Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 25

Field Report from Second Human Offensive 004 (access previous Communications)

Our campaign finally reached the remains of the Underground Human Settlement after weeks of bloody battles. Any hope of finding remnants of civilization were dashed nearly immediately upon arrival. The communications bunker, located above the main entrance tunnels, had been devastated long before our arrival. The building had been sabotaged and destroyed from inside, obviously at the hands of humans, whether internal strife or collaboration with the Rodent Army is indeterminable. The powerlines had been precisely cut - the work of rabbits undoubtedly.

The access tunnels had been open for some time, either by mass exodus or invasion. The atmosphere surrounding the compound appears toxic. Initial checks of the air quality show extremely high levels of methane and nitrogen. The only humans we encountered were the piles of dead near the main tunnel and the random body found barricaded inside the few underground buildings that had not been burned. We did find packs of feral children, if they could still be called that, seemingly living in the ventilation system. These creatures were violent, nearly blind, and even more lacking in humanity than the rabbits under General Nippon's command.

Signs inside the High Human Council offices point to utter collapse of all systems in the last days of the settlement. As we feared, having been completely cut off, the settlement could not sustain law and order. It seems that a good many people deserted in the final days, taking what refuge was to be found above ground. There was mention of gang activity, a group referring to themselves as Fival's Pets. We assume the feral creatures we discovered are the remnants, but if so, they have mutated extensively since the fall of the settlement.

After we retrieve any valuable information and technology, we will abandon this condemned place. There is no war here anymore. There is no liberation. We will return home and recommend total annihilation of the continent. Erasing this mistake from history is the only option left.

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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

One of the things I love about writing is the way it can be looked at from under a microscope or through the lens of a telescope because there so many elements that make up really great writing. So far in this series, I've looked at perfect phrases, sentences, stanzas, but there's also the paragraph. Sometimes a complete thought needs several sentences to shine (and sometimes a whole book). Here is a paragraph that never fails to move me:

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . . So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

This works on every level. A compact, clearly expressed journalistic point of view on a time and culture told in breathtaking prose. The imagery is intense. The overwhelming sense of defeat and sadness is tangible. And that final metaphor is simply brilliant.

Without a doubt, this is a paragraph that has had a strong influence on my own writing, not just stylistically, but also grammatically. I think its influence is easiest seen in my first two novels Pure Sunshine and Tomorrow, Maybe. One of the reasons this quote meant so much to me was that during the writing of both of those books, the W. era in the nation and Giuliani era in my city, I was feeling quite similar to Hunter in that passage. In the '90s counter-culture, there was also that feeling that we were doing something, changing things simply by the way we chose to live. We had decided not to live by the rules that had been set up for us by people we didn't think understood us.

Strides had been made, or I believed they had, and I was watching them all being rolled away like the last big wave. I kept thinking about Hunter S. Thompson's quote and couldn't help but think history had repeated itself in a way. But I didn't believe in giving up and turning Yuppie like previous generation had (many have though, a great many). I believed we could still chose to ignore and disobey what we knew to be unjust. This idea of rejecting those forces is very strong in both of my early novels...the idea of discovering your own morality and defining a more fair world for ourselves.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

For a few reasons, not the least of which is the teetering towers of CDs in my office, I haven't listened to that many new things this week. Which has been great in many ways, allowing me to spend more time with some releases I've been neglecting. It's also allowing me to pass along some albums that have been waiting their turn to make the Roundup for months in some cases. Not surprisingly given the melting heat staring me in the face today, the good majority of this list has a summertime feel. Enjoy them with a beer and a BBQ.

Buddy Holly - Buddy Holly: I picked up this Finnish picture disk vinyl the other weekend at the local record shop for a cool $10. Eleven songs of pure heaven. Nearly all my jammy jams are on this. "Everyday", "Oh Boy", "Maybe Baby" "That'll Be the Day" and well you get the point. The sound quality is great too and it's my only Buddy on vinyl, so I have to admit, I'm proud of if.

Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair: An nu-disco album from 2008 that I'd been wanting to hear for a long time after a catching a video back in that bygone year. The thing that makes this record so interesting is Antony's signing (of Antony and the Johnsons). Now, I really hated the Antony and the Johnsons album. I thought he sounded like a dying cricket. But combined with the electronic beats and horns on here, I think his voice works beautifully. A great indie dance album.

The Detroit Cobras - Tied & True: I missed this 2007 release when it came out. I have most of their albums before this one and enjoy them all. Another strong set of garage revival, but I've always felt the Cobras bring something a little different to the genre. Their songs definitely have many nods to Detroit's other legacy, infusing a Motown groove to their garage rock. The mixture is always enjoyable. This is their last album to date, if it remains so, it's a strong way to go out.

James Hunter - People Gonna Talk: British soul man playing his own brand of '60s soul with authenticity. This album is solid, though almost a little too retro for my taste in that it really doesn't bring anything new to the genre. That said, it's always nice to hear good soul being played. "Mollena" is an absolute fantastic song.

J Mascis + Friends - Sing + Chant for Amma: In 2005, Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis made this freak folk album that consists of six 5 minute plus songs. I have to admit to a mild interest when I picked this up but ended up falling in love with it. It strikes me as a experimental extension Green Mind (which I'm not afraid to admit is my favorite Dinosaur Jr. album). One of my favorite finds of the last few months to be sure.

The Spencer Davis Group - Gimme Some Lovin': Steve Winwood's pre-Traffic outfit's fourth and probably best known album. This is '60s British soul and played very well. The album suffers from too many toss off tracks, but the stand outs are dynamite. "Keep on Running" and "Somebody Help Me" are my personal favs. I always find it interesting to hear where certain musicians started before ending up in legendary bands. Definitely pales to Traffic, but good stuff nonetheless.

L7 - Smell the Magic: The 1990 album that proceeded '92s more mainstream Bricks Are Heavy is a raw blitz of riot grrrl rock. Smartly, the album clocks in just around 30 minutes and that's all it needs. Any more would probably take away from the furious pace. This is easily their best album in my opinion and ranks up there with riot grrrl's other top albums from Hole, Bikini Kill, and Babes in Toyland. "Shove" is such an anthem of early '90s angst.

Uriah Heep - Fantasy: With a cover like this, I can't help but have expectations of pure '70s hard rock bliss. Unfortunately, that's only half the story. Certainly at it's best, this 1975 album sounds like a darker Bowie meets Zeppelin and those songs are pretty darn great. At it's worst, it's straight '70s bar blues and the uneven mixture just didn't work for me as a whole. I'd stick to their earlier catalog.

David Bowie - Hunky Dory: Let me start in defending myself (sort of) for not having this album. I have a huge Bowie catalog and this one slipped through mostly because I have versions of the songs in multiple places. However, having listened to this masterpiece, there really is no excuse for not having it before. Every song is amazing from the opener "Changes" to the brilliant closer "The Bewlay Brothers." Easily one of Bowie's three best albums.

Death in Vegas - The Contino Sessions: A British trip-hop band, with the key word being band. A full band playing music that I suppose falls into the trip-hop category for lack of anything else at the time of their inception of the late '90s. This 1999 album is quite awesome. The guesting vocalists shine on many tracks, most notably Bobby Gillespie (of Primal Scream) whose song sounds like it could come off Kasabian's first album. For all you Explosions in the Sky fans out there, check out Death in Vegas.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Oh, How We Dread

I think there's an assumption out there that somehow the whole publishing process gets easier once you've established yourself as a writer. That's only partially true. It allows that you can usually get someone to at least read your next manuscript. But in the creative world, you're only as good as your current project.

I still get this deep dread inside me whenever I send off a manuscript. I never send out anything that I don't think is good, but that's no guarantee that anyone else will agree. I sent off the manuscript for my new novel to my publisher last month. In my opinion, it was the best thing I'd ever written, but I was extremely nervous about the reaction it might receive fro a variety of reasons, some real and others a creation of my own self-loathing. Earlier this week, I got a response:

"This novel is beautiful, poignant, authentic and really conveys the horror (and the comfort) of the schizophrenic mind."

There is still work to be done, but a positive start certainly makes revisions seem easier to tackle. After spending so much time and energy on something, there's nothing worse than thinking you'd have to start over from scratch or that the story you invested so much life into is suddenly deemed worthless. Thankfully, I dodged another one...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where The Sidewalk Ends

On a trip to Florida in early spring, I inadvertently discovered the place where the sidewalk ends. To the disappointment of imaginative children everywhere, it doesn't drop off into a world of wonder. It leads to a patch of crab grass just off the pavement of a public parking lot. Now you know why it is I prefer to live in fiction.

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 24

Field Report from Second Human Offensive 003 (access previous Communications)

Our unit made a disturbing and puzzling discovery on our march toward the entrance tunnels of the Underground Human Settlement. Upon nearing the fenced off remains of a road, we encountered a stray flock of rabbit eared children. Given recent deceptions, our soldiers were ordered to draw their weapons and remain on their guard as we approached. After several minutes of careful observation from a hidden hillside, it was confirmed that these particular children were wandering without rodent escort. Fearing a trap, we followed at an undetectable distance.

As the group entered a grassy clearing, an object could be seen against the horizon. The rabbit eared children appeared aware of its presence, heading directly for it. Once it was confirmed that no sonic activity was emanating from the object, we approached only to find a horror more horrific than we could have imagined. Before us stood a crude crucifix fabricated from the remains of badly burned bedpost. On the cross hung a the body of a human child with wings extending from her shoulder blades, though from our position it is unclear whether or not the wings were biological or artificial. It should be noted that no rabbit ears adorned the deceased.

As birds pecked at the eyes, the rabbit eared children knelt at the foot of the figure. By all appearances, they chattered away as if it were one of their friends, able to run as freely as they did. We overheard them refer to dead child as Kendra as they told her of their days, claiming to have escaped the control of a nearby warren. It unclear whether or not this was a trick or some perverted display of feral religion sprouting up spontaneously among a lost generation. Perhaps it is burial ceremony for one of their own or the simply the product of deranged young minds.

It was decided not to investigate any further. Satisfied with remaining unseen, we carried on. If all goes well, we should reach the outer most access tunnel by daybreak. However, we have sent back the coordinates of the body we discovered. With any luck, a rear unit will arrive in time to give the poor soul a proper burial.

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

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

Sometimes a line or sentence stands out not because it strikes a new idea within me but rather, it reasserts something I've felt for ages. I came across one such passage last summer while reading the wonderful book, Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine. He's a writer that I've always felt an affinity with. He's a master at expressing my deepest routed disgust and ugliest emotions. But never has he captured my thoughts so exactly as when he wrote:

The sun was there, I can vouch for that, always the same, as if somebody had opened a big furnace in your face... -Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Anyone who knows me even moderately well knows that I despise sunny days, and warm sunny days even more so. I long for the time when that star will simply die out and leave us all alone to the comfort of our own lighting. I live for cloudy days. Grey is the color of productivity in my world. It's impossible to get anything done on a blazing bright day. No one could possibly express themselves in such a climate.

Given the weather in my part of the world over the last few days, and quite a few more to come so they warn, this quote seems to continually play in my mind as I shake my fist angrily toward the center of our solar system and curse my fate. I have the small comfort of believing Celine would be proud.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

Last week I promised to focus on albums that have come out this year and I intend to keep that promise. It's just the kind of guy I am. This list consists of albums that I've gathered over the past several weeks, some have had more time to sink in than others but some frankly needed no sinking in. I'm finding that this year so far is filled with releases that are somewhat more intriguing than they are necessarily mindblowingly good. Usually by this half-way point in the year, I have a wide range of contenders from my best-of list, and though I do have a lot already, I wouldn't have a hard time putting it together had I to do it tomorrow. That said, if the next six months sees a smattering of albums as good as the best of the first six months, I'll be a happy camper. Here's some 2010 tunes for you to consider.

Omar Rodriquez Lopez & John Frusciante: Two of my favorite musicians of the last decade teamed up to release this experimental, instrumental jam session. The two have paired up before many times, mostly on Mars Volta releases or Omar's many solo releases. This falls into that category of intriguing for me. Two talented musicians improvising to create music that is unfiltered and immediate. But honestly, it's a two or three listen kind of thing, good but not lasting. It's available for donation download and all proceeds go to saving music in schools, so points for noble intentions for sure.

The Roots - Dilla Joints: This instrumental album was an obvious intent to hold-over fans until the new album came out this week. You would think if any hip-hop band could pull off an instrumental album, it would be the Roots. And while this is certainly a collection of listenable tracks, it shockingly got quite boring quite fast in my opinion (speaking as a long-time, huge Roots fan). But it was released to be a curiosity and it satisfies that. However, I can't wait to hear the real album.

Wolf Parade - Expo 86: Highly anticipated third album from Dan Boeckner (of Handsome Furs) and Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake). I was very excited to listen to this one, hoping for another masterpiece from Krug who has delivered many in my opinion (and fell flat a few times too). Though not quite a masterpiece, this certainly doesn't fall flat. In many ways, it's very similar to the previous album. What did sort of surprise me was that Boeckner's songs were slightly more enjoyable for me. I've always liked his Springsteen esque sound, but always found his tracks to be slightly weaker. I think they are equal on this album, which is great to see. I have to admit to liking this album more with each listen, and given that it feels more of an autumn sound to me, by Fall, I expect it may have crept onto my list. We'll see.

Angus & Julia Stone - Down the Way: The Australian indie folk duo's follow-up to 2007's fantastic debut A Book Like This. There have been several EPs between and I can honestly say, I enjoy this band more and more every time I hear them. Both albums very much feel like a his & her exchange. Julia's songs are beautiful and intelligent in an sweeter Amiee Mann sort of way. Angus's songs are darker and more haunting. The combination of the two creates a wonderful album. Much recommended for indie folksters.
The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt: The Swedish singer songwriter's second album follows one of my favorites of 2008 (Shallow Grave). This collection of songs doesn't stray far from the first album. The obvious americana influence and '60-'70s folk influences continue. This album is good, but for me it lacks some of the heart that Shallow Grave had. Perhaps it's just that it's so similar that the impact is diminished. "Kids on the Run" is a standout track for me. Very solid effort, just wished for slightly more departure from the first album. This feels like Disc 2 or something.

Broken Bells - Broken Bells: James Mercer (of The Shins) teams up with Danger Mouse to make one of the biggest surprises for me this year. I confess to only finding The Shins to be mildly entertaining at best. But Danger Mouse has a way of bringing out a fresh sound that rids James' voice of all the contrivances that I find so irritable when it comes to The Shins. The result is a beautiful indie rock album. I've been digging this quite a bit lately.

Pony the Pirate - This Is Our Psychopedia!: This Norwegian band plays a sort indie rock with garage punk nods. They remind me a lot of the great London based band Dogs. Straight-forward fist pumping songs. Very decent indie rock for those seeking a slightly harder beat. And the cover...well, given my cat likes pretend she be a pirate, I could hardly refuse the temptation.

Citay - Dream Get Together: San Francisco psychedelic folk gets me every time. This is a delightful album for passing away sunny summer days. Very much in the tradition of their contemporaries and one of my favorite bands The Skygreen Leopards. A great record to get lost in. I particularly love the blending of acoustic and electric droning over each other and drowned out by sunshine vocals.

Beach House - Teen Dream: Swirling indie dream pop, from Baltimore no less. I don't have too much to say about this album. It's all very pretty and everything but I find it hard to believe it inspires passion for anyone to love or hate it.

MGMT - Congratulations: After the smash success of their previous album, the band purposefully created an album that is very different than Oracular Spectacular. In a way, I commend them for shunting the easy route of creating the same catchy songs and instead trying to push themselves creatively. On the other hand, I do love those catch songs from the first album. I think the result is very mixed. There are some truly amazing songs on this album, "Siberian Breaks" and "Brian Eno", along with "Flash Delirium" are very good and very interesting musically. But others like the title track just don't work for me. An uneven album to be sure, but with flashes of what might be. The album cover on the other hand...yikes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Like What I Like

At a certain point in my life, sometime in my mid-20's, I had read enough books, listened to enough music and seen enough movies to be able to determine, for the most part, if I was going enjoy something or not. Sure, there are always surprises. There's always a movie that looks like utter trash from the previews and ends being great or an album by someone whose previous work irked me, yet they bring it altogether on one release. But the majority of the time, I know if I'm going to hate something or whether it will make me sickish to hold in my hands.

This ability is often mistaken for snobbishness. For example, when someone emphatically tells me that I should really see the latest Sandra Bullock movie where she's in a bad dye job and playing some stereotypical Hollywood suburban woman with guts in a sappy role and I emphatically refuse because I know without seeing it that I will think it sucks - this is not snobbishness, it's called personal aesthetics. I know myself well enough to know what appeals to me. I like what I like and that's that.

This is why it amazes me when people ask questions like "I need something to listen to, what should I listen to" or the same about any of the main entertainment categories. My wish list for books, albums and movies each rank in the hundreds. I don't want to waste time on something I'll hate. But it's strange how a large number of people simply want to be told what they should or shouldn't like. I believe this is why so much bad reality TV and boring crime dramas rule the ratings chart, because it's easy and requires no thought. It's why mediocre books like Da Vinci Code or (fill in the blank Vampire title) top the bestseller list, because it must be good if everyone's reading it, right? These are the same people who buy Coldplay and Kid Rock records and wonder why they aren't more invested in music (maybe because you're listening to crap that doesn't appeal to you but is harmless enough not to upset you).

I'm all for curiosity and experimenting and pushing the edges of what I know I like in order to see if there isn't more that I like. But there's a difference between curiosity and blind ignorance. If you at all care about any of these things, at least bother to figure what you find appealing or risk being a complete drone of marketing execs who have the numbers that tell them you are too dumb to make up your own minds. Thankfully, the tanking bad movies at the summer box office may be signaling that more of us are wising up. Can books be next? Please.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Made That!

I've never been very good at making things. Creatively, I mean. I can make dinner. I can make a mess. I can even make fun. But I never make anything artistically. The two ways I've always expressed myself are either through writing or drawing. I know things are technically made in those processes, but it's not quite the same thing.

Books are all cerebral. Images are all visual.

Being a huge collector of action figures, I've always fancied myself a woodcarver at some point, sitting on the porch in a rocking chair and widdling away tiny wooden figures. They would be mostly of elephants. I love elephants. I have since I was a toddler. All kinds of elephants. Very little ones. Apple picking elephants. Any kind. Possibly I could carve some Smurfs and throw into the mix. However, despite promising myself every year that I'll take up the art, I have to confess to a deep rooted fear of losing a finger. No wooden elephant is worth that. A wooden Jokey Smurf? Maybe.

My wife has recently begun making and designing clothes. (Example to the side and more here if you're interested). It amazes me the way she's able to have a vision of something and then actually bring that into existence. It's like bringing an object out of the stream of imagination and putting it forth into the world.

A great story is sort of the same thing, only we as authors never actually make those worlds we create into concrete fact. We only open a window and allow the reader to gaze at it for a while. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say there's not an art to that. Believe me, I've devoted my life to it. But, at some point, I think it would be nice to produce an object.

In that spirit, I set off to spend today rebuilding the staircase to my deck. I have the materials. I have the tools. I also have a tremendous amount of skepticism. I know I can write about a pristine staircase, or a crumbling one. My worry is that I will only be able to bring the latter into existence. We'll see. If all goes well, wooden Smurfs can't be too far off.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 23

Field Report from Second Human Offensive 002 (access previous Communications)

Upon entering the third targeted warren, our unit met fierce resistance for the first time during our Liberation Campaign. After making quick work of the previous two rodent holes, the counter assault caught the troops off guard. The ease in which we approached the warren only added to the relaxed mood. Despite all commanding officers warnings to remain alert, it is unfortunately human nature to expect continuity of good fortune once good fortune has been encountered.

We took out the sentries and secured the outposts with little effort. In accordance with procedure, we took the rabbit eared children into custody and questioned them. As with the previous two conquered warrens, the children gave little indication of knowing who we were or what our intended purpose might be. Satisfied, we gained entrance into the fallow tunnels and advanced rapidly. It wasn't until we arrived in the great den that we were ambushed by Rabbit Soldiers, and to our surprise, a squadron of feral children adorned with paper rabbit ears and a total absence of humanity.

Their weapons were unlike any we'd encountered before. The enemy used some sort of enhanced vocal weaponry, creating violent sonic vibrations that quickly crippled our soldiers. Bleeding from the ears was near immediate, followed by bleeding from the eyes and mouth and seconds later, death. Faced with no other choice, the order was given to retreat before setting the entire warren aflame. Casualties were high on our side and complete on the enemies'. Staring into the faces of the dead innocents, our soldiers were wracked with sorrow. Just when we begin to think it impossible, this war has turned even uglier than all its previous horrors combined.

We are now presented with several puzzling uncertainties. It seems as we close in on the Great Warren and the access tunnels to the Underground Human Settlement, the rodent network is more advanced than anticipated. We also know now that General Nippon is planning for our assaults. The element of surprise has vanquished. However disturbing this may be, it was expected. What surprises us is the ease with which the rabbit eared children lied to us in order to protect the secret ambush. We have no doubt they knew of the bloody scene that awaited us. We fear more than ever that their conversion back to human society is unachievable.

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, trying to discover who I was as a writer, most of my texts were riddles of surreal images and stream of consciousness semi-poetics. They were untamed. Though at times, I wrote passages that I thought were exceptional, I struggled with honing in the lyrical content within a context. In 1998 Neutral Milk Hotel released one my ten favorite albums of all time, In the Aeroplane over the Sea. This is one of those works of art that both inspires me, yet haunts me with its genius. However, there is one verse on it that really helped me focus in on the creative dilemma I described above.

The only girl I've ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening, 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she's a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames

-from the song Holland, 1945

There's an undeniable beauty to the words that on the surface seem to make no sense, especially the "now she's a little boy in Spain", but that is what so attracted me to the lines in the first place. I think it was about the second or third listen when I realized this verse was talking about Anne Frank (one of my earliest literary influences). Like any great piece of poetry, the puzzle takes time to unravel, but once it does, once it's clear in your mind, the imagery and meaning of these lines is overwhelming. They stop me every time I hear them.

Through these lines, I learned that stringing together odd and beautiful images only reached their full potential when they were used for a deeper meaning that was beyond the showing off of creative language. It took me a long time to learn how to use this knowledge, but I think it's fair to say that now my books are filled with examples of what I learned thanks to two influential figures in my literary life, Jeff Mangum and Anne Frank.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

I've been in a state of mental cleaning of late, trying to sweep away cluttered ideas and untangle more useful ones from the inevitable knot they form like the wires connected to countless appliance chargers stored in my kitchen's junk drawer. In the spirit of such a task, I've decided to clear the air of all the remaining 2009 albums that I have marked for review. Though being the self-confessed collecting hoarder that I am, I make no promises that albums from that bygone year won't show up again, I can assure you that as of now, this all of the 2009 releases slated for slander. Trendy Hipsters have no fear, next week will be devoted to 2010, because you all know how we like things that are new, new, new. Until then, dust off your calendars and think back to a time long ago...

Sun Wizard - Maybe They Were Right: Not sure if this band is from California or not, but their music certainly belongs to that fine state. In the tradition of many other Cali bands (especially of the L.A. variety) there is an inflection of some southwestern sound in their sunny indie rock. For me, this six song EP was frustrating. "In the Morning" and the title track are infectiously great. However, the rest of the EP feels quite like a different band and decidedly more generic. But I have high hopes that in the future they will produce a dynamite full-length.

Little Girls - "Concepts": This is a dense album of post-shoegazer tunes from a Toronto based band. Intentionally impenetrable and at times, beautiful, but as a whole I found it rather boring as I do with most of these types of albums. For a few songs, it's a great soundscape album, but as it goes on, it becomes very same-same. If that kind of sound is your thing, check them out. They do it as well as anyone...it's just not my thing.

The xx - xx: This is one of those albums that's very hard to pin down. That's typically a good thing in my book. Not that there's anything wrong with playing a style and doing it well, but an album that is diverse and spans many genres seems to have a longer life. At times this feels like a indie rock record, at times a dance record, and when it works, the songs are stellar. "Islands" is undoubtedly a HIT in ever sense of the world. Overall, I really liked this album but didn't absolutely love it...though I can see why so many people I know do truly love it. It certainly required listening from 2009.

Bad Veins - Bad Veins: Dangerbird is one of the few labels around that I'll still venture a purchase of an album based on one song that I find appealing. After catching a video for a rather catchy song, I decided to pick this up. It's clearly an indie rock record that is wholly enjoyable, if not exactly original. In a way, it reminds me of a angrier, modern-day American garage version The Smiths: less pretty, more direct than witty, but the intent is there. Very enjoyable and worthwhile for any indie rock lover. I feel like comparisons to The Strokes first album are unavoidable simply because of the singer's voice. But I suppose that's the one Strokes album you'd want to be compared with.

Fallout 3: Galaxy News Radio: Frequent readers of this blog will remember that I named this video game as my entertainer of the year for 2009. What I didn't mention at that time was the amazing musical selections used throughout the game, mostly in the background, played through the in-game radio station. This may not be what you imagine when you think of a video game soundtrack, this is mostly '30s and '40s era Big Band tunes, lots of Cab Calloway sounding songs, a bunch of Billie Holiday numbers along with originals that reproduce that sound. A fantastic collection that hopefully will introduce people to an increasingly forgotten era of amazing music.

J. Tillman - Daytrotter Sessions: Yet another of the endless stream of dark folk singer-songwriters that I hail in the Weekend Roundup, but truly, J. Tillman is worth it. Like a scaled-back Bon Iver, Tillman sounds like a tree in the winter woods that has lost its leaves yet still rattles in the cold wind. The songs are haunting and beautiful. A million thanks to the wonderful Daytrotter website for continuing to showcase unheralded bands. After hearing the two sessions he did here, all of his albums immediately found their way onto my wishlist.

Chain and the Gang - Down with Liberty...Up with Chains: The newest project from one of the true geniuses of our generation, Ian Svenonius (of Make-Up, Nation of Ulysses, Weird War, David Candy and author of fantastic book of music essays, The Psychic Soviet). I had no idea this existed until the dANIMAL, my fellow Svenonius admirer, provided me with knowledge of it. This is easily the best release of his since Make-Up and very much uses the garage rock revival sound of that band. But it's also very different at the same time, slower, less maniac, more political, and humorous. Seems like the perfect summer afternoon record when the bong is sitting nearby and there is nothing on the agenda.

Death - ...For the Whole World to See: Not to be confused with the Scandinavian death metal band, this is a Detroit rock outfit that has created a very varied record. At its core this is a garage rock album that one would expect from the Motor City, but it infuses the sound with softer moments, along with 90's indie nods, stoner rock and metal elements. A very solid album on all accounts.

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion: I must admit to my continued confusion as to the incredible love for this band that exists among indie crowds. I keep following the band and listening to their releases in hopes that I might discover what up until now has eluded me. This is the highest rated album for 2009 on rateyourmusic.com and I have no idea why. At moments, there is a brilliance to their swirling Beach Boys-esque experimental psychedelic pop, but overall the result is more of mess than a masterpiece in my opinion.

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You: Here's an album I never expected to enjoy, and ended-up really liking it. I passionately hated all of the singles from Lily's debut album. I found them to be incredibly annoying on every level. However, I recently heard her covering some tunes and was struck by how much I loved her voice and decided to give this album a try. Given my recent rediscovery of British pop music, I was geared to find something good here. I found something quite unexpectedly great. Super catchy pop tracks are combined with Lily's amazing voice and surprisingly brilliant lyrics. Her view of society as a hypocritical, shallow entity mirror my own at times and to express that point view within a frame work that will appeal to those she's criticizing is quite bold. Bravo. It is rare that my opinion of an artist is so completely reversed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Let's Go A Story Hunting

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."
-Lewis Carroll from The Hunting of the Snark

I'm always on the hunt for a story. I seek them out the way some people seek out valuable antiques being sold for $1 at yard sales, garage sales, or tag sales as they are called on the wrong side of the Hudson River.

There are stories to be found in the oddest of places. I find them in the background of old photographs taken by strangers. I find them in the shortest bits of music hiding behind vocals. Of course, there's the fertile ground of my never-ending cycle of bizarre dreams. There are many stories to be found in books that are telling their own story if you just happen to let yourself go left when the character turns right. But these are only the places where I hunted and found stories today. The story has a million million different hiding places.

It's a tireless hunt and one must always be prepared with eyes like targets ready to zero in on the kill. Not every shot is worth taking. But eventually, the Snark will slip up and I'll be there to bag it and bind it within my own pages. It's just the kind of guy I am.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Entertain Me

There's always been an imaginary line in the sand that divides art from works created purely for entertainment. Entertainment takes the world of the viewer and spins it in a creative way to delight its audience, or scare them, or wallop them over the head with a heavy dose of sentiment. Art on the other hand presents the familiar world in an unfamiliar way, forcing the audience to come face-to-face with a way of seeing things that, though within them, they don't often connect with and by that process, he or she comes away learning something new about themselves or the world around them.

More and more, it seems our culture doesn't recognize the difference. Either it won't or it can't. But when everything is disposable, it seems the majority of us simply want to be entertained. Yet, with a lack of any sense of reference between the two, we seem to elevate entertainment to the level of art. We also tend to judge art by the standards of entertainment.

I'm not trying to state that one can't be the other. A great deal of art is entertaining and things that were simply meant to be entertaining can be artistic. However, there's a difference between a book whose intention is to tell a good story and a book that is meant to stay with you and affect your point of view on life. It is of my opinion that if you are someone devoting your time and effort to reviewing books and trying to influence people's reading habits, then you should probably bother to learn the difference. But I suppose that may be too much to ask for in our world where the louder you yell is more important than the quality of what you have to say.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 22

Field Report from Second Human Offensive 001 (access previous Communications)

We entered the first Outer Warren shortly past dawn when the human children are taken to the grounds near the remains of the city. The intel from the now defunct underground settlement proved mostly accurate. Inaccuracies in Rodent Army positions and outposts could be due to changes made since communication with the survivors was cut-off.

The troops were anxious for the assault. Four weeks at sea has left them weakened in body but not spirit. Crossing the ocean, they were subjected to constant visual reminders of the atrocities committed by the mutant rabbits in the form of slide shows, fragmented newsreels and audio recordings of the hypnotic assaults leveled against our once great society. Upon landing on shore, most were rabid for battle and were hard to contain during the sleepless hours of the night.

Defenses for the Outer Warrens were modeled on past military protocol just as we suspected. It seems, for all of their boasts of intelligence, the rabbits remain highly imitative of human behavior and culture, manipulating it for their own gains but offering little or nothing innovative. Their outposts were quickly overrun by our troops. Perhaps they remain unaware of human settlements beyond their immediate territory and were not expecting an attack by sea. Regardless, initial advance has been promising. In strict compliance with orders, we have taken no rodent survivors from the first raid. Until we are sure the rodents cannot communicate thoughts over great distances, as our scientists fear, we must exterminate in order to keep a level of surprise.

It is from the children that we have learned anything about the apparent aims of General Nippon. However, we can't be certain of having wiped their programming so we remain skeptical of information given to us by the rabbit ear kids. It must be reported that we have been taken somewhat by surprise as to the extent of brainwashing that has occurred. As of now, the children will be sent to interment camps until we know for sure it is safe to return them to human society.

We march forward to the next warren, hoping with each new raid we may eventually discover the location of the former High Human Command and any remains of humanity for us to liberate.

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

In the previous installments of this Monday rambling, I've chosen lines that have been bouncing around in my head for years and years. But the thing about all of them is that their impression on me was instantaneous. It wasn't the passing of time that made them stand out. Their genius hit me in the moment. In that spirit, today I've decided to highlight a line that I encountered just yesterday. I read this metaphor yesterday and smiled at its brilliance :

A notebook is a caution against forgetting.

As someone whose office is littered with scraps of paper and stacks of pocket notebooks and whose ipod Notes application gets frequent entries, I could really relate to this. There are times when I get a great idea after I've already gone to bed and wonder if it's worth turning the light back on for, thinking it'll still be there in the morning if it's worth remembering. I toss and turn and eventually realize I will never get any sleep if I don't write it down...because, well, a notebook is a caution against forgetting.