Sunday, June 26, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The first weekend of summer has arrived and with it has come the unbearable heat associated with this cursed season. The only thing about summer that is redeeming in the fact that music sounds great moving through thick humid air. This week featured a few new releases, all of which surprised me either for better or worse, but the fact that at this point in my life I can still be surprised is something I'm glad for. I don't have a agenda for next week just yet, so I don't know what the week ahead is going to bring as far as my musical enjoyment. I guess we'll all have to wait and see. Until then, find something you like and enjoy.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Getaway: I wouldn't call myself a die-hard RHCP's fan, though I've enjoyed their music for the past 25 years. As a loyalist, I always check out new output from bands that have entertained me in the past. So while their last album, 2011's I'm With You, was a real disappointment with the exception of a few songs, I still wanted to hear this. After "Dark Necessities"  was released a few weeks ago, the radio started playing it and I really dug it, increasing my anticipation for this. This is leaps and bounds better than the last album, and their best since By the Way. They've finally adapted to John Frusciante's departure and created a fun record. Very traditional RHCP, no real surprises, but solid all the way through.

Mudcrutch - 2: Eight years after their first album, the Tom Petty collaborate band released their follow-up. This is another album where the debut single has been on heavy rotation and has been stuck in my head. Normally I wouldn't show must interest in a Tom Petty release, but "Trailor" is an exceptional song that made me seek this out. I was pleasantly surprised by this country rock album. There isn't really a bad song on here. It feels like Traveling Wilburys era Tom Petty, and very Dylan influenced. Definitely worth checking out.

Rapidfire - Ready to Rumble: If that singer on the cover looks familiar, it's because he is. This is Axl Rose's pre-Hollywood Rose band. This five song demo EP had long been buried, but the guitar player, and songwriter, released them a few years back. I'd been looking for a copy of this for awhile and finally found one. This is more AC/DC meets NWOBHM than anything Axl has done since. Singing in the lower register, these songs are all about getting chicks. Nothing terribly special about this except from a historical and completest point of view. Still, "On the Run" is pretty bitchin'.

Misfits - Friday the 13th: It's been a long time since I've checked out any new music from one of my favorite bands from my teenage years. Partially because they haven't put out much music since the early '80s and partly because it's far from the same band with Danzig on vocals. But I did give this new EP a few listens and it's okay. The songs are based on '80s horror movies, and for the most part they are enjoyable even if they are not particularly memorable. A fun listen, but certainly nothing essential.

Jake Bugg - On My One: The third album from the British singer songwriter was released last week and I'd been meaning to check him out for some time. I'd read a lot of promising things about him, but have to admit that I found this album to pretty unlistenable. I found his voice somewhat annoying, and musically pretty pedestrian. I got through the whole album, though there were many times where I wanted to switch it off. I'm sure it would appeal to people with more a pop sensibility, or fans of Ed Sheeran.

The Charlie Daniels Band - High Lonesome: In the '70s, Southern Rock hit the mainstream thanks to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers. One of the bands on the next tier of that movement was The Charlie Daniels Band which brought a little more of the traditional country sound into their blend of Southern rock. Released in '76, at the peak of their career, this record is near perfect blend of those two genre. This is one I found in the $1 crate and it's well worth the price of admission. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The End of Globalization

I remember when the EU was just a concept and the talk of how it would change the world by creating a United States of Europe. It was decades ago, when the idea of globalization was just beginning to take root. With yesterday's UK vote to leave the EU, that global movement may be coming to an end. It seems isolationism and nationalism are on the rise once again. It's not only in Europe. It's happening here in the U.S. too. We see it with the likes of Trump and his supporters. There's an increasing fear that the rest of the world is out to take advantage of you, no matter where it is you happen to be.

The thing is, it's easy to play into the fears of globalization. It's easy to tell the story of immigration taking away jobs. It's easy to point to money that flows out of one nation and into the hands of another. It's easy to get people angry that their taxes are going to help people who didn't contribute to those taxes. Yet it's very hard to communicate the benefits of globalization.

It's hard to convince people that the good of the many is good for them. It's difficult to illustrate how deep cooperation between nations can be a benefit to their lives. Yes, there are dangers when governing bodies are seen as remote, or in the case of the EU, when foreign countries can impose costs on to members of another nation. But it's the spirit of globalization that can solve the difficult problems the world faces. It's the spirit of globalization that can provide stability to our world. And it's the spirit of globalization that has given those of us in the West a standard of living that couldn't have been imagined 50 or 100 years ago.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The last week of Spring has ended, and bringing with it the heat of summer. I can't stand the heat of summer, but I certainly like the explosion of music that happens every time this year. This was a week that featured some new releases from artists that I've been following for some time, as well as an anticipated bootleg that I'd been looking forward to. There are a few vinyl discoveries that I made recently. All in all, not a bad way to say goodbye to the season. Next week should feature a few more new releases, so stay tuned. Enjoy.

AC/ DC - Axl or Bust: In addition to fronting a re-united GNR, Axl has recently become the lead singer for AC/DC to help the band fulfill their tour obligations in the wake of Brian Johnson's necessary departure. I've always been of the mindset that AC/DC died with Bon Scott, not being a fan of Brian Johnson, so hearing their songs sung by my favorite singer was a welcome surprise. It's like getting a brand-new GNR double album of covers and that's a wonderful thing. Purists will object, but GNR fans will rejoice.

Scorpion Child - Acid Roulette: The Austin rock band's second album was released this week and it's quite good. It's a throwback to '80s metal, at least vocally, while the riffs feel very modern stoner metal. It reminds a bit of Ozzy or early Soundgarden, which is nice, though not particularly innovative. "Winter Side of Deranged," "Tower Grove," "Moon Tension," and the title track are standout tracks.

NRBQ - Scraps: I picked up the Miami boogie blues band's third album on vinyl a few weeks back and saved it for a while, but once I started listening to it, I couldn't really stop. Rooted in blues, this album transcends the genre and feels closer to Grateful Dead than any other band of the time that I can think of. Released in 1972, this album still holds a lot in common with '60s rock, but also has that shift into laid back '70s feel. I always thought this was a '90s band, having never heard of them before that era until I heard some of their early stuff on the radio recently. Certainly a band I will check out more of.

Psychic Ills - Inner Journey: Channeling their inner Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Brooklyn neo-psych band returns with their first album in three years, and third consecutive solid record. A laid back vibe gives the whole thing a feeling of Cali psych as they explore similar territory that BJM has been navigating recently. The result is one the albums that I anticipate listening to quite a bit this summer on lazy days, assuming I have any lazy days. "Another Change," "Mixed Up Mind" and "All Alone" are among my favorite tracks.

Jimmie Spheeris - Isle of View: The debut album from L.A. singer songwriter was released in 1971 and is one the early folk pop albums to feature a sound that would later be made famous by the likes of John Denver. However, Spheeris isn't nearly as poppy. This bridges the gap between bands like The Incredible String Band and the later world of Cat Stevens. Not a perfect record, but quite a good folk album and one that you don't seem around very often. Definitely worth checking out if you are into folk of that time period.

Curren$y - The Legend of Harvard Blue: Sometimes there's a reason to continue investing in an artist that shows promise. Starting a few years back, I began to listen to Curren$y (aka Spitta Andretti) and knew that one day the New Orleans rapper would do something that I truly loved. Of the many albums I've heard in his prolific output, I usually find them to be uneven, with flashes of raw talent that never quite come together into a whole. This mixtape finally does and it had me memorized from start to finish. He puts a unique spin on old way of rhyming and it's a pleasure to hear.

Wye Oak - Tween: This is the fifth album from the Baltimore based indie pop band. It has deep roots in '80s soft rock, but filtered through current dream pop tones. I enjoyed this album, not as much I enjoy their debut, but still it was entertaining. There were definitely moments where it sort of missed the mark, and others where I found myself easily distracted. "Too Right," "On Luxury," and "No Dreaming" were my favorites. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Fiction Friday (42)

On this Friday, I've decided to post a review of book that I've known quite well for decades but which my opinion about has changed drastically in the past few months. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a person of strong opinions and usually have stubborn convictions on said opinions. So for me to have a change of heart, especially on a book, is quite rare. I'm pretty pleased to say this is the first thing on which my daughter has changed my opinion, though I'm quite certain it won't be the last.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
(HarperCollins 1947)

When I worked in Children's publishing as buyer, I hated this book. I'd read it many, many times and never saw what people liked about it. It was dull. It was boring. It was a book that I crusaded against as one that had seen its time and needed to be retired. 

I was wrong.

Of course when my daughter was born, this book was one that was given to her. When she was about three months old, I read it to her for the first time, without much excitement. At the time, I still believed what I believed. We didn't read it very many times after. Then, about two months ago, I read it to her again as we were getting her ready for bed and saw how how much she liked it and how it soothed her. 

We read it a few more times, and soon she started pointing at the things as I read about them. My interest in the book grew. We began reading it every other night. For the first time I understood the genius in the rhythm of the text. I began to appreciate the nonsense quality of the items and the randomness of things chosen. And I discovered the art of reading it aloud and how it lends itself to a magical, peaceful ending. 

So goodnight old opinions. Goodnight criticism. Goodnight nobody. And goodnight mush.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived and as promised, this edition of the Roundup features mostly new stuff. There are really so many new releases coming out these days that I'm fairly swamped listening to stuff that I've been waiting for. It's a situation that I don't mind being in. There's also some recent vinyl purchases that I picked up at a fair over the long weekend a few weeks back. I'm digesting them in pieces in order to keep my spending down. There's a lot of rock on here, and some folk. Most are bands that I've followed for a long time. Definitely a lot to check out. Enjoy.

The Kills - Ash & Ice: It's been five years since the Trans-Atlantic duo released their last album, time during which Alison Mossheart focused on her Dead Weather project with Jack White. The time away was good for the band. Their last album was a letdown for me, but this is a return to form. Though not as gritty and raw as their early work, it's still great rock music. It goes back and forth from blues to dance rock in nice way, and Alison sounds fantastic. "Black Tar," "Bitter Fruit," "Echo Home," and wonderful "Hum for Your Buzz" are standouts. Definitely worth checking out.

The Claypool Lennon Delirium - Monolith of Phobos: The pairing of Les Claypool and Sean Lennon is one I couldn't have imagined a few years back when Ghost of the Sabre Tooth Tiger was just beginning, but after they last two strong psychedelic releases, it makes much more sense to me. It opens with the Floyd / Sgt. Pepper inspired title track and continues the vibe, with a slight deviation into slap bass intrigue, as is to be expected with Les involved. A very interesting and consistent psychedelic album with "Breath of a Salesman," "Boomerang Baby," and the title track being standouts. 

Jethro Tull - Heavy Horses: Tull made some of my all time favorite albums in the late '60s and early '70s and remained pretty fantastic throughout the decade. Released in '78, ten years after their debut, this record is classic Tull. They are still daring and creating some of the best prog blues ever recorded. This album feels more Zeppelin than any of their other albums. Not as epic as Aqualung or Thick as a Brick, and more prog than Stand Up, this falls in line with Minstrel in the Gallery. "Acres Wild," "Journeyman," and the title track are my personal favorites.

Melvins - Basses Loaded: The sludge metal pioneers are not as young as they used to be, and not nearly as heavy as they used to be. That said, they still know how to make solid riffs and interesting grooves. This album was a bit uneven for me. At moments they were they their classic selves, and at others, well, not so much. It's never bad, just more interesting at times than others. "Captain Come Down," "Beer Hippie," "War Pussy," and the cover of the Beatles "I Want To Tell You" are among my favorites.

Robert Ellis - Robert Ellis: Two years, the Nashville based singer/songwriter released one of my favorite albums of the year. The follow-up finally came out last week and it's another country folk record featuring tales of suffering in the modern age with interesting arrangements. It hasn't struck me with quite the same force as the last album, but perhaps that's just because it's very similar, and therefore no longer feels brand-new to me. Still, this is strong record and worth checking out, just ignore the oddly weak opening track "Perfect Strangers" and pay attention to "California," "Drivin'" and "The High Road."

Blue Oyster Cult - Spectres: The New York hard rock band's fifth album from 1977 was a recent vinyl pick-up for me. I was given their '74 album Secret Treaties as a gift a few years back and loved it. While not quite as perfect as that album, this one is still pretty fantastic rock. This band never over does anything and manages to deliver. In that way, they remind me of Deep Purple. They are America's brand of '70s rock, which differs from the British giants like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. I will certainly continue to pick up their records as I come across them.

Mark Kozelek - Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites: The Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon frontman released this album of covers last month. I've been a fan of Mark's work for over two decades and was certainly interested in this. The most surprising thing about this album is the remarkable straight-forwardness of the songs. It is the most traditional music he's made in years. I love the direction he's been taking his songs in over the past few years, but this album reminded me of what a great singer he truly is. Some interesting choices on here too, ones you wouldn't expect to match his voice, but somehow do. The cover of 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" is simply brilliant.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Lobster

Last night I saw The Lobster, a movie that felt really original and bizarrely funny. It takes the absurdities of our dating/ mating culture and deconstructs them into a dystopian world full of cruelty, and does so in such a way that we are able to laugh at them, while also being appalled by them. 

This is the kind of film that is rarely made today. It reminded me of indie cinema of the '90s, where directors were willing to experiment with odd storytelling and anti-conventions. It also harkened back to films from the '70s, particularly A Clockwork Orange comes to mind in the brand of unsettling humor. 

It's not exactly a profound movie, and doesn't try to be. It just tries to look at culture in an abstract way and succeeds in making it very entertaining. It's the kind of film that once seen, one will not forget it. Twenty or forty years from now, I will still remember what this movie was about and probably smile and chuckle to myself. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has come as it always does. This week brought me many more new releases that I'd been looking forward to, as well as some that were kind of a surprise. It might be the most impressive week of new release listening of the year so far, not individually, but in total. Though next week I already have a bunch more lined up which may threaten to take over the title. I also went to a record sale last weekend and picked up some missing classics which I will mix in over the coming weeks. There is one on this week's list, one that is terrible overlooked. Enjoy.

Wolf Parade - EP 4: The first release in six years from the collaborative Canadian indie band from Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Moonface) and Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs). I'm so glad these guys have returned, they've never let me down and these four songs are no exception. As with previous releases, the two frontmen trade off, two Spencer songs sandwiched between two of Dan's songs. All are classic Wolf Parade which is refreshing to hear after so long. A must for fans.

The Duke Spirit - KIN: It's been five years since the London band's last album and there's definitely an evolution here. As have many bands in the past several years, Duke Spirit has mellowed a bit in their sound, choosing to go in the direction of dreampop on many of the songs included here. And as with most dreampop, it's very nice to listen to. I've listened to this in the car twice, and it's good driving music. Nothing particularly spectacular or innovative, but quality nonetheless. Oddly though, it's the two rockers, "Hands" and "Side-By-Side" that are standouts for me.

The Strokes - Future Present Past EP: The NYC band's new release is their first new music in three years and it's quite brilliant. This is what radiohead should sound like instead of the sleepy bore that they've become. The Strokes continue to evolve and experiment. These songs are like knotted balls of twine that threaten to unravel, but just as they are pulled the breaking point, they snap back into something wonderful. In some ways, this reminds me of some of Bowie's most daring and creative work. Not for everyone, but if it's for you, it don't get much better.

Band of Skulls - By Default: Released this week is the new album from the London indie band, their fourth, and easily their best since their debut. The funny thing about listening to this during the course of the week is that I found myself thinking, this is very 00's. That's the first time I ever thought that, and it actually made me happy. This is classic '00s indie rock, with garage influences. There are some great songs on here, including "Bodies" which is their best song to date. While I enjoyed their last album, this one is great because it doesn't try to be anything that it's not. Well worth checking out.

Black Pistol Fire - Don't Wake the Riot: The Austin rock band's fourth album is their best yet. Their early garage rock has blossomed into a mixture of garage rock and southern rock, moving them beyond a band that sounded a little like The White Stripes and into a band that sounds original and exceptional. This is one of those records that the more I listen to it, the more I hear and the more I appreciate. Definitely one to check out if you like southern blues rock with an updated feel.

Elton John - Blue Moves: Released a year after Captain Fantastic, this 1976 double album marks the end of Elton's prolific and wonderful '70s heyday in partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Strangely enough, there are no hits on this record, no songs that are known by all, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable than the albums that came before it. The glam era is winding down on here, but there are still some moments where you hear that classic Elton sound. Definitely a nice addition to the catalog. Perhaps not essential, but definitely worthwhile.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Turning Points

I've reached one of those moments in my new manuscript, the kind that writers encounter several times in the course of a story. It's a moment where the direction of the story must choose one path or the other. I like to think of it as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" moment. If this happens, then proceed to page so-and-so...but if this happens, then go here instead. 

These moments are potentially momentum killers because you can take so long considering the possibilities rather than just plowing through. Luckily, I reached this moment just before the long weekend where I knew I wasn't going to have time to write. Which is good, because it gave me time to think. Thinking through a situation is something I never did in my early career. Sometimes I think that was a positive thing, but I know it wasn't really. Without thinking it through, I've gone down the wrong road enough times that I know it's better to get directions first. 

I have a road map least until the next "Choose Your Own Adventure" moment.