Sunday, September 28, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Warm weather has returned over the last few days, kicking up a renewed interest in ROCK music for me. Call it a last gas for the summer, but the Roundup is heavy on good old rock 'n roll this week, though none of it really sounds old at all, but rather belongs to the many sub-genres that now pollute the idea of categorization. Regardless, there's a number of albums this week that I'd been waiting to hear for a long time. Most of them were well worth the wait and a few definitely have the potential to end up on the best of the year list in a few months. Hopefully there will be a few things that interest you. Enjoy.

Electric Wizard - Time to Die: Due out this week is the new album from my favorite drone metal band. It's the band's first full-length album in four years and it's heavier than ever. Shrouded in fuzzy guitar and satanic drumming, this blissful noise washes over you like a storm cloud. This record definitely delves deeper into the heavy psych sphere of their last release, the Legalise Drugs & Murder EP. I like this course for them, it allows them to branch away from pure stoner metal riffs and explore a general sense of creepiness, of which these songs are full of. "Funeral For Your Mind," "I Am Nothing," and "Lucifer's Slaves" are incredible songs on an incredible album.

Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien: A little over a year since My Chemical Romance disbanded, and four years since their last recorded material, their lead singer has finally emerged with a debut solo album. I was nervous about this, as I always am when a singer releases an album after a band has broken up, but this album is fantastic. This is a rock album, with glam and noise rock influences, and everything just comes together very nicely. It doesn't really sound like MCR, but it doesn't really sound that different either. If anything it feels more natural and less manipulated, which is a good thing. There really isn't a bad song on here, and certainly no cringe moments. From beginning to end, it's pretty darn good, but "Get The Gang Together," "Zero Zero," and "Brother" are my personal favorites.

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz - Tyranny: The lead singer of The Strokes released this neo-psychedelic experimental album this past week with the help of a piecemeal group known as The Voidz. This is one of those textbook "side project" type album, steering well clear of the band's work and taking a direction that will no doubt confuse and upset fans of said band. This is definitely an interesting album, with lots of moments to love. It's very disjointed, though that is on purpose in order to utilize the glitch-pop sound, but it makes it difficult to settle into it. I definitely like it, a sort of punk version of prog, but I'm just not sure how often I will listen to it. "Human Sadness," "Where No Eagles Fly," and "Nintendo Blood" are the standouts for me.

The Growlers - Not. Psych!: I came across this psychedelic garage band the other week, having not heard of them before even though they've been putting out material pretty regularly since '09. Hailing from Long Beach, Cali, it has the kind of upbeat feel that I've come to expect from Southern California. There's a little surf rock vibe thrown, a little 60's folk feel, and a Flaming Lips weirdness. The elements all add up to a completely fun and intriguing little record. This came out last Fall, and they have new album which just came out. There's a lot of releases that I can't wait to explore. "Dogheart II," "Ol' Rat Face," and "Nobody Owns You" are my personal favorites. 

Mr. Gnome - The Heart of a Dark Star: The fourth album from the Cleveland indie rock band will be released this Fall, three years after their last record. A blend of psychedelic folk and indie pop, they manage to create a unique sound that is easy to listen to and easy to enjoy. At times they can sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and at other times like Big Blood. It's a pretty consistent album, but I guess I just wished it had more defining moments. Though it is definitely more of a Fall/Winter record, so my attitude towards it might change with the seasons. "Light," "Fools," and "Odyssey" are standout tracks.

The Fratellis - The Soul Crush EP: The Glasgow indie rock band treated fans with this three song EP earlier in the month. Following their return last year, these songs seem to go back to their roots, focusing more on the old school rhythm and blues that form the basis of their pub rock style. Had these been included on the last album, they would've easily been the three best songs, which gives me hope that now that they are back together, we can expect more greatness in the future.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fiction Friday (34)

A few weeks ago, I looked on my self of books to read and found that none in particular were jumping out at me. That was because I was specifically in the mood to read a book which I did not own. So the next time I was out near a bookstore, I simply purchased the book and began reading it. It was one I'd been meaning to read for two years. I'm happy to say the book lived up to my expectations and it certainly did feel like the right book for me at this time. Enjoy.

A Hero for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi
(Simon & Schuster 2012)

The second book in the WondLa series is as equally exciting and interesting as the first. When the story opens, Eva Nine is finally free of the troubles that followed her throughout the first book during her journey across the strange planet formerly known as Earth. Her renewed search for other surviving humans quickly comes to an end once she's picked up by an airship whose pilot's task is specifically to set out and retrieve children like Eva who were conceived and raised in underground Sanctuaries.

Eva is hopeful that New Attica, the human city founded by Cadmus, a futuristic survivalist of the grandest kind, will become her new home. Initially she is in awe of the city, and the quirkiness of its human inhabitants. In its sheltered existence, humanity seems to have evolved very little as the humans have been kept in the dark when it comes to the immense changes to the world, and to its new inhabitants. They live and act much like society today, without much ambition. Little-by-little, Eva grows disillusioned with New Attica and the ignorance of its people. Then she meets Eva Eight, her sister who had been raised in the same Sanctuary before Eva. Their meeting sets off a chain reaction of events that will put Eva on a course of trying to prevent the destruction of her world, which she now realizes isn't the Earth she'd grown up learning about.

At it's heart, this is a story about overcoming the fear of others and trusting the actions of people more than their words, or their appearance. The message is powerful, and never delivered in a heavy handed way. And there is certainly plenty of action to keep the pages turning. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. My only problem with it is same problem I often have with second books in a series, or books that fall in the middle of a larger story. This book feels like a bridge between two bigger stories. It is missing the wonderful sense of discovery from the first book, and lacks a decisive conclusion that I image will come in the next. But that is okay with me as long as the story keeps on going.

And as always, Tony DiTerlizzi's artwork is amazing.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

I'm beginning to feel spoiled lately with all the wonderful albums that have crossed my path in recent weeks. I can barely keep up with my listening as one anticipated release after the next begins to accumulate, waiting for me to find time to hear them all. With the quick and sudden return of autumn over the past weeks, my interest has once again turned to singer songwriter projects, heavy on folk inspirations. Most of this week's selections are albums I'd been waiting for, though there are a few surprises, things that crept up on me without any warning. Hopefully there is something here for everyone to be excited about. Enjoy.

Tweedy - Sukierae: This past week saw the release of one of the albums I'd been most anticipating this fall, the first solo record from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, with his teenage son on drums. Over the years, he's been one of most prolific and exceptional songwriters, both with Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, and he continues his incredible run with this fantastic album. Combining blues, indie rock, and alternative country, the songs are familiar and dynamic, but with a deeply personal touch that causes them to shine. "World Away," "High as Hello," "Low Key," and "Please Don't Let me Be so Understood" are among my favorites.

Moonface - City Wrecker: Last week, Spencer Krug released his fifth album under the Moonface moniker. This EP follows the four wonderful previous releases, and an entire catalog of fantastic music under various names (Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, etc). This time around, he abandons the experimental aspects that went along with Moonface and follows the more singer songwriter style of Sunset Rubdown, a style which initially endeared him to me as one of the greatest songwriters of my generation. A melancholy mood hangs over these five songs, which is just the mood I love this time of the year. This is some his most accessible work in recent years and once again proves his immense talent. The ten minute long "Daughter of a Dove" is truly outstanding. 

The Legendary Pink Dots - Your Children Placate You from Premature Graves: As I continue to explore the strange world of this legendary London experimental psychedelic band, my travels brought me to their 2006 album with its eerie title. Like their other albums, this one seems to exist in some fictional dreamworld, and transports the listener there. This album is softer than some of their others. A kind of psychedelic folk that reminds of Big Blood, but with the quirkiness of Television Personalities. "No Matter What You Do," "Feathers at Dawn" and "The Island of Our Dreams" are my personal favorites.

Karen O - Crush Songs: Earlier this month, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer released her first true solo album, a collection of bedroom recordings that at times feel more like sketches than songs and have more affinity to her wonderful soundtrack work than the work of her rock band. Though it is still sparse, it is dramatically more realized than the KO at Home bootleg that emerged a few years ago. For fans who enjoyed that album, this is even better. And for those who thought that was too unfocused, give this one a shot. It's a beautiful and moody piece of lo-fi indie. "Day Go By," "Visits," "Body," and "Ooo" are standout tracks.

Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows - Mitternacht: Perhaps the most curious discovery of the week for me is this German darkwave band that has been putting out albums for the past 20 years. This is their newest, due out this week, and it's spectacularly unique. The woman on the cover is the actual singer, and that's really how she looks, like a spirit risen from some medieval fairy tale. Musically, the album carries the same feel. Classical and Neofolk elements combine to create songs that would feel right at home in Neil Gaiman novel. It's rare these days to find something that sounds truly unique and equally wonderful, this is one of those albums. "Beautiful," "Bang-Bang," "It's Just That My Sadness," and the wonderful four part "Under His Light" are among my favorites.

U2 - Songs of Innocence: There are few bands that annoy me more than U2 and in typically annoying fashion, the band decided to bombard me with their album by automatically having it show up in my iTunes. This epic marketing campaign, which saw the band give the album away to everyone with an iTunes account, has initially been a disaster, having only been listened to 5% of users in the first week. Given that they wanted so badly for people to hear their first album in five years, and given that I hadn't a heard an album of theirs in over 20 years, I decided to give it a listen. Some of their usual pretentiousness exists, but for the most part the album is more subtle, sounding like a watered down version of Manic Street Preachers without the intensity of their beliefs. It seems every time one of the songs threatens to please me, it takes some terrible turn that spoils it. That said, it's not as truly awful as I'd have expected. Certainly there are some terrible songs like "Every Breaking Wave" and "Iris," but there are also some songs that I admit are decent. "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" and "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight" are the two most worthwhile tracks.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Goblins Can Never Stop Me

The whispering begins somewhere unseen, faint but tangible like the sound of leaves dropping in the slow autumn wind. - Opening line from my Goblin Market manuscript.

After months of reworking a manuscript that I had first attempted more than two years ago, this past weekend I finally completed my second draft. Three years is certainly the longest space of time between first and second drafts that I've ever experienced. Given the time that had gone by, the rewrites were extensive. 

A story cannot stay the unchanged when the storyteller continues to grow and learn. This is one of the hardest parts of trying to "finish" a project, because every time you look at it, you are seeing it through different eyes. In this case, the view was extraordinarily different. Thankfully the base structure of the tale was inspired from source material, otherwise I probably would scrapped the whole thing after a three year layoff. 

Though the plot changed, quite drastically in some places, it was the tone that I concentrated on altering. Sometimes that can be an even harder process. Seeing as how I tend to scrutinize every sentence, phrase, and word, changing the tone through the course of an entire novel can get a little exhausting. But alas, I made it the end. Now I just have to read through it and make sure I've achieved what I set out to do.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

Sometime in the night over this past week, the seasons changed in the blink of an eye. Autumn has arrived in the mountains, bringing with it a change in the leaves and a fresh craving for folk music. And while I did find myself attracted to folk releases this week, I still have quite a few rock albums that need judgement passed upon them. So in another Roundup of all new releases, I give to you a mix of some highly anticipated albums, and a few interesting surprises. Hopefully there is something on here that will peak your interest. Enjoy.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Mended With Gold: Due out at the end of the month, this is the third album from the Toronto based indie rock band. Their previous two records were ones I quite enjoyed, making this a band to watch over the last five years. Three years have passed between this and their last album, but not much seems to have changed in terms of their musical sense. An indie rock album with heavy Neil Young undertones and a rustic vibe that fits in extremely well with the rest of their catalog. This is a great Fall record which should get a lot of play in the coming season. "On the Rocks," "Runners in the Night," "Not Love or Death," Terrified" and "To Be Scared" are among my favorite tracks. 

Tina Dico - Whispers: Released a few weeks back, this is the Danish singer songwriter's ninth album, and possibly her best yet. This is a more scaled back, spiritual folk album than her previous work. Though I appreciate the pop folk sensibility on her wonderful 2010 album, "Welcome Back Colour," there is something special about the raw power of this record. From start to finish, this is one of the most beautiful records I've heard this year. As always, her voice shines through, all the while accompanied with a perfect sense of minimal instrumentation that creates the sweet sadness that permeates through the album. "I Want You," "You Don't Step Into Love," and "The Woman Downstairs" are standout tracks.

King Tuff - Black Moon Spell: The Vermont garage rock artist is set to release his fourth album later this month. This is an artist I've been wanting to check out for quite some time, so I figured this was as good a place as any to dive in. This is guitar driven rock that could easily draw comparisons to Ty Segall but with a psychedelic darkness to it. There's also something sort of '90s and playful about it that feels fun, and strangely refreshing. It feels to me like the kind of album Bevis Frond might make after spending a summer at the Jersey shore. "Rainbow's Run," "Magic Mirror," "Eyes of the Muse," and the title track are my personal favorites.

The Vines - Wicked Nature: It's been three years since the Australian rock band's last record, which could be why they decided to make this month's release a double album. This album goes back to their roots, opting for a more direct garage rock feel on the almost universally short tracks. I've always enjoyed Craig Nicholl's vocals, a sort of post-grunge voice. It's no wonder the band started as a Nirvana cover band, the influence is still clear, but unlike other bands, they are inspired by Kurt's sound rather than attempting to ape it. Super catchy guitar hooks, rumbling drums, and Craig's howl make this album perhaps their most complete release. "Ladybug," "Green Utopia," "Rave It," and "Everything Else" are among the many great songs on this album, one that will most likely go down as the band's landmark release. 

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams: After an excessive output over the past decade, the former Whiskeytown songwriter, and alt country pioneer, recently took some time off. The result of his time off is this self-titled rebirth album which came out this past week. Easily his best effort in over ten years, this record sees him channeling '80s Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen in order to filter them through an indie lens. Though there are a few misses here, the highlights more then make up for it. And as it turns out, the EP I reviewed a few weeks ago hinted at nothing that appears on this album. "I Just Might," "Stay With Me," "Trouble" and "Gimme Something Good" are the best songs in my opinion.

Joy - Under the Spell of Joy: In August, this little known heavy psych band from San Diego released their third album in three years. Taking a '60s jam approach to the genre, the album wanders furiously from one groove into the next with blazing energy that is more Captain Beyond than Cream. There's no denying the spirit they play with, it's almost never ceasing as they plow through the songs. The only problem I have, one which I have with most jam-oriented bands, is the repetitive feel that sinks over the course of an album. Interestingly enough though, the second side of this album is far superior than the first, and by the end, I was very much enjoying it. "Evil," "Driving Me Insane," "Back to the Sun," and "Death Hymn Blues" are my personal favorites. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fan Mail Friday

Another classic Pirate School moment, expressed and illustrated by a third grader. This is the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ender's Game...Now I Can't Wait to Read the Book!

As anyone who follows this blog can tell you, I'm a sucker for sci-fi films and television. Combine that with coming of age literature and the appeal is irresistible. It's like mixing peanut butter and chocolate, the two great tastes that taste great together. So with time on my hands last night, and access to HBO GO, I took a plunge into Earth's future to follow the challenges of a boy named Ender.

The first thing I can say about the film is that it's visually stunning. I've always thought CGI works best when it isn't trying to create moving active beings that end up looking like a fake mess (Transformers anyone?). When it's used to create settings, especially in space, the results are typically breathtaking. Ender's Game is a visually beautiful movie, almost any frame can be taken and looked upon as art. But visual wonder is only worthwhile if there is substance behind it.

Ender's Game definitely has substance. At the heart of the story, it deals with issues of leadership and command, not to mention those of loyalty that go hand-in-hand with leading. It tackles these things in interesting, if not exactly profound ways. In some ways Ender is too much of a natural leader, never struggling with the obstacles in his way. His struggles stem more from authority as he remains forever suspicious, though too trusting, of those above him. 

The aspect of the story that really appealed to me was this idea of mass indoctrination of the selected children and the way they'd been manipulated into treating war like a game. When the book was written in 1985, that was simply science-fiction projection, but today it's reality. We've seen our military use video games to train soldiers, and you know they secretly love the way Call of Duty and the like desensitize their potential soldiers. The problem with violent games is that they are fun, and winning is fun, but while in the game, the player easily disconnects the situations from any sense of reality. The consequences of this show themselves to dramatic effect in the film, giving the climax an emotional weight that the rest of the film seems to lack.

In the end, Ender's Game suffers a little from the same symptoms of many movies of the past decade. Visually Stunning. Emotionally Vacant. Though Ender is faced with many opportunities to develop a deep sense of character, the film never really goes there until the very end. Definitely a worthwhile film that I enjoyed. There was nothing to really dislike, but then again nothing about it that I truly loved either. By the time it was over, I found myself really looking forward to reading the book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

The floodgates have opened, ushering a tidal wave of new releases to end the late summer drought that I've suffered through. For weeks I've been talking about upcoming albums that had me drooling, well it seems a good number of them finally emerged this week, leaving me with enough albums for the next few Roundups. It's been one of those weeks that feels like Christmas morning, not knowing what to listen to first or next. As I look at the list of what I've chosen to review, it appears that I was in a rock mood and gravitated to a lot of those albums, probably because of the weather which decided to hit us with the hottest temperatures of the summer now that Fall is right around the corner. So the folk vibe will have to wait another week or so before it gets into full swing. For now it's time to turn up the volume and gets yer rocks off. Enjoy!

Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World: Ten years after their epic debut, the two-piece Toronto noise rock band will finally release their follow-up album this week. A rather long split separates the releases, along with a few solid solo releases from Sebastian Grainger, but this album proves that no matter what has transpired between, the chemistry is still there. Consisting only of guitar and drums (just as The White Stripes and Black Keys) the band manages to squeeze an incredibly full sound out of the instruments, and actually go much heavier than the other mentioned bands. They take their influence from punk rather than blues, and it shows. Perhaps the most anticipated release of the year for me, actually I've been anticipating ever since the reformed two years ago, this album has not disappointed. There isn't a song that I don't like, but as with the first album, it will take several listens for the real standout tracks to surface. Welcome back!

Kill It Kid - You Owe Nothing: The third album from the UK indie rock band, released last week, is a blues influenced indie rock record. It reminds me a little bit of another blues rock band I've been listening to of late, Black Pistol Fire. Like that band, this shows equal parts influence from contemporary garage blues like Dead Weather and '70s blues hard rock like Deep Purple. The result, while nothing particularly groundbreaking, is thoroughly enjoyable. "High Class," "Sick Case of Loving You," and "I'll be the First" are among my favorites. Definitely worth checking out for fans of heavy leaning blues rock.

The Icarus Line - Avowed Slavery: My favorite L.A. noise rock band surprised me this week with the release of this so-called "mini-album" which they declare to be a companion to last year's phenomenal "Slave Vows" record. These five songs, most longer than 6 minutes, were apparently recorded at the same time as the record and it shows. They have the same dark energy that made that record one of my favorites of last year. It also seems to contain a lot of the chaos that made there 2004 album "Penance Soiree" one of my all time favorite records. "Junkadelic," "Raise Yer Crown" and "Salem Slims" are standouts, but honestly, all five songs are brilliant.

The Kooks - Listen: The UK indie pop rock band returns after a three year silence with this typically upbeat album. I've always enjoyed their way of blending BritPop influences with contemporary indie rock, creating a sound that feels like Suede mixed with The Magic Numbers. It's catchy, but frayed around the edges just enough to feel special. This is their best album since 2008's "Konk" and perhaps after a few more listens, might even equal that record. Wisely, they've infused a disco dance element into most songs in order to appeal to the new trend in indie pop, but they do it well, without abandoning what fans have always liked about them. "Westside," "It Was London," "Bad Habit," and "Backstabber" are standout tracks for me.

J Mascis - Tied to a Star: The Dinosaur Jr. front man's first solo album since the wonderful "Several Shades of Why" in 2011 was released two weeks ago. It's another beautiful acoustic singer songwriter piece that feels like a trip into a nice hazy world. In some ways it feels like a mellower version of Kurt Vile's "Walkin' a Pretty Daze" but perhaps that's only because Mascis is an obvious influence on him. This is one of those perfect Sunday records to listen to while lazing around and letting your mind drift toward internal stories. "And Then," "Better Plane," "Trailing Off," and "Me Again" are just a few of the songs that make this a must-have record.

Sinoia Caves - Beyond the Black Rainbow: Released this week was the second album from Black Mountain keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt under the Sinoia Caves moniker. The previous album, 2006's "The Enchanter Persuaded" is one my all time favorites, so needless to say I was super excited to see this come into existence. With a progressive electronic sound, the album creates imaginary worlds of mystery. Like most electronic music of this genre, it's very much a mood piece, something to create an atmosphere, though unlike other records, it varies the mood of the music, going from euphoric to slightly spooky. Definitely one to check out for fans of ambient leaning electronic music.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Rarely does a movie attempting to project the complexities of growing up get everything so right. I can think of a handful. Millions, Hope & Glory, and Where the Wild Things Are come to mind, though those films focused on narrow "coming of age" moments in a characters life. Boyhood, the new film by Richard Linklater, is unparalleled in its scope of trying to capture the way characters navigate through life. 

Filmed over the course of 12 years, with the same actors, the audience literally watches the characters growing up. In this day and age of assembly line blockbusters, it's basically unheard of that such an ambitious project would ever see the light of day, or be so amazingly wonderful. The patience of a director to stick with this kind of project is enough to be commended, but to actually achieve this kind of result is worthy of immense praise.

The thing that struck me the most was how even though this is the portrait of a boy growing up in the last decade, I could have just as easily been watching moments from my own childhood 20 years earlier, and I'm sure someone 20 years older than me would feel the same way. This is due to the film's careful focus on the feelings that surround the events. It's not trying to be a portrait of what it means to be a child in today's world, but rather chooses to examine the universal trials and tribulations that come with growing up. 

There are many dramatic moments. The main character's life is populated with shitty people, just as all of our lives are. But the movie never steers into melodrama. The expressions, and uncomfortable reactions of the character are enough to convey the emotions such events cause. I found myself remembering similar events in my life and could clearly identify with the character without too much having to be explained. And now, as an adult, I was also able to identify and sympathize with the parents as they struggled to guide their children through the difficulties of life, always doing the best they could. Both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette do an amazing job of playing the role of parents who don't always know what's best, but never falter in their attempt to provide a good life for their children. 

Groundbreaking. Honest. Brilliant.