Saturday, November 26, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

This long holiday weekend is the unofficial beginning of the holiday season, and after a nice Thanksgiving with the family, I'm in a festive mood. This week's list reflects my feelings on this time of year. By that, I mean there are a lot of albums on here that are perfect for cold grey days. Some of these are newly discovered bands for me, while others are new albums by bands I've followed for a long time. There's a lot of ethereal music on this list, which I always find good for staying inside on cold days. But there's also some rock in here, which is good for letting out the aggression that builds during those dark days. Hopefully there's something on here you will want to check out. Enjoy.

AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend: The debut album from the 20 year old Norwegian chamber pop artist was my surprise listen of the week. I had no idea what to expect and was rewarded with a fantastic album that was part Bjork and part Florence + The Machine. It's beautiful moody music is complimented by her amazing voice and is one of those perfect rainy day albums. "Running with the Wolves," "Warrior," "Runnaway," and "Black Water Lilies" are standouts, but there really is not a bad song on here. 

Big Blood - Operators and Things: This EP was released in 2010, and though brief, it's a nice addition to the near flawless catalog of this Portland, Maine psychedelic folk band. This is more of a mood piece than some of their other records and quieter as well. For years this has been on of the bands that never fails to inspire my imagination and this album is no different. "The Sound and the Sea," "Lay Your Head on the Rails," and "Mouth of Seven Tongues" are my personal favorites. Well worth checking out.

Avenged Sevenfold - The Stage: The Cali rock band seems to average three years between albums and that is the amount of time that has passed since the last album. This new album is a bit of a return to form, capturing everything that was good about 2005's breakout City of Evil.  This record has the same focus on their dueling guitar riffs and loud/quiet/loud format that serves their bursts of energy. Nothing really groundbreaking here, but a decent hard rock record. It reminds me of early Alice in Chains, if not a bit more metal. "Creating God," "Paradigm," "Higher" and "Simulation" are highlights.

Argent - Circus: This is the sixth album from the '70s UK prog rock band, released in '75, a year before they broke up. This is a concept album about the circus, obviously. As a concept record, it's very tight as far as sticking to the theme of each performer in the circus serving a role. This moves away from the harder rock of their early records and becomes more jazz fusion prog rock, but not entirely and not annoyingly, It still rocks. At it's softer times, it feels like Elton John's music of the time, then breaks out into heavier riffs reminiscent of Deep Purple.

The Thermals - We Disappear: The new album from the Portland OR indie band was released back in the spring and is their seventh. Somehow I missed their last two records, though it is a band I've followed since their debut thirteen years ago. This is quality indie rock, a little less pop punk than some of their past work, which isn't a bad thing. There's a maturity here, but with their sound still being recognizable. A brief but fun album.

Aethenor - Hazel: This is the fourth album from the Swiss dark ambient outfit and the first one I checked out, purely on a whim. It's a sort of drone ambient, with a lot of industrial sounds mixed into darkwave type of music, giving it a melodic feel. It didn't leave a huge impression on me, but it was a nice bit of background music to fit a specific mood. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

The United Hates of America

The election is now two weeks behind us in the rear view mirror, but the effects of it loom on the horizon like a blazing light blinding the future for the next four years. I was too upset to write about it prior to now. I needed time to gather my thoughts, to digest the horror that we now face. In the days that followed, I held out hope that the man who had spent most of his life as a Democrat would soften his positions. I waited to see if the rhetoric of his campaign was simply a ploy to fool the "under educated" to cast their vote for him. I thought perhaps he would pick more moderate people to fill his cabinet. Unfortunately, we now have answers to all of those questions, and none of the answers are the ones I'd hoped for.

I'd been saying all during the election cycle that Trump wasn't running for President, he was running to become a dictator. His actions in the past two weeks only seem to support that theory. Not only has he chosen disgusting people to fill the top positions, but he continues to attack the basic beliefs of the Constitution. This past week, he made clear attacks on the free speech, the right protest, and the press. He continues to lash out at any person or organization that criticizes him. So what happens when a nation criticizes the inevitable horrible decisions he will make? What happens to our already fragile journalism when he "opens up the libel laws?" And what happens when the rash of hate crimes that followed his election continue and grow? What is his relation to Russia and the dangerous role they played in our democracy? How will Trump respond?

The problem with a Trump Presidency is that we have no idea what the answers to these questions will be. He is simply too unpredictable. And now he is the most powerful man in the world. I'm truly fearful for the future of our country and the institutions and principles that guide it. Beyond that, I'm fearful for the world and the environmental and military risks that it now faces. And I'm even more afraid that those who voted for him will continue to support him and lap up the bullshit he will continue to feed them.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Weekend Music Round Up

Another week in this quickly passing year has come to an end and with it comes more music in yet another year to be celebrated in sound. This week features a few new releases, one that is easily one of my favorites of the year. It also includes a few exceptional old finds that I have for a while but had never bothered to review. It's a good list, one of that I hope will add to your holiday wish lists. Not that there is much room left on them, if you're anything like me. Enjoy.

Jim James - Eternally Even: This is the second solo album from the leader of My Morning Jacket and it's yet another phenomenal effort to go along with the rest of catalog, both solo and with the band. This record doesn't stray too far from the band's most recent album. It's a groove heavy blend of folk rock with soul elements that grabbed me from beginning to end. Definitely a favorite of the year so far. "Hide in Plain Sight," "Same Old Lie," "We Ain't Getting Any Younger" and the title track are all fantastic.

Lou Barlow - Apocalypse Fetish: The newest EP from the Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and Folk Implosion member was released a few weeks ago and is another lo-fi treat to add to his catalog. Only five short songs, but it's still nice to have, even if it the mood is rather depressing, which I suppose works for the current state of affairs. In fact, the title track speaks to many of those who groups who supported the instigated the disastrous course this country has taken. "Pour Reward," along with the title track, are standouts.

David Johansen - Live it Up: I found this '82 live album from the New York Dolls frontman at my local Goodwill store a few months back but hadn't gotten around to playing it until recently. It's pretty fantastic and includes a lot of unexpected covers like "Reach Out, I'll Be There" and "Build Me Up Buttercup," along with solo greats like "Funky but Chic," and New York Dolls standards "Stranded in the Jungle" and "Personality Crisis." It doesn't have any of the quality issues that some live records have and settles into a groove mighty quick. Definitely a nice find. 

Buffalo Springfield - Buffalo Springfield: I've had this record for a few years, but realized the other day that I'd never reviewed it. I was listening to it recently and felt the need to correct that oversight. This is "collection" record, which is a way of saying it's a Greatest Hits, though the songs aren't really hits. It was replaced in the '90s with a box set (which I also have), but this double record is a bit easier to digest. Every classic Stills and Young track is included and listening to it, I was reminded how fantastic this band was, which is why there's no mystery as to why members found great success afterwards.

Riff Raff - Balloween: The new album from the Houston trap rapper is yet another uneven release, but somehow I don't think he puts too much emphasis on consistency.  One of the great things about Riff Raff is that he just does his thing, seemingly unconcerned with critics, public opinion, or reviews. It's what gives his music style. But it's also what causes a release with so many tracks that feel like unfinished toss-offs. When he's good, he's great. Too bad there isn't more greatness on here.

The Cars - Greatest Hits: In the late '70s and early '80s, this Boston new wave band had a string of hits that are familiar to anyone who lived through that time. I recently listened to this record as part of an '80s weekend and couldn't believe that all of these songs that I knew from childhood were done by the same band. This is the soundtrack to my elementary school summers at the local pool club and it's still good music. "You Might Think," "My Best Friend's Girl," and "Drive" are my personal favorites.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Orbiting Human Circus

Last week, the day after the election, the Missus and I had tickets to go see premier of the live Orbiting Human Circus show, adopted from the podcasts by Julian Koster (member of The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel). Still depressed about Trump's victory, we weren't really in the mood, but we had a babysitter and tickets and decided to go. 

We had no idea what to expect from this, and walking into the place, we still had no idea. The stage area was curtained off and everybody had to wait in the bar. When they opened the curtains, it was apparent that we were in for something very different. The entire floor was covered in tarps and janitor equipment was spread throughout the room. Everybody was instructed to have a seat on the tarps and waited. About a half hour later, all the lights went dark, alarms rang out...and thus began our evening. 

The show was a mixture of a one-man theater piece, a traveling circus act, and a gypsy magic trick. The entire thing was so magical and imaginative, that I truly found myself enraptured in the fantasy. I genuinely felt like a child again for the next two hours. It as though we were all playing a childhood game with Julian. I won't spoil the ending, but it was mind blowing. It was exactly what we needed to take our minds away from reality for a moment, and furthermore, to inspire creative thoughts in a time when the real world feels a little overbearing. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived, the first weekend in a brand new world, I won't say brave new world, because there was no bravery in the results of the disastrous election that has set the course of my country in a very uncertain direction. But I've always found there is no better refuge from bad times than music and this week I feature a lot of new releases that just might help get me through the coming weeks and months, if not years. Hopefully you will also be able to find some solace in tunes. Enjoy.

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions - Until the Hunter: This is the third album from the Mazzy Star singer with her other band. They seem to average an album every seven years, and that is the case here as well. It doesn't stray far from the sound that Hope has cultivated throughout her career, a soft dreamy sound that soothes the brain into lullaby visions. This isn't quite as great as the last Mazzy Star album, but still one that fans would enjoy. "Liquid Lady" is a true gem on this album.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Third World Pyramid: It's hard to imagine a band hitting their creative peak nearly twenty years, and nearly as many albums, after their debut, but that seems to be what's happening with the San Fran psychedelic rock band. The follow-up to last year's fantastic Mini Album Thingy Wingy (aka PISH), they return with another fuzzed out psychedelic gem. Ever since original members returned several years ago, the band has been making one solid record after the next. "Don't Get Lost," "Assignment Song," "Lunar Surf Graveyard," and "The Sun Ship" are some of the finest songs they've ever put out. A must for fans.

2 Chainz - Hibachi for Lunch: The newest mixtape from the Atlanta rapper was released online a few weeks back. Of all the trap rappers out there, I've always believe 2 Chainz to be one of the more talented and like to check out his material every now and again. This seven song EP suffers a little from too many guest spots by less interesting rappers, in my opinion. And though I never expect too much in way of enlightenment on his records, this one a little too surface level for me. Still, interesting beats, good flow, and makes for decent background music for engaging in recreational activities. "Doors Open" is my personal favorite.

Kings of Leon - Walls: The seventh album from the Nashville band is their first in three years. On the last record, they reclaimed their Southern rock sound that made their debut such a classic. This album finds them returning the sound of their breakout 2008 album Only by Night. This is the closest they've come to capturing that easy to love rock sound. "Reverend," "Find Me," "Waste a Moment," "Over," and the title track are standouts on album with no real weak tracks.

Quicksilver - Just for Love: The third album from the San Fran psychedelic band was released in 1970 and one I picked up a few weeks back on vinyl. This is the record where the band first begins to put it all together and falls in line with other bands from the area, like Jefferson Airplane and The Dead. They songs take off into soulful fits of psych weirdness, while staying grounded in a blues base. "Cobra," "Gone Again," "Just for Love 1 and 2" and the epic Traffic-esqe "The Hat" are all outstanding tracks.

Helmet - Dead to the World: The newest album from the L.A. post-hardcore band is the first one that I've listened to since their '90's heyday. It was an impulse listen, wondering what the band that made In the Meantime back in '92 would sound like now. It's actually far from the same band, with only the singer/guitarist still a member of the band. They don't sound anything like the band that I remember, except for the grinding guitar work. This is a rock album that isn't quite metal enough to live up to what the songs try to build. It reminded me of Soundgarden more than anything that I remember from Helmet. It was an okay listen, but not anything that I see myself returning to. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fiction Friday (48)

As promised, there were more book reviews to come. This book is one that I never would have picked up on my own and read it for my library course work. I'm glad I did. It's also a book that would serve many people in this country well after the disastrous elections that chose to support anger and hate over progress and tolerance. This is a book that teaches understanding and acceptance...something we obviously need more of in this world.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
(Knopf 2012)

This is a novel that borders the Middle Grade and YA and has been near the top of NYT Children's Bestseller list for over two years.  It is one of those rare bestsellers that is truly wonderful. While it's about a fifth grader with a severe facial deformity, and the struggles he faces when entering a school for the first time, it's much broader than that and really captures the struggles of growing up and the difficult years of Middle School and early High School. It deals with many difficult topics in a sensitive and realistic way that can't help but cause readers to become emotionally attached to the wonderful family at the heart of the book.

The novel is told from a number of perspectives, but the Pullman siblings dominant the narrative. They were also the strongest and most sincere voices. When some of the periphery characters take over, I found their voices to be less authentic and a little more forced, but their insight to the story was crucial for the instilling the sense of empathy that young readers should develop while reading this book.

I'm fairly certain this is one of those novels that will become a classic, read in school for years and years to come because of the powerful message of kindness and acceptance. A delightful and moving read for all ages.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


In my opinion, there is absolutely NO excuse for not voting. Since my 18th birthday, I have never missed a vote. It's not because I've been enthusiastic about every one I've ever voted for, but I'm passionate about using my voice in having a say in the direction of our country. 

I'm hearing a lot of people say that they aren't voting this year because they don't like either of our choices for president. With two flawed candidates, that's understandable, but there are others running for the office. You can vote for a Third Party if you don't like Trump or Clinton. BUT THERE ARE OTHER offices at stake than just the President. Your Congressman is also up for election. Many of you have Senators up for election. You're state assemblymen and state senators. Local officials and propositions. All of these people make decisions that directly impact your life whether you see it or not. 

It is every American's civic responsibility to vote. If you don't use it, you can't complain about what happens, even if that means we lose the right to vote. If that happens, those of you who didn't vote will have to hold some of the blame. No excuses...VOTE!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week has ended, perhaps the last weekend of democracy in this country if a certain dictator in chief manages to sneak his way into the Oval Office. But let's not dwell on that unpleasantness during this weekend. Let's find some escape in music. This week's list features a few solid new releases and some old finds that I've been digging of late. There's a wide range of genres on here, so that means there's no excuse for not checking out something. Hopefully you'll find something here to help you escape those election blues. Enjoy.

Korn - The Serenity of Suffering: The twelfth album from California nu-metal pioneers is perhaps their best yet, and certainly their best since 2005's See You On the Other Side. This band has had an extremely uneven career, and too often produces uneven albums. This isn't only solid from start to finish, it gets everything right that they do well and leaves out the things that usually spoil a track for me. I had low expectations given their couple of records, but this is a great rock album.

Essra Mohawk - E-Turn: Ever since I heard her first album, under her real name Sandy Hurvitz, I've searched for the rest of her albums. Frequent readers may remember two other previous albums reviewed over the past few months. Someone must have sold their collection to a local store, I bought them. This one from 1985 is later in her career, and shows an evolving from the proto-dance punk of her late '70s work. It's still dance punk in the vain of Blondie but with '80s new wave elements. Could easily feel like Pat Benatar, but there's an edge that only a member of The Mothers of Invention could add to that sound. "You're a Mover," "Mankind," "Digital," and "All For Your Love" are my personal favorites.

Conor Oberst - Ruminations: Released a few weeks ago, this is the sixth solo album from the prolific singer songwriter behind Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk. I've been following his work since the Bright Eyes debut nearly twenty years ago and this album is perhaps his most honest record since that album. He channels his inner Dylan on here, lots of piano and harmonica and straight forward meditations on life. "Tachycardia," "Gossamer Thin," "The Rain Follows the Plow," and "Till St. Dymphna Kicks us Out" are standout tracks for me.

The Vapors - New Clear Days: The 1980 debut from the Surrey new wave band is best known for it's hit opener, "Turning Japanese." Oddly enough, that song is the most new wavey pop track on the album, which is probably why it was such a hit. The rest of the record is more working class hero material that is heavily influenced by the work of The Jam. This was a recent bargain LP bin purchase for me, and has been a surprise in how solid it is from start to finish.

Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows - Dead Lovers' Sarabande (Face One and Two): Released in 1999, these two albums were a breakthrough of sorts for the German darkwave band. I recently listened to both together. The first album is typical of their work, the soundtrack to dead child's dreams, while the second is mostly instrumental, capturing the delicate beauty of their music. This is definitely a band that more people should hear and whose music should be used to score any number of intriguing movies.

Elton John - Rock of the Westies: This 1975 album completes my collection of Elton records up to the point when his partnership with Bernie dissolved and his career went south. Though this album falls firmly in his glam era, it has much more in common with his piano blues records. The opening track could easily be a John Lennon '70s song and the entire side is pretty fantastic. "Dan Dare," "Hard Luck Story," and "Feed Me" are my personal favorites.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fiction Friday (47)

What is one to do when in a foreign country and has finished the book one has carried overseas? Of course, if that said person read ebooks, it wouldn't be a problem. I am that one and I  don't read ebooks! I took to searching the shelves of the house I was staying in for any book in English. Thankfully my in-laws all read English, though I had slim pickings in my room and I needed something to read before going to sleep. So I grabbed the first book I found, a slim and intriguing novel which I began that night and finished a few days later. Here are my thoughts.

Salt Water by Charles Simmons
(Chronicle 1998)

This slim novel is a contemporary retelling of Turgenev's classic tale "First Love," which I have not read and therefor can make no comparison. It takes place during a summer spent at a summer house on an isolated island off the coast. It is the summer when the main character falls in love for the first time at the age of fifteen.

Amid the tale of love and coming of age, the narrative explores the dynamics of family relationships, the way marriage evolves and eventually ebbs as children grow, and the shifting nature of emotions that don't often occur in seismic waves, but rather in small sometimes unnoticed tremors. The writing style captures this as well with its carefully constructed telling and what it chooses to reveal and conceal.

Though there's nothing earth shattering about this book, I would even venture to characterize it as a "quiet" novel, though I hate that term, it is well-done. If anything, I felt that the quiet style lessened the potential emotional impact of the story.

Oddly enough, I started reading it without knowing anything about it. About a third of the way through, I looked to see when it was written because it felt very much like a late '90s style of novel, and sure enough, it was. It's funny how enough time has passed that there is a definitive feel to books written during those years to make them identifiable. It reminded me of novels from Louise Erdrich and Kirsty Gunn, though perhaps less compelling. Enjoyable and quick.