Thursday, December 31, 2015

Welly, Welly, Welly, Well...It's 2016

Happy New Year to All My Droogies!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Live Music Roundup 2015

Traditionally, I've never been very high on Live albums, but this year makes me rethink that. There were a great number of live records released this year that were among my favorites. As a rule, I never include Live albums in my best of the year, but seeing as how there were many unforgettable ones, I decided to give them their own roundup. Here they are, in relative order. Enjoy.

The White Stripes - Under Amazonian Lights: The famed duo's brilliant archival Brazil concert.

Ryan Adams - Live at Carnegie Hall: Amazing two-night performance showcasing everything that is good about the singer songwriter.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Live in No Particular Order: Truly captures the sound of this band in ways that studio albums seem to fail to capture. 

The Legendary Pink Dots - Come Out From the Shadows 4 (Live 1993): The best of the many great archival live albums put out by the psychedelic greats this year. 

Placebo - MTv Unplugged: Like the best albums in the long running series, it presents a different unique sound of the under-appreciated band. 

The Rolling Stones - The Marquee Club Live in 1971: My favorite era of the band, and this set really sees them on top of their game. 

Dr. Dog - Live at a Flamingo Hotel: Spanning the Philly band's entire catalog, this live set reminded me what I've always loved about them. 

Belle and Sebastian - Live 2015: Fresh off their great new album, this home-coming set sees the band in joyous form.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Live in Paris: After years of silence, this live record shows that the San Fran rockers are still as good as they've ever been.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A few weeks ago, I circled the night of the 23rd as the day I was planning on seeing the new Star Wars movie. This goes back to years of tradition where I'd take my younger siblings to the movies on Christmas Eve so that my mom and dad could wrap gifts. I wanted to honor that old tradition, even if plans called for it to happen one day earlier. And there was no better film to do that with than one that takes place in a story that I spent so much of my childhood living. When I say that, it's not just the movies that I'm talking about. My room was frequently set up in the midst of ongoing epic battles that would play out for days between the Rebels and the Empire, and I often credit those battles as my first experiences with story construction.

Back to the present, in a galaxy far, far away, watching a story that took place a long time ago. I'd managed to avoid any and all spoilers, so I went into the movie knowing nothing except what the previews had hinted at. And though I must admit that it took about ten minutes or so before the movie completely pulled me in, I will say that it certainly did pull me in. I thought the new characters were excellent, and far better formed on screen than the new characters in Episodes I-III. The appearance of old characters, especially Han Solo, brought the film to another level, one that is sure to please every fan of the old films. Though there was some cheesy dialogue, every line was still better than anything uttered by Hayden Christensen. 

It is not surprising that fans of the original movie see this as the best film since. That's because this film draws a LOT of parallels with the first. In many ways, this is a retelling of the first film but with a new generation of characters, with new agendas and new histories. The trajectory of the story is essentially identical, as is the pacing and unfolding of events. I keep going back and forth on whether I think this is very clever, or very lazy. If it is simply a set up for the next two movies which will expand the mythology and story, taking it in completely different directions, than it could be clever. After all, there were lots of hints at things that might happen next, or history that is yet to be revealed. However, if it was simply used as a method to trick viewers into watching a reboot without using that dreaded word, than I'm a going to be pissed.

All in all, I loved this movie! I loved the way it got rid of the CGI virus that has infected every movie for the last dozen years and gave things weight and substance again. I love that it had characters with heart and ones that were well-acted. I loved the combination of humor and action, which felt very much in the tradition of the franchise. I loved the concepts and the sets, the surprises and mysteries. I loved pretty much everything about it, and now I can't wait for the next one. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

With Christmas coming next weekend, this is most likely the last Roundup before I wrap up the year in music. This was another week where I crammed in some late minute 2015 releases, but also some older stuff that I'd been meaning to listen to for quite some time. Some very interesting stuff on here that goes all over the place. Definitely some curiosity pieces and a handful of things to look out for. Hopefully there's something here that perks your interest. Now I must go and refresh and revise my likings for the year and see what's what. Enjoy your holidays, and may you get all the albums on your wishlist.

Circus Devils - Stomping Grounds: The new album from Robert Pollard's post GBV band is classic Pollard, featuring practically fragmented short songs full of intrigue and hard hitting bursts. Heavier than he usually is, this is quite rocking, but still lo-fi. It's more psychedelic than some of their previous albums, feeling a bit more like Ty Seagell than GBV which isn't necessarily a bad thing. "Girl in Space," "Dr. Pompous," "Schedules of the Dead," and "Cold Joker" are stand out tracks.

Papadosio - Extras in a Movie: This is the fourth full length album from the the North Carolina band. One of those albums that defies classification as it weaves across genres, but I suppose if I had to put a label on it, I'd call it electronic psych. It reminds me of early Yeasayer or even Menomena, though it lacks the crispness of those two bands, except on a few perfect songs, such as "Bypass Default" and "2am." All in all, interesting and definitely worth checking out.
Strange Faith - Love & Poverty: This is a collaboration album featuring Jeb Loy Nichols, the country sounding UK singer songwriter. This is a very east to listen to bar kind of record, that feels like Ben Harper at times, and at other times it's seems more '70s country folk. "Fair Weather" and "Just a Man" were the two standout tracks on an album that I found easy to like, but would never really love. Decent for getting drunk to, which can't be said for every album. 

Violent Femmes - Happy New Year: Released for Record Store Day back in the spring, this is the first new music by the legendary folk punk band in 17 years! These four songs have a classic VF feel, and could easily be B-Sides from their first two classic albums. Though they've grown older, they haven't lost their sense of humor or sense of being wronged by the world. "Love, Love, Love..." and "Good For / At Nothing," are amazing. My only complaint is that I wish it were a full album. A must have for fans.

Archive - Demo 2015: This Philly band made their debut 4-song EP available on Bandcamp back in march and it's a classic hard rock groove, inspired by 70's greats like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, but also later bands like Alice in Chains. There is heavy blues metal influence on these songs and it works quite well. In some ways, it reminds me of another Philly band from the 80's. Though more blues inspired, it has elements that remind me of Cinderella's "Night Songs" album, which comming from me is a compliment. I hope these home town boys make it far. 

Ghost - Meliora: The third album from the Swedish heavy rock, released at the end of the summer, is a bit of a blend of many metal and rock styles. There are prog elements, thrash and heavy psych, and when they all come together, it's a BIG sound. I had really high hopes for this one, but in the end, it just didn't grab me. The guitar work and the drums are quite good, but the rest is a little to orchestrated for my taste, and lyrically, it just didn't do it for me.   

憂鬱 - 秋: Anyone who knows me, or my work, will realize that for obvious reasons I had to check out this Japanese EP. Consisting of only two songs, these are ethereal ambient tunes with, the title track with soft dreamy vocals. It's fine background music, great for early morning sleepy time. I'm not sure CatKid would appreciate it, but give it a listen on their Bandcamp site if you want.

The Ladybug Transistor - Clutching Stems: Somehow 20 years has gone by since the formation of this Brooklyn band, and somehow I managed to miss all of their post-1999 work until I decided to give a listen to this album, released in 2011, and their last to date. This is a decent in album, and in a way it reminded me why I let them drift off my radar, because while it's decent, it's just not that memorable, or rather, there are just other bands who do the same thing in ways that just a little more appealing to my ears. It's a solid okay, and there are definitely people out there who will love this more than me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

In a Dream Far, Far Away...

While I have not yet seen The Force Awakens, I've recently spent some time in a galaxy far away. On the night the new film opened, I dreamt that I was in Star Wars: A New Hope. I was Luke, which is unusual seeing as how Luke was never my favorite character, it was always Han...but if I'm being honest, I've always been more Luke than Han. 

In the dream, I was with Obi Wan on the Death Star. We were face to face with Darth Vader and Obi Wan was attempting to bring Anakin back from the dark side. He was telling Darth how he'd accomplished everything he set out to do, and asked if things were really any better. Eventually he convinced Darth that his path on the dark side was finished, and the two of them went off to deal with the Emperor. Meanwhile, I was to wait in disguise as a maintenance man on the Death Star, accompanied with droids. The whole time, I was kept thinking to myself, this isn't how it happened before, and the idea of seeing how an alternative Star Wars would play out was the most exciting thing. 

Unfortunately I woke up before the saga ended. But it certainly awakened the excitement for the new film, which had already been in full bloom. It just goes to prove what I've always said, that the stories that are inside of us are more interesting that the stories of our lives most times. Long live fiction.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the beginning of the end in what is known as the year in music 2015. As promised last Roundup, I'm currently going through all of the 2015 releases that I've been meaning to hear, in hopes of finding that gem I may have missed while also making sure I'm confident that my best of list properly reflects the year. There's a lot of bands on here that I'm checking out for the first time, as well as a few old favorites that put out new stuff. I'm not sure anything on here will make my favorites of the year, but a number of them certainly make my Top 50 of the year, so you might definitely want to check some of them out. Enjoy.

Beirut - No No No: It's been four years since the Brooklyn based indie folk band's last album, and it seems not much has changed. They are still making quirky pop folk that is both interesting and uniquely pleasing. I've been following them since their 2006 debut and they've always been consistently good. They add a chamber pop quality to their folk, somewhat like Andrew Bird, yet grander in some ways. "Gibraltar," "Fener," "So Allowed" and the title track are my personal favorites on another strong album.

Bill Ryder-Jones - West Kirby County Primary: The former guitarist for The Coral has been very busy the past few years creating his neo-classical pieces, but in the last year or so, he's been returning to the indie sound that appeared on his first unreleased solo songs. While his classical work is fantastic, this is certainly more my kind of thing. There's a bit of a Velvet Underground feel, like their early demos, but with a decidedly British garage folk feeling. "Let's Get Away From Here," "Satellites," "Two To Birkenhead," and "Catharine and Huskisson" are my personal favorites. 

Mystic Braves - Days of Yesteryear: The third album from the L.A. garage rock band is one of those brilliant records that harkens back to late '60s era psychedelic pop while still managing to remain fresh and keep from being too derivative. This album reminded me of The Dolly Rocker Movement's wonderful 2006 album, "Electric Sunshine." It also feels a little like The Growlers but with more of retro vibe. Either way, I really enjoyed this album, especially "Corazon," "No Trash," "Now That You're Gone," "To Myself," and "Great Company." The vinyl will be available in February from their Bandcamp site, and I plan on getting a copy.

Shine - Weednight: The debut EP from the Polish sludge metal band is full of fuzzy riffs and heavy stoner metal vibes. Consisting of three longish tracks, it's more diverse than it might seem. The 7 minute title track has a great Melvins kind of riff that repeats in a drone like way, while the drums keep moving in the background and the singer delivers Electric Wizard style mumbles. But it changes things up every time it threatens to get repetitive. The 12 minute "Hare Grave" reminds me of Sleep only less metal and more stoner. Definitely worth checking out. It's free hear, or download on their Bandcamp site.

Ruby the Hatchet - Valley of the Snake: The second full length album from the Philly stoner metal band has been on my to-hear list for quite some time, and now that I've heard it, I'm angry that it took so long. In the spirit of other contemporary heavy psych bands like Uncle Acid and Electric Wizard, they take a bit of Black Sabbath and dose it with groovy creepiness. The first three songs on here are fantastic, probably the best side of a record I've heard in a long time. It falls off slightly after that, but not enough to take away from the album. The last song is a bit of question mark. It doesn't seem to fit, but again, not enough to take away from a great heavy record.

Bobby Long - Ode to Thinking: The newest album from the UK singer songwriter, his fourth, shows a clear progression from 2013's Wishbone. While that album felt like any number of performers could have made it, this one sees him developing his own sound. It's still very much a folk sounding singer songwriter record, but one with some great moments. "The Dark Won't Get Darker," "Ode to Thinking," "The Song the Kids Sing," "1985," and the song I've heard frequently on the local indie radio, "I'm Not Going Out Tonight" are very strong tracks and worth checking out.

Josh Pyke - But For All These Shrinking Hearts: This is the Australian singer songwriter's fifth album, and my introduction to his work. Though there's nothing groundbreaking to his sound, fitting into a long line of indie folk pop artists of the last decade, there is an honesty to his songs, which is always the measuring stick for folk. There is something in his songs that has an 80's FM radio feel that I find intriguing, especially on songs like "Be Your Boy" and "There's A Line." At other moments, there are some great down tempo songs like "Someone to Rust With" and "Momentary Glow." A quality singer songwriter album that's worth checking out.

Luke Haines - Adventures in Dementia: The art punk pioneer put out three short albums this year, including this one back in February. Picking up where he left off last year, these short are electropop campfire songs that contain his particular brand of weird. Like 2013's Rock and Roll Animals this is Luke at his best, challenging the listener with a combination of abrasive and melodic. Not his best work, that remains his '90s Baader Meinhof project, but this is certainly something that fans should check out.

The World is a Beautiful Place... - Harmlessness: The second album from the impossibly titled band, this follows 2013's well received debut. This Connecticut band's sound is very '90s post hardcore like Built to Spill, while also sort of being like many borderline emo bands like early Brand New. I was not a huge fan of the first album, but this one seems far more complete and interesting. It still tends to drift a little too far away from indie into straight into emo, at least for my taste. "We Need More Skulls," and "Mental Health" are my personal favorites.

Kurt Vile / Steve Gunn - Parallelogram: One of the current kings of psychedelic folk released this split with Steve Gunn. Very much in the "just for fun" category, this album features a few covers, including a fascinating cover of Randy Newman's "Pretty Boy" which takes Kurt out of his comfort zone and shows another side of him. I was unfamiliar with Steve Gunn's work. He borrows more from old time folk music. His cover of Nico's "60/40" is quite good, and more listenable than her original version. Nice, but not essential.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Man Who Wants to Own the World

A few months ago when billionaire buffoon Donald Trump threw his hair piece into the running for President, it was all fun and games. No one took him seriously, especially when his announcement came with a statement referring to Mexicans as criminals and rapists. And for a while it was fun to listen to his idiotic ramblings and laugh at him and the morons who were attending his rallies. But over the past several weeks, the joke suddenly doesn't seem so funny anymore.

With each new outrageous thing he says, whether it's that we should kill the families of terrorists, or that we should ban Muslims, or that we need to shut off the internet in some way, his poll numbers simply go up and up and up. In typical demagogue fashion, he seems to be playing on people's fears and anger, stirring their hatred and using it to secure the support of masses of ignorant voters. What is even more frightening is that he doesn't seem to even understand the issues he's commenting on and his supports hardly seem to notice or care as they give standing ovations to his nonsense. 

In the past, we've often wondered how someone like Hitler got elected. It seemed an inconceivable mystery to me, until now, because we are currently witnessing how Hitler got elected. And just like Hitler, if this guy is elected, it won't end with four years. He's already shown that he doesn't respect Congress, not to mention anybody who disagrees with his bullshit. He's already talked about closing the borders, limiting the internet and free speech, and an intolerance for the press. I fear Donald Trump isn't running for President, he's running for Dictator. But I'm greatly confident this fascist won't win any election.   

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Though I'd hoped to spend this week getting caught up with remaining 2015 releases, it didn't turn out that way. Instead, I spent the week drinking in some old favorites recently purchased on wax. Then there was the passing of yet another figure influential to my early artistic formations and perspectives on life and I decided to revisit his music out of respect. But this coming week I'll have to try and roundup the last of the 2015 albums that I've been dying to hear so that I can concentrate on presenting my favorites of the year in the coming weeks. Until then, hopefully there's something here that might grab your interest and make your wishlist. Enjoy.

Ryley Walker - All Kinds of You: With the Illinois singer songwriter's newest album, Primrose Green, currently near the top of my favorite albums of the year, when I saw his previous album at the store this past weekend, I had to snatch it up. It's equally as beautiful as the other. His style of folk reminds of me Astral Weeks and Jackson C. Frank, with a bit of Nick Drake thrown in for good measure. This is one of those perfect rainy autumn day records. "Blessings," "The West Wind," and "On The Rise" are standouts on a fantastic album.

Böse - Böse's Art of Zen: One of the prolific Polish stoner rock band's more than twenty albums this year alone, this is, as one might expect, one long jam. But it manages to keep it's grove despite their seemingly endless output. Admittedly, this is my first intro to them, so who knows, perhaps all twenty plus albums, and an equal number in 2014, will quickly start to sound alike. I can't say. What I can say is that this is an enjoyable listen, taking me to places frequently visited to while listening to Led Zeppelin or early space rock bands. The nearly hour long title track is definitely worth a listen.

Guided By Voices - bee thousand: This is one of my all time favorites and it was finally re-released on vinyl last year for it's 20th Anniversary. I picked it up at the shop this past weekend and have been listening to almost every day since. These brilliant song fragments weave together into an experience that is unlike any other. These songs have been stuck in my head all week, and I'm thankful for that. Anyone who doesn't know this record should immediately listen to it. Lo-Fi genius at its absolute best.

Pink Floyd - 1965 Their First Recordings: Just released is this vinyl only EP of the legendary band's earliest sessions. Syd Barrett is clearly the star here, his guitar is crisp, unlike later years when his condition caused his musical contributions to be weaned out, before he was eventually weaned out of the band. There's more of blues sound on here, like early Rolling Stones, than on any of their other work. While some of these tracks, like "Lucy Leave" and "I'm a King Bee" have turned on up on bootlegs, a good number of these tracks are songs I've never heard, making this a wonderful surprise. Syd resembles Mick Jagger on these songs, especially on "Remember Me" and "Double O Bo." "Walk with me Sydney" and "Butterfly" have a lot of the quirks that later Syd work has, making this a true gem for fans.

The Decemberists - The Tain/ 5 Songs: Two of the Portland band's finest EPs were released as on long play vinyl and though I have them both on CD, I couldn't resist. 5 Songs is the band's first release and every song on there is amazing. The Tain is a concept EP divided into five parts. Surprisingly, the two go together nicely, though they represent different aspects of the band. Over the last decade and a half, they have become one of my favorite bands, and these two more obscure releases are a crucial and necessary part of their catalog. This is a great way to get both, and the only way to get either on vinyl these days. 

Porcupine Tree - Up the Downstair: The 1993 album from Steven Wilson, the fourth, is the first one where the sound that would define the band for the next decade was first fully successful. Throughout the '90s, they made albums as lush and internal as Pink Floyd's pre-Dark Side years. I picked this up on vinyl a few years back, but since I was already familiar with it digitally, I didn't get around to listening to it much until now. While the next album would eventually eclipse this one, this is still an exceptional piece in their catalog.

Stone Temple Pilots - Purple: With the sudden passing of Scott Weiland this week, I pulled this CD off the shelf. This 1994 album is the band's crowning achievement, along with No. 4. Inspired by GnR, the California band brought a different sound to the "grunge" era, one that was more classic rock than Nirvana and less metal than Alice in Chains. But as with those two groups, the songs were filled with a sadness and disillusionment that we all felt at that time, and which has also found it's way into the world again. This is stellar album of the time, one that has held up with the passing of years. R.I.P. Scott, and thank you for the music you left behind.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Drift Draft

Late last week, I finished the next draft of the novel I've been working on for almost two years. I've lost count as to which number this is, but I know that it's the third one in that time frame. As I read through it, checking for clerical errors and continuity issues, I'm encountering something I haven't felt in a long Typically by this point, a read-through pains me. I get to the point where I can't stand a single word. This time is different. I genuinely enjoy reliving each moment of this story. Whether that is a good sign or not, time will tell. For now though, I'll take it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

On this long weekend it's a short list, due to the long list of activities that seem to fill long weekends. This week's Roundup is pretty much split between experimental weirdness and traditional classics, along with one by-the-numbers garage rock album tossed in. I was in a place where I needed to finish the closing action of my manuscript, and for some reason the experimental demons were calling to me, and with their help I was able to wrap up my thoughts. It wasn't a busy week for new releases, but there's always time in December to catch up on those. Hopefully something here interests you. Enjoy.

John Frusciante - Renoise Tracks 2009-2011: Over the past six years, Frusciante has moved away from the singer songwriter albums that defined his work a decade ago to explore his more experimental interests. While some aren't too happy with his new direction, but he's always pushed the limits, and though his adventures are more in glitch pop and electronic, his first album was also very experimental. This collection of songs represent the movement away from the lush sound of 2009's The Empyrean and toward the music he's released since. "Singular Scope 85"  and "Unending 126 mix" are my personal favorites. 

Black Moth Super Rainbow - SeeFu Lilac: The masters of lo-fi psych weirdness return with their first album in four years. They have always pushed the envelope between music and noise with their indietronica style, and this short record is no different. Moments of experimental tinkering combine with soaring moments of Floyd-ian bliss to make an enjoyable listen. "Warm Water Leviathan" and the title track are standouts for me. 

Späce Girl - 2015: The second release from the psychedelic pop group from Roswell, GA reminds me of bands like Broadcast and Movietone. This four song EP is a washed out piece of dreamy sound. It's one of those albums that sounds like something seeping through from an unseen world, like music that might be heard coming from inside the radiator as in Eraserhead. Interesting and eerie, without being unnecessarily weird. If anything, it's simple too short, but that's a good problem to have.

Bass Drum of Death - Bass Drum of Death: The Oxford Mississipppi garage rock band's second album from 2013 is a rough and raw shot of gritty guitar noise. I picked this up on vinyl on my recent trip north of the border and though there is nothing terribly original about BDOD, I quite like them. This is garage rock at it's purest, all attitude and sound with nothing fancy about it. If you like Ty Segall or Black Lips, then you should check these guys out. "No Demons," "Bad Reputation," and "Faces of the Wind" are my favorites.

Elton John - Empty Sky: The 1969 debut from the iconic performer was released when he was just 22 years of age, which isn't particularly young for a musician's debut, but it's young considering how confident this record feels. It opens with the line "I'm not a rat to be spat upon" at the beginning of the epic title track, on an album that will remain his most ambitious until "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Though ambitious, certainly not his best. He would continue to improve over the course of his next few albums and avoid some of the missteps here, but still some great stuff. Along with the title track, "Western Ford Gateways" and "Sails" are stand-outs.

John Lennon - The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Vol. 9: Finally getting back to the Lost Lennon tapes, moving on to volumes nine and ten this week. Once again, these seem to focus on mid-70s era Lennon as he works through some songs and rambles off versions of others. Even more so than some of the previous volumes, this one has a very laid back and easy feel which gives the songs a cozy living room feel. "I'm Stepping Out," "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier Mama," and "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)" are the highlights of this volume.