Sunday, January 31, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome once again to my weekly ramblings on the sounds invading my ears over the previous several days. This week was a mixture of catching up with albums that have sat around, delving into new purchases, and exploring some new releases by old favorites. As a result there isn't much of a commonality among the albums listed, with the exception the fact that none of the artists are unknown to me. Most of these are artists that I've followed for years, and so some of my reactions are based on a knowledge of their back catalog. I hope you won't hold that against me, the way I seemed to hold it against the albums themselves. Enjoy.

The Racontwoers - Live at Third Man Records: Recorded on Record Store Day in 2010, this revamped version of The Raconteurs led by Brendan Benson performed to celebrate the re-release of "Broken Boy Soldiers". I picked this up on vinyl and have been totally digging it. The arrangements are slightly different, and Brendan sounds incredible. Definitely a great find, glad I was able to score a copy of this. "Old Enough," "Many Shades of Black," and "Steady as She Goes" are amazing.

Tricky - Skilled Mechanics: The Bristol trip-hop legend released his 13th album this month, following 2014's wonderful Adrian Thaws. Again, he returns to the form that made his career in the mid-to-late '90s with heavy beats and ethereal female vocals mixed with his deep voiced rhymes. There's a definite eye on the club here, perhaps trying once again to rule the underground scene. This album has a nice vibe to it, though I prefer the last two records. Still worthwhile for fans to check out.

Massive Attack - Ritual Spirit: The other Bristol based trip-hop legends, and the band that launched Tricky, also returned from a six year hiatus to release this four song EP. It tries really hard to capture the sound of their glory days, and in some ways it does, all of these songs could be outtakes from Mezzanine. But that's also part of the problem because nothing about it feels new or like anything we haven't heard from them before. There's nothing wrong with this EP. If you like their other work, there's no reason you won't like this. It's just not all that exciting in my opinion. 

The Legendary Pink Dots - 10 to the Power of 9 (Volume 2): Continuing my new found devotion to this UK experimental psych band, I got this limited edition vinyl for Christmas and finally got around to giving it a spin. It's even darker than their previous work that I've heard. It's also quite minimal, especially the second side which consists of one track. A sort of post apocalyptic soundscape that illustrates the vast dust that will be left in humanity's wake. Quite compelling and entertaining as always. Their music never ceases to induce visions within my imagination, and for that, I'm grateful. 

Bill Ryder-Jones - Home Recordings May 2015: Following the release of the phenomenal album of covers recorded between 2011-2014, the Coral guitarist-turned-neo-classical-composser released this digital album last May of five new covers, including an amazing one of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Hear" and the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses." I would definitely recommend both albums. They are available on his Bandcamp site for a name your price download. 

The Zombies - R.I.P.: The lost third album from the Zombies, though recorded at the end of the '60s, stayed in the vault until 1997. The story behind this is that when the early singles from "Odessey and Oracle" didn't hit, the band split. Then "Time of the Season" became a hit. With two members already moved on, the remaining members recorded this record. It lacks the magic of their first albums, understandably, but there are still a few quality tunes on here. "Girl Help Me" and "If It Don't Work Out" are the two standouts.

John Lennon - The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 10: After a few weeks off, I once again dove into my continued exploration of the incredible bootleg series of John Lennon tapes. This week I made it up the Volume 10. Nearly half-way through the series, this volume extends throughout his '70s career, with lots of early workings of Double Fantasy tracks. His version of "I'm Losing You" on here is one of my favorites. There's a version of "Cold Turkey" that gives me chills. And yet another Buddy Holly cover, this time "Peggy Sue." Great stuff. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Toy Stories

I've often talked about the role toys played in my development as a story teller. As a child I loved playing with toys, particularly action figures and the vehicles that were sold separately. The toys would be set up into elaborate schemes, and sometimes the plots would play out for days. I'd come home from school and pick up where I left off. There would be several story lines going on at the same time, with featured characters getting most of my attention. It wasn't until years later that I realized that these were the building blocks for writing novels. 

Tomorrow I plan on opening a handful of action figures that I received for Christmas and I can't begin to explain how much I'm looking forward to that. Though I no longer use toys to create the stories that are in my head, they remain an important part of my imaginative process. Recently my daughter has begun to play with toys in earnest, and I find it fascinating to see how her imagination is starting to develop and take shape, and the way her toys are transformed into something other than the objects they are. 

The moral of this post is simple: You are never too old for toys, and playing is never a waste of time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The new year is starting to get its groove going, and with it comes the first real batch of 2016 albums that I've been eager to hear. I also spent much of the week getting reacquainted with some albums from the past that I recently graduated to vinyl from their previous CD incarnations. I try not to upgrade too much, preferring instead to buy something different from an artist than re-buying something, but sometimes it just happens. A lot of mellow stuff this week, nice wintry stuff. Hopefully there's something here that you will want to check out, otherwise, tune in next week for more of my ramblings. Enjoy.

Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - Jesu / Sun Kil Moon: This collaboration album out this month features the legendary indie songwriter, Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon) and his band with the UK based drone shoegaze band Jesu. The incorporation of their music to his continued observations of life, which began with Benji a few years back, is a great mix and brings new life to a style that Sun Kil Moon has done wonderfully on their previous two albums. As with those records, this is not for everyone. As was the reaction to those records, the reaction to this one will probably be a love/hate one. I'm on the side of love.

Bonnie Prince Billy - Pond Scum: Just released is this collection of BBC recordings from around the time when Will started going by the Bonnie Prince moniker. It includes stellar versions of classics like "Death to Everyone" and "Arise Therefore". There are also some nice lesser known songs which is refreshing. This could have easily been a sort of rehash of favorite songs, but it's more than that. The intimate setting also brings out different elements in each song, making this one that fans should probably check out. 

The Arcs - The Arcs vs. The Inventors Vol. 1: This Record Store Day EP released back in November features Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) and Richard Swift's blues rock band matched up with Dr. John for six tracks. This is the first in a series of collaborations that the band is planning to do with their heroes. These tracks are more experimental than the band's debut, which makes it a little more intriguing. It almost has an electronic sensibility to its psychedelic blues tone. "Virginia Slim" and "Janitor" are my favorite tracks.

Ralph McTell - Not Till Tomorrow: This 1972 album captures the UK folk singer in the peak of his career. A contemporary folk singer whose style was born out of '60s Dylan and Pete Seeger, but with a British perspective ala Donovan and Fairport Convention. This is traditional acoustic folk music that feels a bit like James Taylor, if a little less radio friendly. An altogether nice album, worth checking out if your a fan of the genre and looking for a something a little deeper than the classics.

Dead Meadow - Warble Womb: It's been three years since this release, and it remains the latest from the D.C. psych rock band. I've had this since it came out, and have certainly reviewed it here before, but I recently got it on vinyl and listened to it again for the first time in well over a year. When it came out, I thought it lacked some of the heaviness of their previous albums, but upon rehearing it, I don't think it lacks anything, just evolved into a different groove. Completely immersive and certainly a must for fans of the psychedelic stoner vibe.

Captain Beefheart - Bluejeans & Moonbeams: Another one from the vault, another CD purchase that has been converted into LP and getting new life in the rotation. In many ways this can be considered the last Beefheart album, or more appropriately, the end of the first act. After a run of '60s experimental blues art, he and his Magical Band switched gears for this 1974 release. More psychedelic soft rock than blues, this is like the aborted birth of what would become The Eagles and other such soft rock legends. It stays just weird enough to remain special and fantastic.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New York State of Mind

This past weekend, I visited the city that I called home for a decade over a decade ago. It's strange, I've been in New York City twice in the past few months, and both times I've been in Lower Manhattan, an area of the city that I rarely ever went to when I lived on that island. I was actually on Wall Street for the first time this past weekend, despite having spent the majority of my ten years a mere 20 or so blocks from that pit of greed.

My previous visit took me inside the new World Trade Center for an insider's tour of the new landmark. While there, I snapped the above photograph from the 40 something floor. For some reason, this picture captures so many of my feelings about being a New Yorker.  There so many lives co-existing in their own compartmentalized way, separating them from each other and from the flow of the masses that continues on at all hours of the day. There is something incredibly lonely about the views from NYC buildings. Knowing all of these people are out there and that there is life happening all around, yet not being a part of it. 

I don't miss living in the city, but at times I miss the comfort of its unique sadness.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

It's hard for this week in music to be about anything but the passing of Ziggy Stardust. All week long, social media was flooded with people posting their favorite songs, and the radio was spinning classics that hadn't been in rotation for many years. But not only did David Bowie leave us this week, he also left us with his best album in years. While his death certainly made me remember all the music of his that I've loved through the years, and all the memories that come with it, it also made me think of all the legends that we will be losing in the coming years. Time is the great equalizer I suppose. But I refuse to get caught up in the sadness of it, because the music lives on, and plays that's what I chose to go with. Hopefully there's something on here that will create new memories for us all. Enjoy.

David Bowie - ★: I'd been looking forward to listening to this album this week, especially after really digging the lead single "Lazarus" and after celebrating Bowie's birthday last Friday. And then came the shocking news of his passing this week and the album took on a new meaning. An album that is already obsessed with the afterlife, this is just like Bowie, to record a soundtrack to his death that is artistic and beautiful, and daring. Each moody song is a mixture of art rock, jazz, and electro that comes together in an extraordinary way. A truly wonderful parting gift to the world. 

Legendary Pink Dots - All the King's Men: The neo-psychedelic 2002 companion album to All the King's Horses continues my obsession with the band. This double vinyl was a Christmas present, and it's far mellower than some of their other stuff, though no less fascinating. This is a band that sounds like nobody else, presenting stories that belong to alternate dreamlike worlds. A combination of William Burroughs' tales from Interzone and Syd Barrett's medicated beauty, this another wonderfully transportive record. I'm convinced this band cannot make a bad album.

The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum: The Montreal psychedelic indie band's first full album in three years is their most complete and compelling to date. Having followed them for years, they've always had flashes of brilliance on each solid album that came before this one, but this one is pretty fantastic from beginning to end. They manage to perfectly combine dream pop with neo-psych in a way that is moody and entertaining. "Tungsten 4: The Refugee," "Necronomicon," "Nightingale" and the "The Bray Road Beast" are standout tracks.  

Twink - Think Pink: The 1970 debut album from one time member of the Pretty Things, Pink Fairies, and Tomorrow is one of the great lost psychedelic albums from the era, often overshadowed by Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, yet no less impressive. This is his only solo album from the era and it's a great blend of experimental and traditional fairy tale inspired psych rock. There are two strands of psych, those that look to space, and those that look to the stories of the past. This falls into the latter and does a great job of it. "10,000 Words in a Cardboard Box," "Tiptoe on the Highest Hill," and "The Sparrow is a Sign" are essential songs.

Closer - An Electric Moment: Released last year, this is the first album that I've heard from the Glasgow band, though they've been making records for well over a decade. This is quintessential late 90's early '00s emo rock. It mixes hardcore, indie, metal into easily digestible tracks, none of which really stuck with me. It reminded me of Brand New but not nearly as compelling. Worth checking out if you're into the genre, otherwise I'd pass on it.

Howlong Wolf - Where Do We Go From Here?: The debut album from the former Admiral James T. front man David Langhard and others was released last April and is another fantastic Buddy Holly inspired project filled with one catchy song after the other. Like few other songwriters, David Langhard is able to capture that Beatles formula, but infuses it with elements of indie and even country. It's the kind of album that is familiar in many ways, sounding like a blend of dozens of bands, all of them good, yet at the same time, sounding completely their own. There's a great cover of Donavon's "Catch the Wind." 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Wolf Cries Once Again...

For the past year, I've been bogged down in the world of goblins, telling the tale of a tortured young soul in the rewrites of my manuscript. In that time, I've had to put aside my other tale of a tortured young soul. But over the past several weeks, I've had time to return to that tale of a young werewolf and have once again been caught up in the curse of blood-thirsty wolves that terrorize the foothills of some unnamed town. 

Returning to a story, especially one that is more than half done, is never an easy process. It takes quite a bit of time to not only familiarize oneself with the characters and story, but also the narrative style, particularly when it is a story that you are attempting to tell in a way that you've never told a story before. Finally the acclimating process is done and I'm ready to jump back in. The good part is that all of the exposition and plot set up is done, so I get to dig right into the meaty part of the story...the part that is the most fun to write.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The past week has been the week of digesting the wealth of vinyl that came my way on Christmas Day, much of which I've already shared with all of you here. I've also been keeping my Best of 2015 playlist on while driving, which has left little time to discover new sounds for the Roundup. However, there have been a few vinyl records that I'm hearing for the first time, enough to make a proper Roundup for the start of 2016. Sadly, there are no releases yet for the current year to share, though that will change next week as Mr. David Bowie has released a promising sounding disc. In the meantime, here are some albums for you all to digest. Enjoy.

Alberta Cross - Alberta Cross: The Brooklyn based London indie band's third album was one of those that I listened to in a frenzy toward the end of last year with hopes that it would be one that was sorely missing from my Best of List. Having been a big fan of their previous work, this was one of the albums I was eagerly anticipating last Fall. It's slightly more low key than their other albums, taking a more folkish turn. And while this didn't end up making my final list, it's still quite good. "Easy Street," "Isolation," "Water Mountain," "Heavy Words," and "Shadow of Mine" are personal favorites.

Johnny Cash - American Recordings I-VI: Ever since Christmas, my Missus and I have been making our way through the vinyl box set that she received. We had many of the songs digitally for years, but never listened to the entire albums. Having gone through it, I'm prepared to say that this is the single most ambitious project in modern music, and possibly the best anthology of popular music ever recorded. To have one gifted artist interpret the entire scope of popular music, you really get a sense of the wealth of sounds we've been blessed with in our current age. Thank you for that, Man in Black. 

Death & Vanilla - California Owls: This EP, released last year in conjunction with the Swedish neo-psychedelic band's wonderful LP, To Where the Wild Things Are, is a similar dose of dream pop noise with minimal vocals. The four songs create a beautiful, yet softly eerie atmosphere on this moody record. Not quite as unforgettable as the album, but certainly a fantastic companion piece. This was one of the bands that were pretty prominent while writing this year, and if and when my next book is published, they will most likely get a shout out in the credits.

Placebo - MTV Unplugged: Back in the day, the MTV Unplugged program was a real benchmark show, and deserves credit for the rise of acoustic music over the past two decades. It was a place for rock bands to showcase another side of their talent and pay homage to the music that influenced them. Over the past decade, the productions have fallen away, with just a handful in the last several years. The only one done last year was this, a session with one my favorite bands of the late '90s and 00's. Spanning their entire career, this is one of those must-have additions to the band's catalog, with completely transforming versions of most of their best songs. (Oddly missing is "Pure Morning", possibly their biggest hit and the song that launched their career).

The Legendary Pink Dots / Ketvector - The Shock Exchange: This split 12" was released for Record Store Day last year, with Side A featuring three songs by The Legendary Pink Dots. The songs are of their signature brand futuristic, dystopian psychedelic soundscapes. Side B contains four songs from the electro ambient Ketvector. They have a similar feel, if a little less chaotic, but it was the flip side, and my love of all things LPD that brought me to this record. Worth a listen on Bandcamp or online, and worth a purchase if your a fan like me.

Elvis - Pure Gold: This past week, the King had yet another posthumous birthday, and I figured it was as good a time as any to give this recently acquired record a proper spin. Released two years before his death, this compilation covers 12 years of music, from 1960-1972. Despite his appearance and lifestyle choices, the King always sounded great. This is a dynamite collection, with the real standout for me being his version "Fever."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Four Decades and Counting....

I've never been one to make a big deal out of birthdays, but it's always interesting when you pass into another decade of life. Today I enter my fourth decade on this Earth, and I enter it with more optimism and inspiration than I think I've ever have. Despite the challenges the world faces, and the challenges that we all face as individuals, I feel wiser and stronger than ever before, which gives me a sense that all obstacles can be overcome with a little luck and hard work. Perhaps because of my past recklessness, the fact that I'm still here seems like an accomplishment and makes me believe that there are many more things left for me to accomplish. Time will tell...after all, the passing of time is the only thing that is guaranteed in life.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Year End Music Roundup - Best of 2015!

The calendars have been flipped, the days have passed away, and another year has drawn to a close. That can only mean that it's also time to present a list of the best albums released in 2015, at least the best in my opinion, and based only on the nearly 200 that I heard. Just as in the last few years, I find that most of my favorites were released from bands or artists that I've followed for some time. Though I've always tried to listen to new artists as much as I can, I find my limited free time has cut down on that. That said, my #3 album on this year's list is a new artist for me as is #13 and #16, so I suppose that's not all that bad. And not reflected on here, this is the year I discovered two new favorite bands; Goblin Hovel and The Legendary Pink Dots. But here's what I have...the order is not definitive, but it's generally accurate, with little difference existing between #5 and #12 or #13 and #20. Please note that Live albums were excluded and had their own list last weekend. Also note that the Marilyn Manson album was mistakenly on my list last year, therefore it appears two years in a row. No reviews this time, but all have been reviewed on the Roundup before, so go back, read through, and check out some great music. Enjoy.