Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (Elephant 6 Recording Co. Edition)

I spent this week revisiting a set of albums that have been important to me for over a decade. As I mentioned in my review of an Olivia Tremor Control album last week, I've been reading the 33 1/3 volume on the Neutral Milk Hotel album In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. This series of books takes seminal albums and discusses them in detail; how they came about, how they evolved and how they continue to evolve long after their release. It's a great series that features volumes on half of my ten favorite albums of all time, including this one.

The book spent a lot time discussing the Elephant 6 Collective in detail. For those who don't know, the Elephant 6 was (and still is) a collection of bands that lived, worked, wrote, and performed music together. It was a movement of like-minded friends that shared a different vision of the world than the mainstream and strove to express it and share it with the world.
The music made by the Elephant 6 bands captured my imagination starting in 1998 and still has yet to let go. I have an entire shelf in my music room devoted to CDs purchased from the late '90s through the early part of the last decade, all with the Elephant 6 logo on the back, some on Spin Art records, some on Kindercore, and some on Merge. As I was reading the book and it would discuss or mention another of these bands familiar to my heart, I would venture onto the shelf and pull it out. I ended up immersing myself in this music for the last week or so and felt the need to dedicate this week's round up to these treasures. Enjoy.

NOTE: I am not reviewing the title album because on any given day, it might very well be the album I name as my favorite of all time. It means to much to me to put into words.

Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island: The first proper NMH album (there are several self-released cassettes the preceded it) is essentially a Jeff Mangum solo album. The band wouldn't be assembled until after this album was recorded. It's a lo-fi album, heavy on fuzz, yet Jeff's voice blazes through it all and pulls the listener into the frenzy that are the songs. Not as defined or intense as Aeroplane, but nearly as good. This album features some of my favorite NMH songs. "A Baby for Pree" and "Pree-Sisters" are wonderful and always feel like little novels to me. "Naomi", probably the most accessible NMH song, is a wonderful pop tune. And then there's "Gardenhead/ Leave Me Alone" which features some of the best lyrics I've ever heard.

Jeff Mangum - Live at Aquarius Records: This bootleg captures a show between the two NMH albums in which Jeff is working out some of the songs that would later appear on Aeroplane, either in different forms or only in bits used in other songs. The set includes the unreleased companion track to "Oh Comely" (a track on Aeroplane and one of the best songs ever written). The companion track is called "Oh Sister" and it's amazing. More frantic than "Oh Comely" but no less powerful. The set also includes live staples such as "Engine" and always the enjoyable, yet tragic, "She Did a Lot of Acid."

Olivia Tremor Control - Presents: Singles and Beyond: This compilation, released in 2000, gathered the earliest OTC limited release singles and EPs for their expanding fan base. The music is all from a short period of time, so there isn't any of the disjointed feeling that sometimes comes with collected volumes like this. It all feels like a very cohesive blend of the OTC combination of sunshine psychedelia and noise effects.

Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage: Released in 1999, this is my personal favorite of the OTC albums. It's hard to say it's better than Dusk at Cubist Castle, it's just a little different. A bit darker, a bit more expansive. There's a lot of looping back on this album, repeated refrains and echoing sounds that give it a circular feel that has always appealed to me. This is the last release under the name Olivia Tremor Control. Will Cullen Hart would continue as Circulatory System (great albums, all of them) and Bill Doss would continue as The Sunshine Fix (equally great albums, all of them).

The Apples in Stereo - Tone Soul Evolution: The Elephant 6 was divided into two camps. The Athens, Georgia side which included NMH and OTC and the Denver side which included The Apples in Stereo and The Minders. Robert Schneider is the connecting glue during the early years. He was the producer on both NMH albums, and the lead singer and creative force in The Apples in Stereo. Though both camps enjoyed the fuzzy lo-fi aesthetic, the Denver bands were more obsessed with reinventing a '60s psychedelic pop sound. This is the band's second album, released in 1997, and it's quite remarkable. It has this Beatles feel to it, but at the same time sounds so an artifact from the past that isn't discovered until the future is ready for it.

The Apples in Stereo - Her Wallpaper Reverie: The band's third album, released in 1999, remains their most ambitious album in my opinion. I feel like there is an attempt to break out of the 3 minute pop song format and create a more surreal context. It still has the same bright feeling as their others, but there's just something special about this one that has always stood out for me.

The Music Tapes - First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad: This project shares a direct link with NMH. The Music Tapes is essentially Julian Koster who played bass, accordion, and saw in NMH. But The Music Tapes existed prior to that, as an outlet for Julian's experimentation. This album is easily the most inaccessible album on this list. Grating at times and beautiful at others, it's unconcerned with catchy song structure. When I first heard it upon its release in 1999, I found it unlistenable and felt the best thing about it was the pop-up cover art. It was a few years later when I revisited it that I heard how remarkable it is. There are still parts of it that don't appeal to me, but for the most part it's well worth the listen. "Song for the Death of Parents" is the real stand out track for me.

Elf Power - When the Red King Comes: Probably the closest to NMH out of all the Elephant 6 bands, Elf Power play a similar blend of lo-fi surrealist music, but also have an ear for the sunny psychedelia of OTC and The Apples in Stereo. I saw this band open for NHM in 1998, and I was familiar with their earliest albums, but this is the band I really explored in depth for the first time this week. This album, released in 1997 is quite remarkable. Out of all the Elephant 6 albums, I would say this is the only one that even comes close to resembling Aeroplane, though it's also quite different at the same time. Not nearly as ambitious, but ambitious enough.

Elf Power - A Dream in Sound: This 1999 follow-up to When the Red King Comes sees the band moving a little more toward the pop sound of the other Elephant 6 bands. The uniting threads and more surrealist lyrics of the previous album give way to more conventional song writing. It serves them well and the album is pretty great. As a matter of preference, I prefer the earlier album, but enjoy this one immensely as well.

The Essex Green - Everything is Green: Released in 1999, this album marked an expansion of the Elephant 6 as the band hails from Brooklyn, NY. Though there has always been a NYC connection, NMH having been based there and the full band formed there between the two albums. This is one of my favorite albums on the list. It's a little more psychedelic and feels more folkish than poppy. Their two follow up albums are also great, as is their album released under the name The Sixth Great Lake.

The Minders - Cul-De-Sacs & Dead Ends: Released in 1999, this is a compilation of earlier, limited release singles and EPs. Even in the earliest days, The Minders sound polished, playing songs that sound like lost recordings from the mid-to-late '60s. Infectious pop hooks, combined with the slightest bit of psychedelic experimentation blended in so perfectly. However, they always managed to present a view on our modern culture, capturing a lost soul perspective that I identify with.

The Minders - Hooray for Tuesday: Released in 1998, this is one of the most pleasurable albums in my entire music collection. Since the year of its release, it's been an album I'll often pull out in anticipation of going out. It's so upbeat and beautiful, catchy and wonderful. As the cover suggests, it certainly evokes a '60s feel, but as I mentioned above, it zeros in on a uniquely late 20th century longing, illustrated in one of my favorite verses from the title track: "I'll write you a letter, from someplace where they don't have telephones. And I'll send you a postcard, a postcard is better, you can see where I sent it from." An album that's impossible not to enjoy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Last Exile (Episodes 16-18)

(Catch up on previous episodes here)

As the show enters the stretch run, the action really picks up in starting with these three episodes of Last Exile. Now that the back story is out of the way for all the major characters, it's time to establish their places for the final thrust of plot. Once again, I'm impressed with the storytelling and attention to narrative pace in this series. We are certainly leading up to the climax of the story when the first officer of the Silvana, Sophia, revealed to be the Emperor's daughter in the last episode, leaves the ship to return to the capital. We learn that she was originally assigned to the ship to keep an eye on its rogue captain, Alex Row...she stayed only after she fell in love with him. Too bad for her, he's in still in love with a woman that died years ago. By returning to the capital, she hopes to convince the Emperor to end the war that has been tearing apart the world. Her plan is severely sidetracked when she's arrested and imprisoned for treason. During her imprisonment, the Disith, now a desperate enemy with nothing left to lose, unleashes a devastating surprise attack on the capital that night, killing the Emperor and clearing the way for Sophia to claim the throne.

Meanwhile back on the Silvana, Claus is going through some turmoil of his own. As the main hero of the story, his destiny and ambitions are still up in the air. He is still unsure if he should remain on the ship as a fighter vanship pilot or leave with Lavie and attempt the to cross the Grand Stream as they had always said they would since they were kids. In another clever literary device, pieces of an earlier plot line are revived as the Silvana docks for repairs in a hidden station where a secret force is training for an assault on the Guild. Part of that assault is training vanship pilots and using the smaller ships as the main attack force. As it turns out, a large group of the pilots training are Claus and Lavie's old racing friends from the first few episodes. The reunion brightens Claus and Lavie's moods...until they realize the idea for the vanship attack was born during their first encounter with battle, seen by the viewer in the earliest episodes. They are both horrified and feel responsible for turning their beloved vanships into battleships, a purpose far from their noble intention.

Back in the capital, as the city lay in ruins, now Empress Sophia is able to organize a cease fire with the Disith. Then she travels to Claus and Lavie's hometown, now occupied by the Disith, to meet with their commander. She explains that the entire war may never have happened if Claus's father had been able to deliver his peace treaty years and years before, blaming the Guild for his death. It is finally (at least, partially) explained that the Grand Stream is a kind of barrier between the two nations, operated by the Guild. Sophia asks the Disith to join her against a common enemy. Their alliance is quickly forged and members of the Disith join the secret training squad. Of course the Guild, having been presented as a superior, almost omnipotent force, is aware of the alliance. In order to make their presence known, their Maestro, or queen, arrives at Sophia's coronation, hovering over the ceremony in warship that puts the entire alliance fleet to shame. It's hard to imagine even the Silvana can match the Guild's warships...but I'm sure we shall see in future episodes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Life is But a Dream (Advanced Reader's Copy)

Late last week, I received a few of the first ARCs for my new novel Life is but a Dream (due out next March). In some ways, this is always a little more exciting than when the actual finished book arrives because this is the first time I get to see the words on a page that wasn't spit out by my computer. Maybe it's just me, but words read different from a book. I suppose that's why I could never see myself reading an e-book.

Typically by the time a book gets to this stage, I've read it about twenty times in various stages. I've mentioned before that by the last pass which comes through my way, I can barely stand to look at the book. If you read anything that many times, it will inevitably sound horrible. But seeing the story printed in a book, with different font and different layout has a way of allowing me to look at it with fresh eyes. I spent part of Friday flipping through it and was really happy with every scene I wrote. Honestly, I think this is easily the best book I've written (so far).

A few things to note, mainly that is not the cover that will be appearing on finished books. The cover will be similar but there were some issues about rights when it came to using the photo. When the final cover is finished, I'll be sure to share it.

Also, I will be giving one of these away in a soon as I figure out how exactly I want to do that. Details will be posted once I have them. (In the meantime, if you're a book review blogger and would like a review copy, let me know and I can put you in touch with the right people.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

It was a sweltering week around these parts, another testament to my absolute hatred of summer. This is the kind of weather where one wishes they could remove their skin and leave it in a cold tub of water to be fresh for the next time you have to put it on. Thankfully it was also a great week for new music. There were a few things I'd been looking forward to for some time that did not disappoint. There were also some surprises and an album I had no idea existed. I've also included two bootlegs from the Oasis brothers because there's something about summer that just gets me in the mood for Oasis. Then again, every season feels like Oasis season in my world. Enjoy.

Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain in the Cloud: Over the past few years, this neo-psychedelic outfit has become one of my favorite bands of all time, delivering amazing album after amazing album. Released this week, this new album continues the trend. Though I find it almost indistinguishable from their last two efforts The Majestic Majesty and American Ghetto, that's quite okay with me because those are wonderful albums. More psychedelic indie rock with falsetto beauty swirling all around, easily one of the best albums of the year so far.
Sparrow and the Workshop - Spitting Daggers: This Glasgow trio's debut album, Crystals Fall, was on my best of list last year and I was thrilled that they put out another album so quickly. Jill O'Sullivan's voice is pretty phenomenal and it shines once again on this album. Whereas the last album was a little more folk, this one is a touch faster but it serves them well. If the first one felt like the heartbreak from a bad relationship, this one possesses the anger that follows. A very good indie rock album.

Wu-Tang Clan - Legendary Weapons: Officially out next week, this is easily the best Wu release in years. It's the usual cast of characters spitting in their usual flow, but it's the production that seems to return more to the classic Wu sound. That said, it's not a copy of old RZA sword fighting beats. It uses that style, but with an influx of some of the styles that the newer Wu side projects have incorporated. It still doesn't hold a candle to prime time Wu, but still smacks most of what is out there. U-God pretty much nails every one of his verses and AZ delivers another fantastic guest rhyme. Definitely worthwhile.

The White Stripes - Signed D.C./ I've Been Loving You Too Long: Another surprise release in Third Man Record's From the Vault series, this time unearthing two previously unheard White Stripes songs. Both are covers, and both fall in the "Truth Doesn't Make a Noise" style White Stripes numbers; slower, more blues influenced garage. This a band known for covers in their live shows, there's around fifty or so covers that I know through various bootlegs, but not these two songs. Any week to hear new White Stripes material (another all time favorite band of mine) is a good week, especially considering this very well may be the last of the unheard songs. Thanks guys.

Beady Eye - KEXP 2011 Live Session: I've had this radio show waiting for its review since March, but had overloaded the Roundup with Beady Eye/ Oasis material at the time, so I held back. This is a four song and interview show they did featuring four of the best songs from the album, including "The Roller" and "Three Ring Circus". The band, having essentially been together now for a decade if you include the time with Oasis, sounds tight. They've always been a live band of sorts, so there is definitely an energy to it. This is available online and I highly recommend it for those who have been skeptical of the band. Liam also provides a few good laughs in the interview as usual.

Noel Gallagher - Where I Belong: I can't leave Noel out if I'm talking about the guys in his old band. It just doesn't feel right and besides, this is a good time to review this in anticipation of his new single debuting online tomorrow. This bootleg has been waiting since January for it's review which is actually a crime on my part because it's phenomenal. A collection of rarer Noel solo performances from various sources over many years, it's a great album. Along with acoustic versions of Oasis songs, it includes covers of "Help" and "Eleanor Rigby" which completely transform the originals. There's also a great cover of "Bittersweet Symphony". Can't wait for solo album.

Brian Harnetty & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Silent City: It was only last week that I discovered that this 2009 album existed and simply had to have it. I talked about my love for Will Oldham (Bonnie) last week, but Brian Harnetty is also an interesting figure. As far as I know, his only other album is 2007's American Winter which is one only about 150 albums I've given a 5 star rating and it sat in my rotation stack for almost two years. He's known for doing field recordings and capturing this out of time americana music and sound. Listening to his work is like finding artifacts of brilliance. Add Bonnie Prince Billy singing over it in places and you've got a haunting record. Not as stunning as American Winter, but still amazing.

Olivia Tremor Control - Dusk at Cubist Castle: Pulling one from my own vault here, this is an album I first heard in 1997. It was in heavy rotation in the St. Mark's apartment I shared with the dANIMAL that summer. This week, I've been reading the Aeroplane Over the Sea book in the great 33 1/3 series and it discusses a lot of Elephant 6 records including this one. Having not listened to it in probably six or seven years, I pulled it off the shelf to give it a go. Well, I ended up giving it more than a go. I've listened to it every day this week (and twice one day). It's the perfect summer kind of album of sunshine indie pop, but also so much more than that. Twenty-seven songs that all run into each other and never lose a beat, it's an epic groove that I invite everyone to tune into if you've never taken the trip to the Cubist Castle. And if you have...maybe it's time to check back in for a visit.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watching the Watchers

One of the themes that runs through my upcoming novel Life is But a Dream has to do with this concept of being watched. The main character, Sabrina, feels as though she is always been watched. She assumes every street light is recording her movements, that every eye is a camera and that every bit of her that is seen is somehow stolen and lost forever.

As I enter the last phase of writing on my newest manuscript, I'm realizing that this theme is also very prevalent in this work as well, though it manifests itself in a different way. It's a concept that I think all of us victims of the modern age can relate to. The idea of Big Brother seems to move ever closer. Whether it's the blanketing of the world under CCTV or even just traffic cameras and store security, we are always being watched. But what's more disturbing perhaps is how much we volunteer to the world for viewing and how willingly we give access.

Like the child demanding attention, there is a part of all of us that enjoys being seen. But what happens when the watchers don't have the best intentions? And what are the implications of growing up under surveillance? These are the ways I've been approaching the subject. I think this is going to be one of the biggest questions facing society over the next twenty to thirty years. But then again...maybe I'm just paranoid.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You'll See Things Differently When You Get There...

Late last week, I came to a scene in the novel I'm working on where I was to introduce a new character. The character had been floating around in my head for a few weeks. I had a sketch of what she'd be and her purpose. I knew precisely where and when she'd enter the story. Basically, I had pretty much settled on the character about thirty pages before her appearance. Then a funny thing happened...when she showed up, she was much different.

This character literally has an entrance into the story and as I sat in front of my computer, writing her into the page, she didn't look at all like I'd been picturing her in my head. She'd always been this diminutive elderly woman, so imagine my surprise when into my imagination walked a young Red Ridding Hood clad woman, much stronger and determined than I'd dreamt up.

Alas, my character was changing on me and I had a decision to make. Keep with my original idea or adapt to what the story was telling me? This a familiar gamble that shows up hundreds of times in the process of writing a novel and each time it has to be weighed carefully. Sometimes it pays off to be impulsive. However leaping at too many impulsive directions can quickly cause you to lose focus of the original story. Some are hard to figure out the best course of action, but not this one.

The character that strolled onto the page wasn't about to let me make a single alteration.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

Summer has been beating down the door, melting the windows and cooking me from the inside out over the past week. For some reason that meant folk in the morning and rock or hip hop in the evening. In between was spent listening to old sunshine classics and mood music. Luckily it was a good week for some unexpected releases in each of these genres. I also included one old album that I dusted off and have been loving all week long. Enjoy.

Jean Grae - Cookies or Comas: This new mixtape came out a few weeks ago and I finally got it this week. For those who don't know, Brooklyn's Jean Grae is probably the best underground rap slinger around and deserves mainstream acclaim. On these songs, she once again demonstrates her exceptional lyrical skill with one intelligent rhyme after another. Ranging from laid back rap to straight up hardcore, this album is pretty fresh and reminds me of Digable Planets' Blowout Comb without the jazzy elements. Talib Kweli (of Black Star) appears on a few tracks and the two flow together very well. Not as amazing as The Evil Jeanius, but damned good.

Wugazi - 13 Chambers: When I saw this new mashup of Fugazi and Wu Tang, I nearly burst a gasket. Conceptually, it sounds like it could be brilliant. In actuality, it has very mixed results. When it succeeds, it achieves what every good mashup should, making both sound new. "Last Chance for the Clientele Kid", "Nowhere to Wait" and "Killa Hill" are perfect examples of mixing the right songs together. Where it fails is typically when a slower Fugazi song is used and it slows down the Wu Tang intensity. Definitely worth checking out, even if you end up slimming it down eight or nine chambers.

Beirut - The Rip Tide: The third full album, and first since 2007, from Brooklyn's Zach Condon sees the songwriter venturing ever farther into the chamber pop sound which has developed out the more chaotic genre bending earlier efforts. Though I miss a little of the messy adventure of the earlier albums, I very much enjoyed this album. It has a bit of an Andrew Bird style to it and it's a great album to wake up to in the morning.

The Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave: I've followed this Danish band since their fist album back in 2003. With this, their fifth album, the band has progressed from earlier more garage rock sound into much more of a dreamy shoegazer band. It suits them well and I've seemed to enjoy each album a little more than the previous. There's also a bit of Pat Benatar vibe on some of the songs that truly works well. A nice airy sound that's good for summer because it has the power to create an imaginary breeze.

Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen: I picked this up on the insistence of the dANIMAL and was not disappointed. This is a very bare bones singer songwriter album with minimal music and salvation type vocals from Pearson who sounds like a wandering preacher. It's reminds me very much of J. Tillman. Another wonderful and heartbreaking album to listen to in the morning before the sun ruins everything.

Kaizers Orchestra - Violeta, Violeta Vol. 1: I've been a huge fan of this Norwegian band since their debut in 2001. They play a frantic variation of indie rock, with the same dark edge as their other great countrymen Madrugada. This album is a little more gypsy punk than indie rock, but somehow doesn't feel as fiery as earlier albums. Still it's quite good. Volume 2 is due out soon, with Volume 3 set to follow next year. I'll withhold final judgment until all three are released, but so far the project is off to a decent start.

Volcano Suns - The Bright Orange Years: I first heard the Volcano Suns when I was 15 after buying a 7" of their based on the cover. I then bought an album of theirs, which I didn't care for. After listening to the 7" again a few months ago, I decided to check out more of their work. This is the Boston band's 1985 debut and it's quite a bit better than their 1989 album which I used to own. This has that post-punk sound that inspired early grunge. You can hear the influence this had on early Mudhoney songs such as "Touch Me I'm Sick". This is raw rock n roll done right.

Alice in Chains - Unplugged: This is the old album that made it into a fresh review after listening to it pretty much every day. Highly underrated, this is easily my second favorite MTV Unplugged album after Nirvana. Layne Staley, well into the junkie oblivion that would claim his life six years later, is barely able to sit upright during the performance, but still sounds incredible. Like someone singing with one foot in the grave, his voice haunts these originally hard rock songs, transforming them into spiritual epics. Each song is phenomenal. Just a super evening album to listening to as the sun is setting.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Last Exile (Episodes 13-15)

(Catch up on previous episodes here)

Yesterday morning I buckled up and climbed back onboard the Silvana after being away too long. I'm officially entering the middle of the 26 episode series and as I suspected, these three episodes started to provide some answers to the many mysteries raised in previous episodes. As I've mentioned in the other posts, the storytelling is following a the narrative style of a novel. And as I wrote in a post last week, one of the key elements of a novel is the middle. Traditionally the middle is where some questions are answered, only to bring new questions to light. Last Exile achieves that nicely here.

When I last left off, the Silvana had apparently sunk--not that I truly feared it's destruction. We soon discover that it is simply hiding, playing possum until it is repaired and ready to set off on its real mission which has been kept vague until now. Meanwhile, after crashing their vanship in the desert, Claus and Tatiana (a sideline character who emerges more to the center of the plot in these episodes) grow closer and manage to repair their ship. During their time together, we learn that Tatiana was an 'abandoned noble', a member of a noble family in one of the conquered towns in the ongoing war. We also learn that Claus and Lavie's fathers were famous vanship pilots who attempted to cross the still mysterious Great Stream in order deliver a peace proposal that would have ended the war. They failed nobly and the war still rages on. Claus and Tatiana encounter that first hand as they run into the Disith and learn that Lavie and Claus's hometown has fallen.

Following another novelist's trick for storytelling, the middle episode is devoted almost solely to telling the story of Claus and Lavie's fathers and how they were friends with the Silvana captain, Alex Row. One rule to telling a long story is never to bore the audience in the beginning with tons of back story. You always want to jump into the middle of the story and reveal important pieces of the back story over time. That's what this episode is, we see Claus and Lavie as children who soon become orphaned children. We watch them teach themselves to become pilots. We see as they first become messengers and build the house in which we first encountered them. Basically we learn everything about how they ended up where they were in the beginning of the series. This segment not only provides us with some key clues to the larger story, but it also serves as reminder of just how close these two characters are, especially since they have been drifting apart in the the last few episodes...which leads us to the next episode.

The last of these three episodes is where all the new questions start to rise, just as the Silvana rises once again into the skies. Almost unaware of it, Claus is the center of a love triangle between him, Tatiana, Lavie, and possibly even the first officer Sophia. In a whirlwind of revelations, the Silvana's true mission is revealed when Claus confronts Alex about knowing his father. Alex admits to having been on the mission and seeing Claus's father die. He also confesses that his mission is to steal the Guild's exile and destroy it, thus ending the Guild's control over the world. In another twist, it is revealed that Sophia is actually the Emperor's daughter and has been asked by a close advisor to step in and stop the Emperor from waging a war with the Guild as he's planned.

The second half of the series promises lots of action and shifting character alignments. Should be a great finish. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Two of My Favorite Girls

Last week I wrote a short piece of original fiction where CatKid met Alice in a Wonderland maze. I hadn't written in CatKid's voice in a few years, but she's always there in the back of my head yapping at me to pay attention to her. And Alice is one of the reasons I became a writer. So needless to say, it was a bit of a dream project and very fun to write.

You can read it here if you like...I promise you'll laugh (or at least chuckle).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Inner World

Dreams and writing have always shared a link in my work. It seems that one easily influences the other, not just in images but also in form. I've included dreams I have had into books I've written. I have had dreams where characters I've written become characters in a dream.

Both writing and dreams attempt to create worlds that don't exist. Recently I've noticed that some elements of my narrative style are showing up in dreams. I've always written extended metaphors into my books by using small details that occur and reoccur in different ways. I'm finding something similar happening in my dreams lately.

A few repeating elements have sprung up in otherwise unrelated dreams. There's the ancient pyramid and spire temple located on a hill behind the buildings lining 57th Street in Manhattan that can only be glimpsed from certain angles. There's the dream apartment that my one friend has had in several dreams, located in the same dream part of the city. Whenever I dream about my yard, the landscape isn't at all as it really is, yet it's frequently altered in the same way. It's as if my dreams are attempting to write a serial novel. I'm interested to see where it goes.

I think the connection between dreams and my work is easily explained. The imagination has a natural inclination for story telling. Writing is simply a tool by which to provide it structure.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

I've been listening to a lot of new music once again now that the annual slew of summer releases is making it's way onto the market. Since I've been gathering the new albums by bands that I've followed for a long time, it's made for a wide-range of musical stylings for the week. I've saved some of them for next week and threw in some other albums that been hanging around waiting for their day in court. All in all I think list represents a good selection of summer listening. As always, it also goes along with the current project I'm writing which takes place during the afterlife. Enjoy.

The Horrors - Skying: This is the London quintet's third album, each coming in two year intervals. The space between releases seems appropriate for the dramatic changes that have occurred from one to the next. Only two weeks ago, I re-reviewed the band's groundbreaking debut which really lived up to the band's name. The second album saw them mellowing and expanding. The same can be said for this album. This is a more swirling Britpop sound than the horror feel of the debut. If you played the two albums in a row, nobody would be able to tell it was the same band. However, both are pretty spectacular in their own genre. It's hard to pin down the sound of this, but it's more the child of late Stone Roses and early Ride mated with The Cure. It's has a wonderful open sound that is simply great to get lost in on a sunny afternoon.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - There Is No God: I've been a dedicated follower of Will Oldham (aka Bonnie) since the mid-90s days of his band Palace. He's easily among my twenty favorite songwriters of all time. But as with anyone who is so prolific, a new release is sometimes greeted with a sense of unease. I'm not sure why because more often than not, I'm rewarded. This new two song single plays as an interesting concept piece with the A-Side being an up-tempo song renouncing God in his typical Americana sound. The B-Side, "God is Love" is then a redemption song (and the better track), featuring Will's keen ability to write modern spiritual folk songs. A solid addition to his ever-growing catalog. (NOTE: cover edited due to nudity)

The Flaming Lips - Gummy Song Skull: Though only four songs, this is an extended EP from the pioneer nu-psychedelic indie rockers with all songs clocking in over 5 minutes. My relationship with this band was mixed for a long time, but after 2009's two stellar releases Embryonic and Dark Side of the Moon, I kind of fell in love with them all over again. Released in April, this EP continues the kind of claustrophobic soundscapes found on Embryonic but in a much more experimental style. It feels a bit like a work in progress, but that helps lend a bit of excitement to it. "Drug Chart" and "Walk With Me" are exceptional tracks. The other two I could live without. - Monomeet: This is the second album from one of Germany's new crop of prog rock psychedelic bands. Their 2009 debut Barriers was on my best of list for the year. It had a spacey Echoes era Pink Floyd vibe. This album continues that tradition, but certainly makes more use of electronic elements. I've enjoyed it's spaciousness. It's certainly reminiscent of earlier Porcupine Tree records.

Trouble Andrew - Dreams of a Troubled Man: The second album from snowboarder turned Mr. Santogold, turned incredible beat master. For over a year, I've been jamming to "Chase Money" the single from his first album and it never gets old to me. That album had been a nice surprise, but with this one I had expectations and it has surpassed them all. I was hoping a few good synth gems and ended up getting an entire album of consistent goodness. Certainly meant for club play, this is album full of great beats, but there's also depth to it. Any fan of updated '80s new wave is sure keep this on steady rotation. "Run Hide" is stellar.

William Elliott Whitmore - Field Songs: I first encountered this Iowa native on a compilation a few years ago and was struck by the old timey feel of his voice. I always meant to check out more of his work, but never did until this week when I listened to this, his new album. As the title states, this is a collection of roots field songs that hark back to Woody Guthrie. They are heartfelt and sincere and quite moving at times. It's very much a roots revival record, but it doesn't feel gimmicky at all. A solid offering.

Kanu - Transgress: I got this four song EP for Christmas back in 2004 and it felt like one of those albums that had always been in my head. Hailing from Switzerland, Kanu has a harder indie sound. The music is haunted by a dark shadow that reminds me of the great B-Sides from In Utero era Nirvana. Sadly as far as I can tell, this is only music they ever released. It's certainly worth checking out if you ever come across it though. I seem to pull it out at least once a year and always find it refreshing.

Brian Jonestown Massacre - Your Side of Our Story: This compilation was released in 2004 to accompany the release of the wonderful documentary DIG! It covers the band's creative peek years and includes some of their best material. But what's great about it is that it's mixed and arranged to feel like an album rather than a comp. Though I know all the material, I've still enjoyed listening to it all this week. Every time I listen to this band, I'm reminded of how amazing they really were through the '90s with their beautiful psychedelic California sound. A good place to start for newcomers to these dysfunctional geniuses. Listen to "It Girl" and you'll be hooked.