Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

As I've mentioned the last few weeks, I've been taking daily trips into the CD room of my house and rediscovering albums from the past. The natural progression of these binges eventually leads me to go into the past and search out albums related to those I'd been listening to. I love tracing the lineage of music, the history of influences, and the parallels of contemporaries. So this week's list reflects a lot of that digging. There's also one new release on here that I've been loving. Hopefully there's something for each one of you to enjoy.

Whiskeytown - Stranger's Almanac: Before Ryan Adams broke off on his own, he was a member of this pioneering '90s alt-country band. Stranger's Almanac came out in 1997, two years after their debut, and remains their best known work. Easily comparable to Uncle Tupelo, the other great alt-country band of the era, the distinct difference is the clear southern influence on this North Carolina band versus the midwestern feel of Uncle Tupelo. After hearing "Jacksonville Skyline" (a song from a later album) on the radio, I was reminded about how good this band sounds and sought out this album. This is a fantastic record, full of country soul and sadness. Truly one that needed resurrected, and will probably make me dust off my old Ryan Adams records as well.

Blue Öyster Cult - Secret Treaties: Released in 1974, the band's third album is widely considered their masterpiece, and for good reason given that it is, indeed, a masterpiece. From the opening track, "Career of Evil" you know you're in for a wild ride. There are obvious Black Sabbath elements here, maybe a touch of Zeppelin, but it's also completely it's own brand of heavy psychedelic metal. I got this album as a gift a few weeks ago and have been listening to it pretty religiously since. Phenomenal record.

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers: The original Modern Lovers had broken up in 1973, but their debut album wouldn't be released until August of 1976, one month after this album by their lead singer. His unique lo-fi rock and proto-punk would pave the way for bands like Violent Femmes and eventually even Guided By Voices, while still being steeped in Chuck Berry guitar rhythms. This is a playful little record that is often overshadowed by the band's album.

The Minders - It's a Bright Guilty World: Part of the west coast branch of the Elephant 6 collective, this band was one of my favorites when they came onto the scene in 1998 with their glorious debut Hooray for Tuesday. I've been listening to that album recently and did some searching to find that I'd missed their later albums, including this 2006 album, their last release to date. It doesn't depart much from the first few albums, featuring the same wonderfully crafted '60s inspired psychedelic pop. I can't believe it took me so long to get this album, it's pure joy. (Sidenote: Hutch Harris, the original drummer, went on to form The Thermals)

Thee Oh Sees - Dog Poison: This is one of two albums put out by the San Fran psychedelic garage rockers back in 2009. This is one of their more fuzzed out records, which is saying something for a band built on fuzz. At times, it's manic craziness reminds me of early Residents stuff with it's Beat Generation influence. Extremely short, but an enjoyable ride if you feel like getting lost in the wave of bleached psychedelia.
Secret Colours - Peach: Formed in Chicago, this band describes itself as the seed of 60's psychedelia and '90s Britpop. Released last month, this is their second album. It's definitely influenced by both, showing moments of early Pink Floyd and then shifting into Spiritualized type hymns. It's been one of the most enjoyable listens of the year for me, and one of the best bands I've discovered so far in 2013. Highly recommended. "Me" is my favorite song at the moment, but it's one of those albums that's always shifting within your mind.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fiction Friday (18)

Despite having this week's book for years, I didn't read it until this past month. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I received it around the time I was writing Zombie Blondes and I hate reading anything that's on-topic with whatever I'm currently working on. Then it sat on my shelf for a long time, lost in a mountain of books that I want to read. Finally, as the movie was approaching, I decided that I wanted to read World War Z before seeing the film. Given the option, that's always my preferred order of doing things. And now that I have, I'm free to visit the theater next week and watch the drama on the big screen. 

World War Z by Max Brooks
(Crown, 2006)

Less about zombies in any traditional sense, this riveting novel is more of a description of a global extinction event. In this case, the event happens to be the dead coming back to life. However, the reader sees very little of the flesh eating creatures. Instead, we hear from various survivors from all over the world who were involved in the conflict in diverse ways.

The narrative structure is perhaps the book's most intriguing element. Rather than conforming to the typical plot format of most novels, Max Brooks chose to tell the history of this conflict through a series of fictional interviews. Following the event more or less chronologically, the interviews tell the story of the initial Great Panic and the eventual offensive against the undead. The most fascinating part for me was the difficult steps governments were forced to take, illustrating a political drama of tremendous stakes. I also thought the discussion of tactics taken by the military in their counter-offensive were exceptionally well thought-out.

My one critique of the book is that the multitude of voices tended to sound too similar. The Russian soldier sounded like the American teenager, who sounded like the South African politician, who sounded like the Japanese refugee. From a writing point of view, I would have liked to see these characters own their voice a little more, but I understand that wasn't the point of the story. It didn't detract from my enjoyment while reading the book. It was only something that bothered me afterward, but honestly, I doubt most readers would particularly care. Really a great read.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

For the second straight week I've spent most of my listening pleasure on CDs of days gone by, rediscovering some fantastic albums along the way. Since many of those records have been reviewed here over the years, I won't bore you with another review. Luckily I've managed to gather up a group of albums from the past few months to put together a short but sweet roundup. It's a little bit country, a little bit rock n roll, hopefully you'll find something you'll want to hear. Enjoy.

Cocoon - Covers: The French indie pop band released this EP of covers in 2011, and it remains their last release to date. I love cover records, and they pick some interesting choices. Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" becomes a slow-downed beautiful dream pop song. Max Romeo's reggae song "Chase the Devil" becomes a brilliant campfire sing-along. And Outkast's "Hey Ya," the album's most interesting choice, also gets a good acoustic folk make over. A fun record for cover fans.

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Whenever, If Ever: By their name alone, it's obvious that this band is going to play a form of post-rock emo on their recently released debut album. I probably never would have checked this out if it had not been in the top rated albums of this year. Despite the pretentious name, it's surprisingly good. Definitely reminiscent of early Brand New, it showcases a softer fuzzed out sound that feels like small label 90's indie rock. There's nothing that feels truly new here, but it's well done and an enjoyable listen.

Guided By Voices - English Little League: Following up their two albums released last year, the Dayton, Ohio boys released this album in the spring. You'd think that the third album in a year would suffer from a serious lack of inspiration, but you'd be wrong. They prove that there is seemingly no end to the lo-fi masterpieces left in them. It also sounds different from last year's albums, more reflective in a way. As always, their songs benefit from remaining short, almost sketches, but that's what gives them that spontaneous sound that makes them so unique. "Islands," "Trashcan Full of Nails," and "Biographer Seahorse" are among my favorites.

Daughter - If You Leave: After two EPs in 2011, the London dream folk trio released their first full length album this past March. The songs on this album are haunting and beautiful. It has an ethereal feel to it, both vocally and musically. There's something of a Holly Miranda quality to the vocals where everything is sung with a powerful softness. This kind of wispy record is probably better suited for my Fall or Winter listening tastes, but it works on a lazy summer day as well.

Lucero - Texas & Tennessee: This four song EP was released in April and sees the Memphis alt-country band return to their scaled back sound. There's more a traditional country soul feel to these songs that suits the band well. Lots of acoustic guitars, and the occasional piano, makes this one of their best releases in years. I really hope they put out an album soon that keeps this rhythm to it.

The Dolly Rocker Movement - Your Side of Town: It's been four years since this Australian psychedelic pop band has released anything, and even though this is only a single, it's certainly nice to know they're still around. Both songs are 60's garage psyche inspired gems. There's also the obvious Syd Barrett influence, from which they take their name. I really can't wait for a new album from these guys, it's been too long.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Orphans, Orphans, Everwhere!

The last month has been a lot of dead air on the television, though Wilfred finally started again this week, which might be the one redeeming thing about summer. With very few shows sitting in the DVR waiting for a viewing, I decided to search through the on demand listings for some show I might have had interest in but had missed. I settled on Orphan Black, the BBC America thriller that aired after Doctor Who this spring. After one episode, I knew I was in for the long haul.

The show benefits from a fantastic premise, but if it weren't for the incredible acting it would never hold up. It also does wisely to keep the plot twists coming, while providing answers with each episode. Seriously, it's as engaging as Homeland and just as addictive. From the opening scene of the series, where the main character witnesses the suicide of a stranger that looks identical to her and makes the decision to slip into her life, you really can't help but get hooked. The mystery just keeps continuing to grow and the stakes along with it. Definitely one to check out if you've missed it. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

This is the End

It's rare these days to see a movie that is so refreshingly different from all the movies that have come before it. Too often movies are made to fit into certain prefabricated marketing slots. Even the artistic movies are made to conform to the current preferred award format. So when a movie comes out that ignores all of those rules, it's certainly worth seeing.

This is the End is more outrageous than it is laugh out loud hilarious, but it's just outrageous enough to keep you giggling throughout. What's so remarkable about it is that these guys obviously set out to make a movie for themselves. It didn't feel like a movie that had been focus grouped, or audience tested. They didn't necessarily want to make a movie that they thought people would find funny, they wanted to make a movie they thought was funny, and if other people liked it, then great. For that reason, it turned out to be one of the most original films in years...and by the way, it's very funny.

There are too many great moments to go into, but the homemade Pineapple Express 2 and video confessionals are definitely highlights of hilarity. Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill play perfect exaggerated versions of themselves, and Michael Cera is brilliant in his guest spot. If you're like me, tired of comic book movies and formula horror plots, this is definitely one to see.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week has flown past in the dizziness of early summer. Thankfully the temperatures have dropped and it's been more like the Pacific Northwest out here in the hills of the Northeast. Perhaps that's why this week's list features nothing that really feels like summer music to me. Granted a number of these albums were released in the late winter and early spring, which makes it very different from last week's list since I've heard many of these albums quite a few times. But there is one brand new release here just to keep it fresh. Enjoy.

HIM - Tears on Tape: It's hard to believe that it's been 16 years since this Finish love metal band first appeared on the scene, and even harder to believe that they can continue to produce such genuinely great music. Sure they continue to tap into the same metaphors of death and love to weave their ballad metal tracks, but it always manages to feel sincere. "Love Without Tears," "Into the Night," and "No Love" are stand out tracks on the album. The inclusion of live studio versions of the band's most popular songs is a nice addition. Definitely a must for fans.

Scorpions - Taken By Force: One of the most under-appreciated bands of the '70s, mostly due to the image damage done by the 80's and the radio sterility of "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Before all that though, this was an amazing glam metal band. Released in 1977, this is the follow up to their legendary Virgin Killer album, and the last studio album with Uli Jon Roth on guitar. After the simple intro track, "Steamrock Fever," the album picks up with the prog gem "We'll Burn the Sky." The rest of the album continues on a prog metal vibe with songs like "The Sails of Charon" and "The Riot of Your Time." Though missing some of the manic genius of its predecessor, with exception of "He's a Woman - She's a Man," this is solid heavy rock album and certainly worth checking out. 

Skip Bifferty - Skip Bifferty: Released in 1968, this is the only album from the psychedelic pop band. It's an inconsistent album, but a decent enough curiosity with some good songs like the "See Emily Play" inspired "Jeremy Carabine." Vocally, it's melodic but not exceptionally strong. Musically the guitar is easily the best part, featuring some great psych riffs. "Time Track" is the one really exceptional song on the album. Having recently listened to The United States of America album, released the same year, this album pales in comparison for an experimental pop album, but interesting nonetheless.

Shout Out Louds - Optica: The Swedish indie pop band's fourth studio album owes a lot to the 80's synth style pop. It's been six years since their breakthrough album Our Ill Wills, featuring the irresistible "Impossible," and somehow it seems the band is still chasing that sound. There is an attempt at a playful back and forth between the male and female voice, but the music in the background feels so dated that it has way of making it all fall a little flat. Recently I've been listening a lot to Joy Zipper, which attempts the same thing and achieves it with far superior results. All that said, this isn't a terrible album. It's easy to listen to, it's not offensive, it just kind of fades away even as your listening to it. My favorite tracks are "Sugar," "14th of July," "Destroy," and "Hermila." 

Husky Rescue - The Long Lost Friend: The second Helsinki based band on this week's list, this is the fourth album in nine years from the indie band. I love the way they are able to mix dream pop with electronic elements to create a sound that reminds me of The Xx meets Broadcast. They definitely push the experimentation which allows the album to remain intriguing throughout. Definitely an album you need to be in the mood for, but when in that mood, it's quite nice. "Under Friendly Fire," "June," and "Mountains Only Know" are my favorites.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw - You Have Already Gone to the Other World: Fronted by former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer and organ player Jeremy Barnes, this experimental Balkan folk music duo has now released six albums. This, the band's newest, might be the most ambitious to date. Inspired by the film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors this album takes their sound to a new level. Now based in Budapest, AHAAH have fully committed to the gypsy folk of the land's past. In many ways this sounds as if it were a field recording of some crazy woods tribe celebration. Authentic and brilliant, beautiful and surprisingly accessible. Definitely one of their best. 

Kanye West - Yeezus: It seems appropriate to review this album on Father's Day, the day after Kanye became a father for the first time. Due out on Tuesday, this is the long awaited follow-up to 2010's triumphant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He's definitely kept busy between releases, releasing Watch the Throne with Jay-Z and showing up in a million other places. But for the first time since his last solo record, it feels as though the artistic innovator has returned. It would be so easy for someone of Kanye's stature to simply repeat himself and play it safe, which is one of the reasons why it's so commendable that he continues to push himself to give people something they've never heard before. This record, like his last, is the sound of an iconic artist given the space to experiment and succeed. Tapping into an industrial electro rhythm, he adapts his flow to fit the dark mood of this record, and still delivers insightful lyrics that continue to tear apart the culture of celebrity and wealth to reveal the sinister workings that lie beneath the surface. Quite brilliant.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fiction Friday (17)

Given all the paranoia and righteous anger stirred up this week about the government's invasive and illegal surveillance program, it seemed like a good week to catch up on reviews of dystopian teen novels. As we move closer to a future where most people have little hope of avoiding one of the endlessly covered scenarios laid out in fiction, it's probably good to study up and be prepared. Despite being written 43 years apart, the two books here grapple with the same overarching themes of a freedom and totalitarianism. Interesting that we always fear a loss of freedom when generally speaking, we grow more free with each generation.

The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher
(MacMillan, 1967)

The second installment of John Christopher's science fiction dystopia series is far darker than its predecessor. Whereas the first book used the premise of a controlling, conquering race of aliens as a backdrop to discuss free-will and conformity, the second book is a powerful exploration of slavery and the master/slave relationship.

After Will managed to escape the Tripods and met up with the free people living in the Alps, out of the reach of the aliens, he begins training with the others working toward the eventual overthrow of the oppressors. His first mission takes him to the City of Gold and Lead where the masters live. Only the fittest young people are taken there to serve the aliens, and none ever come back. Will's mission is to go there to discover anything about the mysterious masters that might help defeat them, and then somehow escape.

One of the best aspects of the novel is the way this city is imagined. Reading it, you can almost feel its heavier gravity and sweltering heat, which compound the suffocating reality of Will's situation. The episodes of cruelty bestowed upon him by his master are powerfully written, as are the aliens attempts at friendship. John Christopher does an amazing job and describing a situation where a slave could come to feel for his master, and the strength it takes to resist the kindness of an oppressor.

Extremely compelling on many levels. (Click here for my review of the first book)

Matched by Ally Condie
(Dutton, 2010)

The premise of Matched doesn't differ much from many other dystopian stories. There are white uniformed Officials, representatives of some faceless authority, who monitor and determine every aspect of people's lives. This includes who each is "matched" with as a teen, matched being another word for mated in this situation. The officials carry the same level of dread as the firemen in Fahrenheit 451 as they confiscate forbidden objects and create a general sense of anxiety. While obeyed and respected, they are also subjects of the same level of distrust as a gentle occupying army. All in all, I thought the dystopian elements were very well done, however they really just serve as a backdrop for the love story which is truly the heart of the book.

Cassia, the girl at the center of the story, must choose between two boys, both of whom, of course, are loyal and good looking. Again, this set-up can be found in countless stories, and one presented so frequently these days in YA fiction, most notably in Twilight and The Hunger Games. The book spends much of its effort on the question of who she will choose. One is safe, one is dangerous. One is mysterious, one is familiar. But the real problem is that both are kind of too good to be true and the book spends way too much time on Cassia's dilemma of choosing between them, and making it way too clear which is the one she wants to choose. Sure, the idea is supposed to be that making any choice in a society where choices are always made for you would be difficult, and love especially so, but I still would have liked to see Cassia a little more decisive. Having choices made for someone doesn't necessarily make them indecisive, in fact, it has great potential to bring out the opposite in people.

Another problem I had with Cassia was in the attempt to make her a rebellious figure. Her defiance was in such passive ways, and typically not for reasons she believed in herself, but for a boy. She wasn't the strong kind of character that Katniss is, for example. That said, I did quite enjoy the seeing the cracks in this dystopian world slowly being exposed.

Overall, I did enjoy reading this book. It's definitely a page turner and certainly exciting enough to keep a reader's interest. However, I felt the dystopian elements were simply used as way of adding some twist to the love story. Unfortunately, the love story was far less interesting than the support used to prop it up.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

And Only Weeks Before the Guns all Came and Rained on Everyone

For someone like me, it is a very strange habit to write in a diary. Not only that I have never written before, but it strikes me that later neither I, nor anyone else, will care for the outpouring of a thirteen year old schoolgirl. -Anne Frank

The first written voice that I ever connected with was when I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was eleven years old. Never before had I encountered a voice that I felt was talking directly to me, explaining feelings that I had also felt but could never put into words. In many ways, the influence of her writing is still very present in my own. The conversational tone I take with the reader owes an incredible debt to her diary.

She was the first literary character I ever had a crush on and I still remember finishing the last few pages while laying on my bed and hoping against all reason and fact that the story would end differently. I still feel that way every time I listen to Neutral Milk Hotel's Holland, 1945 and it still makes me sad. I've recently incorporated those experiences into the manuscript I finished this spring, and Anne Frank is mentioned quite a bit. Today would have been her eighty fourth birthday....and though she died far too young, her spirit lives on in the words she shared with everyone. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

I spent most of this past week listening to albums I hadn't listened to in years, going through my CDs and pulling out piles and piles in order to make a soundtrack playlist to fit a certain atmosphere. It's always enjoyable rediscovering records that you've lost track of over time and finding them to be just as impactful as ever. But I've decided to spare you all the nostalgic ramblings of records past and instead have chosen to take a completely different approach by reviewing albums that I've heard for the first time this week. Sometimes it's good to get a fresh response to something, based on immediate reaction. Though I will caution you that my opinion of any record on here is subject to change of the next few listents, so I cannot be held completely liable for what I may or may not say. Enjoy.

Black Sabbath - 13: This is the legendary band's first studio album with Ozzy on vocals since 1978, produced by equally legendary Rick Rubin, and despite the early praise, I admit to being very nervous given the disaster that The Stooges return to the studio has been. On the other hand, Sabbath has been back together, off and on, for the last sixteen years, so there's no reason to believe that they would sound like a bunch of guys who hadn't played together in 30 years. In fact, they sound about as tight as they ever been. This isn't some attempt at recreating the past, it's a very forward sounding doom metal album. The masters of reality have returned and it looks like rock might not be dead after all...because this album stone cold \nn/ !!

Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor: The horror metal icon is perhaps better known these days for his film directing credits, but that hasn't stopped him from continuing to record. This is the first album of his that I've heard since 2006's Educated Horses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was attracted by the Captain Beefheart feel to the cover and title, and the comparison isn't terribly far off. Sun soaked psychedelic metal infused with a healthy dash of psychotic hillbilly horror, without ever managing to feel like a gimmick.

Scout Niblett - It's Up to Emma: Though the California native singer songwriter has been making albums since 2001, this new record is only her sixth album in that time. I first fell in love with her earthy brand of sadness on 2007's This Fool Can Die. The follow-up to that album failed to grab me in the same way, but now six years later, I immediately feel the same connection to this album as I did way back when. She has a soulful darkness that reminds me of early Cat Power records, or Beth Orton, but with the eerie guitar mood of quieter Sonic Youth tunes. "My Man," "Second Chance Dreams," and "Gun" are my favorite tracks.

Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork: It's been six years since the original kings of stoner rock have put out an album, and eight years since they put out an album that I enjoyed. In the time off, Josh Homme has been busy as a producer and apparently rediscovering his demon. This album signals a return to the brand of rock found on Lullabies to Paralyze, and though there's nothing truly groundbreaking on this record, it's consistently good from start to finish. There are softer moments on the album the really work well and I found myself really enjoying it. Definitely worth checking out and could grow on me even more over the next few listens.

Beady Eye - BE: It's been four years since Oasis split, and the band born from its ashes has finally come through with their second album, following 2011's Different Gear, Still Speeding. It opens with the phenomenal "Flick of the Finger," the first song to be released online a few months ago. From there, the album proceeds with two remarkable Monkees-esque psychedelic pop gems in "Soul Love" and "Face the Crowd." The mild "Second Bite of the Apple" follows, but is buoyed by the amazing "Soon Come Tomorrow," a very Ride sounding number. There are a number of beautiful soft tracks like "Ballroom Figured" and "Start Anew" that are balanced with an appropriate number of rockers. Over the course of 17 songs, the band has finally found it's identity beyond Oasis. This doesn't sound like Oasis, it sounds clearly like a Beady Eye record. The band has moved on, and without Noel on board, the other members seem to be hitting their creative stride, quite impressive for musicians with such amazing careers.

Seasick Steve - Hubcap Music: Despite a late start to his recording career, Seasick Steve has managed to put out an impressive catalog in the last decade. His new album, released in April, is another solid southern inspired blues rock record. He has a great Hank Williams type voice, which mixes well with the ZZ Top riffs and steady drum beat that roll through the songs. By it's nature, it's nothing that hasn't been done before, but the blues has never been about innovation, rather it's steeped in the traditions of the genre and Seasick Steve is obviously a well informed student. A quality electric blues album.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Fiction Friday (Wildwood Edition II)

A few months ago, I finally took a trip into Colin Meloy's Wildwood and was more than just a blown away. Days after finishing the last page, I found myself making a trip to the book store to pick up Book 2 and dove right in shortly after that. The second book is another hefty 550+ pages, yet it still flew by. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this story has been instrumental in getting me to pull out an old middle grade manuscript of mine and work on it. For a writer, those are the best books, the ones that inspire with their greatness without intimidating you into silence.

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy
(HarperCollins 2012)

Picking up several months after Wildwood left off, we find Prue restless in her return to normal life outside the Impassable Wilderness while Curtis is excelling in his bandit training, unaware of the troubles he's caused for the family he left behind. When his parents head off to search for him, they have no choice but to leave his two sisters in the Unthank Home for orphans, setting off a series of hardships for them that could have come straight out of a Roald Dahl novel.

But all is not well in the The Wood either as a group of cunning shape-shifting assassins have sought out all those responsible for the recent Bicycle Coup. It isn't long before they track down Prue, forcing her to return to The Wood for her own safety. She soon discovers that her work there is far from done. Her ability to communicate with the plants strengthens and they reveal to her a new mission to bring unity to the divided land. In order to do that, her and Curtis must venture into the sprawling caves that exist under Wildwood.

Meanwhile, Elsie and Rachel, Curtis's two unfortunate sisters, learn that the Unthank Home isn't an orphanage at all, but rather a place where the heartless industrialist, Mr. Unthank, uses the children to work the machines in his factory. But his true agenda is the conquest of The Wood, and he uses the children in his experiments to pass through the Periphery Bind designed to keep intruders out.

Over the course of this epic tale, the various stories weave together, revealing a larger plot and highlighting the difficulties Prue and Curtis must face if they are ever to save the place they've grown to love. Once again, Colin Meloy shows off his storytelling skills, building and revealing key elements at pitch perfect pace. He's created the kind of fictional world that once you enter, you never want to leave. Even at its massive length, it seems to go by too quickly and I found myself reading slower in order to avoid getting to the end. The fact that the story leaves off suddenly, only made it worse. Waiting for the third book in order to know the conclusion is going to be blissful torture.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

It's been sweltering here this week, burning through the hours with an unrelenting blaze of sunburst. The only thing that made it bearable was the acquisition of two stellar albums by favorite artists of mine, as well as some nice vinyl pick-ups at the local Memorial Day record fair. There was also a wealth of other releases that I have yet to get through, making the upcoming week seem promising. Then again, the fact that the heat is supposed to break would be enough to make any week seem promising. Mostly new goodies on the Roundup this time, but a few old gems as well. Enjoy.

Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends: Ever since their first EP in 2005, this psychedelic indie band has been releasing one amazing album after the other, coming one a year like clockwork. For the first time, there's been a two year gap between this new record and their last. The time off was well spent, because even though they have become one of my favorite bands of all time in just the short while they've been around, I must confess that 2011's In the Mountain in the Cloud was a bit of a let down. Well, with Evil Friends, they have erased any fear of a downward trend. This is definitely one of their best efforts to date, showcasing their catchy sound at it's best. Definitely one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

Sly & The Family Stone - Greatest Hits: Another one of those Greatest Hits albums that was put together a mere three years and four albums after the band's debut, this 1970 collection is a psychedelic soul classic. I found this on vinyl in a $1 bin last weekend and didn't have to think twice about buying it, despite already having it on CD. From the opening "I Want to Take You Higher," this album kicks off a groove that feels perfectly suited for summer nights. As a fun note, my copy apparently once belonged to the Staten Island Community it's seen some fun times.

The United States of America - The United States of America: Released in 1968, this psychedelic masterpiece is the only record the band ever made. Founding member Joe Byrd would release The American Metaphysical Circus a year later, but it couldn't live up to the sheer genius of this record. Ahead of it's time, the album was released on CD in 1997 and became hugely influential to bands at the time. Combining experimental rock/folk sounds with soaring melodies, the album stands alone as a unique work of art. I bought this on CD when it came out and listened to it constantly. This past weekend I came across a mint copy of the original vinyl selling for a fraction of it's worth and snatched up that treasure. "Hard Coming Love" and "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar" are real stand outs. One of those records that belongs in every collection.

Low - The Visible End: As they did with their last album, 2011's C'mon, the slowcore legends released this companion EP along with their new album The Invisible Way back in March. There are four tracks, all demos of songs that are found on the album, but this band has a way of making every song sound unique every time they play it. Thankfully, it's also four of the best songs from the album, making alternate versions that much more attractive. A nice addition to a great album.

The Bevis Frond - White Numbers: Since 1986, Nick Saloman has been releasing his neo-psychedelic rock as The Bevis Frond. Criminally unknown here in the States, he ranks as one of my favorite songwriters of all time. There is a Neil Young quality to his work, but with a more indie rock sensibility. This is his first album since 2011's phenomenal The Leaving of London. Like that album, this is another double album of fantastic rock. There isn't a bad song among the 24 tracks, and the album ends with a 42 minute monster of a jam. No need to be familiar with his previous work, feel free to dive right into this one and work your backwards if you like.

Lightning Dust - Fantasy: It's been four years since the band's Infinite Light record, but they finally come through with their third album. Over the course of their career, the band has progressed from the minimal sound of their debut to a more traditional indie folk sound, even including some electronic elements into this record. Amber Webber (of Black Mountain) has such an amazing and fragile voice that has always made this band stand out among a sea of indie folk rock. "Loaded Gun," "Reckless and Wild," and "Agatha" are some of the stand-out tracks.