Sunday, March 30, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

After many weeks of moaning, I've finally been rewarded with a week full of new releases to share. This week's list contains only albums released this year, some of which are records I've been looking forward to for quite some time. There's some folkish releases on here, but mostly it consists solidly of indie rock, ending a months long drought of quality in the genre. There always seems to be at least one Roundup a year where many of the records seem to end up on my best of the year list, and this has the promise to be one them. Lots of fun stuff, so find something you enjoy and splurge for the upcoming Record Store Day. Enjoy!

Sivert Höyem - Endless Love: Since the demise of Madrugada, Sivert Höyem has been better than ever. On his fifth solo album, released this past month, the Norwegian singer songwriter seems to have recaptured the demon that gave Madrugada their unique edge. His last album, 2011's Long Slow Distance was a brilliant moody album with spiritual undertones, but on this record, he returns to the bleary eyed indie rock of Madrugada's crowning achievement, 2001's The Nightly Disease. "Enigma Machine," "Wat Tyler" "Little Angel," and "Görlitzer Park" are among my favorites on an album that will most likely make my best of list for the year. 
Future Islands - Singles: For the past several months I've had friends who have raved about this Baltimore band, and with their recent viral waves, I decided it was about time to check them out. This is their fourth album, but the first one I've heard, so I can't really comment on their trajectory or growth, but what I can say is that this is energetic and soulful album. At times, it's not really my thing, reminding me more of a tolerable Phil Collins than a riskier Shout Out Louds, but even then I can still respect the quality and effort. However, there are moments where it is quite brilliant, like on "Seasons (Waiting on You)" and "A Dream of You and Me." A solid okay for me, but I can see how some people would gawk over this.
Timber Timbre - Hot Dreams: Due out this week is the fifth album from the Toronto based contemporary folk band, their first in three years. This record feels like a continuation of their past two albums. All three feel as though they could be different chapters of the same story, but that's not a bad thing. That said, this is their most complete album in my opinion. They have such a distinct sound, part Red House Painters and part Leonard Cohen, creating a wonderful morning listen. It has that feeling of dawn turning to day, easing into the changes of color and mood that are associated with that phase of the day. "Run from Me," "Curtains!?" and "Beat the Drum Slowly" are stand out tracks. 

Band of Skulls - Himalayan: Back in 2009, the London indie band broke onto the scene with their wonderful debut, but seemed to suffer the dreaded sophomore slump with the 2012 follow-up. Due out this week, their third album finds them delivering another quality album to pair up with their first one. From the pulsing opening beats, the garage rock vibe is clear and present. The energy they bring to this album was sorely missing from their last effort and is a welcomed return. There really isn't a bad song on here, but "Asleep at the Wheel," "Nightmares," and "Toreador" are my personal favorites.

Manchester Orchestra - Cope: Three years after their last album, the Atlanta indie rockers return this week with their fifth release. I've been following this band for nearly a decade and have to say this is their best effort to date. Though their last album contained the wonderful track "Simple Math" it lacked a lot of the rock edge that they had shown on prior records. Right way, this album declares itself as a rock record. But despite the heavy rhythms, they haven't lost touch with the emotional subtlety that they've always done so well. "Top Notch," "Trees," and "All That I Really Wanted" are stand out tracks.

Joker's Daughter and The Bullfrogs - Hybrid: The London indie artist's debut was one of my favorite albums of 2009 and I was to see this new EP released last month. Joker's Daughter creates a psychedelic folk sound that feels a bit like a merging of early Pink Floyd and Nick Drake, but with a contemporary flair that incorporates elements of trip hop. This is a beautiful and haunting album of five songs that explore a dark world of reflection. One of those rare albums that would work for a dreary winter day, or a quite summer night. "The Swing" is currently my favorite track. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Grand Adventure

I've been a fan of Wes Anderson's unique style of storytelling ever since I first saw Bottle Rocket back in 1996, and like a lot of people, I've followed his career closely, eagerly anticipating each new installment of his imagination. Over the years, I've been rewarded with stories written and directed in a such a way that they create a parallel universe that resembles our own if it were merged with a the fantastical elements of modern fairy tales.

Last night I got the chance to see his newest addition, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie shared many thematic features with his previous work; an absurd caper, awkward romance, and incredible sets. But the backdrop of an imaginary war, styled after World War II, gave the movie an old romantic feel that pushed it to the next level. The outstanding cast of characters, all played by extremely talented actors, hearkened back to 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums and 2004's The Life Aquatic, two of his best films, and I walked out of the theater convinced that this film ranked right alongside them. 

There are a handful of artists whose imagination I'm truly in awe of, and Wes Anderson is one of them. This movie was an incredible unpacking of ideas woven together in wonderful ways. One of his strengths is that he never allows the film, or any of his films, to get wrapped up in pretentious themes and simply allows them to tell a fun story in a fun way. He has a very literary way of letting a story unfold, something I can appreciate. His movies often feel as though they could be turned into books, rather than movies that feel like books turned into movies. In fact, the framing tale for this film was that of an author who had written the story as a novel, then allows the viewer to see how the creation of the novel unfolded. In that way, Wes Anderson has always been a film maker writer's can admire. I'm sure we'll all be talking about this movie come next year's awards season...or at least, we'd better be.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Finally a week with some new music from this year! After a slow period it seems that new releases are starting to pick up again, just in time for Spring. Or maybe I should say that new releases that have any interest to me are on the increase. There has been an endless supply of new albums over the past few months, but a quick preview of many of them had left me uninterested. With the rise of easy distribution, there seems to be a massive amount of disposable albums washing through the world and I simply lack the time or patience to sift through them. So needless to say I was glad to see some things lately that spoke to me. There are also some older albums on here that I'm just getting around to reviewing, making for a nice mix of genres and tastes. Enjoy.

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream: Though it only came out last week, I've been reading great things about the new album from the Philadelphia indie rock band. I enjoyed their debut album back in 2008, but never got around to listening to their next two, so I figured it was about time to jump in for their fourth. While their earlier work felt a little too close Bruce Springsteen for my taste, this one takes on more of a alt country vibe and echoes the easy groove of Kurt Vile's last album.  "Suffering," "An Ocean Between the Waves," and "Eyes to the Wind" are standout tracks.

The Horrors - Luminous: Due out in May, this is the London indie band's fourth album, and first since 2011. Long gone are the garage punk days of their debut, having since been replaced with a neo-psychedelic shoegaze sound which continues to permeate through this record. Much like their last one, this is a lush album that soars through a beautiful soundscape. Though it keeps a pretty mellow vibe throughout, it has enough deviations to keep it interesting and prevent it from ever feeling boring. "So Now You Know," "Jealous Sun," and "I See You" are my personal favorites on a record that consistently delivers.

Papercuts - Life Among the Savages: It's been three years since the San Fran indie rock band last released an album, but this new record will drop in May, and it's quite good. I loved their 2009 album You Can Have What You Want, but felt letdown by 2011's Fading Parade. Here they return to a wonderful dream pop sound that falls somewhere between shoegaze and indie pop. It's catchy, but also a little fuzzy, and always beautiful. "Still Knocking at the Door," and the title track are among my favorites.

The Legendary Pink Dots - Live '89 Volume 2: Over the past several years the adored London experimental psychedelic band has been releasing live albums from the past. This is the latest addition, and it's brilliant. Though highly recommended to me by friends whose opinions I value, I never invested much time in the Pink Dots, but that is going to change. Their music is almost impossible to pin down into a genre, spanning prog, post punk, and psychedelic rock to create something entirely different and extraordinarily interesting. There's a darkness that hovers over this record, making it feel like a nightmare version of early Pink Floyd albums or a weirder version of Television Personalities. Either way, it's wonderful. It's rare that I hear things that feel completely new to me, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Motorpsycho - Behind the Sun: The Norwegian psychedelic prog rock band released their 18th album a few weeks ago. Musically, the band hits all the right notes, balancing heavy stoner riffs with more symphonic wanderings. But vocally the album varies from song to song. On the heavier stuff, they are pretty top-notch, but when they try to go softer, the vocals are far weaker than the music and sometimes drag the songs down with them. This is definitely one of those "pick-and-choose" albums where only a handful of songs are worth keeping in rotation, among them "On a Plate" and "Ghost." A solid okay, but not a must-have.

Elvis - Hot August Night: Recently re-released, this is the Midnight show from Elvis's Las Vegas return in 1969. It was previously released as As Shook Up. These concerts are considered legendary by fans, mostly because of Elvis' stage energy and playful banter. But that very same quality is what makes this album less than stellar. Between every song, Elvis is panting to catch his breath and talks insistently, which normally I enjoy, but on this record I find his banter to be rather annoying. That said, there are moments of pure genius on here, especially on "Runaway," "All Shook Up" and "Suspicious Minds."

Janove Ottesen - Francis' Lonely Nights: Released back in 2004, just as his band Kaizers Orchestra was making waves in their native Norway, this is the lead singer's only solo record. One place where most solo albums go wrong is that they end up being a lesser version of the band's output. Janove wisely avoids this pitfall by not attempting to sound like the band. Perhaps the most obvious difference is that he sings in English on this album, but beyond that, it's completely void of the Dark Cabaret influences of Kaizers Orchestra.  With the exception of the first three tracks which feel like a stab at BritPop, the album takes on a more subdued singer songwriter mood, comparable to other Scandinavian acts like Sivert Hoyem and Johnossi. It's not without its flaws, but once it gets going, it's a pretty damn fine record. "Forget About Me," "Go Tell Her," and "Down to the Vertigans" are standout tracks, but "Neighbour Boy" is the really remarkable song on here. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fiction Friday (26)

Last month I happened to be Austin, Texas on the day that the third book in the Middle Grade series Wildwood came out, and by good luck, Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis were making an in-store appearance at a local independent shop. Having been a long time fan of Colin's band The Decemberists, I eagerly read the first two wonderful books in the series and couldn't wait for the new one which would wrap up the first saga in this peculiar world. I finally finished reading it this morning and it was a fantastic piece of storytelling.

Wildwood Imperium by Colin Meloy
(Harper, 2014)

The third book in the Wildwood series is arguably the best of the three, which is saying a lot considering the first two were near flawless. But in this concluding chapter of the story that began three years ago with the first novel, Colin Meloy truly hits his stride, cementing himself as one of the finest storytellers of his generation.

The story opens with the main characters scattered throughout the various locations in the city of Portland and sections Impassable Wilderness where they each had been left at the end of Under Wildwood. Several months have passed, and many changes have taken place within the province of South Wood following the revolution orchestrated by Prue and Curtis in the first novel. Though things seem to have returned to a sense of normality, disruptive forces are at work under the surface, and once again the children are tasked with setting things right.

Several story lines are at work in this novel, from the battle in the Industrial Wastes and Prue's quest to find the other Maker in order to fulfill the Council Tree's prophecy, to Curtis's search for the Missing bandits and the return of the Dowager Governess trying to complete her dastardly plan from the first novel. Needless to say, there is a lot of story happening in these 580+ pages, and somehow all of them manage to be perfectly paced and woven together to deliver a unforgettable climax and remarkably executed conclusion to the entire saga.

These books are destined to become classics, read for generations.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Walking Dead Strikes Again!

All season long, The Walking Dead has been a show that never ceases to deliver quality writing, acting, and story week after week. As the fourth season quickly nears its end, the show seems to be hitting its creative high, which is pretty incredible as it has managed to improve every season. That said, last week's episode was on a whole other level, easily ranking among the best in the series.

The episode finally returned to Carol and Tyreese, and the three children in their care after the fall of the prison. It had a been a few weeks seen we'd seen them, and as they continue their journey to Terminus, the group seems to be holding up well, having grown closer, almost like a family. This is never a good sign for characters on the show. As soon as level of comfort begins to settle in, you can expect things to go downhill. From the opening few scenes, I was waiting for the inevitable to happen...but NEVER did I expect what actually happened to happen.

Since the two sisters, Lizzie and Mika, first appeared on the show in the Fall, there was something worrisome about the older little girl. Lizzie couldn't seem to accept the zombies for what they were, and her reluctance to do so has caused some disruptions throughout. Having spent enough time in the past studying mental illness, I was able to recognize some of the signs in the character, that she had some sort of disorder that was going untreated in this new post-apocalyptic world they inhabit. In this episode, the show portrayed the consequences of this in a deeply dramatic way.

The emotional pull of this episode was devastating, and was perhaps one of most moving episodes I've ever seen in any show. About half way through, I expected at least one of the sisters wasn't going to make it to the end, but I never expected that both would die, and certainly never would've guessed they would die in the shocking ways in which they did. Every performance was amazing, but Carol's tortured performance was truly outstanding in the most dramatic turn events since her own daughter's death in the second season. By the end of the episode, I was left absolutely speechless. Everything was handled with such care and sensitivity that it really was a crowning achievement for a show that just continues to astound. Bravo!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup (The Singles Edition)

Every once in a while I like to do a list containing only singles or EPs as I've always been a fan of collecting these oft unappreciated gems. Frequently I find some of a band's best songs end up as B-Sides because they are songs not particularly meant for the mainstream album market. They are songs where the artist is willing take more chances and songs that are meant more for devoted fans than for the casual listener. Given that I was entirely too busy this week, today felt like a good time to go through some of the singles that have been waiting their turn for The Singles Edition to come around again. Most of these are from last year, with a few older ones thrown in for fun. Enjoy!

Okkervil River - Golden Opportunities 3: One week before Christmas the Austin folk rock band released the third EP in this ongoing series of oddities and live performances that began in 2007. This one features all covers of mostly 80's radio hits. One of the key features to any release of covers is making interesting choices, and they make great ones here, choosing songs that are way out of their norm and making them feel new. "Give Me the Night," "Money Changes Everything," and "The End of the Innocence" are  all fantastic. All three EPs in the series are available for free download on the band's website. 
The Dead Weather - Open Up (That's Enough): It had been three years since we'd heard any new music from the Jack White/Alison Mosshart fronted rock band until this single came out in late December. Having thought that perhaps the band had disappeared the way Jack's other project The Raconteurs seems to have, I was thrilled to have these guys back. The A-Side is a pounding blues rock number led by Alison's screech and contains their signature dangerous vibe. The B-Side, "Rough Detective" is a Jack led track with a garage rock feel. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to an album sometime this year.

Manic Street Preachers - You Love Us: The second single released from the Cardiff band's 1992 debut album "Generation Terrorists" is one of the band's boldest attitude statements. Being a huge fan, I was absolutely over the moon to find the Limited Edition 12" gatefold issue of this during my record search in Austin, and for only $3. Besides the brash A-Side, the single includes their amazingly on target cover of the GnR classic "It's So Easy."

Sic Alps - She's on Top: This 12" was released last May by the San Fran lo-fi indie band. I had expected it to be followed by another wonderful full-length, but that has yet to happen. Over the past few months the title track has grown on me to become one of my favorite songs of last year. It just has that magical blend of garage tone and energy. The two B-Sides are pretty good, too. If this is any indication, their next album will be their best to-date.

Mapei - Don't Wait: Back in 2009 Mapei released her phenomenal hip-hop debut EP "Cocoa Butter Diaries" that went criminally unheard. Then she vanished for the next four years until this single dropped last Fall and blew up online. I have to admit that I was disappointed that she has seemingly abandoned her unique hip-hop style, but after hearing this soulful dance number I can understand why. Despite the style change, it's not at all generic, still holding onto that deeply personal touch that made her first debut stand out. I can't wait for a full length album to finally emerge. She really is positioned to become the next Lauryn Hill.

Elliot Smith - Alternate Versions from Either/Or: Released in the Fall of 2012, this four track EP contains four alternate takes of songs found on the late singer songwriter's 1997 album. Though the versions aren't that terribly different, mostly just mixed slightly differently, with the exception of "Punch and Judy" which is an entirely different version, it's still worth it just to hear the songs remastered for maximum clarity. It's hard to believe it's been over ten years since his death, yet his songs still feel as contemporary and important as ever.

The Flaming Lips - 2nd Cassette Demo: This twenty year demo tape from the psychedelic rock band's early days was pressed on vinyl and released in December. Recorded in 1983, it shows the band's post-punk roots, sounding eerily like The Cure's "Three Imaginary Boys" or Joy Division. There's something wonderful about hearing this side of the polished band. "Flaming Lips Theme Song" is fantastic, and could've been an alt rock hit in the mid-90s. 

Generation X - Dancing with Myself: On a west coast shopping trip two year back, I picked the 12" vinyl version this new wave classic. The Billy Idol fronted band was the pop face of punk in the late '70s and this 1980 track put him on the fast track to success. I love this song, it was impossible to turn down this great cover art.

Dwarves - Fake ID, Bitch: The provocative punk band has been putting out albums since the mid-80s and when I came across this limited edition 2011 seven inch in L.A.'s Amoeba Records a few years ago, I snatched it up. Not to mention the far more interesting title, it contains an extra track not included on the "Fake ID" single. All the songs are full-on garage punk and quite good. Definitely a nice addition to my collection.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Who Did What Now?

Nearly everything I've written in the last fifteen years has been in first person. There has been the rare occasion where I've experimented with third person, to varying degrees of success, but I've always found it difficult to express character in a powerful way through the third person structure. Given that most of my stories are character driven, it naturally seemed sensible to stay in the first person.

The last few days I've been working more on the Werewolf story I mentioned two weeks ago. After reviewing the the chapters I'd written three years ago in order to get a sense of where I wanted to go with the rewrite, I realized one of the things that was getting in the way of the story was the character's voice. I had been trying to make him come to life, and by doing so, it was taking away from the plot, which for the first time in a long time, is the center of what I trying to relay. So in response, when I started over, I began the narrative in third person.

The adjustment has been interesting, and a bit of a learning-on-the-job project. It's out of my normal comfort zone, but so is the story in a way, so I think it might work out. Either way, I'm enjoying the task. Everyone once in a while it's good to test yourself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Goonies Rule!

One of my favorite new shows of this past year has been The Goldbergs on ABC. The first few episodes were promising, if not overly hilarious, and it has really gained momentum as the season progresses. One of the things that really appeals to me is that main character, Adam, is in the same age range that I was in the 80's when the show takes place, and in a similar Philly suburb setting like the one I grew up in. There was a great episode about him trying to outgrow his toys, which included a collection of Transformers and G.I.Joe figures that resembled my own. Another caught the experience of going to a video store to perfection.

Last week's episode paid homage to one of my favorite movies from my childhood, The Goonies. As I should have suspected, it is also one of Adam's favorites as well. It was a great tribute not only to the movie, but to the way we all would act out our favorite movies or TV shows as children. It was incredibly fun, and that's one of the things that's enjoyable about the show, the way it doesn't take itself too seriously and allows the story to simply be fun.

Though the spirit of the show is quite different, it reminds of The Wonder Years in some ways. It's told by the main character looking back on his childhood, but definitely focuses more on the comical side. Also, one of the things of The Wonder Years that really grabbed me when it aired was that Kevin was always in the same grade as me. When it debuted, I was the same age as him, and so it was always relevant to my life. The Goldbergs is the similar in that Adam is the age I was when it takes place. I can't help but wonder if the show has the same appeal to someone much older or younger, but in the end, I'm just glad it speaks to me.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

It was an especially slow week for new releases, which led me to delve into stored albums that have been waiting to be heard. This isn't a bad thing as I've built up quite a large backlog of tunes. Of course, that didn't stop me from tracking down some things from my even larger wishlist. Basically I have a music addiction problem that hopefully I'll never be cured of. Once again, the list represents the warming weather and my warming mood. Lots more upbeat stuff on here, though the cloudiness lingers on some days and calls for a lapse back into a winter phase. Hopefully you'll all find something on here worth checking out. Enjoy.

Karen O. - At Home: This bootleg of 2006 home recordings emerged a few years ago and features a bare bones intimacy from the Oscar nominated Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer. I've always enjoyed the quiet songs she did for Where the Wild Things Are and Her, so this was a nice find. The album is pretty much what one might expect from home recordings, very subtle and wandering acoustic pieces, but there's a fragile beauty to them that feels more like early Cat Power than anything by YYY. All but two songs are untitled, adding to their sense of incompleteness. These songs were obviously never meant to be released, but in a way, that's what makes them so personal and moving. It's the kind of album to listen to in the dark while allowing it to inspire your dreams.

Black Lips - Underneath the Rainbows: The Atlanta garage rockers are set to release their first album in three years in March and it's a welcome return. After some rambling records, this one has the fun feeling of their early work. They have always been able to stay true to the classic style of '60s garage rock, but unlike some other bands like The Makers, they always seem to add a contemporary angle to the songs, especially when they infuse elements of the blues into their work, like on the fantastic "Boys in the Woods." In addition, "Funny," "Do the Vibrate," and "Dandelion Dust" are real stand out tracks. Should be a great album for early summer.

Elf Power - Sunlight on the Moon: One of the founding bands in the Elephant 6 collective, Elf Power released their first album nearly 20 years ago. Released last year, this is the Athens GA band's twelfth album of lo-fi psychedelic pop. The album is very reminiscent of their early albums, recorded instrument by instrument in some cases, with lyrics taking shape over time. Though they share similarities with other Athens Elephant 6 bands, most notably Neutral Milk Hotel, their sound is more in line with Guided By Voices, having the same sort of roughness around the edges with beautiful harmonies floating through. This is one of the albums that should have received some of my attention in gathering the best of last year, but alas it was missed. Another fantastic record for the coming warm weather. "A Grey Cloth Covering My Fact," "Darkest Wave" and the title track are among my favorites.

Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action: Another album that slipped past me back in 2013 was this, the fourth album from the Scottish indie dance rock band. Four years passed between 2009's "Tonight" and this record and it seems the band decided to take a step back in that time, returning to the high tempo sound of their first two records. I thoroughly enjoyed the more experimental turn on their last album, but it's nice to hear this energy from them again. This is a fun record, even if there's nothing groundbreaking on here. "Stand on the Horizon," "Evil Eye," and "The Universe Expanded" are among my favorites.

Woven Bones - In and Out and Back Again: Released in 2010, this is the only full-length album from the Austin based garage rock band to date. I sought this out this week after reading how their name was inspired by the act of crossing one's fingers for good luck, and then seeing the wonderful album art. There's a frantic energy to their sound that reminds me of Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps. This is classic psychedelic garage stuff, with a darkness creeping into the driving beat the way it did on early 13th Floor Elevators songs. "Creepy Bone" and "Blind Conscience" are my personal favorites on here. 

Jack White and the Bricks - Live On The Garden Bowl Lanes: Recorded live in Detroit way back in 1999, this short-lived band also included Brendan Benson on guitar. This was issued on vinyl last year by Third Man Records as part of their "Vault Package" program. What's amazing about this is that it includes songs that wouldn't show up for a few more years on White Stripes albums, including "Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground," "Union Forever," and "The Same Boy You've Always Known." It also includes songs that were frequent mainstays at White Stripes shows like Dylan's "Isis" and the redone folk classic "Black Jack Davey." As is to be expected from a live recording of a band that barely existed, recorded in a bowling alley (lanes 11-14), the quality is rough, but the energy more than makes up for it. It really captures the live experience of whenever Jack puts on a show. Definitely a must for fans.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

When Characters Get ANGRY!

One of the trickiest things to deal with sometimes is the strong emotions of a character. It's easy to get their words out in these situations, but harder to relay their actions. The problem is that writing is a controlled medium, and having to express uncontrolled rage can be difficult within the confines of language. 

I'm dealing with a lot of this in the manuscript I'm currently working on. Tensions run high in the story and I find myself consistently tangled in the frustrations of my characters. And though I do have ways of showing these feelings that I've developed over the years, I try my best not to revert to old habits that simply say things that I've already said. 

The art of anger is subtle, despite the action being very primal.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Walking Dead

With the return of The Walking Dead, television has gotten a lot better over the past month. We are now four episodes into the world after the fall of the gang's potential prison paradise and the shocking half-season conclusion. I have to admit, I was a little miffed by the first episode last month which followed Rick and Carl as they left the ruins of the prison. Though I enjoyed the depth and care their changing relationship was given, I couldn't help thinking it didn't need to be an entire episode. Then we were given episodes which followed other characters, and the scope of this new chapter began to take shape for me. 

While the last two half-seasons have been focused on advancing the bigger plot leading to a major climax, we're now building again on something new. And though the larger storyline hasn't been advanced much in these last four episodes, there have been hints of something important to come. In the meantime, we've been getting wonderful episodes showing how the characters have grown and changed. We see Carl becoming stubborn and independent, Rick adjusting to failure, and we've seen Michonne's venerable side. Most recently we got to see the most in depth portrait of Daryl yet to be seen, something that was sorely needed after being a badly neglected character in the first half of this season. 

The show's ability to explore many different ways of storytelling has always been one the aspects that make it one of the best shows on television. It's a show that is not afraid to take chances, and because of that, avoids the formulaic dullness that plagues so much of the airwaves. Once again, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

This week I was a bit all over the place in my musical taste. There were a couple of new releases that I felt compelled to check out, as well as some bootlegs that caught my eye. The range of styles spans the spectrum, leaving the Roundup with no definitive feel this time around. One thing I did notice was as the seasons are beginning to change, I'm moving more and more into spring music, which includes more sunshine within its soundscapes. Perhaps my favorite album of the week is the one that comes from a parallel universe. Not only is the music fantastic, but the story attached to it has occupied a good portion of my imagination over the past several days. Enjoy.

Guided by Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit: After taking a long hiatus in the middle of the last decade, the kings of lo-fi have been busier than ever lately. Released this past month, this is their fourth album in the past two years. Unlike the previous ones, this album took a listen or two to grow on me. At first it seemed a little flat, but it just took a minute for the garage chaos to sink in. As with most of their albums this is a collection of very short songs that flow into each other to create a singular trip. Perhaps not as good as some of their more recent work, but still quite worthwhile.  "Child Activist," "Jupiter Spin," and "Zero Elasticity" are the songs that really stand out to me. 

The Myrrors - Burning Circles in the Sky: This 2008 debut from Phoenix based psychedelic rock band came recommended to me by my cousin, and rightfully so. It's fantastically ethereal, harkening back to '60s post-Barrett era Pink Floyd, but also contemporary psych rock bands such as Dead Meadow. The compositions ramble into sonic soundscapes, especially on the stellar 16 minute closer "Mother of All Living." This is that perfect album to help make the transition from winter to spring music and I've been loving it. 

Lana Del Rey - Young Like Me: The other week, this bootleg showed up online featuring mostly unreleased acoustic songs. It's unclear when these date from, but there is an obvious demo feel to them, with the exception of the great upbeat "C-Note 1.0," "Heavy Hitter," and a version of "Diet Mountain Dew." And though I love the produced style of her last album, it's nice to hear her voice on these sparse tracks. There's a vulnerability to her voice that is striking, and moving. They sound like quiet bedroom recordings that were probably never intended to be heard, but most of them are quite good.  "You, Mister," "Junky Pride," and "Move" are wonderful.

The Beatles - Everyday Chemistry: This artifact was brought to Earth in 2009 by a man claiming to have traveled to a parallel universe where The Beatles never broke up, and continued recording music. He successfully smuggled this mythical Fab Four album back with him. These 11 songs essential amount to a a mash-up compiled from solo work by the former Beatles. But they are mixed together to create such a keen melody and sound that they not only feel like new songs, but actually like Beatles songs. It's not impossible to believe this could have been an album recorded by the Beatles in the mid-70s. Had they not broken up, those bits and pieces that ended up in solo work, would have found an outlet somewhere. This is an incredibly fun album and I've been addicted to it all week. "Talking to Myself," "Saturday Night," and "Days Like These" are simply brilliant.

Bear Hands - Distraction: It's been four years since the Brooklyn indie band's debut and they finally returned with a new record last month. Their sound is very NYC indie rock with twang guitar and driving rhythm section that keeps things going. The problem with them is that they still haven't figured out a way to stand out from the dozens of bands doing the same sort of thing. There's moments where they show potential to break out, like on "Bad Friend," but the album never fully develops into anything terribly special.

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Shady Grove: Recorded in 1969, this is the second album from the San Fran psychedelic rock band. Having always been a fan of the late '60s rock scene of that city, this was one of those bands that was noticeably missing from my catalog until I picked this up on vinyl a few weeks ago. Like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, there is a heavy drug influence to their warped interpretation of folk into psych rock. It's a little uneven, but there are moments that seem to warrant their inclusion in the movement. They are most comparable to H.P. Lovercraft in my opinion, though they take a more drifting approach to their songs, like in the wonderful "Flute Song," or a southern country influence on songs like "3 or 4 Feet From Home." A nice addition for any fans of the genre.

Curren$y - The Drive in Theatre: In the last 11 years, the New Orleans rapper has released 39 albums though only a few have been official releases, the rest have been online mix-tapes available free of charge. This new mix-tape showed up two weeks ago under his alias Spitta Andretti. Throughout the album, snippets of The Godfather trilogy show up, though the songs don't take a particularly gangster feel. As with most of his music, he talks about the things that interest him, from making money, to driving fast cars, and smoking lots of weed. Unlike some other hip-hop artists who try to push their music, or attempt to keep up with trends, Curren$y seems content with sticking to the game he plays so well. Laid back beats and his clever flow keep everything moving at a nice pace, but it does feel as though we've heard all of this from him before. "Fo," "The Usual Suspects," and "Godfather 4" are the true stand out tracks on here. Not essential if you have a good amount of his work already, but if you don't, you'll certainly enjoy this.