Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Call of the Wolf

Several years ago I outlined a project that went unfinished. Over the past few months I've found myself thinking about it again and this week I finally pulled out the sample chapters I'd written way back when and read through them. Though I didn't particularly care for the tone, or some of the character's mannerisms, I thought there was still quite a bit of potential in the project. 

Yesterday I began the process of re-imagining this story of a young boy who encounters a wolf on the night of a full moon, later to discover he's been cursed to become a werewolf. The story revolves around the conspiracy he and his best friend uncover in a town plagued by werewolves. There seems to be very few werewolf themed books geared toward 5th grade boys, who in my opinion are the prime audience for such tales. In the coming months I hope to finish a draft, working on it between working on a novel. It just feels like the right time for me to get I just hope I don't stall in process.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Super Fan Mail

The other day I received a fan letter from a boy in Germany who had read The Supertwins. As far as I can remember, it's the first piece of fan mail I've ever gotten based on my beginning reader series published by Scholastic in the early half of the last decade. It's actually one of my favorite projects that I've done and the letter brightened my day. Here's what he had to say:

My favorite part is definitely when he assumes that I was perhaps seven years old when I wrote the books. I'm not sure if I should take it as a slight, seeing as how no seven year old holds the same mastery of the English language as I. Or perhaps I should take it as a compliment that my imagination can be compared to that of a child. I choose to take the second choice. Thanks Isaiah!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

After taking a break from newish albums last week, I got back on the bandwagon and listened to a few new releases over the past several days. I've also been going through my latest vinyl bounty and have some older classics to throw into the mix. It's mostly a folkish blues kind of week with lots more snow and rain to damper the spirits. With the warm weather rolling in this weekend, perhaps I will make the jump to more upbeat sounds in the coming days, but until then, you'll have put up with my somber choices. Enjoy.

Noah Gundersen - Ledges: Released two weeks ago, this is the first full length album from the Seattle singer songwriter, and already one of my favorite releases of the year. This is a folk album with a country twinge. It sounds like an album Ryan Adams would make if he made a scaled back acoustic album. There is also a sadness to it that reminds me of Jason Molina's work. This is one of those albums that makes me excited about new acts as already I can envision years of wonderful music from Noah. "Poor Man's Son," "Separator," and "Cigarettes" are among my favorite tracks, though there really aren't any that I don't like.

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band - A Child's Guide to Good & Evil: During its four years of existence, the L.A. psychedelic band released five albums between '66-'69. Despite the title of this 1968 album stating it's Vol. 3, it is really the fourth, and wildly considered the best. I've had digital copy of this album for years but finally picked up a vinyl edition in Texas. I read someone describe them as "The Flaming Lips in '60s" and it seemed like a fair analogy. They have the same blend of weirdness and melody that makes the album a unique experience. It's one of those records that you need to be in the mood for, but when that happens, there's nothing quite like it. A bit uneven at times, but still high quality. "A Child of a Few Hours is Burning to Death" is the one truly outstanding track, and perhaps the best and most graphic anti-Vietnam song ever recorded. 

Robert Ellis - The Lights from the Chemical Plant: The second album from Robert Ellis was released two weeks ago. His sound has a country folk feel with a nod to 70's rock. His songs are straight forward and very well done. These are traditional country tales of lonely life that have a musically modern feel, somewhat like My Morning Jacket though less grandiosity. "Good Intentions," "Houston," "Only Lies," and a wonderful cover of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" are stand out tracks on a solid album.

Groundhogs - Blues Obituary: Twenty years ago, I bought this on CD and it blew my mind. At the time, I was just getting into the British Blues and this cover was impossible to ignore. I instantly connected to this 1969 album, and still love it, which is why I picked up the re-released vinyl. The Groundhogs take the blues style developed by John Mayall and add a darker layer to it. In that way, they are really the pre-cursor to bands like Black Sabbath, which did the same thing and made it heavier. Tony McPhee is one of the unsung guitar greats, and his vocals are perfect for hard rock blues. Seven songs on pure brilliance, I've been enjoying this all over again this past week. 

T. Hardy Morris - Audition Tapes: Released last summer, this is the debut solo album from the singer of Dead Confederate. I've been a fan of the Athens, GA band since their first album and was eager to give this a listen. Stripped of the band's dynamic, Morris delivers an eerily beautiful album heavily influenced by the sound of Neil Young. He has a similar wonderful warble to his voice and a twangy guitar style that gives it that Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere vibe.  "OK Corral" and "Lucky" are my favorites.

Roky Erickson & The Aliens - The Evil One: My love affair with all things Roky began with this album over a decade ago. Originally released in 1980, I found a rare copy of one of the re-released CDs back in the turn of the century. It was only the second Roky album I'd heard and it began an endless acquisition of his work. During my trip to Austin, I came across the wonderful deluxe 180gram vinyl reissue that came out last year and had to pick it up. In addition to the complete 15 tracks (some versions have less) it includes a 20 page booklet and two-headed dog etching on the Side 4. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. Every song is a masterpiece of hard psychedelic rock, highlighted by "Bloody Hammer," "Night of the Vampire," "Cold Night for Alligators," and "Stand for the Fire Demon." If you don't have this record in your collection, you must go out and acquire it now.

Fecal Matter - Illiteracy Will Prevail: Given that Kurt's birthday was this week, it seemed like a must that I include this recent vinyl purchase on the list. Fecal Matter was Kurt's pre-Nirvana band with Dale Crover and Buzz Osborne from The Melvins. They recorded this demo in 1985 to submit to the labels, and nothing much happened. This has been floating around digitally for years, and some songs even showed up on the box set released years ago, but to find the complete demo on vinyl was still a thrill. Though it's raw and a bit messy, there is something remarkably entertaining about it. "Downer" and "Spank Thru" would later become Nirvana songs, and parts of "Laminated Effect" would later be reworked into "Even in His Youth." There are also some rare songs that are wonderful examples of Kurt's humor and insight into culture such as "Bambi Slaughter" and "Buffy's Pregnant." A perfect record for collectors and fans of early American punk underground.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Come As You Are

Today would've been Kurt Cobain's 47th Birthday had he not passed away twenty years ago. Even after all that time has gone by, I still find myself mesmerized by the music he left behind. No matter how many times I've heard each song, they always sound current and raw. Sometimes I like to imagine what the music he would have recorded would sound like today. Nirvana was in a period of change when he died, his last songs were taking off in a new direction, and I'm sure he would have continued to push his creative energies in interesting ways. 

As I get older, I find myself feeling the loss of people more intimately than I did when I was younger. Perhaps it's because I'm growing closer to the inevitable myself, or maybe it's simply because I've experienced more of life and realize how difficult it can be and the loss of anyone who brings comfort to those difficulties is more magnified. On some level I've always understood why Kurt took his own life, but understanding doesn't mean I don't wish there had been another outcome. Hopefully he was able to find peace in rest, and wherever his spirit is now, I'm wishing him a Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Call of Isolation

My current novel deals heavily with feelings of isolation, both imposed and imagined. These can be difficult themes to express in ways that don't feel as confining as the feelings themselves. So instead of focusing on the internal emotions involved, I've tried to surround the story with the outside tensions they create.

Thankfully, there are plenty of conflicts to focus on. It is possibly the most plot driven book I've attempted to date. But as with my other novels, it is a plot that affects the characters on a deeply personal level. The tricky part is finding the balance between advancing the story and making sure the affect on the characters comes through in an honest and compelling way. It's a challenge, but one I feel up to at the moment.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

This was a rather busy week for me, which combined with a slow week for new releases, led to me the comforts of familiar favorites. When I don't have time to invest myself in bands that aren't known to me, I find it easier to digest work by bands that I've grown to love over time. That was essentially the case this week as I delved into albums that were new to me, if not completely unknown. Because of that, this list represents a wide-range of my listening habits over the past 25 years. There's lots to be appreciated here. Enjoy.

Jeff Tweedy - Roadcase 027: Over the past few years, Wilco has been releasing selected live concerts in a digital format. A couple of weeks ago, they released this Jeff Tweedy solo concert from December, the fourth acoustic show in a series of L.A. performances where he didn't repeat songs. If you've heard, or seen, a Wilco concert, then you know one of the highlights is Jeff's ability to interact with the audience. That skill is definitely on display in this recording and one of the best parts of it is the hilarious banter he engages in. Musically, it is also exceptional. Hearing the scaled back versions of their songs is a real treat. "Sky Blue Sky," "Jesus Etc," and "Radio Cure" are among the many highlights in this fantastic set.

Nick Drake - Made to Love Magic: Back in the late '80s when Nick Drake's catalog was finally being issued onto CD, Hannibal Records put out a disc of rarities called Time of No Reply. Unfortunately that album didn't make it into the latest round of reissues and it is nearly impossible to find these days. However Island Records put this out instead. It includes 9 of the 11 unreleased tracks from Time of No Reply in addition to demo versions of outstanding songs like "River Man." I've been on huge Nick Drake kick lately and this has been a wonderful addition. As always, he sounds like a prophet from some forgotten fairy land, telling us all tales of sad beauty. Among the rare songs, "Joey," "Clothes of Sand," and "Black Eyed Dog"  are essential.

Jean Grae - Jeannie: Over the past decade, Jean Grae has been the best female MC around in my opinion. She's been busy over the past year, releasing three EPs last year and now this one last month. Only five songs, and a few feel more like interludes, this definitely isn't essential Jean. However, added to her other body of work, it makes a nice addition. When she does rhyme on here, it's pretty subtle, but flawless. Great beats as usual and always intelligent verses.

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band - See Reverse Side for Title: One of the recent finds on my Texas vinyl shopping spree was this 1967 album from one of my favorite bands of the underground folk movement of the '60s. This is the band's fifth album, and the second of three albums released that year. The band broke up the next year after one more album and many people consider this to be their best. Though I prefer '65's Jug Band Music and '66's Relax Your Mind, this certainly stands besides those with its head held high. This album has a more established sound to it, probably because the scene was becoming an establishment by this time. It's what you'd expect a "folk" record to be, but the band still finds ways to be surprising. "Chevrolet" and "Papa's on the Housetop" are real gems.

Nirvana - Bleach Out! Break Out!: This bootleg captures the band during a 1989 performance in Chicago during the Bleach album tour. They basically play the entire album in random order, along with several other tracks floating around at that time such as "Spank Thru" and "Polly." One of the great things about Nirvana concert bootlegs is that the energy they put into every show reveals itself, especially on a fine audio recording like this one. What's interesting about these early shows is that you can tell there are very few people in the audience, yet you wouldn't know by the effort put into each song. They totally rock through their set. Krist's driving bass establishes the tempo while Kurt's guitar screeches wildly between verses. Definitely one of the best concert bootlegs from this era of the band.

Luke Haines - Rock and Roll Animals: As a member of The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, and Baader Meinhof, Luke Haines was a pivotal figure of my late '90s listening habits. Though his solo records of the last decade haven't grabbed me in the same way of those of his former bands, I took a chance on this one released last year, mainly because I loved the cover. I was rewarded with an album that feels very much like The Auteurs combined with the softness of Black Box Recorder. Like most of his work, it's hard to categorize. There's something of a Bowie weirdness to it, with folk inflections, pop melodies, and a rock edge. This is a really good concept album following the life three animals and feels like a storybook in songs, and every one of them is very enjoyable. This was a pleasant surprise and I'm glad I took the chance on it.

Shirley Temple - Curtain Call: A few years ago I was on the hunt for Shirley Temple records on vinyl and was having a hard time finding any. Then during a West Coast shopping spree, I found two of them in $1 bins, one in Portland and one in Olympia, and I snatched them up. For whatever reason, both have avoided their turn on the Roundup but this seemed like a good week to mention them giving her passing. What I find so enjoyable about her songs is that she sounds like a child when she sings. So often we see child performers with amazing grown up voices, but that wasn't Shirley's appeal. This album features many songs from her early films, and while musically the tunes aren't very compelling, her adorableness shines through, especially on songs like "You Got to Eat Your Spinach, Baby" and "On Account of I Love You." There's also her playfulness in "At the Codfish Ball" and "When I Grow Up" that will make almost anyone smile. Certainly this is not an everyday kind of record, but when you're in the mood, there's nothing quite like it. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fiction Friday (25)

Welcome to Friday, the day when I review books that I've read recently. This week is a rare event as I'm reviewing a book that is still new, well, a month old. In the past year, I've read several newish novels that have grabbed me in a way few books do and have quickly become among my favorites. One of those books was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It was such a creative story, and so well executed, that it was certainly one of those books that when I was done, I thought why couldn't have I written that? Luckily the story didn't end with that novel and I was once again able to enter the land of Peculiardom and get lost in it's tales. Enjoy.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
(Quirk, 2014)

The long awaited sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was released a few weeks ago, and I did something that I rarely do, I went out and bought it the day it came out. The first book blew me away when I read it last year, and I just couldn't wait to read the second one. Hollow City picks up where the first one left off, with the Peculiar Children being tossed around at sea after fleeing their now destroyed home. From there, it's a nonstop adventure as they navigate Wales during the middle of World War II, trying to avoid the monstrous hollows who hunt them at every turn.

Essentially this novel is the story of a single journey of purpose as the children desperately try to save their injured ymbryne. With most of the Time Loops now raided by the wights, and nearly all of the ymbrynes captured, the children must hope against hope that they will find Miss Wren, the only other ymbryne who has not been captured. She is the only one with the power to save Miss Peregrine and the children will stop at nothing to find her.

Their journey takes them to a forgotten loop consisting of peculiar animals, a deadly run-in with a gypsy caravan and wight soldiers, a raided loop hidden in St. Paul's Cathedral, and finally to a frozen building located in an old vacation loop. The action is suspenseful and extremely well written, and it was nice to see the children using their powers in creative ways to meet the challenges facing them. And as with the first novel, their interactions were at the heart of the book. It's sometimes hard to carry such a large cast and still have each character stand out, but this book accomplishes that extremely well. It even introduces a wonderful selection of new peculiars with equally intriguing powers.

While I couldn't put this down at times, and read it very quickly, I have to confess that I didn't love it quite as much as the first one. It's not that the story wasn't compelling, because it was, my problem with it was simply that it felt like a book whose purpose was to bridge two other books, the one that came before and the one that is to come after. The characters went from point A to point B, and though a lot of exciting things happen along the way, it felt that very little was revealed about the peculiar world beyond what the reader already knew. One of the things I truly loved about the first one was the scope of imagination used to establish this strange new universe. However it should be said that now that you are in it, it is no less fascinating. And there is a brilliant unexpected twist toward the end that really pulls the whole book together. One of the great things about this plot twist is that it didn't just come out of nowhere. After it is revealed, it becomes clear that it was perfectly set up all along.

Another thing that maybe pulled this down a little for me was the relationship between Emma and Jacob, which beautifully blossomed in the first book and contained all the excitement of young love. It felt slightly stagnated this time around. It wasn't ignored, it did evolve and change, but for whatever reason, I didn't feel as though the characters were as invested in it this time around. That's sort of true of Jacob in general. A lot of his emotional reactions felt as though they didn't carry a honest punch. Conversely, I loved how Olive (the girl from the cover of the last book) became an important character, and an enjoyable one as well. And as I said before, the ending of this book is outstanding. Needless to say, I'll be eagerly waiting for next book. Oh, and the teaser picture of it on the last page is eerily perfect.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Baby Take a Bow

Shirley Temple 1928-2014

I woke this morning to the news that Shirley Temple passed away yesterday at the age of 85. As with many people, she has always captivated my imagination. Not only do I find her films and music entertaining, but there are many other aspects of her character that I admire. To me, she represents the impact that one child can have on the world. She is often credited with lifting the spirits of the American people during the Great Depression through her many roles which all seemed to be performed with a kind of joy that is often absent in adulthood. She somehow managed to capture the enduring spirit of childhood, the presence of which was enough to bring cheer to people. Children have always had the power to affect the world, and Shirley Temple was a perfect symbol of that.

In a wider sense, she was a very much a figure of cultural importance. In the 1930's, she made four films with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. They were the first mixed race musical numbers to be seen by most people in America, and later in life, she said he was her favorite co-star. She was also the first celebrity to publicly acknowledge that she had breast cancer in the 1970's, an admission that helped lead the way for women to become proactive in being screened. But in many ways, she will always be remembered as the curly topped child--a 20th Century version of Alice Liddell. May she find peace in rest while her spirit lives on to bring joy to generations yet to come.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

I spent most of last week in Austin scouring the local record stores for some choice vinyl. Naturally, I came home with a nice thick stack of new records, including a number of albums that were included on my Best of 2013 list and a few other gems. I haven't had much time yet to listen to those, so expect reviews in the coming weeks. Until then, you'll have endure my ravings on other albums that I've been listening to over the past few days and weeks. Enjoy.

First Aid Kit - The Big Black and The Blue: I first listened to this Swedish folk duo back in 2012 when their second album The Lion's Roar made my list of favorite albums. Foolishly, I thought that had been their debut album until I came across this 2010 album in one of the Austin record stores. This is their debut record, though an EP was released two years prior. Like their other album, this is a beautiful collection of contemporary folk, but with less country influence. It has more of a traditional European folk feel with minimal minstrel music accompaniment to the sisters' harmonizing voices. "Hard Believer," "A Window Opens," and "Heavy Storm" are among my favorites. 

Bosnian Rainbows - Bosnian Rainbows: Released last summer, this is one Omar Rodriguez Lopez's many projects. As one of the creative halves of The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In, I've always admired Lopez and his endless scope of creativity though I've had trouble keeping up. I came to this after reading about the new band he formed with John Frusciante, Kimono Kult, which also includes Teresa Suarez Cosio, who provides vocals on this record. This is the band's only album, and with the formation of Kimono Kult, possibly their last. It has a very '90s feel to it, a kind of classic alternative rock with some electronic experimentation going on in the background. There's nothing revolutionary here, but it's pleasant enough. "I Cry for You" and "Turtle Neck" are my favorite tracks.

Sun Kil Moon - Benji: The sixth album from the indie folk band born from the ashes of Red House Painters will be released this week. I followed this band closely in the early part of the last decade when they arose, but missed the last few records. Their sound on this record is more country influenced with more direct vocals. Or maybe it's just because most of the songs on this album are about people dying that makes me think of country music. Either way, it's very refreshing and reminds me of Bonnie Prince Billy meets Lucero. There's a good reason this is currently the highest rated 2014 release on Rate Your Music. "Pray for Newtown" is a stunning song about the state of society and is a must hear. 

Francis Dunnery - Frankenstein Monster: This singer songwriter from UK has been releasing music for over twenty years but this is the first of his music that I've heard. Released last Fall, this album has a classic rock feel to it. There's some nice guitar work that reminds me of Rory Gallagher with pretty solid rock vocals. As a whole, the album is a bit uneven, but still a good enough listen. Nothing really earth shattering, but worth a listen if you're into standard rock.

Mark Lanegan - Imitations: Over the past decade, Mark Lanegan has reinvented himself into a modern day Tom Waits with his throaty delivery. Released in September this is an album of covers, including songs by Nick Cave, John Cale and others. It has a smokey night club feel to it, and the all acoustic nature really suits him. I'm always a sucker for cover albums, and this is one is very good. He is able to reinvent the interesting song choices and give them new life.

Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor: For the past twenty years this Seattle trash metal band has been putting out much touted records, and this 2005 release is considered their best by most fans. After being on my wish list for years, I finally sought it out a last month. It's a dystopian look at society, and like most metal of the past several years, there's a melodic element that swirls over the pounding rhythm. As far as the genre goes, this is a pretty solid offering. Worth a listen if you're into modern metal.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wildwood Imperium

I was in Austin, Texas this past week, and while I was there Wildwood Imperium, the third novel in the Colin Meloy series, was released. By chance, I stumbled into BookPeople, one of the best independent book stores in the nation. It turned out that Colin and Carson Ellis, his wife and the illustrator of the books, were going to do a book signing two days later and I instantly made plans to attend.

I read first two books in the series last year, Wildwood and Under Wildwood, and was blown away. I've long been a fan of Colin Meloy's band The Decemberists and the narrative scope of his songs, but I was still mesmorized by his writing ability. I told him as much at the signing and he seemed flattered. 

The entire event was a joy. The couple told an entertaining story of how the books came to be, and how their entire lives seemed to be leading towards the creation. It reinforced what I've always preached, that a story doesn't just come out of nowhere, but develops over time, growing within your imagination as you puzzle it out. 

As an author who has done my fair share of book signings, I'm always a little unsure of how it is to be on the other end. You sometimes forget the excitement that those who come to them might feel, so it's good to attend a few every now and then and be reminded of what a treat these events can be.

By the way, if you're in Austin, stop by the store. It's an amazing place, and there are also signed copies of my book Life is But a Dream now on the shelves. A full review of Wildwood Imperium to come after I finish reading Hallow City.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Next up in my ongoing quest to make Oscar night worth watching, I went to see Her the other day and it was pretty fantastic. I've always been a fan of Spike Jonze films, going back to Being John Malkovich in 1999. Then ten years later he made one of my favorite films of all time, Where the Wild Things Are. He has such a unique way of telling stories that are both unconventional and yet, at the same time, extremely poignant to our contemporary lives.
Her is no exception to this quality, creating a near futuristic world that seems like a very plausible extension of our own. The characters are absorbed in their technology, lost in their private world of cell phones and social media during commutes much like people are today. But in Her it goes even further, showing people as being almost divorced from personal connections. The very nature of Joaquin Phoenix's job is the perfect metaphor for this as he spends his day writing letters to strangers, hired by their loved-ones. At one point he mentions that he's been writing letters back and forth from one couple for years, and at another, from parents to their child for nearly the child's entire life.
In a world where people don't even bother to communicate to their closest loved ones, but rather hire the task out to strangers, it's no wonder that someone could fall in love with computer operating system, especially one with an artificial intelligence component that allows them to grow and mature. Essentially cut off from real relationships, Theodore quickly strikes up a friendship with his new OS, opening up to her in a way that he doesn't with other individuals. Their connection quickly grows, which is easy since the OS has access to all the details of his life. Basically, the OS simply becomes someone to talk to. As the OS, who takes the name Samantha, begins to grow, her excitement towards new experiences attracts Theodore and they fall in love.
At first glance, I could see many people finding the very concept to be farfetched, but when you consider how many "friendships" we create online these days, love is a natural next step. But at the heart of this love story is the trend towards isolation that our modern lives are taking, and no matter how immersed we are in our technology, the need to connect with others is too powerful to fade. In the end however, an artificial partner cannot satisfy the same desire. Theodore learns this lesson only after the artificial intelligences created by this new OS decide to leave humans. But the seeds of his realization are born before, when confronted by his ex-wife, the one woman he ever really loved, when she criticizes him for his relationship with a computer, saying it's what he always wanted because he never wanted to deal with real arguments or problems that come with spending a life with someone. And essentially that is the real reason we currently seek out virtual friendships, because it's hard to be annoyed or frustrated with someone who isn't physically there.
As with Spike Jonze's previous films, Her takes unexpected turns, delving into fantasy to make the viewer think about their current lives. It's also a very beautiful love story, detailing the excitement of falling in love, and the difficulties that come as a relationship grows.
On another note, I saw this film at the celebrated Alamo Draft House in Austin and it's no wonder this new era theater chain is taking off. Dining on quality food, served throughout the film, along with drinks, it was a delight, and would probably make any movie that much more enjoyable.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

In my continuing effort to try and catch up on some important films of 2013, mostly so that the Oscars aren't a complete waste of time, I went to see The Wolf of Wall Street the other day. A lot of the films up for Best Picture don't appeal to me for various reasons, but a Scorsese film is not one I'm about to miss.
The first thing I noticed about this movie was that it felt very much like previous Scorsese films, especially Goodfellas. The narrative structure was nearly identical, including a similar voice over that could have been spoken by the same character. I imagine this was intentional. By alluding to that movie, I think it attempted to make the analogy that Wall Street is no different than the mafia. It's an effective analogy, though it did leave me with the impression that I had sort of seen this movie before. That didn't really bother me however, because it felt like I movie I'd seen and loved.
Like other classic Scorsese movies, this one had that magic recipe of humor, tension, and debauchery. It also brought out some of the best performances in a wonderful cast. I particularly thought that Jonah Hill was brilliant. There were many laugh out loud funny lines in the film, and he delivered the lion's share of them. Leo was also fantastic, which I've come to expect from him, being one of the greatest actors of our generation.
I know a lot of critics and viewers have been upset by the way the movie tends to glorify greed. And though it does in a way, it's also necessary in order to capture the world in which these characters inhabit. What I really think people object to is that while watching the movie, you really want the character to get away with it. This is something that has plagued many of Scorsese's films. I felt the same way during Goodfellas. That's because the main characters are incredibly likable, and you end up rooting for them, despite their crimes. But that's another tricky aspect of moviemaking. You need to have a likable main character to pull the audience in. That doesn't bother me either, because the ultimate responsibility of the viewer is to reflect afterwards on the rights and wrongs, and even to question why you would allowed yourself to root for someone whose actions you normally despise. That's the point of a thought-provoking piece of art. I shudder to think of a day when we return all art to being morally didactic.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

With the first month of the year behind us, the music scene is still trying to define itself, as it should be. I'm also still trying to find my interests for the upcoming year. As I mentioned last week, the new releases popping up haven't really peaked my interest. That said, there were two new records that I listened to this week. There are also some albums that came to me in various ways that I was really into. Perhaps it's the brief warm spell of temperatures over 30 degrees, or simply the fact that winter has been so brutally cold, but I've ventured away from the straight folk this week and included some more springish selections. Enjoy. 

Earthless - From the Ages: The three piece heavy psych jam band out of San Diego released this album, their first in six years, back in October. This was given to me as a gift and it's epically awesome. Consisting of four songs, two of which clock in at over 14 minutes, and the title track which clocks in at over 30 minutes, this is basically one amazingly endless guitar showcase with a driving drone rhythm section that adds a hypnotic layer to it. It's very melodic, but with enough guitar tweaks to keep it compelling throughout, creating expanding soundscapes that intrigue the imagination. Absolutely wonderful.

Dave Van Ronk - Inside Dave Van Ronk: Earlier in the week I wrote about the film Inside Llewyn Davis and how it was partially inspired by Dave Van Ronk. In the movie, this album is used as the basis for the character's album, and the opening song performed by the character is taken from this record. I'm a big fan of Van Ronk, but this 1964 release isn't my favorite of his albums. It is more folk in the traditional sense than some of his other albums that use blues to influence folk. That's not to take away from the beauty of this record. It has that perfect rainy day cafe feel, telling classic tales of hard luck characters found in a lot of '60s NYC folk music. An expanded edition contains 25 tracks, but the twelve best can found on the original release, except for "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" which is also featured in the movie.

Nina Persson - Animal Heart: As lead singer of The Cardigans, and sometime guest on Manic Street Preachers tracks, I've been a fan of Nina's voice for a long time. Almost unbelievably, this is the Sweedish singer's first solo album, released this past week. Like most solo records from lead singer's, the musical elements seem to be slightly underwhelming. Nina's voice is strong enough to carry the tunes, but everything else fades into the background. All in all, it's pleasant enough, with some beautiful moments. "Animal Heart," and "Food for the Beast" are among my favorites. 

Beck - Morning Phase: This Beck's 14th album, and first in six years. Though I haven't always liked everything he's done, I've always admired his willingness to take chances and try something new. Releasing in February, this album is a return to his contemporary folk style, which I much prefer over his electronic style. This album opens with the beautiful Slowdive sounding "Morning" which pulled me right in. This is a haunting and quiet album that manages to sound fresh even though many others have made music like this over the past few years. "Turn Away" is an absolutely brilliant song and my favorite on the album. It would feel at home on a Nick Drake record. This is an early contender to get consideration for next year's best of list. 

Lana Del Rey - Paradise: After the success of her Born to Die album in early 2012, this EP was released in November of the same year, trying to cash on the Christmas shopping rush. Of course, I slept on listening to her until last year, and as soon as I fell in love with the album, I quickly snatched up this as well, thus justifying the marketing strategy behind its release. The songs on here would fit perfectly on the album, making this feel like a extension. It opens with the haunting "Ride" and keeps the same seductive feel throughout. The only real miss for me is her version of "Blue Velvet" which is odd since it seems like it would be a perfect fit for her. It's not bad, just that my expectations were for the song to be perfect. All in all, this is a must have addition to the album if you enjoyed it.

Ima Robot - Another Man's Treasure: Before fronting the freak folk outfit Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros Alex Ebert was the singer of this indie band. I've been a fan of his for some time now, but was unaware of this project. After he won a Golden Globe a few weeks back, I discovered the existence of this band and sought out this, their third, and most recent album from 2010. Recorded after Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros had already emerged, this record is still surprisingly different. The electronic influences on his style are a nice fit, giving this a vibe that is even more out there than his folk stylings. It's more abrasive but that also makes it intriguing. "Life is Short" and "Shine, Shine" are standouts for me.