Friday, October 24, 2014

Inspiring the Youth

I spent most of this week in the great state of Ohio speaking with creative writing students at LCCC in Elyria. The staff was kind enough to invite me out there and the students were kind enough to care. Though I've done many school visits, this was the first time I spoke with college students and it was a fantastic experience. They were so eager to learn all that they could, and though I know I've been doing this for a long time, it's easy to forget that you have anything to offer.

Writers rarely have the opportunity to discuss their craft. Or rather, they rarely have the opportunity to discuss their craft with an audience that cares to listen to what they have to say. Most people think writing is the simple process of sitting down and making up a story. Not that they have any illusion of it being it easy, but they don't understand the amount of work that goes into it. So having an audience of young writers is a wonderful experience. They have already experienced many of the difficulties that come with the writing process and therefor are aware that you are speaking from a position of authority and come prepared with interesting and challenging questions. 

It always impresses me how motivated young writers are. I was once that way. We all were. But somewhere along the path of life, motivation becomes something more akin to dedication, like that of a tired old man still cutting his lawn rather than paying someone else to do it purely out of stubbornness. One of the reasons that I love visiting with young writers is that their enthusiasm inspires me at the same time my advice inspires them. The best experiences are those who benefit everyone involved.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

And so goes another week, gone to the past and never to be seen again. With more time on my hands this week, I managed to explore a wider range of music than I've been able to in recent weeks. My listening was all of the map this time around. Though focused almost exclusively on new releases with one notable exception, there's a lot of new albums by old artists on here. I found myself gravitating towards seeing what these people were up to these days. For the most part, I was digging what they were up to and therefore was quite glad I bothered to look in. This is a rock list for the most part, for which you can blame the unseasonably warm weather. Enjoy.

Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio: Once upon a time in the days of my youth, Mark Lanegan was the singer of the mid-level grunge band Screaming Trees. After a handful of solo records he had his breakthrough in 2004 and had been transformed into a modern Tom Waits. And while I love that turn he made, I'm actually glad this album sounds more like the Screaming Trees in some ways. It's a little more ethereal, an element they always managed to incorporate into heavier rock music. "Harvest Home," "The Wild People," "Judgement Time" and "The Killing Season" are standouts for me.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger - Long Gone EP: Following up the stellar release of their second LP earlier this year, Sean Lennon's revamped band released this five song EP last month. I really love their heavier psychedelic sound, now incorporated with a full band. When I saw them live last Fall, they played the title track of this EP, an epic heavy psych cover of the Syd Barrett tune. If that were the only song on here, it would be worth buying, but luckily there are four others. Their remake of their own "Dark Matter" brilliantly illustrates the band's progression in the last four years. "Early Worm" is a fun Beatles-esque piece of Far East influenced psychedelic pop. "Delilah" has that classic Sean Lennon feel which could've been on 2006's Friendly Fire and "Brand New World Order" fits right in with GOASTT dreamy sound from their first album. So in many ways, this EP is like a mini-composite of the band's career; past, present, and future.

Thurston Moore - The Best Day: The Sonic Youth frontman is set to release his new album next week and it's a blockbuster of goodness. It opens with two lengthy songs which are among his best solo efforts since 1995's Psychic ♥♥♥'s. He's always been able to find the space that exists within a song, stretch it out, and reveal hidden moments that you never knew existed. As much as I love these noodling, drone type creations of his, I also love the short quick rock songs and this album has a good number of those, the title track being among the best. A really great album, refreshing and familiar at the same time. 

Nikki Sudden - Fred Beethoven: This set of songs from Swell Maps founder, was released this summer, eight years after the singer's untimely death. Inspired by old school rock n' roll, this is a pretty fun album that reminds me of early punks covering '50s rock songs. It has the same playfulness about it, and the guitar work is brilliant. Nikki's voice isn't in the best of shape here, but that was never his thing. It's the energy and the vibe that carry this record. Probably only for fans, but for those fans, it's an interesting enough listen. "Debris," "Looking at You," and "It's Gonna Be Alright" were standouts for me.

Bass Drum of Death - Rip This: The garage rock band's third album came a few weeks ago. This is a by-the-numbers garage rock record, complete with steady drum beat, fuzzy guitars, and lo-fi noise. That's not to say it isn't enjoyable. In fact, it's quite enjoyable. It's just not anything you've never heard before. A two piece band, guitar and drums, they follow the format of The White Stripes and Black Keys, but manage not sound like either of those bands. If anything, they remind me more of The Strokes in their early days, only a little looser and frayed around the edges. "Black Don't Glow," "Lose My Mind," "Electric" and "Better Days" are standout tracks.

George Harrison - Wonderwall Music: The Dark Horse has always been my favorite post-Beatles Beatle, yet I'd never managed to get my hands on his first solo project, this instrumental album from 1968. Recorded during the Beatles later heyday, this album shows the bands growing interest in music from India, and their burgeoning journey into psychedelic music. Given that this is a film score, for the film Wonderwall, it feels understandably disjointed as the music is meant to illustrate unconnected scenes. Most of the tracks are too short to judge as honest songs, but a few of them are wonderful. "In the Park," "Drilling a Home," and "Ski-ing" are brilliant tracks in album otherwise best left as a curiosity piece.

Marianne Faithfull - Give My Love to London: Nearly forty years after her debut, the British contemporary folk icon released her first album in three years last month. On this album she sounds her bloozey best, like some character out of a Cabaret fiction with a powerful and ever present voice that can be hypnotic. There are some great songs on here, and the album manages to maintain an atmosphere throughout. A nice listen for creating a lounge like environment. "Mother Wolf," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "Late Victorian Holocaust," and the title track are my personal favorites.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Panic in the Streets of (Name of Your Town Here)

The recent Ebola coverage on the news media is just the latest panic inducer in a wave of fire fanning that has gripped this country over the past decade. Two people have come down with the disease and the entire country seems to be in a free fall. New polls show the majority of Americans are worried about it, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they blame Obama. They blame him for everything, so I guess that part is to be expected.

Over the past few days, I've seen the way this panic manifests itself on social media. First comes the fear, this irrational idea that we are all at risk and that everything is in peril. Then comes the hatred, blaming the first victim, and saying how said victim should never have been allowed into the U.S. and should have been sent back rather than be treated in a hospital where Americans would be put at risk. America always seems to return to its isolation roots in times like these. And the same people who are now the "most worried" about this admittedly scary disease are the same people who couldn't have cared less as the disease raged for months in Africa. Once it's on their doorstep, metaphorically speaking, they rant their uninformed panic to anyone who will listen.

Interestingly enough, these reactions seems to fall along political lines. The far right's endless campaign of fear and rhetoric urging people to distrust the federal government cannot be contained to the issues they wish for it to apply to. As a result, people don't trust the CDC. They don't believe that Ebola is as hard to contract as they say it is. They assume the government is hiding things from us. But to what end? Typically that would be to prevent panic...yet the panic is being created in spite of it. 

It's not that we shouldn't pay attention and be mindful of this dangerous disease. But we need to keep things in perspective. And for the love all things holy...STOP PANICKING!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dead Man Walking

Last night The Walking Dead returned for its fifth season, and it literally came back with a bang. For a show with shaky beginnings, it has firmly cemented itself as one of the best shows on television. And perhaps to silence critics of the last half season who thought it moved too slow, the premiere held all of the excitement of season finale. Wisely, the show decided not to drag out the confrontation with the Terminus gang. It laid everything out in this episode, answered all of the mysteries, and put an end to the least for now.

In addition to being the most exciting episode since the prison showdown, this one also had the distinction of being the most gruesome. Interestingly enough, the most despicably violent behavior was exhibited not by flesh eating zombies, but by other humans. That's not so surprising though, as the show has always centered the most heart wrenching tension and fear around other humans, which is one of the things that keeps it so compelling. 

If last night was any indication...we're in for another great season.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

In yet another week where free time was at a premium, my time to listen to music was limited. This situation, combined with the embarrassing wealth of new music out there in the last few months, has left me to choose among many anticipated releases to digest and review. This week is heavy on folk music, which is to be expected given the chilly nights and the galaxy of colors contained in the autumn leaves, a season which always pulls me toward the soothing sounds of folk music. This week's list is also focused on new material from old favorites of mine. I didn't want to take any chances with my choices and picked among the albums I'd been wanting to hear most. Some impressed me, meeting and exceeding expectations, while others didn't. Regardless, a nice gathering of material here for you to explore. Hopefully you'll find something interesting. Enjoy.

O'death - Out of Hands We Go: It has been a long three years since my favorite gothic country band released a new album, but that wait ended this week with their fifth album. Since their debut, the Brooklyn band's unique sound catapulted them into my favorite bands, and with each new album they deliver a masterpiece of spiritual death folk. If there were a soundtrack to Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw An Angel novel, O'Death would be the band cast in its strange, horribly beautiful world. Their last album felt like a redemption from the violence of the preceeding album. If that holds, then this album feels like the wandering through the underworld of forlorn soul. Stunning, epic, and undeniably brilliant. "Roam," "Wait for Fire," "We Had a Vision," and "Isavelle" are standouts on a stellar album. 

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Singer's Grave a Sea of Tongues: Last month the Americana legend gave us his 15th full-length solo album. Ever since founding Palace in the mid-90's Will Oldham has been one of the best singer songwriters of his generation. Recently I've felt that his output has trailed off a bit from the amazing work he'd done during the first decade of his career. But with this album, he once again has impressed me with the personal songs, and the delicate care put into them. The last two albums felt rushed to me and lacking the effort I know he's capable of. Not this time. I thoroughly enjoy this record, it has a nice and easy Sunday morning feel to it. A bit sunnier than some of his albums, but it suits him. "Mindlessness," "New Black Rich (Tusks)," "Old Match," "Night Noises" and "So Far And Here We Are" are my personal favorites on this beautiful album.

The Melvins - Hold It In: After releasing two extremely disappointing albums last year, I wondered if the kings of sludge metal had finally reached their end. Then came this year's amazing solo record from King Buzzo and it gave me new hope, enough to take a chance on this new album due out this week. I happy to say that this album sees the band return to form with heavy sludge bliss. This is the heaviest they've sounded in some time, and definitely worth checking out if you've ever been a fan of these guys. My current favorites are "Eyes On You," "Sesame Street Meat," "Bride of Crankenstein," and "Brass Cupcake."

Tricky - Adrian Thaws: Throughout his career, Tricky has been an intriguing figure. From his beginnings as a member of Massive Attack and then into his early mid-90s solo career, the Bristol artist has been a pioneer in trip-hop. The past several years have seen a revival of his signature grimy style, and it continues with this album released last month, his 15th solo record. This time, Tricky delves into his hip hop roots, more so than he has since his Grassroots EP in 1996. One of things he's always excelled at is the use of other artists, especially female artists, to prevent a record from ever growing stale. "Sun Down," "Lonnie Listen," "I Had a Dream," and "My Palestine Girl" are among my favorites.

Mark Fry - South Wind, Clear Sky: In 1972, the then 20 year old folk singer songwriter released an amazing debut entitled "Dreaming with Alice" and then nothing else until 2008. I've owned "Dreaming with Alice" for over 20 years and was unaware of his return until I came across this album released two weeks ago, the singer's fourth. This sound remarkably authentic in the sense that it stays true to the music he was making over 40 years ago. It's a very British sounding acoustic folk record, which reminds me of moments on Pink Floyd's "Animals" and other mid-70's albums. Soft and beautiful, this is one of those great relaxing albums. It's so nice when an artist resurfaces with the same results that they had disappeared with. "Aeroplanes," "Along the Way," "River Kings," and "Dials for Home" are standouts.

Johnny Marr - Playland: A year after The Smiths guitarist released his first ever solo album, Marr is back with a follow-up. Like the last one, this record infuses indie rock with power pop, creating an uptempo dance rock record that fits with the contemporary Brit-rock trend. One of the problems with this is that Marr doesn't really have the voice to pull off a cheerful Smiths record. But as one would expect from any quality musician, there are a moments where everything comes together. Overall a pretty generic indie rock record and slightly disappointing with the exception of "Back in the Box," "Speak Out Reach Out," and "This Tension."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mirroring Possibilities

One of the amazing, and sometimes perplexing, aspects of writing a novel is the limitless possibilities which a story can present. I just finished revising the first half of a manuscript that I will now continue to write. Sometimes I find it helpful to take this break as it often allows me to see the story so-far in its entirety. Often I forget what stayed in a story, and what I'd written only to delete. Getting those things straight makes it easier to figure out where to go from there.

Then comes the task of making choices. Now that I have a nice list of things that need to be addressed in the rest of the story, I have to decide on a course of action to achieve those ends. The great thing about fiction is that there are a good number of ways to get from point A to point B. There is no right or wrong answer, which is also where the maddening aspects come in. Likely Mad Hatter Day has just passed us by and I'm ready for a little crazy. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is upon us, and so recaps a strange week of listening in my world. It felt as though I was running around most of the week, and had to catch up on my music hobby in spurts. As a result, in addition to a handful of welcomed new releases, I found myself picking and choosing from acquired albums that I'd been waiting to here for some time. There is no theme this week, as I've returned to an array of rock, folk, and weirdness. Some were a little more interesting than others, while a few felt sort of disappointing, but I'm hoping they are simply albums that need time to grow on me. However, I try to keep my thoughts focused on the positive aspects of everything, so hopefully you'll be inspired to check them out and make your own judgments. Enjoy.

Lonely Kamel - Shit City: The Oslo stoner metal band released their fourth album at the end of August, following up three well-received previous records. This follows the established formula for heavy stoner rock; driving riffs, steady pounding rhythm, and Led Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath vocals. There's been a wave these bands emerging from Scandinavia over the past decade, and Lonely Kamel definitely belongs with the best of them. Though there's nothing remarkably groundbreaking here, the vibe and effect are undeniable. "Nightjar," "White Lines," "Falling Down," and the title track are my current favorites.

The Wooden Sky - Let's Be Ready: The first album in two years from the Toronto folk rock band was released last month. This is the band's fourth album, and their previous three are among my favorites of the last decade. This album has a similar alt country feel to their other albums, with perhaps more emphasis on the rock aspect. Like the new Ryan Adams record, this takes its cues from 80's radio rock influences, but manages never to feel retro or derivative. Definitely their most mainstream sounding record, this album should appeal to most fans of the current folk rock movement. "Baby, Hold On," "Shake for Me," and "Saturday Night" are my personal favorites.

Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Blank Generation: It's almost embarrassing that it's taken me 38 years to finally acquire this landmark NYC punk album from 1977. Like other New York bands from that era, it defines punk rock, while being so much more than just punk rock. Like Television, New York Dolls, and The Ramones, the roots of this album is old style rock n roll played with hyper energy. In this album, you can also hear the birth of the No-Wave movement. This is a dynamic record that manages to still feel exciting almost forty years after its release. The title track is one of the best songs of the era and should be heard by everyone. Other standout tracks are "Who Says? (It's Good to Be Alive)," "I'm Your Man," and "New Pleasure".

Efterklang - Kids Open Ends: The Danish post-rock band released this 7" over the summer, their first new material in two years. It consists of two moderate length experimental mood pieces. While it's an interesting little object, the band is capable of better. It sort of feels aimless, but perhaps it was just one of those moments where they felt they needed to get something out, and let's be honest, quite a lot of 7" releases are for "fans only". Still, there are moments in each song where they're Floyd shines through, and for those moments, it's worth a listen.

Secret Colours - Positive Distractions: The Chicago based neo psychedelia band put out their third album this past spring, following up on last year's wonderful "Peach." Released in two parts, this album takes even more inspiration from 60's psychedelic garage rock. Great hooks and catchy rhythms commingle with dreamier moments, creating a spectacle of enjoyment. Later, it was released as one album, but I like to view it as two, with the Part I being a little more psychedelic garage and Part II a bit more polished psychedelic pop. There isn't a bad song on here, but my favorites would have to be "It Can't Be Simple," "City Slicker," "Get To the Sun" and the title track.

Sol Invictus - Once Upon a Time: Last week, the London neofolk band released their 15th album since their 1990 debut. Though I'd tangentially heard about them over the years, this is the first one of their records I've heard. I was drawn to the gothic country sound of it which reminded me of Those Poor Bastards but far more intricate. In some ways it feels like Legendary Pink Dots weighted down with a heavy darkness. One of those albums that really needs to be listened to in one sitting. At times it's quite remarkable, but at other moments it didn't stir me. "Our Father," "Mr. Cruel," and "The Villa" were my favorite songs. 

Royal Blood - Royal Blood: After their fantastic debut EP this past spring, I'd been looking forward to the UK rock band's debut album. Released at the end of August, this is a heavy blues rock album that shares some qualities with Antemasque, and their previous At The Drive-In incarnation. There's a mixture of garage and blues that gives the songs an exciting rock quality that, while not exactly new, is very well executed. Easily one of the more impressive new rock bands this year. My only complaint is that 3 of the 10 songs were on the EP, but the seven remaining are all just as good.