Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scattering Demons

One of the most exciting aspects of writing is when fascinating new elements seem to emerge from the hidden depths of the imagination. This process happens all throughout the initial writing, but I find that the most interesting elements tend to come out during revisions. 

Sitting down to re-work a manuscript is sometimes daunting. Knowing that things need to be added, and that certain complications need to be solved can often lead to static thinking. One tries to logically solve these problems, but logic usually leads to boring solutions. However, somewhere along the line, a strange image or thought will pass through your mind, setting free the little demons that hide there. Once struck, the creative energies gather these snippets of madness, piecing them together in impossible ways, and suddenly those formerly difficult problems are given brilliant conclusions.

It's important for any artist to be comfortable letting their demons run the show every now and again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

As promised in the last Roundup, this week's selections have taken on a drastic change in temperament. But even as rock and hip-hop dominant the selections, there was still room for some cryptic doom atmosphere to go with the Siberian weather that decided to blow through with a vengeance. The combination made for an interesting week of listening, and one where several of the albums on here are records that I imagine will stay with me for a long time. Lots of unique albums, so do yourself a favor and dig into a few of these and find something surprising. Enjoy.

Lifeseeker - Nugz: Released at the end of last year, the third album from Lifeseeker is a double dose, and a crowning achievement that sees him pushing the boundaries of hip-hop, at times fusing it with space rock, metal, and prog-rock in ways that I haven't heard since New Kingdom. But even with all of these influences merged together, there is an undeniable groove that runs throughout and the rhyming technique is old school dope. This is classic hip-hop reborn for today's world. "Bittersweet," "How To Build a Plane," "Turn the Power Up," "Kung Fu," "Chips," and "That's How We're Living" are essential tracks.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday: Six years after the break-up of Oasis, their creative leader is set to release his second album with his self-titled band. Four years have past since the debut, which consisted mostly of songs that had previously been recorded as Oasis demos. That makes this really the first album fully conceived of in a post-Oasis state of mind, and it shows. These songs sound very different. They are much more layered, yet maintain the kind of mass appeal that Noel's songs have always contained. It's not the masterpiece some may have been waiting for, but it's quite good. "In the Heat of the Moment," "Ballad of the Mighty I," "Riverman," and "The Mexican" are my current favorites.

The Beatles vs. Hip-Hop Legends - An Adventure to Pepperland Though Rhyme & Space: Last week, this double album started popping up online. The second I saw it, I knew I had to listen. A few years ago, there was a mash-up of The Beatles and Wu Tang which made my top 10 albums of the year. This is the same concept, only it mashes recordings of the Fab Four with over 40 Hip Hop classics. Spanning the entire Beatles career catalog and pairing it perfectly with tracks throughout the history of hip-hop, this is pretty much a masterpiece of chaos and groove. Some of my favorites are "Brooklyn Walrus" which matches Ol' Dirty's "Brooklyn Zu" and the Crooklyn Dodgers with "I'm the Walrus." Another great on is "Hey!" with The Beastie Boys' "Hey Ladies" and The Beatles "Hey Bulldog." There are too many to go into, but this is certainly a must have album for hip-hop fans.

Goblin Hovel - The Great Reversal: For their first album of the new year, the changeable folk metal band draws on far eastern musical influences, which adds a new kind of eeriness to their sound. It still contains the same mix of soft and dark which seems to spark my imagination more than other things these days. Not my favorite of their records, but still one I quite enjoy. "The Earth Roars" and "Broken Circle" are my two favorites on this five song EP. Definitely worth checking out, as are all of their albums available on their bandcamp site.

Earth - Primitive and Deadly: The Olympia, WA drone metal band returned last Fall with their eleventh album, and it's one of their few which include vocals, something that isn't needed for them, but when there, make it feel like something special. This album follows the very strong two-part Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light project with a more psychedelic twist than we've heard from them previously. A record of doom and beauty, the band continues to push their creative peak. "Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon" and the epic "From the Zodiacal Light"are my personal favorites. A must have for fans.

Carl Barat and the Jackals - Let It Reign: We last heard from this creative half of The Libertines five years ago with his only solo album, recorded two years after the disbandment of Dirty Pretty Things. Now he returns with a new band, and a renewed energy which in my opinion had been missing over the past decade. Capturing the garage punk electricity of his early years, this album is a solid rock record from beginning to end. He also presents a more mature outlook on life that goes beyond the frustrated angst of youth while still sharing the profound disillusionment that made The Libertines a voice of their generation. "Beginning to See," "Glory Days, and "Summer in the Trenches" are stand out tracks.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Movie Game

The other day I went to the movies and saw Kingsman. Going into it, I didn't know much about it, only that it was based on a graphic novel which I hadn't read and directed by the same person who did Kick Ass, a movie which I'd seen and found to be entertaining. As it turned out, this movie was also entertaining. The action scenes were done well, the story had enough traction and there were enough tongue in cheek quips about its own cliche elements to let the viewer know it wasn't taking itself so seriously. However, that's kind of the problem. 

This film, like many I've seen over the past few years, felt very much like watching a video game. There were action scenes, which were the game play, and then exposition or plot advancement scenes, which would be the prerecorded elements in a game. Everything took place on the surface. The characters didn't have any hidden motives. There was no subtle interactions. It was all right out in front of the viewer. There weren't even underlying themes to the movie. It was simply two hours of entertainment to be absorbed and then dismissed.

Kingsman is another in a long, long line of Hollywood type of movies made for instant gratification, meant to be forgotten hours after leaving the theater. It seems in recent years that blockbuster movies are made to be disposable. One of the previews before the movie highlighted that very point. Coming this year is Fantastic Four, essentially a remake of a movie that was made only ten years ago. Not a sequel. Not a new chapter. It's the same damned thing, thus making the first one disposable.

One could say that the idea of blockbusters has always been that way, but I don't think that's true. Looking back on films from my childhood, movies like RoboCop, Back to the Future, even Top Gun, there were other elements going one. The films were made to be remembered. I honestly believe that this idea of appealing to the video game culture is hurting movies. As video games become more like movies, there is no reason to make the movies more like games. It's just not good film making.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week of desperate cold and snow meant another week dominated by singer songwriter folk music. It certainly fit my speed and schedule of this mid-Winter week, but as things begin to kick into gear again next week, I've already switched my mood and it will see a lot of rock and hip-hop returning to the Roundup. Until then, you'll have take pleasure in the easy sounds featured here. There's some great records on this list, ones that I've been cherishing for days, so hopefully something on here will inspire you to pick it up and give it a play or two or three. As always...enjoy.

José Gonzalez - Vestiges & Claws: It's been eight years since the Swedish indie folk artist's last album. His third album is finally due out this week and it's pretty much a triumph. After such a long break after his first two phenomenal records, this was one of those albums that seemed set up for a letdown, but it's anything but. The fragile beauty of Gonzalez's songs is as striking as ever. In many ways, this record seems even closer to Nick Drake's music than before. It has the same kind of simple and honest charm. Easily the most exciting release of the week and one I've waited far too long for. "The Forrest," "Let It Carry You," and "What Will" are my personal favorites, but the album should really be enjoyed as a whole. 

Iron and Wine - Archive Series Volume No. 1: Due out at the end of the month is this collection put together by the singer songwriter consisting of unreleased home recordings that date back to the time of his debut. These songs are similar in feel to those found on 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle. I love that record and to hear these songs which feel like a companion album, is simply fantastic. There's a softness and an innocence that permeates through these recordings. On later albums, Sam Beam's work matures into more elaborate and compelling themes, but that doesn't take anything away from the brilliance of these simpler times.

Goblin Hovel - The Roots That Broke the Stone: A few weeks ago I reviewed this band's other 2014 album, one that made my honorable mentions for the year. I figured it was time to give their second album of last year a proper review. Released in October, this is another dark folk record made by the ever-changing band made up of different collaborating musicians. Though I preferred Wonders Gone Dark, Shadows Brought to Life, this is also a wonderful record. More than any other music, these two records have shaped the revisions of the novel I'm currently working on. They capture the haunted mood that I've set out to recreate. "Ground Rot," "Chthon," and "Song of the Shade" are highlights for me.

Grateful Dead - Live Acoustic Family Dog at the Great Highway 4/18/70: Released two years ago on the inaugural Black Friday vinyl release day, this double album captures the fractured 1970 Dead in rare form. The band was just about to begin it's holy trinity of Workingman's Dead, American Beauty, and Wake of the Flood and this show really captures that country folk sound that will eventually make those albums so perfect in my opinion. The acoustic setting and ramble style recording only add to the magic. Of all the hundreds and thousands of Dead bootleg concerts, I can see why this one got the deluxe vinyl release. It's got such a relaxed and organic feel that it becomes flawless in its own way. "Deep Elem Blues," "Mama Tried," "Don't Ease Me In," and "New Speedway Boogie" are amazing, and the last side of the record is Pigpen's bare bones blues at it's best. A true gem and a must have.

The Lone Bellow - Then Came the Morning: Two weeks ago the Brooklyn indie folk rock band released their second album. The trio adheres to the current style of folk pop, blending country, rock, spiritual, and folk into a condensed sound that is enjoyable to listen to, but sounds nearly indistinguishable from a whole host of other albums. It definitely has a radio friendly feel that reminds me of Hozier. For me, this album suffers from its strive to sound so genre perfect. It hits all of the right notes in all of the right places, yet feels somehow soulless to me. Perhaps it's just one of those records I couldn't connect to, but I can certainly see this becoming a favorite of other people. So if you're into indie folk rock, certainly give it a shot. "If You Don't Love Me," "Telluride," and the title track were standouts for me.

The Shivers - Forever is a Word: The seventh album from the Brooklyn band is one that's hard to define. It opens with the indie soul sounding "I Got Mine" which feels like an updated hipper version of '70s AM radio soul. There are pub rock influences to be sure, but this is a soulful album with some to spare...too bad The Lone Bellow couldn't have borrowed some it. It reminds me a bit of Future Islands last album, and a bit like Richard Ashcroft's later solo work. At times it can be jarring, but at other times it's quite awesome. "Black Shades," "More Grey Than Green" and the title track are my personal favorites.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Little Snow Fairy Sugar (Episodes 13-15)

(Catch up on previous episodes here.)

It's been a while since I visited the small German town where this anime takes place, but I was finally able to catch up a little bit this week. In the last episode, Sugar's magic flower had grown a bud despite the fact she'd never found a twinkle, the element that is supposed to make the flowers grow. When rowdy Basil and Cinnamon found out about the flower's progress, they demand that Sugar tell them what a twinkle is and where she found one. Under pressure, and afraid that her friends won't believe her if she told the truth, Sugar lies and tells them that she did find a twinkle. Then she becomes determined to set out and find one to prove that she isn't a liar.

Symbolic of their strengthening bond, Saga decides to set out to help Sugar, something she has been reluctant to do in the past. Pepper and Salt join in the search which takes them into the woods. Each encounter with the older season fairies leads them to assure Saga that they are certain to find a twinkle. As their journey ends, nothing tangible is found, and Saga begins to realize that it's her relationship with Sugar that is the real "twinkle." 

In the next episode, the show departs slightly from the continuing story. We see the fairies trying to help Pepper's turtle friend learn to fly. Once again, Saga tries to help them even though she knows it's an impossible task. However, keeping with the positive messages of the show, they all learn that a strong wish and teamwork can make anything come true.

Another thread running through the series is Saga's relationship with her mother who passed away when she was younger. When a three year old girl comes to stay with Saga and her grandmother, this family friend stirs Saga's memories of her mother. Though Kanon, the little girl, calls Saga her big sister, Saga behaves more like a mother to the child. The experience makes her realize how special the time with her mother was, and how important her guidance is for Kanon. Surely this will translate into her relationship with Sugar in the future. 


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

After bemoaning the lack of folk music in my listening diet last week, this week has been exclusively devoted to new singer songwriter folk releases. It wasn't exactly a conscious doing. It just so happened that these were the new releases that appealed to me. Funny how things work out like that sometimes, and who am I to argue with fate. Given that this was the snowiest week of winter, I suppose it was for the best. There's few things I enjoy more than listening to acoustic folk music as the world outside turns cold and grey. These albums certainly fulfilled that need and hopefully you'll feel in a similar mood and want to check some of these out. Enjoy.

Andrew Bird - Echolocations (Canyon): Every once in a while, the Chicago chamber folk artist will release a minimal instrumental album between his brilliant singer songwriter records. This album, released this week, is one of those projects. It's extremely peaceful, with sounds of the gently strolling streams playing just under the surface of the music. It's calm enough to be a lullaby, with beautiful string arrangements and a wonderful softness about it. The songs play as if they are part of one long piece of music. Perhaps not want fans might be wishing for, but undeniably pretty. 

Josh Ritter - Acoustic Live Vol. 1: For the last 15 years, this Bostonian transplant has been one of those contemporary folk singer songwriters that has managed to stay just under the radar, while attracting a rather large indie following. Released two weeks ago, and recorded last March in Massachusetts, this is the first in what I assume is going to be a series of acoustic live releases and it's quite stunning. His voice shines like broken moonlight through the trees while the music creates an eerie atmosphere to complete the picture. "Best for the Best" and "Southern Pacifica" are my personal favorites. Serves as a nice introduction, or a good reminder for those already familiar with his work.

Mount Eerie - Sauna: The Washington state lo-fi band, also known as Phil Elverum, formerly of The Microphones. It's been two years since the last Mount Eerie release, which was a toss-off experimental album, but this week he returned with a proper album of his trademark avant-folk sound. Another sleepy sort of weekend album, this one has been great to listen to while the snow slowly fell this week. At their best, his works are atmospheric mood pieces that can truly spark the imagination. This is one of them, harking back to the best of The Microphones. Certainly one worth checking out for fans. "Pumpkin" and "Youth" are my favorite tracks on the album.

Ryley Walker - Primrose Green: The Chicago native's third album is due out this March and it's a '60s inspired gem of psychedelic folk in the style of Tim Buckley meets Jackson C. Frank. At first listen, one would think this album was recorded between '68 and '72, rather than a quarter of the way through the 21st century. It's extremely authentic sounding and one of the best psychedelic folk records made in the last 40 years. Every song on here is fantastic, but "The High Road," "Sweet Satisfaction," and the title track are real standouts. Easily an early contender to make my albums of the year. 

Alasdair Roberts - Alasdair Roberts: For his 10th solo album, released a few weeks back, the Glasgow singer songwriter, and former member of Appendix Out decided to go the self-titled route. Once again I feel compelled to mention how I'll never understand the self-titled thing, especially beyond a debut, but that aside, this is one I've been looking forward to. Over the past 20 years or so, Roberts has been one of my favorite songwriters and I always look to a new album with some anticipation. He crafts his folk songs in an old Scottish style, which gives them a fairy tale feeling that I always enjoy. In my opinion, this is his best in quite some time. A dark undertone has returned, which somehow seems to compliment his tales in wonderful ways. "The Mossy Shrine," "Hurricane Brown," and "In Dispraise of Hunger" are my favorites.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lifecycle of a Story

(artwork by James Jean)

Stories follow an interesting path during their lifetimes. They are brought into existence in the instant of a moment when an idea enters the mind of a storyteller. Like an embryo, they are small but with potential to grow much larger. In their early stages they are often misshapen and hideous beasts, yet there is something beautiful that shows in glimpses or else chooses to linger under the surface. Some never make it to birth. Some die in their withered form, nothing but bones and entrails. Thankfully, others grow and blossom. And when that happens, there is no element of the human imagination that could be more magical.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

The week of blizzards left me plenty of time to absorb some new music, and I chose to pick a selection of recent releases and a few from the last year or so that I hadn't got the chance to listen to before. Oddly enough for winter, this week's list features mostly rock, from metal, blues rock, to gothic. This is usually prime folk music weather, but for whatever reason, I just wasn't feeling folksy. Perhaps it was too much of the Republican presidential hopefuls trying to outdo each other with their folksy rhetoric that turned me away, or perhaps I was just too energetic. Regardless, it's a straight blast of rock for this arctic weather. Hopefully you're feeling the same. Enjoy.

Murder By Death - Big Dark Love: This week the Indiana gothic folk/country band will release it's first album in three years. Over the last decade, they've been one of my favorite bands, always making something that sounds good to my ears. In many ways they are like a Midwestern America version of Nick Cave, telling dark tales about the tortures of the soul. Easily their strongest effort since '08s Red of Tooth and Claw, this album includes many of their signature elements, but also shows growth in the sense that it doesn't feel as though they are just making the same album, something that tainted the last two records. Their arrangements are interesting and compelling and this was the kind of album I was hoping for from them. "Last Thing," "Solitary One," and the title track are my personal favorites.

BabyMetal - BabyMetal: This album was released last winter and made quite a stir in its native Japan, and sparking quite a bit of cult curiosity elsewhere. In the category of "only in Japan," this is a power metal album with cute Japanese animie vocals, and truth be told it's kind of addictive. The idea of combining J-Pop and Metal was a stroke of brilliance, and it works because the trance metal music is of top quality. The genius of it is that it will appeal to hardcore metal fans, former rrriot girl addicts, as well as young girls into poppy animie vocals. Anything that can attract listeners to new genres is something worth celebrating, and so I celebrate this unique album.

Ty Segall Band - Live in San Francisco: The San Fran psychedelic garage rock icon has been busy over the past few years with solo projects which has left little room for this side project. It's been over two years since the "Band" released an album, but this week they put out this live album recorded in their hometown. It's a fuzzed out gem of garage punk and another notch in Ty's continually impressive career. The manic energy of the band really comes out in these live recordings and the album is certainly a must for fans. "Thank God for the Sinners," "I Bought My Eyes," and "Feel" are the standouts for me.

Enforcer - Diamonds: Back in 2013, this Sweedish power metal band's third album made my best of the year list, and with a new album finally set to come out in the next few months, I decided to check out this 2010 record, their second. Definitely inspired by '80s NWOBHM, Enforcer plays authentic speed metal that fits right alongside Judas Priest and Saxon. They don't really add anything to the sound, but they aren't simply aping the past either. I like to believe they are trying to keep a genre of music alive because they love it. If you like NWOBHM, then do yourself a favor and pick up this, or any of their other albums, then put it on and crank it up. "Take Me to Hell," "High Roller," and "Running in Menace" are particularly rockin'.

The Soft Moon - Deeper: The San Fran post-punk band's third album is due out in March. I'll admit that I was attracted to this because I love the band's name and figured anything called "The Soft Moon" was worth a chance. Their minimal synth approach has a haunting vibe. Even their song titles are minimal, all of them just one word long. While there are definite links to current post punk bands, there is also a nod to older post punk outfits like Joy Division and Bauhaus. A very atmospheric album, this is one that I will enjoy listening to while I write. "Try," "Wrong" and "Far" are my favorites.

Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes: Over the past several weeks I've been on a big Cinderella kick, listening to their '86 debut Night Songs a bunch, and I've always loved the '88 follow-up Long Cold Winter. Unlike a lot of the hair metal bands of the era, the Philly natives steeped their work in blues and Tom's voice always had more earthy quality than most. I recently found out that he released his first solo album two years ago and I sought it. Like the band, this album has a heavy blues influence like '70s era Stones or Aerosmith, but trades the band's '80s rock riffs for bluesy guitar wrangling that fits his voice perfectly. I really didn't know what to expect from this one, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Just good old boozy rock 'n roll done very well and despite suffering voice problems through the '90s, Tom sounds a powerful as ever. "Cold Day in Hell," "Ask Me Yesterday," "The Flower Song," and "Welcome to My Mind" are real standout tracks.