Friday, June 29, 2012

Learning Not Use the Force

Earlier this week, I spent a whole day working on little over a page in my manuscript. I had finished a brief scene and was transitioning into a complimentary scene that was supposed to close out the chapter and lead to the next. On paper, it looked good. Should've flowed seamlessly. But when I put it into action, everything came to a grinding halt.

As I was writing, I kept struggling with the idea that the characters wouldn't be saying these things after what had just happened. They wouldn't be talking about this stuff, no mater how badly I wanted them to. 

When I sat down to work yesterday, I approached the manuscript with a new attitude. I wasn't going to force this transition. I took the scene I'd struggled on and moved it down several pages and out of the way so I could get to work on what really happens next. I'm happy to say, it didn't take long for the characters to find the right scene. Sometimes the author just needs to step out of the way.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Art of Making Sense

There are times when writing when I just want to throw a huge curveball into the story. I'm not talking about a clever twist...I'm talking about one that makes no sense. Like a monkey with a space helmet slowly descending into a scene on a beam of light slicing through the clouds. Or perhaps a team of Boy Scouts with super powers. You know, something that would make the reader stop in the middle of a serious, emotional scene in order to ask themselves wait, did that tree just talk.

At the root of this desire is a compelling need to go fishing for tangents, something that will spin the wheels and get the story unstuck. Other times it's just my endless wish to create these storybook words where the color and shape of things doesn't exactly match our own. 

I think maybe one day I will simply write a story that is all talking trees and space monkeys. For now, I will continue to search for responsible ways of fulfilling this urge. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I'm still going through a bunch of new releases from the past few months and finding many gems among them. As a result, this is one of the most diverse lists I've done. There's a lot of genres of music represented here, so there's definitely something for everyone. I've listened to each of these albums again today so that my thoughts would be fresh. What's interesting is a lot of these albums have an autumn feel to them. Two days ago when the sky was melting, I would image my choices would have been quite different. Enjoy.

Tim Buckley - Goodbye and Hello: As I continue to make my way through Tim Buckley's catalog, I grow ever more impressed with the wealth of great music he recorded in his short career. This 1967 album is his second. It's a little less experimental than later efforts, following a more traditional folk structure. But there is nothing mundane about what he does. I hear so many elements in his music, part Nick Drake, part Leonard Cohen, part Syd Barrett, part early Nilsson, part Jefferson Airplane, part Van Morrison, but sounding nothing like any one of them at any given point. Not his best, but still amazing. The title track is fantastic. Last week I bought another of his albums on vinyl. I can't wait to hear how his voice sounds on record.

Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots a UFO: The new album from the kings of lo-fi is probably their best in over a decade. Reminiscent of their their 90's masterpiece Bee Thousand, this album seems to vary tone and structure with each song, yet they flow seamlessly together. There really isn't a bad track on here, which is impressive considering there are 21 of them, though most are under 3:00 minutes in length. Easily a contender to make my best of list for the year.

Nacho Picasso - Lord of the Fly: On the Seattle rapper's second album in less than a year, he is once again paired up with Blue Sky Black Death. The previous effort, 2011's For the Glory is nothing short of the best hip hop album I've heard in a long time. This album feels like a continuation of that one. It has the same fantastic spooky beats that Blue Sky Black Death does better than anyone else. Nacho's flow is impeccable. It's a slightly darker record, and while it's pretty incredible, I do miss a little of the fun from the first record. A third album, "Exalted," is already out. Expect a review soonish. I'm excited that Blue Sky Black Death has found a perfect match...though another Jean Grae album would be welcomed.

Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick 2: Last winter when I first read that this album was coming out on a message board, I thought it had to be a joke. I researched it and found that it indeed was real. Released in April, 40 years after the original masterpiece, this is Ian Anderson's sequel and it's surprisingly quite good. First off, I have to say that it was a bold decision. Also, it's a much more interesting concept than just releasing a deluxe package of the original, especially since you can't improve perfection. I wish more artists would revisit the period of an album when it reaches a milestone and show us how they would interpret it today. All of that said, I've enjoyed this album. Starting with the cover treatment, updating the original's newspaper with a website, this record attempts to revisit the the same themes as the original and demonstrates that the nothing much has changed in the way the world is run...those in charge and those who follow are still 'thick as a brick.'

Natural Snow Buildings - Beyond the Veil: There seems to be no end to the well from which this drone folk duo's music springs. Having released hours and hours of music each year for the past decade, they are still able to return with another full length album after releasing two last year. This one is a return to the storybook quality of my favorite albums of theirs. There are elements of the Sunlit Stone albums, along with the pure eeriness of Daughter of Darkness. This is going to be great come Fall. Plus, another amazing cover...their albums always have amazing artwork.

Soulsavers - The Light the Dead See: This is the UK indie band's first album since 2009 and third overall. Without the gloom of Mark Lanegan's voice, which made their 2007 album so good, the sound feels slightly flat. Musically it's still solid. And there's definitely some really great songs on here that conjure the dark mood that they do best. "Take Me Back Home" is probably the best song on here. All in all, it's worth a listen, though I was hoping for more.

Gossip - A Joyful Noise: This is the Portland band's first album in 3 years. I quite enjoyed their last one and this one isn't much different. It's the same brand of dance rock. I love the way they mix  really heavy grooves into their music. Their sound is much the same as The Rapture in that way. Beth's voice is wonderful as usual. A solid record for the summer.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wherever You Go, I Will Follow...

I've been taking a different approach with my writing lately. With the new book I'm working on, I'm not obsessively planning and outlining the way I typically do. It's not because I've suddenly given up my belief that plans and outlines are extremely helpful tools...and I have to admit that I'm sneaking in a little of both...however, the story is about the freedom the two main characters experience during their day together. I wanted to give them the chance to find themselves in their own terms. 

Most writers will tell you that their characters are their children in a sense. You give life to them and are ultimately responsible for their well being. Of course there's the benefit of them not being able to scribble on your walls or break your most prized possessions, but that's a minor detail because they still demand the same amount of attention. With the two character in this story, I didn't want to force anything on them. I think of it more like the picture above...I offer them scenes to ether accept or reject. Though unlike them, I have the advantage of knowing where they will end up. But that will be my little secret.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

This was sort of a busy week for me. I didn't get to listen to a lot of new music...mostly just the shuffle on my iPod, which is all familiar music. But as I mentioned last week, I had a backlog of great new music that I've been grooving to over the past month or so, giving me plenty of ammunition for the Roundup. There's definitely a summer theme to this week's list. All of these albums are the kind of bright and up-tempo albums that I like to listen to throughout warmish summer days--some a little more so though than others, but all in all, a solid offering. Enjoy.

Chromatics - Kill for Love: This is the Seattle, now Portland, band's 6th album, but the first I've listened to. Released a few months ago, I mostly got it for the opening cover of Neil Young's "Hey, Hey, My, My" (labeled here by it's subtitle "Into the Black"). The cover is fantastic, but so is the rest of the album. It has a sort of 90's dream rock sound like Slowdive or Ride but with an updated current shoegazer quality. It's a great summer morning album and really worth checking out.

Lissy Trullie - Lissy Trullie: I was originally intrigued by Lissy back in 2009 with her debut EP Self Taught Learner which featured a great cover of Hot Chip's "Ready for the Floor." It took until this spring for this full length debut to be released. Her voice actually reminds me a lot of Scarlett Johansson's. There is a nice mix of fuzzy dream pop and harder edged tunes that sound like an updated Pat Benatar. Stand out track is "It's Only You, Isn't It."

Graham Coxen - A+E: The Blur gutarist's 9th full length solo album is another quality effort. Graham was always the more punk influenced member of Blur and his solo albums tend to show that, except for the more folk oriented releases like The Sky is Too High. The guitar work on this one is great, very reminiscent of late 90's Blur. There's also a nice inclusion of some new wave elements that work well with the lo-fi elements. I'm really enjoying this, and seem to enjoy it more with each listen.

Paloma Faith - Fall to Grace: I really loved Paloma's 2009 debut, Do You Want the Truth... It was extremely poppy, but also soulful, well done and beautiful. Now, three years later, there is finally a follow-up. The new album doesn't stray far, blending soaring pop melody with Paloma's amazing voice into beautiful ballads. It hasn't quite captured me like the first...yet. But given that this is a genre I don't typically listen to, it might take a while to truly grow on me. The acoustic versions on the deluxe edition are well worth it.

O. Children - Apnea: This is the London band's second album, following 2010's self-titled. Their sound harkens back to goth greats like Bauhaus, but incorporates the darker, heavier pulse of recent Scandanavian rock bands. They take a big step forward on this record. The songs feel more focused and more complex. It took a few listens before I truly loved this album, but I find myself listening to it quite often now. 

The Enemy - Streets in the Sky: The lads from West Midlands are a little older and wiser for their third album, and first in three years. It's the same kind of agro pub rock featured in their previous albums, but there's definitely a maturity here. They have a bit more to say about life, making their anthems even more enjoyable than before. Just straight forward rock 'n' roll with a sneering attitude. Nothing more, nothing less...but good for what it does.

The Hives - Lex Hives: At the beginning of the last decade, this Swedish garage band was poised to take over the world with their electric 2000 album, Veni Vidi Vicious. Then two disappointing albums in 2004 and 2007 sunk the momentum. Well, they're back now and dare I say, as good as ever. Though the genre has worn a little thin in the last decade, Howlin' Pelle can still command attention with his dynamic delivery. Nothing earth shattering here, but still a darn good garage rock album. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where Do We Go Now?

On a grey and wet, autumn-like afternoon yesterday, I did the best thing to do on such afternoons and lost myself in fiction. In other words, I went to the movies to see Prometheus. I can't remember the last time I've looked forward to a movie with as much anticipation as this and overall, I thought it delivered. Of course it looked great and sounded great, and the story was also intriguing. And when it really comes down to it, story is what I'm always longing for.

I've always believed that a great sci-fi movie leaves you with as many questions as it answered. It's a genre designed to make the viewer, or reader, ponder the bigger questions in life that sometimes feel too big to think about in a vacuum. It's easier to think about abstract concepts like where do we come from within the context of fiction. I felt Prometheus did a fantastic job of sparking the imagination while still allowing the story to live on long after I left the theater. 

I'm also a sucker for in-depth development of fictional worlds and mythology. Prometheus expanded the Alien mythology exponentially. By the end, I felt they left the blueprints for a universe as vast as the one found in Star Trek. It also stayed true to the Alien formula, but not in a way that felt stale...more in a "yeah, I missed these kind of characters" way.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Though I actually listened to a wealth of new music this week, I wanted to get back to reviewing some of the vinyl that I picked up on my epic shopping trip along the West Coast. I also like to give most albums some time to settle in before reviewing them and many of the new records I heard this week deserve a few more listens before I spew my opinions on here. Most of the albums on this week's list, though new on vinyl, are records I've been familiar with for some time, either with the actual album or at the very least the material. Some of my favorite bands of all time are also represented. Enjoy.

Make Up - Untouchable Sound: Still the strangest live performance I've ever seen was when these guys opened for Sonic Youth at NYU back in 1995. It would be another four years or so before I'd really discover the brilliance of this band and their hyper blend of punk, soul, and garage rock. Released in 2006, this live album is billed as the great 'lost' album which features songs that never made it onto an LP before the band split. Most of those songs however did make it onto the fantastic 1999 compilation I Want Some. Having heard other live albums from them, I can easily say this one tops the others. Partially because of the set list, partially because of the recording quality, but mostly just because they sound great on this night.

Elliott Smith - Elliott Smith: I always find it strange when an artist's self-titled album isn't their debut. This 1995 album is singer songwriter's second, following Roman Candle released the year before. I've always thought it shows a significant step forward and really let's us see the development of the song writing skill that would go on to make him one of the icons of my generation. Some of my favorite tracks of his can be found on this album. "Needle in the Hay," "Southern Belle," and "Clementine," just to name a few. I found this for under $10 in perfect condition, and it's an original pressing as this isn't one of his to be re-released. A treasure to say the least.

Stardeath and White Dwarfs - The Birth: I'd been looking for this 2009 psychedelic indie rock album on vinyl for several months when I finally found it in Portland. This Oklahoma band is probably best known for re-recording Dark Side of the Moon with The Flaming Lips (The singer is the nephew of Lips' frontman Wayne Coyne). I've had this album digitally for a few years and still listen to it quite frequently. I just knew it would sound amazing on vinyl with it's Floyd spaciness meets pop hooks, and I was right. A stunning album in so many ways. To this day, still their only full length release.

Beefeater - House Burning Down: A few weeks back, I mentioned that I bought this along with the band's other EP. It still amazes me that anyone sold it, but they did. This is the D.C. post punk band's 1987 EP and final release. It strikes a different tone than the first EP, seemingly more relaxed, yet somehow more desperate at the same time. You can hear singer Thomas Squip unraveling a bit on this record and anyone can tell the band wouldn't last much longer, but that's what gives the record so much power.

Warsaw - Another Ideal for Killing: Released in 2011, this vinyl bootleg captures an early concert of the band that would later be known as Joy Division. I've always found the Warsaw period to be the band's most dynamic, as they literally were inventing the post-punk genre even as punk was booming. "Shadowplay," "Ice Age," "Walked in Line" and "Interzone" rank among my favorite Joy Division songs and the Warsaw versions even more so. The sound is much rougher and completely stripped raw on these recordings and it suits them nicely. So glad I found this.

The Bevis Frond - London Stone: Nick Saloman began recording as The Bevis Frond back in the mid-80s and is still making amazing indie rock today as evidenced by last year's album The Leaving of London. Much of the band's early work is on a hard to find basis and in fact, I'd never even seen this 1992 album for sale even on CD. So when I saw it in a record store in Seattle, there was no question that I was going to buy it. This album represents the beginning of the band's best work and was definitely a missing piece in my collection.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Killing

Smart television doesn't seem to be in short supply these days. Unlike a decade ago, the airwaves are positively bursting with excellent writing, fine acting, and creative storytelling. However, the one thing that still seems to be lacking is the patience of audiences.

The wonderful AMC show The Killing is a casualty of this modern day impatience. After great ratings for the first season last year, the show suffered a huge drop off this season simply because they didn't solve the murder mystery in last year's season finale. Frustrated and impatient, people stopped watching as if the overarching whodunit were the only reason to watch. What those people missed is probably the best season of television this year.

Instead of enjoying the many complicated and dramatic turns the story took, a lot of viewers simply wanted a conclusion. This is the same kind of attitude that prompts readers to term a book 'slow' when it decides to spend time with its characters thoughts and feelings rather than cram every ounce of plot onto the page. My advice to them is to sit it back and enjoy the ride.

The season finale of The Killing begins this weekend...and yes, the killer will be caught. And I'm happy to say to those who skipped out on the season, you'll have no idea what's going on and won't enjoy the conclusion. A true case where patience is going to be rewarded. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week has passed, another collection of albums gathered for review. I'm still giving a break from reviewing the trunk load of vinyl purchased on my West Coast swing, deciding instead to catch up with more current releases. Next week I certainly will be going exclusively through the vinyl treasures, so consider yourself warned. There's a lot of summerish music on here, which should fit perfectly with the calendar. Enjoy.

Magnolia Electric Co. - Sojourner: I've had this box set since its 2007 release, but have been listening to it quite a bit lately and wanted to highlight it for the many who probably have never heard of it. Consisting of five discs (four discs of music and one DVD) and packaged in a wooden case, this is easily one of the most collectable albums of the last decade as far as I'm concerned. Jason Molina is a singer songwriter channeling his inner Neil Young for a new generation. His songs are powerful and emotional, and with just the amount of country folk rock genius. A true must have.

Santigold - Master of My Make-Believe: The long awaited second album from Santigold is pretty much what one might expect. It doesn't drift too far away from the sound that made her 2008 debut a monster record. You'll find the same clever beats and intelligent lyrics along with her dynamic delivery. What you won't find is anything really new and after 4 years, you might expect to. I enjoyed this album, but unlike the previous one, there are no tracks that really leaped out and grabbed me. A solid effort, but I somehow doubt I'll still be jamming to this 4 years from now the way I am to her first album.

Psychic Ills - Hazed Dream: I've been familiar with this Brooklyn based psychedelic rock band for some time, and this is easily their most complete release to date. It's more focused than some of their more manic early work. A soft spoken album with rich landscapes and eerie moods, I've been listening to this quite a bit. It reminds me of another brilliant, now defunct, New York band called The Occasion. A great mood record for lazy summer afternoons.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben: After last year's terribly disappointing Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? I'd worried this influential band had come to a creative end. I'm happy to report that those fears were premature. Though not as great as the band's late 90's work, this is still a return to form of sorts. It's a return to the neo-psychedelic sound they are known for, be it a little more subdued than other efforts. A solid addition to the catalog, but certainly start with Thank God for Mental Illness or Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request if your are new to the band. 

Moonface - Heartbreaking Bravery: What started as a side project for Spencer Krug (of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown) has become a primary focus for the talented songwriter. Having just released an album last year, one of my top albums of the year, this follow-up comes right on the heels and features some of his best songs in years. His blend of north of the border indie art rock centers around songs crafted with literary beauty and, as the album title says, heartbreaking bravery.

Mount Eerie - Clear Moon: The newest album by Phil Elverum is a fine example of what he is best known for, lo-fi psychedelic folk. This album is a little closer in feel to his former band The Microphones masterpiece The Glow Pt. 2, though certainly without the epic scope, than other Mount Eerie releases that I've heard. The album feels a bit like wandering through somebody's dream, with all the disjointed confusion that would entail. A wonderful record for anyone, who like me, is into this kind of esoteric music.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: This debut album is a beautifully minimal dream ambient record that reminds me of Boards of Canada. There's a lot of swirling tracks and good use of electronic elements to create one of those records that are perfect background music for sunny summer days. It has a very late '90s feel in that way. I've been enjoying this album much more than I would have thought. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Legend of Korra

In case you haven't heard, The Last Airbender story has not come to an end. Not even the epic terribleness of M. Night Shyamalan can kill an amazing story like the one begun on Nickelodeon's Avatar...the original Avatar, born before the 3D alien fest. 

The three season saga of Aang and his friends ranks up there with my all time favorite television shows, animated or otherwise. It's really one of the only shows I can think of that took the elements of a Middle Grade novel and created a show that felt as intelligent and original as a written trilogy. So when I learned that the creators were going to make a new Avatar series, I was pretty excited to say the least.

The new show, The Legend of Korra, takes place some 60-80 years later and follows the training of Aang's replacement Avatar, a girl from the Southern Water Tribe. One thing these writers have always done well is introducing characters and Korra's entrance is unforgettable and instantly endearing. Even though she ages ten years by the next scene, as a viewer you're already attached to her. 

Another thing the original show excelled at was the invention of an entirely new world. Upon returning, we see that this world has changed quite dramatically from when we last saw it. We don't have to wonder what happened between the last show and this one, we instantly see it in the streets of the semi-modern Republic City. And no time is wasted before we learn that this new Avatar in training will have an entirely new set of problems to face and challenges to overcome. So far, the journey seems well worth taking.