Friday, March 23, 2018

The Sounds We See

As I wrote yesterday, I've been insanely busy this past month with grad school, and honestly, for the past year. Given that I also have a three year old, and a full time job, my time for writing has been limited to say the least. Despite this, I've written a few times over the past half year or so that ideas have been gestating and the itch to get back to writing has grown more severe over the past few months, an itch that grew last night during a concert I attending.

I went to see Langhorne Slim in Woodstock last night, and while he was amazing, this post is about the opening performer, James Wallace of Skyway Man. There was something about his songs that created intense images in my head, images involving two of the stories that have been gestating in there. Music has always acted as a fertilizer for my imagination, but every now and then I encounter something that acts like Miracle Gro. 

He was selling his album between acts and as I was the only one there, we chatted a bit and I got him to sign the record. I can't wait to have a little spurt of time to listen to it and let it inspire me some more.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Out of the Woods

This past month was a bit brutal. As some of you may know, I've been going to grad school to get my Master's in Library Science and I'm nearing the end of that course. However, the end of the road comes with heavy traffic as I've been trying to accelerate through to the end. This past quarter, I took two classes, neither of which really had much to do with my career plans, but were the only two classes offered that went toward my degree requirements. 

The courses were HTML/CSS website building, requiring me to learn HTML and hand code a 7 page website and using a CSS template to create another one. The other course was about building a database and learning SQL language. None of this was anything I knew anything about and meant a ton of learning of two computer languages. Needless to say, my time has been very limited. That is the sole reason for the lack of posts on this blog. But both those classes are over, so I'm back. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Weekend Music Roundup

The Roundup returns this week after a week of being too overloaded to get around to putting the finishing touches on my thoughts. This week features a mix of old and new from my recent listening habits. There's some great psychedelic garage rock to be heard on here, and a few oldies but goodies that I picked up on the cheap. Hopefully there's something here that sparks your interest. Enjoy.

Ty Segall - Freedom's Goblin: Currently the most prolific artist out there, Ty has released his first album of the year and it's another stellar effort that continues his hot streak. Fitting right in where he left off on his self-titled album, this is a fuzzed out interpretation of blues rock translated into garage rock aesthetics. On an album without a truly weak track, "Fanny Dog," "Despoiler of Cadaver," "Cry Cry Cry," "She," and "The Main Pretender" are standouts. Another one his albums that will probably end up on my favorites of the year.

The Deviants - Ptooff!: The short-lived London band's 1967 debut is one of the lost masterpieces that serve as the foundation of psychedelic garage rock. They lasted only two years, but the rhythm section went on to become the rhythm section for Twink's Pink Fairies and Paul Rudolph had a brief stint in Hawkwind. I heard this gem while in the record store just before Christmas and was blown away. I could kick myself for not buying it then.

The Glorious Sons - Young Beauties and Fools: The second album from Canadian y'alternative band reminds me of Lucero in the way it interprets rock through a southern country lens. The singer has a raw and powerful voice which fits will with the bar rock sound. This is far from a perfect album, but in the right mood, it's an upbeat feel good foot-stomper. "My Poor Heart," "Everything's Alright," "Godless, Graceless and Young," "Sawed off Shotgun," and "So Much Love to Give" are my favorite songs on this decent record.

Adam Ant - Friend or Foe: After disbanding Adam and the Ants, the new wave icon released his first solo effort in 1982. This sees him move even farther from the punk roots of the Ants and further embrace the New Wave revolution. Much like David Johansen's Buster Poindexter, this finds Adam embrace different musical influence from reggae to ska, that merges with rockabilly and his own sense of weirdness to create a unique record that feels very unique in it's style. "Something Girls," "Desperate But Not Serious," and a fantastic version of The Doors "Hello, I Love You" are my personal favorites.

Grand Funk - Live Album: Released in November of 1970, a few months after the Flint band's third album, this is obvious attempt to capitalize on the band's rapid stardom with an offering for Christmas. But it's also attempt to catch the power of a band that is clearly a "live" band and bring some of that energy to the record. I'm actually not a believer of being able to capture the live experience and feel that bands always sound better on studio albums than live ones, and this is no exception. That's not to say this is a blistering record, it's just that the studio albums' sound is more blistering...and a lot less drum solo.

Friday, February 23, 2018

School in the 21st Century

In the wake of yet another school shooting massacre, our politicians have once again proposed the idea that the solution to the problem is to heavily arm schools. Because naturally the answer to a gun problem is more guns. Putting more and more guns in schools will of course keep them safe. I mean, what could go wrong?

Any reasonably sane person would be able to come up with many scenarios to answer that question. The most obvious is that teachers are not police officers, and they didn't go into teaching to become security guards. But putting all that aside, putting everything to do with adults aside, what does it do to the children who attend these schools? How is modeling schools after our wonderful prison system a benefit to education? 

As crazy as all of these proposals are, the most troubling idea this week came from Betsy Devos when she brought up this idea of seating assignments. She discussed a school where currently teachers do not assign seats, but periodically allow students to pick who they want to sit next to and then switch it up every month or so. The rationale behind this idea is to identify the kids who nobody wants to sit next to, and expose them as potentially troubled kids who may be prone to creating a shooting event. This is so many kinds of crazy that I don't even know where to begin.

So, because a kid doesn't have friends, they are a potential shooter? Maybe. But for argument's sake, let's say he is not (and I say 'he' because all of these shootings have been done by males). But what is having him publicly endure a monthly form of ritual systematic bullying likely to do? And if someone is identified, are the schools equipped to get these kids the help they need? Probably not if the money is going to buy guns for teachers and give gun-carrying teacher's a bonus. 

Here's the thing, I'm not saying there is nothing that can be done to make schools safer...I'm sure there is. But I just don't think it has anything to do with putting guns in schools. And I don't understand why we can't add gun regulation to the conversation. WHY not both? And why not invest money into actually educating? Schools are dramatically under funded. If we fully funded schools, perhaps these "problem" kids could be given a better chance from a young age.

Seeing the kids of this country finally taking a stand on this has been both heartbreaking and hopeful. Politicians will only do what they are made to do by the will of the people. If we don't give up, we will win.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here once again, and so is the Roundup. I spent most of my time this week catching up on some things that have been waiting around for their turn on the list. There are a couple of 2018 releases on here, some new reissues, and a couple of old vinyl records that I picked up recently. Mostly rock, mostly bands that are familiar to me, yet there there are some new discoveries. Hopefully there's something on here you'll want to check out. Enjoy.

The Warlocks - Vevey: The first live album from the L.A. based neo-psychedelic rock band captures a kind of raw grit that has been lacking from some of their more recent and polished releases. It's a career spanning set of fuzzed out rock that serves as a nice introduction for those who may have missed the last 20 years of this band's history. Like a dirty version of Spacemen3, these guys have been overlooked. "Caveman Rock," "Shake the Dope Out," "Lonesome Bulldog," and "Dead Generation" are among my personal favorites.

Red Stone Souls - Mother Sky: Hailing from Detroit, this four piece band brings the kind of destructive energy that one has come to expect from bands out of that town. This is their second record and it's a guitar driven version of heavy blues rock. Sort of like a modern heavy-psych version of Grand Funk, this is a fun record, even if it's not anything that hasn't been done before. "Nights Watchful Eye," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," and "Murder Thrills" are standouts for me on a record that can feel repetitive at times. 

The Rolling Stones - R.S.V.P. New Version: This bootleg captures studio outtakes from the Beggar's Banquet era, many of them extremely rough and raw, and some of them not very different from the final versions. Like The Beatles, it's always nice to hear this raw sound from The Rolling Stones as both bands were so carefully packaged because of expectations on their releases. Of course, The Beatles were far more produced, so the contrast when it comes to the Stones is much less, but still nice to hear.

Coleman Hawkins - Colman Hawkins: One of the local record shops always seems to have a bunch these "Archive of Folk & Jazz" albums in their $3 bin, so I always try to rummage through and find something to check out. This week it was Coleman Hawkins, a St. Louis saxophonist of the Big Band and Bop jazz era. Like all Big Band jazz, there is a part of it that is an adaptation of classical, warped around the edges to give it a life beyond math and instrumentation. Also, to anyone who grew up long after this age, it has the feel of old Hollywood soundtracks. There's something about those combinations that I can really get into early in the morning. The version of Brahms lullaby is phenomenal.

The Cure - Acoustic Hits: Back in 2001, the band released a Greatest Hits set, and this collection of acoustic renditions was a bonus disc to the set. Last year, the band decided to release this a its own album and for good reason. These are songs that fans know well, but there is always something about hearing acoustic versions of electric songs that is appealing. The Cure are professionals, and the acoustic versions are detailed arrangements that aren't scaled back versions of the songs, but new interpretations. A definite must for fans looking to be reacquainted with songs they grew up with. 

Tracker - Rule of Three: This is the second album from the Austrian band and while decent enough, it's fairly by the numbers heavy rock. While the musical arrangements were interesting, the vocals were a little flat, leaving me with a sort of generic reaction. It will certainly appeal to anyone clambering for 90's style noise / grungy rock music. "Recalibrate" and "Veins Out" were the two real standout tracks for me on an otherwise passable album.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Sports Don't Matter...Except When They Do

What's the big deal about a team winning a Championship? What does it matter? These are the questions that non-sports fans always ask whenever somebody gets going on about their team. And the answer is of course, it doesn't matter. In the grand scheme of the world, it matters very little. Nothing is going to change, not really. But to fans, it matters on a level that is often far deeper than simply bragging or boasting, or a false sense of pride that you encounter from people. Sports allegiances are typically inherited, or sometimes developed in rebellion, which is still a form of inheritance. Because of this, there is usually a bit of family rolled up into rooting for a sports team. 

The Eagles winning the Super Bowl this past weekend was a moment that my brothers and sisters couldn't help but link with my father who passed away five years ago. My father lived and breathed Philly sports. It was the one thing that we could all bond over even if we were angry at each other about something else. My father and I had a bit of rocky relationship when he married my mother when I was 8, and even more so during my teenage years. But watching Eagles games together was the one thing that we could always do and we could rejoice in victory, and share disappointment in a loss.

When the Eagles went to four consecutive NFC championship games in the 2000's, I went to the first three with my father. The fourth one, he refused to go, and they made the Super Bowl. He, as was his nature, threw a huge viewing party for that game. They lost, but he never gave up hope. The first year after he died, it was Mondays when I missed him most, because we'd always talk on the phone every Monday about the game the day before. Since his death, I've invested much less in sports than I did when he was alive, because the connection with him, the conversations with him, were just as important to me. The one team that my passion for has never waned is the Eagles. So this past Sunday was a great day for me. An Eagles championship was something my Dad never got to witness, but my Dad was the kind of the person who would be just as happy that his children saw it, even if he didn't. So does it matter? No, not really...except that it does.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Weekend Music Roundup

The new year is in full swing and with it comes new music, easily the best thing about time moving forward. This week I listened to a few new releases that I'd been looking forward to hearing. I also give my opinions on some older albums that I recently picked up. Seeing as it is winter, the mix here is mostly folk rock and psych rock as that is what I tend to want to hear during the cold months. Hopefully there's something here you'll want to check out as well. Enjoy.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Wrong Creatures: The San Fran indie rock band's first album in five years is a fuzzed out mix of neo-psych and garage rock. It's another fine effort from a band that has been chugging along for nearly two decades. "King of Bones," and "Carried from the Start" are my personal favorites on what is their best album in ten years and hopefully signs that they will continue on.

Belle and Sebastian - How to Solve our Human Problems (Part 1): Released at the end of last year, this is the first of a three part EP series put out by the Scottish indie band. I've followed this band since their early days and love their moody sensitive folk pop. Their last album was a splendid return to form after a few years of decline. This goes back to their more dance pop style that I don't like as much as their heartfelt tales. It's okay, but I'm hoping the next two parts get back to type of songs I prefer. 

John Lennon - Rock 'n' Roll: Back in my Lennon obsession days of the late '90s, I managed to avoid this 1975 album for whatever reason. I hadn't heard good things, it was a collection of old time rock, and just didn't appeal to me. In the twenty plus years since, I've grown to appreciate the likes of Buddy Holly and have heard many of these Lennon tracks on various bootlegs, so when I saw a pristine copy of this on vinyl for $5, I snatched it up. This is Lennon at his most laid back. He's not being serious, he's just having fun with these great songs. Nothing earth shattering here, but a really enjoyable record.

Olivia Tremor Control - John Peel Sessions: These BBC recordings date from just before their landmark Black Foliage record came out and features music from prior to that. This is one of those bands that really influenced my musical listening direction in the late '90s and I was thrilled to find a copy of this limited edition vinyl. I put it on and instantly was transported into their picture book world filled with outsider art. Absolutely wonderful stuff. 

Tyrannosaurus Rex - In the Halls of Faeire: This collection of studio outtakes from '68 and '69 reveal a the beginnings of T.Rex as the band transformed from the Incredible String Band type of freak folk band Tyrannosaurus Rex. It mixes fairytale aesthics with burgeoning electric playground of the coming Glam Era in a delightful way. "Blessed Wild Apple Girl," "Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles," and "Demon Queen" are personal favorites on this nice archival release.

Robert Ellis and Courtney Hartman - Dear John: I've been really into Robert Ellis ever since his 2013 release "The Lights From the Chemical Plant" and was excited to see this album. He's folk singer songwriter with a country twang to his voice that pairs well with Courtney's sweeter sound. These are classic Americana sounding folk songs that feel genuine and traditional. It has a '70s AM radio feel to it, especially on tracks like "Gentle on My Mind", that remind me of the songs of my childhood. A very nice record that's perfect for lazy Sunday mornings.