Saturday, October 31, 2015

Change of Heart

I've spent the last twenty years growing to dislike Halloween. When I lived in the city, I grew to dislike it a little more with every year that passed. In New York, it's turned into a day where idiots can go out and act like idiots in the street and somehow the rest of us are supposed to put up with it. Louie had a great episode that illustrated how shitty that city is on this day. 

Living in the country the past ten years, my hatred has waned, but I still have never embraced the holiday the way I did as a child. It is, after all, a child's holiday. Unlike other holidays, the entire nature of it seems geared around childish activities, that when enacted by adults, sort of creep me out. 

This year has been different. Now that there is a child in my life, these are the kind of things that I've begun to look at differently. I feel like I can once again enjoy this holiday, and sure enough, I have enjoyed my baby in a elephant costume and walking around with her as I dressed as Axl Rose. It feels good to find enjoyment in things that held none not so long ago.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Secretely Canadian

Though I live less than four hours from the border with our neighbors to the North, I'd never made the trip up to Canada until last week, spending four days in the beautiful city of Montreal. Given that they speak French there, I wondered if the town would have a European feel to it. And while there are certainly some things there that resemble the cities of Europe, it did not feel European. That said, it definitely did not feel American either. It was quite something to travel a few hundred miles and discover a place that felt foreign, despite the fact that most Americans look upon the country as little more than the 51st state. 

I have to admit that I absolutely loved the city. It had an extremely welcoming vibe that instantly made me comfortable. There wasn't a moment when I didn't feel completely at ease. I always judge a place on whether or not I could see myself living there, and when it comes to Montreal, I could imagine myself taking up residence.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

As promised, I've returned from journey north of the border, with an armful of records in tow. However, those will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I forgot that I had a long weekend before I left and had plenty of time to groove out to new music. That new music took the form of some vinyl records I'd recently picked up, and a lot of Bandcamp exploration. In the past, I'd dabbled on the site, but found it a bit overwhelming. With the help of a blog called Bandcamp Hunter, one that finds the best of the site, I been discovering lots of great stuff and hope to continue sharing some of these underground bands in the future. Enjoy.

The Legendary Pink Dots - Crash Velvet Apocalypse: The newest archival live release from the U.K. experimental psych band is a collection of recordings from 1991.  There are few bands that can completely blow me away, especially at this stage in my life, in the last two years, this band has been one of them. Nobody sounds like them, nobody takes music this far. Listening to them is like hearing a William Burroughs novel come to life in sound. Perhaps this is what a Syd Barrett led Floyd would have eventually sounded like. Whatever the case may be, I'm thoroughly enjoying the continued discovery of their seemingly endless catalog of albums best enjoyed in their entirety.

David Gilmour - David Gilmour: After being extremely impressed by the Great Floyd's newest solo album, I decided to check out his first. Released in 1978, between Animals and The Wall, when Floyd was falling further and further under the creative dictatorship of Roger Waters, this album allowed the guitarist to explore his vision unhindered. It opens with a Wish You Were Here like instrumental, and leads into a classic late '70s era Gilmour piece "There's No Way Out of Here." The rest of the album takes on the same pace, alternating these two types of tracks. The result is an album that is better than any of the Floyd albums that followed. 

Rule of Thirds - Rule of Thirds: The debut album from the Australian gothic post-punk band, released on vinyl and available to listen to on their Bandcamp site, is wonderful addition to a genre that has all but disappeared. This reminds me of some underground early '90s bands that were around before the explosion of "alternative" music. There's a "To Mother" era Babes in Toyland vibe here, combined with a darker undertone. Totally brought me back to being 15 and listening to music in my room, letting my imagination wander to forbidden places. Definitely worth checking out, especially for '90s weird kids. 

Jordaan Mason - The Decline of Stupid Fucking Western Civilization: I've been a fan of Mason's since the fantasice 2009 album "Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head." His minimal folk borders on slowcore, stretching out notes to create a distorted and disturbing scenery. This album consists of eight lengthy tracks, including the phenomenal 12 minute long title track. It's his first album of new material in nearly 8 years and is most likely his best album to date. It's nice to have his unique vision back.

The Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request: Released at the tail end of '67, this was the Stones answer to psychedelic pop of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, and to a lesser extent Pet Sounds and Smilely Smile. Typical of the bad boys of rock, their attempt at trippy was, well, trippier. Always more hard-edged than their contemporaries, this album would signal their journey into a more dangerous sound. Though I've had this on CD for decades, I recently picked up a copy on vinyl with the amazing 3D cover art. "2000 Light Years From Home" alone is enough to make this a must have. 

Waylon Jennings - Heartaches by the Number: This compilation captures the country music legend covering some of the most popular country tunes of the '60s. This isn't that new country, this is that old time Nashville lonely bar music that holds true to the roots of American music. Waylon sounds great on here, and this is one of those perfect lazy afternoon records. A nice pick up if you can find one laying around.

Mexican Knives - Mexican Knives: The debut full length from Detroit's newest garage rock band is reminiscent of The Detroit Cobras. They have a similar old school psychedelic soul vibe blended with Rockabilly edge. It has great energy throughout, and really nails the sound. "Down to Hell" is a fantastically eerie song. Most of these songs would fit well into the "Death Proof" soundtrack. Worth checking out on their bandcamp site.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

There's Gold in Them Hills

I'm currently reworking the last third of my manuscript and had been finding it a daunting task. The existing story line that makes up the final build-up and climax needs to be rethought based on changes in the content and motivations of the characters from the first two thirds of the novel. Rather than plotting it out ahead of time, I'd decided to wait and see where the leading action was taking me. This process always has a way of feeling a bit overwhelming when it gets to this point. Suddenly you have to evaluate the entire story as a whole, draw conclusions about the themes, and enact a plot that satisfies the outcome. It left me feeling a bit lost yesterday...then this morning, I saw an amazing double rainbow stretching from mounting to the next and it reminded me that there are always connections and always a way to get from there to here. Sometimes you just have to look outward in order to find the will to continue on.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Time Traveling on a Fall Day

Who says time travel isn't possible? I seem to travel in time frequently. I don't get to stay very long, maybe a second or two, but it happens. This time of year it seems to happen more often than others. The way the sun hits the changing leaves combines with the smell of school in the air and acts as a flux compacitor, filling my thoughts of years gone by. Unlike simple fondly looking back, this is different. Rare moments come back, ones that have long been filed away in the bottom drawer of memory. Names, faces, and places that were once forgotten are suddenly there. Events that I couldn't recall a moment before, magically feel as though they just happened. And though I'm not sure what type of sorcery is at work here, I'm pretty sure that I enjoy it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Last weekend, I went crate digging at the local vinyl store in search for some great deals, and I walked away with an armful of great finds. I spent most of my week digesting those, while also making room for a few anticipated releases. It turned out to be mostly a week surrounded by classics. The later half of the week, I indulged in my current Lennon obsession and celebrated his 75th birthday with a heavy dose of solo work. I'll be taking next weekend off, making a trip across the northern border with the missus and the little one. Will be back with lots more to share. Enjoy.

Silversun Pickups - Better Nature: Two weeks ago, the L.A. indie band released it's fourth album, continuing their trend of three years between releases. This record feels closer to their 2009 breakout Swoon than the previous album, with more focus on uptempo dance rock and less on shoegaze. It opens with the stellar title track and never really lets up, delivering one catchy track after the next. It slows down a bit on the second half, becoming more moody, but never really losing focus. A solid album with the kind of wide-range appeal as Smashing Pumpkins' "Siamese Dream".

The Doors - The Doors: The 1967 self-titled debut from the L.A. psychedelic blues rock band stands as one of the most groundbreaking debuts of the era. Despite the level of cliche the band has reached, having not heard this in a long time, it totally blew me away when I picked it up on vinyl and listened to it again. It's hard to imagine just how original and dangerous this would have sounded when it came out, but I'm sure it was a sensation with wild opening of "Break on Through" and epic closing of "The End." Essential for any collection.

The Bevis Frond - Example 22: The twenty second album from the British neo-psychedlic icon is yet another choice example of his talent and genius. A master at guitar riffs, Nick Saloman is a bridge between classic '70s rock and contemporary psyche artists like Kurt Vile. He's always felt like a British Thurston Moore to me, but with more emphasis on blues based melody. There are heavier moments on here, like "Second Son" which may be the heaviest he's ever sounded. This ranks right up there with his other releases of the last decade, and after 30 years, he's still at the top of his game.

Jackson Browne - The Pretender: The '70s were first golden era of singer songwriters. There was something about that decade that appreciated the artistic vision of the singular artist. Jackson Browne has always belonged to that group soft rock, folky artists with Paul Simon and Elton John. Having backed up Tim Buckley and Nico before breaking out as a solo artist, Jackson developed an artistic sense that carries through in his lyrics and music. "Here Come Those Tears Again," "The Only Child," A great relaxing album with lots of depth.

Work Drugs - Louisa: The prolific Philly indie pop band's tenth album in five years came out back in August and is one of those electro-rock summer indie fun albums that seem all over the place these days. This is pure indie pop, loaded with catchy 80's synth style tracks that are nostalgic while still never seeming dated. At times it's a little too pop for me, especially in the chorus sections, but overall not a bad listen. Worth checking out if your a fan of Future Islands. "My Billie Jean," "Minor Flaws,"

John Lennon - The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 8: With what would have been his 75th birthday, it's easy to ponder what might have been had his vision not been cut short by the crazed actions of a disturbed young man. But while it's interesting to dwell on what music or art may have come, John Lennon left a lifetime of great work behind for us to enjoy. His message is still powerful and inspiring. This volume of the bootleg series once again features work that spans his career with demo and alternate versions of songs like "How Do You Sleep," "Oh, Yoko," and "Just Like Starting Over." It also features a few sketches which highlight his playful side. The highlights on here for me are the rare "John Henry," and "Pill."

John Cougar - American Fool: This was exactly the type of album I was looking for in the $1 bins on my trip to the local record store last weekend, something that I would never pay more for, but that would far out-value the price. The heartland rocker's 1982 breakthrough album is Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA a year earlier. I grew up with these songs in my formative music listening years, and then quietly forgot about them, but from the moment I put the needle down, it all came rushing back. The hits are here were hits for a reason and are dynamite examples of 80's pop rock. "Hurts So Good" just, well, hurts so good.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Fame Game

Writers beware of the temptation to chase fame. It's a trap that catches many writers, making them forget why they started to write in the first place. One shouldn't write for money or attention. The urge to write comes from a place inside, it satisfies the primal storytelling nature that exists in all of us. That is the fire that should fuel the craft. There's nothing wrong with desiring recognition, but there is a danger in seeking it and losing focus in pursuit of it. 

A few years ago, I fell into this trap and as I hit reset on my career, I'm more mindful than ever of avoiding the same mistakes this time around. Always produce work that you can be proud of and appreciate the readers you have. Leave the rest to the hands of fate.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

This past week was one of those fine weeks where favorite bands of mine released some unexpected stuff. It's funny how the music world has changed in the last few decades. It used to be an album was hyped for months before it finally release, and now there albums, like ones on this list, that were announced one week before being released. That makes for a lot of nice surprises, though I suppose it also leads to a lot of overlooked songs. Somehow, completely unplanned, this week's selection made for a nice soundtrack to introduce Autumn. Hopefully there are some things on here you may have overlooked. Enjoy.

The Decemberists - Florasongs: Definitely the album I was most excited about this week was the surprise EP from one of my favorite bands. These five songs were recorded for their album that came out earlier this year, but were cut for time reasons. As with their last album, the band decided the songs were too good to throw away and released them on a companion EP. Musically they fit in with the sound of the last album, but perhaps don't quite fit thematically, which made them good choices to separate. As always, it's top quality, with "The Harrow and the Haunted" being my personal favorite.

Ryan Adams - 1989: Another surprise album, the singer songwriter decided to release a cover of Taylor Swift's chart topping album, done in the style of Bruce Springsteen. Not surprisingly, Adams makes these songs his own, turning feel good into heartbreak. Now, I admit to thoroughly enjoying Taylor Swift's album, so this isn't a case of indie-makes-mainstream-so-much-better. It's not better, it's just different. What it does is bring wonderful songs to a new audience in a style that they might find more appealing. "Style" and "Bad Blood" are standouts...on both albums.

The View - Ropewalk: For the decade, this Scottish indie band has been one of the most unsung outfits in the UK indie rock revival. Their fifth album came out last month and isn't likely to change that, even though it's yet another quality record. As with most of their albums, it has a way of growing on me. Their songs are always catchy, but there are subtleties that don't always jump out right away. I highly recommend giving the band a chance, any of their albums, if you don't know them. "Penny," "Under the Rug," and "House of Queue's" are standout tracks.

The Dears - Times Infinity Volume One: It's been four years since we last heard from Montreal indie band, and it's been nearly a decade since their masterpiece Gang of Losers albums. This album sees them return a little to that time, moving away from the dance influence that weakened their past release and once capturing a moody dream world reminiscent of mid-era Pink Floyd. "I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall," "Face of Horrors," and "To Have and To Hold" are my personal favorites. 

Old Crow Medicine Show - Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer: The Nashville old-time country band put out this EP early in the summer and it's fine example of the kind of bluegrass influenced sound they do best. Unlike so many so-called "country" acts these days, OCMS stays true to the roots, singing about hard times and causing trouble. With four songs, this is more of a single than an EP, but it's still worth checking out. The title track is great, as is "Mother Church." 

Gliss - Akustisks Dans: Shortly following the release of their fifth album in June, the L.A. shoegaze band put out this acoustic five song EP. The songs on here are rougher versions of songs that appeared on their 2013 Langsom Dans album, which was a beautiful dreampop record. I don't know if these are demos, or just alternate re-recordings, but they certainly have the honest feel of demos that I always enjoy. "Weight of Love" is fantastic. A very nice companion piece to the album.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cracks in the Scenery

The thing about writing is that the process doesn't always move at the same pace. I never understood those who sit down every day and say they are going to write 500 words or 1,000 words. Not every scene in a story can be written according to a schedule and I've always found the only way to work is to let the words come in their own time.

This is especially true with crucial scenes, ones that are meant to answer questions that the reader has formed up to that point, while at the same time setting up the next big change in the story. These critically climactic scenes require careful attention. Things need to be revealed in a certain sequence, characters have to speak in certain tones, and the story must maintain a certain rhythm.

Today, I finished one such scene. After day upon day of working on it and crafting it just the way I wanted, I finally inserted a page break and moved onto to the next chapter. It's grueling when these scenes take a long time, but so rewarding when they're done.