Thursday, April 28, 2011

Story Traveling

The end of a manuscript is in sight. A few more scenes, a smash-up conclusion, and the draft will be done. This has caused my mind to wander, traveling in search of the next story. Like looking at postcards to try an choose a vacation, the first glimpses of other possible fiction flare up. They're all calling, it's a shame I can only visit one at a time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nobody Ever Matches the Weather

The weather affects my writing. It's another hazard of the job.

Summer snuck up on me this morning. I wasn't prepared. My story is all wrong for this climate. It's a winter tale that needs told with crispness.

The sweltering days of summer are a time for swollen lazy stories. There's no possibility of telling anything at a fast pace. It's time I catch up with the seasons. I'll head the warning of these freakishly warm April days and finish up my tale before the first mowing of the lawn.

Monday, April 25, 2011

You Can't Get There From Here

I can't prove anything, but I'm pretty sure I was incepted this weekend.

During a dream, my mind was close to figuring out that it was a dream but the dream kept throwing obstacles in my way. It all started with a drive away from the house where I grew up. Now I was a little thrown off by all the added railroad tracks and slightly scorched appearance of the nearby houses, but my first real clue that something was wrong didn't come until I turned out of the development and found myself immediately on the interstate.

That's not where it's supposed to be, I thought as I now watched the car from high above.
My passengers, also observers, assure me that they've made some changes since last I drove.

Fine. I'll go with it.

The next thing I know, we are very far away in a very short time. I keep insisting to everyone else in the dream that it didn't take as long as it should to get there. Sitting in this strange house now, feeling a sense of conspiracy, I figure out that I can add up the times from the songs that played on my iPod during the drive and prove that it only took a few minutes.

My sister is there and she agrees to help. I'm reading off the track times and she's plugging them into the calculator on an iPad (I think this dream was sponsored by Apple, or incepted by Apple). As I'm reading the track times, out of nowhere a nurse steps into the room and calls my sister back to see the doctor.

Doctor? What the hell?

I take her iPad and plan to get to the bottom of this myself. Of course, there are about six million applications open and I can't find the calculator. Another roadblock. Forget it, I decide I'll do it by hand. But as I'm adding up times, all of the sudden all of these songs show up on the playlist that I don't remember hearing. I theorize that perhaps I fell asleep during the drive, but figure the passengers would have told me since I was driving.

I know something's up. Something is wrong. The inceptors must realize I'm close because in comes a little girl with a zombie doll to distract me from this train of thought once and for all. There's no telling what worthless information they stole from my brain after that.

Beware all...the dream stealers have awoken.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (Record Store Day Edition)

So last Saturday was Record Store Day and I dutifully spent the afternoon cruising the vinyl bins at the local vintage store. Regular visitors to the Roundup may have noticed that I tend to purchase vintage vinyl rather than new releases. This is partially due to the fact that I live in the Woodstock area, which is naturally a mecca for old records. Last weekend was no different, and I picked up some solid classic rock albums. I also purchased some albums that I already own on CD because they rank among my favorites and I simply wanted to hear them spinning in all their fuzzy glory. Enjoy.

Blind John Davis - Stomping on a Saturday Night: I picked this one up without knowing anything about Blind John Davis other than the fact that old blind men have a knack for playing great blues music. Recorded live in the '70s, this is a great bit of Chicago blues. Blind John blazes on the piano, keeping a fiery Jerry Lee Lewis pace. The crowd is really into it and it makes a great evening record. Another curious thing about this album is that its stamped, having belonged once to a Philly FM station. Three tracks are marked for airplay. Pretty good choices too.

The View - I Need That Record: One of the cool things about Record Store Day is all the exclusive limited edition 7" records put out for the day. I wasn't lucky enough to get my hands on a physical copy of this one, but I did get to hear it and it's awesome. I reviewed The View's newest album a few weeks ago and said that I though it would grow on me and it has. I've been listening to it a ton. There's just something dynamic and electric about everything this band does. This '80s cover is no different. Completely fun.

Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother: One of my ten favorite albums of all time, I bought this on vinyl despite owning it on CD for twenty years. I was amazed how fresh it sounded simply by the change of format. This album, especially the title track, is full of little sounds within bigger expansive songs. All of those small moments come through so much clearer on vinyl and actually made me enjoy this favorite album more than I ever have.

Chuck Berry - Sweet Little Rock and Roller: I bought this for two reasons, one obviously being the fantastically exploitative cover. The other reason was that I owned nothing by this rock 'n' roll pioneer. Like everyone, I know many of these songs by heart but listening to the record, I was still amazed by the guitar playing. You can hear how Chuck Berry takes the blues and speeds it up, adds more rhythm and then just explodes. A very good compilation of tracks.

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King: The 1969 debut album from London's prog giants is another album I already owned on CD but couldn't resist. This is really an album of two stories. The first is track one, side one: "21st Century Schizoid Man" which is one the best songs ever recorded. The band was trying to make a paranoid jazz fusion song and ended recording what is probably the birth of heavy metal. The rest of the album is more traditional spacey prog rock. Simply outstanding stuff.

David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World: I flipped right past this in the bins, not recognizing the cover, which apparently is the original cover even though it looks nothing like a Bowie record. This 1970 album is when Bowie starts to move away from the failed sound of his early career and into the glam rock, space persona that would rocket him to stardom in the years that followed. Though an uneven album to be sure, there are a few amazing tracks here including "The Width of a Circle", "The Supermen" and the title track. A nice buy.

Leon Russell - Leon Live: Released in 1973, Leon was already a star, having played with everyone who was anyone. This triple LP is simply massive. His signature piano blues meets the Rolling Stones vibe really shines on this live album. Side 5 features a full side melody of "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Youngblood" and probably one of the best things I've heard in a long time. The vinyl is a wonderful package too, which always makes it that much better.

Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps: Again, I already owned this, but it was reasonably priced and it's a nice record, even if I do greatly prefer Live Rust (the double album released shortly after this). This is a strange record in that there are few songs that I just don't care for, which is rare on a Neil album. However it does feature some of Neil's best efforts with an incredible version of "Powderfinger" and "Pocahontas" and probably the best versions "Hey, Hey" and "My, My".

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Want to Go to There

On a cloudy Friday, there's really nothing anyone wants more than to curl up with a book and some coffee and visit another world for a few hours. Well, in my case, I suppose that feeling comes every day regardless of the weather. There's nothing quite like a well written book to transport your mind. Sometimes I prefer to visit places that I'm making up, but writing could never be a substitute for reading.

I wanted to share my thoughts on two of the best books I've read so far this year. I picked up both on whims at two different store closing "EVERYTHING MUST GO" sales. The first I took because I'm a big fan of the author's Spiderwick Chronicles and the tale seemed solidly in the genre I'm currently writing in. The other was more impulsive. It has a great cover, a decent opening page, and a Newbery Honor Medeal on the cover. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerilizzi
(Simon & Schuster, 2010)

I love the slow careful pace of this story that covers nearly every minute of Eva Nine's journey into a strange world as she searches for others like her.

Eva carries this story. She's the kind of stubborn, willful, yet caring child protagonist that shines in Middle Grade fiction. The immediate plot of the book isn't anything groundbreaking, but I love how there is a shadow of a bigger story that looms over everything.

I'm sure some readers will complain that much of this strange world remains less developed than it could be, but I think that's the point. The story is about a character finding her way in a confusing world, much like Dorothy or Alice. The landscape is defined just enough to present us with it's dangers and wonders.

I really had trouble putting this book down, but at the same time it was one of those books that I forced myself to read in smaller chunks as I neared the end simply to prolong the story that I didn't want to end. A terrific modern fantasy adventure and I can't wait for the second book.

(Henry Holt, 2009)

As with most books I really enjoy, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a book that relies heavily on the strength of a main character with undeniable appeal. One of aspects that I loved about Callie is that she doesn't have any exaggerated traits. She's simply a realistic kid coming to terms with a world that isn't changing as fast as her growing perception of it. As a result, it is very easy to relate to her and her dreams.

The bigger story in this Newbery Honor Book however is the discussion on naturalist observation and impact of Darwin on rural Texas in 1899. At times I felt this theme inserted itself a little too forcefully into the story. Personally, I found the family relationships to be far more important and profound.

The relationship between Callie and her grandfather was brilliantly executed and very moving. She shined in her role as a sister to six brothers as well. I also enjoyed the understated strain in her relationship with her parents. However I didn't like that sometimes these scenes felt as though they were being used just to add to the natural observation element. Thankfully, a good part of the novel is the other way around. When the coming of age scenes are front and center, this novel is at its best.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hurry Up Please, It's Time

As I was writing the other day, passing the 125 page mark of the novel I began early last month, it occurred to me that though I felt I'd just started, I was actually nearing the end. It was kind of an unexpected realization. Suddenly I was forced with the task of sitting down and putting all the remaining pieces in their places.

The scenes ahead were blurry in my mind. I could see them in disconnected clips, playing in endless loops that moved in and out of each other so that the film was always a little muddled. But as I continued to scratch out notes and forge them together one block at a time, the rest of the movie began to play clearly in my head.

I frantically jotted it all down with a pen that was slowly losing ink as the images and dialogue streamed along. Today when I sat down to write the first remaining chapter, the pages came quickly. Now I expect everything to fade to black right on schedule. A lovely feeling...until the second draft when I'll be forced to bring the picture clearer into focus. But I'm going to worry about that when the time comes. For now, I'm going with the groove.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

I was kind of all over the place this week with my listening, which is just how I like it. It should be noted that none of these are the records I bought on Record Store Day yesterday, those will be reviewed next weekend after I've had the chance to listen to them all. Though some of these come from last weekend's pre-Record Store Day shopping spree. Finding myself in a nearby town that I rarely visit, I stopped in the record store that I always stop in whenever I'm in New Paltz and picked up some vinyl treats. Others on this week's list include some much anticipated new releases and some just discovered albums from old favorites. Enjoy.

Roky Erickson - Oyafestivalen, Oslo 10/8/2007: This is one of the vinyl treats I picked up last weekend. A bootleg record of Roky's performance a few years ago. This was Roky's comeback tour, of which I was lucky enough to see the first show in NYC (one of the ten best concerts I've ever seen). Now, it had been years and years since Roky performed, and he was joined with his late '70s backing band The Explosives for this tour. This recording is amazing, the band sounds as haunting and dangerous as it did back in the day. Though it should be noted that this very much Cam King's album (of The Explosives). Just as when I saw the show live, Cam did the heavy lifting and it's his vocals and guitar work that come through the clearest. That doesn't detract from the album though. It's fantastic.

The Pigeon Detectives - Up, Guards and at 'Em: This is the third album from the Yorkshire UK indie rock band, and the first since 2008. Their brand of UK pub rock has always appealed to me, and with this album they really seem to have expanded their sound. Though still full of incredible guitar hooks and furious back beat, the songs on here are grander and show a maturity. I've definitely been rocking this record loudly. Good stuff.

The Kills - Blood Pressure: With Allison Mosshart busy the last few years fronting The Dead Weather, her electric garage band with Jamie Hince has been absent since 2008's Midnight Boom. Finally a fourth album has come out. And though, like Midnight Boom, it lacks the sense of danger that made their first two albums (2003's Keep On Your Mean and 2005's No Wow) spectacular, this still manages to be a very good rock album, if not a little less exciting.

The Fratellis - Ole Black 'n' Blue Eyes EP: Possibly my favorite of the UK pub rock bands to emerge in the second half of the last decade. The Fratellis knew how to pump out anthem sized songs that were catchy with their fist album and later added a late Pink Floyd style cleverness with their second album. This EP, released in 2007, before their second album in 2008, was a vinyl only release of four tracks (one rerecorded song from the debut album and three unreleased tracks that singled their move toward the second record). I had no idea this existed until I spotted it in the bin at the record store for a cool $9. It's a fantastic little record with an etching on the blank side. It's a shame this band broke up. (Thankfully The Pigeon Detectives are there to soften the blow)

Orang-Utan - Orang-Utan: The funny thing about this album is that I used to see it all of the time when I lived above Venus Records on St. Mark's Place in the late '90s. That store specialized in 70's British rock. It's too bad I didn't pick it up back then because this album is dynamite. Released in 1970, this hard rock album definitely falls into the Captain Beyond, Led Zeppelin, early Sabbath, and the Australian band Buffalo. From start to finish this album never lets up and is consistently fantastic. It was the only album the band ever made.

efterklang - Springer: This 2003 EP is the first release from the Danish post-rock band, whose 2007 EP Under Giant Trees is one of my favorite humid summer evening albums. I've recently come across a wealth of this stuff and am working my way through it. As expected with any debut, this is a little unformed, consisting of five sprawling soundscapes. It's really a slowcore kind of album that feels like the soundtrack to something never filmed. Nothing super exciting, but a good listen for when I'm writing and an awesome cover.

The Cinematic Orchestra - Man with a Movie Camera: Another case of backtracking, I love this London band's 2007 album Ma Fleur. So I was interested to hear this album, the previous album released 4 years earlier. This is a very different album than the other. It's very much a nu-jazz kind of album and as the title suggests, sounds like film score music. The compositions are very nice and the flow of the album is exceptional. The only drawback would be that if you're not in the mood, it can have the tendency to feel a little boring.

Spirogyra - Old Boot Wine: Released a year after 1971's fantastic Canterbury progressive folk masterpiece St. Radigunds, this album had a lot to live up to in my mind. For the most part, it's a fair companion to that album, however it feels a little softer. It leans closer to Fairport Convention and farther from Incredible String Band, which more than likely was a wise commercial choice, but not my personal preference. But any fan of early '70s British folk music would be amiss not have one if not both of those albums in their collection.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Happy Record Store Day

Today is Record Store Day, which means it's our duty to visit those beacons of 20th Century pop culture and share in our cultural heritage. Sure, everything is available online and you can get any album you want instantly with a few clicks on the screen...but there's something to be said for the experience of flipping through hundreds of albums and letting one call to you. In a world where we seem to do everything in the solitude of our own computers and phones another assorted electronic devices, we forget some of the joys that come with doing things in ways that offer more than simple convenience. So by all means, get yourself out there and spend an hour or two at your nearest record store.

And while you're out, maybe visit the book store too.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When the Strange Snow Fell

Strange snow falls in a strange dream.
It never touches my skin,
and on my tongue
more like ash than snow.

The streetlight just below the hill
is closer than I remember.
And our house was never this near to the ocean in winter.
But everything changes, here
where the snow falls like stars
with smaller ones in orbit.

The path is covered over and white.
The trees are only hints,
hiding behind the electric glare.

We make a new way through the night,
using our coats as sleds and our arms to row,
knowing wherever it takes us, it will be somewhere new.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Last Exile (Episodes 4-6)

My journey through Last Exile continues and with each episode I find myself drawn deeper into this wonderfully told story. One of the things about anime that I find so appealing is the storytelling can be just as amazing as the art. Having watched six episodes now, it's clear that the show is following a type of narration typically found in a novel. As I stated in my post about the first three episodes, the show jumped right into a story, choosing to give little to no exposition and allowing the viewer to the slowly come to speed.

One of the main characters in the show, a little girl named Alvis Hamilton, was introduced at the end of the third episode. Her past is a mystery. Her fate is clearly important, but also a mystery. Clearly, there is a lot of mystery surround Al, but the fact that she is seemingly alone in the world pulls Claus, our young vanship pilot hero, closer to her. The bond between these characters is presented in that great anime way of sustained eye-contact and subtle changes in expression as they stare at each other with lots of mumbled sounds of surprise and confusion--a device I like to use a lot in my own writing.

It's clear from Claus's protective instincts toward Al that once he delivers her to the near mythical ship known as the Silvana, he's not just going to be able to simply leave her there with the shady crew. As a result, Claus and Lavie end up becoming entangled with this strange ship. Where the Silvana's loyalty in the ongoing war lie, and those of it's (yes, you guessed it) mysterious leader Alexander Row, is unclear. But by the end of episode six, the story begins to expand, giving us hints that what we thought we knew, we didn't truly know. The characters seem set in their places and now the bigger story has just begun.

So far, Last Exile takes heavily from the touchstones of an epic quest, incorporating the elements in clever ways. I can't wait to learn what is to become of heroes during their amazing aerial battles, which are as good as any dog fight in Star Wars. Claus and Lavie are perfect character duo. Alvis is enchanting as the child who could save the future. The set-up between the different fractions in the war is very intriguing. I also love how these big events are secondary to Claus and Lavie. And while we still don't know which side are we supposed to be rooting for--we can always just root for them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Hazards of a Writer's Life

Drifting off to sleep last night, letting the current predicament of my characters run through my head, when I'm disturbed by the sound of something trampling up my front porch. Following the cats down the steps, I hear the tell-tale sounds of the bird feeder banging against the window.

-That rascally squirrel has finally figured out the trick- I think to myself.

You see, the squirrel must first leap onto the roof, then scale down the length of string holding the bird feeder in front of the window in order to maximize the bird watching activity for the cats. Last winter's squirrel figured it out. This year's squirrel isn't quite so bright. I've been watching him struggle with this tempting puzzle for weeks. I was sort of proud of him, even if it was 1:00 am.

Downstairs, the cat is perched in her usual place, staring curiously out the window. I peer into the darkness, failing to see the squirrel. So, I flick on the porch light...only to find that there is no squirrel but a bear standing nearly as tall as myself, with his paws on my front window, feasting on sunflower seeds and staring right at me.

He was initially startled and tramped back off the porch. But if there's one thing you can count on about the black bears around these parts, they won't give up on grub. Several minutes later, he was back. This time he allowed the Missus and I to watch, paying little or no attention to us. Standing less the a few feet away, with only a thin piece of pawed-at glass separating us as he chowed down. He left when he was done, only to come back an hour later just to make sure we didn't leave more food out for him.

It was worth the lack of sleep. Though I surely wonder what the cat had in mind as she watched? What was her plan?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

The music never stops, only sometimes the listener needs to catch up. I spent most of this week listening to albums I've reviewed here in the past few weeks. As a result, most of the stuff on this week's list are albums that have been hanging around waiting for their turn to appear on the roundup. But all of them are records in the past few months. I've also put a few singles on here as I read recently that most major labels have decided to kill the CD single. I suppose it was inevitable, but it's still the end of an era. For a long time, the CD single was a great way to get those rare B-side gems that often rank among a band's best work. On one hand, those songs are now readily available. On the other, without a B-Side outlet for these songs, you have to wonder if in the future, will they ever see the light of day. Of course, the first item on the list may disprove that theory completely.

The Enemy - No Time for Tears: I'm reviewing this 2009 single from the West Midlands rock band strictly for the B-sides, but more specifically, the B-sides available only on the UK itunes edition. The reason: they are both covers. The band performs acoustic versions of 80's new wave classics "Blue Monday" and "Tainted Love". Both are phenomenal. I've heard many version of "Tainted Love" and this may be my favorite.

The Roots - How I Got Over: Being from Philly, I've been a fan of The Roots since this first album, which is still available on vinyl only. I'd been wanting to hear this for some time, actually thinking it may have been an oversight on my best of the year list for 2010. Well, that fear was relieved. This is probably the band's weakest album by far. It simply lacks any intensity. That said, it's not awful and still better than most major label hip hop. But if I'm going to listen to The Roots, I might as well listen to one of their more compelling albums. However the collaboration with Joanna Newsom is definitely worth hearing.

Kurt Vile - Constant Hitmaker: This 2008 album is the first solo LP from the indie songwriter. It's a nice bit of lo-fi rock with a subtle vibe that adds to the moody sense of the record. It sounds a bit like someone reeling off dreams set to fuzzy guitar. The irony of the title cannot be lost on the listener.

The War On Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues: The first full length album from the alt-country Philly band (featuring Kurt Vile on guitar) was released in 2008 on one of my favorite labels Secret Canadian. It feels like a more experimental Wilco. It has definite roots influences, but brings them into a contemporary indie feel. In some ways, the album reminds me of Dr. Dog, another Philly band.

Big Blood - The Grove: My fascination with this Portland, Maine freak folk collective continues with this stellar 2007 album. Their sound is simply fantastic, capturing something out of a child's nightmare and making it sound spiritual. There's certainly an element of stoned hippie campfire craziness in their music, but it easily transcends that genre. "The Grove is Hotter Than an Ocean's Oven," "In the Shade" and "Beast" are amazing tracks.

Arctic Monkeys - Fluorescent Adolescent: This single from 2007's Favourite Worst Nightmare contains three great B-Sides that feature the band's softer side which rarely shows through on their full-length albums. "The Bakery" and "Plastic Tramp" could easily have make the album. Not to mention this is one of the best A-sides of their career. This is one single that is a must have for any fan of the band.

Thin Lizzy - Thin Lizzy: This 1971 debut album, released on Decca, is completely unlike the sound the Dublin band would later be known for. The band's first two albums are decidedly more blues and folk oriented than their later hard rock albums. I prefer these early albums. There is something incredibly honest in these songs with their flashes of Captain Beefheart inspired blues that shows through on more than a few songs on this solid album.

Dave Mason & Cass Elliot: Sometimes when two legends come together, something magical happens. That's what I was hoping for when I discovered the existence of this 1971 album. I got it on vinyl this past Christmas and listened with great anticipation. But the reality is that sometimes when two legends get together, it can feel like a collection of minor tunes discarded from their primary work. This album falls somewhere in between. The result is an enjoyable album of decent songs. It's possible however that my expectations were just too high. A worthwhile listen though for fans of either artist.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

a bloody but holy day

I'm spending this weekend going through the copyedit of my novel Life Is but a Dream. For those of you not in the publishing business, this stage of the process is equivalent to a medical check-up. It is tedious and I don't want to do it, and yet it is very important. Even if it does make me sleepy.

Besides the fact that its main purpose is to go through the grammar of the book, grammar being something I despise nearly as much as bees and wasps, the main reason I dread this stage is really the fact that I have to read my own book again for the seven millionth time. Nothing ever sounds exciting after reading it over and over. However, it's the last stage to really change something that I don't like so the reading is important.

I'm about a third of the way through and so far, I think I've changed about six words. I know it seems crazy to say this, but I feel six words is a worthwhile use of my time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Falling Pieces, Finding Places

Any way you approach a story, there are going to be obstacles. An endlessly detailed outline can be stifling. Planning no course at all will most likely leave you lost on a dead end road. There's no way around it--writing a novel is hard and each story has its own way of coming into the world. A big part of being a writer is figuring out how to wrest that tale from the imaginative world and put it down on paper.

The book I'm writing now, like all books I've written in the past, presents unique challenges. I wrote last week how the characters seemed to be ahead of me, going forward before I really knew where they were going. But I've since caught up with them. Walking in step with them. Once that happened, I saw what they were seeing. Suddenly, large sections of the story began erupting in my head.

It was happening...that moment when all the pieces fall into place and the story elements begin to weave together into something better than I could have imagined when I began it. One thing I've learned over the years is that writing isn't always about having something to say and saying it. It's a process of discovery. It's about tuning into the frequency of a story, catching it's little nuances and allowing it all to come to life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

This week I got back on track a little, listening habits returning somewhat to normal. Though I must admit that a lot of the records that I'm writing about today have actually been in the rotation for a few weeks. It's a strange mix to be sure, but that's something I blame on the weather. Recently winter and spring have been sparring in my neck of the woods and therefore the music spinning throughout my world is a competing sound of winter and warmer weather vibes. As result, there should be a little something for everyone in here. Enjoy.

The Strokes - Angles: The band's forth album and first in five years is a bit of a sea change for the band and easily their best album since the debut. They move even farther away from their garage rock roots and move into an '80s vibe, but with a decidedly dangerous feel unlike many of the new wave revival albums surfacing today. It's nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it's a really decent listen. Of course, as with their their previous albums it has the most awful artwork (with the noted exception for the original cover of Is This It).

Papercuts - Fading Parade: The San Fran dream pop band's sixth album is a pleasant enough sound, even if it does tend to fade away even as it's playing. It reminds me of MGMT's Congratulations, an album that I didn't love, but without pushing the expiermental boundries. In some ways that makes this album more enjoyable to listen to on a sunny day. On the other hand, it makes it rather too simple. However, any fans of indie dream pop should really dig this. Personally I prefer their previous album You Can Have What You Want. This one seems to lack that standout track like "A Dictator's Lament" from the last album.

Frank Sinatra - The Frank Sinatra Story: This double vinyl has been in my house for over a decade without me ever giving it a listen. However, the other day it was cold and getting dark, and I felt like something smooth as I lit the fireplace. That's the thing about big band era vocal music, when I'm in the mood for it, there is nothing better. I'm just rarely in that mood. This 1958 collection has never been released on CD and contains a nice smattering of Blue Eyes. However, like most collections of artist with such wide-ranging careers, at times it doesn't gel properly, going from a jazzy lullabye to a showtune type number. But the voice is undeniable. The Chairman of the Board will certainly be getting some more air time.

Wye Oak - Civilian: I really enjoyed this Baltimore band's 2008 debut If Children, but somehow missed the 2009 follow-up The Knot and went straight to this year's Civilian. There's always been a shoegazer scene in Baltimore and this album continues that tradition. There are a lot heavy guitars and jangling bells that fight with the soft vocals to create a nice little album. I'd still recommend If Children over this one, but another good effort which will probably sound even better once I can open the windows and let a warm breeze in.

Amandine - This Is Where Our Hearts Collide: On a trip to Europe a few years back, I bought this Swedish band's 2006 EP Leave Out the Sad Parts and listened to it religiously for quite a while. A few weeks back I finally got my hands on this 2005 debut album and have been really enjoying it. The band's americana sound, interpreted through a Scandinavian winter, is fantastic. The songs evoke a dreary day, my favorite kind of day, in the same way Bonnie Prince Billy's I See A Darkness can.

Essra Mohawk - Primordial Lovers MM: A few weeks back, I reviewed on of my all time favorite albums by Sandy Hurvitz (later to become known as Essra Mohawk). This 1970 album is Sandy's second album and it's nearly as perfect as the previous. A member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Essra Mohawk applies the same experimental vibe to Carole King type love songs and the result is phenomenal. There isn't a whole of experimentation in the love song genre, which makes her albums so unique and so memorable. This album is filled with slightly more joy than the debut album, but the heartache in her voice is really the appeal for me.

Damien Tavis Toman - Despair: Easily the most listened to album in my collection over the past two weeks, Despair is an album that's hard to pin down. Though it certainly has its roots in gothic folk such as Nick Cave, there is also a great sense of melody in these songs. As the title suggests, the songs are about longing, loathing, and loneliness, but they are presented with an undeniable sense of hope, or at least a wish that hope is something that is still possible. A truly wonderful album.

The Soft Machine - The Soft Machine: This 1968 debut album from the psychedelic pioneers is one that first peeked my curiosity nearly twenty years ago when I was I fist getting into early Floyd and William Burroughs (the band's name comes from a Burroughs novel of the same name). But for whatever reason, I always chose something else at the record store. What a mistake. This album is brilliant. The experimental elements seem to ebb and flow, fading out when the folk rock vocals come in, sounding like a tortured ghost lost in the machine. It reminds me a bit of the first Hawkwind album, yet is totally different at the same time. "A Certain Kind" and "Lullabye Letter" are fantastic. I can't wait to search out their other early albums on vinyl this summer.