Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 13



Notes from The Siege 004 (access previous Communications)


The following is last entry in the journal of a high-ranking member of The Human High Command:

-----(Date Deleted)----

As I record this, the hoards are howling in the streets below. The rule of law has ceased to function and the Human Warren cannot survive the week. The supply tunnels were hit some time ago and suffered irreparable damage. Dwindling stocks of food, medicine, and clean water have led to growing unrest, which I now fear cannot be contained. There is slaughtering in the streets as humanity continues to do the dirty work of the Rodent Army for them.


-----(missing segment)----

...as the methane cloud grows thicker above the crumbling buildings, driving the citizens of the underground city further into insanity. In the outer tunnels, a growing number of followers flock around a girl calling herself Puella. This child claims to be an angel from above ground and dropped from the sky. She's been persuading others to escape and rise from the ground to resurrect our once great cities in a new visionary image....

-----(missing segment)-----

...with the all the remaining weapons, food, and equipment I've managed to gather. Against the declarations of The Human High Command, I will abandon my post. My reservations concerning this act of treason are partially quelled by my uncertainty that the High Command has survived the violent assault of rebels led by the murderous band of Fival's Pets. Though I do not believe for a second in the girl Puella's divinity, I have chosen to march behind her with the others hoping to take our chances on the surface. The possibility of this escape attempt being a trap is highly likely. However, to remain here any longer is to be buried forever in the rubble of a lost civilization.

Signed,

Former Sub-Warden Thomas Erdan of The Human Warren

(Tune in next Story Time Tuesday for the next installment)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup


This week is a fair mix of things that had sat on my wishlist for quite some time and albums that I had no idea about before listening to. I've been doing a lot writing this week again, therefore, a lot more lo-fi, low-key albums that the previous two weeks. All in all, a good collection of stuff if I do say so myself. Enjoy.


Kath Bloom - Thin Thin Line: Though Kath Bloom has been recording albums since the '70s, I'd never heard anything by her until this 2010 release. She's has an incredibly fragile, melancholy voice that fits the acoustic folk sound of the music. The album cover actually provides a great window into the sound of the album. Can't wait to hear more of her work.

Best Coast - Something in the Way EP & Where the Boys Are EP: A lo-fi pyschedelic L.A. band, I listened to two of their EPs this week. There's a pleasant sunny California sound to their music that I enjoyed. It wasn't groundbreaking, but definitely a good summery sort of feel that gives them something a little different from other bands playing the same genre which usually tends to be on the wintery side.

Fredrik - Trilogi: This is the second Fredrik album I've heard and it's kind of brilliant. A Sweedish band that plays a kind pyschedelic folk that's very different from the American bands playing the same kind of music. This album is full of interesting and varried influences. There's definite electronic elements that work well with the Floydian elements, all used to create a beautiful collection of songs that's somewhere between Black Moth Super Rainbow and Natural Snow Buildings. One of my favorite albums of the year so far.

tame impala - tame impala: During the second of half of the last decade, Australia produced a whole range of neo-pyschedellic bands, my favorite being The Dolly Rocker Movement. Tame Impala fit the same mold, making music that's very much inspired by late '60s garage pysch. This is EP is like a lost artifact of things that could've been on the Nuggets collection, yet a definite modern heavy riff influence thrown in.

Portugal. The Man.: Devil Say I, I Say AIR!: The token Portugal. The Man mention for the week is this 2006 EP that is as good as any other Portugal the Man release. With each new album I hear, this band seems to shoot up one notch on my all-time favorite bands list. Fantastic indie psychedelic pop.

Television - The Blow Up: Last year, I discovered the pure greatness of Marquee Moon (the band's first album). I was super excited to hear this live album of songs from that era mixed in with some covers. I was shocked to learn just how bland this album is. A mediocre recording quality of a rather uninspired concert. Good for a listen or two, but not much else. Stick to the studio albums.

The Out Crowd - Then I Saw the Holy City: This is Matt Hollywood's band post-Brian Jonestown Massacre. After his departure from that band (well documented in the great movie DIG!), he formed this band. It sounds exactly like BJM, the same music style and feel. But it certainly ranks up there with the best BJM albums.

The Cure - Peel Sessions: A collection of six sessions the band did between '78 and '85 (the link is only to the first one). This is something I've wanted for over a decade and it didn't dissapoint. I'm a huge fan of early Cure and these recordings are full of insane energy. The only week one is the last one, mostly because that mid-80's period is the only Cure era that I'm just not that into.

John Martyn - Solid Air: A 1973 album from a British singer-songwriter who I'd never heard of, surprisingly. I say surprisingly because there was period in my life when I was way into this genre. To my ears, it sounds like a combination of Nick Drake meets James Taylor. To be sure though, there's a clear lean to that emerging coke-jazz-blues that will go onto to dominate so much music of the mid-to-late '70s. But it sounds good here, used to subtle perfection. A lost classic to be sure.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & The Cairo Gang - Holy Clover 7": Will Oldman (the Prince) does many of these pairing albums with other musicians and the results are usually pretty good. Like with his other pairings, the songs here manage to maintain the signature Bonnie 'Prince' Billy sound, but as always the other band always seems to bring something to the songs that makes them slightly different and interesting. I loved all three songs on here and can't wait for the full-length album.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Emerging from the Shadows



Writing a novel is like many art forms in that a novel is the product of a many layered process. There's the early demo stage of writing and then the rough first draft. At that point, I find the page contains only a glimmer of the story I want to tell. My focus is the character, the mood, the ideas. Through the second draft, I refine those aspects into a story with a solid core. The manuscript then becomes a skeleton that needs to be fully realized and dressed.

For me, the next stage is the truly great part of creating a novel. Once the foundation is sound, it's clear to see what is missing, what episodes will fill out the novel, what relationships need strengthened...and of course, which scenes are pointless to what I'm trying to achieve.

As I'm going through my new manuscript, adding these scenes and revising the ones that are there, a feeling of excitement seems to grow by the page. It's like nearing the end of a jigsaw puzzle and knowing, at last, that all the work and frustration looks as if it will pay off.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Warriors Come Out And Play

I've always been a sucker for violent talking animal fantasy dating back to when I first read Watership Down in seventh grade. That was the first book I ever read that really transported me into another world that was fully illuminated in my mind. I've been drawn to the genre ever since.

In college, I interned at Philomel Books, the publisher of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and I devoured all of those books one after the other. I became enraptured by the mythology contained within those pages and was obsessed with tracking the history of Redwall Abby from Luke to Martin and beyond.

This past weekend, I discovered another such fantasy that completely blew me away. My friend, and roomate during my Redwall days, is fully aware of my love for the type and had lent me a comic book called Mice Templar a few months ago after I flipped through it at his place and was thoroughly impressed by the art. I had no idea at the time just how epic the scope of the story would be.

The book follows a young mouse named Karic who struggles to become a hero and save his enslaved family and friends from the tyranny of the Mouse King who has employed the standard animal enemies of rats and weasels to inflict his reign of terror upon the land. I know what you're thinking...aren't they all.

Beyond the action though, what the story does so well is include an sprawling mythology and legend without ever feeling overblown or losing the reader. The art is pretty intense, brutal at times-beautiful at others, but still manages to maintain a children's book aesthetic, which really appealed to me. It's very much a picture book for adults in a way that no other comic I've encountered. It's takes the next step and really illustrates the horror of the horribles.

I don't know why it is that sword wielding mice always get to me when a human counterparts would not, but they do. Perhaps it's because in our society it's easier to assign their heroic attributes to these animals as we've grown cynical about the ability of truly heroic acts in people. Or perhaps it's just because the pure fiction of it appeals to that inner child that wants a magical story.

Back when I was doing that internship, I was lucky enough to meet Brian Jacques at an informal party in the home of my boss. He'd spent the whole day cooking a Redwall feast (if you've read the books, you know those animals are always eating). Then, at one point during the evening, he began telling stories. I remember, at 21 years old, sitting on the floor with other adults and listening to him talk for hours. Suddenly, we were all little kids at story hour again. It was one of those pinpoint moments in my life when I knew there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do but tell stories that held attention like that.


Over the past year and a half, I've been drawn more and more to this kind of BIG story. I've been actively working on several different ones. To that list, I'm now adding another. There's been an idea floating around in my head for quite some time involving this kind of warring animal saga. Reading Mice Templar, and feeling that same stirring as when I read Redwall and Watership Down, I knew it was time to return to it and do some serious thinking on the matter. I just love encountering books that instill that kind of inspiration. As a writer, I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to return the favor. It's the duty of our trade.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 12



Notes from The Siege 003 (access previous Communications)


The following is an excerpt from the journal of a high-ranking member of The Human High Command:

-----(Date Deleted)----

In this, the fourth week of the siege, a new fraction has been born in this bloody war. Speculation of the group's existence has been rumored since the early days of the Underground Settlement's founding, but evidence enough to give this new evil a name was not brought to the High Command's attention until recently. After several well-documented incidents that occurred in the outlaying tunnels of the city, we must now admit to the presence of traitors among us. A cluster of boys referring to themselves as Fival's Pets, have been terrifying settlers. It is unknown for how long these children have been in the service of General Nippon and his army before coming out in the open, brazenly showing their ears. Some rodent weapons and documents seized in the search of their homes suggest a significant amount of time has gone by with them passing information...


-----(missing segment)----

...crimes of particularly brutal and unhuman nature. The chant of "Convert or Be Killed" is said to be used during these ritual integration ceremonies. This is consistent with the rodent conversion practices above ground. However, without the aide of hypnosis that the Rabbit Army relies on, these so-called Pets have been seen using all manner of persuasion, including but not limited to....

-----(missing segment)-----

... this discovery forces us to admit that we have no discernible idea of events taking place above ground. No Child Agent has reported in since the siege began. Despite the best efforts of our crews, no communication lines with other Human Settlements have been restored. We fear the infrastructure, chewed to pieces in the early days of the war, is just too badly damaged at this point. For all we know, we are the last to fall. Strategic retreat plans are now nearly a daily topic. I have no doubt the topic will soon be replaced with discussions surrounding mere survival of the race.

Signed,

Sub-Warden Thomas Erdan of The Human Warren


(Tune in next Story Time Tuesday for the next installment)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup


Spring arrived this week to the mountains. As the windows opened, I found the sounds from the fuzzy warble system becoming prettier and poppy. I'm very much a music of the season kind of person. In the winter and fall, I love dreary sounds. Spring tends to be my pop season. Easy grooves match the weather. Summer tends to evolve into sunshine psychedelic and clouds of hip hop...but thank god we have time before then. Here is the first of the spring 2010 collection.


Love & Jimi Hendrix - The Blue Thumb Acetate: A 12" bootleg featuring the talents of Arthur Lee and Jimi together. I'm not a huge Love fan, though I do enjoy them, but something magical happened in these sessions. There's only 2 songs along with a 10 minute jam on here, but it's full of rock and soul. Pretty fantastic stuff.

MGMT - Flash Delirium: The first single from the anticipated upcoming album. Now, I also gathered a listen of the title track from the album, Congratulations. I'm not quite sure if it's because I listened to that rather weak track first, but Flash Delirium seemed...interesting. Though, both songs left me worried for the new album, I'm sort of glad it doesn't sound the same as the last album. I'm all for change...but both tracks seem a little flat. Granted, I still have extremely high hopes.

Felix - You Are the One I Pick: An indie folk album from last Fall by a British outfit. Though decidedly a folk feel, the vocals aren't dour. There's a definite upbeat pop sensuality to the vocals which works nicely with the more somber mood of the music. A very enjoyable record.

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach: Admittedly, I'm a bigger Damon Albarn fan than I am a Gorillaz fan, but I do enjoy them very much. However, on their first album, I definitely feel there is a lot of skip-ability. Demon Days, I thought was pretty fantastic. There's some of weaker moments on this album, though I feel it's pretty even throughout. It's much more of a hip-hop album than Demon Days and I've been digging it more and more with each listen and definitely like it...though I think it's missing a really super stand-out track like Demon Days' "Feel Good Inc,"and "Kids With Guns" or even "Clint Eastwood" from the first album.

God Help the Girl - Stills: This is a newish project by Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch. It's very similar in feel as B&S but with less bark and less bite. It's a decent piece of dreamy indie pop and great for the springtime of birds twittering and flowers and all of that. Solid okay.


Charlotte Gainsbourg - Charlotte For Ever: Before she was making albums with Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg was making albums with her father Serge. This piece of french pop was recorded when she around 14 years old. It's a must for fans of Serge Gainsbourg who wrote the music for the album. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Serge and it's the music that detracts from the album for me. It's too '80s Miami Sound Machine mixed with french horns. But Charlotte's voice is as perfect as ever and sounds very much like it does now. Even as a teenager, there's a deep chain-smoking soul to it.

The Features - Exhibit A: Tennessee band doing it's best impression of a British pub rock band and succeeding at it. This 2004 album is a blast. Very much like the Fratellis and that lot. Turn up the volume and rock out.

The Runaways - The Runaways: Given the hype surrounding the movie, I thought it was worth checking out the teen rebs' debut album as I didn't know much about them. As a kid, I was a HUGE Joan Jett fan and this album was long overdue for some listening. I expected to like it, but was still surprised at how much it rocks. These girls bring it for real. Very much in the style of Alice Cooper's early glam albums, it's a must-have for fans of '70s hard rock.

The Future Sound of London - Lifeforms: This is one of those landmark albums that has come to define a genre. It came out in '94 and probably remains the most known "techno" album. I'd been meaning to check this out since it came out, but its release corresponded with the end of my rave days and I ignored if for 15 years. Luckily for me, it dates well. It's the kind of trance ambient music that I've always enjoyed...an album that attempts to create a musical world. Space out and let your mind drift music.

Cibo Matto - Super Relax: I've always enjoyed Cibo Matto's brand of chaotic indie rock when I've heard them but never sat down and listened to an album before this week. The Missus had this one on vinyl since before we were together and for whatever reason, it got lost in the shuffle. As I continue to work my way through our LP collection, I put this on and was thoroughly impressed. It definitley has the late '90s New York City vibe of endless possibility. I love the jazz elements mixed with electronic and noise rock. Sugar Water is damned amazing and manages to sound fresh over a decade later.


Friday, March 19, 2010

I'll Have the Same, Please

OH NO! NOT ANOTHER ONE?

Walking through the big chain book stores can a be a repetitive experience...not only because the stores have all grown to look alike, but also because the books on the shelves have all grown to look alike. Publishing, like all entertainment, has always been a business of fads but it seems to be getting a little out of control. This past decade began with the children's section turning into the Wizard World. It ended with the Teen section becoming the Vampire of the Month area of the store.

In the adult world, the stream of mash-up titles has begun to resemble a similar overblown trend. I'm sure you're familiar with the idea. Take a classic novel, throw in some absurd angle, rewrite...bingo, you got a bestseller. Well, there was one bestseller...which of course means for the next several years we're going to have to see every single copyright free book get this new treatment.

Granted, I thought the first of these books was an interesting and clever idea. Then came imitation after imitation. At least something like "vampires" is based on a time honored lore, which gives the followers some dignity above being a blatant rip-off. Not here. And what's worse is that this genre is basically the equivalent of a parody movie. In a strange way, its arrival says we don't value classic works of literature, they're old and boring so we're going to make them fun. Yay! Isn't that great. To some extent, I'm not totally against that, if the concept is done well. My problem is, I doubt publishers or booksellers care if it's done well as long it copies an idea that sells.


In that spirit, my friend John and I have decided to try our hand at the genre as an experiment. I bet him that if we queried our book idea Ulysses 3000 and the Cannibal Hamburger that some agent (if not a few) would leap upon it lecherously. If so, he's agreed to write it with me.

Obviously, we are reaching to the limits of absurdity with this particular mash-up. My hope is, that if we can get it done, we will hasten the end of the fad by rushing the most ridiculous of examples at least 5 years ahead of schedule.

I will keep you informed.





Thursday, March 18, 2010

Songs of Experience



Cast out of the garden is often the image attached to that of being driven to the world of experience from a state of innocence. I don't see it that way simply because I don't think of the transition as being so sudden. It's more a long path from a sandlot, through the woods, until ultimately you reach a strip mall on a highway somewhere. It's a long path. Most of adolescence is that transition and while it certainly can be a painful transformation, it's not quite the horrifying experience of becoming a werewolf on a full moon, despite the fact hair plays an uncomfortable role in the whole deal.

As I mentioned before, I believe Coming of Age novels are very much about exploring this journey and finding a balance between the two states. I don't believe one ever wants to live solely in Experience. Those who do tend to be the jaded, cynical type of practical people that are entertaining only in their ranting rages. The trick is borrow the best from both while recognizing the shortfalls of each as well.

In some ways, the main characters in all of my novels are steeped in this process. They try to figure out how to hold onto a sense of wonder and interest in a world where horrible things happen. By the end of Perfect World, the main character does find this balance in one small moment:



-I see the sun through my tears . . it sparkles in them and everything twinkles like the first few flakes of a snowstorm and something about that makes me stop running . . something about being able to see something so beautiful in the middle of so much that's painful.-
Perfect World page 275




So ends my examination of Innocence vs. Experience and hence my boring semi-term paper-esque analysis. But for young writers, or any writer of child characters, I think these two opposites are a good way to think about character development and wanted to discuss them for that reason. After all, you have to know your character before you can tell their story.



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 11


Notes from The Siege 002 (access previous Communications)


The following is an excerpt from the journal of a high-ranking member of The Human High Command:

-----(Date Deleted)----

The siege is beginning to take its toll on the population as conditions inside the Human Warren continue to deteriorate. Supplies are limited and rationing has led to riots. Filtration systems have been shut-down to prevent rodent infestation or possible chemical attack. As a result, a growing cloud of methane gas is building over the underground city. All fire and open flame has been outlawed. Masks have been distributed in the case of a worsening situation. A rash of blindness has already spread...

-----(missing segment)----

The flow of information coming from our Child Agents on the surface has come to a trickle and I fear that it will cease as the siege stretches from days into weeks. Without good intelligence, our military commanders are hesitant to lead an offensive through any of the main entrance tunnels. Opening the magnetic doors could end with devastating results. The smaller escape tunnels would seem to be a more plausible plan of attack. However, patrols have turned up Rabbit Army soldiers throughout the network. From their reports, it appears the rodents weaponry has advanced beyond our expectations.

-----(missing segment)-----

....has ordered that I continue to lie in our daily announcements to the public. It's probably for the best. If the people knew how dire our situation truly is, the Human Settlement would fall without any of General Nippon's mercenaries having to raise a single ear.

Signed,

Sub-Warden Thomas Erdan of The Human Warren


(Tune in next Story Time Tuesday for the next installment)

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Place Between


Last week, I wrote about the notion of innocence being used as character and also hinted at how that trait slowly morphs with the acquisition of experience. The process of moving from one sphere to the next is hardly clear cut. Sure, there are a lot of symbolic events that people like to point to as a defining moment...but the truth is, the journey from innocence into experience is pretty murky. The second half of childhood is basically spent walking a tightrope and trying to balance between the two. Watching characters navigate between the two is one of the reasons many middle grade and young adult novels appeal to adults. The conflict makes for interesting character.

There is an endless variations on which course that journey can take. One that I've always found fascinating in literature is when a character uses a perceived innocence to their advantage. In these moments the two worlds collide within the character and demonstrate the pull of each. One interesting example of this is the character Emily in Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica. Her entire life within the story is a conflict between these two worlds. Despite being tossed about in unpleasant circumstances, Emily holds onto a innocent quality...that is, until one violent event forces the scales to tip.

Emily resists the pull away from childhood. She clings to her innocence even while aware of the fact that she is, for the most part, only pretending. On some level, she knows what she is doing is wrong, but her wish to remain in a carefree world is so strong that it causes her to ignore the truth even at the suffering and death of others. Emily's not exactly a sociopath, but there's a hidden danger within her as long as she continues to wear this disguise so well.


-In another room, Emily with the other new girls was making friends with the older pupils. Looking at that gentle happy throng of clean innocent faces and soft graceful limbs, listening to the ceaseless, artless babble of chatter rising, perhaps God could have picked out from among them which was Emily: but I am sure that I could not.- (closing paragraph from A High Wind in Jamaica).


In some ways, innocence becomes the lure of evil in this novel. It's a Siren that calls to us, telling us to stay in a place we could never remain. It's one of the most interesting reversals of these two concepts in literature. The two words attempt to exist side-by-side in the novel, but ultimately they cannot remain separate. One must intrude on the other.

The story is a sort of anti-coming of age novel. Coming of age novels are all about a character coming to terms with the passage from one to the other and finding a balance. Emily, when faced with that moment, soundly rejects it. But no matter how hard she pretends, there is no going back to that place you left.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

Music for me is often about mood...the mood the record captures and also the mood it puts me in. I guess that's why my tastes vary so often depending on what I happen to be working on or what stage of a project mired in. While writing, I usually prefer more soundscape material and folk. This week, I was solely editing and concepting and during that period, I prefer a more solid backbeat. So I present to you the most rocking roundup in some weeks:


The Beatles: Shea, The Good Old Days: This vinyl bootleg was lent to me by a friend after we discussed vinyl and bootlegs over beers a few weeks ago. Being the nerd I am, as I listened, I did some research on this and discovered it was actually a first run of a 1970 bootleg that was mislabeled and is actually the Hollywood Bowl 1964 performance. I get all geeked out by these kinds of things. The album has a great sound, great set list of classic Fab Four. I think the performance is available on official release these days, but wanted to share my nerdom.

Dexter Jones Orchestra Circus: If Light Can't Saves Us, I Know Darkness Will: The Stockholm band's follow-up to 2007's fantastic Side By Side is a great example of Scandinavian indie rock. There something about the dark rhythms that come out of that part of the world that really appeal to me. There's a hint of Black Sabbath in the guitars but with a more uptempo beat that works well. For fans of Black Mountain or Dead Meadow.
Raekwon - Coke Up in Da Dollar Bill: A mixtape released on New Year's Day, this selection hearkens back to the raw days of the Wu. In many ways, it's better than Rae's official release last year, and heaps better than the other mixtape he put out last year. It benefits from clocking in under a half-hour. All killer - no filler.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Solar Gambling: The latest in an endless stream of solo releases from the guitarist of Mars Volta, this is one of the strongest. His solo albums, while treading the same ground as the Volta, infuse more progressive experimental elements. Using a female singer and singing in Spanish gives this one a little separation but still remains a close cousin of Mars Volta. I hope Omar continues the incredible output of the last decade into this one. He's easily one of the most important musicians of our time.

Hot Chip - One Life Stand: Wow...this is the biggest disappointment of the year for me so far. After the ├╝ber catchy title track, I had hopes this album would rebound from their rather weak last album Made in the Dark. If anything, it cements a downward trend from a band who's first two albums were sensational. By my count there are only three really listenable songs on this collection of dull electro-disco, nu wave balladry. Get the title track single and avoid this. Pick up either their debut Coming on Strong or the stand-out second album The Warning instead.


Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto: This new album does nothing to slow the band's fast ascent up my all-time favorite bands list. Though not quite the revelation last year's Majestic Majesty/ Satanic Satanist, this album doesn't fall too short. Perfect psychedelic indie rock-pop. Good job guys. Well done. Keep 'em coming.

Barry Goldberg - Barry Goldberg: This is one of those easy-blues-folky albums that could only exist in the early-to-mid-70's. To my ears, it's sort of a cross-between Slow Train 'Coming era Dylan and Harry Nilson, with maybe a bit of George Harrison thrown in, but made for a warm summer night at the bar swigging pints. Good stuff. Given to me by the dANIMAL.

The Animals - The Complete French EP Collection: There was compilation CD put out several years ago called the EP Collection (which I own) but it doesn't contain all of the bands ep's or all the b-sides. This box contains all of them, packaged as 10 cd replicas. I went searching for it after seeing footage of the band playing their cover of Donovan's "Hey Gyp" - my absolute favorite Donovan song of all time. Listening to these EPs, they reminded me of what I've always known, that the Animals are vastly under appreciated. They belong in the conversation of great '60s British Invasion bands with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Kinks.

Odetta - At the Gates of Horn: Odetta, a southern gospel folk singer of the '50s has this amazingly deep voice that seems to come from the other side. Like listening to a ghost, her records are transporting. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness in her voice that reaches inside and demands complete attention.

The Crash - The Crash: I've had this for about a year, and liked it upon hearing it but it got lost in the shuffle. I listened to it again this week and decided to give it a mention. Not ground-breaking in the least, but still this 2001 is a good piece of BritPop's last hurrah. In the tradition of Suede, many of the songs could easily be Dog Man Star era B-sides. Solid effort.