Saturday, July 30, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

It was another oppressively hot week in the Hudson Valley and I barely survived. But with the help of some anticipated records, I managed to get through it. It was a good week for listening, with one of my favorite artists putting out a new record and some great discoveries from the past, as well as some contemporary curiosities. I love checking out things I've never heard before and going in blind without any notion of what it is I'm going to encounter. Enjoy.

Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung: After releasing one of my favorite albums of last year, this is easily one of the most anticipated records of the year for me. The Chicago singer songwriter has quickly become one of my favorites. This album, like last year's Primrose Green, is a child of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, more foreboding but just as beautiful. "Funny Thing She Said," "Sullen Mind," and "The Roundabout" were stand out tracks for me. Easily one to consider for the best of the year list.

Dinosaur Jr. - Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not: The great Boston indie outfit returns with their first album in four years. Following a string of great records since reforming last decade, the trio continues the streak with this record, which revisits the lo-fi groove of their heyday. Two Lou Barlow songs wisely break up the track list, giving a pause from J. Mascis' signature style. Most certainly deserves a place on the shelf alongside their best.

Reagan Cats - Sand Man: The new release from the Baltimore indie band reminded me a bit of some of the lesser known Elephant 6 bands in the mid-to-late '90s, not the experimental ones, but the lo-fi rock outfits like Ladybug Transistor and The Minders. These four songs have a simple honesty that makes them appealing. There's nothing showy, something that feels like a throwback to the indie scene in the '90s. Worth checking out their Bandcamp site.

Misfits - Evilive: This live EP was released back in 1997, but features material from the original lineup in their raw glory. I recently picked this up on vinyl in the midst of our sweltering heatwave. The aggression featured in this performance matched the weather and reminded me of what made these lo-fi demons one of the best American punk bands of all time. I was a little nervous that the recording quality wouldn't be great, but it's actually just right for the music.

Agnes Strange - Strange Flavour: This is the only album ever released by the 70's UK hard rock band. It came out in 1975, and is definitely of that time, though it actually feels as though it would have been mega huge had it come out a few years prior. This is blues infused hard rock with psych elements, varying from song to song. Quite good and a shame it isn't more widely known. "Failure," "Highway Blues," "Loved One," and "Children of the Absurd" are stand outs.

Gay Witch Abortion - Two Rats and a Pimp: Released last year, this is the latest EP from the Minneapolis noise rock band. Only four songs, but four intense post-punk songs. There is something Jesus Lizard about this band, something that makes them sound like a disturbing nightmare, but a nightmare you don't mind rocking out to. Full throttle noise that sounds like '90s punk, there's not much of that around these days, so it was nice to hear. "Red Max" and "Less Free" were the better half of the EP in my opinion. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fiction Friday (43)

Well, my goal of reading more this year has failed miserably so far. I foolishly thought that by choosing a rather slim novel would propel me farther along, but hadn't counted on it being one of those books that I purposely wanted to go through slowly in order to cherish the language displayed in the text. Also when I set that goal for myself, I hadn't counted on the fact that I'd be going back to school for my Master's degree. That has taken up much of my reading time, which has also contributed to my desire to enjoy the reading I do for pleasure. All that said, I finished a book this week and wanted to share my thoughts. Enjoy. 

The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

I first encountered this book a few years back while reading a book of Ballard quotes and frequently found myself highlighting passages taken from this novel. The surrealist imagery displayed in the passages pretty much assured that this would be my kind of book, and having read it, it certainly was.

As with other Ballard novels, it deals with complicated and borderline obscene portrayals of sex and death and the way the two seem intertwined within his mind. But unlike some of his more controlled use of language and structure, this book has a freedom that I hadn't encountered in his other work. As the title suggests, this book follows a dream logic, complete with the flights that dreams tend to take. 

 The book follows Blake after he crashes a small, stolen airplane into the Thames as it flows through Shepperton. What proceeds is part science-fiction, part marriage of heaven and hell, and a series of bizarre miracles and crimes that often leave the reader feeling perplexed, yet captivated. 

This is the book that I'd been waiting for in all my encounters with Ballard. The language is poetic. The scenery is transcendent. And the plot, surreal. This is an astonishing work of fiction that feels more in tune with the French avant garde writers than the post-modernists, but manages to carve its own path through the world of fiction.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Sorry about last weekend, that's if anyone actually noticed that last weekend the Roundup was missing in action. It was a crazy week, but I'm back, and so is the heat! As I write this, it's hovering around 2000ยบ F in here. To deal with the heat this week, I chose to listen mostly to metal, figuring it would help me release my anger at the weather. A few new discoveries here, which I always enjoy. I love finding new bands to dig into. Hopefully you do too. Enjoy. 

Castle - Welcome to the Graveyard: This is the fourth album from the San Fran metal band, but the first that I've encountered. This was pretty fantastic. The band is billed as stoner metal, but this is really thrash metal, and damned good thrash metal at that. At least the riffs fall under that category, vocally it's more doom metal. Either way, it rocks. Definitely worth checking out if you're into classic metal.

Bulbous Creation - You Won't Remember Dying: This is the only album from the late '60s early 70's heavy psych band from Kansas City and it wasn't officially released until 1994. This is one album that should get more exposure. "Hooked" and "Satan" are two of the best heavy psych tracks from that era and would certainly appeal to today's fans of the genre.

Orchid - Sign of the Witch: The San Fran metal band's most recent EP, released last year, is another wonderful example of Sabbath influenced doom metal. I fist encountered this band a few months back and have been determined to work my way through their limited catalog. Only four songs on here, which is the one drawback because I wish there were lots more, this is short but exceptional. 

Seels - A New Familiar Place: The San Diego indie rocker Mike Seely released his newest album back in January. There are some indie pop elements on here, but they are done in a way that simply serves to add melody to what are traditional indie rock tunes. There are also elements of electronic music. While it's not groundbreaking, it's certainly enjoyable and reminds me a bit of Trashmonk. This is that perfect kind of summer car album that has a sort of '90s vibe. Check out "Mexico", it's my favorite song.

Brand New - 3 Demos, Reworked: With the lack of new material released since 2009's Daisy, this EP feels a bit like filler, especially since these songs have been circulating for years. Still, it's nice to hear "Brother's Song" done with a full band, especially since it's one of their best songs. There's not a huge difference between the demos and new versions, except that the reworked versions are more produced and polished. Personally, I tend to prefer the bare demo versions. Hopefully this is a precursor to new material.

Bon Jovi - Bon Jovi: The 1984 debut from the Jersey heroes is their rawest, and perhaps their best. It opens with the phenomenal "Runaway" and includes many great tracks, if not any hits. This is more glam than their later radio rock, though it still has some of that blue collar Jersey attitude to it that keeps if from sounding like any of the west coast bands of the time. I found a near mint original promo copy of this on vinyl for $8 this past week and it was a steal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dream Pillow

Last week was one of those weeks that just sort of got away from me. It was also the week that I purchased a new pillow for the first time in years. I was a little nervous about it. I often like to stick with a pillow for years on end, but was feeling impulsive. On its first night in use, my new pillow released an epic zombie apocalypse dream that more involved, longer, and more intense than any I've had in long time. It was one of those dreams that I woke up thinking about, and the act of thinking about it caused me to remember other epic dreams that I hadn't recalled before, some dating back years. 

Now a few nights in, I'm happy to say that it has given another very detailed and complicated nightmare. I say happy because I'm of the strange breed who enjoys nightmares. Nightmares are often the most vivid dreams we have and therefore are hard to forget. They don't frighten me, not after I wake anyway. So I'm never left with fear, only awe with how the mind weaves together dream logic into something so real and so surreal at the same time. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The hottest week of the year is finally over, and I couldn't be more thankful for that. I spent most of this sweltering heat listening to a few curious new records. The extreme heat makes me a little loopy, which is probably why I picked mostly quirky albums. Sadly, many of these are kind of forgettable, but they are bookmarked on the top and bottom by some worthwhile records. Hopefully none of you melted over the past few days. Enjoy.

Black Rainbows - Stellar Prophecy: The seventh studio album from the Italian heavy psych band came this past spring and it's quite good. It shares similarities with other current bands in the genre including Kadavar, The Sword and on a lesser scale, Electric Wizard. I love the old school feel of the artwork, and the way it alludes to old '70s psych metal. Definitely worth checking out.

Bear Hands - You'll Pay for This: The Brooklyn indie band's third album is their best to date. While their previous two albums had flashes of interest, neither ever truly came together in my opinion to create something exciting. This album isn't perfect, but it definitely has a defined sound that doesn't seem derivative, and for that alone, it warrants a listen. It's uptempo, but never poppy, and quite a decent summer kind of record.

Bob Dylan - Melancholy Mood: This four sound EP of standards was released in April as a preview to his full length album of standards that came out in May. Not wanting to suffer through a full album unnecessarily, I decided to go with the short version. To my surprise this is quite enjoyable. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, Bob can still sing! Using a crooner, vocal jazz style, he manages to sound like Leonard Cohen on these songs. While it's not anything that I will cherish, it is an album that sets a nice mood. Worth checking out for fans, but nothing essential. 

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Bitchin' Bajas - Epic Jammers and Fortunate Ditties: Released in the spring, this is a collaborative album from Will Oldham and the Chicago free folk outfit. Basically it amounts to Bonnie providing vocals over Bitchin' Bajas brand of folktronica, giving the whole thing a freak folk vibe that is quite perfect for the hot and hazy days of summer, or the cold interior days of winter. This isn't an album that calls for attention to tracks but is rather best served as an entire listen like a experimental campfire singalong.

Jarvis Cocker - Music from "Likely Stories" EP: This is a four song soundtrack to Neil Gaiman project by the former Pulp singer. In typical Jarvis fashion, there is a pompous arrogance that colors this EP. He basically talks over the music, saying quasi interesting things which never really amount to anything. The music is good, but overall, it's really nothing special. Then again, I've never been a real fan.

Essra Mohawk - Essra Mohawk: Released in 1974, this is the third album from Sandy Hurvitz, and the second under the Essra Mohawk moniker. Her first album is one of my all time favorites, and this one is nearly just as good. This is one of those albums that I looked for in every record store I entered over the past seven years. I finally came across a beautiful copy for only a few dollars. I've been listening to it every day since. "New Skins for Old," "If I'm Going to Go Crazy with Someone, It Might as Well Be You" and her cover of "Summertime" are exceptional tracks.

War in America

The events of the last few days are extremely disturbing and I honestly fear where they will lead us. It started with the despicable actions of a few police officers, who in my opinion should be arrested for murder. These actions set of a wave of anger through this country. It was the accumulation of decades of abuse by police who are now run like small armies. The unequal justice that the African American community faces is obscene, and thanks to modern technology, is visible for all to see.

The reaction to these events over the past two years, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, has been a long time in coming. The response from the right has been predictable, and continues to feed into the racism that created the situation in the first place. 

Yesterday, the inevitable finally happened. All the pent up rage released itself in another terrible act of violence, this time the target being the police. What happens after this incident is crucial. Either we move as a nation to finally try to address and deal with this problem, or it ends up with open war on the streets. Unfortunately, I have little faith in the divisive political climate to do anything to calm the tension. In fact, they already seem to be inciting it. (I'm talking to you former Rep. Joe Walsh!)

What we have here is a powder keg...the challenge is to diffuse it before it blows. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

America's Last Birthday?

On it's 240th Birthday, America may be facing the limits of its lifespan. I'm not suggesting that it's going away or that the stars and stripes won't continue to fly for a long time. What I'm saying is that we are a point where the democracy that was founded in 1776 is on the verge of destroying itself. 

One could point to rampant voter fraud, corporate influence, and corrupt party control over our election process as signs of the Republic's demise, but I won't. Those elements have been in play since the very early days of the nation. The idea of democracy comes with the notion that there are those who go to any means to be the power behind the reins. What is new this time around is that one of the men who could possible hold those reins will act and assume the powers of a dictator. 

If elected, Donald Trump will essentially be the last American president. Nobody with an ego that large will ever bow to the demands of an unpopular and weak Congress. Trump will do whatever his whims tell him to do, and with that, will change the very nature of the Executive Branch which is already unbalanced in its power. 

As we celebrate today, I ask you all to think about what this country means. The ideals of this country are not about walls and guns and killing. Search your soul, read the declaration of Independence, and find out what it truly means to be an American, one you can be proud of.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the long holiday weekend, the height of summer, and one that is usually packed with music. This past week was a good one for new sounds. It was a nice mix of new and old. There were a couple of releases from bands that have only been around a few years, along with some nice finds of favorite bands, and one recent archival live release from a favorite of mine. Hopefully there is something here for you discover, when you're not lighting fireworks and celebrating America with hot dogs. Enjoy.

The Sore Losers - Skydogs: This is the third album from the Belgium hard rock band. Unlike typical bands these days, they typically take a few years between releases. I was unfamiliar with these guys before this album, and will admit being attracted by the pitch perfect heavy psych cover. This is not really heavy psych. If stoner hair metal bands came of age today, they'd sound a lot like this. From my perspective, that ain't such a bad thing. For others, it's a nightmare. Very worthwhile if that genre is one you are into.

The Beatles - Yellow Submarine: Though I have a HUGE Beatles library, believe it or not, this is one I didn't have. I recently came across a mint first issue of this album still in shrinkwrap for $4 at an antique store and snatched it up. While the B side consists of forgettable George Martin soundtrack songs, Side A is pure Fab Four gold with "Hey Bulldog" being the real treasure. It was a great buy and I'm happy to add it to my collection.

The Oscillation - Monographic: The London space rock band recently released their fourth album and it's a departure from their last effort. While they have come to be known for their lush soundscapes and Pink Floyd like sound, this is very different. This sounds more like early Christian Death to me, aggressive, moody and gothic at it's roots. There are still elements of atmospheric rock that seep through, making this an interesting listen and one worth checking out.

Sly and the Family Stone - Stand!: Released in 1969, this is a landmark album that combines soul, funk and rock in a delightful way. Sly is in top form here, and will be for several years to come. I was lucky to find a perfect vinyl copy of this one for cheap and have been grooving to it for awhile. Though I had their Greatest Hits on vinyl, it's nice to hear some of the songs that you don't hear all the time. "Everyday People," "I Want to Take You Higher," and the title track are hits, and they are fantastic.

The Myrrors - Entranced Earth: The psychedelic band from Arizona released their third album two months ago. They specialize in creating almost lyrical soundscape with minimal vocals. This is the kind of album that typically I prefer in the late fall than in the summer, and will likely return to it at that time. Pleasant enough, though not particularly striking.

The Monkees - More of the Monkees: The band's second album sees them leading up to their classic records that were to come, is still a little more pop rock than psychedelic. The were still young and a little goofy here, but always catchy. This also has some of their best songs like "I'm a Believer" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." It goes nicely on the shelf with their other records. This is a band that is too often dismissed when really they were one of the greats of the time.

The White Stripes - Live at the Golden Dollar III: In the continuing wave of Fan Club releases, this live set was put out on vinyl around Christmas time. This is an early concert, recorded before the release of their debut and features songs mostly from that album, and some that would come later and still more that would never be released on any official album. The energy on here is great and really captures the sound of one the best live bands of all time.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Game of Thrones...Winds of Winter

So begins a long year of waiting to return to my favorite fictional world. This season of Game of Thrones was perhaps the best yet in terms of story. Though other seasons have had more action, of which Season 3 has to rank at the top, this season dove deeper into the game. Most of the season was spent moving the chess pieces around to put them into place for the final climax and conclusion. All along they were hinting at big things to come, and in the final two episodes, they delivered.

One of the things that was interesting about this season (and please stop reading if you don't want any spoilers) is how the women are now fully in control, be it Cersei Lannister in King's Landing, Daenerys Targaryen across the narrow sea, or Sansa Stark in the North. While the women have always been powerful players behind the scenes, they are now out front. Let's see how they fair.

As the season ended, the cards have once again been shuffled and the noble families have realigned their allegiances in preparation for the wars to come. I still hold onto my prediction from way back in the first season that a Targaryen would end up ruling the seven kingdoms, but with recent revelations, who that Targaryen is, is now in question. We also have to wonder about the Stark perspective that has driven the narrative up to this point and wonder how much of what we've believed from the beginning is actually true. All that I know is that I am going to enjoy thinking about it often over the next several months.