Friday, April 17, 2015

Fiction Friday (36)


It's been ages since I posted a book review, mainly because I've have very little time to read of late. Over the past few weeks, I've been reading a book I've wanted to read for a long, long time. While I love getting to read something that has been on my list for a long time, there's also a bit of disappointment in that there is now one less story to look forward to. It's also rare that I go into a book with expectations, except in cases like this. Sometimes they live up to it, sometimes not. That is the joy of discovery and this was a trip I enjoyed. 

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
(1979)

As a child of the '80s, I was one of the vast number of kids who fell in love with this magical story through the power of film. Though I haven't seen it since my childhood, the images have stayed with my imagination. I'd been meaning to read the novel for ages, and finally got a copy as a gift for my birthday and dove right in.

This is one of those books that feels like two books in one. It's no surprise that the movie only covers the first half of the book. The second half of the book essentially begins a new story. After Bastian saves Fantastica by giving the Childlike Empress her new name, he physically enters the story in which he was reading. The novel switches gears from an adventure of courage and suspense, the story of Atreyu and his luckdragon, into one of self-discovery where the reader follows Bastian as he navigates the temptations and dangers of sudden power.

Bastian is a shy kid, dealing with the loss of his mother and a father made distant by his grief. Like a lot of children in such situations, he escapes into stories. When he actually enters the story and realizes he can have every wish granted, he of course wishes to be everything he is not. He wishes to be brave, dashing, wise, and feared. But the more he wishes to be somebody else, the more he forgets who he is, and he forgets how to love.

From a writing point of view, it's a brave journey to take the main character on as he becomes more and more unlikable, until the concluding action of course where all is corrected. Though it lacks the scope of some other fantasy books, falling more in line with the likes of "The Last Unicorn" than "The Chronicles of Narnia" this is certainly one of those thoroughly enjoyable stories that will entertain all ages.

Monday, April 13, 2015

When the Drums Cry...

Earlier today the Nobel Prize winning author Günter Grass passed away at the age of 87. His work was profoundly influential to my early development as a writer. I first encountered his work while attending NYU in the mid-90's. I read the The Tin Drum, not on assignment, and while reading probably five or so other assigned novels at the same time. Despite its girth, I devoured the story. The scenes played out in my imagination for weeks and months...from which the above illustration was born, drawn just days after finishing The Tin Drum. In the year that followed I quickly read the rest of the Danzig trilogy, which also blew me away. His approach to post-modern literature never forgot the importance of character, heart, and emotion. Another legendary voice has fallen silent, but his words will live on forever.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup


It has been a very busy week, leaving me with little time to digest new music, and as a result, I'm compelled to offer a shortened Roundup. Though condensed, this list is made up entirely of new releases by artists I've followed for years. It's always interesting to see how bands or songwriters progress during their career, and when you have the chance to follow over a period of time and experience it as it happens, that's even better. A lot of Midwestern inspired indie and alt country on this list, so hopefully you'll be in the mood for that on this day of resurrection. Enjoy.


My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall: Due out in a few weeks is the Louisville indie band's seventh album, and first in over four years. This is an album with a grand scope that attempts to sound huge on every track. There's a feeling of wide open spaces on here, which I enjoy. Too often bands tend to grow more claustrophobic as they go along, always trying to limit their risk. This is an attempt to be bold. It doesn't succeed on every track, but when it does, it's fantastic. After a slow start, the album grows into something epic, reminding me a bit of Pink Floyd's landmark '70s records. There's a ton of great classic folk-rock guitar grooves and alt-country moments that combine to make something unique sounding and not at all derivative. "In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)", "Get The Point," and "Spring (Among the Living)" make for a brilliant mid-album trio. "Like a River," "Tropics (Erase Traces)," and "Thin Line" are also stand out tracks. 

Simon Joyner - Grass, Branch & Bone: The Omaha singer songwriter's 15th album is an acoustic alt country gem, in the folkish style he's done so well for so long. Part Bob Dylan and part Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Simon Joyner has always been one of those interesting artists that remains under the radar despite his obvious talent. Though I've missed his more recent records, I followed his work for a long time and this album shows a deep growth in the song structure. He understands the need for songs of deep emotion to be contained in appealing melodies, the way Neil Young always has. "In My Drinking Dream," "Sonny," "You Got Under my Skin," and "Jefferson Reed" are among my favorites.

Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts - Blaster: The Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver front man has returned with a new band for his fourth solo album, released last week. As with a lot of solo albums from lead singers, there definitely feels like there may be an element missing here. That's not to say it falls flat on its face or anything. It's a solid hard rock album with a kind California laid back nature. It feels a little outdated at times, and lackluster at others, but there's still magic left on a few songs. "Hotel Rio," "White Lightning," and "Youth Quake" are standout tracks.

William Elliot Whitmore - Radium Death: The alt country singer songwriter released a new album the past week, his sixth and first since 2011. Unlike many of the alt-country acts, William draws heavily on bluegrass and roots music, giving his music an old timey sound. And keeping with old country music themes, many of the songs on here are sad songs, as the title and cover might suggest. "Civilzations," "A Thousand Deaths" and "Can't Go Back" are my personal favorites on a quality record that's pretty perfect if you're in the mood for it.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Not Like I Was, Not Like I Am


For one of the more intense scenes I decided to add to the revised draft of my novel, I did something that I don't typically like to do; I had my character step out of herself. In a fit of confusion, and a desire for control in a situation that continues to spiral out of her control, she takes on the personality traits of those she fears most. In a way, it's her attempt to understand them, but that's actually more of an excuse for her. The real motivation is that she is tired of being the victim and for once, even if it's for only a short moment, she wants to know what it feels like to be the perpetrator.

In the end, I think the scene worked extremely well and is quite powerful. I believe we all have those moments when we attempt to see how the other lives, so to speak. There's a sense of pleasure to be found in becoming what you hate, as well as a wealth of knowledge to be gained. But it's a dangerous game...and one that was very fun to write. Probably the most fun scene that I've written in a long time.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup (Singles Edition)


Given the cold spell in album releases of late, combined with the wealth of interesting singles, I've decided to devote this Roundup exclusively to singles, something I haven't done in quite some time. I've always been a big fan of singles, and B-Sides. They make nice additions to a collection, and have much snob appeal when it comes to ownership. In many of the cases here, they also serve as teasers for albums that I'm very much looking forward to. Some of my favorite bands are represented here, so hopefully you will have some time to check them out. Enjoy.

Blur - There Are Too Many of Us/ Go Out: As the release of their first album in 12 years approaches, the Brit Pop legends have released two new songs. These songs follow the glorious "Under the Westway" single from 2012. "Go Out" is an old school sounding Blur song, with fuzzy guitar and a club beat. "There Are Too Many of Us" is a beautiful, poignant ballad, the kind of song Damon Albarn has excelled at for the past 15 years. All in all, these two songs point to a wonderful return.

Bang Gang - Out of Horizon: The Icelandic indie pop's first release in 8 years doesn't stray far from the sound that made me fall in love with them years and years ago. With their fourth album due out in May, this single dropped in February. A combination of shoegaze and dream pop, this uptempo lullaby has been one of my favorite songs of the past few weeks. I'm really looking forward to the new record.

Peter Doherty - Flags of the Old Regime: Released this month, this single gives fans their first glimpse into a clean Pete Doherty and his new found passion for creating music. It seems sort of unfair to claim an artistic maturity to these two songs, especially when he has always been extremely talented, but somehow it seems undeniable that these songs show a new level of skill. Both songs are beautiful, and leave me excited to see what comes next.

Warpaint - No Way Out: The L.A. dream pop band just put out this new single, their first release since last year's amazing self-titled album. Showing no signs of losing their groove, these two tracks are eerie and wonderful. They make me think of soundtracks to empty city streets in the dead of night. A promising start to their next album.

The Dead Weather - Buzzkill(er): Released last year, this 7" contains two songs from the Jack White/ Alison Mossheart band. Both are heavy, Alison sung, blues rock numbers. Jack's guitar riffs on the B-Side are stellar and both tunes are right in line with their style. It makes me hope that they will get back together soon for their first album since 2010.

Gen X - Dancing With Myself: Released in 1980, this was Generation X's mega hit that propelled Billy Idol's career. I picked up this 12" single on vinyl in Seattle last year. I love the song, and couldn't resist the amazing cover. Perhaps the perfect '80s song, a combination of new wave, punk, pop, and synth rock. A prized possession to be sure.

Nacho Picasso - Smells Like Lean Spirit: Released in 2013, this digital single from the Seattle rapper is typical of his wit and skill. The song pays tribute to recent musical history of his town, not only in the clever cover and title, but in the verses, referencing Kurt, and Courtney. This could be his best song that wasn't a collaboration with Blue Sky Black Death.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Creation


As my journey into fatherhood quickly approaches, I've been thinking a lot about the act of creation. I've always been interested in the concept. As a writer, I'm constantly creating lives and stories, but they only exist in some other realm. Having a baby is an entirely different thing, and sometimes the whole thing can be overwhelming, contemplating how two people can create a life where one didn't exist before.

The other day, I was thinking about this, and I came to the conclusion that the concept that life is created by a divinity bothered me. A new life isn't made by an act of divine intervention, it is made by a man and a woman. To deny that is to deny the power we hold within us. It's what makes people believe that humans don't have the power to fix the problems of the world, when we do. If we can create life, we can certainly fix the environment, conquer hunger, poverty, and disease, but to do these things, we need to believe in ourselves and our ability to affect change. 

As a father, I want my daughter to be aware of her potential. I don't want her to ever think she can't do something. Of course, there are many things we can't do by ourselves, but together, I truly believe there isn't anything the human spirit cannot achieve. These are the values I want to pass on to her, because divinity is intrinsic within us all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup


As the week draws to a close, I'm ready to roundup the music that has occupied my head space for the past several days. Though it was another slow week for new music, the bulk of this week's list is made up of 2015 releases. I've been taking a few chances on things I know nothing about and catching up on new releases of bands that I've been following for quite some time. Also included are a few albums that I've owned for years and years. I'm still working my way slowly through the albums that I unearthed during my move towards the end of last year, and will continue to share those on weeks like this. Mostly rock music on here, so I hope you're in the mood. Enjoy.

Alamo Race Track - Hawks: Out this past week is the fourth album from the Amsterdam indie band, and their first 2011. Their first two albums from the early half of the last decade are phenomenal and when I saw this, needless to say I was eager to give it a listen. They have an interesting way of combining dark folk with the airiness of pop that makes their music compelling. They sort of sound the way some singer songwriters would sound if they melted their music with the creativity of a band. The Figurines are a band that comes to mind that have a similar energy. This is a delightful record, with just the right amount of weirdness. Easily their best since 2006's Black Cat John Brown. "Erase the Wires," "All Engines," "Young Spruce and Wires," and the title track are among my favorites.

Dopethrone - Hochelaga: Due out in April is the fourth album from the Montreal sludge metal band presumably named after Electric Wizard's landmark album. It would make sense, given that the grooves on here have the same intensity and darkness of Electric Wizard's recent work. This is an exceptional dose of sludge, played to perfection. Perhaps the best stoner sludge album I've heard in almost a year, and one that will quickly lead me to their past output. It has a wonderful horror vibe that fits with my current writing project and I've been truly digging it this week. "Dry Hitter," "Vagabong," and "Sludgekicker" are standout tracks.

The Black Light Social Hour - Space is Still the Place: The second album from the Austin band is a wonderful combination of psychedelic blues and stoner rock. Over the past few years, I've heard a lot of bands that try to walk a similar line and for one reason or another it always seems to falter somewhere along the way. This album is the closest I've heard to getting the delicate spacey blues balance just right. Still not perfect, at times it's a little more uptempo for the style in my opinion, but regardless it's a quality bluesy album that feels a little like a heavier version of "Division Bell" era Pink Floyd. "Slipstream," "Sweet Madeline," and "Ouroboros" are standout tracks.

Babybird - Rehearsal Tapes: This live album was released last month, and it's the first official release from the UK indie pop band in four years. In the late '90s, they emerged at the tail end of BritPop, blending the genre with indietronic. These performances are toned down, and more emotional than the music of theirs that I'm familiar with. Perhaps not essential, but this is a quality indie album from a band that is still more interesting than most others. A little quiet, a little rough, and all around enjoyable. "Man in a Tight Vest," and "Too Handsome to be Homeless" are my favorite tracks.

Drop City - A Revolution of Purely Private Expectations: The 1994 debut from the Australian psychedelic band is the latest in my rediscovery project. About ten years ago, I tracked down this hard-to-find import CD and recently listened to it again for the first time in more than half a decade. This is probably the closest band to Spiritualized in terms of combining Brit-Pop and psychedelic into an uptempo shoegaze haze. Part Ride, part early 90's American indie in the spirit of bands like Hum and Drop Nineteens, this is a curious lost record that will surprise some people who find themselves nostalgic for that era. "Inertia," "Kill the Day,"and "Worlds Apart" are my personal favorites.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Is Is: Another revisit, this is one of those rare, true EPs, one that comes between albums and contains songs that are never featured again on other releases. Released in 2007, after their fantastic first two albums, I've had this CD since it came out and recently went back it. In some ways, this marks the peak of their career. I've never loved anything of theirs that has come after this, yet these five songs are damn near perfect. Definitely a must for fans that may have skipped an EP along the way.