Friday, September 25, 2020

Fiction Friday (115)



My summer of Wonderland continues as I just recently finished reading the second book in Christina Henry's re-imaging of Alice. While the first book was a gripping, this one was entertaining if not completely revelatory. Definitely a must-read for readers of Alice to see the tale to a satisfying conclusion.

Red Queen by Christina Henry

(Ace, 2016)

Having defeated the Jabberwocky and escaped the horrors of Old City, Alice and Hatcher find themselves in a strange world that is unlike the city...with the exception of danger and odd happenings around every corner. The desolate landscape has been scorched by a mysterious figure in black, the surrounding forests are patrolled by flesh eating giants, and the inhabitants of the only town grieve the loss of their children. Welcome to the kingdom of the White Queen!

The White Queen rules from a icy castle atop the mountains, a castle protected with stolen magic. The White Queen takes pleasure in causing misery for others. But when she attempts to derive pleasure from Alice's misery, she isn't prepared for Alice's determination, or the magic she holds within her.

The follow-up to Alice, this is another great read for fans of Wonderland. However, this book lacks the true horror that the first one conjured up, choosing instead to dwell more in the world of fairy tales. It was the brutality that made the first book so unique and memorable, but this one is solid. At times it falls into repetition, almost as if the writer doesn't trust the reader to remember key details. I found that slightly distracting, but still very much enjoyed this trip into Wonderland.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup



It's the weekend again, time for a music roundup. Lately I've been listening to a lot of quieter psych rock, which is definitely reflected on this list. I've also been listening to a lot of jazz, which isn't on this list as I just recently dedicated an entire roundup to jazz. But I've been in a mellow mood of late, absorbing the sounds as they come rather than be an active participant in the chaos of noise. It'll change soon enough I'm sure, but for now I'm digging it. Enjoy.

The Flaming Lips - American Head: This is the 29th studio album from the neo-psych legends and it's right up there with their best albums from this past decade ("Embryonic" and "The Terror"). They really perfected the Pink Floyd turn and are making albums the capture the same magic for me as "Meddle" and "Atom Heart Mother," and "More." It opens with the delicate and beautiful "Will You Return/Will You Come Down" which sets the mood for this fantastic record. "Flowers of Neptune 6," "At the Movies on Quaaludes," "Brother Eye," and "Assassins of Youth" are my personal favorites on one of the best albums of the year so far.  

The Telescopes - Altered Perception: This is a British shoegazer band from the early 90s that I somehow missed even though it was a genre I was really into. They also became active again in '10s, but still didn't know of them until I recently came across this 2004 compilation. This is definitely the offspring of Spacemen 3 and early Spiritualizaed. It has that fuzzed out shoegaze sound and is one of the best examples of it beyond those two previously mentioned bands. 

Bill Ryder-Jones - Yawny Yawn: Released last summer, almost a year after his fantasic "Yawn" album, this is a re-imagining of that album, recorded with just piano and vocals. I've always liked Bill's solo work, and enjoyed his work with The Coral, but "Yawn" was exceptional, intimate, and beautiful. So I wasn't sure what the point of this record was, which is why I didn't listen to it until now. I'm glad I waited, because having not listened to "Yawn" in a while, this sounded fresh, whereas I think it might have felt weaker if I heard it on the heels of its predecessor. Really the type of thing that is only for fans, or at least, owning both is something only for fans. 

The Yardbirds - Shapes of Things (A Collection of Classic Yardbirds Recordings 1964-66: Back in my college days, back when I first got into British Blues and '60s Brit Invasion stuff, the Yardbirds were held in the highest regard. Not only do their singles during their early days rival the Beatles and Stones, but like those bands, they had their own unique style. It was a time and place where bands were like gangs out of Clockwork Orange. The Yardbirds whole style was cool. Though I have a ton of CDs, I had nothing of theirs on vinyl. I found this Canadian edition of the '77 two LP compilation which has all of those songs that I obsessed over in my youth. So happy to have this in my collection. 

Soiled Doves - Soiled Life: The only album released from the Seattle noise rock band came out in 2003. The band is one of many Johnny Whitney has formed (Neon Blonde, The Vogue, Jaguar Love). This is the kind of distorted indie album that has always appealed to me. It is steeped in that chaos sound, the sound that was moving through the underground back then, and reminds me of The Rapture's 2001 EP, "Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks". In that sense, it feels more like the New York bands of the time and perhaps that's why I really connect to it. The tracks "Soiled Doves" and "Soiled Life" are exceptional. A nice, rare gem.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Crazy is Out There...


Any one alive in America today is aware that things be getting weird. The level of insanity that surrounds the never-ending disinformation stream is unmeasurable. Just when you think you've heard everything, something pops out of nowhere to tell you the next bat shit crazy QAnon theory...and though you want to laugh, you know there are way, way too many people who believe it to laugh it away.

But it's not just QAnon, the crazy comes fast and furious from all sides, both the left and the right. I was speaking with someone yesterday who by all accounts is extremely liberal. During the course of our conversation, I discovered the murky area where the far right and the far left meet, somewhere at the bottom of the circle. 

There is plenty of blame to be leveled for how we got to this point, but real problem is not how we got there but that we are there. The post-truth era is flourishing. People question everything and believe nothing except for what they are already inclined to believe. 

We live in a world where everyone is simply trying to shout over every one else, and nothing is being heard. Unless some serious discourse can be had, we are headed for far more dangerous time.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here! At least in my corner of the world, the weather has decided to act as it should, turning decidedly autumn like for the start of school. This week I'm rounding up a bunch of new acquisitions, most of which remind me of my days starting school way back when. There was always this feeling at this time of year, the time when you started having to abide by a schedule again, a schedule of doing homework and listening to music, that made me really eager for new sounds. That feeling never left. This is mostly rock, from soul rock to goth rock. Hopefully there's some new sounds here for you to enjoy.

Fantastic Negrito - Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?: This is the third album from the Oakland soul blues rock band and my first introduction to them. This was one of those bands that from the first song I heard, I knew I had to hear the whole thing. It's just up-tempo rock infused with soul, the kind of album that only ever seems to come out of California. "I'm So Happy I Cry," "Searching for Captain Save a Hoe," "How Long?" "All Up in my Space," and "King Frustration" are all standouts on this wonderful album. 


The Flaming Lips - In a Priest Driven Ambulance: The iconic Oklahoma bands fourth album was released in 1990 and is often cited as the culmination of their early work into one of the true gems of early "alternative." It's rougher, less focused than their present Floydian sound and holds more in common with The Replacements or Sonic Youth than anything resembling psych rock. "Shine Sweet Jesus," "Take Me Ta Mars," "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain," and their rendition of "Wonderful World" are standouts. 


Christian Death - Catastrophe Ballet: The second album from one of the pioneering American Goth bands out of L.A.. Released in '84, two years after their debut, this is dark cabaret at it's purest. While the music would have been haunting to listeners at the time, and even some now, viewed from distance and the further evolution of darkwave, it's simply artistic rather than horrifying. Being from L.A., it blends the gothic UK sound with the emerging glam style of that city. "Sleepwalk," "The Drowning," and "Electra Descending" are favorites.  


Gorillaz - G Sides: Originally released in 2002 on CD, not too long after their debut, this compilation was released on vinyl for the first time on Record Store Day this year. Damon Albarn is held in the highest regards in my household, not only by me, but especially by my Missus who would rank him as her favorite musician. I picked this up more to complete the collection but actually find myself pleasantly surprised. In those early days, there was an effort to make this project sound unlike Damon's other styles, but on these B-sides we see what would later emerge. Not to mention the re-mixes are very solid. I should've checked this out years ago.


Cheap Trick - In Color:  Released in the summer of '77, just six months after their self-titled debut, this is the second album from the Mid-West hard rock foursome. The late 70s were a changing of the guard as rock began to splinter into lots of genres. The "classic" blues based hard rock bands were getting older and the next generation were coming up. This a great solid rock record that stands alongside Aerosmith, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and other honest rock music of the era.  "Oh Caroline," "Clock Strikes Ten," "Hello There," and "Downed"are personal favorites. 


High Climbers - High Climbers EP: Released in 2014, this is the debut EP from the Bristol UK band. Since then, they've put out a bunch of stuff, all available from their Bandcamp site linked above. They have a mellow psychedelic folk sound that really grabbed me. Only three tracks, but all of them are pretty great. Their unique vibe is something any fan of the genre will appreciate and I highly recommend checking them out.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Fiction Friday (114)


I don't always review the books here that I've read with my daughter, but when they're novels, I tend to...and thankfully she's that age now where I can read longer stories to her over the course of a few weeks. Our latest read-aloud was a book that I hadn't read since childhood, but from the movie, I know inside and out. It was a pleasure to revisit this story with her. She is currently referring to it as her favorite book.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

(Harper, 1952)

Friendships, especially those we make when we are young, are some of the most special bonds we can make. Wilbur, the lovable pig from E.B. White's story, makes two very special connections when he's a piglet. The first is Fern, the girl who first saves his life by protesting that a runt doesn't deserve to die simply because he is small. She serves as his mother, until he is big enough to live on her uncle's farm. That's when he meets Charlotte, he first real friend.

Everyone knows the plot of this story, knows how Charlotte's cleverness saves Wilbur from the slaughterhouse by spinning words into her web. And the story is memorable, very well defined and well written, but it's the theme of friendship that makes this book so very special. It demonstrates to young children how we rely on the support of our friends, and how true friends are willing to go the extra step to help. It also deals with loss in a profound and age appropriate way, and more importantly, illustrates the cycle of life and healing that is to come when some one close passes on.

There are some timeless tales that are considered timeless for a reason, and this is certainly one of them. Though it was written almost 70 years ago, it doesn't feel dated.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup



Welcome to the unofficial last weekend of summer! As most of us, myself included, get ready to send our children "off" to school on the computer next week, it's worth a little effort to unwind and listen to some music. So naturally, I've chosen mostly albums that anything but relaxing. There's mostly rock on here, some new releases, one new and one past Record Store Day release, and lastly, a relaxing album from 1970. Hopefully there's something of interest here for you. Enjoy.

Delta Shade - Low: The second album from Cali based hard blues rock band was released back in March. It has a 70s hard rock vibe to it. A bit psychedelic and bit stoner rock, the playing is solid even if it doesn't break any new ground. I found this album to be sort of uneven, not widely uneven, but there are certainly songs that are more intriguing than others. However, people who love this genre will certainly find this release appealing. "Fire," and "Hollow" were the real standouts for me. 

JARV IS... - Beyond the Pale: This is the debut album from Jarvis Cocker's (Pulp) new band. Jarvis has always been esoteric, and more than a bit pretentious, but that's always been part of his charm. Both qualities come through simply with the title of the band. The art pop, electro style is not far off from what Pulp was setting the groundwork for back in the day. It reminds of the kind of work Luke Haines has been doing. It also reminds me of Leonard Cohen's The Future, but infused with uppers. "Must I Evolve?," "Am I Missing Something," and "House Music All Night Long" are personal favorites on a surprisingly refreshing album. 

Tones on Tail - 'Pop': The one and only album from the short lived goth rock band from 1984. The band is Daniel Ash's post Bauhaus and pre Love and Rockets band. A re-issue for Record Store Day was not to be missed as this is an exceptional album that keeps the darkness of Bauhaus yet includes the more melodic nature of Love and Rockets. "Lions," "War," "The Never Never (Is Forever)," "Movement of Fear," and "Real Life" are personal favorites on this stellar album.

The Flaming Lips - The Mushroom Tapes: This archival compilation of demos recorded in '89 for the In a Priest Driven Ambulance was much bootlegged and finally released for Record Store Day two years ago and had been sitting in my digital bin to listen to for about that long. The Oklahoma experimental psych band has had a pretty brilliant career as a whole, but there are certainly pieces that are far too esoteric that show up. I was worried this would be one of those everybody-is-on-acid-and-isn't-oh-so-far-out kind of albums. And while there certainly is some of that going on here, for the most part it's pretty coherent lo-fi noise rock. "Take Meta Mars," "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain," "Stand in Line," "Cold Day," "God's a Wheeler Dealer," and "One Shot" are standouts.
Bob Brown - The Wall I Built Myself: This is the 1970 debut from the D.C. singer songwriter was produced by Richie Havens, which kind of shows the promise this artist showed. He only released two albums in his career, this and the '71 follow-up Willoughby's Lament, but his two stellar albums leave a lasting imprint. Though I prefer the follow-up, this one is also quite brilliant. Part Paul Simon, part Tim Buckley, and part Nick Drake, Brown's songwriting, arrangements, and voice are mature beyond his youthful years on this record. "Monday Virus," "First Light," "Winds of Change," and "Icarus" are all exceptional tracks on this wonderful debut.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Fiction Friday (113)


After a failure to secure a library book for further Alice readings, I remembered that I had an Alice-related book on my shelves that I'd never read. Problem solved. I've had this book for about twenty years, and picked it up mainly for the cover, but since I've been exploring Wonderland related materials this summer, I decided to go for it, and I'm glad I did.


Black Alice by Thomas M. Disch and John Sladek

(Doubleday, 1968)

Alice is most certainly not in Wonderland...but Virginia in the late '60s holds a lot of parallels.

Alice is 12 year old heiress who is kidnapped and held for a $1,000,000 ransom. Her kidnappers drug her and feed her pills that change her, they don't make her smaller or grow larger, but they die her pale skin a coffee brown. They dye her blond hair black and use a curling iron to burn it into tight kinks. When she comes out of her daze, Alice isn't entirely sure who she is anymore. Is proper little Alice, or just another little 'Negro' girl that nobody will ever notice?

This is one of those rare crime thrillers that transcends into literature, beyond just the clever Alice's Adventures in Wonderland elements. Below the main kidnapping plot, this book is about race relations and tensions between the KKK and Civil Rights activists. What's really refreshing about this being a subtext of the book, instead of the main drive, is that it doesn't seem to take a position on the least not obviously (through Alice's actions, we know where the author's stand).

What we get is picture of this time and what was going on, through the eyes of an observer who has little vested interest in the outcome. It's a snapshot of contemporary social unrest from the past. Any story written today that would be set in that time would inevitably be a revisionist portrait.