Saturday, May 23, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup

The unofficial start of summer has arrived with this most unusual of Memorial Day weekends. I've had a little more time recently to catch up on some new releases and have included a few of them here, including a great one from a favorite band of mine. We got some jazz, rock, psych, and new wave here to keep you interested. Take some time to explore new music now before the world gets suddenly busy again. Enjoy.

Le Butcherettes - Don't Bleed: I was introduced to this L.A. noise rock band last year and fell instantly in love. They've been around for nearly a decade and recently released this EP, which is another fantastic effort, if a little quieter than usual. I was supposed to see this band in my town last month, but then, as my 5 year old would say...Poof! Coronavirus! One day I hope they come back around because this band is dynamite, and reminds me of Queenadreena and Emma Ruth Rundle. 

Twink and the Technicolour Dream - Sympathy for the Beast: Released on Sunbeam Records for Record Store Day last year, this sees the legendary Pink Fairies frontman paired with the Italian neo-psych band as they interpret Aleister Crowley words into songs. This is top notch musicianship, similar to Hawkwind or even Pink Fairies, and feels straight out of the '70s. It mixes spoken word with Floydian vocal tracks and the end product is something fans of this genre will totally least I do. 

Earl Hines - Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington: Recorded between '71 and '75, this four album set was released as a special compilation from Book of the Month Club in 1982, one year before the legendary jazz pianist's death. Though only six years younger, Hines always considered Ellington his role model, and the admiration shows in the delicate beauty with which he plays these pieces. More so than rock, jazz is often the meeting of talent and from that comes creativity and legendary performances. This is an amazing set which is also available as individual albums.

Beach Slang - The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City: Five years after their debut comes the Philly band's fourth album, released back in January. I hadn't heard this band before but I'm usually willing to check out a band from the hometown. This is energetic rock, if not all that passionate. Something about it just didn't grab me and therefore it felt like hundreds of other bands that I've forgotten about through the years. There's nothing overtly bad or offensive about it, it's just kind of boring.

DMA's - DMA's: The second EP from the Sydney band was released in 2015 and featured the singles "Laced" and "Delete". While this band has gained a following in their home country of Australia and in the UK, they are still relatively unknown here in the states. They are often compared to Oasis and the songs do have a Noel kind of structure, but they actually remind me more of The View and the other second/ third wave Britpop bands that came around in the early 00's, bands that added a garage rock element to their sound. "Feels like 37" and "So We Know" (along with the two singles) are all fantastic tracks.

A Flock of Seagulls - The Story of a Young Heart: The Liverpool synth-pop new wave band burst into stardom in '82 with their debut that featured the smash hit "I Ran." Two years later, the music landscape was changing quickly, but the sound was still viable as this, their third album, came out. The thing about new wave is that it is so rooted in a very specific time and I wonder if it would mean anything to people who weren't around then. For me, this album brings back all those elementary school years, Brat Pack movies, summer at the pool club, and childhood crushes at roller skating parties. "Remember David," "Heart of Steal," and the title track are my personal favorites.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

What a Wreck...

I've been watching a decent amount of children's movies lately as my daughter is trapped home with me. Recently we watched both Wreck-It Ralph movies and they were quite awesome.

 Disney has learned from Pixar that making kids movies that appeal to parents is pretty essential, and these do that. Including references to 80s and 90s video games to hilarious affects was what really hooked me on this.

On top of that, the overall premise of the first movie, the loneliness of a game villain, is wonderfully done. The mismatched friendship of two misfits is perfect. Ralph and Vanellope are team you really root for, and what could have been a sappy lesson on friendship is handled gently and engagingly.

The second movie is glitzier, as squeals tend to be. But it still keeps the spirit of the first. This one's about how friends can grow apart and developing diverging interests...and how that's just fine. It's a lesson that Ralph needs to learn, and hopefully not destroy the entire internet in the process. 

Disney does a great job incorporating their most popular franchises like Disney Princesses and Star Wars. They also do a wonderful job imagining the internet as an actual place. 

Two great movies that are fun, sweet, and entertaining for a wide audience.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend returns, and this week I decided to turn back the clock to the 70s. People tend to trash the 70s music scene, thinking it only to be disco, but actually, the 70s were pretty fantastic. There was the birth of metal and punk and hip hop, and explosion of catchy folk, and still whole bunch of great rock n' roll. Here are some recent accusations to my catalog from that decade. Enjoy.

Iggy and The Stooges - Move Ass Baby: This compilation of rehearsals and demos was recorded in London and Detroit around '71, and was originally released in '73 in Europe. Still not officially released in the U.S., I recently picked up the double vinyl Italian reissue from 2015. This is dynamite stuff! If the first two Stooges albums were proto-punk, this is the true birth of punk. It features the rare five man line-up that really made them that much heavier. 

Lee Michaels -5th: The fifth album from the L.A. pop rock, blue eyed soul singer was released in '71. There's a clear attempt to capitalize on the growing popularity of Elton John. The piano rock, the vocal structure, the arrangements, they all feel like Elton albums from the same period. This isn't surprising, there is always more than one artist in a rising genre, and I like discovering some of the lesser known ones. This is a solid record. "Didn't Have to Happen," "Do You Know What I Mean," "Can I Get a Witness," and "Oak Fire" are personal favorites. 

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours: Not only the biggest record of 1977, one of the biggest of all time is this one from the band that had been counted out twice before. With this line-up, they would become superstars. I've always shunned this album, pissing about it being soft rock coke music and staying loyal to the Peter Green line-up. Recently this album has been popping up in my mind, and I finally found a reasonable copy. I've always had a fondness for this '70s sound and figured it might be time to judge this album from the perspective of two decades since I'd cast my original verdict. While still not my favorite record of theirs, when you're in the right mood, there is nothing quite so perfect as this.

The Doobie Brothers - Toulouse Street: The Cali southern rock band's second album was released in 1972 and was their real breakthrough album, featuring the hits "Listen to the Music," and "Jesus is Just Alright." I've had their debut album for more than 20 years, and never connected with it in any meaningful way, but this album is far superior. They capture that country folk blues rock sound perfectly on here, espeically on tracks like "Snake Man" and the title track. Solid record all around.

Nazareth - Malice in Wonderland: Not exactly a pillar of '70s hard rock, but certainly one of the bricks that held up the wall, this UK band hit it big in '75 with their Hair of the Dog album (a classic of the genre). This album, released five years and five albums later is the UK band's eleventh studio album. Now, I'm a sucker for anything Alice-related and was excited to give this a listen. It's pretty typical hard rock of the time and the band never really fails to deliver radio friendly hard rock, something like a less wild Slade. "Fast Cars," and "Heart's Grown Cold" are my personal favorites. 

Jackson Browne - Jackson Browne [Saturate Before Using]: The debut album from the 70's folk icon was released in '72. Less pop than he would later become, this is more traditional country folk, a sound that was popular in L.A. at the time. He does this sound extremely well and this album appeals to me more than some of his more celebrated albums. "A Child in These Hills," "Doctor My Eyes," and "Something Fine" are my favorites. A great early '70s folk record. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Midwestern Chaos

As the world continues to stay closed, I've recently moved onto to my next streaming obsession, the Netflix original series Ozark. Having been unfamiliar with this show before, I started hearing a lot of people talking about it, and I love Jason Bateman, so...why not. 

The premise revolves around Marty Byrde, a Chicago investor who has been smoothly laundering lots of money for a drug cartel for a decade, when suddenly the whole operation is thrown into chaos. On the run, desperate, and forced to start over in the worst of circumstances, Marty uproots his family and moves them the Ozarks for a life or death gamble. 

I think the obvious comparison is with Breaking Bad. This show is just as intense, features similarly likable anti-heroes, and a near perfect level of anxiousness. The best part about finding a show that has been on for awhile is not having to wait between seasons. I'm hooked.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Weekend Music Roundup

We've made it through another week in an endless cycle where weeks, and even months, seem to lose all significance. But marking the passage of time is important for giving us the illusion of continuing the timeline. So with that, I'm back to share my thoughts on musical journeys I've taken recently. This list features new sounds from old favorites. As frequent readers know, I'm a bit of a completest in my collections and therefore always digging deeper into the catalogs of bands and artists I enjoy. Sometimes that means new material, other times it means coming across something old that's new to me. Some great stuff here. Enjoy.

Flower Travellin' Band - Anywhere: The 1970 debut from the Japanese heavy psych band is equally as epic as their legendary follow-up, Satori. This album is basically a covers album, with the self-titled track book-ending. It covers Black Sabbath and King Crimson, two bands they are often compared to. These guys bleed authenticity and it shows, which is why 50 years later, it still sounds as fresh and compelling as it did when it came out. 

The Animals - The Animals On Tour: Released in '65 after bursting on the scene the year before, this is the third full length album from the British R&B band. Part of the original British Invasion, The Animals are often overlooked, or at the very least overshadowed by the Stones, Beatles, Kinks, and The Who, but they are right up there when it comes to that early garage sound that made the Invasion so successful. Like the early albums by those other bands I named, this is a great collection, mostly of covers of American artists. So happy to have found this on the cheap and add it to my Animals collection. 

Hawkwind - All Aboard The Skylark: The legendary space rock band of the '70s has been quite active in the past several years and released this new album in the Fall. This is another solid record that adequately captures their '70s sound. Of course, it's only Dave Brock these days, Nik Turner is off doing his own recapturing of their '70s sound, but it's good stuff. It certainly doesn't replace anything from the Hawkwind cannon, but fans would do well to give it a listen. 

The Bevis Frond - Any Gas Faster: Originally released in 1990, this was the first Frond album recorded in a real studio, and their sixth LP.  This is the record that sees them move slightly away from their earlier lo-fi psych sound into more psych rock. It also is very much the sound of 90s indie rock being born. I recently picked up the re-issue double vinyl to add to my extensive collection of this criminally under-heralded band. Truly one of Nick's best albums.

Carole King - Rhymes and Reasons: Released in '72, one year after her smash Tapestry album (though Music released between that album and this one). So many of her songs were such a part of my early childhood in the late '70s. For that reason, her music always very nostalgic for me. I listened to this on a Sunday morning, and this is the perfect kind of album for a chilly autumn weekend. "The First Day in August," "Stand Behind Me," and "Ferguson Road" are personal favorites. Though it lacks the magnitude of Tapestry, it's still a good album. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Fiction Friday (106)

I've been working on creating annotated bibliographies of sorts on imaginary worlds and their extensions...places like Wonderland and Oz and Star Wars. It was by pure coincidence that I started reading this YA book at this time, but it sure helped motivate me to work on my project. I'm going to be switching away from YA for a bit, but this was a nice place to leave off.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
(Katherine Tegen Books, 2016)

Jamie Watson has always romanticized his family's story and their history with the Holmses. He spent his childhood daydreaming about solving mysteries with Charlotte Holmes (Sherlock's brilliant great-great-whatever granddaughter). But when he's sent from his home in London to the same Connecticut private boarding school that she attends, the prospect of actually meeting her is a bit unnerving, and quite uncomfortable. Then a murder happens, pulling the two of them together to solve the mystery, just as it always did in the stories he loved.

This Watson and Holmes duo is honestly one of the most fun pair of YA characters that I've encountered in a long time. They were flawed characters, but not broken, and the touching way in which they end up making each other stronger, better people is fantastically written.  And a great mystery to boot!

A clever and extremely well-crafted extension of the Sherlock legacy.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Future is Beautiful...

The future is simultaneously bleak and beautiful in this sleek sequel to iconic '80s sci-fi epic Bladerunner. Even though the original holds a special place in my life, it was never a movie that I obsessed about. So when this one came out a few years back, I was intrigued, but in no rush to sit in the movie theater for three hours to check it out.

In the world where I'm entering week 8 of staying at home, seems like the perfect time to delve into a film like this. The story wrestles with the same questions the first one did...what does it mean to human, or even alive...are memories real even if they were implanted...and ultimately, who gets to play God in answering these questions.

Like the first film, this one is an immersive experience. The slow, careful, quiet stretches are meant to pull you into this dystopian future and it succeeds. Given that it was made in 2017, there is a bit of overdone fight scenes that feel out of a comic book flick, but done well enough that it didn't bother me. 

All in all, I felt sort of the same for this film as the original. I enjoyed it. I found it interesting mind stimulation. But I didn't love it and it will not be a film that I obsess over.

One thing worth mentioning is that a ton is going to have to go terribly wrong if 2049 is to look like this. Another thing, despite all the languages in the advertising, EVERYONE in this version of the future is white. Hmmm....