Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Wander Through Our Days

I just returned from a trip to Switzerland and one of my goals for the trip was to spend some time just wandering around and snapping photos. I go to Switzerland about once a year to visit the Missus' homeland. This trip I spent more time in cities than in recent times. European cities always have a nice crop of graffiti and street art that I find inspiring. I'll be posting pics over the next few weeks.

I found this guy in several places around Basel (the country's second largest city, located right between the borders with Germany and France). There's something about him that appeals to me. I also liked the variety and subtle differences between the figures. They also varied in size. I found most of these in sections of the city on either band of Rein.

This character became my shadow companion in a scavenger hunt of the imagination. I used this quest to think about the quest my main characters need to undertake in the novel I'm just beginning. Just another strange part of the job of being a writer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (North by Norway Edition)y

I've spent the last week in Switzerland, visiting friends and family and babies and photographing street art (some of which I hope to share in coming posts). But one of the more exciting things that I'm doing is seeing Sivert Hoyem play an open air festival. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Sivert Hoyem is one of my favorite song writers of the past decade, first as part of the influential Oslo band Madrugada, then as a solo artist after the untimely death of Madrugada's guitarist a few years ago. The band's music is a sound that is hard to pin down, but for me the best description I can think of is that they sound like a more spiritual version of Joy Division. Sivert's voice is unforgettable and one that truly grabs hold of the soul. I thought it would be a good idea to briefly write about his entire catalog, especially since I purchased nearly all of these albums during different visits to Switzerland. Enjoy.

Madrugada - Industrial Silence: Released in 1999, the band's debut sounds very unlike anything that was coming out at the time and the imagery in the words was definitely an influence on some of my earlier novels. Last year, a Deluxe Edition was released with an entire album of demos that for the most part are equal to the album.

Madrugada - The Nightly Disease: Released in 2001, this is my favorite album by the band. It's one of those albums that is perfect from beginning to end. It has such a dark atmosphere, yet manages to be uplifting at the same time. This was just re-released in a Deluxe Edition, again with another album of demos. While in Switzerland, I picked it up on 180 gram vinyl (knowing that it would be nearly impossible to find in the U.S.). It's four records that I can't wait to listen to when I get back to my fuzzy warble player. Easily one of my Top 50 favorite albums of all time.

Madrugada - Grit: Released in 2002, Grit is an album that builds from some of the more solidly rock tracks from the previous album. It's a sound the band does well, and includes some exceptional songs, but I must admit that I miss the spiritual nature. That said, I know some people who hold this as the band's best album.

Madrugada - The Deep End: Released in 2005, this album is closest to The Nightly Disease and contains the track "Running Out of Time" which I first heard live and is among my favorites. Many fans were disappointed, but I don't understand why. This is a wonderful and dynamic album.

Madrugada - Madrugada: Released in 2008, shortly after the death of their guitarist, this was to become the band's swan song, ending the album with a song sung by their fallen member. It's an album that plays with a heavy heart, but is also quite good and worthy of listening to. "Look Away Lucifer" is an amazing track.

Sivert Hoyem - Ladies and Gentleman of the Opposition: This first solo album was released in 2004 as a side-project, but feels very much like a Madrugada record. It has the same depth and emotion as the band's early albums is simply stunning. "North Wind" is one of my favorite songs of all time.

Sivert Hoyem & the Volunteers - Exiles: Released in 2006, still mainly as a side-project, this album was a bit of disappointment for me upon first listening to it (on a train between Zurich and Aarau in 2006). But it has since grown on me and I absolutely love it now. It's quieter and the songs are more spacious, exactly the things that I at first objected to but are now the very reason I find myself listening to it more and more with every year that passes.

Sivert Hoyem - Moon Landing: This is the third solo album from the frontman of one of this decades best bands (Madrugada). His voice sounds like it rose up from the icy depths of the Scandinavian landscape . . one of those voices that you feel in your bones. This collection of songs is very good. But it does feel like a collection of songs. Worth it for fans, but if you don't his work, I'd still recommend picking up his fist solo album and the first few Madrugada albums. (THIS IS MY WEEKEND MUSIC ROUNDUP REVIEW FROM 10/19/2009)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reading an Author

I'm pretty loyal when comes music or books. When I hear or read something I like, I will usually try and discover the rest of the works by the artist. One of my favorite books of the last decade was Because of Winn-Dixie and over the past year or so, I've read most of the author's other books. Though none have grabbed me as much as that one, I've enjoyed visiting Kate DiCamillo's imagination and really like how she's branched out into more fantastical stories. Here's my reviews of three of her other books, in order of how much I liked them them. Enjoy.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick, 2009)

I went into this book slightly tentative and with a reserved sense of anticipation. On one hand, I absolutely loved Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, but on the other I found later novels The Tale of Despereaux andThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to be rather stiff (see reviews below). To be completely honest, had there not been the promise of an elephant, I may have skipped this one. Thankfully, I did not.

When an elephant falls from the sky, it sets off a chain reaction of events that eventually lead to a heartwarming reunion of characters and a compassionate awakening in a dreary winter town. The Magician's Elephant is a delightfully compact story with a perfect blend of heart and magic, working in correspondence to bring to life this very satisfying tale. In many ways, this book is the culmination of a writing style used in The Tale of Despereaux andThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It's very direct and not at all sentimental, but has a way of suiting this fantastical story in a way that I felt didn't quite serve the other books. By the end of this novel, the emotion bursts through in a series of extraordinary events that reward the reader with a truly enjoyable story.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick, 2006)

On the surface, this should have been one of those books I loved, but for several reasons I just didn't connect with it. The 'tale' itself was entertaining and enjoyable, however I had a hard time finding any redeemable characters. They are all rather selfish or dim-witted or both. Even Despereaux as the hero wasn't all that lovable, mostly because he wasn't fully fleshed out. In my opinion, the entire book felt like pieces of underdeveloped tales that would have been more interesting separated.

The novel's habit of directly speaking to "the Reader" felt intrusive to me. This is a very tricky ploy and extremely hard to pull off. To work, I think the narrator has to be a voice that we know, almost as a character as in The Series of Unfortunate Events. Though most young readers may find it fascinating if they are encountering for the first time, and therefore it's effective for its target audience. In fact, the whole book is one that I think middle grade readers will love, which explains it's popularity. I am surprised however that it won the Newbery Medal. But, that award is often given on reputation.

In another note, I was surprised to see in the Acknowledgements that this book was written with the help of a grant. At the time of this book's publication, the author was already a two-time Newbery Honor winner and her first novel was being made into a film....surely there are writers in more financial need of a grant.

by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2009)

A well written story with a straight forward message. I admit to getting teary-eyed. It's definitely a book for a certain sensibility. It's only downfall is simply that the story isn't all that original. I've encountered this story before, but if you haven't read a ton of books about a doll's life as I have, and assuming it's of interest to you...then you would do well to read this one. Kate DiCamillo has wonderful direct style that always manages to be moving.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ArtStar Craft Bizarre

A few weekends ago, I spent the days in Philly helping the missus at her booth for the ArtStar Craft Bizarre--a two day event featuring over a hundred vendors of materials ranging from clothes to pottery to artwork to toys, mostly all handmade and all original. In a world where the same junk is sold on the streets of NYC as in the shops of Dubai, there's very little to get excited about. It's the same crap everywhere. That's what I love about these kind of places. You can find some really unique things. I thought I'd share some of my favorites from the events.

Horrible Adorables: These creations were amazing. Felted stuffed animal heads mounted on plaques. There was a fox that was incredible. Check out her stuff online here. (Postcard at the top of the page).

Marlo the Loyal Dog: These were great prints and postcards featuring a really great looking dog in really striking places. Check out the website here, there's a new Marlo comic on the blog every week.

Miss Millie Porcelain Wares and Wearables: This is some of my favorite stuff ever. I already have one of the porcelain heads, a bowl and a vase. I still need a mug. Check out this amazing stuff at her etsy store here.

Kerri Conrad: Some really interesting fine arts pieces. I really enjoyed the style of the line drawings and how they worked with the more fantastical mixed media set pieces. Check out her site here.

Phil Barbato: I've always been a stuffed animal nut ever since I was a kid and these might be some of most original I've seen in years. These monsters are really appealing, clever, but yet remain cute (Kids were gobbling these up at the fair). Check them out here.

Meerwiibli - Saving the best for last, my wife's stunning handmade clothing. Check all her creations here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (Get in the Ring...Edition)

There are only a handful of bands that I could really call life-changing. These are bands whose music guides things beyond the course of just what music I'm really digging at the moment. Something about these bands shifts the way you dress, your attitude toward the world and in some ways redefines your dreams for the future. The first band that really had this kind of impact on me (and a lot of boys my age) was Guns N' Roses, the greatest american rock band to ever stroll the strip, back when I was 11 years old. They are still one of my favorite bands and I still listen to their music a lot. Recently, I've been in an Axl mood and have picked up a few good bootlegs and a nice collection '45 vinyl to go with my already exploding GNR shelf. But their a good bootleg band because their live shows are always so unpredictable and typically amazing. Today I'm sharing some of those for the other gunners out there.

Guns N' Roses - Since I Don't Have You: The only single released from the criminally ignored Spaghetti Incident, this is actually one of the weaker songs from that album of great punk covers. Though I do enjoy an Axl ballad, and this certainly is that, it shouldn't be a measure of the album. Neither should the Johnny Thunder's cover on the B-side which is okay, but nothing as great as the UK Subs, Stooges, or many of the other covers on the album.

Guns N' Roses - "Civil War" (Vol. 4): This bootleg captures the band's Use Your Illusion tour stop in Chicago 1992 and it could be the best bootleg from that tour that I've heard yet. There's a lot of special moments, the intro to "You Could Be Mine" is pretty awesome. Axl sings "Bad Time" acapella as an intro to "Sweet Child of Mine" and the version of "Civil War" is spectacular. The only annoying thing is that this is only HALF the concert. Released by this terrible Australian bootleg label, they often broke up concerts into two bootlegs, trying to rip the fans off even more. Unfortunately, I have yet to find Volume One, but I'll keep looking. This concert is too good not to.

Guns N' Roses - Civil War / You Could Be Mine: For me, this is one of the definitive singles from the Illusion albums (along with Estranged). Civil War is one of my favorite GNR songs, and much more epic than November Rain in my opinion. "You Could Be Mine" is the band's most progressive song from the era too. I love the attitude in it and always loved how the rhyme from the Appetite sleeve was used in the song. The pairing of these to makes for a fantastic '45 single.

Guns N' Roses - Secret Gig N.Y. Ritz '91: My favorite GNR recording is the secret gig they did at CBGB's a few years before this, so when I saw this existed, I had to find it. Axl loves playing NYC and figured this had to be good. It's the tune up show for their as of yet upcoming Illusion tour (which Axl tells the crowd is a 'summer tour', little knowing the tour would last two years and practically destroy the band). This show is stellar. It's the first time playing many of the Illusion songs live and the songs feel more alive than they do on the over-produced albums. The highlight is definitely Slash playing Band of Gypsies "Machine Gun" as an intro to "Civil War". The only downfall, as with a lot of bootlegs, is terrible recording quality.

Guns N' Roses - Paradise City / Move to the City: Two of the band's most blistering songs from their early period combine for a raging '45. Paradise City was one of those songs that really changed my opinion on the world. I remember reading the lyrics when I was 11 and seeing the part "The surgeon general says it's hazardous to breathe, but I'll have another cigarette because I can't see...tell me who you gonna believe" and I remember thinking, I believe Axl over that weird bearded guy that's always with Reagan. Then there's the B-Side, "Move to the City" which is one of my favorite GNR songs and one of the main inspiritions for my novel Tomorrow, Maybe.

Guns N' Roses - Rock in Rio II: A massive concert, and one of the band's landmark concerts for pure spectacle of size and excess. By this point the Illusion tour had been rolling on for a while, so there were no surprises in the setlist. It features the standard hits. But for all it's hugeness, the band actually seems to shrink on this bootleg for me. I know GNR played giant shows by this point, but from my listening, they play best in smaller venues.

Guns N' Roses - Nightrain / Reckless Life: The best rock single of all time? Quite possibly. I'd be hard-pressed to find to more explosive songs on vinyl than these two. These are probably the two rawest, roughest, seediest GNR songs and show of the band's glam punk roots. Simply fantastic...and with that cover...best rock '45 of all time.

Guns N' Roses - Don't Cry: I remember when the Illusion albums came out and being intrigued by the two versions of "Don't Cry" and thinking it was quite clever. It reminds me of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" in that sense, a song that works as book ends. It's a very good Axl ballad that can only make one remember Middle School dances and first fumblings with first loves while wearing lots of flannel and bad skin. But that's what makes it endearing for me. Not my favorite song of theirs, but its associated with a lot of real memories.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirate School! Giveaway

Earlier this week, I contributed a guest post the a very fun blog (vvb32 Reads) in connection with the blog's current pirate them. I was asked to picture my characters at one of two places and write about what they found there. So I wrote a short original scene with all five main characters. What was interesting for me was even though I haven't worked on these books in a few years, the characters were still so fresh in my head. I didn't have to think for a second about what each would say or do. It was like they never left.

Check out the store here and see the bottom in order to enter the contest for two signed books. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shiver Me, Shipwreck!

(artwork by Annabelle 2nd grade)

I spent part of this morning visiting an 2nd grade classroom at a local elementary school and reading Pirate School: Shiver Me, Shipwreck. I don't do a lot of school visits, but I try and visit at least one a year. It came down to the wire this year, but I made it...and as always it was a lot of fun.

I was feeling generous today and even wore my pirate hat for the reading. Kids like that kind of stuff. They find it funny. That's what makes kids awesome. Another thing that makes kids awesome is the questions they ask. Sometimes they aren't even questions. Sometimes they just raise their hands to tell you random facts about themselves. Those are my favorite questions.

I signed books for all the kids too. Some gave me drawings. Others brought up stories they had written that they wanted me to read. One was about a trip to Six Flags that ended when the 'character' went on the Twister ride and 'pukt' on her mom. "It was a fun day." (probably not so much for the mom). Another very serious girl, who wanted to a writer and whose classmates confirmed she was always writing stories, let me read an extremely well-written three page story. Isn't funny how you pretty much spot a writer even as a child.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more Pirate School excitement and a chance to win two signed copies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where the Middle is the Beginning and the Beginning Comes Next

I was recently asked to write a sample chapter of a book that is still without a plot. I was asked to write a chapter that took place in the middle of the book. It was an interesting writing exercise that I'd never done before. It turned out to be a rewarding one.

I found it interesting how much of the story was able to fill itself in as I started to write. Instead of always thinking of what happens next, the way in which my usual concepts would be conceived, I was thinking about before and after. Certain little details that I wrote for the scene supplied an endless supply of references to include to the beginning of the story.

As I begin work on a new novel, one that needs the same kind of attention to detail, I think I'm going to give the method a try. Instead of writing a concept, I'm going to write certain scenes as they come to me. I'm curious to see if the blanks get filled in faster.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Horror and the Horror

It's been a little while since I reviewed any books on here and seeing as how Blogger was down yesterday, combined with the fact that I'm heading away for the weekend, time is crunched and it seems like a good time to catch up. As I mentioned in my last post, my writing has been living in a dark place, typically my reading follows me where my writing takes me. So I've decided to tell you a little about two books that are both 'horror' for very different reasons. Enjoy...if that's the right word.

The House of Dolls by Ka-tzetnik 135633

I've owned a first edition of this book for nearly a decade and for nearly a decade it sat on my shelves unread. That was a decade wasted because this is rare book of genius. My initial interest stemmed from the fact that Joy Division supposedly took their name from this book. However, I've read so many Holocaust books in my time that it never seemed like the book to read...seriously, when is anyone in the mood for a Holocaust book. I still wasn't when I read it, I just felt guilty that I'd owned it for so long without giving it a chance.

The power of this book comes from the way it captures the feeling of utter helplessness in the Jewish ghettos and labor camps under Nazi rule. Told through a kind of stream of consciousness narrative, much of the text feels as if it could easily be a dispatch from Burrough's Interzone. It's so stark in the realism of an insane world that it feels surreal in many passages.

The story is that of a brother and sister, stripped of their homes, freedom, and family, who refuse to surrender their humanity. In a way, it's a story in total opposition with The Diary of Anne Frank which highlights the remarkable way in a which a young girl is able to still be a young girl despite the horrible conditions of her life. As the hardships in this story mount, that hopeful spirit within Daniella is gradually crushed until she is like the others, simply a walking skeleton. Brutal, to be sure...yet there is something beautiful inside her that is undeniable.

Truly an unforgettable book.

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Perhaps my expectations were too high given my love of Guillermo Del Toro's imaginative film making (Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone), but I found this book disappointing. I had hoped some of the visionary creativity from his movies would carry over into the writing, however this book reads much like any other mass market thriller. There are loop holes aplenty in the story, there's entirely too many flat characters, and it drags for the first 100 pages, unfolding like an average television show.

It does start to pick up after that however. Some of the characters become really intriguing and the mythology begins to take shape. The redeeming quality of the book is its terrifying imagining of the vampires. The last third of the book was engrossing, once they finally pushed the plot toward the chaos that was bound to happen. Hopefully the second book will be better paced and more surreal. (This is the first book in a trilogy)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Story Hunting in Spring

This week I finished a manuscript that I've essentially been working on since November. It was something that I needed to get out of my system and now that it's out, I'm setting forth to write a book that in many ways is a story I've always wanted to tell but never knew the starting place until recently.

I found the beginning within a setting that came from three very different inspirations. Over the past year or so, I've been writing about the places under the bed or in the back of the closet, places of nightmares both great and small. The other day in those murky realms, I uncovered perhaps the best story of them all. Combined with parts of old story I've never been able tell, the idea came to me nearly fully-formed the other day.

The hunt has successfully yielded a target.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (The Beatles...Before, During, and After Edition)

Earlier this week, I watched the 2009 film Nowhere Boy about John Lennon's life as a teenager and the formation of the Quarrymen (the pre-Beatles). The movie was okay and interesting, but not much more. However, the parts that focused on John's interest in American rock music and how it shaped his sound was really well done. It certainly upped my Fab Four listening this week. Not that they are ever too far from the rotation. There's old debate between being a Beatles or Stones fan, which is really a simple question of taste that has sustained because it's nearly impossible to be really listening-invested to both at the same time. At least for me it seems they represent different sides of one personality and sometimes we feel one way or the other. Lately, I've been feeling more like John than Mick. So with that, I bring this list of albums I've gotten over the past few months, from influences to the influenced...Enjoy.

Buddy Holly - The Complete Buddy Holly: This six record box-set released in 1979 is an amazing chronological history of Buddy's recording sessions. It starts with some of his earliest recordings and goes straight through to his last sessions. I love these kind of box sets which are sort of like a colloquium on an artist. You get to hear how certain songs evolved of time and can really hear how Buddy Holly was inventing rock n roll. In some ways, John Lennon is his direct disciple (one of the first Quarrymen '45s was a Buddy Holly cover). This is amazing for anyone that likes to dig further than a greatest hits package.

The Beatles - The Decca Tapes: This is the audition tape the band made for the famed Decca label in January 1962. In this early stage, they are still trying to copy the American sound. The band is doing their best impersonation of Elvis and Buddy Holly, but if you listen closely you can hear their uniquely British stamp beginning to develop. This is a quality early rock and roll album. It didn't get them signed to Decca (they were signed to Parlophone). Of course, Decca would later hit it huge by signing The Rolling Stones.

The Beatles - Hey Little Girl: This bootleg '45 released in 1978 contains four of the best songs from the Decca Tapes era, which at the time were still not widely known songs. What I really enjoy about these particular four tracks is that you can really hear a band ready to just explode. That's one element about the early Beatles that I love...there's this frantic energy wound so tightly into these perfect 2-to-3 minute songs.

The Beatles - The Lost Pepperland Reel: As the title suggest, this bootleg features early demos and home recordings for songs that would later make it onto Sgt. Pepper, either as whole songs or snippets of other songs. That has always been one of my least favorite Beatles albums simply because it's too polished and too produced and trying so hard to be something. Don't get me wrong, even my least favorite Beatles album still knocks the snot out of most other albums. I only bring it up because I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this bootleg. But I like it precisely because it isn't all of those things. It's very raw. It's also an interesting listen because you tell the band is playing with the idea of making an 'album' and not a collection of songs. This rough result is much trippier and lo-fi and in my opinion...better.

The Beatles - Let It Be...Naked: I remember being very excited for this when it was released in 2003. Unlike Sgt. Pepper, I've always really liked Let It Be in all of its dysfunction. Some of George's best songs as a Beatle are on this album, and John is really expanding as well. Given my taste for things that are more stripped down, I was eager to hear the Naked version, whic is the album with a good deal of the production taken away. But for one reason or other, I never got around to getting it because I already had and liked the original. I finally did get around to listening to it a few months ago and I guess my biggest surprise was that it didn't really feel all that different to me. Stand outs are "I Dig a Pony" and "I Me Mine."
Beady Eye - Across the Universe: Liam Gallagher has never shied away from John Lennon comparisons because he's never hidden his respect for Lennon or denied the influence Lennon has on him. Oasis was always known to give a Beatles cover here and there, so it's not really surprising that Liam's new band would provide this cover for the Japan benefit album. This has never been a favorite Beatles track of mine, but Beady Eye does a great job with it. They've managed to get rid of pitchy quality of the original and deliver a much more somber track for a more somber world really.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Demon & The Muse

Some stories are born from the inspiration that can come only from a muse--others from the demons that stalk the imagination. It all depends on which is crying louder at the time.

There are storytellers that latch onto one or the other, spending an entire career praising some idealistic creature that has crossed their path, infusing all their prose with the beauty of a single face. Some chose to side exclusively with their demon, allowing themselves to be dragged down for the sake of that truly magical story that needs the darkness in order to see it through.

Sometimes, I'm not so sure they aren't one in the same.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Last Exile (Episodes 7-9)

(Catch up on previous episodes here)

My journey on the Silvana continues with three more episodes in the 26 episode series. One things I love about television shows that have a defined one-season arc is that you can read the show like a novel, each episode being a chapter. Last Exile achieves this better than most other shows I've seen. It's unconcerned with giving the viewer a nicely wrapped up half-hour small story within the context of the bigger story. It treats episodes more like chapters, making sure there is action, forward momentum, and intrigue at the end.

In my last post, I noted how the story was following a lot of the traditional elements for a heroic quest story. In episode 7, Claus's role as the kid with immense potential is highlighted. The commanders of the Silvana has seen it and now a mysterious member of the Guild also sees it during a bold Guild attack on the Silvana. The episode focuses mainly on showcasing the excellent aerial dogfights that the animation captures so well. This episode reminded me of Battlestar Galactica defending against a Cylon attack. And by the end, Claus and Lavie have done a great deal to prove their worth and slowly start fitting in with the rest of the crew.

Of course, after the beating the Silvana took in episode 7, the next chapter has the ship docked for repairs at a kind clandestine Deep Space 9 casino. As with any well-written work, a setting like this should achieve several things beyond the natural adventure it produces. By having one of the Emperor's ships also docked there with its crew aboard the station, the Silvana's position in the ongoing war is subtly defined through the relationships between the crews. Also, we get to see more of Alex Row, the mysterious captain of the Silvana and discover he's looking for an object known as an 'exile'....a perfect a-ha moment where the title begins to make sense. And just for good measure, we have ship duel between the Silvana and one of the Emperor's ships, the Goliath. When the Silvana sinks the other ship, it's really the first moment when the viewer feels on board with its captain and whatever secret mission they are on.

By the next episode, Claus, Lavie and Alvis feel practically at home on the ship. They are even invited to take part in the ultimate vanship race with the aide of the Silvana mechanic crew. Of course, they are unaware that the ship has another dangerous agenda. Alex Row is there for an auction among nobles and the wealthy. He is there to bid on only one thing...the last exile--a square stone object that is said to have powers no one has ever been able to unlock. Bingo! There lies the mysterious object with strange powers, another cornerstone element of a heroic quest. It's a fascinating twist in the storytelling however that we still don't know what the quest is for.

Will he get it? Will the mission succeed? What will Claus and Lavie do when they learn they are being kept in the dark? All questions for the next chapter because every good chapter ends with the reader wanting to turn the page. A lesson the writers of this show have taken to heart.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

This was the week where musically I got really sick of listening to music through my iTunes. Thanks to the warmer weather, the door to my music room was left open and I dove in there early in the week and stole an armful of CDs into my office. I loaded up five discs at a time and listened to all five straight through. There was something great about keeping the vibe out my click-ability. I took a similar approach to the reviews this weekend. The albums here are the only albums I've listened to for the past two days. As you can see, I've been in a heavy '70s vibe, with a little fun and folk thrown in. Enjoy.

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far: The new album by one of my favorite bands of the last few years, this has certainly been on my highly anticipated list. However, two disappointing singles from the album over the winter kind left me feeling nervous. Thankfully, the singles were a bit of a fluke, and even those songs work much better in the context of the album. While it doesn't stray far from the folkish indie rock sound, it is certainly different from their last album, 2008's The Stand-Ins. This feels like more of a spiritual record to me. "The Valley" could be one of their best songs ever.
Baby Grandmothers - Baby Grandmothers: This heavy psychedelic Stockholm band lasted only one year, but it was long enough to record this 1967 piece of greatness. With most songs between 10 and 15 minutes, these are great instrumental freak-out gems that remind me of the Pink Fairies. This is one of the bands that would inspire the Scandavian prog movement that followed.

Bobby Bare Jr. - Daytrotter Session 2011: For nearly a decade, Nashville's Bobby Bare Jr. has been putting out great indie albums with obvious country influences. Last year, he released possibly his best album to day, A Storm - A Tree - My Mother's Head. The tracks on this session are take from that album and may just surpass the album versions. (For those of you who unfamiliar with daytrotter.com you should visit. It's a sight with hundreds of live recordings all available for free).

efterklang - Tripper: A few weeks ago I reviewed another EP by this Danish band. This is the LP that followed in 2004, the band's first full length album. Though not as developed or interesting as their later stuff, this is decent shoegazer type album. For some reason it sounds to me like it should be the soundtrack to an obscure French film. I enjoyed it, but I think I would enjoy it more if some of the distracting electronic effects were abandoned.

Buffalo - Dead Forever...: Two weeks ago, I mentioned that another album reminded me of Buffalo's 1973 album Volcanic Rock and that reminded me of Buffalo. (Volcanic Rock was actually one of the CDs in the mixes mentioned in the preface of this post.) I searched out this 1972 debut album from the Aussie hard rock band and have been digging it. It's more bluesy, more of a Led Zeppelin vibe than VR's Sabbath vibe. Definitely worthwhile.

Jethro Tull - Nightcap: This double album release includes the first disc, which is basically an aborted album from 1973 known as The Chateau D'isaster Tapes. The other disc is rarities and unreleased stuff, mostly from the '80s. My review is only of the first disc. Many of these songs would later be incorporated in some form on the band's official 1973 release A Passion Play. I've owned A Passion Play for over a decade and it's the only album of the band's early output that I can't get into. I find it sprawling and unappealing in many parts. So it's strange that I thoroughly enjoy this album. This feels more like the albums that came before. Perhaps that's why they scrapped it, afraid of doing the same thing. But when three of their first five albums rank in my top 100, I personally don't see a need for change. Some really amazing tunes on here.

Harvey Mandel - The Snake: The one time guitarist for Canned Heat, Harvey Mandel put out a ton of albums in the late '60s and early '70s. This 1972 album is his fifth, but the first I've heard. As the cover might suggest, it has a crazy vibe. This is one of those albums where heavy blues and funk mix together. It's definitely got a great groove that's perfect for the warming weather. I have few others of his in the hopper and I'm hoping their just as entertaining.

Cibo Matto - Viva! La Woman: The 1996 debut from NYC favorite Japanese hipsters is one of those impossible to hate albums. The music is having so much fun that it is infectious. This is also one of those albums that really captures NYC at a specific time. It's so alive with influences from everything that was going on in that city at the time, from hip-hop to trip-hop to indie rock. "Sugar Water" and "Birthday Cake" are stand-out tracks. (Oh, and Sean Lennon plays bass for the band).