Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gone But Not Forgetton

Last week, my father passed away unexpectedly and I took some time away to be with my family. At some point in life, you always expect that one day you'll have to deal with the loss of a parent, yet you are never truly prepared. It's hard to accept the idea that one of the people who you always turned to in a time of need is no longer there. I miss him greatly, and expect to miss him even more in ways I cannot even imagine. 

My dad was my biggest fan. He almost always carried around bags of my Pirate School and CatKid books to hand out to children. He was a generous and loving man, may he rest in peace.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Returning to the regular format this week, I've picked out a selection of albums that I've been listening to over the past week and half or so. This is a pretty wide-range of tastes, and many of the bands are ones that I knew little about before listening to these records. Some were real surprises and others were slightly disappointing, but due mostly due to the fact that they don't conform to what I typically enjoy. I took some chances, and that's always a gamble. Sometimes you win big and sometimes you don't. Enjoy.

Curren$y - Return to the Winner's Circle: Having come late to the game to this New Orleans rapper, I've been trying my best to catch up by going through the abundance of outstanding mixtapes he's put out over the past few years. This 2011 tape is extremely tight. One reason there are always so many guest spots on hip hop albums is that it's rare for one flow to remain engaging for an entire album. Curren$y doesn't seem to have that problem because he can vary his delivery so easily, and always make it sound smooth. He's also got a great ear for beats, never choosing the easy club beat over a more dynamic one. Worthy of special note for the Wu Fans out there, "Rain Delay" is rapped over Raekwon's "Rainy Dayz."

Black Box Revelation - My Perception: Released last year, this is the Belgian garage rock band's third album. They take a slightly more psychedelic approach to garage blues rock than some other bands, creating a really great sound. There isn't a weak track on the album, keeping up a relentless pace for over 45 minutes. Being only two guys, guitar and drums, there's definitely a valid Black Keys comparison, but they actually manage to achieve a sound that also borrows from the chaotic danger of Death from Above 1979. Easily one of my favorite albums that I've heard from the past few weeks.

High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis: This Oakland metal band has been releasing records for over a decade, but I hadn't heard of them until last week. Periodically, I'll look at the top user rated albums of the current year on (the site I always link to). Currently at #35, I decided to give this one a go. Musically, this is very heavy and aggressive, with some great riffs. Vocally, it's very guttural and deep, with moments of screaming. While certainly a quality album, with exceptional playing, it's certainly nothing terribly original. And at over an hour long, it does begin to grow tiring, but I find that true for a lot of metal records. Certainly good if you're looking for some pounding, relentless rock.

Julian Plenti - Julian Plenti Lives: Better known as Paul Banks (of Interpol), this EP is the second release under the name Julian Plenti, following 2009's Julian Skyscraper. On these five very different tracks, there is an attempt at expansion. It opens with the compelling soundscape composition of "Perimeter Deactivated" and continues onto the standout "Summertime is Coming," a beautifully scaled back song. After that comes the sampled, experimental track "Mythsysizer" which is interesting, if not forgettable. From there, is the odd trip-hop version of Frank Sinatra's "I'm a Fool to Want You," which I enjoy for its pure strangeness. The last track, "Cavern Worship" is a decent experimental track, though it never really goes anywhere. All in all, a nice collection of songs that don't quite feel like they belong together. 

The Knife - Deep Cuts: This 2003 album is the Stockholm electropop band's second. Karin Dreijer's (now of Fever Ray) voice is really what makes this album interest. She has this haunting quality even when signing dance music. Heavy on synthesizer beats of a decade ago, the album is best taken in small doses. There are moments of Bjork quirkiness, which also exist in Fever Ray, that really make this worth checking out, and it does hit a groove quite often. Overall though, probably only for fans of Euro synth music.

Paper Route - The Peace of Wild Things: Nashville is not the first place one would think of for an indie synth pop band to emerge, but that's exactly where this quartet hails from. Released last week, this is the band's second album. It opens with probably the best track on the album, "Love Letters," which sounds like a more swirling, uptempo Manchester Orchestra. From there, the album goes into a more heavily 80's influence, relying on lots of keyboard and a delivery that feels made for a blockbuster 80's soundtrack. It's really well done for what it aims to be, it's just doesn't happen to be my thing. However, I'm sure there many people out there who would appreciate this record.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Haunting of My Volkswagon

I'm convinced there is a ghost living in my car. The other day, while driving in the fine city of Kingston, the Missus and I had to park beside an old church and its ancient graveyard. "Make sure to roll the windows all the way up," I said. "Don't want a ghost getting in." Knowing that it was already entirely too late.

The ghost hasn't made himself seen just yet, but he will. It's only a matter of time before I'm driving down the highway and his ghostly face appears in the mirror. I imagine him doing nothing but heckling me as I'm trying to drive. That is why I've continued to roll down the windows whenever I pass a graveyard and try to shoo him away. Everyone knows once a ghost gets settled, they're impossible to evict.

On the bright side, perhaps he's a mechanic and can take care of a few things that need fixing. However, the important lesson in all of this remains the very same lesson a writer must always remember--there is story in everything as long as you are willing to live it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Into the Black Edition)

First off, I apologize for getting this out a day late. Having spent yesterday several hours away from home, I'd hoped to get to this when I returned, but alas exhaustion won out, despite having set everything up the day before. Regardless, better late than never.

This week's round up is slightly different. Ever since reading the Kurt Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven a few months ago, I've been listening to Nirvana pretty regularly. Having always been one of my favorite bands, their music never fails to inspire me creatively. Kurt is one of the greatest lyricists in rock music history, using simple rhymes to express unrelenting emotion, not to mention striking imagery. Like Syd Barrett, Kurt's lyrics combined with the music, create a unique world for the listener to visit.

Heavier Than Heaven - Charles R. Cross:

Not only was this book wonderfully researched, it was also powerfully written. In my opinion it's rare for a biography to be such a riveting example of storytelling, especially when so much is publicly known about the subject, but this book proved otherwise. A very moving portrait of someone who in many ways got what he always wanted, only to discover he was so ill fitted for the fame he sought.

The author exhausted nearly every possible reference for this book, talking to everyone close to Kurt, as well as scouring through countless interviews and the journals to present a complete picture of an iconic figure. What comes through so strikingly is the story of a child who felt lost after the divorce of his parents and was never really able to reconcile those feelings, which show up in so many of his songs. It shows a person so driven to be accepted and adored, while possessing none of the traits one needs to cope with that adoration once it's given. 

Before reading the book, someone had warned me that the ending was really sad. I told them I knew how it ended, so I thought it would be okay. But the truth was, the ending was indeed very sad and moving. It really showed the struggle one faces when they decide they simply can't go on anymore and knowing they are going to devastate those closest to them.

As any reader of this blog is aware by now, I'm a huge fan of bootlegs and Nirvana is one of the first bands whose bootleg catalog attracted my attention. For a band so popular, it's amazing how much unreleased material still remains. They are also one of the rare bands whose demos are often times better and more insightful than their studio albums. Without all the production that goes into making the 'big rock record,' Kurt is essentially a blues player, releasing his torments in raw expression. This is also why many of their live recordings are essential. 

If all you know is this hits, than I strongly suggest digging deeper. The With the Lights Out box set is an amazing place to begin, or even the Sliver: Best of the Box one disc set will give you a good look into the 'unheard' Nirvana. If you still can't get enough, than I highly recommend seeking out the bootleg box set The Chosen Rejects to fill many important omissions. Despite all the copycat bands the flooded the market, there is really no other band that sounds like Nirvana. They were consistently inventive and consistently brilliant.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Death of Summer

As the leaves begin to change outside my window and the graying skies bring the welcomed cool weather of autumn and the sound of school buses rolls through morning, I find myself feeling thankful once again that summer is dying. 

Last week, I did something I hadn't done in twenty years...I said goodbye to summer by spending a few days at the Jersey Shore. As a kid, I spent many weekends out of every summer in Wildwood, trekking across the enormous beach by day and the endless neon boardwalk of rides at night. Nostalgia and circumstance brought me back for a three day stay with the Missus, only to find not much has changed there in my absence. 

Soaking up the crowds of wide-eyed kids, over sized stuffed animal prizes, and the never ending scent of funnel cake, french fries and the promise of soft serve ice cream, I was reminded of the magic of certain places at certain times. They say you can never be a kid again, but there are moments when you can visit childhood and those are vacations well spent. Memory is the lifeblood of writing and sometimes it's good to stir up long forgotten ones.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

With the last weekend of summer upon us, it seems like a good time to catch up on some of the latest releases. Recently, there's been a bunch of new releases from favorite artists of mine whose albums have been a long time in the making. Many of them have been worth the wait. Most of the albums on this list are perfect for the end of summer, before I make my annual switch to Fall folk music. So turn up the hi-fi and enjoy.

Cat Power - Sun: Chan Marshall is easily one of the best singer songwriters of the past fifteen years, so having to wait four years between albums felt like a really long time. This week, the wait is over with the release of Sun. During her hiatus, Cat Power's sound has evolved. It's more up tempo, a trend that actually started back with 2006's The Greatest. There's definitely more of a pop sensibility than she has ever showed before. For the most part, it works quite well. Plus, one can't expect an artist to mope their entire career. That said, there are moments where the album can get a little annoying. Just a little...but that's nothing I've ever had to say about a Cat Power album before. Because of that however, I predict this will be a commercial success. 

The View - Cheeky for a Reason: The lads from Scotland aren't such lads these days. Since their 2007 debut, the band has enjoyed moderate success in the UK, but their previous three wonderful albums have been largely ignored in the US. In the same category as The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys and other indie rock bands from the UK in the last decade, The View are actually one of the most interesting. They often take risks. They can be extremely raw at times, and beautifully melodic at others. As with most of their records, this one has grown on me with every listen. This album is a little more straight forward, yet manages to be better than anything played on the radio.

Smoke Fairies - Blood Speaks: It's been two years since this British folk duo released their eerie Through Low Light and Trees and in that time, there have been many more folk bands to emerge. Where Smoke Fairies differ is in their allegiance to the British style of folk heard on gems from late '60s and early '70s, rather than the Americana roots that most folk bands are following. They've wisely updated the sound with more modern guitar and a slightly darker sound. A very solid third album.

Bonnie Prince Billy - Now Here's My Plan: Just when you might think Will Oldham could possibly be running out of material, he released this new EP covering his own songs. The amazing thing is how different these songs sound. Many of the are unrecognizable from the original, especially the rollicking version of the ultimate downer tune "I See A Darkness." Definitely a must of any fan. 

Langhorn Slim - The Way We Move: It's been three years since the folk singer/songwriter released his breakthrough album Be Set Free. He's used that time well, crafting the best album of his career so far. Featuring a full band, this album drives a lot harder than his previous efforts, yet still has it's beautiful softer moments like "Coffee Cups," and "Song for Sid." The album closes with "Past Lives" a song he used as a set closer when I saw him play back in January and it really closes the album perfectly. This has easily skyrocketed into my top albums of the year so far. 

Milo Greene - Milo Greene: This California folk quintet's debut album has been the perfect soundtrack for the end of the summer. I first caught their video for the great song "1957" on 120 Minutes a few weeks ago and went searching for the album the next day. With four singers in the band, the sound is like a lush Mazzy Star, or a more accessible Fleet Foxes. It also reminds me of the Alex Ebert album, which has been a favorite of mine this year. 

The Antlers - Undersea: This new EP from the Brooklyn indie folk band follows last years Burst Apart with a somewhat more dreamy tone. The thing that I always enjoy about them is their literary style of storytelling. Their lyrics are dense and poetic and work well with the slow wandering of the music. For whatever reason, it feels as though they've really perfected their aim on these four songs, especially on "Crest."