Sunday, August 30, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

This is one of those weeks I've been looking forward to, with a whole slew of records that I've been waiting to hear. As with anything in life, some were disappointments while others exceeded expectations. It was a mostly rock infused list, with lots of bands that have been favorites for quite some time. There's a good chance at least one or more of these will end up on my year end favorites. So if you have time, check some of them out. Enjoy.

Kadavar - Berlin: The third album from my favorite German stoner metal band was released last week and it's another stellar effort. There is no turning away from their heavy nature, mixing elements of Black Sabbath with more Judas Priest inspired elements. The riffs are fantastic on here. "Filthy Illusion," "The Old Man," and the 80's infused "Into the Night" are classic tunes.

Noah Gundersen - Carry the Ghost: The follow up to one of my favorite albums of last year, this is the second album from the Seattle singer songwriter. Once again he proves himself to be one of the best young folk songwriters of the last few years. On this album, he seems to channel the beautiful sadness of Ryan Adams, coloring each song with his own brand of sorrow. "Slow Dancer," "Show Me the Light," "Jealous Love," and "Empty From the Start."

The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies: Though the Kinks have always been my third favorite of the '60s British invasion bands, right up there with the Beatles and The Stones, I never really got into their '70s catalog. I took a chance on this 1971 release on a whim, and I was thoroughly surprised by how much I loved it. It is fused with country elements, in the style of Exile on Main Street and they do it extremely well. "Complicate Life," "Uncle Son" "Holloway Jail" and the title track are fantastic.

Low - Ones and Sixes: It's rare these days for a band out there to be so original and consistent that you could never confuse them for anyone else. The slowcore legends from Minnesota have been one of those bands over their 20 year career and their 13th album is another masterpiece. There are always small differences from album to album, and on this one they actually manage to successfully infuse some metal-esque elements in slowcore and the results are quite brilliant. "The Innocents" is one of the best songs they've ever done.

The Fratellis - Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied: The fourth record from the Glasgow pub rock band is a bit of a revelation. The last record, a reunion of sorts, felt a little bit like a band trying to figure out if they were still relevant. It appears that now they know they are. Easily their most solid release since their debut, there are moments on here that are truly Lennon-esque. There really isn't a skip song on here and the bonus acoustic tracks are stellar. Definitely one to pick up and perhaps one that will show up on my end of the year list. 

The Sword - High Country: The Austin based stoner metal band's fifth album has been nearly three years in the making, and during that time, the band apparently wanted to experiment with their sound. Unlike their previous efforts which were very heavy, this one has a mellower vibe through most of it. They seem inspired by a Led Zeppelin, going for a more hard blues rock feel, but somehow it doesn't quite work. Toward the end of the second half it does get some of its mojo back. "Mist & Shadow," "The Dreamthieves," and "The Bees of Spring" are my favorites.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Audience of One

Way back when I was a professional writer, when people actually cared a little bit about my work, I was often asked about the audience and how that influenced what I would write. And while I've always believed that a writer needs to create first and foremost for themselves, I admit that after a while, I found myself attempting to tailor a story for a specific audience. This was always done in the later drafts, editing out things that really only held an appeal for me. Looking back, I honestly believe that was a mistake. I allowed myself to get too caught up in the game of writing for somebody's approval, be it a publisher, a critic, or an audience.

Over the past two years, my life has changed dramatically, and my approach to writing has gone back to this notion of I don't care what anybody thinks. That's not to say I won't listen to criticism or advice, because I believe that's crucial. Even if the story is for my pleasure, I want it to be complete. I want it to be free of flaws and weaknesses. I want it to be a perfect version of itself. That is the obsession of an artist, as it should be. The pursuit and desire for awards, sales, and adoration is not the same. That is not what art is about. If it comes, so be it. However, it should never be the goal.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

As I suffered through the sweltering days of this past week, I felt the need for some solid rock to get me through. Some of that came in the form of CDs that had been plucked out of the stacks for much needed and long overdue re-listens. Others came from the slew of new releases that I've been picking from over the past several weeks. Yet even more came from a treasure chest of Lennon bootlegs that I discovered. Most of the new releases this week come from bands that I hadn't paid attention to in quite some time and it was interesting to see where the course of their music has taken them. Others were anticipated releases, and there was even one that I'd never heard of and simply took a chance on. Most were quite good, but to be honest it was one of those weeks where I felt everything could have been slightly better. However, not to fear, because next week is going to be a slew of new albums that I've been desperately looking forward to. Enjoy.

Langhorne Slim - The Spirit Moves: Following up 2012's amazing "The Way We Move" LP is no easy task and it took three years for Slim and his band The Law to put together this satisfying Americana record. It's always a challenge to follow a near perfect release, a struggle to capture the magic once more. Feeding off the same honesty and energy of the last album, this one manages to hold its own, acting as a sibling to the last record, if not quite a companion. "Airplane," "Changes," "Put it Together" and "Strongman" are personal favorites.

Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated: Over the past ten years, the San Fran psychedelic lo-fi band has been releasing albums at a steady clip. This newest addition is on the verge of fantastic. It's the mind expanding psych album that I'd hoped Tame Impala's new record would've been. Moving beyond the garage elements of their past records, this is a richer sound that goes in many spacey directions while never loosing the garage edge. "Web," "Withered Hand," "Sticky Hulks," and "Palace Doctor" are standout tracks on what is perhaps their best album to date.

Crocodiles - Boys: The new album from the San Diego lo-fi indie band is their fifth in just six years. Leaning to the psychedelic side, this reminds me a bit of early Dandy Warhols with its catchy hooks and playfulness. Slightly more poppy than their Cali contemporaries like Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, and The Growlers, yet they satisfy the same primal psych rock need. Definitely a pleasant surprise this week. I went for it based on the cover and was not disappointed. "Crybaby Demon," "Foolin' Around," and "Blue" are standout tracks.

Eleventh Dream Day - Works for Tomorrow: It's been 27 years since the Lexington band released their groundbreaking debut Prairie School Freakout and have now quietly become one of the elder statesman of indie rock. A nice guitar heavy album with a driving rhythm, reminds a bit of Bevis Frond but in a distinctly middle America sort of way. There's a bit of Thurston Moore, again in a distinctly middle America sort of way. "Snowblind," "Vanishing Point," "The Unkowing," and the title track are songs worth checking out.

John Lennon - The Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 1 & 2: I recently acquired the first twenty some volumes in this bootleg series of rare Lennon outtakes, demos and rare versions of songs (minus a few missing ones). Needless to say, I'm super excited to go through them. This week I heard the first two volumes and there is lots of amazing stuff on here. There are early versions of songs that would later become something else, as well as strange little pieces that, even when incomplete, show what an amazing talent he was. Personally I love demo versions and unpolished recordings. Some real standouts on these volumes are "How Do You Sleep," "Surprise Surprise," "God Save Oz," "Make Love Not War," "Peggy Sue," and "Watching the Wheels."

The D4 - 6Twenty: Released in 2001, this is the debut album from the short-lived New Zealand garage rock band. Another in the series of re-listens, this is a CD I've owned for over a decade and one that never connected to me at the time it came out. It's definitely better than I remembered. Kind of a classic garage sound with hints to The Ramones. Perhaps it's the distance between the time it was released and the current lack of garage rock, compared to the abundance back then, that has softened my opinion. Nothing earth shattering here, but a pretty bang up rock sound that is enjoyable. "Get Loose," "Come On!," "Ladies Man" and "Invader Ace" are standout tracks.

Aqueduct - Wild Knights: The Tulsa indie bands first album in eight years was released last month. It's their fourth album and picks up sort of where the the last two left off. This hearkens back to 90's indie, in the vein of Built to Spill and the like. It's not particularly original or unique, but it's a decent album, especially the opening track which reminds me of a more upbeat Beta Band song. I just wish there was something more to make them stand out.

The Delta 72 - OOO: The '90s Philly blues rock band's third and final album was released in 2000 and is yet another one I've pulled from the vaults. Clearly inspired by Exile on Main Street era Stones, this is a blistering blues rock record that Mick and Keith might have done had they grown up on the Philly streets. One of those sadly unheard records that should've been bigger than it was. "Are You Ready," "Just Another Let Down," "3 Day Packet Plan" are killer tunes. Also a good number of instrumental soul fueled tracks on here like "Hip Coat" and "Ten Lbs." Definitely one to check out.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Drifter

The interesting thing about the creation of a written story is that the writer is always a part of it. More than an observer, the writer drifts in and out of the scene, weaving themselves into the characters' lives. We come and go, but they remain trapped in their setting like toys arranged in a dollhouse waiting to be moved, waiting for something to happen. Each time we immerse ourselves, the details become more real. The sounds grow clearer and the air around the characters breathes life into the story and somehow you need to find a way to put in on the page. The art of writing is a labor of love, and like love, one must be dedicated to their partner. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

As the week draws to a close and summer rears its angry head yet again, I'm laying back and thinking about a great week of music. This week I caught up on a few new releases that I'd been looking forward to, and there are quite a few more for next week. This is also one of those weeks that crosses many genres, something that I enjoy doing it. There's far too much music out there to limit tastes to one category. Hopefully there is something here that you'll dig. Enjoy.

Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm going down...: Two years out from the Philly songwriter's breakthrough album comes this new psychedelic folk album. This is a continuation of the sunny laid back feel he cultivated on Walkin on a Pretty Daze and even more laid back, taking a decidedly more folkish turn this time around. I have to admit that this album is pretty much blowing me away and is a sure fire consideration for the best of the year. If you haven't heard Kurt yet, this is not to be missed. If you're already a fan, than you're in for a treat.

Case Studies - This is Another Life: A friend played this record for me a few weeks back and I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I did what one has to do and I bought it. This is a solo project from the Duke half of The Dutchess and The Duke. It doesn't stray far from their folk sound, but it does take on a even slower pace, almost like Low but not full-fledged slowcore. This is a perfect weekend kind of record, relaxing and beautiful in the spirit of Leonard Cohen. Definitely worth seeking out.

Albert Hammond Jr. - Momentary Masters: It's been seven years since The Strokes guitarist's last solo album. His third solo effort came out two weeks ago and it shows an interesting progression. Moving away from the singer songwriter appeal of his debut, and building on the rock sound of his last album, this is definitely inspired by the experimental turn of the last Strokes record. There are New Order moments on here, combined post-punk indie vibe. "Caught By My Shadow," "Losing Touch" and "Coming to Getcha" are among my favorites.

Dr. Dre - Compton: It's been 15 years since the rap pioneer last released a record, in that time he's become a mogul but apparently hasn't lost his touch on the mic, or in the booth. This is one of the most interesting hip hop albums in years, featuring a whole host of ambitious tracks that musically transcend hip hop to include all sorts of genres. A wealth of guest spots from superstars keeps everything moving and entertaining. If the rumors are true and this is his last record, what a way to go out. "It's All On Me," "Loose Cannons," and "Medicine Man" are standouts.

Arzachel - Arzachel: The one and only album from the late 60's Canterbury Scene band wasn't released until 1969, over a year after the band broke up. Mixing psychedelic with softer styles, this is one of the earliest prog rock albums, and falls somewhere in between fellow Canterbury band Soft Machine and "Stand Up" era Jethro Tull. Two long songs make up side B, displaying the band's prowess to jam, while "Leg" proves they can rock heavy. A very worthwhile undiscovered gem. 

Hanoi Rocks - Bangkok Shocks Saigon Shakes Hanoi Rocks: The glam metal debut from the Finish band that helped lead the charge of L.A. glam metal in the 80's. I bought this CD in a Seattle store back in 2002 and the guy behind the counter was like yes....great album. We were probably the only two people in that city who would agree on that. But it is a great album, perhaps lacking the spark of GnR or the polish of Crüe, though it deserves a place near the top of the genre. "Don't Never Leave Me," and "Stop Cryin'" are top notch. 

Digable Planets - Blowout Comb: No review necessary for this 1994 masterpiece. Has always been one of my favorites and finally got it on vinyl. Political, intelligent and smooth. Jazzy, funky, and straight brilliant. If you don't know, better act like you do.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dog Days

A quick newsflash...there are still far too many days until Winter's return. It's no secret that I hate summer. Summer is hot, sunny, and itchy. I much prefer the crisp freshness of winter with its shortened days, lack of heat, and hibernating bugs. 

I always feel more creative in winter. The sweltering temperatures make it hard for me to focus, hard to get things done, and hard to relax. The only respite is a dip in a pool and late night ice cream. Otherwise, summer is fairly dumb. So if you're hearing my plea, please returner a little sooner, dear Winter. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

The week has passed us by once more, easing into another warm summer weekend and a time to reflect on the importance of music heard these past seven days. It has been another week split between new releases and re-discoveries. Back in November when I was reorganizing my bloated CD collection, I loaded a ton of discs into the fuzzy warble drive on my computer and I'm still going through those and bringing them back into the light of day. There were a few pleasant surprises this time around, and a few nice new albums to write about. These are all pretty solidly summer albums in my opinion, except for the first one which can transcend easily into the gloom of winter. Enjoy.

The Machine - Offblast: The Dutch stoner rock band's sixth LP was released in the beginning of summer and it's a pretty epic album. The guitar work is clearly inspired by Jimi Hendrix, using the same organic flow that few have been able to repeat, and translating it into something heavy. Vocally it shares kinship with Layne Staley, another favorite of mine. "Gamma," "Coda Sun," and "Chrysalis" are standout tracks. Definitely worth checking out.

Cold War Kids - Five Quick Cuts: This special 10" was a Record Store Day release this year and features five new songs from the Cali indie band. This is one of those bands that I've been following since they came out and continue to listen to each new release. Their career has been quietly impressive, with only one misstep in the middle of their five album span. These tracks represent a slightly bigger sound for them, a little more rocking, and quite good. If this is a hint at their new album, consider me excited.
Harry Nilsson - Pussy Cats: Another one from my vaults, this is the 1974 album that Nilsson made with John Lennon during John's "Lost Weekend". Back in the mid-to-late '90s when I was on a Nilsson and Lennon kick, I purchased this CD thinking it would be mind blowing. I never connected with it, and hadn't listened to it in years until this past week. I've been listening to a lot of radio recently and they've been playing a lot of later Lennon stuff that I've been digging, so I thought this would be a good time. And though it's not mind blowing, I definitely connect with it more now. The cover of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is fantastic, as is "Many Rivers to Cross."

Tame Impala - Currents: The Australian neo-psyche band's third album was released last month and is their first in 3 years. In that time they've expanded their audience and entered the fringes of mainstream. I was really hoping this would be a monster of an album. The stars all seemed aligned for a breakthrough psychedelic rock record, but that's not what this is. Clearly inspired by 80's commercial pop, this was an extremely disappointing album for me. Too much Billy Ocean/ Michael McDonald/ New Edition moments for my taste. "The Less I Know, The Better" and "Yes I'm Changing" were really the only two songs I'll be keeping.

Pagoda - Dearly Departed: This 2004 album is another CD that I've had for years and decided to put it back in rotation. I always remember liking it, and this time around was no different. A perfect summer time album, this is fine blend of psychedelic pop reminiscent of Sunshine Fix mixed with Skygreen Leopards. Dreamy and ethereal, this is the kind of album to play on those lazy sunny days that seem to be few and far between these days. "Ham on White," and "Superbreakout" are my personal favorites.

Jean Grae - iSweatergawd: The newest EP from the Brooklyn rapper has an old-school feel to it, giving me a bit of a updated Blowout Comb vibe, but not as political or serious. Once again she proves to be one of the most intelligent and creative lyricists around on these six songs. It lacks that one knockout song, the one that would put her on top of the throne, though it's consistent throughout. "38 Special" and "Looking Free" are standout tracks for me.

Marion - This World and Body: The 1996 debut from the UK indie band is one of the lesser known gems to be released at the tail end of the Britpop boom. Perhaps it remains slightly unknown because it is decidedly more rock than pop, fitting more in with bands like Placebo and early Radiohead rather than Oasis. Having put this one back into the rotation, I instantly remembered how much I enjoy this record. "The Only Way," "All for Love," "Your Body Lies," and "Fallen Through" are standout tracks.

The Sonics - Fire & Ice II: The Lost Tapes: Seattle's '60s garage rock kings were short lived, not very famous, but extremely influential. During the late '90s garage rock revival, I was way into The Sonics and purchased this rare disc. This is a strange collection of songs that feel nothing like their explosive, best-known singles "Psycho" or "Strychnine". These are more '60s era love songs in the spirit of the early Beatles. There are some great tunes on here, but mostly mediocre ones. I recommend "Anyway the Wind Blows," "Good Hard Rock," and "Lost Love."

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Words of the Day

"How amazing, he thought, that society usually holds itself together—cars stay in their lanes, stoplights are obeyed, the rules are almost always followed. Rarely do people act so rashly, rarely does someone make an effort to plow into school children or deliberately drop their keys down a sewage drain. Yet throughout his adult life such troubling notions unsettled and entertained him—and, inexplicably, titillated him: he had imagined veering his vehicle into other cars or swerving toward oblivious pedestrians on the sidewalk, perhaps killing himself in the process." 

              -Mitch Cullin (from Under Surface)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

This week took a strange course as I realized a lot of the albums I'd selected to listen to were throwbacks to earlier eras of my life. Though many are new releases, they are archival releases, which is basically the same thing as being old. Toward the end of the week, I started to infuse more "new" new releases, though they also ended up linking back to times gone by. Either it was a strange collection, one that I put the foundation together a few weeks back, so it didn't necessarily represent my mood at the time, which in a way was refreshing. I let the music guide me, and found myself receptive. All in all, a good week. Enjoy.

 Wilco - Star Wars: When one of the best bands of the past 20 years releases an album for free, it's something that people pay attention to. Far more valuable than the U2 album in my opinion, this is another very strong album in a career full of them. As with their other records, there always seems to be a few uneven tracks, but even their weaker songs are very listenable. Their sound continues to evolve from the alt-country of their beginnings, and though it has folk roots, this is simply indie rock at its finest. "More...," "Where Do I Begin," and "Magnetized" are some of the finest songs they ever recorded.

Maple Bee - Little Victories: The fourth solo album from Melanie Garside (of QueenAdreena and sister to Katie Jane Garside, one of my favorite artists of all time) is another stellar mixture of chamber pop, noise rock, avant folk, and eclectic beauty. It was a joyful surprise to see this come out this past month and it didn't disappoint. Much like her sister's Ruby Throat project, this album is mostly soft with "Row You Up River," "To All the Lost," "Almost Home" and the cover of Donovon's "Catch the Wind" being my personal favorites.

The Kinks - The Live Kinks: In the great debate between who was better "The Beatles or The Stones", the one British band that is overlooked are the lads from London, whose '60s catalog stands side-by-side with those other two giants. I picked up this '67 Live album on vinyl a few weeks back, and though it epitomizes what I dislike about live albums of the era with its poor mixing, the band still sounds great and their energy manages to come through, especially on "You Really Go Me" and the "Milk Cow Blues" melody. Way too many screaming teen girls to make this essential, but a nice pick up for fans.

Monks - Black Monk Time: Recorded in '65, this landmark proto-punk album is one of those records that all serious collectors will demand be in your collection. On such recommendations, I purchased this on CD over a decade ago, but never really got into it. Having recently pulled it out to give it another go, I find myself drawn to the Beat sensibility and hip swing of the music, but still can't connect with the oddball nature of much of the record. Highly inconsistent, this certainly shouldn't show up on any all time best lists, but it is a very important record and one of immense interest. At times it's brilliant, like on "I Hate You" and "Monk Time", at others just peculiar. I would recommend Jack Starr instead.

Sebadoh - BBC Sessions: A new compilation of BBC recordings from the seminal '90s lo-fi band proves just how unique they were, and how unlike they were from many of their contemporaries who they are often grouped with. One of the problems with the categorization of '90s music is that bands are simply thrown into the "90's Alternative" label, though they really span the spectrum of sound. Sebadoh were lo-fi noise rock at its finest, standing right beside Guided By Voices in that category for the decade. Built on Lou Barlow's Dinosaur Jr. foundation, and paving the way for his Folk Implosion path, these songs fall somewhere between the two musically. Definitely a must for fans, and also a good introduction for newbies.
The Dandy Warhols - Dandys Rule OK: In my continuing effort to go back and re-experience albums that I've owned for a long time, I gave the Dandy's '95 debut another listen, having not picked up the CD in over a decade. This album is different from their others, much more shoegaze influenced than than the psychedelic pop that would follow. There are moments where this is fantastic, and many more where it is simply average. "Ride," "Just Try," and "The Coffee and Tea Wreaks" are my personal favorite. Interesting for fans, otherwise I'd skip to their break-through follow-up album The Dandy Warhols Come Down.

Fugazi - First Demo: This archival album was released last Fall and contains the first finished recordings of the band that would go on to become one of the most influential hardcore acts of the '90s. Though recorded nearly 30 years ago, there is still an immediacy to these songs which stems from the raw energy they've always displayed. It contains a few songs that never ended up being released, making this essential for fans.