. It's another beautiful acoustic singer songwriter piece that feels like a trip into a nice hazy world. In some ways it feels like a mellower version of Kurt Vile's "Walkin' a Pretty Daze" but perhaps that's only because Mascis is an obvious influence on him. This is one of those perfect Sunday records to listen to while lazing around and letting your mind drift toward internal stories. "And Then," "Better Plane," "Trailing Off," and "Me Again" are just a few of the songs that make this a must-have record.

Sinoia Caves - Beyond the Black Rainbow: Released this week was the second album from Black Mountain keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt under the Sinoia Caves moniker. The previous album, 2006's "The Enchanter Persuaded" is one my all time favorites, so needless to say I was super excited to see this come into existence. With a progressive electronic sound, the album creates imaginary worlds of mystery. Like most electronic music of this genre, it's very much a mood piece, something to create an atmosphere, though unlike other records, it varies the mood of the music, going from euphoric to slightly spooky. Definitely one to check out for fans of ambient leaning electronic music.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Rarely does a movie attempting to project the complexities of growing up get everything so right. I can think of a handful. Millions, Hope & Glory, and Where the Wild Things Are come to mind, though those films focused on narrow "coming of age" moments in a characters life. Boyhood, the new film by Richard Linklater, is unparalleled in its scope of trying to capture the way characters navigate through life. 

Filmed over the course of 12 years, with the same actors, the audience literally watches the characters growing up. In this day and age of assembly line blockbusters, it's basically unheard of that such an ambitious project would ever see the light of day, or be so amazingly wonderful. The patience of a director to stick with this kind of project is enough to be commended, but to actually achieve this kind of result is worthy of immense praise.

The thing that struck me the most was how even though this is the portrait of a boy growing up in the last decade, I could have just as easily been watching moments from my own childhood 20 years earlier, and I'm sure someone 20 years older than me would feel the same way. This is due to the film's careful focus on the feelings that surround the events. It's not trying to be a portrait of what it means to be a child in today's world, but rather chooses to examine the universal trials and tribulations that come with growing up. 

There are many dramatic moments. The main character's life is populated with shitty people, just as all of our lives are. But the movie never steers into melodrama. The expressions, and uncomfortable reactions of the character are enough to convey the emotions such events cause. I found myself remembering similar events in my life and could clearly identify with the character without too much having to be explained. And now, as an adult, I was also able to identify and sympathize with the parents as they struggled to guide their children through the difficulties of life, always doing the best they could. Both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette do an amazing job of playing the role of parents who don't always know what's best, but never falter in their attempt to provide a good life for their children. 

Groundbreaking. Honest. Brilliant.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Fear not, the end of the world has not arrived even though the Roundup was missing in action last weekend. Despite popular belief, that is not one of the signs of the aforementioned apocalypse. So as you revel in relief, you can look forward to a welcome return of random thoughts on random albums. Not only was I indisposed last weekend with travel, it had also been yet another week of limited musical interest. Thankfully this week sees a turning of the tide, bringing some of the much anticipated Fall releases to the light of day, along with a strange trend of "hands" on album covers. I used to love this time of year when a new school year would begin, and while toiling away with the burden of new classes, the universe rewarded us with new music. Even though school is a thing of the past, thankfully the universe doesn't seem to know that. A lot to be excited about here, so enjoy!

Blonde Redhead - Barragán: After 20 years of existence, the New York noise rock band returns with their first proper album in four year. It's been seven since their breakout 23 album and in that time they seem to have evolved into purveyors of moody dream pop. Their vision of this genre is made intriguing by the remnants of their early sound which provides a wrinkle into the sound, making it feel unexpected and a little uneasy. This album sort of feels like a pleasant nightmare, something The Xx might make after spending months inside an old Victorian country home that may or may not be haunted. "No More Honey," "Dripping" and "Defeatist Anthem (Harry & I)" are among the best tracks on a solid comeback.

Michael James Tapscott - Good Morning, Africa: This is the third solo album from Tapscott, half of the band Odawas. Like the band's newest album, there are elements of this that remind me of Pink Floyd in their Meddle/Atom Heart Mother phase, but decidedly more drone and free folk in feeling than the Odawas' work. The album spends most of its time as if existing in outer space, peering down on a lonely and beautiful planet, and only occasionally comes down to the surface to bring that beauty into clear focus. It plays like a film score to a movie that will only ever be seen in the listener's mind, and what a wonderful film that is. Definitely not for everyone, but any admirers of space sounds and drone folk will appreciate this delicate record.

Ryan Adams - 1984: After taking some time off, the former Whiskeytown singer/ songwriter is set to return later this fall with a new album. In the meantime, this little EP consisting of 10 songs, all around a minute in length, was released earlier this month as a kind of teaser. Though given the brevity of the material, it's hard to really gauge much from this, except that his energy is high and his enthusiasm seems to have returned. More rock than his classic efforts, "Rats in the Wall" and "Wolves" certainly have left me eager for the new album.

The Magic Numbers - Alias: The London indie pop band burst onto the scene back in 2005 with a stellar debut of beautiful folk pop songs written by the pair of brother/sister siblings. I loved that album, and enjoyed the follow-up the following year. It's now been four years since their third album, and I was actually surprised at how much I missed them. I've been listening to the debut album quite a lot in recent months and was eager for new material. With a sadder tone, this album is just as beautiful and shows real growth. "Out on the Streets," "Shot in the Dark," "You K(no)w," "Enough," and "Wake up" are among my favorites on this solid album.

Interpol - El Pintor: After four years off, and several solo works by Paul Banks, the New York post-punk darlings return for their fourth album. In some ways this feels very much like Paul's 2012 Banks album, which I suppose didn't really differ too vastly from Interpol. Full of eerie sounds and imagery, coupled with bursts of swirling rock goodness, this is the kind of record we've come to expect from the band, which given their limited output, isn't such a bad thing. They wisely seem to wait long enough between albums to give us what we've been missing. This probably won't win them any new acclaim or legion of fans, but it should satisfy their existing followers. I know it satisfied me. "Tidal Wave" "Breaker 1" "Anywhere," and "All the Rage Back Home" are my current favorites.

Astronauts - Hollow Ponds: This is a debut album from a new London based band. An indie folk record that takes liberties with dream pop and electronic undertones, this is one of the more exciting debuts that I've heard this year. It has the feel of a grey and rainy day, which typically is the kind of feel I prefer my albums to have. The music very much matches the cover image, and reminds a bit of Midlake crossed with Gliss. A dreamlike quality prevails throughout, but it never really wavers from reality and remains grounded with an honesty. "Vampires," "Flame Exchange," "Skydive" and the title track are standouts in my opinion.