Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

This time of the year is always slow when it comes to new releases, which thankfully gives me time to catch up on some albums from the year that I hadn't yet had the chance to listen to. As the year winds down, I like to make sure I hear all of the music that I think might end up on my year-end favorites. It's never possible to get them all in before the calendar turns over, but I try my best. This week I have a few 2014 records that I've wanted to check out for a while. There a nice mix of heavy stuff, hip hop and of course, psychedelic tunes. Hopefully you'll find something that will make your year. Enjoy.

The Oscillation - From Tomorrow: A few months ago, the London psychedelic space rock band released their third record. Like a sonic journey through a future wasteland, this Spacemen 3 sounding record combines the elements of drone and shoegaze with the psychedelic edge of Hawkwind. Being a new band for me, this was the record that really blew me away this week. It's a relentless album that manages to keep up the intensity throughout and never veers into boring or slow. There's an exciting danger that lurks under the surface, something reminds me of early Rapture. Definitely worth checking out. I know I'll be checking out their previous albums. "All You Want To Be," "Corridor," "No Place To Go," and "Chrome Cat" are among my favorites.

Kadavar - Live In Antwerp: For the last two years in a row this Berlin based stoner metal band have released two albums, both of which have ended up on my best of the year list. Without an album of new material, they released this stellar live record over the summer. When a live record sounds as tight as the studio albums, you know a band is in perfect groove. The setlist covers songs from both of their albums and includes a previously unreleased song. A perfect gift for fans of the band or fans of the genre, and a nice way to get the best of both albums in one set if that's your thing.

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2: The second album from the hip hop tag team of El-P and Killer Mike is already showing up on best of the year lists and I figured it was time to pay attention. I've been a fan of El-P's work for years, he's one of the consciousness rappers that also has a great hardcore flow, and his sound pairs well with Killer Mike's style...and both go with the extremely interesting and fresh sounding beats throughout this album. I disagree with some of what I've read because I don't see this as a revolutionary album, but it's still a very exciting return of hardcore hip hop that incorporates a lot of the newer trends of the genre. "Jeopardy," "Lie, Cheat, Steal" "All Due Respect," and "Angel Duster" are my favorites. 

Archie Bronson Outfit - Wild Crush: The fourth album from the UK indie rock band came out this past spring, and what I really like about it is the growth it shows from their previous solid albums. This one evolves their garage rock sound into a psychedelic blues kind of album that feels exciting. I think they benefit from taking time between albums. They've only released four in ten years, which seems to allow them to develop. A lot of late '60s throwback sound on here, but in a positive way. "Cluster Up and Hover," "Love to Pin You Down," and "We Are Floating" are standout tracks.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - +- EP: The San Fran psychedelic band continues their resurgence, following up their brilliant LP from earlier in the year with this brilliant EP. Ever since Matt Hollywood and other original members rejoined the band several years ago, they are once again living up to that potential they showed in the early '90s to become the greatest psychedelic band of their generation. These four songs have a classic BJTM fuzzy bliss sound. "Heat," "Leave It Along," and "Reconstruction" are among their best songs ever in my opinion. Fantastic stuff.

Jean Grae - Gotham Down Deluxe: For the past decade, the Brooklyn rapper has been one of the best MCs around, sadly flying under the radar. The compilation released last year collects a bunch of EPs into one album. Jean's flow is as spectacular as ever on these songs, and the interludes, unlike on many hip hop albums, are actually funny and poignant. She's intelligent and displays deep insights on life that rank right up there with other top conscious hip hop. "Before the Summer Broke," "Kill Screen" and "BITS" are my personal favorites.

The Market of Oddities

There was a time in my life when I dreaded getting editorial feedback because I knew it would mean a lot of rewriting and rethinking of ideas that I'd had completed in a form that felt right. Over time I've learned that thoughts are never really completed and have learned to find enjoyment in returning to worlds of my imagination for further exploration. 

After talking with my agent this week, I'll be returning to the goblin market and the fears that are sold there. It's rare that I'm told to make my work "darker" and "weirder," which are elements that I typically find myself toning down between drafts. Needless to say, I welcome this kind of feedback. Adding unusual scenes and aspects is something I could never tire sure beats adding characters or changing character motivations. 

So as I get ready to dive back in, please send all of your dark thoughts and fears my way. Thank you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

I'm finally back! Last weekend I moved out of my home of ten years. There was a ton of crap to pack, a lot of it music and a lot of it toys, and naturally books. Piles and piles and piles of books! Given that the decision was made quickly, leaving little time for packing, I must say I have not had the chance to listen to new music in the past two weeks. What I have been listening to is my record collection which I carefully unpacked and set up in a more central location of the abode. But rather than bore you with reviews of albums I've probably already reviewed at some point, I've decided to focus on the theme of home and share my favorite songs about the topic. Enjoy. 

o'death - "Home"

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - "Home"

Simon & Garfunkel - "Homeward Bound"

Nirvana - "Sliver"

Guns N' Roses - "Paradise City"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

As Thanksgiving weekend comes to an end and the Christmas season gets into full swing, it's just about time for all of those holiday gift sets to hit the market, which generally means a slow down in new releases that will last into the winter months. This week I listened to quite a few new releases, two of which I'd been eagerly anticipating. I also continued my exploration into the endless wealth of CDs that clutter my home and plucked out a few more interesting pieces to share. All in all, I'm pretty damned thankful for the year in music so far, and the many years that have come before, and all of those that will come after. Enjoy.

The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What a Beautiful World: It's been four years since the Portland indie band released an album, which is just about four years too long. While Colin Meloy was finishing his children's literature masterpiece, the band was on a kind of hiatus, but as this record due out in January proves, the time was put to good use. They've moved away from the country folk of their previous record and return to the more quirky aspects of their earlier work, which is nice to hear again on songs like "Philomena." There are also soft and sad moments that fit with their recent work, like on "A Beginning Song." "Make You Better," "The Singer Addresses His Audience," and "Carolina Low" are standout tracks on another fantastic album by one of my favorite bands. 

Wu Tang Clan - A Better Tomorrow: This week we see the return of the Wu when the Shaolin crew releases their long awaited new album. Though they've remained active recently, they haven't released a proper album, with all members working together in over five years. The first thing that makes a Wu Tang album standout is RZA's beats, which are always identifiable, but he's always advancing his art and bringing new stylings to hip hop. This album is helped by the fact that two of the group's superstars, Method Man and the Chef, seem to be back on top of their game. Like most hip-hop albums, I found this one to be a little uneven. More than most genres, it really seems like a singles driven area and even the Wu are not immune. "Ruckus in B Minor," "Ron O'Neal," "Keep Watch," and "Mistaken Identity" are my favorite tracks.

The Dirtbombs - Ultraglide in Black: This amazing soul revival record is the second album from the Detroit band. Released in 2001 among a wealth of other great records coming out of the Motor City at the time, this album is a throwback to to the old Motown sound, but with a garage rock edge to it. I've owned this album since it came out and have always loved it. Whenever I put it on, it never fails to put me in a good moon. I once had tickets to see them play the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, but after a few too many drinks and a turn of circumstances, I ended giving my tickets to the actor Kevin Corrigan on the sidewalk.  "Chains of Love," "If You Can Want," and "Livin' for the City" are highlights.

Toy - Join the Dots: The second album from the London based psychedelic shoegaze band was released at the tail end of last year. I first heard about them a few weeks ago when they were mentioned with a handful of other bands I've been into recently. On this album, the sounds spin into dizzy patterns making it quite hypnotic at times. It's really a nice play on the shoegaze sound, bringing intensity to it, elevating it from the element of boredom that often comes with the genre. Kind of like a fuzzed out version of Tame Impala, this is definitely an enjoyable listen and a band to follow.

Jerusalem - Black Horses: Originally formed in the early '70s, this UK hard prog rock band released their debut in '72 and toured with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep. They broke up that same year over creative differences, only to reform thirty years later to release their second album in 2009. This month they delivered this, their third album, one that is part throwback, with roots firmly in '70s classics, and part contemporary heavier prog. For the most part, the combination works well, creating an interesting and enjoyable listen. There are a few tracks where it falters, but all in all, a solid record with "Puppet King," "The Albatross," "Smokestack Ammunition," and "Surfing from Sydney to Marrakech" being the highlights.

Gray Matter - Thog: Released in 1992, this is an album I bought when I was 16 and absolutely loved the high energy post hardcore vibe on this Dischord Records release. The band is from D.C. and released only one other album, way back in 1985, which was definitely more of a legitimate hardcore record. This album has a much bigger sound, incorporating the still underground 90's alternative into traditional hardcore, a combination that would later develop into what we know as emo. Having not listened to this in over a decade, I dusted off the disc, put it on, and thoroughly enjoyed. It brought me right back to the carefree angst of my youth. "Second Guess," "The Disinclined," and their cover of "I've Just Seen a Face" are standout tracks.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Oh, To Feeling Thankful...

Last year on this day, I wrote about how I'd grown to find joy in unexpected things and how I was determined to find something positive even when things seemed bleak. A lot has changed over the past twelve months. Life seems to be moving in a positive direction, and I attribute some of that to my positive perspective. I've come to trust in things working out. That's not to say that I've stopped working towards desired outcomes, but I no longer worry about things that are out of my control. And though there are things I'd want to change in the world, I am truly thankful for the things I do have. As my amazing wife and I get ready to begin the next phase of our lives with our expected baby daughter, there is an awful lot for me to feel thankful for, not just on this one day of the year, but on every day going forward.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

This has been an extremely busy week, but one where my activities lent themselves to music listening. Granted, a lot of that listening time was spent on one four disc box set, but even so, I still had time to catch up on a few new releases. I'm also continuing my rediscovery of albums from the past during the great reorganization of my collection. I found a few old favorites as well as a few albums that for whatever reason I never spent enough time with after purchasing. That's one of the aspects that makes going through the work worth it. I always find things I forgot I owned. Hopefully there's something on here for you to eventually forget about and rediscover as well. Enjoy.

Wilco - Alpha Mike Foxtrot (Rare Tracks 1994-2014): This four disc set encompassing the Chicago alt-country band's entire career was released this week, yet another wonderful gift for their fans, something they have always done well. This was a two day listening experience, and quite a fantastic one at that. There's a wealth of live versions, some with great guests, like Andrew Bird on "Jesus Etc.," and Fleet Foxes on a cover of "I Shall Be Released." Hearing this set in its entirety is a great reminder of just how amazing this band has been for the past 20 years, and how important Jeff Tweedy is as a songwriter with the ability to capture the weariness of these times. This is a must for fans, even ones who think they have too much Wilco as it it. It's also a great item for the casual fan who doesn't know where to begin. Way too many individual songs to list.

TV on the Radio - Seeds: The Brooklyn indie band made their return with their first album in over three years with the release of their sixth album this past week. Over the years their sound has come to incorporate more and more electronic elements, and this album certainly continues on that path. Like their last few records, I found this to be very enjoyable, yet sort of forgettable. Nothing particularly stands out or sticks in my mind. It all easily blends in, making it a nice mood album but not necessarily a cherishable one. "Happy Idiot," "Test Pilot," and "Trouble" were the real standout tracks for me. Who knows, this may be album in ten years that I forgot I owned and rediscover.

The Beta Band - Three E.P.'s: This is an album I've owned since it's release in 1998, and one I used to listen to religiously during that year. I listened to it this week for the first time in over a decade and was reminded on the joy these early works of the Edinburgh indie band evoke. Part folk, part neo-psych, part indietronica, there is a beautiful groove to this album. They were part of that late 90's post-Brit Pop wave of bands from the UK who were trying something different, along with Gomez and Belle and Sebastian. This release saw them get some fame, and even appeared in High Fidelity, but the band ended a handful of years later without ever fulfilling the promise shown here. "Dry the Rain," "Inner Meet Me," and "It's Over" are personal favorites of mine.

Soen - Tellurian: Released this month was the second album from the progressive metal group comprised of members from Opeth, Testament, Death, and Willowtree. Given that a good portion of the group are Scandinavian, they definitely resemble the current trend of symphonic metal coming out of that part of the world. It feels sort of like a later day Porcupine Tree record, yet explores different paths. At times it can be very appealing, but I suppose I'd hoped it would be slightly more progressive. Unlike Mars Volta for example, they don't venture into new areas, choosing to follow courses already set out in progressive metal. All in all, a solid okay and worth a listen. "Pluton," "Ennui," and "Void" are my personal favorites.

Boris - Amplifier Worship: This is the second album from the Tokyo kings of sludge metal. Released in 1998, just when the genre was beginning to blossom, and long before their 2005 breakout "Pink," these five tracks of epic length are a blueprint for the coming drone metal wave that followed a decade later. The great thing about this album is the amount of metal in each song. Sometimes Boris can emphasize the 'drone' too much and forget the 'metal', but not here. It's really one of their stronger albums, right up there with "Akuma no Uta." The nearly fifteen minute "Kuruimizu" is my favorite track on here.

Detroit Cobras - Seven Easy Pieces: One of the less widely known bands of the early '00s garage rock revival, the Cobras were unique in their incorporation of rockabilly into the sound of the times. Another CD that I've had for nearly a decade, this E.P. dates from 2004, when the band is probably at its tightest. Rachel Nagy's sultry old school voice is as seductive as ever on these seven tracks that are a throwback to swinging '60s garage style. One of my favorites of theirs, definitely worth checking out. "My Baby Loves The Secret Agent," and "Ya Ya Ya (Looking for My Baby)" are two really excellent tracks. 

The Explosion - The Explosion: This Boston punk band emerged in 2000 with two E.P.s and a full length. This is the second of the two E.P.s and one I bought on a whim about 13 years ago. Listening to it again this week, I've had the same positive reaction that I had back then. It's rare to hear an authentic sounding punk record that wasn't recorded 30 years ago, and these kids manage to do that. Despite the trend of the time to move towards power punk, this record stays true to the original aggressive sound of punk and for that, it's definitely worthwhile for fans of the genre.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fan Mail Friday

As I've said many times in the past, one of the best things about being a children's book author is getting letters from children who loved the books. They are always fun, and always make me smile. Most have a character that is all their own. The reason I love this letter so much is that she loves the pony book, not because it has ponies, but because it has kitties. Brilliant!

This letter is in response to a Hello Kitty book that I wrote about ten years ago. For those who didn't know, I've written three Hello Kitty books. Of all the media related tie-ins I've done, these are my favorite, probably because I'm also a huge fan of Hello Kitty (she was my first cartoon crush back in first grade).