Thursday, November 29, 2012

While You Were Dreaming

The other night, I woke up in the dark and discovered the power was out. The near full moon had already set, leaving everything in pitch blackness. As I stumbled down the stairs, reaching for the railing and trying not to miss a step, I started to think. Thinking is always a dangerous thing at 4am.

There's was no obvious reason for the power loss. No wind, no snow, no lightning. And perhaps I've been watching too much apocalyptic television of late, but I started to wonder, Is this it? Is the power out all over the world? Is tonight the night when electricity ceases to exist? 

I sat in bed for about ten minutes considering the possibility and planning what I would do. What fascinated me was the actuality that it might be true, not that I believed it to be, but given the situation, it was a possibility. This relates back to a post I wrote last week and this idea that we wait for the big things to happen. We know history has no shortage of curve balls to throw our way. At certain points, every lifetime is marked by something big. It was interesting to consider being in the midst of such an event.

The power came back on at 7am. Nothing shattering on this night, but you never know what is around the corner.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

As the holiday weekend comes to a close, it's time to be thankful for some good music. In the spirit of that, this list represents a wide range of interests, from prog to freak folk to hip-hop. These are mostly albums that were culled from my raid of my own wishlist a few weeks back. Most are older, yet there are a few new releases mixed in for those who only care about music made in the present. Either way, there should be something for everyone. Enjoy.

Matching Mole - Little Red Record: After leaving Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt founded Matching Mole in 1971. The next year, they released two records. The first was the self-titled album that I reviewed earlier this year. Little Red Record was the second. Both albums are heavy on prog experimentalism, though the first feels slightly more cohesive than this one. There are moments of brilliance scattered throughout this ambling record, but sadly there are moments where it can grow a bit tiring. The radicalism of its politics makes it unique and definitely worthy of a listen or two. "Righteous Rhumba" is a stand out track here.

The Rain Parade - Emergency Third Rail Power Trip: Released in 1983, this is the LA band's celebrated debut. It's almost impossible to imagine, at least for me, that this album isn't British. It has all the hallmarks of a sound that would go on to be defined by The Smiths and later The Stone Roses and Ride, the jangle guitar, the ethereal voices, and intelligent craftsmanship. This is a fantastic record, one that should probably get more attention than it does. They went on to record two more albums in the 80's, and David Roback went on to form Mazzy Star.

Brunning Hall Sunflower Blues Band  - I Wish You Would: Formed after Peter Green left the original Fleetwood Mac lineup, this British blues band recorded four albums from 1968-1970. This is a compilation of two of them. Like all of Peter Green's work, this follows the standard British blues formula, but as with any blues, it's the emotion the players put into it that really makes or breaks the record. This is all very solid stuff, with a few gems that stand out, such as "Bad Luck." Not essential, but definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre. 

Jordaan Mason - One Day The Horses Will Have Their Revenge: This the 2005 debut from the singer songwriter who I first discovered on Fanfare for Neutral Milk Hotel series. It's no surprise that he'd be on there as his work derives directly from the experimental lo-fi folk rock of Jeff Mangum. He sings in a similar swirling style accompanied by bare acoustic guitar. However, he doesn't ever sound like an imitator. His writing is poetic and voice is full of expression. This album is a borderline masterpiece of the genre, along with his 2009 album Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head, that one with backing band The Horse Museum. If you're a fan of lo-fi singer songwriters, Jordaan Mason is a must.

Tame Impala - Lonerism: It's been two years since this Australian band burst onto the indie psychedelic scene with 2010's Innerspeaker, but if this follow-up, released last month, is any indication, the time off was well spent. This album is much more polished than the last. Musically, it soars with layers of sounds that are pulled together by melody of the singer's voice. There is something in their songs that reminds me of The Flaming Lips or Stardeath and White Dwarfs. A very solid rock record.

Buffalo Killers - Dig. Sow. Love. Grow: On their fourth album, this Cincinnati revival band continues their quest to bring back the vibe of 70's classic rock. They succeed amazingly well. Any listener unaware that this was an album released in 2012 would assume it was some country rock gem from 1974 that they just couldn't place. Their authenticity has always been the thing that attracted me to this band back in 2006 when their debut was released. This album is very strong, though by its nature, it's not very original. Perfect for fans of classic rock who feel nothing good has been recorded since.

Chadd Downing - PMFL:  These two releases are interesting to compare. The first is a mix tape released by the Trenton rapper and the second is the same album mixed by Slim K. It's not really a mix, but rather a "slowdown" of the album, meaning it's the same exact material in a slower speed. The original album is straight hip-hop with decent beats on most tracks. Chadd Downing has a nice flow and definite skills. On the second, it sounds meaner. Some of the songs work much better in the slow versions, and when it works, the beats really kick. Other tracks, it just sounds like a song being played at the wrong speed. I recommend both, just pick and choose tracks from each. Both are available for free download at

Friday, November 23, 2012


Lately I find that I'm more thankful for the little things. We spend so much time anticipating the big moments that we let the small ones pass us by. We take for granted the comforts that truly make up our lives and are often responsible for creating joy when it happens. I've been trying to appreciate those elements a little more these days. In the process, I've found that I am thankful for more than I ever realized.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Manifest Destiny

At the start of writing every novel, or at least, near the start, once the characters take shape and begin to walk and talk on their own, there are certain scenes that play out inside the imagination. Some of these scenes are not to happen for a hundred or a hundred and fifty pages, yet they continue to haunt the process. 

I think one of the hardest aspects about writing a novel is managing these scenes. Rushing to get to them is so tempting and if one gives in to the temptation, the pace and development of the story suffer. Having finally reached one of these scenes in the manuscript I'm working on, I can tell you that waiting is worth it. The sense of achievement that comes with getting there at the right time can make the entire process successful. Stories need to be natural, never forced.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Due to traveling and time constrictions, the Roundup took a short hiatus last weekend. I apologize for those of you who actually care, but not to fear, because it's back in full force this weekend. During the past few days, I've been searching out random albums on my never ending wishlist and was able to check off nearly thirty of them. A couple of them are here on this list, with many more to come on future lists. To finish off the list, there are a couple of recent releases that I'd been looking forward to for some time. Hope you enjoy.

Maple Bee - Home: Also known as Melanie Garside, Maple Bee is the sister of one of my artistic heroes, Katie Jane Garside (of Daisy Chainsaw, Ruby Throat, and Queenadreena). This is the Queenadreena bassist's third solo album, the second under the Maple Bee name. Released in 2008, this remarkable ablum is a blend of dream folk, rock and trip-hop...much like Queenadreena's albums. Her voice is amazing, and similarly childlike like her sister's, if not quite as unique. There's a spooky beauty that invades this album and makes it stand out. "Mirrior," "No Place," "Sweetness in Your Light," and "So Far from Lost" are all standout tracks. 

Cocoon - Where the Oceans End: Released in 2010, this is the second album by the French indie folk duo, following 2007's amazing My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash. This is an album I'd been searching out for quite some time and finally got my hands on it this week. Just like their first album, this is a collection of outstandingly beautiful songs. The power of their music is the upbeat jangle of the music contrasted with the despair found in the lyrics. I just hope a new album is on the horizon sometime.

Chet Baker & Art Pepper - Playboys: This album matches two iconic figures of the cool jazz genre, meeting in their early primes to record this amazing album. Released in 1957, this is third collaboration between the trumpet and saxophone players. From the opening notes of "For Minors Only," I found myself completely engrossed in this album. It swings with such amazing ease and Chet Baker blows a fantastic sound on his trumpet that just pulls you into the world of the music. This has been my morning album for days now and never fails to get me moving in the right direction.

Efterklang - Piramida: With their fifth album, the Berlin band delivers another fine piece of mood music. Like a lot of other bands coming out of Germany these days, Efterklang experiment with space rock effects, transforming their otherwise straightforward indie folk-pop into something that expands into swirling atmospheres. At moments they can be as catchy as The Shins or as opaque as early Pink Floyd. Either way, they are always very listenable and enjoyable.

John Frusciante - PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone: This was perhaps the most eagerly awaited release of the year for me. I've been a huge fan of John Frusciante's work since I purchased his debut way back in 1994. This is his 12th solo album, and among the previous eleven, at least three of them hold places on my Top 100 of all time. This is his first solo effort since 2009, and the first to show the influence of having worked with The Mars Volta. This really is an album that exists on two levels. Each song feels like it has two parts. There's the underlying current which has trademark Frusciante elements and lyrical beauty. Then there's the surface level of each song which is a lot of experimental noise and electronic elements. The two are not very cohesive and are not mixed in a way to seem as if they were meant to be. It's almost as if the electronic music is infiltrating the tracks, disrupting them and taking over. It's jarring on first listen, but quickly grows on me as I see a theme at work within the context of the dueling parts. Would I enjoy it better if the electronic parts were stripped away? Certainly. But I respect the attempt at trying to create something different and in the end, this stands as a unique album, much like many of his other releases.

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Cobra Juicy: For the past decade, this Pittsburgh band has been recording mind-expanding neo psychedelic albums. Released last month, this is their fifth full length album, though many EPs have also emerged since they began. There is a definite California sunshine feel to this record that flows through the craziness. Swirling harmonies march alongside harsh electronic effects, but the two work together rather than against each other. The chaos of their music reminds me of Sic Alps, though set to a much faster pace. Probably not for everyone, but if you're into something a little more 'out there' then definitely worth checking out. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Out of the Blue, Into the Black

All my stories seem to enter the woods at some point, attracted there by their own force of will. The woods are a place to be lost. A place where past and present mean less than they do on a crowded street and where the future seems to come at a slower pace. Time moves differently among the trees, just like it does between the pages. Perhaps there is a connection between the paper and the branches it used to be.

I've currently written my characters into the woods where fate awaits them with a cruel twist. Part of me feels guilty that I know what is about to befall them and not only do I not warn them, I am leading them straight to into the danger and rubbing my hands greedily together in anticipation. Because that's the thing about the woods...good and evil lurk in equal parts among the trees.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From the Fog, Ideas Exit

Sometimes I do my best thinking when I allow my thoughts to drift aimlessly.  Whether it's going for a walk among the trees or staring out the window during a long drive, my imagination always finds ideas waiting in the distance. 

Writing a novel is like putting together a puzzle where, upon opening the box, you discover not every piece is there. It becomes a search for those missing fragments that will complete the picture. And though a lot of the pieces look as if they go together, you still have make them fit in the correct places. 

Allowing yourself to get lost is sometimes how you find your way. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fiction Friday (13)

Over the course of the past two weeks, I've read a number of books, due in no small part to the blackout post Hurricane Sandy. It's amazing how much faster one can read without the distractions of television or internet. With nothing but a flashlight by the fireplace, I tore through four books in three days. As a result, I now have quite a backlog of reviews to share and decided it was time for another installment of Fiction Friday. Today I've picked two books that couldn't be more different. However, I've always thought it important to stretch one's tastes in matters of art. Enjoy.

Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell
(Simon & Shuster, 2000)

There are a lot of familiar elements in this book, the sum of which left me with the sense that I had read it before in various pieces in other novels. There are certain tropes which work well in Middle Grade fiction, particularly books geared to get the attention of librarians, and subsequently, awards committees. In that way, this book felt a little like those movies that are made with Oscar hopes in mind.

The novel follows Dovey, a spirited young girl defying social conventions and speaking her mind, in a southern accent, all things that award committees can't seem to resit. She lives with her family in the hills above town where she takes care of her deaf brother. More award bait. During the course of the story, the son of the town's wealthiest family establishes himself as Dovey's antithesis, though to be honest, that entire line of reasoning felt a little flimsy to me. As events transpire, the story turns into a slight mystery. The subsequent trial gives a nicely presented look at justice disparity between rich and poor, though once again, I couldn't shake the feeling that somehow I'd encountered all of these events before, most notably in To Kill a Mockingbird.

All in all, a very solid book for Middle Grade readers. Everything is well done and the story's themes are strong. It's a fast read and I enjoyed just wasn't all that unique or original. 

The Counterlife by Philip Roth
(Penguin, 1986)

One of the things that always strikes me about Roth's work is the meticulous detail he pours into a story and its characters. The world in his novels is so fully realized and researched that they become immediately engrossing. The Counterlife is no different. It follows the lives of two brothers, one a successful novelist living in New York and the other a dentist from the New Jersey suburbs, both dealing with their Newark Jewish heritage in very different ways throughout the course of the novel. In many ways, this is a book about the changing identity of the American Jew and how that role relates to the Israeli view of Judaism. While the political and social investigation is fascinating, I found the books other theme to be far more intriguing.

As much as anything else, this is a book about how the novelist tends to write his or her own life, coloring the events of reality with fiction. This theme invades the narrative so effectively that several passages within the novel are immediately discounted later as the imaginative interpretation of the novelist character. By the end, the book shows how the writer's way of life affects those closest to him.

While this is a strong book, with many exceptional qualities, it wasn't a favorite of mine. At times it seemed to be weighted down by its own attempts at undercutting the narrative. And perhaps had the lives of the characters been more immediately relatable to me, I would have felt closer to it. Still, it's a fascinating and informative read.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post Election America...

I have few thoughts on the outcome of the election this week that I thought I'd share. The most interesting to me was one that occurred to me two days before. I was playing around with CNN's clickable electoral map, which if Florida goes blue, I will have accurately called every state, when I noticed that it looked an awful lot like the divided map of the Civil War. (See below)

Of course, the territories are not filled in, but when you look at the states, it's eerie that after all this time, we seem to be returning to a similar geographic divide when it comes to ideology, with a few exceptions, most notably my birth state of Virginia. Of course, it's not as clear cut as that since there are pockets of blue in those red states and pockets of red in the blue ones. Which brings another age-old struggle into play...rural vs. urban. And the always American divider, race. All of this begs the question, have we've really moved very far on these issues in the last 150 years or so, or is it simply a matter of changing demographics causing the once opposition to become the majority? 

Which brings me to the other thing that keeps me shaking my head since the election...

I live in New York's 19th Congressional District. Before redistricting took place for this election, it was formerly the 22nd District, represented by one of the most liberal members of Congress, who ran unopposed in the last election and has since retired. This year, a Republican was elected to represent the new 19th District. Given that this district includes some of the most liberal pockets of the country, I couldn't understand how that could be. 

Then I started looking at all the redrawn districts in New York and found some disturbing things. The way the new lines were drawn, the percentage of white voters went up in ever district upstate. (See here) Now this isn't that surprising given a Republican controlled House. The party in charge is going to draw lines most favorable to keeping them in power. And knowing that Republicans base their entire strategy on winning a large percentage of the white vote, it makes sense that they want to increase their base in each district. 

But the result is that in nearly every district, the percentage of minority voters has gone down and fallen below state averages. As a result, there are many people in the state of New York, and I imagine others, being represented by politicians that actually don't hold the same interests of the people they represent. 

If you look at the number of Democratic senators, elected by state wide vote, and then look at the House with it's overwhelming Republican majority, it simply doesn't make sense. This is nothing new. It's the same dirty politics that happens after every Census. But I think it's important that we are aware of it, because it is simply another tool used to disenfranchise us as voters. There is a huge area of New York currently being represented by someone who does not share our values. A county that goes 60% for Obama is represented by a Republican. I can't help but feel our voices have been absorbed into silence when it comes to the House of Representatives.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Hurricane Edition 2)

It seems like every year now I'm going to be forced into one of these Hurricane edition posts. (See last August 28th's post for Irene). With the storm hitting us up here in the mountains, though not nearly to the devastating extent as it did the coast, or even with the same drenching wrath of Irene, the wind whipped up a frenzy of falling trees, leaving power lines laying on the ground. As a result, my music listening for the week was limited to the amount of precious battery life I was willing to drain from my iPod. So instead of album reviews, I leave you with a playlist recapping the events:

My thoughts before the strom, "Sandy, be a sweet girl to me..." The Triffids - Born Sandy Devotional

Childhood memories of the Jersey shore. Bruce Springsteen - Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park)

Three days of no power - The Ponys - Turn the Lights Out

My thoughts after being reconnected and seeing my old home town. Paloma - New York

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Straight from the Sewers

I spent much of last weekend catching up on animated television by watching all the episodes of Nickelodeon's new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. I had no plans to care about this series until I caught a few minutes of the premiere a few weeks back and was captivated by the look of the show. Still, I put off watching it...until now.

This is one of those shows, like the new Thundercats, that has gotten everything right. They could have easily gone in the wrong direction, but wisely, the show decided to create a comic book feel for our heroes in a half-shell. I love the way the backgrounds look like comic book panels and the occasional still frame pauses that look like print. 

The four turtles have been given more depth than they had in the original series. Michelangelo, my least favorite from the original, is now my favorite character. The lovable misfit of the bunch is such a great character and gives the group a real dynamic. Leo as the leader-in-training is also a nice touch. The bad guys have also been stepped up, made much more sinister and cunning than The Foot ever was. 

This now makes four '80s cartoons from my childhood that have been given amazing second chances, along with Transformers Prime, the previously mentioned Thundercats, and the short-lived, but quality G.I. Joe Renegades. Now if only Hollywood had the same good sense as the networks then maybe we'd have entertaining movie version as well instead of the schlock they throw out there in an attempt to ruin the name of great properties.