Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Three weeks ago, SyFy debuted their science fiction epic Defiance. It's the first original show on that channel that I've been interested in since Battlestar Galactica went off the air. With a multiplayer game to go along with it (reportedly costing more than the show), it seemed worth the time to watch given that it's rare for a network to invest so much into something new. I was also intrigued by the scope of the story, and now three episodes in, the verdict is still out, though I already know I'm in for the long haul on this one.

Over the first three episodes there have been moments where I can see this show turning into a Battlestar Galactica type of brilliance. It has a wonderful cast of characters with their own agendas and secrets that will no doubt continue to collide in the small town that once was St. Louis. But with any ensemble show, there are always characters with better story lines than others, and this is no different. I find myself not caring much at all for the Mayor and her troubles, or the grizzly mine owner Rafe McCawley. But the other stories more than make up for it, especially the mesmerizing Irisa. However, I do hope it quickly loses the element of serial detective story that has crept into the last two episodes and focuses more on the bigger plot.

So far, viewers have learned frustratingly little about the larger picture. We know there are several races of aliens that came to Earth, fought a war, and tera farmed it beyond recognition. I still don't understand who was fighting who, or why. There are a few alien races that we've seen but heard nothing about. And we have little or no sense as to whether they all came together or separately, or are from the same place or not. In a way, I enjoy how these things are being revealed little by little. Nothing kills a show quite like devoting the first four hours to back story, but there are some things that I think need to be cleared up sooner rather than later. Context is important if you want me to understand the disputes between characters. 

Thankfully the show seems to have high ratings, which means there's a chance it might survive long enough to get some answers. Either way, it's nice to have a new sci-fi franchise to root for. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup (Jukebox Edition)

For the last couple of weeks I've been driving a car with a broken CD player and no iPod hook-up device, which has left me to the mercy of the radio. Anyone who knows me, knows how I despise radio. However, for a short time, it can be kind of fun. There's something to be said about not being in control and flipping around to find some song that grabs you. Another big intrusion into my listen habits over the past month has been my obsessive playing of Song Pop, the name-that-tune style online game. It's brought up tons of songs that I've forgotten about and spurred a binge of going through old CDs to pull out songs that I love. So in honor of these two aspects of my musical life, I've decided to give you a playlist of songs that have been resurrected into rotation. Here's my ideal "Drive at Five" commercial free. Enjoy.

Bon Jovi - Runnaway: The opening track from their 1984 debut. This has been a radio staple the last few weeks and for good reason. It's awesome.

Golden Earring - Twilight Zone: Everyone knows their '73 classic "Radar Love," but this '82 song might be equally as good.

Styx - Renegade: This song comes on the radio almost every other time I'm in the car, and I confess to turning it up...LOUD. 

The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldier: One of the best songs of 00's, and pretty great video too. 

Led Zeppelin - You Shook Me (BBC Sessions): After hearing a steady diet of Zep on the radio waves, I  pulled out this double disc gem and it opens with this incredible howl.

Cinderella - Bad Seamstress Blues, Fallin Apart at the Seams: I've always felt this Philly rock band got a bad shaft. More bluesy than their contemporaries, they're a solid rock band. I pulled out this CD and this opener just straight up rocks.

Red Rider - Lunatic Fringe: Another radio staple, this 1981 song has a haunting groove that's just super slick and super cool.

Mötley Crüe - Live Wire: The pounding glam classic from their overlooked 1981 debut. This came on the radio too and I was floored, shouting "Live Wire! Nobody's plays Live Wire!" Awesome. Pulled out the CD have been listening to it ever since.

Soft Cell - Tainted Love: I have no less than 4 cover versions of this song, but the best known version is still amazing. It came on the radio during a late night drive the other week and it got played at top volume. The video adds a strange element to the song as he's seen singing it to a little girl.

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy: From their 1991 debut, the birth of trip-hop...been really into this again lately thanks to Song Pop

Tricky - Hell is Around the Corner: This 1995 debut easily ranks in my top 100 albums of the 90s and this song is one of the best on there.

The Rapture - Killing: I absolutely love this 2003 second album from NYC dance punk heroes.

Arctic Monkeys - Brianstorm: The opening track from their second album is fantastic, even if it does make fun of my namesake.

The Monkees - (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone: The B-Side to their '66 hit "I'm a Believer" is a garage rock masterpiece, later covered by Sex Pistols and Minor Threat, it's a proto punk nugget.

The Misfits - Bullet: Been on a huge Misfits kick lately and this has always been my favorite Misfits song.

Ministry - Jesus Built My Hot Rod: Summer of '91 comes back to me listening this Industrial classic.

Death From Above 1979 - Black History Month: I've loved this album ever since it came out in 2004...and yes, I remember when the city was a nice place for midwives and crossing guards.

Korn - Coming Undone: A ten ton rocker from their 2005 "See You On the Other Side".

My Chemical Romance - Helena: Cabaret punk masterpiece and one of the best songs of 2005, and a great video too.

Aerosmith - Rag Doll: Okay, so I hate this band with a passion, but this song keeps coming on the radio and I keep turning it up. Yeah, it's pretty awesome.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Refugee: Another band I'm not a fan of, but have always loved this 1979 classic. About 12 years ago, I even bought this album just for this song. It comes on the radio a lot, and I like it.

Elton John - Tiny Dancer: Probably one of my favorite songs of all time, this came on the radio and it was a freeway sing along at top volume. Also from one of the best albums of all time.

Arlo Guthrie - Coming Into Los Angeles: His brilliant 1969 smuggling song is country folk rock at it's best.

The Mamas and The Papas - Creeque Alley: The 1967 hit which tells the story about how the band formed is one of my favorites.

Drop Nineteens - Baby Wonder: Taken from their 1992 album "Deleware," which I bought the week it came out and it has never fallen far from my favorites.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ghouls Night Out

Inspiration is a funny thing sometimes. It amazes me how one glance at a picture can start a whirlwind of ideas. Lately I've been working on the rewrite of a Middle Grade novel that I wrote quite some time ago. After nailing down the first third of the book, adding extensive dialogue and descriptions, I've had to take a pause in order to flesh out some of the changes I have planned for the rest of the story. The skeleton of the story is very strong, but as with any skeleton, it can support a lot more weight.

Last night I spent some time going through old CDs and loading up some songs that I wanted add to my digital library. I came across an image in one of the booklets that sparked several pages of notes. It wasn't just details, but entire elements that would enrich the story and take it to another level. I was barely able to keep up with my mind as I jotted them down. Whether I use all of them or not remains to be seen, but it's nice when that damn finally breaks and the ideas come rushing out. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

As every music collector knows, yesterday was Record Store Day. This year I made the pilgrimage to Poughkeepsie to finally visit Darkside, a store I've been meaning to check out for well over a year. After going through their great selection of reasonably price vinyl, I walked away quite happy. Though I did manage to listen to three of the six records I bought yesterday, only one is included in this week's list. That's because I have seven new releases here that I wanted to share while they were current. And if you missed Record Store Day, you should go out next weekend and snatch up some of these top flight records. Enjoy.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Mind Control: As long time readers are aware, I absolutely love this heavy psych band out of London. Their last album was my favorite of 2011 and now this is poised to become one of my favorites for this year. While it lacks the manic frenzy of Blood Lust, it makes up for it with heavier droning riffs that harken back to Black Sabbath, yet keeps the relentless guitar and haunting vocals of a ghost hidden in the music. The opening two songs "Mt. Abraxas" and "Mind Crawler" set the tone from the beginning and it never really lets up.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito: After four years of silence, NYC's trend setters finally return with a new album and it's leaps and bounds better than 2009's disappointing It's Blitz. They don't make the mistake of trying to return to their early 2000's sound, instead they wisely chose to take steps forward, presenting a softer side while steering clear of ever being boring. There are some weaker tracks, I'm talking to you "Mosquito", but all in all a very solid record. Nice to see them back in the game. "Sacrilege" "Subway" and "Wedding Song" are stand out tracks for me.

Cold War Kids - Dear Miss Lonelyhearts: With their first two albums, this Long Beach indie band won me over with their unique blend of genre bending pop rock. However, their last album, 2011's Mine is Yours failed to connect with me, so I was a little nervous for this album released earlier this month. But I'm happy to report that it's definitely a comeback album, capturing the magic of Robbers & Cowards and Loyalty to Loyalty. This band is what Arcade Fire would sound like if raised on the beaches of California. "Lost that Easy," "Loner Phase," "Jailbirds" and "Tuxedos" are amazing.

Bloodgroup - Tracing Echoes: The third album from the Icelandic electronic group is a bit of a throwback to the trip-hop heyday of the mid-to-late 90's. It resembles the darker edge of Tricky's Pre Millennium Tension album, and Massive Attack's Mezzanine, creating a spooky soundscape of haunting noise and vocals. But at times, it can also feel as soft as The Xx and as beautiful as Scala. A really surprising album that I've enjoyed quite a bit.

Iron & Wine - Ghost on Ghost: The folk rocker's first album since 2011's fantastic Kiss Each Other Clean is a bit of a return to earlier efforts. It's a little more straight forward in its arrangements, but that doesn't make them any less enjoyable. Sam Bean's voice is as clear and wonderful as ever, rambling on like a slow moving creek in the summer. This is the kind of album that if you've ever enjoyed any of his other records, there is no way you won't enjoy this one too. "Low Light Buddy of Mine," "Grace for Saints and Ramblers," "Lover's Revolution," and "Winter Prayers" are among my favorites.

Dead Ghosts - Can't Get No: Released in February, this is the Vancouver garage rock band's second album, and as you might be able to tell by the cover image, it was released on cassette, the new standard for indie cred. What we have here is one of the best garage rock, lo-fi albums in years. Very reminiscent of early Black Lips albums, this is 30 minutes of fuzzy riff rock n roll. Absolutely awesome stuff.

Murder By Death - As You Wish: Kickstarter Covers: An interesting release from the Indiana based gothic country band responsible for some of my favorite albums of the last decade. As the title suggests, it's an album of covers. Now I might not be the best person to review this given that I'm a sucker for covers, and even more so for cover albums. They do what they are supposed to with the genre, picking unexpected songs, like INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart" along with ones that you'd expect them to do a great job on like Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay" and Tom Waits' "New Coat of Paint." A few minor missteps, but overall a very good album.

Adam & The Ants - Antmusic EP: For the last month or so, I've been on a big Adam Ant kick and needless to say when I came across this 1980 gem at the vinyl store yesterday for $5, I knew it had to be part of my Record Store Day purchase. It was the first thing I listened to when I got home and it's crazy good. Released after their first album, it's actually recordings from before. More punk rock than new wave, but punk with the creepings of new wave. There is so much energy and weirdness, delivered with excellence. Only one pressing was ever made of this, so it's also a very nice collectors item, worth much more than I paid for it. "Kick" and "Friends", the opening and closing tracks respectively, are dynamite.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Dangers of Flying

Air travel certainly ain't what it once was. Flying used to be elegant and civil, now it's a voluntary exercise in misery. Personal electronic devices can only make one forget that they are riding in a cattle car with tacky tourists for so long before the reality of the situation sinks in. Eventually you'll get fed up with the walrus sitting next to you who is taking up your arm rest simply because they cannot fit within the confines of their own seat, or the inconsiderate sloth who insists on reclining their seat all the way back, shrinking your precious leg room to less than you'd get in a coffin. 

Of course, all of that is after you get on the plane. There are thousands of aggravations before you even reach that point. There is the ridiculous security measures with their silly rules. For no apparent reason, children under 12 and adults over 75 don't have to take off their shoes, because obviously a terrorist wouldn't take advantage of that. Then there are those controversial x-ray machines, which now they are phasing out just as people stopped complaining about them. But one rule that never changes is the one about leaving your bag unattended. That one has been around forever.

While in the airport the other day, as I approached my gate, there were several TSA agents standing around a blue suitcase sitting by itself on a chair. Ten minutes later, a moron walks over to it, sipping on a freshly purchased drink. 

"Sir, is this your bag?"
"Yeah, why?"
"You can't leave your bag unattended."

Seriously, has this person never flown before? And even if he didn't know that, would you want to leave it unattended, or do you not care if it gets stolen? The bag had wheels. He could easily have wheeled it with him to buy his soft drink. Instead, he had to wait around while three officers questioned him as his bag was swept for explosives.

Then it's on to the plane where every idiot brings a suitcase-sized carry-on since the airline charges to check any bag on domestic flights. The overhead compartments fill up immediately and tensions rise while flight attendants urge everyone to take their seats quickly, which would be a lot easier if they boarded from the back of the plane to the front instead of the other way around so that every one has to wait while the person ahead of them goes through their crap before stowing their bag. 

Air travel...just another necessary evil of the modern world.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Art is in the Reader

Writing isn't necessarily something one chooses to do, often it is something one can't help doing. In a way it is like therapy, an outpouring of insecurities and obsessions that must find an outlet of escape before driving you insane. For me, writing is such a personal thing, something done completely in private, that it is easy to forget sometimes that the things you write are actually read by anyone, and even easier to ignore the potential impact those stories might have on people you've never met. Because of this, it becomes so much more meaningful to hear from a reader that I've had an influence on. 

Recently I received an email that reminded me of what it means to write for teenagers and what a wonderful responsibility it can be. There are times when people will ask if I ever plan on writing "real" books, meaning books for adults. Besides the obvious insult that comes with that question, there is a failure to understand the importance teen fiction plays in the lives of its readers. Adults can read a book, and it may or may not stay with them after they close the pages, but it rarely makes a life-changing impact on them. On the other hand, teenagers often make strong emotional connections to the stories that touch them. In my opinion, writing books for them is a more valuable contribution to the world.

These are the kind of messages that make all the work and struggle worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next...

The latest brilliant idea from the conservative fringe comes courtesy of Tenn. State Senator Stacey Campfield, and it might be the worst piece of legislation ever proposed. He wants to create a bill that will cut welfare benefits to families by 30% if their child doesn't get good grades. Yes, you read that correctly. And by the way, he doesn't have children. 

On The Daily Show last night, John Stewart posed the question of whether Stacey Campfield was a politician or a villain from a Dicken's novel, comparing this legislation to a real life Hunger Games. I can't even begin to express my utter shock and outrage at this idea. The idea of putting a child in this position is so unthinkable, especially a child which is more than likely already dealing with a fragile household to begin with. Not to mention that it feels like a recipe for psychological scarring, or potentially even child abuse. 

This is just another example of the war the Republicans constantly wage against the poor and any form of social welfare system. They are constantly trying to destroy public education, and continuously rail about failing schools, and now in addition to wanting to cut the money that goes to a failing school, they want to punish the children who attend them. When are people going to wake up and realize that these guys do not have their best interest in mind? 

Sadly, I fear the answer is never, for some. The conservatives have spent six decades trying to dismantle the New Deal and prevent those programs from ever achieving all that they could. They've managed to convince people that anyone on social programs like welfare or food stamps are nothing more than lazy moochers living off their hard earned taxes. Frankly, I believe that's a load of shit. Are there people who abuse the system? Of course there are. But it's not exactly as if they are living a glamorous life doing it. For the most part however, these are people with a string of bad luck, bad health, or simply dealt a bad hand. The government's job is to look after its people who are in need, not cut them off in favor of the selfishness of the wealthy.

But the far right uses their other age-old trick to distract many of their voters from this reality. I'm of course speaking of the race card. They play on ignorant white trash fears, portraying all welfare recipients as minority drug users. Or they play to the working class's frustrations, making anyone who takes assistance seem like a thief stealing money from their paycheck when the real thieves are the ones funneling their taxes to corporations and war.

All week long, I've been amazed by the outpouring for the passing of Margaret Thatcher. It's unbelievable how well people think of you after you die. Along with Reagan, she was one of the neo-con henchmen that helped destroy social safety nets in favor of the military industrial complex. We, the people, are the ones who get screwed in the end, and they won't be happy until we are all left  to fend for ourselves and any scraps that corporate America wants to throw our way.  

I'm beginning to think Obama was wrong when he said there isn't two Americas, because clearly there is. There is the one that sees ideas like Campfield's as progressive activism, and then there's the one that knows we can do better. The question is, how many more of these outrages are we willing to suffer?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome back to the usual format where I share my ramblings on the music that I've been listening to lately. Still in the midst of the spring barrage of new releases, most of the albums on this week's list are new in the last few weeks. Already, it seems like this year is more exciting than last year, simply in the scope of music that is coming out. Then again, it always seems that way in spring, then there is the lull until Fall, so we'll see how it all turns out. I've also included a few older albums that I'm just got around to hearing for the first time. It's a nice mix of music, hopefully there's something for everyone here. Enjoy.

Tena Tenebrosa - The Purging: The second album from the Swedish sludge metal band sounds like something that has been unearthed from some ancient burial ground. I confess to being drawn to it for the cover art, decided to take a chance, and was not disappointed. Musically it does everything a sludge album is supposed to do, unleashing heavy grooves that wrap around on themselves. What makes this unique is the vocals, which sound very demonic, but not in an artistic way. They are mixed low, making them feel as though they are haunting the album, invading it and taking over. A wonderful spooky album.

The Strokes - Comedown Machine: The NYC band's fifth studio album, released a few weeks ago, is quite surprising. Since their breakthrough debut in 2001, it seems everyone has been waiting for them to recreate that album. Though I love that album, I haven't particularly hoped for a sequel. However, I have hoped that they would break away from the murky staleness of the three albums that followed. And this album does that. There is at least some variety on this album, paying tribute to their garage roots while expanding their sound to include more complicated pieces. We saw some of that with 2011's Angles, but it really comes together better on this album. I like the overlay of keyboards that add an interesting element to the jangle guitar mixed with injections of garage roughness. I found this to be a very enjoyable album. Stand out tracks for me, "Welcome to Japan," "50/50," and "Happy Ending."

Samantha Crain - Kid Face: For the past several years, ever since I saw her perform live, Samantha Crain has been one of my favorite singer songwriters. Her voice is easily one of the best around and her songs tell beautiful stories. This is her third full length album, and first since 2010's You (Understood). On this album, there's a return to the gloom that hangs over her first EP, and which works phenomenally well with her voice. This is a powerful album and hopefully will finally give her the wider audience she deserves. Stand out tracks are "Taught to Lie," "Paint," "Kid Face," and "Sand Paintings."

The Gray Havens - Where Eyes Don't Go: This is the debut EP from a husband and wife team out of Illinois. It has a chamber folk sound that reminds me of a cross between Andrew Bird and Cajun Dance Party. The songs have a momentum to them that's captivating, building into a near pop-like crescendo during the chorus. All in all, an enjoyable six songs and a promising start to a career. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Benoit Piolard - Hymnal: This is the eighth full length album in twelve years from Benoit Piolard. It is a drone folk piece that has a field recordings quality to it. Drone folk is certainly not for every one as it can often feel like listening to campfire ramblings coming through on waves of static. But that is also the appeal of the genre, making the listener feel as though they are catching a broadcast from someplace far off in both time and space. This album does a fair job of it, and is quite beautiful, though it does tend to drag a bit. All in all, an interesting listen, and a decent album to have on while writing.
Fionna Apple - Extraordinary Machine (Bootleg Version): Though the official album wasn't released until 2005, it was recorded in 2003 and this version was leaked in 2004. It has a different production and track order than the official release, but what doesn't change is Fionna's amazing lyrical talent and incredible voice that works like an instrument through these beautiful songs. The overlay of strings, which can sometimes feel forced, works seamlessly here, creating a rich sound to go with the violent delivery of words. My favorite songs are "Not About Love," "Oh Sailor," and "Window."

Loop - Heaven's End: Released in 1987, this is the London psychedelic band's debut album. I came to this while reading the Spacemen 3 biography which discusses the vast influence that band had on Loop. Both bands draw heavily from late '60s American psychedelic rock like The 13th Floor Elevators and Velvet Underground. And though this band was the follower, their debut album is much stronger than Spacemen 3's debut. The swirling reverberation and aggressive guitar sounds amazing on this record. The shoegazer bands of the 90's would eventually take a softer approach to the same idea, but you can hear the roots of that sound taking shape here. There isn't a bad song on this album, truly great stuff. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Break, Y'all

Harmony Korine is a writer and director I've followed for a long time. There is something about his visual imagination that I've always felt a connection with. His film Gummo definitely had an influence on my writing, as did Julian Donkey Boy. His movies tend to focus on characters who exist on the fringes of society, and those are the stories I like to tell as well. Last night I got to see his newest film Spring Breakers, and it was pretty phenomenal.

The movie is told in such a way that it washes over you in waves, and like the tide coming in, it eventually pulls you under and submerses the viewer into its world. The imagery feels very literary to me, like a William Burroughs story told in pictures instead of words. His use of repetition and story looping was very reminiscent of Alain Robbe-Grillet's style of writing. Characters would repeat sections of dialogue four or five times, each time with different images flashing across the screen until the dialogue caught up, creating a layered effect that was quite brilliant. By the end, the film is a powerful portrait of a generation lost in the excess of our culture...a doomed generation feeding off the adrenaline of civilization's decline.

On the surface, everything in the movie seems shallow, like an MTV documentary on spring break frat parties, but as it follows four college girls down to Florida, it steadily begins to expose the darker issues that hide underneath. The backdrop of spring break becomes a perfect metaphor for escaping the stifling boredom of every day life in favor of a drug-fueled fantasy.

James Franco is amazingly magnetic in this movie. His character reminds me of John Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost. He represents the attraction of giving in to temptation and how easy it is to succumb to a philosophy of life based on constant distraction and amusement. Morals are quickly abandoned in favor of enjoyment as the other characters him into a metaphorical Hell. But the movie doesn't necessarily place a morality onto the story. Even in Hell there is beauty to be found. And though the characters may seem reprehensible to mainstream values, they are shown to be human just like anyone else. Much Alec in A Clockwork Orange, I feel like these characters are simply victims of the modern age.

It's a movie that will stay with you and have you wondering if anything was learned or not? Were the characters right or wrong? Good or evil? And does it really even matter? Eventually bringing you back to the characters' main dilemma; does anything matter except the pursuit of pleasure in all its forms?

Monday, April 1, 2013


Effective immediately, the world governments have ordered a ban on all future publishing of the following genres: dystopian trilogies, paranormal romance, and books about rich teenagers who behave nothing at all like teenagers. 

Citing popular demand and fear of an uprising if one more of these over-hyped and manufactured stories surfaces, cease and desist instructions have been sent to all major media outlets. Writers currently working on such projects are encouraged to erase all files and burn all drafts. 

Similar measures are also being considered for comic book movies, reality television shows centered around any sort of wives, mothers, or subhuman made-up jobs. Thousands took to the streets to protest these new rules but were silenced with two simple words: BE ORIGINAL.