Saturday, January 18, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the first music round-up of the new decade. Sorry I missed last weekend, but I did want the albums of the year and the decade to sit with people for awhile. However, the result is now that I have a ton of albums to review and a ton more that I'm dying to listen to. Since I've spent most of the last few months focusing only on new releases, I've decided to slip into the past for this Roundup and put together a collection of albums from '70s that I've been rocking out to lately. Lots of glam and hard rock on here. Enjoy.

Brett Smiley - Sunset Tower: This 2019 Record Store Day release was limited to 1000 copies, 200 random red vinyl mixed with 800 black, with no way to know which you have...I got red. The hype sticker says that Brett was handed $200,000 in 1973 to make a glam rock epic. He succeeded, but sadly the album was never released (until 2003). Some of these recordings are from that album, others pre-date it. This is long last gem of the glam rock era. "Space Ace," "Queen of Hearts," and "Lying in the Sun" are my personal favorites.

Budgie - Squawk: The second album from hard rocking Welsh band was released in '72 is one of the pioneering albums of heavy rock. I was turned onto this band early last year and I can't for the life of me figure out why they were never as big as Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. While the first album, the self-titled release from the prior year, was solid, this album is blistering. Definitely belongs in the collection of anyone into '70s heavy rock. 

T. Rex - T. Rex: The 1970 album sees Marc Bolan transforming from the folkish Tyrannosaurus Rex moniker to the better known glam name of T.Rex. This is one of the earliest glam albums and it's pretty killer. As with Bowie's early glam albums, there's still the folk style holdover, but the mixture with glam guitar is something that at the time was new and special. Over the past few years, I've been converted to the genius of Marc Bolan and this was an album that had been missing from my collection.

Ian Hunter - You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic: Released in 1979, this is the fourth solo album from the Mott the Hoople singer. This album also features Mick Ronson on guitar, John Cale on piano, and Max Wienberg on drums. It's a brilliant record that perfectly mixes his glam roots with the emerging New Wave sound. It definitely has a E-Street Band feel, but fronted by Bowie instead of the Boss. "Just Another Night," "Cleveland Rocks," "When the Daylight Comes," "Life After Death," and "Bastard" are brilliant tracks...but basically, every track is kind of brilliant.

Stories - About Us: Released in '73, this is the second album from NYC pop rock band. This has the '70s groovy jangle sound that was the upbeat side of rock at a time when rock was growing darker. It's a continuation of the late 60's hippie sound and quite good. They are definitely a glam-lite band, existing in a lesser realm than Mott the Hoople and T.Rex. "Hey France," "Changes Have Begun," "Top of the City," and "Brother Louie" are stand-outs.

Silverhead - 16 and Savaged: The second and final album from the London glam rock band was released in 1973. They play blues rock influenced clearly by the Stones, but have more of the bar sound of The Faces. There is definitely a glam sound that shows through mostly on the guitar work, with blues based rhythms and vocals. A real nice find for a few dollars. "Hello New York," "Heavy Hammer," "Cartoon Princess," "This Ain't a Parody," and the title track are standouts. 

Bad Company - Straight Shooter: The London hard rock band's second LP was released in 1975 on Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label. Despite being British, there is something incredibly American about this band's hard blues rock sound. It reminds me a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd minus the obvious Southern connection. This is solid 70's rock and roll with lots of quality tunes on it.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Stealing Trinkets...

I first heard about this Netflix original series over the summer through a YA book blog service that I belong to through work. Based on a YA novel, I thought it would definitely be worth a look. After all, Netflix has positioned itself as one of the leaders in translating kid and teen lit into quality television.

The story follows Elodie as she moves to Portland from New Mexico after her mother tragically died in a car crash, a car driven by Elodie. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, and in YA it rarely is, Elodie also has a bit of a shoplifting problem. 

It turns, there are two other girls in her new school with a similar problem, two girls who Elodie would probably never be friends with if they hadn't found comfort in this shared problem.

The show starts off pretty slow, and pretty catty. It feels a little too formulaic in the beginning, but once the story brings these three characters together, it really begins to click. The story of their friendship is stronger than the story of their problems, which is the way it should be. 

A solid show that got better over time. A second season is already in the works.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Fiction Friday (97)

I've always been fascinated to me how different things in life connect in odd ways. I recently wrote about the film Yesterday which imagines a world where The Beatles never existed, and at the same time, I started reading this book which imagines a journey John Lennon would take in 1978 and a resulting album that he would make from it. Out of nowhere, I was engulfed in historical Beatle fiction, and it was a nice place to live for a bit.

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
(Doubleday, 2015) 

It's 1978 and John Lennon is on a quest to find a small uninhabited island in Clew Bay that he'd purchased a decade before with the intention of making it a paradise of isolation. Having abandoned those dreams years before, now he's simply looking for a place to be alone for a few days so he can scream until he empties his soul and can start anew.
As with all things in life, John's plan doesn't turn out according to plan. The existential experience he was search for on the island turns into an existential journey to get there. Hiding from the press, getting lost in the confusing maze of islands, he ends up traveling through the stages of his life, and fighting off the stages of insanity, to come through clean on the other side. 

The star of this story is the language and the writing. Kevin Barry's style is reminiscent of other writers that I've admired in the past. He breaks convention, finds lyricism and rhythm in the words, and engulfs the reader in a beautifully fragile world that feels like a thin bubble that could burst at anytime.

Monday, January 6, 2020

His Dark Materials

When Game of Thrones ended last year, like most, I was wondering what HBO would come up with to replace their epic series. To my surprise, they came up with two brilliant ideas that peaked my interest. The first being Watchmen and the second being a full adaptation of Phillip Pullman's fantastic Middle Grade fantasy series, His Dark Materials.

The first season of the show follows the plot of the first book, The Golden Compass. It's been more than 20 years since I read that book, but from my recollection, it follows the plot pretty faithfully. 

My expectations for this show were sky-high, as opposed to lower expectations for Watchmen. This is probably due to the movies of each that came out several years ago. I disliked the Watchmen film, but enjoyed The Golden Compass. That meant, this had more to live up to. 

I'll admit that the first two episodes were a little slow. And for anyone unfamiliar with the books, they were a little confusing (as my Missus can attest to). But come the third episode, things started to pick up and the show found its footing. The results are a stunningly visual fantasy with pretty great acting.

I really like how this show captures the darker aspects of the books. Unlike the film, which rarely made you feel Lyra was in danger, this constantly makes you believe that she faces threats far greater than she truly understands. And the casting of Lyra, surely the hardest role to cast, turned out to be great. She feels real. So many adaptations of children's books make the character feel like a movie version of a kid, while the books do not. They got this right, and thereby got the series right in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup (BEST OF THE DECADE)

One of the most impossible things is to compile a list of albums that spans a decade. The problem is that this list will continue to change throughout my life. But as a snapshot of my current self's taste, here is a list of not necessarily the best albums of the last ten years, but the albums that collectively would represent my grand takeaway of the '10s. Now, I didn't include any albums from 2019, because, well, it takes more than a year to get in there, but Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell was debated, but I went with her Ultraviolence instead. I also didn't include multiple albums from one artist, otherwise it would be an O'Death, Uncle Acid, Electric Wizard, Ruby Throat list. But here it is, for what it's worth. Enjoy.

The Mystic Braves - The Great Unknown (2018)

Electric Wizard - Black Masses (2010)

Natural Snow Buildings - The Night Country (2014)


Best Live Albums of the Decade: