Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

Last weekend's power outage short circuited the Roundup, but electricity could never shut it down completely. Not that imagine anyone out there wandered around helplessly last weekend without it, but it's always nice to get back on track. I wasn't in a very exploratory mood musically this week and tending for safe choices. Whenever I'm actually writing, which thankfully I was this past week, I prefer not listen to anything that I haven't heard at least once before. As a result, this week's picks have a lot of new things by familiar old favorites. Enjoy.

The Smiths - Unreleased Demos: This recently released bootleg features alternative takes of many of my favorite Smiths songs. A lot of them date back to the era of the Manchester band's 1984 debut album, which has always been my favorite. It's nice to hear fresh versions of favorite songs. That to me is always the beauty of bootlegs.

Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding: As a die hard Oasis fan, I've been looking forward to this album ever since Liam, Gem, and Andy announced they'd formed it, approximately a week after Oasis split. I've been keeping up with the three singles they released through the winter and each was progressively better. The latest single, "The Roller" is dynamite. The album isn't the best rock album in the last 50 years, as Liam promised, but that said, it is probably the best Britpop album in a long time (not counting Oasis albums). There's some fantastic songs on here that you can really hear the echo of Andy Bell's Ride years. Also the best album cover of the year so far.

Jefferson Airplane - Live at the Fillmore Auditorium (Grace's Debut): I clearly remember the day I discovered the Airplane in a motel room on the Jersey Shore, which is a miracle that I remember anything considering the circumstances. I took off then and I still haven't landed when it comes to Jefferson Airplane and the sounds they made throughout the 60's and '70s. I was excited when this concert was released on CD around Christmas time. It's a great show with a great set list. But what I love about it is that Grace, this being her debut, is very tentative. There is no doubt that this is Marty Balin's band. The balance of power would soon shift in the band, but on this night, Marty is in charge and Jorma is playing crazy good.

Pink Floyd - Ummagumma: This isn't a new album for me by any means. I've had this album since I was 17. In fact, I have one of my best teenage memories listening to this album while in a cabin in the mountains. I'd been grounded for weeks, which for me meant no music. This was the first album I listened to when I had the chance and for that I will always love "Granchester Meadows". Two weeks ago, I bought the original vinyl release even though I have it on CD. It was $20 well spent. The live album sounds fantastic on record and it might be the best version of "Careful with that Ax, Eugene." I've always loved the individual pieces on the second album too. Easily one of my 150 albums of all time.

Babe Ruth - Amar Caballero: This is the early 70's hard progrock band's second album from 1973. It's a curious album. The band's debut album a year earlier is amazing, but the album the followed is very uneven. This one falls somewhere in between, which makes sense chronologically speaking. It's not as heavy as the first, but a little more prog oriented, which suits the band nicely. Definitely worthwhile to check this one out.

Family - Music in a Doll's House: This progressive folk album from 1968 had been on my wishlist for quite some time before I finally acquired it this past week. This is a fantastic album, one of the gems of the genre. Using blues, rock, and folk elements, it creates an album that reminds me a little of Jethro Tull's Stand Up, but at the same time is remarkably different. It's quickly becoming a favorite discovery of the year.

Hawkwind - In Search of Space: I've been on a serious Hawkwind binge all winter long. It started with my obsessive listening to Warrior on the Edge of Time, which I'm still listening to at least once a week. The binge was only strengthened by the gift of a killer Hawkwind T-shirt for Christmas. I realized that I never got their second album and sought it out this past week. You can really hear the band moving forward from the first album (which I love, but which doesn't necessarily the sound Hawkwind is identified with). A lot of these tracks exist on Space Ritual, which has been a favorite album of mine since High School. "Master of the Universe", "We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago" and "Children of the Sun" are so amazingly good that I find it hard to believe I've lived without this in my collection for so long.

Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs: In the last Roundup, I mentioned that Mercury Rev were rehearsing in the back room while I was record shopping the other week. I knew this band on second-handedly through friends back in college, but I've been meaning to listen to them for a while as they are based in the next town from me and we share acquaintances. (I actually sat at the same table at a wedding with them a few years ago). Well, they sounded fantastic rehearsing and so I decided to finally give them a good listen. The problem was, I had no idea where to start. I decided on this 1998 album because it seems to be considered their best. I was hoping some of the songs I heard them play would be on it. As the first song came on, I realized it was the first song I heard them rehearse. Then the second and third followed suit and it didn't take me long to realize I heard them play most of this album in order. I gather they are planning a tour to play this album. If so, I'm there and I highly recommend everyone go. This album is wonderfully sad and beautiful dream-rock. Definitely an album I'm sorry I missed back in my youth.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Worth a Few Thousand Words...

Visual art has always been very influential to my writing. In some ways I think I began to write mainly because I couldn't draw well enough to put the pictures in my head onto the paper. I drew them with words instead.

Before I start writing any book, I go through my binders of and folders of stored images and sort out any that have a similar feel to the story I'm about tell. There are several artists whose images I frequently turn to. One of them is James Jean. I thought I'd share some of my favorites from the Fables comics so you could get a glimpse into what fuels my imagination.

(all images (c) James Jean)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Magic Wand

When a story is finished and there are parts that just aren't working, sometimes magic is required. A dab of this here and a dab of that there, say a little prayer and presto...the story changes into something completely new.

I've been working this brand of sorcery on one my recently completed stories. After carefully considering what elements were strong and which were dragging me down, I kept the good bits and rethought the story into one that plays better with the narrative. A few characters survived in tact while many more suffered through excruciating transformations. Either way, they've been cooperative so far.

This is a process I've gone through with nearly every novel I've ever published. I'm sure there has to be an easy way...but part of being a writer is finding the path that works for you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Books (No Electricity Required)

The winds blew in violently from the west after an unnaturally warm end to the week last week. On Saturday, powerlines that typically cross the line of sight outside my front window were suddenly strung across the ground, leaving my house and all of the homes nearby without electricity for the weekend. Incidentally, this is the reason for the lack of a Weekend Music Roundup in case anyone was wondering.

With the fireplace going, I was able to keep it slightly above freezing indoors where I spent the weekend curled under several blankets and read four books. It was refreshing and rejuvenating. In college, it is how I spent most weekends trying to get through my assigned reading as well as the books I wanted to read on my own. I still read every day, but it would be nice to spend more time each day doing so. It's a funny thing when the power goes out. It makes one realize how reliant we are on it and everything it gives. There's a moment of utter freak out when it turns off. But then, once it comes back, there also needs to be moment where we realize all it takes away from us.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Music Saves

"I have a gem of a bird. She sits in my pocket, whispers to me wonderful words."

Last week was a bit rough for me. It was one of those weeks when I contemplated why I even bothered to write and only came up with unsatisfying answers. In the end, the answer was simple. I write because I have these stories circling through my thoughts that I need to tell. I will keep telling them...even if no one is listening.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Picture That! Picture Book of the Week!

Allow me to share a big dose of fun for this week's Picture Book selection. This week has been one of those weeks when I've felt the need for some reassuring good reads. There are some books that make me remember why I got into the children's book racket, books that bring to life the magical world that we once saw as children and have to struggle to maintain as we get older, knowing the payoff is worth the effort. Here's one of those books that take me there and for that, I'm grateful.

What do you do with a Kangaroo? by Mercer Mayer
(Four Winds Press, 1975)

What do you do with a Kangaroo
who jumps in your window, sits on your bed, and says.

"I never sleep on wrinkled sheets,
so change them now and make them smooth,
and fluff up the pillows if you please."

So the young narrator asks her readers on the first page of this delightfully silly book. Then page after page, another preposterous critter after another disrupts the little girl's day with ridiculous demands.

An Opossum uses her toothbrush, a llama wears her favorite jeans, a tiger steals her tricycle and a thirsty camel drinks her bath water. What is a spirited little girl to do? You throw him out, that's what you do. This is her answer to every problem. Only at night, when she finds all of the creatures in her bed and she's much too exhausted to throw them all out, there's only one thing to do. Let them stay.

Mercer Mayer's brilliant illustrations are packed visual jokes that bring this character and story to life. I also love how it portrays a child's stubborn, imaginative spirit in a way that isn't critical or stylized. The girl just is as she is and eventually comes around on her own. Kids will delight in her attitude and the absurd situations the book presents, while also eagerly anticipating the repeated refrain. A wonderful read-aloud that is also good to read to yourself with grin that grows wider at every turn of the page.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I've Got Baseball Fever Week: Part 4 - The Days of Our Lives

For all you non-sports fans out there, you'll be happy to hear my fever is breaking and I will return to my regularly scheduled series of ramblings after today. But there's only two strikes and two outs...I still got one more pitch before I swing and miss and put an end to the game.

As a writer, one aspect of baseball, and really all professional sports, that attracts me is the never ending story. There's a good reason sports are often compared to soap operas. Besides the strategy and drama that comes with every pitch, baseball provides plenty of story lines, ranging from heroic to bizarre to tragic.

Whether it's the story of a rookie that comes through in the playoffs or the super star that falters, or the team that comes together and clicks or the ones that collapse, the unfolding story lines that grow out of every season and through careers is what keeps me coming back. You never know what is going to happen on the diamond. There's no predicting unscripted entertainment.

Baseball is my summer reading with a cast of characters in the thousands and guaranteed ups and downs. The pages turn slowly, which is how I like them to turn. I'll keep my fingers crossed for a happy ending.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I've Got Baseball Fever Week: Part 3 - Cheering the Players

As I mentioned in previous the 'Fever' posts, I was big collector of baseball cards. I used to spend hours and hours just looking through them and reading through the stats line-by-line. I love seeing a player's entire career and comparing one season to next. In a way, it's like a novel written in numbers. The numbers outline a story that can be quite compelling. And there's always the anticipation of what that next line might look like.

Perhaps the best thing about collecting baseball cards was that it allowed me to root for players in addition to just the ones on my team. Of course, I would root for players whose cards I'd put a lot of value in. After all, greed is a certainly a part of the game in many ways. But beyond that, there were players who I genuinely liked and liked to follow their seasons almost as much as following my team.

A lot of these players read like a list of could've/should've beens. Players with dynamic ability and bursts of productivity. Players like Eric Davis, Ron Gant, Ricky Jordan, Brett Sabarhagen, and Jerome Walton. Disappointments at the time, but looking back, these are some of the players I remember most fondly. Then there's ones who really made it like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas and it's to have watched entire Hall of Fame careers. But in many ways, that's the point of following sports. It's about putting hope into something or someone and watching how it all unravels. Just like meeting characters in a book and wondering where they'll end up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I've Got Baseball Fever Week: Part 2 - At First Base...

Perhaps the most special position in baseball is playing first base for the New York Yankees. Dating back to the time of Lou Gehrig, there's a certain prestige that comes with fielding that bag in the house that Ruth built. My attraction to that position goes back to my childhood days when my favorite player of all time stood there...Don Mattingly.

Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I was able to watch most of the Yankee games on television. For whatever reason, our cable included NY channel 11, before it was the CW, it was one of those long gone channels that showed reruns all day long as well as being the home of the Yankees. I started watching those games mainly because I was drawn to the feel of the ballpark. There was such a rich history just in the look of the game that I was drawn too. Then there was Donny Baseball who was just electrifying to watch. It didn't take long for my love of the American League to develop.

A few years later, while in the midst of my baseball card collecting craze, like many, I was taken in by Kevin Maas, a short-lived phenom who burst onto the scene with homerun after homerun. Naturally, it was while playing first-base for the New York Yankees. But an injured Don Mattingly soon healed enough to take his position back and I watched as he gave it his best in the '95 playoffs, his only playoff series. The team lost that series to Seattle, but not because of the efforts of Mattingly who put up amazing numbers.

Several very strong years of Tino Martinez followed and then some quality years by the Giambino, Jason Giambi. The traditional continues today with Mark Teixeira, one of the best in the game. Studying one position on one team throughout the years is just one of those quirky aspects of America's Game that makes it so appealing to follow. Baseball is like a civilization unto itself, with its own history, math, science, heroes, villains, and economy.

If there was one job in the world I could be given, it would be playing first base for the Yanks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I've Got Baseball Fever Week: Part 1 - The Home Team

For weary baseball fans like me, the hard months are over as the pitchers and catchers head down south to raise our hopes for another summer. Every year, from the time my beloved Eagles eventually lose in the playoffs until mid-February, I get antsy. When I used to live in Washington Heights (the upper most part of Manhattan island for those non-New Yorkers), late night cab rides would usually take me up the Harlem River Drive where Yankee Stadium would countdown the days to pitchers and catchers reporting for duty. It felt good to see that number getting smaller and smaller.

That day of reckoning is here for the 2011 season.

So I'm dedicating this week to my love of the game. Baseball was the first sport that I followed, starting around the age of eight. Baseball cards played a huge role in that. I was a big card kid. I still have most of them, mountains of them hidden throughout the house. Unfortunately, my prowess on the field never matched my passion, as you could probably guess from my swing in the picture above. I stunk. If by some miracle I did hit that ball at that angle, at best I could hope for a slow roller back to the mound. However, I did manage to hit a mean double once. It was the highlight of my career.

Growing up, I certainly rooted for the home team. The Phillies weren't exactly great in the late '80s, but I didn't really care so much. Part of being a Philadelphia sports fan is accepting that our team never catches any breaks and is always going to be a hard luck team. Which is odd, because with my sports teams is where I probably maintain the most optimistic attitude in life.

One Phillie that I've always liked is Von Hayes, a hard luck player if ever there was one. Von is famous for the Phillies having traded five players for him. He never lived up to expectations, though I've never felt it was his fault. Von was a player that could have been a good piece for a championship team, but was never going to be that MVP. He had some decent years though and his cards are still separated into my 'Favorite Players' pile.

I still root for the Phils, though I've always been more of an American League fan and when I moved to NYC, the Yankees, my childhood American League team, won my full allegiance. As this year begins, it looks like pretty good odds for the Phils to be in the World Series...and you can never count out the Yanks. All in all, could be a fun year.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

My big musical adventure this week revolved around my efforts to visit the only vinyl store in nearby Kingston. I had an appointment around the corner on Tuesday and figured I'd nip into the record shop a little early. They specialize in classic rock, but have a decent selection of 80's and 90's stuff for a small shop. The problem with this store is its odd hours and I always seem to catch it closed. It was closed on Tuesday, but I found out shortly later because Mercury Rev was using the space to rehearse. I went back on Friday and it was open. Not only did I get to shuffle through hundreds of records without anyone else there, but I also got to hear Mercury Rev still rehearsing. They sound amazing. It's was like a private concert. That's my music story for the week. Without further ado, here's this week's selections. Enjoy.

The Jayhawks - Tomorrow the Green Grass (Deluxe Reissue): A few weeks ago, this 1995 album was reissued with a ton of discarded tracks and early demo takes of songs. Being that this is an album I truly love, I was eager to hear the expanded version and I'm glad to report that it's pretty great. Their inner Neil Young, which shows on their studio albums, really shines on the raw demos such as "Hold Me Close" and "Ranch House in Phoenix." This band was really a decade ahead of the trend of using country influences in indie rock. If you don't know the album, or even if you do, I highly recommend getting this version.

Tina Dico - Welcome Back Colour: This double album from London based, Danish singer songwriter Tina Dico was a strong contender for my best-of list last year. This first disc is an upbeat blend of indie sounding R&B. There's definitely a pop sensibility to it, but with an Aimee Mann feel. "A New Situation" being my favorite song on that album. The second disc is more acoustic singer-songwriter and owes even more to Aimee Mann. "Break of Day" being my favorite track on that album.

Natural Snow Buildings - Waves of the Random Sea: The newest album from my favorite French drone folk outfit is a bit more subdued than some of their more grand efforts, including last year's space folk The Centauri Agent. There's less drone and more attempt at melody, along with more vocals which I always like on their albums. Also, unlike some of their other releases, which can extend for several hours, this is a more standard release of about an hour and a half. Listening to this band can certainly start to feel like your listening to same thing over and over, but individually, this is still a very good album.

Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean: This is one of those albums that took me a few listens to really enjoy. I admit that upon first hearing it, except for a few songs, I was ready to say I hated it. But on the next listen, it grew on me. On each listen since, it has improved to the point where I'm certain this is truly a good album. There are still some sound effect gimmicks and a bizarre sexy slide whistle and whomp bass that bother me, but the the song structures are impressive. "Monkey's Uptown" and "Rabbit Will Run" are amazing. And "Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me" might be my favorite Iron & Wine song of all time. This is why I almost never write off an album after the first listen.

Jason Webley - The Cost of Living: As I mentioned in my last review of a Jason Webley album, I came into his music because of the Evelyn Evelyn album which was my second favorite album of last year. This 2007 album has a bigger sound than Counterpoint (the other solo album of his that I have reviewed) yet it retains the spiritual nature of songwriting in the same way I consider Leonard Cohen's songs to be hymns. He is one of these figures who will one day be recognized as an amazing talent. This album sounds a bit like a gypsy Decemberists album, sung in a drunken harbor bar.

Jonathan Round - Jonathan Round: This 1971 homemade sounding bit of psychedelic craziness is a rare gem along the lines of The United States of America album. Coming from Detroit, there is a definite rawness associated to bands from that town in that era, a sense of danger in every song that is delightful to hear. There is an insane version of "Sympathy for the Devil" on here, which apparently Mick Jagger once called one of his favorite covers. "Young Sadie (Dancing Lady)" is another amazing track. Just a good forgotten psych album.

Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings: Every fan of the blues knows Robert Johnson, the King of the Delta Blues Singers, and regard him as the true father of blues music, having influenced the entire genre from the '30s and still continuing to influence music today. As far as I know, he's also the earliest known case of selling his soul to the devil for music. I'd been wanting this box set for a long time and finally got it for Christmas. A double disc, containing two recordings of every song, this really is the Holy Grail of old time blues music. His voice is haunting. His words are reach inside of you. And then there is his guitar playing which is as profound as the sound of the world spinning.

Sparks - Propaganda: This is the L.A. electro-glam band's second album released in 1974, along with Kimono My House, both of which I have on vinyl as part of a donated collection. Both of these albums are really inventive forms of prog-punk with cabaret elements and certainly sound more like albums coming out today than anything being released at the time. They are also maddening confusing in their manic changes. I certainly feel that Kimono My House is the superior album, but this one is also good. There's a sense of panicked fun about them that I quite enjoy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Last Letter from the Long Patrol- (my memories of Brian Jacques)

(Redwall art (c) Blur Studio)

Brian Jacques, the author of the Redwall fantasy series, as well as other acclaimed books, passed away last weekend. Though it might be hard to tell from my books, aside from Pirate School of course, he was one of my favorite storytellers and among the most influential authors in my life. I spent most of the summer of 1998 living in Redwall Abbey, reading seven or so of the books in that short period. I also had the good fortune to meet Brian Jacques on two occasions.

My first encounter with Redwall occurred in the Spring of 1998. It was my last semester at NYU and I landed an internship with Philomel, the Putnam imprint that publishes Redwall in the US. Never being much of a fantasy reader up to that point, I didn't pay much attention to the series until I found out Brian Jacques was coming to the office for a visit. This was the first author I would ever meet and figured I'd better read something by him. I read Pearls of Lutra, a book that was in advanced reader copies at that point. I was captivated at once and poured through the book two days before he showed up in the offices. He was there to fulfill a Make a Wish Foundation event, one little boy's wish was to meet him. I was lucky enough to be in the room for that meeting and witnessed this man's remarkable impact on his readers.

Later that night, my boss had a Redwall Feast at her house in Hyde Park and to my shock, I was invited. Anyone who has read the series knows how important food and feasts are to the characters at Redwall. To be part of a feast, prepared by Brian Jacques using recipes from the books (or as near as to be edible) was amazing. As the night went on, he truly was the center of attention. There were about forty people there, all adults and all sitting on the floor around him like schoolchildren as he told one hilarious story after the other. By the end of the night, he'd taken a likening to me because of my name and because we were both smoking Dunhill cigarettes (he was chain smoker, at least at this point in his life). That night has always been a special memory for me and I tore through the books over the next few months.

The next time I met Brian Jacques was during a book signing he did on the Upper East Side of Manhattan back when I was living there. Anyone who ever saw him do a reading knows what a great show he put on. Having been a voice actor, he really made the stories come to life when he read. Afterwards, I waited in line to get my copies of Redwall and Mariel of Redwall (my favorite of the series) signed. This was years after the party and I reminded him of it. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was working at Scholastic and he groaned as this was around the time Harry Potter had stolen the Redwall thunder. I told him, as I told everybody who loved Harry Potter at that time, that Harry was no Martin. We both shared a laugh.

The stories of Redwall to this day remain among my all time favorites. The combination of humor, adventure, and character told in breathtaking literary style challenged an industry that tends to dumb-down literature for young readers. Brian Jacques did the opposite. He elevated his tales into profound works of art that used dialect, poetry, and beautiful descriptive language to build epics of classical proportion while never losing sight of the joyous experience reading should be. He may be gone, but his stories will forever be with us.

Woodpigeons cooed within the dimness of woodland depths, bees hummed and grasshoppers chafed out on the sunlit flatlands. Mariel began skipping, twirling Gullwhacker at her side, suddenly filled with a sense of freedom and adventure. What better than to travel alone, eat when you please, rest when you fell the need, camp by your own little fire at night and sleep snug in some forest glade! The feeling flooded through her with such force that it made her light-headed, and she began singing aloud an old playsong, known to mice everywhere.

"The winter O, the winter O,
With cold and dark and driving snow,
O not for me the winter O,
My friend I tell you so.
In spring the winds do sport and play,
And rain can teem down anyday,
While autumn oft is misty gray,
My friend hear what I say.
When summer sunlight comes each morn,
The birds sing sweet each golden dawn,
And flow'rs get kissed by every bee,
While shady stands the tree.
The summer O, the summer O,
Amid its golden peace I go,
From noon to lazy evening glow.
My friend I told you so.
(from Mariel of Redwall)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Ascending Story

Writing a novel is about creating a series of focused and unfocused moments, sometimes even within each scene.

There are times when you need to stop and concentrate, knowing the history of thoughts and feelings one character has for another in order to properly convey an interaction.

There are times when you need to let the words wander.

Like life, it's not always about knowing where you're going to end...but making sure you're paying attention while you're in the moment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Few Good Middle Grade Fantasy Reads

It's been a while since I posted any book reviews on here and since I've been reading like a champ as of late, I figured it was about time to catch up. Recently I have been attracted to Middle Grade books with a fantasy element. I've been including more and more fantasy elements into my own work, not as a way of escaping realism but as a way of adding to the depth of reality. I've also been centering a lot of my writing energy on Middle Grade fiction. I like the age of the characters and the wide-open possibility the genre gives for the range of story that can be told. Plus, with everybody and their cousin writing uninspired YA novels these days, I feel like Middle Grade is where the next big boom in publishing will happen. Here are two books that I enjoyed during my studies.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

A delightful fantasy whose real joy comes from an exceptional cast of characters. The interactions between Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, and Michael are truly such a pleasure to read that the action almost becomes secondary to the novel. However, the action is certainly entertaining from beginning to end as the team tries to outwit the clever Witch of the Waste. The relationships between the characters builds slowly and carefully with Diana Wynne Jones's uncanny ability to place the reader within the enchanting world of a moving castle.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

It took me a few chapters to really get swept up in this book, but once I did, the story become completely immersive. The book has an old storybook quality that I've been really appreciative of lately, both in my reading and my writing. Much like Gaiman's other books (most notable Coraline), he has the ability to create whole new worlds contained within our own. Some of my favorite scenes in this book were the brief glimpses into those worlds. I was left feeling those glimpses were all too brief, but perhaps that's what makes them so memorable. Likewise, characters come and go so often in the story, characters that I hoped would stick around throughout the rest of the pages as soon as they made their debut only to be disappointed by their departure. However, the strength of the main narrative and main characters is so intriguing that I never doubted that I would be taken to equally interesting places at the turn of the page. I also enjoyed Bod's growth through the book and that it was an imperfect one.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hear Me Roar

The dark west wind, the sea wind, was already scattering the voices in the darkness. It toyed with them a moment and then lifted them all together, dispersing them with an angry roar. The voice which Mouchette had just heard hovered in the air a long time, like a dead leaf floating interminably. opening lines of Mouchette by Georges Bernanos

I had the pleasure of encountering these opening lines this weekend and was swept away by them. I love finding the beauty in a string of words. I suppose this is why I tinker with every sentence I write so many times until I hear the sound in them that I picture in my head.

I'm going to fight my natural urge of not sharing unedited writing and share with you the the first hand-written note I made the other day for the opening of the novel I'm planning on writing next. It will most likely change a million times, but regardless, the following lines are what will get the ball rolling for me, whether they stay or not.

Laura says it's the lightning that brightens the sky but to me it feels more like the thunder does most of the work. The lightning is only a pretty color shooting against the darkening clouds -- the thunder shakes inside the soft center of my bones . Lightning doesn't scare me the same way thunder does and my fear is what makes everything too bright to look at.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

Just looking over the albums I picked for this week, I realize that this is one of those lists that kind of encapsulates my the wide range of my musical tastes. Perhaps that's because I spent several hours a day outside shoveling the winter from my driveway, which means I had the headphones on and the shuffle playing. I've constructed my low-memory ipod into the greatest jukebox in the world and therefore I'm feeling a little diverse this week. There's definitely something for everyone here, so enjoy.

Black Pistol Fire - Black Pistol Fire: This debut album from Toronto garage outfit was a nice surprise this week. There's nothing groundbreaking about this album to be sure. Sounding very much like the Black Keys or early White Stripes, this album kicks out a series of raw blues rock. But it's done really well. I've listened to this album a few times and it keeps getting better. It's just rock n roll, but I like it.

Gorillaz - The Fall: After last year's disappointing Plastic Beach album, I didn't have much faith in this 'fan club' giveaway album. Then I learned that it was basically a Damon Albarn solo experimental album created on his ipad and I grew more curious. Democrazy, a similar Damon album released several years ago was a treat. This was a pleasant surprise. Unlike the the Gorillaz, this is a minimal electronic album. Sure there's a lot of unnecessarily noise on here, but there are a handful of beautiful tracks. 'The Joplin Spider' and 'Bobby in Phoenix' are amazing.

Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain't Over: The latest in Jack White's career reclamation projects is '60s rockabilly darling Wanda Jackson. Unlike Rick Rubin who takes older artists and tries to reinvent them, Jack White simply revives what people have always loved about them. This is a fiery old school rock and rhythm record that grabs hold and thumps you. Again, there isn't any new territory covered on this this album, just an artist doing what she does best.

Bobby Bare, Jr. - A Storm, A Tree, My Mother's Head: I've been a fan of Bobby for a few years and believe his 2002 debut album Young Criminals Starvation League is pretty exceptional y'alternative. Subsequent albums didn't feel quite as fresh, but still decent. This album from last year however is a big step forward. Musically, it's richer than his previous albums as he delves deeper into indie rock. This album sounds more like Sea Wolf than anything country, and that's not a bad thing. There's still Bobby's twang and sense of humor that shines through. This was a contender for my best of list last year.

The Divine Comedy - Bang goes the Knighthood: Neil Hannon's band was always the sort of misfit of the Britpop scene, going extreme in their Baroque Pop style and exceptional wit. That the band is still going strong all these years later is because he's such an original. He knows how to craft beautiful songs and this album is simply more proof of that. This was another close contender to make my best of list last year.

The Stooges - You Want My Action: This four disc set came out two years ago and features the only recordings of the short-lived 5 man line-up for the band. Four different concerts from 1971 capture this band at its rawest. The band sounds explosive in these shows and have never sounded heavier. The extra guitar makes a dramatic impact. If you want to hear where both both heavy metal and punk were born, listen to these shows. But be warned, these recordings are extremely rough. This is probably why the package is so nice.

Wu Orleans: After last week's Notorious B.I.G./ Frank Sinatra mash-up, I went out in search of other mash-ups out there and found this one. DJ BC mixes Wu Tang with New Orleans Dixieland. While there are some amazing tracks on here (mostly Method Man tracks), this album wasn't as incredible as the concept should be. Partially this is because on many tracks the tempo of the songs doesn't match up as well as it should. Still though, it's definitely worth a listen and a worthy addition to the Wu Tang catalog. However, definitely check out the Wu Tang vs. The Beatles album first.

Spirogyra - Burn the Bridges: This early '70s Canterbury progressive folk outfit's St. Radigunds album was one of my favorite discoveries from last year. For Christmas, I got the rest of their albums, including this collection of demo tracks from 1970-1971. This album opens with psychedellic folk tracks which are brilliant and moves into dark forest type of hymns. By the end, it's a little uneven, but still an amazing early freak folk collection. "Turn Again Lane," "Bring Me Back" and "Nothing to Hide" are the three best tracks.