Saturday, April 30, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the weekend and all the music that fits into it. It was another weed of digesting some recent RSD purchases, but as promised, I've included a number of new releases. I tried to mix up my listening habits with a variety of new and old, vinyl and digital, in an attempt to stay on top things. There's a decent amount of classic rock on the list, as well as a few releases from contemporary favorites and new releases from old favorites. All in all, an interesting array of musical curiosity. Hopefully something on here will stir your own curiosity. Enjoy.

Lush - Blind Spot: The London dreampop band's first new music in 20 years came in the form of this EP released last month. At one time in my teens, I was pretty into this band. So when this came out, I was eager to give it a listen. These four songs don't stray too far from the fuzzy shoegaze material of their '90s heyday, if anything, the vocals are turned up louder, revealing flaws that were previously hidden under the cloud of sound. As I did in my youth, I find myself easily bored. All four songs sound the same, perhaps that's why the first one was my favorite.

Derek and The Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs: The only album released by this supergroup featuring Eric Clapton and Dave Mason was this 1970 double album. Basically, this is a British Blues masterpiece filled with exceptional guitar work and memorable tunes. I was a huge fan of the title track in my pre-teen years, but lately the local radio station has been playing "Bell Bottom Blues" a lot and I've become infatuated with it to the point where I had to purchase this record when I came across a mint copy at the local record shop. A must have for British Blues or classic rock fans. 

Hawkwind - The Machine Stops: Original member Dave Brock continues the space rock band's legacy, as does departed member Nik Turner. This concept album about a machine that controls human existence is very much inline with the ideas Dave has put forth on Hawkwind albums for years. The sound goes beyond the tradition space rock sound to include electronic elements which are woven in wonderfully, giving the whole thing a very rich and sometimes spooky vibe as it does on "The Harmonic Hall." A very solid and intriguing record, with "Thursday" and  "King of the World" being highlights for me. 

Arctic Monkeys - Unreleased Tracks, Demos and Live: This bootleg features one side of unreleased tracks, most of which I'd heard on previous bootlegs, and live versions of songs from their phenomenal debut. Though I had much of this material digitally, I just couldn't pass up the vinyl edition on green wax. Of the unreleased tracks, "Choo Choo" and "Wavin' Bye to the Train or Bus" are standouts. Really something for fans, particularly fans of the debut album.

Eddie Money - Playing For Keeps: The New York native released his third album in 1980, a boozy blend of pop rock that bridged the 70's blues rock and 80's power pop, sort of a mash-up of Rod Stewart and Huey Lewis. A few classic tricks on here like "Running Back" and "Trinidad" which make it a worthwhile listen. Nothing too essential, but a fun listen for when you're doing house work or the like. A nice find in the $1 bin.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Street Survivors: By 1977, they were the kings of Southern Rock. Their triple guitar assault and Ronnie's good ole boy persona where can't miss. Everything comes together on this album, and it was an instant smash. Then, three days after it's release, Ronnie Van Zant, , making this the last album from the true group. It's blues rock bliss, with a Leon Russell vibe on "You Got That Right," and "I Never Dreamed." Great record from start to finish.

Elephant Revival - Petals: This the fifth album from the Colorado Americana folk band and it came out last month. The duel vocalists, male and female, both have great voices. She reminds me of Jolie Holland and Joanna Newsom and he reminds me of Andrew Bird. The songs are quiet, melodic, and often there is a enough darkness under the surface to make them different from being just another folk record. "On and On," "Furthest Shore," "Sea Monster," and "When I Fall" are stand out tracks. Definitely worth checking out if you like beautifully sad folk music. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

America's Right Turns

Last week, Bernie Sanders lost a tough election in my state of New York, and with it, he most likely lost any chance at becoming the Democratic nominee for President. This leaves the left leaning wing of the party with the choice of voting for a third party, or supporting Hillary Clinton. This is a familiar place for many of us on the left. We are faced with voting for our beliefs, or voting out of fear of the right. 

I will probably succumb to my fears and vote blue, but my problem with that in this case is that voting for Hillary isn't much different than voting with the right. Ever since Bill Clinton strategically pivoted to the middle in 1996 in order to secure his re-election, the left has continued to comprise by moving right. The result is that our government is now far more right than the population. 

Hillary has continued to say how she is the one who can get things done. That may be true, but at what cost? Moving us farther to the right? I simply find it hard to believe that her recent "progressive" stances are anything but lip service, and if she is the nominee, it will be up to all of us to make sure she continues moving us toward the left or suffer through more years of watching our hopes dashed.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

So now that Record Store Day is safely in rear view, I've returned to pollute your time with my thoughts on the sounds I've been listening to during the course of the week. Naturally, a lot of what is going to be on the next couple of Roundups is going to be from my haul last weekend, but there are also some current releases that I'm trying to stay on top of. A good number of my RSD buys were albums that have already been reviewed here over the years from their digital existence, so you'll be spared those. In the meantime, here is the list, consisting mostly of oldies and a few new ones. Enjoy.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Person A:  The L.A. folk collective's first album in three years doesn't stray far from their campfire singalong style that they've developed over the years. Alexander Ebert is quietly becoming one of the best song writers of his generation, crafting catchy indie folk pop tunes with political messages about the power of love. "The Ballad of Yaya," "No Love Like Yours," "Free Stuff," and "Let It Down" are standouts on this fine album.

The Kinks - The Kink Kontroversy: The legendary band's fourth album of 1965, and fifth in total, really cemented their place as one of the premier British Invasion bands. Face-to-Face, their best in my opinion, would follow, and this album is the perfect lead up to it. I've always considered them to be the third in the Big Three, along with the Beatles and the Stones. They are the mod garage band that I truly love, not The Who. Klassic!

The Flaming Lips - Lightning Strikes the Postman: This Record Store Day CD-only release is an alternative mix of their 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic. And by alternate mix, it is basically just the guitar mixed to the forefront and everything else faded into almost nothing, creating a psychedelic folk album with a wonderful mood throughout. I'm sure there are people who will be disappointed by this instrumental bit of weirdness because it doesn't sound like the Flaming Lips. For that same reason, I found it intriguing. Regardless, on its own merit, it is a great example of psychedelic guitar work that never feels dull.

The Monkees - Headquarters: 1967 was a breakthrough year in The Monkees development, seeing them shift from teen pop to some of the best psychedelic pop ever made. It all began with this record, and continued with Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. released later in the year. There are moments here where they resemble the teen sound of Herman's Hermits and others where they erupt with songs The Beatles would be envious of and not match until the White Album. This was the one essential Monkees album I was still missing and found it in a $1 bin.

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals - Call It What It Is: Reunited with the Innocent Criminals for the first time in nine years, the California native released a new album last week. I was a big fan of Ben Harper in the mid-90s. His first three albums were a revelation in a landscape dominated by increasingly radio driven alternative rock. His songs felt like gospel. I admit to souring on him by the turn of the century, feeling as though he sold out and went all Hollywood. The first single from this album, "Pink Balloon" has been on heavy rotation on the local indie radio and it sounded refreshing enough that I took a chance on this one. While there are flashes of the old Ben, like on "Goodbye to You" and "All that has Grown," this isn't a classic album. Very listenable, and very enjoyable, but still doesn't compare to Fight For Your Mind.

Elton John - Caribou: If you would have told me a dozen years ago that I'd be an Elton John fan, I would've laughed. But in that time, I've come to appreciate his early work as some of the best albums ever made. Released in 1974, smack between Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic, this is considered a bit of forgotten record, except for the mega hit "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."  Though it lacks some of the glam flare that makes those other two mid-70s offerings classic, this is still a solid record. Glad to have added it, not I'm only missing Don't Shoot Me to complete my vinyl collection up to Captain Fantastic. 

Thelonious Monk - The London Collection Volume 3: A little while back, I picked up Volume 2 of this collection, a previous Record Store Day release, and liked it so much that I decided to snatch up this year's RSD addition. This Monk at his mellow best, recorded in '71, there is a magic that surrounds these recordings, magic that makes my whole house seem bright and alive when I play these on Sunday mornings. I could probably listen to "Trinkle Tinkle" all day long, so I'm glad it both opens and closes side one.

Bob Dylan - Street Legal: By 1978, old Robert Zimmerman was no longer the revolutionary folk poet of that he was in '60s. He was entering his gospel age, which would continue for the next few albums, but it begins here in a glorious way. I first encountered this album when I was 19 or so, and admit to kind of hating it. It wasn't the Dylan that I wanted to hear. Oddly today, it's exactly the Dylan I want to hear, possibly because he's around my age here and singing of the way I've to come feel. This is a bigger sound, more pop rock than folk, and it's actually quite good. "True Love Tends to Forget," and "Changing of the Guards" are some of his best work. Well worth the $1 spent on it. 

Boz Scaggs - Down Two Then Left: In 1977, Boz followed up his monster hit album Silk Degrees with this one. Having picked that one up a few weeks back, and jamming on it quite I bit, I dug this one out the $1 bin to go alongside. It being the end of the '70s, there is a definite disco undercurrent that runs through these blue-eyed soul tunes. While its predecessor reminded me of Billy Joel, this one feels more Elton John, though oddly, I like the Joel sounding one better despite not liking Joel. One of the appeals of this is certainly that these songs totally remind me of the music my dad loved, and hearing them reminds me of him. Another $1 well spent.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Fiction Friday (41)

Well, my previous plan to read more, detailed in the last Fiction Friday post, went horribly ascue. Rather than place the blame on any action of my own, I've decided to blame the baby and her need to cuddle at bedtime, as well as a week spent in L.A. with a bed that had no reading light and a busy schedule of things to see and do. Then again, let's face it, it's also been my fault. But last week I did manage to finish the book I started weeks and weeks ago. It was a slower read than expected, mostly because I found myself unable to complete be immersed in the story. I can understand why there was a reluctance to publish this one, though I'm glad it was.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
(HarperCollins, 2015)

Originally written in the '50s, this was Harper Lee's original submission, before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. The manuscript was thought to have been lost, but suddenly turned up a few years back. It is rumored that Harper was not in any state to approve the publication, yet it was published anyway, which is notable seeing as how it changes many long-held perceptions of the characters in To Kill A Mockingbird.

This book follows Scout, now in her 20's and using her given name Jean Louise, as she returns home for a visit after living in NYC to attend school. Upon returning, she finds that the South has changed in her absence. In a classic "you-can-never-go-home-again" style, Scout (she will always be Scout to me) discovers that a lifetime of childhood experiences may not be what they once seemed.

Her discovery comes during a powerful scene where she watches her father, the much-beloved and respected Aticus, and Henry, the man she loves, attend a meeting of town leaders discussing why the recent Supreme Court ruling of desegregation needs to be circumvented in order to keep the African American population in their place and preserve Southern culture. The racism she encounters makes physically ill as her image of the two men who mean the most to her is shattered.

While the examination of systematic racism, as well as state's rights vs. federal overreach, are fascinating, I felt the character development was too Hemingway for my taste. The entire book was too Hemingway for my taste, with so much happening subtly. My favorite parts were certainly the flashback scenes of Scout and Jem, which I suspect were the publisher's favorite parts when the manuscript was first submitted and which is probably why To Kill A Mockingbird was written.

An enjoyable read, if not altogether enthralling. It's not really a surprise that the author never sought to publish this, despite it's merit. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Record Store Day 2016 (An Edtion of Weekend Music Roundup)

So this year more than others, I was really looking forward to Record Store Day. It seemed as if there were more specific releases that I was looking for this year, where in past years, there really wasn't all that much that came out that I wanted, though I always made a point to visit a record store and buy more vinyl than I should. This year I purchased more than I probably ever should on one day and have since instituted a self-imposed ban on record shopping for the next several months. 

I was able to find most of the RSD releases that were on my list. Was lucky to score the Ol' Dirty Bastard and The Bevis Frond records, and shocked that anyone near here had the Manic Street Preachers record. But for me, the day is also about supporting the indie stores and not be too conservative about what I spend. 

There are now three indie record stores in my town, and I visited all three. In addition to the RSD hoopla, they were having other promotions. The one store had 25% off all used vinyl, another had 50% off all vintage vinyl, and the third moved a bunch of records into their $1 bin for the day. Needless to say, I went a little crazy.

 Above are my $1 records. The Dylan, Monkees and Hank were missing from the collection, and took a change on Eddie and Boz. Dead or Alive is new wave bliss.

 Some newer records for sale, and New York Dolls for $10! The Earth, Mars Volta, Arctic Monkeys and Broadcast records were great deals.

Lastly, some vintage vinyl that I couldn't resist.

Of course, reviews to come in future weeks, but for this weekend, I'm just going to be spinning wax and relaxing. Enjoy, and remember to always buckle up your vinyl.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


The other day, I finished watching the Hulu original mini-series 11.22.63, produced by J.J. Abrams and Stephen King, based on the novel by King. I hadn't read the book, so I can in no way comment about the book vs. film debate that so many of us love to have in such circumstances, but I can say that I did enjoy the show. Then again, it should be noted that I pretty much enjoy James Franco in whatever he does.

Over the past decade, J.J. Abrams has positioned himself as a master of creating intrigue and tension while flirting with pseudo-intellectual concepts. This project was right up his alley, one where a closet in a dinner is a secret porthole into the past, specifically 1960, and no matter how long one stays, when they return, it is always 15 minutes later. It's one of those ideas that is incredibly fun to think about and wonder what you would do if you had access to it. 

The story that King chose to explore was preventing the assassination of JFK in Dallas, which means the person would have to spend three years in the past. There are many head scratchers for me as to why this would be the course of action. First is the assumption that saving JFK would prevent Vietnam. Possibly, but not a very concrete line goes from one to the other. Secondly, why an event that is so shrouded in doubt? For the mini-series, that point at least made for something that needed doing in those three years. It was such a flimsy notion, that I suppose it works for the main character, because anyone willing to do it would have to be someone with nothing to stop them from leaving their life behind, which is where Franco's character is at the start of it. 

The pacing of the show was excellent, and balanced enough twists to keep you interested from beginning to end. The exploration of Oswald's character was well-done, as was the out-of-time love story. It all leads up to a fantastic last episode, full of unexpected turns that really capitalize on the imaginative scope of the main story idea. For someone who doesn't get to watch a lot of television these days, it was 8 hours well spent.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

As I've been promising for some time, this is finally the week of new releases. Having cleared through my vinyl buys of the past several weeks, I focused my listening attention to new albums, some eagerly anticipated, others unexpected, and still more simple curiosity based on past habits. As one might expected, the list is heavy on indie folk, psychedelic folk, and indie psych, which have long been my favorite genres of music. Definitely some quality finds here, so hopefully you will check out something and give it a go. Enjoy.

The Lumineers - Cleopatra: The long-awaited follow-up to the Denver band's breakout debut was finally released this week. It is a continuation of their indie folk, americana sound in tradition of '60s and '70s artists. I've been digging the first single, "Ophelia" for the past couple weeks as it's on heavy rotation on my local independent radio station.  It's pretty standard indie folk, with a handful of standout moments that make it worthwhile. "My Eyes," "White Lie," and "Where the Skies Are Blue" are my favorites, along with the lead single.

Sam Beam and Jessica Hoop - Love Letter For Fire: In lieu of any new Iron & Wine material in the past three years, I had to check out the new collaborative album from Sam and singer songwriter Jessica Hoop. The two voices work great together, trading off solos between duets within each song. This is one of those lazy afternoon indie folk records. "Midas Tongue," "Know the Wild That Wants You," are as good as any Iron & Wine song from the last two wonderful albums.

Wavelength - Folk Magic: This is the Belgian band's demo, recorded last year and available for a name your own price download on their Bandcamp site, which I definitely recommend. Reminiscent of Black Mountain this is a mixture of heavy psych and folk music that is pretty incredible. They also manage to create an ethereal world, much like Natural Snow Buildings has, but without drone elements. It is only five songs, but three of them of are of significant length. I look forward to whatever comes in the future. 

Woods - City Sun Eater in the River of Light: Over the last half decade or so, the psychedelic folk band has become one of my favorites in the genre. In the same strain as Skygreen Leopards, these guys create a folk sound inspired by '60s freak out and psychedelic pop. There's something delicate about these songs, as if they were made of blown glass, it's hard to describe, but it makes them brilliant. Easily their best album as they just keep getting better and better. One of my favorites of the year so far.

The Dandy Warhols - Distortland: In the late '90s, the Portland indie band made some of the catchiest records of the era. Then came the next decade where they continued to make albums, though they seemed misguided in ways. Their 10th album comes four years after their last effort and it doesn't stray far from the sound they've established for more than two decades. With the revival of their one time colleagues turned rivals, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, I'd hoped the same might be true for the Dandies. There's a mellower vibe that flows throughout, which serves them well these days. "Give," and "Doves" are beautiful examples of their brand of subtle psychedelia. "Catcher in the Rye," and "All the Girls in London" feel like traditional Warhols. A nice little record, worthy of a try for fans. 

White Denim - Stiff: The Austin indie psych band's seventh album was released last week. I tuned into this band during their early days and was attracted to their garage psych vibe. While that vibe still exists on tracks like "Mirrored in Reverse," they've taken on more of a bluesy soul sound this time around, reminding me a bit of Dirt Bombs with more a guitar rock edge to them. A very enjoyable listen, very up tempo. Good summertime rock n' roll. "Real Deal Momma," "Holda You," and "Take It Easy" are also very good tracks along with "Mirrored in Reverse."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Travels in Interzone

My dreams of late have been highly evolved, often having me traverse large regions of the Interzone. I've come across sections both familiar and previously unexplored. During my waking hours, when thinking about these recent travels, I've found myself recalling various dream locations, some of which are from dreams I had years and years ago. 

Given the nature of dream logic, it's never really easy to describe the plot in a coherent way. Many times the plot unravels before your very eyes while the dream is in production. The threads lead in different directions, pulling you along for the ride. While plot is usually fleeting, one thing that I find to be very vivid is location. Sometimes I can't remember what I was doing, but I can remember the house I was in, or the strange area of a city that never really existed but is rather a patchwork real and imagined places. 

The other day it struck me that some of these imagined elements most likely come from reading and the visual images conjured up from stories. It would explain the familiarity of the seemingly foreign. Not to mention the fact that I've encountered more unique places through reading, and the thousands of settings that I've written into existence, than I've been to in real life. I don't know why this never occurred to me before. It seems so obvious. Anyway, I've been enjoying thinking about it the past few days as I try to get a better understanding of the geography of Interzone.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

As I roundup the week, I sit at my window watching how spring has turned once again to winter. But despite the weather, the calendar keeps turning and Spring music releases are in full swing as we gear up for Record Store Day in a couple of weeks. This was one of those weeks that I went for quality on my list, choosing to spend more time on less albums. There were two new releases that I'd been looking forward to, along with a few L.A. holdovers. There are more new albums lined up for next week, so don't fret. Hopefully there's something here you might want to check out. Enjoy.

The Last Shadow Puppets - Everything You've Come to Expect: The long-awaited follow-up to Alex Turner and Miles Kane's 2008 collaborative effort is finally out, eight years after the original. This album clearly shows the growth that has come through in Alex's style, already apparent on the last Arctic Monkeys record. The first album was good, but felt like a lot of theater was involved. In a way, that was the appeal, but as he grows more confident, there seems to be less need to create an image. As a result, the music speaks for itself and doesn't attempt to confine itself into being this or that. Definitely in the same vibe as AM, so if you liked that, definitely look into this. 

Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye: The fourth album from the Brooklyn neo-psych band is their first in four years, and the time off has served them extremely well. I loved their debut and the follow-up, but by the third album, they had grown somewhat stale. This album sees them take new directions, with a variety of new influences clearly represented in the upbeat sound. While catchy, and at times even dance worthy, it never veers away from their psychedelic roots. There are Pink Floyd moments on here, Flaming Lips moments, and some Hot Chip moments, making for an interesting record. "Cold Night," "Half Asleep," "Gerson's Whistle," and "I Am Chemistry" are standout tracks on this terrific release.

Dead Child - Dead Child: The 2007 debut EP from the short-lived metal band containing members of Slint and Tortoise. I've had their only full-length on CD since it came out in 2008 and have always enjoyed it. On my recent trip to L.A., I came across this rarity on vinyl and snatched it up. Combining various metal and hard rock elements from the '80s, they manage to play some kick-ass metal. Screeching vocals, pounding beats and steady riffs define each song. "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," which also appears on their album, is pretty flawless. Worth checking out if you like bands like Enforcer.

The Struts - Everybody Wants: Since it's release in 2014, the Derby glam band's debut has seen a steady and straight rise in popularity. It's one of those rare things in the music world these days, the slow build through touring and word of mouth allowing an album to continue to find new audience without the hype machine working overtime It was the exact opposite for The Darkness band these guys emulate in a way. That band was so hyped that they never really could live up to the expectations and crashed and burned. These guys are more solid band, with more substance and better song crafting. They are at their best when they are channeling Queen and '80s glam, but too often they fall into a contempo rock radio hole and come out sounding like Fall Out Boy.

Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die: One the great psychedelic blues bands of the late '60s, highlighted by the talents of Steve Winwood and Dave Mason, Traffic recorded some of the most memorable songs of the era. This is the one album from their heyday in which Mason does not appear, which is probably why it features guitar far less and leans more on progressive folk. Certainly not their best, but still quite good and worth picking up if just to hear another side of the band. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

The New Reich

Last week I started work on my first brand-new manuscript in almost three years. After some life-related issues, I'd chosen to focus exclusively on revising manuscripts for the past two years, with varying degrees of success and failure. The reasons for this were two-fold. First, I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete what I'd started. Too often in life, it has been easy to abandon things that felt too hard, or too overwhelming. The other reason was more complicated. Though I have a ton of story ideas stored away, I didn't have any stories that felt dear to me, or important. I began to wonder if I had anything left to tell teenagers that would be of value.

This election cycle has changed that. Over the past several months, we've seen the worst aspects of society emerge in dangerous ways. As I started to think about what that could mean for our world, or more importantly for the world that is left to my baby daughter, I realized I did have something to say that was meaningful. I don't want to write anything that is preachy, but I want to portray a realistic vision of the consequences if these aspects continue to gain momentum. My goal isn't really to force an opinion, but rather to make young people think about what's going on and consider the implications of these beliefs. It is they who must draw opinions and make the choice to no allow these beliefs to take hold in their own lives.

I've only just begun working on it, but so far I think I've found the right tone. Wish me luck in completing this story in the way I envision.