Sunday, February 7, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Well it may be SuperBowl weekend, but for me the weekend is still first and foremost about music. This was a week where much of what I was listening to won't end up on the list because it is vinyl purchases of things I'd already heard digitally and reviewed here. But it's also a week where I returned to Bandcamp to engage in more unheard bands. I also caught up with releases from favorite artists that I hadn't yet heard. There's a few 2016 releases on here, and lots of genres. Hopefully you will all find something worth checking out. Enjoy.

Mars Red Sky - Providence: The new EP from the French stoner rock band follows 2014's terrific album, Stranded in Arcadia. The three new songs on here are less heavy than the ones on previous album, but that's not really a bad thing. They seem to be exploring their sound, and it's serving them well. Though there remains a heavy back beat, it is sort of used to keep the the pace of the swirling sounds that swim throughout the tracks. The last song is an acoustic, Floydian soundscape that is perhaps the most intricate and beautiful track to date. The new full length album comes out later this year and I can't wait to hear where they go with it.

Guided By Voices - Do the Collapse: Typical of the Ohio lo-fi legends' albums, this 1999 record is packed with short songs, full of intrigue and power chords. I picked this one up on orange vinyl last weekend and it's yet another gem. Perhaps their most accessible album, it's more mainstream indie rock sounding than the glimmering brilliance of Bee Thousand. Still it's not devoid of their trademark quirkiness and drifts into near literary psychedelic poetry. "Hold On Hope," "Optical Hopscotch," "In Stitches," and "Mushroom Art" are among my favorites. 

The Legendary Pink Dots - The Maria Dimension: The band's landmark 1991 release is often considered their masterpiece, and for good reason. As frequent followers are aware, I've been obsessed with this band for the past year or so, but have been coming at their catalog from all angles rather than in any progressive chronological order. This is the easiest album to define as psychedelic space rock with ambient overtones, but even so, it is still indescribably unique.  "A Space Between," "The Ocean Cried 'Blue Murder'," "The Grain Kings," and "Expresso Noir," are exceptional tracks and what might be their most accessible nightmare.

Bevis Frond - Ear Song: I've been a fan of the Frond for two decades and was thrilled to find a vinyl copy of this 1990 EP this past weekend. The title track and "Olde World" are much more punk infused that most of their stuff, and is sounds great. It's almost punk-blues sounding, unlike most everything I've ever heard. It's rare to hear some that sound different. The second side is a short live set. Lots of energy in their playing. A must have for fans. 

Drug Cabin - Wiggle Room: The 2014 debut album from the L.A. indie band is pure pop inspired indie rock with psychedelic overtones. Drawing on early to mid-sixties sounds, it reminds me of some of the Elephant 6 bands like early Apples in Stereo, The Minders, and Ladybug Transistor. There's a deceptive simplicity to the music that hides the complexities that exist just below the surface. "Ruby" and "Wonderful" are standouts for me. Definitely check them out on Bandcamp if you're into this kind of thing. 

Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony: Out this week is the debut album from the latest hype band to come out of Brooklyn. I'd read about this record and it sounded interesting, supposedly psychedelic indie rock. Having listened to it, it's not psyche at all, and is more indie pop than anything else. The strange thing about bands that are really hyped is that they rarely sound like anything new, and that's the case here. Sunflower Bean are sort of a mix of a dozen other bands from the past 20 years. It sort of weaves in and out of genres of rock, sort of like Band of Skulls. It's a solid OK, but not deserving of the attention. "Wall Watcher," "I Was Home," and the title track are standouts.  

BigBee of the Whitetree - North American Nomad: Released in December, this lo-fi folk album from the Boston singer songwriter is one of those beautiful desolate winter albums. It reminds me a bit of Jose Gonzalez, especially his early work. Simple and sparse, and incredibly moving. This is definitely worth checking out on his Bandcamp site. "Pine Root" and "Redwood Dust" are great tunes on this perfect winter afternoon album. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Literary Birthdays...The Soft Machine

“Writers, like elephants, have long, vicious memories. There are things I wish I could forget.”
William S. Burroughs

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wolf Children

The past weekend, I finally watched Wolf Children, the acclaimed 2013 anime film from director Mamoru Hosoda. I've been wanting to see this film ever since I stumbled across it while researching work on my werewolf novel two years ago. Though it's very different than the tale I'm crafting, the idea of wolf children intrigued me and it was a delight to see how it was handled in this beautiful film.

In many ways, Wolf Children is a classic fairy tale but with a decidedly modern feel, dealing with modern day problems. It handles extremely difficult subjects like death and childhood anxieties with delicate care, while never attempting to gloss over them or trivialize their seriousness. There are moments in the movie that are incredibly sad, but they are balanced with moments of triumph. 

It's strange how I find myself now watching things with a parental eye. When this movie was over, I was left with an overwhelming excitement to one day share it with my daughter, who has been fascinated with the DVD cover for weeks. Rated PG, it has that kind of Bambi feel that makes it appropriate for introducing tough subjects in a way that children can understand and not be terribly afraid of. And the message of following your heart, being yourself, and helping others is one that every parent can appreciate. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome once again to my weekly ramblings on the sounds invading my ears over the previous several days. This week was a mixture of catching up with albums that have sat around, delving into new purchases, and exploring some new releases by old favorites. As a result there isn't much of a commonality among the albums listed, with the exception the fact that none of the artists are unknown to me. Most of these are artists that I've followed for years, and so some of my reactions are based on a knowledge of their back catalog. I hope you won't hold that against me, the way I seemed to hold it against the albums themselves. Enjoy.

The Racontwoers - Live at Third Man Records: Recorded on Record Store Day in 2010, this revamped version of The Raconteurs led by Brendan Benson performed to celebrate the re-release of "Broken Boy Soldiers". I picked this up on vinyl and have been totally digging it. The arrangements are slightly different, and Brendan sounds incredible. Definitely a great find, glad I was able to score a copy of this. "Old Enough," "Many Shades of Black," and "Steady as She Goes" are amazing.

Tricky - Skilled Mechanics: The Bristol trip-hop legend released his 13th album this month, following 2014's wonderful Adrian Thaws. Again, he returns to the form that made his career in the mid-to-late '90s with heavy beats and ethereal female vocals mixed with his deep voiced rhymes. There's a definite eye on the club here, perhaps trying once again to rule the underground scene. This album has a nice vibe to it, though I prefer the last two records. Still worthwhile for fans to check out.

Massive Attack - Ritual Spirit: The other Bristol based trip-hop legends, and the band that launched Tricky, also returned from a six year hiatus to release this four song EP. It tries really hard to capture the sound of their glory days, and in some ways it does, all of these songs could be outtakes from Mezzanine. But that's also part of the problem because nothing about it feels new or like anything we haven't heard from them before. There's nothing wrong with this EP. If you like their other work, there's no reason you won't like this. It's just not all that exciting in my opinion. 

The Legendary Pink Dots - 10 to the Power of 9 (Volume 2): Continuing my new found devotion to this UK experimental psych band, I got this limited edition vinyl for Christmas and finally got around to giving it a spin. It's even darker than their previous work that I've heard. It's also quite minimal, especially the second side which consists of one track. A sort of post apocalyptic soundscape that illustrates the vast dust that will be left in humanity's wake. Quite compelling and entertaining as always. Their music never ceases to induce visions within my imagination, and for that, I'm grateful. 

Bill Ryder-Jones - Home Recordings May 2015: Following the release of the phenomenal album of covers recorded between 2011-2014, the Coral guitarist-turned-neo-classical-composser released this digital album last May of five new covers, including an amazing one of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Hear" and the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses." I would definitely recommend both albums. They are available on his Bandcamp site for a name your price download. 

The Zombies - R.I.P.: The lost third album from the Zombies, though recorded at the end of the '60s, stayed in the vault until 1997. The story behind this is that when the early singles from "Odessey and Oracle" didn't hit, the band split. Then "Time of the Season" became a hit. With two members already moved on, the remaining members recorded this record. It lacks the magic of their first albums, understandably, but there are still a few quality tunes on here. "Girl Help Me" and "If It Don't Work Out" are the two standouts.

John Lennon - The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 10: After a few weeks off, I once again dove into my continued exploration of the incredible bootleg series of John Lennon tapes. This week I made it up the Volume 10. Nearly half-way through the series, this volume extends throughout his '70s career, with lots of early workings of Double Fantasy tracks. His version of "I'm Losing You" on here is one of my favorites. There's a version of "Cold Turkey" that gives me chills. And yet another Buddy Holly cover, this time "Peggy Sue." Great stuff. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Toy Stories

I've often talked about the role toys played in my development as a story teller. As a child I loved playing with toys, particularly action figures and the vehicles that were sold separately. The toys would be set up into elaborate schemes, and sometimes the plots would play out for days. I'd come home from school and pick up where I left off. There would be several story lines going on at the same time, with featured characters getting most of my attention. It wasn't until years later that I realized that these were the building blocks for writing novels. 

Tomorrow I plan on opening a handful of action figures that I received for Christmas and I can't begin to explain how much I'm looking forward to that. Though I no longer use toys to create the stories that are in my head, they remain an important part of my imaginative process. Recently my daughter has begun to play with toys in earnest, and I find it fascinating to see how her imagination is starting to develop and take shape, and the way her toys are transformed into something other than the objects they are. 

The moral of this post is simple: You are never too old for toys, and playing is never a waste of time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The new year is starting to get its groove going, and with it comes the first real batch of 2016 albums that I've been eager to hear. I also spent much of the week getting reacquainted with some albums from the past that I recently graduated to vinyl from their previous CD incarnations. I try not to upgrade too much, preferring instead to buy something different from an artist than re-buying something, but sometimes it just happens. A lot of mellow stuff this week, nice wintry stuff. Hopefully there's something here that you will want to check out, otherwise, tune in next week for more of my ramblings. Enjoy.

Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - Jesu / Sun Kil Moon: This collaboration album out this month features the legendary indie songwriter, Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon) and his band with the UK based drone shoegaze band Jesu. The incorporation of their music to his continued observations of life, which began with Benji a few years back, is a great mix and brings new life to a style that Sun Kil Moon has done wonderfully on their previous two albums. As with those records, this is not for everyone. As was the reaction to those records, the reaction to this one will probably be a love/hate one. I'm on the side of love.

Bonnie Prince Billy - Pond Scum: Just released is this collection of BBC recordings from around the time when Will started going by the Bonnie Prince moniker. It includes stellar versions of classics like "Death to Everyone" and "Arise Therefore". There are also some nice lesser known songs which is refreshing. This could have easily been a sort of rehash of favorite songs, but it's more than that. The intimate setting also brings out different elements in each song, making this one that fans should probably check out. 

The Arcs - The Arcs vs. The Inventors Vol. 1: This Record Store Day EP released back in November features Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) and Richard Swift's blues rock band matched up with Dr. John for six tracks. This is the first in a series of collaborations that the band is planning to do with their heroes. These tracks are more experimental than the band's debut, which makes it a little more intriguing. It almost has an electronic sensibility to its psychedelic blues tone. "Virginia Slim" and "Janitor" are my favorite tracks.

Ralph McTell - Not Till Tomorrow: This 1972 album captures the UK folk singer in the peak of his career. A contemporary folk singer whose style was born out of '60s Dylan and Pete Seeger, but with a British perspective ala Donovan and Fairport Convention. This is traditional acoustic folk music that feels a bit like James Taylor, if a little less radio friendly. An altogether nice album, worth checking out if your a fan of the genre and looking for a something a little deeper than the classics.

Dead Meadow - Warble Womb: It's been three years since this release, and it remains the latest from the D.C. psych rock band. I've had this since it came out, and have certainly reviewed it here before, but I recently got it on vinyl and listened to it again for the first time in well over a year. When it came out, I thought it lacked some of the heaviness of their previous albums, but upon rehearing it, I don't think it lacks anything, just evolved into a different groove. Completely immersive and certainly a must for fans of the psychedelic stoner vibe.

Captain Beefheart - Bluejeans & Moonbeams: Another one from the vault, another CD purchase that has been converted into LP and getting new life in the rotation. In many ways this can be considered the last Beefheart album, or more appropriately, the end of the first act. After a run of '60s experimental blues art, he and his Magical Band switched gears for this 1974 release. More psychedelic soft rock than blues, this is like the aborted birth of what would become The Eagles and other such soft rock legends. It stays just weird enough to remain special and fantastic.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New York State of Mind

This past weekend, I visited the city that I called home for a decade over a decade ago. It's strange, I've been in New York City twice in the past few months, and both times I've been in Lower Manhattan, an area of the city that I rarely ever went to when I lived on that island. I was actually on Wall Street for the first time this past weekend, despite having spent the majority of my ten years a mere 20 or so blocks from that pit of greed.

My previous visit took me inside the new World Trade Center for an insider's tour of the new landmark. While there, I snapped the above photograph from the 40 something floor. For some reason, this picture captures so many of my feelings about being a New Yorker.  There so many lives co-existing in their own compartmentalized way, separating them from each other and from the flow of the masses that continues on at all hours of the day. There is something incredibly lonely about the views from NYC buildings. Knowing all of these people are out there and that there is life happening all around, yet not being a part of it. 

I don't miss living in the city, but at times I miss the comfort of its unique sadness.