Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

Another busy week passed by, and given that I was still savoring my Record Store Day buys, it left little time for me to indulge in new music. However, I did manage to listen to four 2015 releases, all of which I'd been anticipating. So this is one of those quality, not quantity lessons. Besides the strange, unplanned theme of black, white, and grey covers, there seems to be a focus on albums with boldness (at least the first three). It's nice to see so many bands taking risks, especially in a market where everybody mostly seems to try and sound like everybody else. Enjoy.

San Fermin - Jackrabbit: Two years after their intriguing debut, the Brooklyn indie band released their second album this past week. I really enjoyed the genre-bending chaos of their first album and I'm glad to see them push the envelope even farther here. Their combination of indie rock, electronic, and orchestral arrangements keep the listener engaged throughout. They remind of Menomena and Boggs, but with they go even farther, including songs that are more pop infused, though could never really be pop songs. Definitely one of the newer indie acts that is worth watching. "The Woods," "Philosopher," "Parasites," "Emily" and "Two Scenes" are among my favorites.

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color: The second album from the breakout indie blues rock band of 2012 was finally released this week. I was one of the hoards of people who were impressed by their debut, though I admit I never truly fell in love with it. This record is a bit more dramatic, and definitely a brave exploration into music as they push their boundaries, trying to further their sound. Like the last album, it draws heavily on early late '60's and '70s blues rock of Janis Joplin and even some Stones mixed in. However it also draws from contemporary indie rock, giving it a current feel. At times it's down right stunning, and I have no doubt it will be a blockbuster album of the summer. "This Feeling," "Don't Wanna Fight," and "Gimme All Your Love" are my personal favorites.

Björk - Vulnicura: The Icelandic pixie released her 12th solo album in January and it's pretty damn close to a masterpiece. Her career has been a lot of hit or miss for me. There's never been an album that I didn't like, but there are definitely ones that I enjoy a whole lot more than others. This is my favorite of hers since 2000's Selmasongs. It's perhaps the most coherent and consistent record since 1995's Post, but musically far more superior than either of those albums. She sometimes has a tendency to veer too far into electronic weirdness, but not here. These songs are genuine and beautiful, and always seem to know exactly what they are and what they are supposed to be. Easily a surprise candidate for my end of the year list.

Rocky Votolato - Hospital Handshakes: Released last week is the eighth studio album from the Seattle singer songwriter, via Dallas. His blend of contemporary folk is infused with an alt country style, and I've been following him over the course of his last four albums. This is his first in three years and it's another solid record. At times he feels like a version of Ryan Adams with less attention to stardom. As with his previous records, there is nothing to really make it stand out from the crowd, though it certainly holds it own with his contemporaries. "White-Knuckles," "A New Son," and "Sawdust & Shavings" are stand out tracks.

Guns N' Roses - Make My Day!: This bootleg from 1991 is basically a collection of songs that can be found on other bootlegs. It focuses on early unreleased GNR classics, like the Hollywood Rose songs and demo versions of "November Rain" and "One in a Million." Many of these can be found on the three disc bootleg Appetite for Outtakes or the CBGB's set. Despite that, and despite my extensive collection of Guns bootlegs, there is one song that I didn't have before. Though I have many versions of their "Jumping Jack Flash" cover, I had not heard their acoustic version before. As expected, it's dynamite. Certainly worth owning, especially if you don't have any boots, or the Hollywood Rose album. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From Where Things Come

The other day I was packing up the last remnants of my old office and came across this sticker of Jabber Jaw. As a kid, I loved Jabber Jaw. He never failed to crack me up. Anyone familiar with that '80s cartoon character, and my picture book The Shark Who Was Afraid of Everything, must surely know that it was the inspiration for the story. It's funny how things like that can stay with you, and as I eagerly await the birth of my first child, I can't wait to see what she discovers and watch what things will inspire her.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the weekend again, one day after my favorite music related Saturday of the year. That's right, yesterday was Record Store Day! And while there weren't really any special releases that I was coveting, I always make it a point to visit at least one store on that day to show my support, and splurge a little bit on some gifts for myself. Because I'd recently bought a bunch of new releases, I decided to visit the nearby used vinyl store this time around. I hadn't been there in a while, and was curious to see what they had. I found some pieces that I'd been looking for, most I probably won't review as they were re-buys of albums I have on CD, but needless to say, it was a good day. It's also been a good week for new releases and I've actually had some time to listen to them. Hopefully you'll find something here to seek out on your next record store day. Enjoy.

Built to Spill - Untethered Moon: Due out this Tuesday is the eighth album from the indie rock legends, their first in six years. Always one of the most consistent indie bands since the late '90s, they've always created intelligent and interesting music, and this record is no different. From the opening nostalgic affirmation anthem, it is clear that this isn't the work of a band trying to capitalize on the summer festival reunion/comeback circuit. This is the sound of an artistic band that still something to say. "All Our Songs," "C.R.E.B.," "Living Zoo," and "Never be the Same" are among my personal favorites.

Trickfinger - Trickfinger: Released last week, this is John Frusciante's first full length release under his acid house name. Given his ever increasing interest in glitch pop and experimental music, this is a natural progression for him to make. Definitely more listenable than some of his other recent side projects. This basically amounts to a DJ set, only with original music. As with everything John does, the quality is high and there's an attention to groove, which is maintained throughout. Definitely worth a listen for fans.

The White Stripes - Under Amazonian Lights: As part of Jack White's on-going Third Man Records vault releases, this famous 2005 concert in Brazil was released last month in a vinyl box set to fan club members. The first rock band to play in the historic Opera house, this show was groundbreaking, and the band was in rare form, partially due to Jack's recent marriage and high spirits. The recording quality is brilliant. One night of a band at their peak, when they were the biggest rock band on the planet, forever captured in all its glory. A must have, but the limited edition assures the set comes with a hefty price tag.

Cancer Bats - Searching for Zero: Released last month, the Toronto punk band's fifth album is perhaps their most accessible to date. That's not to say it is any less heavy than their previous records, but there is definitely more attention to rhythm. It reminds me of the change Fugazi made with their fourth album, turning away from hardcore and toward indie rock. This has a Death From Above dance punk feel that suits them well, though it's much more metal leaning than anything Death From Above has done. "True Zero," "Buds," and "No More Bull Shit" are standout tracks for me.

Josh Rouse - The Embers of Time: The native Nebraskan singer songwriter's eleventh solo record was released earlier this month. Though I'd listened to him in the early days of his career, about a decade ago, I didn't ever follow his work too closely. Then last weekend, he was doing a radio show on the Woodstock station and played a few tracks from the record that made me take notice, including the stunning "New Young," a brilliant lament about how he, and the current folk singer crop, will never be as iconic as the likes of Neil Young, and yet somehow that song seems just as good as any of the "classics". For most of the album, Josh sounds more like Paul Simon than Neil Young. There's a beautiful simplicity to his melodies and a clarity to his voice that makes this feel like an old familiar record. Besides the previously mentioned "New Young," "Ex-Pat Blues," and "Time" are outstanding tracks on a very good album.

Kath Bloom - Pass Through Here: For nearly 30 years, Kath Bloom has been recording her unique style of folk music. In a way, she reminds me of Marianne Faithful translated into American roots folk. She has a similar tragedy to her voice that makes it unforgettable and beautiful. Though it definitely should be noted that she has one of those "love or hate" voices. "Criminal Side," "Bubble Bath," and "Pacify Me" are my personal favorites. Definitely something to check out if you are tired of all the folk-pop crowding the market today.

Cinderella - Night Songs: The '86 debut from the Philly rockers is an album from my youth that I'd been really into lately, and on Record Store Day yesterday, I found a copy on vinyl and quickly snatched it up. This is a blues soaked shot of east coast glam that never quits. I've always felt they were an underrated band of the era. Their best songs rank up there with any rock group of the time. Tom's vocals, and their deep rooted blues style, combined with genre perfect bass and drums make this a solid record. "Somebody Save Me," "Nothin' for Nothin'," "Shake Me," and the perfect "Nobody's Fool" are essential tracks of '80s rock.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fiction Friday (36)

It's been ages since I posted a book review, mainly because I've have very little time to read of late. Over the past few weeks, I've been reading a book I've wanted to read for a long, long time. While I love getting to read something that has been on my list for a long time, there's also a bit of disappointment in that there is now one less story to look forward to. It's also rare that I go into a book with expectations, except in cases like this. Sometimes they live up to it, sometimes not. That is the joy of discovery and this was a trip I enjoyed. 

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

As a child of the '80s, I was one of the vast number of kids who fell in love with this magical story through the power of film. Though I haven't seen it since my childhood, the images have stayed with my imagination. I'd been meaning to read the novel for ages, and finally got a copy as a gift for my birthday and dove right in.

This is one of those books that feels like two books in one. It's no surprise that the movie only covers the first half of the book. The second half of the book essentially begins a new story. After Bastian saves Fantastica by giving the Childlike Empress her new name, he physically enters the story in which he was reading. The novel switches gears from an adventure of courage and suspense, the story of Atreyu and his luckdragon, into one of self-discovery where the reader follows Bastian as he navigates the temptations and dangers of sudden power.

Bastian is a shy kid, dealing with the loss of his mother and a father made distant by his grief. Like a lot of children in such situations, he escapes into stories. When he actually enters the story and realizes he can have every wish granted, he of course wishes to be everything he is not. He wishes to be brave, dashing, wise, and feared. But the more he wishes to be somebody else, the more he forgets who he is, and he forgets how to love.

From a writing point of view, it's a brave journey to take the main character on as he becomes more and more unlikable, until the concluding action of course where all is corrected. Though it lacks the scope of some other fantasy books, falling more in line with the likes of "The Last Unicorn" than "The Chronicles of Narnia" this is certainly one of those thoroughly enjoyable stories that will entertain all ages.

Monday, April 13, 2015

When the Drums Cry...

Earlier today the Nobel Prize winning author Günter Grass passed away at the age of 87. His work was profoundly influential to my early development as a writer. I first encountered his work while attending NYU in the mid-90's. I read the The Tin Drum, not on assignment, and while reading probably five or so other assigned novels at the same time. Despite its girth, I devoured the story. The scenes played out in my imagination for weeks and months...from which the above illustration was born, drawn just days after finishing The Tin Drum. In the year that followed I quickly read the rest of the Danzig trilogy, which also blew me away. His approach to post-modern literature never forgot the importance of character, heart, and emotion. Another legendary voice has fallen silent, but his words will live on forever.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekend Music Roundup

It has been a very busy week, leaving me with little time to digest new music, and as a result, I'm compelled to offer a shortened Roundup. Though condensed, this list is made up entirely of new releases by artists I've followed for years. It's always interesting to see how bands or songwriters progress during their career, and when you have the chance to follow over a period of time and experience it as it happens, that's even better. A lot of Midwestern inspired indie and alt country on this list, so hopefully you'll be in the mood for that on this day of resurrection. Enjoy.

My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall: Due out in a few weeks is the Louisville indie band's seventh album, and first in over four years. This is an album with a grand scope that attempts to sound huge on every track. There's a feeling of wide open spaces on here, which I enjoy. Too often bands tend to grow more claustrophobic as they go along, always trying to limit their risk. This is an attempt to be bold. It doesn't succeed on every track, but when it does, it's fantastic. After a slow start, the album grows into something epic, reminding me a bit of Pink Floyd's landmark '70s records. There's a ton of great classic folk-rock guitar grooves and alt-country moments that combine to make something unique sounding and not at all derivative. "In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)", "Get The Point," and "Spring (Among the Living)" make for a brilliant mid-album trio. "Like a River," "Tropics (Erase Traces)," and "Thin Line" are also stand out tracks. 

Simon Joyner - Grass, Branch & Bone: The Omaha singer songwriter's 15th album is an acoustic alt country gem, in the folkish style he's done so well for so long. Part Bob Dylan and part Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Simon Joyner has always been one of those interesting artists that remains under the radar despite his obvious talent. Though I've missed his more recent records, I followed his work for a long time and this album shows a deep growth in the song structure. He understands the need for songs of deep emotion to be contained in appealing melodies, the way Neil Young always has. "In My Drinking Dream," "Sonny," "You Got Under my Skin," and "Jefferson Reed" are among my favorites.

Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts - Blaster: The Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver front man has returned with a new band for his fourth solo album, released last week. As with a lot of solo albums from lead singers, there definitely feels like there may be an element missing here. That's not to say it falls flat on its face or anything. It's a solid hard rock album with a kind California laid back nature. It feels a little outdated at times, and lackluster at others, but there's still magic left on a few songs. "Hotel Rio," "White Lightning," and "Youth Quake" are standout tracks.

William Elliot Whitmore - Radium Death: The alt country singer songwriter released a new album the past week, his sixth and first since 2011. Unlike many of the alt-country acts, William draws heavily on bluegrass and roots music, giving his music an old timey sound. And keeping with old country music themes, many of the songs on here are sad songs, as the title and cover might suggest. "Civilzations," "A Thousand Deaths" and "Can't Go Back" are my personal favorites on a quality record that's pretty perfect if you're in the mood for it.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Not Like I Was, Not Like I Am

For one of the more intense scenes I decided to add to the revised draft of my novel, I did something that I don't typically like to do; I had my character step out of herself. In a fit of confusion, and a desire for control in a situation that continues to spiral out of her control, she takes on the personality traits of those she fears most. In a way, it's her attempt to understand them, but that's actually more of an excuse for her. The real motivation is that she is tired of being the victim and for once, even if it's for only a short moment, she wants to know what it feels like to be the perpetrator.

In the end, I think the scene worked extremely well and is quite powerful. I believe we all have those moments when we attempt to see how the other lives, so to speak. There's a sense of pleasure to be found in becoming what you hate, as well as a wealth of knowledge to be gained. But it's a dangerous game...and one that was very fun to write. Probably the most fun scene that I've written in a long time.