Monday, May 28, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

As I promised last weekend, this time around I'm reviewing mostly higher profile new releases. Some of these albums I've been living with for a few weeks and know pretty well by now. There's been a good crop of records coming out recently, making up for a slow start to the beginning of the year. It's also the unofficial start of summer today, which means an increased emphasis on sunshiney music. Most of these are new albums from old favorites. Enjoy.

Alexander Ebert - Alexander: The solo album from the lead singer of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros is an album that has grown on me a lot. To be honest, I didn't care for it at first, but after a few listens, I'm truly enjoying it. At it's core, it's an indie folk album, but there are so many diverse influences on here, from doo-wop to Marvin Gaye to '60s Cali sunshine pop to Donovan and even 80's Paul Simon-esque world beat, which I know sounds horrible, but it all comes together to form something quite beautiful. Like a more interesting version of Fleet Foxes.

Marilyn Manson - Born Villain: I really thought with his 2009 album that Marilyn had started to regain his form, with much thanks to a reunion with Twiggy. This album proves that even more. It's heavier than anything he's done in a while, but still manages to keep the beauty that he's discovered in his music in recent years. Though he may not be "in" right now, Marilyn is easily one of the most important artists of the last two decades and he continues to make relevant music. 
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light: J. Spaceman returns with his first album since 2008, and easily his best since 1997's Ladies and Gentleman... This album really blew me away upon first listen. It captures the desperation that is familiar with all of Spiritualized work, but is more complicated musically than some of the latest albums. It simply soars with heartache, but with the upbeat summer melodies that make it a joy to listen to over and over. 

Blue Sky Black Death & Nacho Picasso - For the Glory: For the past several years Blue Sky Black Death have been creating some of sickest beats in hip-hop and wisely pairing up with underground rappers to deliver spectacular albums. This 2011 album ranks up there with the best of them. The music is eerie and intense and Nacho is brilliant. His flow and rhymes are incredible. Witty and intelligent in a way I haven't heard in a long time. "Dmt" is a masterpiece. They released another album this year that I can't wait to hear. 

The Dandy Warhols - This Machine: It's nearly 12 years since this Portland band has recorded anything worth mention, but they have finally proved the magic behind their late 90's albums is still alive. They've shed their manic power pop sound for something darker and deeper. Compared to their usual sound, this is very lo-fi and minimal, and the songs show a maturity that I've long hoped for. A solid and enjoyable album.

Silversun Pickups - Neck of the Woods: The indie band's long awaited follow-up to 2009's surprise hit Swoon is another album that took some time to grow on me, but grow it did. I'm not even sure anymore what it was that I didn't like to begin with, because I truly enjoy every song. Sure, it's a little mainstream heavy, but that's an L.A. tradition and something that has never really bothered me as long as the songs are good. They've always reminded me a bit of some early 90's bands that never really made, like the Drop Nineteens for example. I expect at least one song from here to be a summer hit and could potentially see this becoming as big as Arcade Fire's last album.

King Creosote - I Learned from the Gaels: This new four song EP from the prolific Scottish folk singer/songwriter was released this week and falls right in with his extensive catalog. As with most singer songwriters, he has a voice that you either love or loathe...I happen to enjoy it. Anyone familiar with his records will feel right at home listening to this. Not his best songs, but certainly respectable. A good listen for all those newly formed Mumford & Sons fans out there that are interested in delving deeper into the wonderful folk tradition of the UK.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This is the Place Where Something Happens...

I often find myself coming to the end of a sentence or a paragraph and saying that this is where something needs to happen. Something big. Something exciting. Sometimes something that even I never expected. 

I've always found this to be a good trick to get out of a rut. By giving myself a moment to open up the story to any possibility, I usually find a way to propel things forward in a manner much more interesting than any outline ever could. 

This morning when I opened my manuscript, I was at one of these moments. I decided to let the characters do what I would've wanted to do most in their position. It worked out much better than the course I had planned for them. A writer must always have faith in their characters to sometimes know better than he or she does.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Last weekend I was away, and though I tried, I missed the chance to post a new music update due to spotty wi-fi reception at where I spent my weekend. But I'm back, and I'm still going through the record haul from the west coast trip. I'm still really thrilled so far with the finds I made out there. I'm about half-way through listening to them and have yet to be truly disappointed. Here's another week's worth to share with week I will take a break from the road trip vinyl and review some current releases. Enjoy.

Jack White - Blunderbuss: The first solo album from arguably the most influential figure in rock over the past decade. After fronting three bands that all posted bestselling albums, it's about time that Jack White released something that was from him and only him. Upon first listen, the album is solid, though it boasts no real surprises. I'm not sure that's the album's fault or just due to the fact that we've heard Jack do just about everything over the past 12 years or so. Well, I shouldn't say no surprises, because he does incorporate a rockabilly feel to some songs that up until now he's only really favored in songs by others which he has produced. After the initial listen, I finally let myself get caught up in the songs and truly love this record more and more each time I hear it. There's a joy in the making of the music that somehow seems to have been missing for some time. Great stuff.

Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminal Starvation League - From the End of Your Leash: I picked up this record at a small store in Eureka. I'm quite a fan of Bobby Bare Jr and had this album on mp3 prior. The reason I picked it up was because I don't figure to ever see it again on vinyl and Bobby has a great vinyl kind of voice. I wasn't wrong either. Having liked, but not loved this album on mp3, I can say that it is vastly better on vinyl. Funny how that can happy. As for the music, Bobby to me is what Elliott Smith would sound like had he grown up in Nashville. They have a similar sense of melody and veiled gloom that can found on Elliott's XO album.

Dogs - Turn Against This Land: Definitely one of the more under appreciated bands of the mid 2000's this London band plays rock with social and political awareness. This is their 2005 debut that I happened to find randomly in Portland, in a store that had no business really having it. Though I enjoy their 2007 follow-up better, this album is still a great blend of pub punk and there was no way I was going to pass this up, knowing this record will rarely show up stateside, you can't even find them here on CD, let alone vinyl.

Beefeater - Plays for Lovers: Easily one of the treasures from the journey, this is the original Dischord #17 debut EP in mint condition, with lyric sheet, for only $9.00. As one of the earliest Dischord bands, Beefeater really stood out as something different. They weren't really a hardcore band like Minor Threat and they like, but rather one of the first Post-Punk bands around. When I was 15, I bought the CD compilation of their two EPs and one 7" and it was one of my favorite albums as a teen...and still is. At a store in Seattle, they had both the bands EPs and I had to get them. I listened to this again, enjoying every second of their fiery criticism of Reagan and the Far Right, all of which still applies today...and I thought to myself "Who the hell would sell these?" Whoever it was, it was obvious they had held onto them for years and kept great care of them. I can't imagine what the tipping point was that finally made them part with this record, but I'm sure glad they did.

The Nocturnes - Aokigahara: The amazing cover is really attracted me to this 2011 album. I looked at it and there was a note from the store saying it was "Red Sparowes" related, and having been sort of familiar with them, I asked the guy at the store to put it on for me so I could hear it. It didn't take long before I knew I'd purchase it. This is such a beautiful record. It reminds me a little of Slowdive's Pygmalion meets Appendix Out, very low key and with a storytelling vibe. It's one of those perfect summer dusk albums to listen to as the sun goes down all around you. Truly loving this record. It's available for Free Download at The Nocturnes page.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Uncle Charlie: This 1970 album is the only one in the band's career that I'm really familiar with, so I can't speak for them as a whole, all I can say is that this album is pretty great. I've it for quite some time on mp3 and consider it one of the finest country folk rock albums of the period, on level with Gram Parsons and others. I found this in a 99¢ bin and knew I couldn't go wrong.

George Harrison - Living in the Material World: This is the Dark Horse's 1973 follow-up to 1970's masterpiece All Things Must Past. Though not nearly up to the level of that album (though not much is, considering it's one of the 10 best albums ever made in my opinion), this album is still quite good and easily his second best solo effort. The songs are mired in tales of the quibbling Beatles post-breakup, highlighted by the stellar "Sue Me, Sue You Blues." I actually never owned this on CD because instead I have a bootleg called "Living in the Alternative World" which features alternate takes of all the songs.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Saturday in the City

This weekend I get to fulfill a dream of mine, one that I first imagined some fifteen years ago when I first set foot into Books of Wonder on 18th Street in New York. Back then I was a NYU Literature student, just getting into the magic of children's books and hoping to some day contribute to it. No other store that I had ever been in seemed to capture that magic as well as Books of Wonder. I knew one day I would love to have a book that I wrote sitting on a shelf in that store.

When I was invited to be part of their YA panel this weekend, I couldn't say yes fast enough. Not only are my books in the store, but I will be there to sign copies of them. Needless to say, I'm super excited. So if you're around the New York City area this Saturday, please come by and share the moment with me.

Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street  
New York, NY 10011
Event from 12:00-2:00pm

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Back Into the Woods

Sometimes there is a moment where you realize that a project needs to be put aside. I came to that moment the other day. It wasn't that what I'd written was necessarily bad....but I had a feeling I'd wanted to capture with the book and it just wasn't coming across. 

I started trying to correct the course, only to realize I'd already moved on from the story. There was a frustration level upon going back that I hadn't anticipated. To work on it at this time would have felt like torture. That's never a good way to write. I've always found that when this happens, it's best to put it aside and come back to it completely fresh in a little while. It's not exactly quitting...more like taking an incomplete. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fun in Philly

It's that time of year again...the Art Star Craft Bazaar is happening this weekend at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. The Missus will have a booth there, selling her wonderful clothes (You can see them here). Beyond clothes, there are many amazing things to see here. It's like a museum, but you can touch the stuff and actually bring it home if you like. (Here's some of the cool things I found last year.)

If you're in Philly, definitely come by. And I'll be hanging out in booth #62 if you want to swing by and say hey.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Well the road trip is finally over, the shopping spree finally ended, and it's time to get back to sharing my thoughts on albums I've listened to over the past week or so. For the road, I had uploaded a whole mess of CDs that I hadn't listened to in years, which made for a very nice drive. But since coming home, I've mostly been listening to the records I bought on the trip. Some of them I've heard before, having them either digitally or on CD, but most of the records I bought were new to me. It's a pretty broad mix of sounds, hopefully something for everyone. Enjoy.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger - La Carotte Bleue: The debut 2010 EP from Sean Lennon's latest project was released around the same time as the stellar LP. It contains some of the same of songs, though on the LP the songs are acoustic. The arrangements are slightly different here, and it benefits some of the songs, while others I prefer the LP version. There are also a few songs on here that don't appear on the album. A fine listen, their voices really work well together and Sean continues to grow as a songwriter.

Bill Ryder-Jones - If...: The 2011 debut LP from The Coral guitarist is mostly instrumental, but utterly lovely music. He'd done a bunch of demos that I heard over a year ago, which were brilliant and certainly prompted me to buy this. While the demos were bare home recordings in the style of a reclusive singer-songwriter, this album is much bigger in scope and production with classical music influences. A wonderful early morning album, or something to listen to while driving through the Redwoods as I did last week.

The Black Keys - Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough: Released in 2006, before The Black Keys became one of the saviors of rock, this EP is the two piece band at their barest and best. Consisting of six Junior Kimbrough covers, this is a fiery blues masterpiece. I've had this digitally for years, but really wanted it on vinyl. I was glad to have found it in L.A. and it was one of the first to be listened to out of the 60+ albums I brought back with me.

The Rolling Stones - Metamorphosis: This was an impulse buy, having found it in the recent arrivals bin for $8 in Portland. It's far from being a classic Stones album, it's actually more of a compilation than an LP, featuring songs from different eras and alternate takes. But it contains some my favorite Stones songs, including "Out of Time," "Jiving Sister Fanny," "Heart of Stone," and the under appreciated "Family." It's certainly a quality record with guests galore, even if the version of "Memo for Turner" is disappointing.

Nirvana - Rise and Fall: So it's started...the Nirvana bootleg vinyl buying. I guess that's not exactly true either though since I have 3 bootleg Nirvana 7" records from back in the day. But anyone that follows here regularly knows I have an extensive Nirvana bootleg collection on CD. It's primarily where my spare money went back in college. 2nd Avenue Records in Portland had a great selection of vinyl bootlegs, and I would have resisted this except the track listing was apparently made by my fan double. It contains many of my favorite rare songs, including Kurt's home demo of "Old Age" which I'd only had on mp3 before, so that was a steal. Fantastic and worth every penny.

The Kinks - Kinks-Size: I almost never see early Kinks vinyl for sale, only their 70's work, of which I'm not a fan. But their early stuff puts them as the third best British Invasion band in my opinion (just behind the Beatles and the Stones). This 1965 US release compiles some of the earliest EPs and therefore contains a stunning set list. The album is in fair condition, and for $7 there was no way I was going to leave it behind. Blistering garage/pop brilliance, including "All Day and All of the Night," "I Gotta Go Now," and "Tired of Waiting for You."

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown: For a mere $10 in Portland, I was able to acquire this 1968 masterpiece, which I nearly paid $40 for last summer. Arthur Brown is considered the first "shock rocker" often appearing on stage in insane psychedelic outfits and make up, sometimes on fire, and always on acid. But none of that would matter without the fantastic music, heavier than most anything at the time. "Fire" and "I Put a Spell on You" are the best known, but the Goblin Market inspired "Come and Buy" is just as excellent.

Violent Femmes - Children of the Revolution: This 1986 12" single features the title track, a cover of the T Rex classic. The band does a very nice job with it, sticking close to the original, but easily making it identifiable as a Violent Femmes song. The B-side includes two classic Femmes tracks, "Heartache" and "Good Feeling." The cover was certainly what attracted me to this, the Statue of Liberty overlooking the bodies of children in Vietnam, all over shadowed by the screened pistol. This is the cover of the Spain release...the US release was decidedly more tame.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Road to Revision

Over my recent road trip, I finally began to look at the manuscript I'd finished last month. I'd been holding off reading it for quite a while because I feared it was sort of a mess. Now that I've gone through half of it, I can confirm that it is a mess, though less of the mess I'd assumed it to be.

First drafts are a time to play with themes and ideas, a place to work them out on paper and see what comes of them. There are aspects of the story that I tried to capture that just didn't work out. I kind of knew they weren't working out even as I was writing them, and that added to my frustration simply because I thought I had to make them work in order for the story to work. But time away gives new perspective. I see now that the story can be stronger without them.

Now is the time where I have to weed the garden, so to speak. Narrow my focus. Explore deeper the aspects that are working and abandon the threads that never really wove themselves properly into the story. It's a daunting task, but one I feel ready to tackle at this point. 

Keeping my fingers crossed.