Saturday, March 26, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the first Roundup of Spring where I spew my opinions on albums listened to this week, as I did in winter, summer, and every season for the past few years. I'd been hoping to get in a few more new releases this week, but only managed to listen to one, but it was one that I'd been anticipating for years. I also had a lot of records from L.A. to absorb, but next week will certainly see a higher number of new releases. In the meantime you'll have make due with more of my curiosities and collection extensions. Hopefully there's something here that you'll want to discover. Enjoy.

Black Mountain - IV: It's been six years since the Vancouver band's last album, a wait that is far too long for a band that is this good. As the title would lead you to believe, this is the hard rock band's fourth full length album. I've been a fan since their epic self-titled debut 11 years ago. The new album opens with the wonderful "Mothers of the Sun," which shows the band's growth as well as their movement into more psychedelic rock which carries throughout the album. This might be my favorite album of theirs since the first, and with time, could become my favorite. "(Over and Over) The Chain," "Defector," "Cemetery Breeding," and "You Can Dream" are stand outs, in addition to the previous mentioned opening track.

Colosseum - The Grass is Greener: From '69 to '71, this London band was at the forefront of prog rock, combining blues with jazz and hard rock. Several of the members played with John Mayall (a master at finding talent) on his "Bare Wires" album, one of the strongest. I didn't know much about this album before stumbling across a copy in the record store, but it's quite fantastic. "Lost Angeles" is epic, and "Butty's Blues" owes a lot to Mayall. Hearing this album, it's sort of amazing that they were never as big as Led Zeppelin because they are just as talented.

Ryley Walker & Bill Mackay - Land of Plenty: I discovered Ryley Walker's music last year and he quickly rose in the ranks of my favorite singer songwriters. I just learned about this collaborative album which came out at the end of last summer, and the planned second one that is supposed to come out next month. This is an instrumental album that draws of traditional folk elements, but also feels very improvised, which creates something magical and beautiful. Definitely the kind of album to listen to in dim light while relaxing, it will take you to interesting places.

Orchid - The Mouths of Madness: Released in 2013, this the second album from the San Fran metal band. I came across this double LP in a store in L.A. that specialized in metal, and knowing nothing about it, I took a chance and I'm sure glad I did. As with most metal acts today, there are obvious references to Black Sabbath in their music, but vocally, it owes more to 80's Thrash Metal, and the combination makes for a dynamite record. There's not a bad track on here, making it a definite for fans of stoner metal.

Jefferson Airplane - Bark: I've been a fan of the Airplane since I was 19 and have an extensive Airplane collection. This 1971 album was the only one I didn't have until my visit trip to L.A. where I found an exceptional copy for $4. Perhaps because this was the first post-Marty Balin album, I had bypassed it for so long. The band's second to last album before morphing into the far-inferior Jefferson Starship, this album is a Paul Kantner/ Grace Slick record and features some of Paul's best guitar playing. Certainly not one of their classic albums, but still solid from start to finish and certainly one for fans.

Boz Scaggs - Silk Degrees: The 1976 album from pop rock star is certainly his biggest and most successful, scoring him the most hits of his career. Recently he was playing in my town, and the commercial on the radio was on all the time, playing clips of songs (all from this album) that I remembered fondly from growing up. So when I found this for 99¢ in a store, I had to grab it. There are many familiar tracks on here, many that would be right at home on an Elton John or Billy Joel album from the era. Some great tunes on here, especially "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle," and "It's Over."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

For Now...the Wolves Sleep

Last week, I finished the first draft of a Middle Grade novel that I'd been writing on and off for about two years. It was one of those projects that I wanted to finish simply because I'd started it and wanted to know where the story ended. Sometimes it's important to finish projects because it's simply too easy to abandon a story.

I haven't yet read the draft and have no idea if there is anything worthwhile there. This is a typical experience for me. Often when I finish a first draft, I'm left with mixed feelings. I still have the same insecurities that I had as new writer back in my teens, wondering if any part of what I've produced is any good. Those feelings dissipated a bit after I published quite a number of books, but never vanished. The difference these days is that I'm less invested in the outcome if it turns out to be nothing. 

The past several years have been difficult for my writing career. There was a point where I got too caught up in trying to write things to meet certain parameters, and when I did that, I often failed. Over the past two years, I've reverted back to the mental place where I started so many years back, and that is to write first and foremost for myself, telling stories that I want to tell. If nobody wants to read them, I'm okay with that these days. 

This story may end up becoming one of those. Then again, it may not. Either way, I feel a sense of accomplishment and that's what is important to me right now.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Sorry for missing the weekend last week, and even sorrier if nobody noticed. Most of this was done before I jetted off to L.A. for a few days, but it wasn't complete and I wasn't about to do anything while out there. A nice mixture of new releases and some older curiosities to make up this final list of Winter. Next week will feature more than a few of the 20 or so albums I bought while on the west coast, along with a few new releases that I'll be delving into. Hopefully there's something on here of interest and worthy of a week long wait. Enjoy.

Andrew Bird - Are You Serious: This is the first album in two years from Chamber Folk singer songwriter and his strongest since 2012's "Break It Yourself." While this is clearly a Andrew Bird album, that's not to say his sound isn't still evolving. The melodies seem to grow in complexity with each new venture, and there is a maturing that has taken place, securing his place among the best songwriters of his generation. Could easily be one that I'll find on my year end favorites.

Nik Turner - Space Fusion Odyssey: The newest album from one of Hawkwind's founding members was released last year and is the follow-up to 2013's brilliant "Space Gypsy" record. This is one of the albums that I eagerly sought last year but was unable to get until recently. While "Space Gypsy" was a true return to the glory days of Hawkwind, this album is far more experimental, playing not only with space rock, but also prog and jazz fusion. For all intents and purposes, this is an instrumental album that takes listeners on a journey, even if it through space Turner has explored before. Very enjoyable, but not necessarily essential. 

Madrugada - Live in Berlin: This bootleg, recorded in 2001 is one of the rare released live shows from this brilliant Oslo band which I had the good fortune to see before they disbanded in 2008.  It opens with the rare B-Side, "The Big Sleep" and from there tears into a brilliantly moody set of early material, mostly songs from there then upcoming Nightly Disease, which turned out to be one of the best albums of the decade. It also includes a number of rare songs that were only ever on EPs, making this a must-have for fans.

Lissie - My Wild West: The Midwestern singer songwriter's third album came out last month and shows a lot of maturity and growth, not only in her songwriting, but also in the emotion that comes through in her voice. This album reminds me of Tina Dico, crossed with a little of the best of part of Taylor Swift. It's not necessarily a revolutionary album, but it's strikingly honest and appealing. Ojai," "Stay," "Hollywood," "Together or Apart," and "Sun Keeps Risin'" are my personal favorites. Definitely worth checking out.

The Oak Ridge Boys - Y'all Come Back Saloon: By 1977, the boys from Knoxville had established themselves as one of the biggest acts in pop country. I recently picked this up from a 99¢ bin on a vinyl shopping spree and it's most certainly money well spent. There is a great mix of traditional country with bluegrass and soft rock. In some ways, it's a bit like John Denver but with Southern cred to their country roads. I love going through $1 bins when I have time, there are always things worth discovering.

Legendary Pink Dots - Chemical Playschool 1 & 2: The 1981 double album debut from the British experimental psych group was only ever released on cassette. Though far more simple than what their sound would develop into, this is still clearly a LPD release, filled with twisted and strange imagery and quirky sounds that make contemporary Cure recordings sound mainstream. One the four disc set, there are only handful of actual songs that are interspersed between many short experimental sound compositions. It can be an uncomfortable listen at times, which I suppose can be said for all of their albums, but this one is much more raw and grating. I would recommend this only to fans. It's more of a curiosity at this point than anything else.

Violent Femmes - We Can Do Anything: I had high hopes for this record, the legendary folk punk band's first studio album in 15 years. Especially after the wonderful EP they put out last year, I was expecting great things. And while this is an enjoyable listen, I wouldn't go so far as to call it great. The band has always had a playful side, but that playfulness was shrouded in darkness. There was always a harsh and brutal undertone to their work that made the playful side seem less comical and more sinister. There is quite a bit of playfulness here, but on this album it seems simply playful and I found myself missing the darkness. Certainly worth a listen for fans. "What You Really Mean" is the real gem on here.

JPT Scare Band - Acid Acetate Excursion: This album was originally recorded in 1974-76 by the Kansas City heavy psych band wasn't officially released until 1994. Consisting of four long jams, this is pure heavy blues at its core with flourishes of psych elements. Definitely ahead of it's time, this album creates sounds that were probably not accessible to listeners until it's release two decades later. It can almost be viewed as one of the earliest stoner metal records, especially the stellar last track, "King Rat." 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

When there are Witches In Your Room...

These days, movies are made to fit into preconceived marketing plans. They are typically comic book movies, horror films, romantic comedies, family films, Oscar bait, fantasy, or action movies. The reason for this is simple. A studio has created strategies for selling these films to an audience. They know who the intended audience is, how a trailer is supposed to look in order to appeal that audience, and where to advertise the movie according to where said audience shops. Rarely do films get made if they don't fall into one of the defined categories, or if they do, the movie is shoved into one of the marketing plans, which is likely to alienate that audience since it's not the "kind" of movie they expected. Such is the case for The Witch.

This film got the full-on "horror" movie advertising scheme, even though the movie is far from being a traditional horror film. While it has elements of a horror movie, it deals with far too many heavy themes to be a horror flick. Based on New England folk tales and actual historical records of witch trials, it is more of a dark fairy tale than a horror movie.  

The pacing of this film is very careful and slow, something that often turns off today's audience. I know this from first hand experience as it is often a criticism of my novels. However, I enjoy a slow pace, one that allows you to be brought into the world of the story. The Witch does that very well, letting you get to know the different members of the family in an intimate way, which is necessary to give the developments the impact they need.

While it deals with various themes in detail, including organized religion vs. the individual's relationship with God, sexual awakening, and the struggle to survive in an unforgiving environment, the core of the film is about suspicion and distrust. It's a timeless scenario, when things start to go wrong, the members of an isolated party begin to turn on each other. The Witch takes a slightly deeper twist on this old theme, bringing it to a darker place in that the one character is who is essentially good, is driven to evil by the suspicions of others. It's a powerful condemnation of the distrustfullness of others and the destructive nature of such behavior. 

The Witch isn't a perfect movie, but at least it's bold and takes risks. In this day and age, that alone is worthy of some level of praise. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here and so here is the music. It's been one of those weeks where I chose to listen mostly new releases. It was sort of evenly balanced between hearing albums I'd been anticipating for some time and others that were completely unknown to me prior to listening. Interestingly enough, this was one of the most solidly "winter" music lists of the season, meaning these are pretty much all albums that give me that cold and dreary day vibe that I love so much. Not every one, but most, fit that bill. As usual, there were some albums the exceeded expectations and others that didn't quite do for me what I had wished. Overall, an interesting list. Hopefully you can all find something to hear. Enjoy.

The Coral - Distance Inbetween: I've been a fan of this Liverpool neo-psych band since their debut back in 2002 and have followed each new release with excitement. This is their eighth album, and first in two years. As with all the entries in their later catalog, this is an album of songs inspired by Pink Floyd. They taking the spacey sound and work it into beautiful compact songs in a way Floyd rarely did after Syd Barrett's departure. This is a dynamic and coherent album, and perhaps their best to date. With no missteps or weak tracks, this was a pleasure from start to finish, and possible contender to wind up on my best of the year list. "Holy Revelation," "Connector," "Million Eyes," "Fear Machine," and the title track are stand outs on a fantastic record. 

Mars Red Sky - Apex III: Praise for the Burning Soul: The new album from the French stoner psych band is one of my more anticipated releases this winter and it finally came out last week. The album opens with an epic 11 minute atmospheric title track, one of their strongest compositions to date that sounds like a metal infused Pink Floyd track. Unfortunately, that is by far the best song on here. While the rest of the album is certainly listenable, and enjoyable, it's certainly not striking or exceptionally memorable. But definitely check out the title track on their Bandcamp page. 

Santigold - 99¢: The highly anticipated third album from the native Philly electropop artist was finally released last week, four years after her last effort. This album is less brash than her earlier work, and clearly meant for a new era of atmosphere over attitude. I don't know that I would call it growth as much as evolution. New Wave influences abound, especially on songs like "Before the Fire," and "Chasing Shadows," and this is where the album works best, sounding like hits from some alternate universe 1985. Thoroughly enjoyable, though expectations were high. Probably unfairly high.

Isaak - Sermonize: The third album from the Italian stoner metal band came out last Fall. It was one of the albums that I didn't get around to listening to before the clock ran out on the year. This is heavier than a lot of stoner metal out there, reminds me a bit '90s hardcore with metal riffs, sort of Helmet like in ways. There are moments where it feels repetitive, but when it all comes together, it rocks. "Showdown," "Soar," and "Lesson N.1" are songs that work particularly well.

Syd Matters - Ghost Days: The 2008 album from the French indie psychedelic folk band, their fourth, is a beautiful addition to the genre. Reminiscent of Midlake, with a bit of The Microphones mixed in, this is highly distinctive record that is just my kind of folk. It is evocative of times long gone by, much like The Trials of Van Occupanther, which is a favorite album of mine. "Cloud Flakes," "Louise," "I Was Asleep," and "Me and My Horses" stood out to me on a flawless album of mood.  I can't wait to check out some of their other records.

The Doors - Waiting for the Sun: Sometimes it's amazing how a band that is perceived as legendary existed as that band for a mere four years, and six albums. This is the band's third, falling right in the middle, and is also one of the ones that frequently goes overlooked. For years, I was a bit of Doors naysayer, though I never disliked them, I wasn't a big fan either. Then, after not listening to them for more than ten years, I put on their debut this past summer and recognized how fantastic it is. When I saw this album in the $1 bin at the local shop, I had to grab it. It opens with the brilliant "Hello, I Love You", the only real hit of the record, and perhaps one of the reasons it gets overlooked. The rest of the album is some of the band's most psychedelic and daring material. Needless to say, well worth the price. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The United Hates of America

Despite the fact that the political rhetoric in this country from both sides has tried for the better part of two decades to paint a picture of impeding doom if the other side were to take control, it was usually just bluster. However, the same rhetoric may in fact be true this election cycle. This is shaping up to perhaps be the most crucial election in the history of America. The reason I say this is because of the front runner of the Republican primaries. Though I've ceased to be amazed by the demagoguery spewing from his orange face, I continue to be surprised by the behavior on display at his political rallies, which are beginning to look more and more like those in Nazi Germany. And like Nazi Germany, his supporters are made up of ONE race. Donald Trump is rallying angry, ignorant white voters in a frightening way, appealing to their hatred and somehow convincing them that the progressive moves we've made as a nation away from such hatred is simply "political correctness." 

If elected, there is no way a President Trump, an unabashed bully, is going to listen to Congress. There is no reason to suggest he'd even obey the Constitutional law. This is a man who believes he is greater than any law as he sits above the rest of us in his golden tower (literally). Thankfully, I still have faith that the American people as a whole are smarter than the voters in the primaries have been, because I fear for a nation under the authority of a such a hateful megalomaniac. More than ever, we need God to bless America and rid of us the poison he spouts.