Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup (Best of this Half-Done Year)

It was another slow week for new releases, and though I listened to a lot of new stuff there was little I felt compelled to share. So rather than write about albums that only seemed to touch me in passing, I decided to recap my favorite 2014 releases of the far. I know that people don't get to visit every Sunday, and may have missed a few highlights. Also, it's nearly the half way point of the year, so it's always good sort out my thoughts as I do every mid-summer. I always enjoy looking at this post in December and seeing what has stuck with me, and what fell off in favor of Fall releases. But even if none of these albums stick around for the end of year (highly unlikely), you can't go wrong checking out these albums. The reviews are the ones I previously wrote for the Roundup, with a few possible additions. Albums are listed in no particular order. Enjoy.

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. 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.

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence: Lana's follow-up to her stunning 2012 Born to Die album. This album is stunning in so many ways. There's a tragic beauty to every song, reminiscent of "Dark Paradise." Gone are the uptempo, trip-hop influences that dominated much of her last album, which might have actually been my favorite part of that album. But as soon I began to listen to this one, it didn't take long before I didn't miss that aspect of her style. There's an incredible richness to the music on this album, mixing slowcore and jazz elements, creating a mood that feels like a Mazzy Star album if it were produced for a David Lynch film. A lot of people have complained that the songs all kind of sound the same, but I disagree. They are certainly connected, but not replicated. And perhaps it might grow boring over time, but for now it simply sounds hypnotic and brilliant. There are too many great songs on here to pick favorites, but I suppose "Cruel World," "Sad Girl," "West Coast," and the title track stand out for me. The digital release contains three tracks not included on the physical releases.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything: The seventh album from the Montreal post rock band is the follow-up to 2010's Kollaps Tradixionales, and the first 2014 release that I listened to. It has the grand scope I've come to expect from them and reminds me of the more introspective parts of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. This album is a journey that one must commit to in order to appreciate. I have no problem making that commitment. "What We Love Was Not Enough" is perhaps the most brilliant song on this wonderful album.
Warpaint - Warpaint: An L.A. based dream pop band, this is Warpaint's second record. It's ethereal sound, with psychedelic undertones, works beautifully with the vocals to give the entire thing the feeling of listening to a dream. They manage to capture the effortless appeal of The XX and Mazzy Star, while adding a hint of Joy Division eeriness. "Feeling Right," "CC," and "Son" are my favorites in this atmospheric masterpiece. The rare sort of album that can work for early morning, late night, or any time in between. It always seems to match my mood. 
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots: The first proper solo album from the legendary Blur, Gorillaz, and The Good, The Bad, and The Queen frontman. Though he's released several soundtracks, two operas, and an awesome album of demo sketches, this is really his true debut solo record and it's pretty spectacular. The songs on here represent the softer, more personal side that he's always shown here and there in his other bands. With each listen, I love this album more. There isn't a single bad song on here, once again proving that Damon is one of the best songwriters of his generation. "Hollow Ponds," "Lonely Press Play," "The Selfish Giant," and the title track of among my favorite.
Big Blood - Fight for Your Dinner Vol. 1: The Portland, Maine freak folk band's eighteenth full length album, all of them from the last decade. Their unique blend of psychedelic folk has propelled them near the top of my list of best bands currently around. This is another stellar performance, sounding like an artifact from an alternate reality where phonographs and traveling oddity shows still reign supreme. Fun interludes of wrong number answer machine recordings and one of a child making a mix tape in the 80's add to the surreal aspect of the record. "Well Water Pt. II," "Song for Herb," "2+2=? (The Bob Seger System)" and the title track are among the best. (Their second album of the year was the one new album from the past week that I to come new week)

Sivert Höyem - Endless Love: Since the demise of Madrugada, Sivert Höyem has been better than ever. On his fifth solo album, 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.

Neil Young - A Letter Home: For the second time in two years, Neil has released an album of all covers. Crazy Horse rejoined him for his previous covers album of old-timey Americana folky tunes, but this time he is flying solo. Recorded in the lo-fi studio Jack White built inside a telephone booth, the very nature of the production of this album creates the illusion that it's a very old piece of vinyl. Some have said it's gimmicky, but I actually love the crackle quality...and it's not really gimmicky if the effects are a natural result of the recording process. Anyway, on this record, Neil covers songs that inspired him early on, and even later in his career. His voice is vintage Neil, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and the occasional piano. My favorites include "Needle of Death," "Girl From North Country," "On the Road Again," and "If You Could Only Read My Mind." This is a must for fans. 
Robert Ellis - The Lights from the Chemical Plant: This is the second album from Robert Ellis. 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. I've really been loving this as the weather gets warm. 

Noah Gundersen - Ledges: This is the first full length album from the Seattle singer songwriter. 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 Black Angels - Clear Lake Forest: The Austin neo-psychedelic band released this 7 song EP on colored vinyl for Record Store Day, their first release since last year's Indigo Meadow. Since their 2006 debut, they have released four consistently good rock albums that are just the right blend of psychedelic and garage. This is no different, and is perhaps their freshest sounding release in years. There isn't a bad song on here, but "Linda's Gone" is perhaps the most interesting and different from the rest of their catalog.
Songs: Ohia - Journey On: Nearly a year to the day after Jason Molina's untimely death, this box set of five 7" records was released for Record Store Day. It includes 18 brilliant songs collected from singles released during the contemporary folk band's nearly 20 year career. Now that Jason has passed, his songs have even more of a haunting feel than they've always had. In many ways, he was a modern day Neil Young, writing songs of incredible beauty and emotion that have an immediate connection. Every song on here is unforgettable. It's truly a wonderful release to honor a songwriter whom I dearly miss. If you don't know the band, or Jason's other work in Magnolia Electric Co. then this would be a great place to start. Or, if like me, you are quite familiar, then this is a fantastic way to celebrate his tragic career.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fan Letter and the Logic of Children

There are few aspects of my job that I enjoy more than getting letters from children, especially ones that capture that strange and wonderful way in which they see the world. The one pictured above is from a first grader and manages to do just that, not only in the drawing, but also in the body of the letter. The drawing shows her seated at a school desk while her imagination is lost in visions of pirates, who oddly enough remind me of Howard the Duck. As great as that picture is, my favorite part is what is written on the bottom right corner.

As if the two arrows weren't enough, she wrote "go this way" above them. And just in case it wasn't clear what "go this way" meant, she added a third arrow letting me know the phrase pertained to the first two arrows. There was an obvious sense of anxiety that I wouldn't turn the page over, clearly shown in the care taken in writing "go this way" which is the neatest printing on the page. This is what I mean about children having a different perspective on the world. Any adult knows that an arrow on the bottom of a page means to turn it over, but to a child, this is a new concept, and perhaps a concept that isn't widely known by the reader, and there is a worry that I would never see the very important information on the back:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Little Snow Fairy Sugar (Episodes 1&2)

It seems time once again for me to start a viewer guide of an anime series, which I haven't done since the Legend of Korra. This time around, I'm choosing Little Snow Fairy Sugar, a show that I began watching before it ever made over her to the states. After it aired in Japan in 2001, I bought the first season in Japanese and watched it with subtitles. This time around, I'm watching the English dubbed versions, which thankfully keep the personalities consistent. Sometimes the dubbed versions inflect unnecessary attitude into the voices to make them more "American" and it really annoys me. I'm happy to say that Sugar and Saga are spared that fate.

The story opens without a ton of exposition, jumping right into the life of Saga, a determined eleven year old girl in a small town in Germany. Saga is an organized girl who has her days planned out to the minute. She knows exactly when she will meet her friends, where they will eat, when she'll be home, and what she will do in the time before dinner. In the first episode she is a lot like Alice's White Rabbit, always running around and seemingly late. The last thing a preoccupied eleven year old needs her in life is a curious little fairy apprentice with little or no regard for her complicated plans.

The two main characters meet on a rainy afternoon. Saga ducks for cover on the side of a building and spots the strange creature groaning with hunger. Both characters are surprised that Saga can see Sugar the Snow Fairy, but while it thrills the younger Sugar, it disturbs Saga. She spends much of the day pretending it is her imagination, worried she has a fever that is creating the illusion. She soon discovers that ignoring the tiny menace that is Sugar isn't as easy as she thinks.

There are a few angles that will guide Little Snow Fairy Sugar throughout the story and build into something bigger. In the second episode we learn that Sugar has a mission in the human world. All fairy apprentices must plant their magic seeds, capture "twinkle", and watch the seeds bloom. Sugar's friends Salt and Pepper are also in the human world, and it is through them and their interaction with Sugar that she is truly defined as the lovable flake that Saga is getting to know. It's not all fairies that are so chaotic, just Sugar. Which makes her the perfect odd couple match for Saga, because as it turns out, Sugar's seed has begun to sprout inside Saga's bedroom, meaning Sugar is there to stay.

Because Saga is the only who can see or hear Sugar, the relationship quickly becomes problematic. With Sugar refusing to leave her alone, school is a disaster and all of her carefully laid plans for after school go up in flames. Saga becomes a girl with a burden, one that starts as an annoyance, but seems to slowly be growing into one of responsibility as the relationship between her and Sugar shows hints of a big sister/little sister dynamic, complete with the ups and downs that come with it.

Like all good anime, the show isn't flat. It has silliness, but combines those moments with bigger, more series elements. Also important for a animated show, the art is wonderful. Look for more to come when the bumpy ride continues as I make my way through all 24 episodes.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

After a steady stream of new releases, this was a slow week. Though there are a few 2014 releases on the list this time around, a good portion of Roundup this week is made up of albums that I've had laying around waiting for their moment in the sun. It's hard to find a theme here, but I suppose mostly it's made up of eclectic music with dark overtones. Perhaps that has to do with the two manuscripts I'm concurrently working on which both have dark overtones. As always, I find inspiration in music that seems to capture the mood that I'm attempting to capture in my writing. I don't typically find that type of inspiration in other books since I try never to write a book that feels like some other book. I'd rather my books feel like music, probably because many of my earliest desires to write came from songs that I was listening to rather than literature I was reading. Some very solid albums on here. Hopefully you'll find something new and interesting. Enjoy.

Radio Moscow - Magical Dirt: The fifth album from the Eureka, California heavy psych blues band came out this past week. I've been following this band for the past seven years and watched their sound grow from more classic rock influences into a heavier sound that seems to suit them well. This album, like all of their previous ones, certainly feels as if it could have been released in the mid-70's, standing nicely alongside Led Zeppelin, Mountain, and others. However, this record definitely feels more like it belongs in the here and now, with lots of other bands that have emerged since their debut. They have a great sense of the way blues melds with metal, and the gritty vocals match the pounding rhythms perfectly. "So Alone," "Sweet Lil Thing," "Gypsy Fast Woman," and "Stinging" are among my favorites. A must-have for any '70s rock enthusiast who swears that there hasn't been any good rock released since.

The Legendary Pink Dots - Dot-to-Dot: My continued love affair with this London neo-psychedelic experimental band was strengthened over the past few weeks as I added this 1988 live recording to my rotation. In the past year or so, the band has been releasing lots of archival recordings such as this through their Bandcamp page. Their description of this one says it was recorded on a cold night in February, it certainly has that kind of feel to it, capturing the madness of winter. It's hard to talk about songs with this band, and every recording feels like a unique translation. It's more the entire mood of the work that is striking. Listening to this album is like getting lost in my favorite kind of novel, like a Burroughs book complete with fairy tale horror elements. Their music is quickly becoming the soundtrack for the new draft of my Goblin Market manuscript.

Lissie - Cryin' to You: The newest EP from the Midwestern singer songwriter consists of five covers, with some surprising choices that yield remarkable results. Lissie has been releasing music for the past seven years, and I've enjoyed the handful of her work that I've listened to. She has a strong voice, though perhaps not the most unique. It doesn't strike you instantly the way, say Samantha Crain's voice does, but it's certainly appealing. This selection is helped by the choice to use that voice in songs you wouldn't expect. Covers of Danzig's "Mother" and Judas Priest's "Electric Eye" are fantastic reinterpretations that really stood out for me. One of these days I'm convinced Lissie will put out an album that will be truly unforgettable.

Joy Division - Still: About a year and a half ago, on a trip to Maine, I picked up a Factory Records first pressing this 1981 release which is more of a compilation than anything else, put out shortly after Ian Curtis's death. It features some the band's best early songs like "Ice Age," "Exercise One," "Walked in Line," and "Dead Souls" and also includes the band's last concert with Ian. For some, the 7+ minute version of "Sister Ray" is a highlight, but as for me, I purchased the vinyl in spite of that awful cover. I had waited so long to review this simply because it wasn't new to me. I've owned in on CD since my teen years, but having listened to the record again last night, it seemed like a good time to write about. There was a chaotic energy to Joy Division that always felt as if it might explode. A hint of danger lurks within each of their songs, giving them a truly original sound which is why they still prevail all of these year later. 

Luke Haines - New York in the '70s: The Auteurs, Baader Meinhof, and Black Box Recorder veteran released his eighth solo album last month and it's another theme album, which is quite obvious from the title. More than any of his previous albums, this album seems to pull in all of his various forms into one record. It opens with "Alan Vega Says," a song that would sound right at home on a Television Personalities album, and moves into "Drone City," which feels like an unreleased Suicide track and is most likely a homage to that band. The album explores many places and figures from the NYC punk underground scene, including the great "Doll's Forever" about the New York Dolls. Individually, any of these songs could've been found on a Auteurs record, or been the second Baader Meinhof release, having the same kind of elusive style that he does best. It's nice to see that Luke is back on top of his game.

Red Sparowes - At the Soundless Dawn: The 2005 debut from the L.A. post-rock band is a moody piece of atmospheric rock. The songs are quite long, including the 19 minute closer, giving them lots of room for exploration. I love the way their music ebbs and flows, building to powerful moments and then receding into drone elements. With song titles such as "A Brief Moment of Clarity Broke Through the Deafening Hum, But It Was Too Late," and "Alone and Unaware, The Landscape was Transformed in Front of Our Eyes," one might think the sound would be pretentious, but never is. If anything there's a beautiful honesty to it that makes it such a good listen. Like any atmospheric album, this is definitely one only when you are in the mood for it, but when that mood strikes, you could do far worse than Red Sparowes.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fiction Friday (30)

The latest book that I read is one that I received for Christmas that came off of my never-ending wishlist of books. This one comes from Robert Coover, a favorite author of mine ever since I fist read him many years ago. As one of the voices of Grove Press, which has long been home to many of my most treasured books, Coover is a pioneer that has never gained the kind of attention he deserves. The book reviewed below was published in the last ten years, and though it takes a different route than some of his earlier work, stands right alongside those that came before. There are few things I enjoy more than writers whose writing is a pleasure to read regardless of the story it is telling. Coover is one such author and I'm glad to share this one with all of you. Enjoy.

A Child Again by Robert Coover
(McSweeny's 2005)

The world of children's fables and fairy tales becomes fertile soil for nurturing Coover's imagination in this collection of short stories, which like the tales the derive from, examine many complicated aspects of the human condition in veiled and playful ways. Coover's prose, always worthy of praise, is in fine form here. He has a way of transforming the innocent into the perverse with a few beautifully worded and carefully placed phrases.

I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this book takes the reader on. From the opening page where we are introduced to Puff the Dragon, brooding in his cave and longing for the long lost boy who used to come to play with him, I knew this was going to be my kind of book. Many of the stories, including Puff's tale and the story of Alice going through menopause in the absurd landscape of Wonderland, deal with the conflicts that arise from growing up and feeling disconnected with the child you used to be. Not an easy theme to craft, but Coover does masterfully.

Other stories take a children's tale as way of discussing the horrible undercurrent that lies just under the surface of our society. As it has often been pointed out, a human community is a fragile eco-system and it would only take one interruption of routine to send it spiraling out of control. This idea is demonstrated with heartbreaking cruelty in the "The Return of the Dark Children" which details what happens to the town the Pied Piper left childless so many years before. The selfish nature of people, and their willingness to exploit others' ignorance, is incredibly captured in this story. In a similar vein, "Stick Man" examines how quickly human wonder can turn to boredom, which often turns to cruelty.

Though the themes are often weighty, the delight of Coover's work is his ability to inject humor into even the most awful circumstances. For example "The Last One", a retelling of one of the darkest fairy tales and also my favorite fairy tale, is one of the book's most playful while still staying true to the horrific nature of the original.

As with any story collection, there are stories that rise to the top and others that simply exist. There weren't any stories in here that I didn't like, though I did wish for more from the Little Red Riding Hood tale, which seems ripe for Coover but here felt somewhat restrained. All in all, this book is a true delight, and not mention one of the finest printed editions that I've seen for a book in quite some time.

Monday, June 16, 2014

What Happens When No One Believes....

Another J.J. Abrams produced show ended a short-lived life last night as Believe aired its series finale. After a string of intriguing long running shows, the creative force of J.J. Abrams seems to have fizzled, at least when it comes to the small screen. Believe, like the also canceled Revolution, began as a potential hit, with high viewership and a fascinating idea. But also like Revolution, the show ran out of steam, this type quite quickly.

The show suffered from a severe lack of plotting. After the first few episodes, the story seemed to go nowhere. The characters were simply running in circles, performing the same tasks they had in the episodes that preceded them. Unlike Fringe or Lost, which dealt with ever increasing plot lines that built momentum, Believe felt as though it was entirely based one idea which unfortunately wasn't enough to sustain a series. 

This is one of those shows that would have made a potentially brilliant mini-series. Instead they tried to stretch out the idea, adding this one-person-saved-per-week formula which got tiring really soon. After several episodes, it felt like the characters had nothing to do, often repeating the same lines week after week. The one highlight from show has to be it's two stars, Jake McLaughlin and Johnny Sequoyah. When they were on screen, the show was worth watching. 

The one positive thing about the show's ending was that either they had enough time to know it wasn't coming back, or else they just didn't have a vision for future seasons because the end felt like an end. An entertaining show that may have lasted longer back in a time before television shows had pushed the envelope and viewers expected less.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Here we are again, and this week brought with it a handful of exciting new releases. But this is not another list of all 2014 albums. I took some time this week to catch up on a few albums that had been on my wishlist for a long time but that I haven't had the chance to track down until now. Like last weekend, this is another rock heavy assortment. It's that time of the year, I suppose. But these aren't really traditional rock albums, many have mixed influences that makes them all feel as if they belong to a wide range of sub-genres. This week also brought along at least one album that I'm already positive will be on my best of the year list. Hopefully there is something for everyone. Enjoy!

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence: Due out this week is Lana's follow-up to her stunning 2012 Born to Die album. This is perhaps the album I've been most looking forward to this year and I'm happy to say it more than lives up to my expectations. This album is stunning in so many ways. There's a tragic beauty to every song, reminiscent of "Dark Paradise." Gone are the uptempo, trip-hop influences that dominated much of her last album, which might have actually been my favorite part of it. But as soon I began to listen to this album, it didn't take long before I didn't miss that aspect of her style. There's an incredible richness to the music on this album, mixing slowcore and jazz elements, creating a mood that feels like a Mazzy Star album if it were produced for a David Lynch film. I've read a lot of people complain that the songs all kind of sound the same, but I disagree. They are certainly connected, but not replicated. And perhaps it might grow boring over time, but for now it simply sounds hypnotic and brilliant. There are too many great songs on here to pick favorites, but I suppose "Cruel World," "Sad Girl," "West Coast," and the title track stand out for me. The digital release contains three tracks not included on the physical releases.

Paul Banks - Banks: Released in the Fall of 2012 was the Interpol singer's second solo album, the first being released under the name Julian Plenti. For whatever reason, this album sat unlistened to in my collection for a long time, but upon hearing that the band was recording again, I decided to catch up a little bit. Unlike the Julian Plenti material, this album very much feels like an Interpol album. But unlike a lot of solo albums from lead singers which feel as though there is something lacking, this album doesn't. Paul has always been the driving creative force in Interpol and was able to produce a record that feels just as layered as the band's. "The Base," "Arise, Awake," and "Paid for That" are standout tracks on an album that should definitely appeal to fans waiting for the NYC band's long delayed return.

Andrew Bird - Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of...; After putting out two albums in 2012, the Chicago singer songwriter took a short break before releasing this album last week. Much of this album was recorded in my neck of the woods last year when he played in Woodstock, and debuted a handful of the tunes on here. As with his 2012 releases, there is a Midwestern country folk feel to his typical baroque style, the combination of which is mesmerizing. "Giant of Illinois," "So Much Wine, Merry Christmas," and "My Sister's Tiny Hands" are my personal favorites at the moment. Once again, Andrew Bird has proven himself to be one the best songwriters of his generation.

Heavy Planet - Bong Hits from the Astral Basement Volume One: This blog compilation, featuring 61 tracks by 61 different stoner metal bands, came out last year and has been in my rotation for several months. Needless to say, with that many bands and that many songs, there is a ton of forgettable moments and it's highly recommended that listeners trim this down to a manageable length. But once the songs that don't appeal to you are weeded out, this is a tremendously brutal collection of predominantly unheard stoner rock bands. "Listen" by Gonzo Morales, "God Forsaken Prostitute" by Concrete Sun, and "Road to Burn" by 1000mods are my favorites, and truly not to be missed. Definitely worth checking out if you're into stoner metal.

The Icarus Line - Wildlife: This L.A. noise rock band has been among my favorites for the past decade, but this, their fourth album released in 2011, remained illusive to me until this week. It seems all of their albums go criminally unheard, but none more than this one. It has a mere six ratings on which only goes to document the forgotten status it maintains. Well let it be known that I will do my best to make it remembered. As with all of their records, they bring an L.A. sleaze attitude to their aggressive rock with brilliant results. Though there a lot of bands that I could compare The Icarus Line to, none really feel close enough. They are such a unique blend of punk, blues, and glam that they stand alone. Yet another stellar album from a band who may just have the best catalog of the last ten years. "We Want More," "Sin Man, Sick Blues," "King Baby," and "We Sick" are among the best on a album that blisters its way through from start to end.

Guano Apes - Offline: The sixth album from the German rock band that has been around for 20 years. They take their time between releases, averaging about three years between albums. The problem with this record is that it feels as though it could have come out 20 years ago. There is an omnipresent 90's alternative rock feel to the songs. It sounds a little bit like Garbage, with driving guitars and soaring vocals that apply some of the quiet-loud-quiet technique so popular in music two decades ago. The one thing that makes it somewhat redeeming is that they are all quality musicians, so it's not's just nothing special. "Numen" and "Fake" are the two most appealing songs, but neither are essential. This isn't really my genre, but fans of by-the-book alternative rock might find this appealing.

King Buzzo - This Machine Kills Artists: The first solo album from the Melvins frontman comes on the heels of two recent disappointments from the band. Because of that, I was weary of this record, though I should have known better than to doubt the King who influenced Kurt so strongly. This album is a pioneering attempt at folk punk with atonal acoustic guitar blended with King Buzzo's familiar growl. It's rare anymore that I hear something that feels new, but this is one of those records. Much like the death folk wave of several years ago, this album touches a nerve that hadn't yet been exposed. The only down side might be that, at times, it kind of feels like one song, with each leading seamlessly into the next. But it's a damn good vibe, so no real complaints here. "Useless Kings of The Punks," "The Blithering Idiot," "Illeagal Mona," and "Dark Brown Teeth" are among the standout tracks on album that Kurt might've made had he stuck around. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th Once Again...

The day of fear has come once more. A fluke of the calendar with no meaning other than a superstitious belief that terrifying things can happen when numbers and days align. It's time once again to lock your doors, stay inside, and imagine creatures of all kinds crawling in the shrubs outside of your house, because the interesting thing about Friday the 13th is that the myth that surrounds it is the very thing that achieves the desired effect. Though nothing may happen to you, the mention of the date flickers in the mind and causes you to ponder your fears, even if only for a passing second.

Over the past six months or so, I've become fascinated with Slender Man, the internet created paranormal being that lurks in the shadows, stalking his victims before torturing them in unspeakable ways. Of course, the recent news stories have propelled Slender Man into the spotlight, a place that I don't believe appeals to his nature. Who knows how he is likely react...perhaps he'll retreat back to wherever he came from, or maybe he'll go on a rampage, killing innocents by the dozens? 

Slender Man is the kind of horror one might imagine when alone among tall trees. Every little noise might inspire you to turn around as your heart skips a beat, expecting to find the unnaturally tall, thin man standing there, barely illuminated in the moonlight. His attachment to children, and the currently documented attachment he seems to have on their imagination, makes him all the more sinister. There is a part of me that believes that he will show today. If there were any day that seemed ripe for his announcement to the world, it's a dreary Friday the 13th. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Into the Woods

In case you missed it, this week's episode of Louie was essentially a short film, and brilliant in so many ways. The show abandoned its usual dark humor in order to portray a powerful and unexpected coming of age story when Louie discovers his 12 year old daughter smoking pot. From there, the episode flashes back to his own youthful experiences with the drug when he was his daughter's age. 

Louie's story captured the experience in a truly accurate and moving way. I've always believed that the drift into drug use as a young teen often springs from issues that are not located on the surface. From the eyes of the youthful user, it's simply something fun to do, a way to escape the boredom that seeps in once childhood fades. It's not usually until years later that one realizes there were deep rooted issues that were taking place which you weren't consciously aware of at the time. It's a self-medicating tool that manages to work to some extent. You make new friends, some of which you probably shouldn't. You have fun, some of which involves very poor decisions. But ultimately, it cannot be the answer for whatever is bothering you inside, and those problem are not going to go away. Eventually you need to deal with them, and hopefully the cure you sought won't have caused too many new ones.

The episode took on all of these complicated aspects of the decent into drug use in an intelligent and non-judgemental way. It showed things the way they really are without reverting to horror stories. But more importantly, it explored the parenting angle that goes with it. Especially today, more and more parents are going to have to deal with their child's drug use by viewing it through a mirror of their own. Decades ago, parents weren't necessarily coming from a point of experience. After an initial blow-up, Louie's character enters a stage of deep reflection, recalling the difficult years of transitioning from childhood to adulthood and comes to understand his daughter's choice. By the end he realizes that she is going through things that he might not fully be aware of, and instead of punishing her, simply tells her that he's there for her. 

Perhaps one of the best, and most worthwhile episodes on television this year.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the weekend, and what better way to welcome it in than with a fresh batch of brand-new music. Following the predominant trend of the last several weeks, this Roundup is dedicated entirely to 2014 releases, all of which have come out in the last few weeks, or will be coming out in the next week or so. There are many albums on here that I've been waiting for, and I haven't been disappointed by any of them. Some long-time favorites return, along with more recent favorites, and one new addition to my listening enjoyment. Except for one album on here, last week's folk binge has passed and it's time for summer rock 'n roll. This is the most solid crop of rock albums in some time, which pleases me. Hopefully you will all find something to groove to. Enjoy!

Jack White - Lazaretto: With his second solo album, the garage rock revival hero continues the musical exploration that began in the second half of the last decade. He doesn't reinvent the wheel on this record, instead choosing to put together all of his different periods into one monster album. There are songs on here, like "Temporary Ground," that sound like the country blues feel found on The White Stripes album Get Behind Me Satan. There are aggressive hard blues reminiscent of The Dead Weather, as on "The Black Bat Licorice," and love lost tunes like those done with The Raconteurs, such as "Would You Fight For My Love?". That doesn't mean this album feels old, or worn, but more like we're getting a new album by all three of his fantastic bands at once. "Entitlement," "Lazaretto," and "I Think I Found the Culprit" are my favorites for now.

Kasabian - 48:13: The neo-psychedelia UK indie rock group finally make their return this week with their first album in three years. The band's fifth record, named after its total running time, feels like a return to their early work. It is infused with a dance punk element that hung over their first two albums, once again bringing new energy to their music. The band has always had an attitude about them that they used to transform Britpop into something heavier and more aggressive, one of the ingredients that initially made them so appealing to me. But there's a maturity to this album, and it feels more layered and intricate. This is one of those rock albums that commands to be played at high volume. "Bumblebeee," "Stevie," and "Bow" are standout songs in my opinion.

First Aid Kit - Stay Gold: The third album from the Stockholm indie folk duo is due out this week, and it's a real treat. Picking up where 2012's The Lion's Roar left off, this album sees the band morph even further in their incorporation of Midwestern country folk. It sounds even more like Neko Case than their previous efforts, yet they manage to remain unique. This is one of those perfect summer albums, full of sunshine and warmth. "Master Pretender," "Stay Gold," and "Cedar Lane" are among my favorite tracks on a album that really deserves to be listened to as a whole. This album is almost certain to continue their climb into being recognized as one of the best acts around today. 

The Strypes - 4 Track Mind: After releasing their impressive debut last year, the young Irish lads followed up with this four song EP earlier this spring. Once again, they are fully committed to their mod revival sound. As they get a little older, they're getting even better. They recently opened for the Arctic Monkeys and it's obvious why. These four songs seem to fit right in with AM but with the rough edge that the Monkeys had when they were first starting out. "Hard to Say No" is a near perfect mod garage rock anthem, and "Still Gonna Drive You Home" is a bluesy delight. I really hope this band continues to improve and live up to all their potential just as their tourmates did almost a decade ago.

Jolie Holland - Wine Dark Sea: The contemporary folk singer songwriter from Brooklyn released her seventh album late last month and it's quite enjoyable. I have some of her earlier albums, and though there are always songs that I love, and though her unique old jazz voice is captivating, I've always found the albums to be uneven. This one feels as though it comes together more as a whole, and I appreciated that about it. She creates music that I wish Amanda Palmer would create, rather than just give the illusion of creating. There's a drunken eeriness about Holland's music that feels like Fionna Apple mated with early Tom Waits. "Saint Dymphna," "The Love You Save," "On and On," and "Dark Days" are among the strongest tracks.

Riff Raff - Neon Icon: The second proper release from the southern spring break rapper comes out later this month and there is certainly something addictive about it, and Riff Raff's infectious persona. I've listened to his work off and on ever since seeing Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers movie last year in which the James Franco character may or may not have been based on Riff Raff (the matter is currently one for the courts to decide). There is no debating that man has flow to spare. Like few rappers can, he can incorporate hard-hitting moments with humor. His style follows the current trend in Southern hip-hop, but he manages to bring something fresh to it. As with many hip-hop albums there seems to be a lot of filler on here, but the shining moments truly shine. "How to be the Man," "Wetter than Tsunami" and "Introducing the Icon" have been on heavy rotation for me and true gems.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Heading for the Texas Border

Last week I received a batch of letters from a 1st Grade classroom in Texas asking if I would Skype with them for their "Pirate Week." How many letters does it take for a writer to agree to do something like that? The answer is not very many. After reading two or three of them, I was instantly in a good mood. Letters from children are not only sincere and heartwarming, they are also funny. 

After some technical difficulties on Wednesday, I was finally able to "visit" with them this morning. The great thing about classroom visits, beside the obvious nudge to one's ego knowing that someone out there actually appreciates the work you do, is the enthusiasm of the kids. Though it was early in the morning, by my terms anyway, they were wide awake and eager to hear from me. And for all those people out there who don't believe teaching is one of the hardest jobs around, try spending five mornings a week with energetic six-year-olds and then tell me how easy you think it is.

The kids were great. I wore my pirate outfit, which I often wear for any visits concerning my Pirate School series. We talked about my own tendency to get icky-sicky on boats and my bossy older brother who inspired the know-it-all character. In turn they told me about cruises they'd been on and a particular bossy four year old younger sister. Yet another way in which the internet helps authors connect to their audience. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week has come and gone, so here I am once more with my thoughts on some music that has passed my way recently. Where as last week was a heavy dose of psych rock, this week finds me slipping back into quieter songs. There's no rhyme or reason for the sudden return of indie folk except that maybe most of listening time was in the morning this week and I do like me some folk sounds in the morning. As I'm oft of doing, the albums on this week's list have been my soundtrack for today. Though I had listened to all of these before, with one exception, I always find it nice to make the Roundup my Sunday soundtrack. There's some Record Store Day releases on here, a few rarities, and finally some more hip-hop. Enjoy!

Songs: Ohia - Journey On: Nearly a year to the day after Jason Molina's untimely death, this box set of five 7" records was released for Record Store Day. It includes 18 brilliant songs collected from singles released during the contemporary folk band's nearly 20 year career. Now that Jason has passed, his songs have even more of a haunting feel than they've always had. In many ways, he was a modern day Neil Young, writing songs of incredible beauty and emotion that have an immediate connection. Every song on here is unforgettable. It's truly a wonderful release to honor a songwriter whom I dearly miss. If you don't know the band, or Jason's other work in Magnolia Electric Co. then this would be a great place to start. Or, if like me, you are quite familiar, then this is a fantastic way to celebrate his tragic career.

Sea Wolf - Song Spells, No. 1: Cedarsmoke: The new album from the L.A. based indie folk band was sent out to Kickstarter supporters this month and will be made available to the public in June. It's the band's fourth album and their best since 2009. I've been a fan of this band since I saw their first video back in 2007. I remember loving the song, but finding the video hard to watch for some reason. But I bought the album anyway and was rewarded, and have been rewarded with each new release. Alex Brown Church never strays too far in terms of his style, and Sea Wolf consistently produces melodic poetry heavy with nature imagery and feelings of loss. "Whitewoods," "Bavarian Porcelain," "Cedarsmoke," and "The Water's Wide" are among my favorites.

Jordaan Mason - He Could Have Been a Poet or He Could Have Been a Fool: Over the last decade, having released albums under a variety of different project names, Jordaan Mason has become one of my favorite songwriters, and one of the most under recognized. Influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel, Jordaan explores the surreal elements of songs in his work. On this album, available on his Bandcamp page for a name-your-price download, he has decided make an album of covers that range from the complete unexpected to the somewhat more accepted. Being a sucker for covers albums, I couldn't wait to hear this. On his page, Jordaan explains that these songs are are all deeply personal to him and were recorded over a span of several years. As is to be expected, this is a series of bedroom type recordings that reinterpret songs from every genre into the kind of swirling lo-fi folk that Jordaan is known for. His voice is so unique and powerful that I could listen to him for hours. His version of Hole's "Asking for It" and The Smiths "Still Ill" are real standouts for me.

Mazzy Star - I'm Less Here: Following the L.A. dream folk band's unexpected return LP last year is this limited edition Record Store Day 7" inch release. The A-Side, and title track, has a bit more of an indie rock feel, at least as the guitar part goes. The upbeat strumming makes a nice backdrop for Hope's ghost dream vocals. This is a song that would feel right at home on any of their 90's albums. The B-Side, "Things" is very much a traditional Mazzy Star song, and perhaps feels more like a track that might have been left off their most recent album. As always, beautiful work.

Blue Sky Black Death with Deniro Farrar - Cliff of Death: The San Fran beat masters have always collaborated with various hip-hop artists to create some of the best albums in the genre. Back in 2012, they teamed up Deniro, a southern hip-hop rapper to create this EP. As with all Blue Sky Black Death releases, the music is hypnotically eerie, making for an excellent backdrop for hard core hip hop. They are easily the best since RZA at creating the beats for the genre and this is yet another quality addition to their catalog. Though not their most indispensable effort, the album keeps a nice vibe throughout and makes for a good listen. "Danger" and "Hold Me Down," which features the talents of Nacho Picasso, are my favorites.

Lana Del Rey - From the End: This bootleg EP showed up online several weeks ago in anticipation of the new album due out later this month. Like the companion EP released at the same time, Young Like Me, this is mostly a collection of scaled back acoustic demos that were probably never meant to be heard. They are quiet songs, which isn't exactly the thing that was so appealing about Born to Die but which does showcase her wonderful voice and intelligent lyrics. "Aviation," "Drive By" and "Bad Disease" are my personal favorites, and seem the most likely to become full-fledged Lana songs if given the right production. Not for everyone, but I always appreciate hearing an artist's less polished works, especially when they reveal a different side to the artist.