Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Washed Out

Just a few words to say that I'm here, but completely without power. I didn't shoot this video, but these are the towns where I live. Needless to say, getting the power back on is taking a bit of work. But once it is, I'll be back here spewing my nonsense.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (Hurricane Edition)

As we ride out the rest of Hurricane Irene here on the east coast, it seemed only fitting to entertain you all with a hurricane playlist. I'm lucky enough to be riding out the storm in southern New Jersey where the storm has past and power is still on. Unfortunately the Missus is home with the cats in the Catskills, sitting in the dark and watching a drip where the water gets in. But there isn't any situation that isn't better with music so here you go. All you people with your mobile devices can at least enjoy the the music.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cylon Occupied Nightmares

The past few nights, I've had three dreams where I find myself on Cylon Occupied Caprica after the fall. I'm strangely attached to this abandoned world where life in the twelve colonies came to a sudden end. A world left somewhat intact, but completely unlivable.

The dreams have played out somewhat like video games where I wander, vaguely aware of danger everywhere but encountering very little first hand. And though the dreams have been nightmares, I feel oddly at home on Caprica. Naturally this means I've been watching too much Battlestar Galatica again. But I blame the BBC for that.

I think one of the strongest compliments a writer can get is when a reader admits they had a dream about his or her story. The world you created suddenly feels more real because you know that now it exists in more than one person's imagination. It is no longer just some place you made up--it's a real place where others can go.

I could live in a place like Caprica, but I could never live in a world without fiction.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tangling the Tattered Threads

For the project I'm currently working on, I'm taking some pieces from a failed manuscript dating back several months ago. I would simply rework the other one, if I hadn't already borrowed from it for a different story. I like to pick the skeleton clean whenever I've killed a story. Completing and subsequently abandoning a project never feels as much of a complete waste of time if there is something to be salvaged. And so I wander through the wasteland of words, looking for scraps to weave into a newer vision that is always better than the first.

So far, the hunting has been good.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

With a manuscript out of the way, I had a little more time this week to gather up some music that I've been looking forward to hearing for some time. And since I started working on another project, it meant I also had time for multiple listens of each as I wrote. Some of these new albums I'm really excited to share, while I felt others needed more attention and will therefore appear in future roundups. In order to fill the gaps, I've included some albums that have been in steady rotation of late and have finally worked their way onto the list. It's a nice random collection of music that I hope you enjoy.

Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne: There hasn't been a hip-hop dream team album like this in a long time, featuring two of the top artists in the genre, one at the top of his game and the other sort of riding the crest of a long triumphant career. Kanye continues to explore new territory, expanding on the success of last year's brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As on that album, he doesn't back down and brings some powerful statements to this record. He's an artist that after being vilified by the society has emerged with an attitude to say whatever is on his mind. This is a very political album, one of most political hip hop records since Blowout Comb. Jay-Z also has moments where he's talking about matters of importance, but he's never been my favorite. His flow is great, but it's always the same and after an entire album, he can bore me. He certainly benefits from having a dynamic Kanye to bounce back and forth from. This album is not perfect, but it's very, very good.

OndaDrops Vol. 4 - Oneway Ticket to Nowhere: This is the forth free collection in a series gathering unknown or under-known folk artists together for a double album of minimal Americana tracks. This might be the best collection so far, featuring amazing tracks by Turner Cody, Susie Asado, Ronnie Fauss, among others. Like any compilation, there are tracks that are weaker than others, but even the weak ones are never truly bad. I highly recommend you check this out and discover some great artists. I've discovered many great artists over the course of this series and look forward to more in the future. You can find the album here:

Skysaw - Great Civilizations: Originally released last year under the band name THIS, the album was recently re-released under the much better name of Skysaw. I first heard this band while watching Subterranean and caught the video for the stand-out single "No One Can Tell", a wonderful blend of neo-psyche that reminded me of Stardeath & White Dwarf. Though that is easily the best song on the album, there are some other good tracks with a Soft Machine meets Shudder to Think vibe. Definitely a curious record that needs more listens before I can really determine its longevity. For now though, I'm just enjoying the ride.

The Black Ships - The Kurofune EP: This is the first release from a new band featuring Nick McCabe and Simon Jones from The Verve. Though it consists of only one track, it has a running time of 25 minutes. However, it's essentially one 7 minute track resembling the more chaotic nature of McCabe's Verve compositions. The rest of the track is melodic experimental music that sounds like a transmission captured through the static of some unknown place. It's a band exploring their infancy. Hopefully it's a teaser to great things to come. This EP is also available for free from the band's website by joining the mailing list.

Timber Timbre - Creep On Creepin' On: A few weeks ago I reviewed an earlier album by this singer songwriter. I very much enjoyed it and sought out this new album released in April. Though two years passed between the release of the two albums, not much if anything changed in the structure of the songs. I got the feeling these tracks could have simply been a continuation of the previous album. They have the same dark cloud hanging over them and the same intelligent folk sensibility. I think I prefer 2009's self-titled album, but probably only because I heard it first. They are nice companion pieces that can easily be listened to together.

The Grateful Dead - Fillmore East (Late Show) 2/11/1970: This amazing live bootleg features the band playing with guests Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Arthur Lee, Peter Green, and Berry Oakly and with that many guitar legends, there is naturally a whole lot of jamming bliss to be found. A fourteen minute version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" is amazing, as is "Me & My Uncle" and "Dire Wolf". I know there is no short supply of live Grateful Dead bootlegs, but given the nature of the venue and talent on stage, this is certainly one worth investigating. During this period, the band is heavy on the country influence that was invading the California sound at that time and they do as it as good as anyone.

Calexico / Iron & Wine - In the Reins: Though I've had this collaboration album since its release back in 2005, I only recently took the time to appreciate it. For whatever reason, I found it forgettable back then. And though it's not the best Iron & Wine album by any means, it certainly isn't worthy of neglect. With Calexico backing Sam Bean, his folk becomes infused with a stronger Americana sound. It's a very calm record, perfect for early grey mornings. "Sixteen, Maybe Less" is the real standout track here and ranks up there with one of Iron & Wine's best.
Neil Young - Carnegie Hall: I bought this bootleg sometime around 1996 from Generation Records on Thompson Street in NYC (a place where I bought many, many amazing bootlegs). Ever since I first heard it, it has been one my favorite Neil albums and one of my favorite albums of all time. It's a solo acoustic show from 1970 that sees Old Shakey playing through his already expansive catalog of amazing tunes. But most notably, it sees some of the first acoustic reworkings of "Cowgirl in the Sand", "Down by the River", and "Southern Man". There's also an amazing version of "Helpless" on here. I love these solo acoustic Neil shows because the emotion in his voice and the feeling in which he plays these songs is overwhelming. This is a much better show the 1971 Massey Hall show that was released a few years back. Every Neil Young fan should have this album, period.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Unseen Worlds Connecting With Our Own

It's been a little while since I reviewed any books and seeing that I've been reading quite a bit lately, I figured it was time to amend that oversight. Over the past year, in my own writing, I've been focused on illustrating these inner worlds, or unseen worlds that swirl all around us but which very few of us ever take notice. My upcoming novel Life is But a Dream focuses on the main character's delusional world which is just as real to her as any of the things that actually surround her. In the manuscript I recently finished, the main characters are detached from our world, yet constantly tethered to it by their memories. The two novels below share a similar thread, dabbling either directly or indirectly in the mysteries of what remains invisible to naked eye. Enjoy.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

When sad sack Richard has an accidental encounter with a wounded young girl named Door, he suddenly finds his life vanishing before his eyes and becomes a citizen of an the intriguing world of London Below. In the tradition of Oz or Wonderland, this world is populated by curiouser and curiouser people. But unlike those two fantasy worlds, this one exists side-by-side with our own even as it goes unseen. Within its boundaries, Richard and Door set out on a quest that is the one part mystery and one part pure adventure.

Neil Gaiman recently wrote a wonderful episode of Doctor Who, and it wasn't a surprising pairing at all. In many ways, this story captures the same whimsical sense of the newest incarnation of the long-running series. The danger is always accompanied by a light-hearted humor that makes the book nearly impossible to stop reading. This is the first adult novel I've read by Gaimen and was sort of surprised to find more light-hearted touches here than in his books for children. A really enjoyable read.

Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue

As with Keith Donohue's first novel, The Stolen Child, the most intriguing aspect of this novel is his remarkable ability to blend supernatural elements into his stories without ever making the reader feel as though they are reading fantasy fiction. In The Stolen Child, he tackled goblins (or changlings) and here he introduces the reader to Norah, a peculiar kind of angel that feels original and genuine. Donohue knows how to highlight subtleties in order to create a larger portrait. His magical moments are not grande, and they are all the more beautiful and effective for it.

At it's core, this is a story about redemption, both personal and familial. The angel acts as a catalyst to bring estranged mother and daughter together after years of separation. However, I found the more interesting story to be that of Norah as an angel trying to fit in with her fellow third graders. Her struggles and her friendship with a boy named Sean are the most touching and emotional scenes in the book. On the other hand, the adult relationships in the book didn't resonate with me. They felt more surface level and contrived.

There's also an odd choice in the narrative structure in the book. Divided into three parts, the middle section is essentially a separate, connecting novel stuck between the two halves of another superior novel. It was surprising simply because Donohue's previous book did such a fantastic job of telling two stories in alternating chapters that made the book impossible to put down. I can certainly understand not wanting to construct the same type of narrative in your next book, but honestly I think Angels of Destruction would have benefitted from it. Still recommended, especially for the insights on childhood friendship.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Space to Breathe

(image (c) Mark Ryden)

Sometimes a story feels so expansive and exciting that you have this desire to get it all out at once. I equate the process to a traffic jam at the Holland Tunnel, too much being squeezed into too little at a rate that it simply can't handle. All you end up doing is gumming up the works.

As one who has suffocated many a story in such a reckless manner, I'm continuously trying to learn a little patience. It's never easy balancing enthusiasm with practicality, but it's a chore that must be done. In the end, I believe the story benefits from a tempered approach.

When I dive in too fast, too deep, I find that I'm in such a rush to get all of these ideas out that I forget the simple joy of writing them. A story needs room to grow within the pages. As a writer, you need to be in the moment of the place, not focused on the next place you wish it to go. I also find that spending some time in the moment usually leads to more interesting adventures than the ones that were previously planned. When in doubt, always take the scenic route.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last Exile (Episodes 22-24)

Catch up on previous episodes here)

One tool that a storyteller has is the ability to make sure plans don't go according to plan. The storyteller has the benefit of knowing what will happen and therefore can manipulate the expectations of the audience. Unexpected wrenches in the characters' plans, both positive and negative to their objective, keeps the tension going and keeps the audience interested. In this last stretch of episodes before the final two, Last Exile seems to be doing just that.

Having stolen Exile, the Guild ships return to the palace for the Covenant Ceremony where capable youths battle to the death to see who will succeed Maestro Delphine and eventually run the Guild. The 'changed' Dio is forced to take part in the brutal, wonderfully animated scene, while Claus and Alvis are brought to an observation deck where Delphine finally explains what Exile is, but not what it does. This has been one of the fundamental mysteries of the show and its revelation follows the style of previous ones on the show, revealing information only to create more mystery. Alex Row is brought on deck too, wrapped in thorns that are releasing truth serum into his body. Delphine forces him to recite the Mysteria (the four poems that will open Exile). Exile scans Alvis as Alex recites the first verse and then the second. Alvis falls into the trance like state shown in a previous episode and Exile responds. In a great sequence of animation, Exile appears ready to do something big, but it turns out Alex does not know one of the verses, delaying the outcome and causing Delphine to revise her plans. She must first capture Sophia, the keeper of the last verse.

In these episodes, the viewer also gains insight into Dio and his childhood. We see his compassion for his companion and the harshness that his sister Delphine inflicts on him, which equals the harshness she inflicts on the entire world. Seeing the caring person Dio was makes his recent change even more heartbreaking. But his former compassion is rewarded when his friend helps Claus and Alvis escape, provided they take Dio with them. The three are taken to a hidden vanship within in the palace. In order for their escape to happen, a massive piece of the palace is blown off. It falls to the world below, sending tidal waves through Claus and Lavie's hometown. The three escapees manage to crash land and are taken to a hospital (based in the house where we saw Claus and Lavie on their first messenger mission way back in the beginning of the series). Claus and Alvis are released and go back home to find their house in ruins. All of this reaffirms the beliefs instilled at the beginning of the show. We've seen Claus grow and change, but in the end, his values have never faltered.

Meanwhile in the skies, the alliance begins its assault. The Silvana and Urbanus continue to trail Exile as it is pulled along by the Guild fleet, through the Grand Stream. The rest of the alliance's warships encounter a massive Guild fleet and commence with the vanship attack they've been working on. It's an overwhelming success, destroying most of the Guild ships. These air battles are one of the many highlights of the show and are simply stunning to look at. The alliance pushes on, ready to enter the Grand Stream and join what promises to be an epic final showdown. Claus must also somehow get back to the Silvana and bring Alvis with him...she's the only one who can stop what has already been set into motion. With two episodes left, I love how there is still a sense that anything can happen.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

The theme weeks are over for now as this week's roundup returns to the standard format of giving you reviews of a random list of albums that I've been grooving to recently. I spent much of this week contemplating my next manuscript. Typically in that stage, I tend to steer myself to more familiar sounds that I know will fit the mood that I'm trying to establish. So a good deal of items on this list are either albums I revisited after a long time of silence, or are simply new albums but sounds that are familiar to me. As a result, this week has ended up with a strange list of albums, but all of which are well worth sharing either for their greatness or as a curiosity--after all, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to music, enjoying the connectedness and story sometimes as much as the music itself. Enjoy.

Madrugada - The Nightly Disease [Deluxe Edition]: A few months ago, I did a Weekend Roundup focusing on this incredible Norwegian band (here). While in Switzerland, I picked up this just released deluxe edition of the 2001 album. One of my favorite albums of the last decade, I was thrilled to get my hands on the 180 gram, 4 record vinyl edition. The original album is amazingly gloomy rock and the album of bonus material includes some demo versions of the songs along with a slew of unreleased tracks that are equally as good as the album. A special treat is the cover of Neil Young's "Thrasher". If you don't have this album, you should. And when you're searching for it, do yourself a favor and pick up the deluxe edition, it's worth it.

Supergrass - Strange Ones: A Collection of Rare Odditites: This bootleg belonged to the Missus before we met and has been in our merged music collection for over a decade without my ever having listened to it. The reason for that is partially because I've never been a huge fan of the Oxford trio's 1995 debut album and this collection is basically just live versions of those songs. However, it bothers me that I have albums that I have never listened to, and since I was feeling a bit upbeat this week, I decided to put it on. I found the live versions to be much more playful than the album versions and really liked it. They're are some fantastic songs on that album, "Alright", "Time" and of course "Caught by the Fuzz." It made me want to revisit the album I'd written off years and years ago.

Joey Doyles - Get Money Give Love: For too long, hip hop has been ruled by party anthems and dance beats. My hip hop roots were born in East Coast, NYC hardcore of the early to mid-90's, a style that has been under-represented in recent years, or only represented by old timers from back in the days. This album hopefully changes that. Taking inspiration from that style, but in no way derivitative, this album is the real deal. And unlike a lot of hip hop artists, Joey Doyles has several different flows that keep the record interesting. The beats are tight, the rhymes are dope...check it out if you're looking for some real hip hop.

Nirvana - Out of the Womb: This week, I started reading the In Utero book in the 33 1/3 series of books documenting the recording process of an album. This has always been the band's artistic masterpiece in my opinion and one of my favorite records of all time. The book discusses the initial studio recording and its subsequent rejection by the label. That's when I remembered this bootleg that I purchased back in 1994, which is that original mix of the full album plus the other songs recorded at the session that would eventually be used as B-Sides or on other compilations. This version is more raw and aggressive and the levels aren't as smooth. In a way it sounds like a live album. I love this version of the album, though I admit to liking the final version better. It's interesting to hear how a raw album is affected by production.

Newermind - Tribute Album: My interest in this recently released covers album came about due to my listening of the above album. Gathering a slew of known and unknown artists, SPIN magazine created this uneven version of Nevermind. The songs that work best are the ones that reinterpret the original songs. There are a handful of straight forward covers which don't really appeal to me, not seeing the point. But a few songs really blew me away. "Lounge Act" is redone as a beautiful folk song by Jessica Lea Mayfield. "Polly" is made even more haunting by Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls and Evelyn Evelyn). The Meat Puppets and The Vaselines (two bands covered by Nirvana) do a nice job with their songs as well. As a side note, the cover of "Come As You Are" might be the worst cover I've ever head.

Jessica Lea Mayfield - With Blasphemy So Heartfelt: I picked this up after hearing her cover on the above album and was very impressed with this 2008 debut. It's a singer songwriter album of beautiful folk songs. She has an amazing voice, the kind that you can listen to all day long. I listen to a lot albums like this and for one to stand out the way this does is an exception worth paying attention to. She has another album which came out this past February which I hope to get soon.

A Fanfare for Neutral Milk Hotel Volume II and Volume III: I discovered the existence of these tribute albums while working on the Elephant 6 edition of the Roundup two weeks ago. Produced by a fan forum, there are five volumes in this series where various fans submitted covers of NMH songs and the best were chosen for the compilations and distributed for free (these volumes are the most readily available). Though a good deal of these are simply people sitting in their bedrooms doing their best Jeff Mangum impressions, there are certainly some amazing covers on here. A live version of "Engine" with Jordaan Mason (who went on to record one of my favorite albums of 2009) is pretty cool. Other songs worthy of note: "My Dream Girl Don't Exist" by Bootleg Kazoo, "Wood Guitar" by Glow Worm, and "King of Carrot Flowers" recorded live by The Jesus Vibes. Certainly interesting for NMH fans.

Jeff Mangum - Live at Jittery Joe's: This live solo album by Neutral Milk Hotel front man was recorded in 1997 but remained unreleased until 2001. This show was played around the time In Aeroplane Over the Sea was recorded and features many of the songs on there as well as some tracks from the first album and a few unreleased tracks. The atmosphere is amazing on this album. There's a baby that babbles and cries between songs, which in my opinion adds to the mood and the dreamlike quality of Jeff's songwriting. There's some bootleg NMH shows that are probably better, but this one is right up there with the best of them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

As I rule, I'm not usually a huge fan of remakes, and I especially hate the 'reboot' term as a way of trying to disguise a reinventing of a previous vision as somehow your own piece of imagination. Also, I really take issue with things being redone almost immediately (I'm talking to you Spiderman). So, with that said, I'd like to rave for a bit about a few remakes that have been exceptionally good of late.

Two episodes into the new Thundercats and I'm pretty much ready to declare it the best American cartoon since Avatar: The Last Airbender. The look of the characters is great. The story is dark and brutal in the opening, the way a story of this nature should be. There's a focus on character and story arch that avoids cartoon cliche. So far they are making a true middle grade series without pandering down. Even Willykit and Willykat, the comic relief, are realistic in their humor. I hope the series stays this good throughout because I already can't wait for the next episode.

Another cartoon that has been airing this year is G.I. Joe Renegades. I was nervous about this show given the terrible movie of two summers ago. Plus, the movie was a 'reboot' that changed the traditional story, rewriting the origins and creation of the key players. So when that was a disappointment, the idea of redoing it all over again with even newer origins kind of made me angry. I gave it a shot anyway and after a few episodes, it totally won me over. Again, this is darker than the original and presented in very comic book fashion. The characters have some depth, which is more than can really be said for any previous G.I. Joe incarnation. I also like the serialized nature of the show, building with each episode into a bigger story (something that is also true for the Thundercats so far). This show works much better than the Transformers cartoon that airs in the same hour block.

Lastly, I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes yesterday and thought it was really well done. I admit to being nervous about it given the disaster that was the Tim Burton remake several years ago. Thankfully, this movie had no connection to that and avoided all the stylization. I was impressed with how realized Caesar was as a character. There were moments of CGI overload, but other than that, it was a very good. It didn't try to be an overkill action movie, instead electing to attempt a thought provoking story within the context of action.

Despite my praise here for these projects, I'd still like to see more original ideas getting a chance to thrive. Remakes, reboots, reinventions, etc...They are all simply an easy way out for studios and networks. It's much easier to advertise and market something with a recognized name and potentially built-in audience than to create entirely new franchises out of the literally thousands of amazing books that have never been made into movies or television shows. It worries me that soon we'll reach a time when the slogan will be 'Everything New is Old Redone.'

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Wrong Way First

There are two reactions that a writer will usually have upon reading their own work. For some pieces, its love at first sight. Other pages leave a sour taste in your mouth. And while it can be easy to point out what you love about the things you love, it's just as important to identify why you hate the bits you hate. This can be one of the hardest tasks for a writer. You know something's wrong with a manuscript, but you don't know quite why. After all, it seemed so great as you were doing it.

As I mentioned in a post last week, I'm currently trying to rework something I wrote several months ago. As I started to think how I could change this or that element, I decided the only way to figure it all out was to make a list of all the things that weren't working. If I could see clearly what had to go, I could think about the replacements one at a time. I find this method always works well and often the solutions tend to run into each other, solving many problems at once.

I frequently tell young writers that it's not simply enough to know when something isn't working. You need to spend time with it and figure out why it isn't working. Even if it's months later, it's a key step to the writing process. It's the only way to learn to refine the craft and to hopefully avoid making the same mistakes down the road.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Last Exile (Episodes 19-21)

(Catch up on previous episodes here)

When I left off, the new alliance between the two nations of Anatoray and Disith were preparing a surprise attack against the oppressive Guild, which controls all air travel and therefore is able to manipulate the two nations. Following another clever device in storytelling, the show has kept the Guild a shadowy institution until near the end of the series. Or rather, there was a shifting enemy that changed as the viewer gained information along with our hero Claus. At first, the enemy is the Disith...then the mysterious Alex Row...then the Emperor, but by episode 19, we know those forces are all united against an enemy far more dangerous and far more powerful. The build-up of this aspect of the story is a great example of how following a character through a story can aide plot development and create plot twists.

In these three episodes, we get another shift in the story, most likely the last one before the climax. Now Empress, Sophia returns to the Silvana, bringing with her the Urbanus (the Empire's best warship, which has tangled with the Silvana in previous episodes.) The two superior ships join forces to enter the Grand Stream. The Disith have provided them with a map of the Grand Stream and a recording of Exile's engines. It is still unknown what Exile is, either a ship or a life form, but in order to defeat the Guild, apparently they need to capture it.

Flying through the swift stream, which is essentially a powerful corridor of converging jet streams, the ships finally locate Exile and launch vanships that will attempt to connect Exile to the Silvana with cables. Once they do, one of the earlier story lines comes back into the play. The four poems known as the Mysteria supposedly have the power to unlock Exile and little Alvis is the key to opening them. Finally, all of the hints from earlier begin to converge.

As the vanships approach Exile, its defense system takes out all but the ship piloted by Claus and Dio. Using his exceptional skills, Claus is able to accomplish the mission. Meanwhile, back at the Guild palace, Maestro Delphine discovers that her brother, Dio, has been hiding on the Silvana and sets out to bring him back. When Claus and Dio dock again, they find the Silvana seemingly deserted only to discover it has been taken over by the Guild. Delphine is there in person and takes Claus, Alvis and Alex with her back to the Guild palace in the sky.

Claus and Alvis are treated as guests, though they are aware that they are truly prisoners. They are disgusted by the extravagance of the Guild when people on the surface starve. In another part of the palace, Dio is forced to undergo a mysterious Guild procedure that will make him an adult. When he next sees Alvis and Claus, he's completely changed. Everything seems to be going Delphine's way. Have the alliance's plans been ruined and is all hope of defeating the Guild lost? Another classic storytelling technique, stacking the odds even more against the heroes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (Oasis 'Late Singles' Edition)

For the longest time, my most viewed post was the Weekend Music Roundup featuring Oasis after their breakup in 2009. It recently has fallen to second most viewed, but still it gets a lot of views (here). I figured it was about time for another Oasis edition, given the release of Noel's first single and given the fact that I've had a collection of their later singles ready for review for quite some time. Now I'm only including singles from Be Here Now and later, and only singles with B-Side tracks beyond remixes and just live tracks. Oasis had always been a band that gave great value in their singles, often including two unreleased songs, most of which were as good as anything on the album and sometimes even better. I also didn't include singles that I have reviewed before. Since these singles were all released after the classics, I'm hoping a lot of them will be new to you and you'll check them out. Enjoy.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - The Death of You and Me: The first track from Noel's solo album was released online last week. From the first listen this song kind of blew me away. Sure, it sounds like an Oasis song, possibly left over from "Don't Believe The Truth" but then those Dixieland horns come in and transform the song into something completely different. Noel's voice, which always sounds great, is slightly hidden under the music and creates this wonderful effect. I can only hope the album is this good.

Oasis - Stand By Me: One of the underrated songs in the Oasis catalog, and probably the best to be released as a single from Be Here Now, "Stand By Me" is a song that is just as good as any of the hits from What's the Story. Three B-Sides add to the single. "My Sister Lover" is also a song that feels more like Oasis from the previous album than from the tracks on this record, an up tempo rock song. "Going Nowhere" is a Noel sung track with Belle & Sebastian type horns. A little subdued, but captures that working class feel that the band was known for. Lastly, "(I Got) The Fever" is song that is very much in keeping with the big guitar sound of the album.

Oasis - All Around the World: Though a huge hit, the A-Side isn't one of my favorite Oasis songs. At nearly 10 minutes, many of which contain repetition of the chorus, the song drags in my opinion. Thankfully, the single includes three B-Sides. "The Fame" sounds like a B-Side, a fun little romp about the emptiness of fame, but nothing groundbreaking and easily fits in with the album's tone. "Flashbax" is quite better. A Noel song, singing in a slightly different style than typical, it's got a Verve feel to it that really works well. Lastly, there's a cover "Street Fighting Man", not my favorite Rolling Stones song, but it's nice to hear the band that's always compared to the Beatles singing the Stones.

Oasis - Sunday Morning Call: One of the few amazing tracks on the weakest Oasis album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, the A-Side is a wonderful sad song that laments the world and how it interferes with the lives we dream for ourselves (a familiar Oasis theme). The B-Sides for this are amazing, making this one of the great singles the band ever produced. "Full On" is a monster rock song that comes hard and fast and never quits. "Carry Us All" is a song that reminds me of "Don't Look Back in Anger" and I can't imagine how it didn't make it onto the album. Also worthy of note, all three songs are sung by Noel, which I think is the only time this happened.

Oasis - Go Let It Out: The A-Side from Standing on the Shoulders of Giants is bit too much of a coke fueled number, as most of that album seems to be. However, for the band's worst album, it produced some amazing B-Sides, nearly all of which are better than most of the album tracks. "Let's All Make Believe" is an amazing song, full of the discontent of a generation: "Let's all make believe that we're still friends and we like each other." The other B-Side "(As Long as They Have) Cigarettes in Hell" is a song that feels like a Definitely Maybe track, with Noel singing about how he can forget about heaven as long as...well, the title says it all. Another classic sounding Oasis song.

Oasis - Stop Crying Your Heart Out: A really good track off a really great album, Heathen Chemistry, the A-Side hearkens back to Be Here Now. Two B-Sides accompany the track. "Shout It Out Loud" is one of the best Oasis B-Sides, a moving Noel song with amazing guitar work. This is the album where the new line-up really shines and you can hear it musically. The other B-Side "Thank You for the Good Times" is decent, but not amazing.

Oasis - Little By Little: The A-Side from Heathen Chemistry is another classic sounding Oasis track. This is the album where the band got back to the basics that made the first two albums unforgettable. This is another working class anthem tinged with sadness that Noel does so well. This single is a double A-Side, also including "She is Love", one of the less interesting tracks from the album. The only B-Side is a cover of "My Generation" which Liam sneers to perfection and what makes it all worth it.

Oasis - The Importance of Being Idle: This single from Don't Believe the Truth is very representative of the band's shifting sound on that album and one of my favorite tracks from it. A great track accompanied with some really good B-Sides. "Pass Me Down the Wine" is a great bluesy track and Liam sounds amazing. "The Quiet Ones" is a very much a Beatles sounding song, a slow acoustic track with nice George Harrison wah-wah backing guitar.

Oasis - Let There Be Love: The last track on Don't Believe The Truth is typical sort of Oasis album closer, hopeful and high energy. The one original B-Side is a nice little track called "Sitting Here in Silence (On My Own)." It uses a Beatles melody, but Noel's lonesome vocals add a depth to it. Not even 2 minutes long, it's just a really nice forgotten Oasis track. The other B-Side is a live version of "Rock 'N Roll Star". It wasn't uncommon for Oasis to include live versions of their older classics to promote new singles.

Oasis - Lord Don't Slow Me Down: Released in 2007, between albums, this is a track that doesn't appear on any album. It was a digital download only (though a limited edition 12" vinyl was also released). It completely sounds like a track from Don't Believe the Truth. It's got a driving guitar riff and features Noel singing a more rocking song that typically would have been giving to Liam to sing. A lot of people dismiss this song, but I think it's kind of awesome. Also includes live version of "The Meaning of Soul" and "Don't Look Back in Anger."

Oasis - Falling Down: The last single from the bands last album Dig Out Your Soul is one of the best tracks from the band's end period. This single features a few remixes of the song (Though it doesn't include the 20 minute psychedelic version that was released as its own EP and which I highly recommend). The only B-Side is the very solid Beatles-esque "Those Swollen Hand Blues" that could easily have been an out take from Sg. Pepper, once again showing that the band was finally moving into that much anticipated psychedelic stage at the end of their career.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rearranging the Pieces, Finding Other Pictures

I never like to take too long between projects. So even though I just finished a manuscript, I've already starting thinking of different stories. Or more accurately, I'm thinking of old stories. There's a manuscript I wrote between Thanksgiving and Christmas that suffered from some construction issues in the first draft. There were elements of the plot that didn't work as well as others and I've been thinking about ways to reinvent the core of the story.

There are some stories that you leave behind when they don't work. You dissect them, surgically removing the usable parts for transplant into other stories. But there are others that you know there is something there if you only can figure out what its trying to say. Sometimes the characters and setup are simply too strong to abandon. Yesterday I came up with some new ideas that will eventually change the story completely. Sometimes a few months away from a story helps me see it more clearly.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Through the Woods Safely

In a wave of energy at the end of last week, I finished the manuscript I've been writing for the last month and a half. The story moved so easily through the last sixty pages. The threads began to weave together on their own without my manipulation. As any writer will tell you, the story benefits from that. Writers tend to get in the way with all of our words.

I read through the draft yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed what I had written. For a book that came about sentence by sentence, it surprised me how effortless it sounded. As I was writing, I felt myself becoming a bit of a perfectionist with each phrase. I've written like that before. Dirty Liar and Thief were written that way. But I haven't written in that mode for a while and was afraid it would feel too forced. It didn't and I'm very pleased with the results.

Hopefully I'll be able to share more details soon. For now, the illustration above captures something of the mood of the ending.