Saturday, December 31, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup BEST OF 2016!

The year is over and I know a lot of people out there aren't going to miss 2016. It was a rough year for music as far as legends passing away. But it was also a great year for music with so many wonderful albums being released. I listened to over 500 releases from this year, which is about my average. I never understand when people say music died in some year or other. The music in any given year is as good as any previous year, you just have to know where to look. Here are my favorites of the year in no real particular order, except my absolute favorites are at the top. Enjoy.

Honorable Mentions:
Wolf Parade - EP 4
Alcest - Kodama
Band of Skulls - By Default
Black Rainbows - Stellar Prophecy
David Bowie - Black Star
Brian Jonestown Massacre - Third World Pyramid
Castle - Welcome to the Graveyard
The Cave Singers - Banshee
Dinosaur Jr. - Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
Eye - Vision and Ageless Light
Shana Falana - Here Comes the Wave
Guided by Voices - Please Be Honest
Kings of Leon - Walls
Merlin - Electric Children
Psychic Ills - Inner Journey Out
The Sore Losers - Skydogs
The Strokes - Future Present Past EP
Wall of Death - Loveland
The Warlocks - Songs from the Pale Eclipse
Wilco - Schmilco
Neil Young - Peace Trail
Rob Zombie - The Electric Warlock Acid Witch...
Richard Aschcroft - These People

Compilations- There were also a few compilations put out by favorite artists of mine that I don't consider new albums, and therefore don't qualify for the list, but these three were among my favorites of the year, so they get a special shout out. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Fiction Friday (49)

Last January, I set a goal for myself to read more books than I had in the previous year. It's been hard to keep that goal with a toddler running around, work, and my sudden decision to pursue a Master's degree. However, I did manage to make ten entries in the the Fiction Friday category in 2016, which isn't anything to sneeze at. I was hoping for at least one book a month, but it is what is. This edition of my book review postings features the second book in a series that I was turned onto a few years back. This is always the time of year that I enjoy talking animal fantasy books, so it fit in just perfectly. Next year, I hope to make my goal. Enjoy. 

The White Assassin by Hilary Wagner
(Holiday House 2011)

The second book in the Nightshade City chronicles was just as delightful as the first. This story picks up three years after the rats of the Catacombs overthrew the ruthless Billycan and Killdeer. However, the rats of Nightshade are still searching for the fugitive Billycan, who has taken refuge in the swamps with a new band of rats.

With the help of an unknown traitor, Billycan has been planning an invasion of Nightshade with his new horde. However, the rats of Nightshade are aware of his plans and secretly infiltrate the swamp horde and thwart his plans. From there, the mystery only grows and we learn more about the origins of Billycan and the rats of Nightshade.

The book starts off slowly. It also presents a few leads that never seem to get answered, but I suppose they are building blocks for future installments. The story really heats up about a third of the way in, and that's when it really hooked me. Easily one of the best animal fantasy series since Redwall, and fans of that series will like this, as it takes the same in depth approach and challenges readers in a similar way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Watership Down and Everlasting Memories

In the wake of so many celebrity deaths over the past few days, one important passing that may go unnoticed is that of Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Originally published in 1972, this is one of those books that was never meant to be a children's book, but has eventually become a classic of the genre like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. It is a book that I read in seventh grade. It is a book that changed my life in many ways.

The book was not my first encounter with the rabbits of Watership Down. The summer between Kindergarten and First Grade, I attended the summer rec program at my elementary school. One day, most likely due to inclement weather, all of the children were in a large room filled with toys. A movie was also put on for those wanting to watch. (It was on Laser Disc) At the beginning of the film, maybe five children were watching. By half way through, every child was watching this brutal and enthralling cartoon, including me, until the aides decided to turn it off. For years, those images stayed with me as I always wondered what that movie was.

Flash forward seven years later in seventh grade English. We were given the assignment to read a book and told that we were going to have to give a class report on it. Though I was a good reader, I never enjoyed reading. My teacher (whose name I cannot recall) gave me her copy of Watership Down and told me she thought I would enjoy it, recommending it for my report. It took about 20 pages for me to realize it was indeed the book on which that haunting movie was based. It took less than 20 pages for it to change the course of my life.

This was the first book that I ever read where the story played out in my head in a visual way. I could see everything as I read it and it was the awakening as to what reading could be. I never looked back and became an avid reader from that moment on. I owe so much to that story and to its late author. His passing has not gone unnoticed by me.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!
This has always been my favorite day of the year,
and so I wish upon you all,
one that is full of cheer. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

It's Christmas Weekend, and time for the last Roundup before the year end round up. This week features some two new releases, one amazing discovery, and a few re-issues and deluxe editions. With all the to-do around the holidays, it's sometimes hard to find a minute to listen to music, but I hope that you all may find some time to enjoy what I hope is a bundle of music gifts. I know that I'm hoping for such a bundle, and some time to enjoy it. Wishing you all the best of holidays. 

Horse - For Twisted Minds Only: Released in 1970, this is the only album from UK heavy psych band and was recently re-released. It's not surprising as this album fits perfectly with the current wave of heavy psych that's been coming out. Way ahead of it's time, this is fantastic heavy album. "Loose Control," "The Sacrifice," and "Step Out of Line" are brilliant tracks on here. Definitely worth checking out.

Neil Young - Peace Trail: The newest album from Godfather of Grunge is another political statement, as was his album from last year. But where that album felt flat and obvious, this album is passionate and intense. Neil has never backed away from sharing his views on issues and this time he rails against such topics of the Dakota Pipeline, government surveillance and societal indifference. Like most everybody else, I cherish Neil's work in the '60s and '70s, and this album feels at home with some of that work, as did 2012's Psychedelic Pill. "Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders," "Can't Stop Workin'," and the title track are standouts.

Eye - Vision and Ageless Light: The third album from the Ohio psych band is quite good. It reminds me of Pink Floyd in the "The Man / The Journey" era, but with a modern clarity. I'd always meant to check out their previous albums, and now I certainly will as both are available for streaming on their Bandcamp site, as is this one. This borders on space rock but never ventures terribly far into the genre. Worth checking out for fans of expansive psych sounds.

Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See bu Cannot Feel: Originally released in 2008, this is the second solo album by Bradford Cox of Deerhunter. It was just re-issued on vinyl and CD and includes the Another Bedroom EP from the same year. It sways the line between shoegaze and psych pop, reminding me of Mercury Rev. Another band that I've always meant to check out, and I found it to be interesting if not all that essential. This is really a genre piece, and fans of the genre will probably be into this.

The Decemberists - Picaresque (RSD Edition): Being a huge fan of the Portland band, I've had this album since it's 2005 release, but recently picked up the Record Store Day vinyl edition that includes exclusive downloads of rare tracks, demos, and live versions. This is the band's third album and represents the last of their whimsical records before moving into more rocking ones, and later into folk rock. A lot of the bonus tracks on here really capture that side of them at their best and make this edition a must for fans.

Erasy - The Valley of Dying Stars: The debut EP from the Brazilian doom metal band was one I checked out on a whim because I was intrigued by the album title and cover art. Musically, this is right down my alley. It has tremendous grooves that remind me Ruby Hatchet and The Sword. However, where it missed me was the growling vocals that felt more death metal than doom. The fact that I was still able to get into it at all is a testament to the music.

Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory? Deluxe Edition: Another favorite album of mine that I recently purchased on 180gram vinyl, which includes two discs of bonus tracks on download. This is one of those landmark albums in my life and it still thrills me to listen to it. The bonus tracks, though I've heard them all before, are still top notch rock n roll. Easily one of my Top 25 favorite records of all time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

No e-book for me

I've always been against e-books in every way. I hate reading on a screen. I love the feel of a book. I love seeing my progress through a story with a bookmark. And I don't give me that crap about saving trees. Trees are renewable resource. Paper can be recycled. Thirty years from now when all those Kindles and Nooks are filling up landfills, we'll talk about which is better for the environment. 

I recently read an article which only re-affirmed my opinion on why I hate ebooks:

-In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there's a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.

Although e-readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad re-create pagination—sometimes complete with page numbers, headers and illustrations—the screen only displays a single virtual page: it is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.
from The Reading Brain in the Digital Age by Ferris Jabr

I never would have put this together, but after reading this, it made perfect sense. Whenever looking for a passage, I can usually recall which side it was on and approximately where on the page. Studies have also shown that retention is stronger when things are read on the page rather than the screen. So now when people goad me about my purism, I have facts to prove my point of view is better.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend arrived with a wintry blast up in here in the Catskills. The snow is perfect for the Christmas spirit, and for staying in and listening to music. This week I've rounded up a few more recent releases and some older finds. There's a lot of great music on here for you all to check out. Hopefully you'll find some time during this busy holiday rush to kick back and rock out. Enjoy.

Dr. Dog - Abandoned Mansion: The Philly indie band's 10th album was released a few weeks ago, and it's their first in three years. They channel their inner Dylan on this record as it sounds like something Zimmerman might have released thirty years ago. That's not such a bad thing in my book and this was is another solid album that fits in well with their best efforts. In some ways, this is a return to form for them after two semi-letdown albums and extended layoff. I was certainly happy for that. A definite must for fans.

Damien Jurado and Richard Swift - Other People's Songs Volume One: This was a nice surprise this week. Richard Swift has been one of my favorite artists of the '00s and this new partnership has produced a great record of covers. Their voices work great together, and they make these songs sound original. Some unexpected choices makes this a good addition to any fan of indie singer songwriter stuff, and a must for Swift fans.

We Are Wolves - Wrong: The Montreal band's fifth album was my big surprise listen for the week. This is a band whose second album impressed me back in 2007, but following albums disappointed me. This one sees them live up to the promise I heard all those years ago. They found a way to keep their post-punk elements and make them easier to listen to. This holds a lot of similarities with the most recent album from fellow north of the border post-punkers Death From Above 1979. I really enjoyed every song on here. 

The Microphones - Early Tapes, 1996-1998: In 2001, this Washington band hit indie cred gold with their release The Glow, Pt. 2, one of the best albums of the last decade. The seven albums that came before it remained obscure, and still do. That's why this was a nice surprise. These 16 tracks very much feel like The Glow, Pt. 1 if it were ever to exist. Lo-fi experimental music, the kind that was only made in those years, and refreshing to hear. Any fan of The Glow would appreciate this.

Frijid Pink - Frijid Pink: The 1970 debut from the Detroit heavy psych band is one of those lost gems. I'd been looking for a good vinyl copy of this for some time and finally found one last weekend. This is proto-metal at it's finest. Based in blues, but sounding more like The Stooges than Sabbath, this is a must for any fans of the current heavy psych blitz. A true must have. 

Jim Kweskin and The Jug Band - The Jug Band: This is the 1963 debut from the Massachusetts folk outfit, and was the last of the band's early output that I was missing. Though steeped in the '60s freak folk tradition, Kweskin was a few years ahead of his time, making music that would later be associated with late '60s San Fran. One of those bands that deserves more of a following, this another fine album, but they'd hit their true stride two years later with their second album "Jug Band Music." Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, December 16, 2016

It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas

I don't know how it happens, but every year Christmas seems to come faster and faster. As a child, I remember how the years were measured from Christmas to Christmas (sometimes from First Day of School to First Day of School). It seemed like an eternity. Even the weeks leading up to Christmas felt like their own mini-eternity of baked cookies, decorating, watching holiday cartoons and waiting, waiting, waiting. 

Though my love of Christmas has never waned, this is the first year in quite a few where I find myself nostalgic for that eternity of the past. The cold weather and early snow has certainly played a part in that, but I also think it has to do with the fact that this is my daughter's second Christmas, and the first one where she's been active in some of those events that I loved as a child. I think one of the great things about having children a little later in life is that you are far enough away from childhood that you can really enjoy the experiences of childhood vicariously through watching the joy on your child's face. I know that after next weekend, I'm going to be looking forward to next year's holiday and once again, the Christmas to Christmas measurement will exist for me.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived, and with has come the cold of winter. This week was another one where I listened to more 2016 releases, with more to come next weekend. There were some late arrivals to contend for the best of the year this weekend. There is also a few older albums that I recently picked up on vinyl and wanted to share here. Hopefully there are some here that you will also find that might alleviate what has been shaping up to be a kind of dreadful year in many ways. Enjoy.

Peter Doherty - Hamburg Demonstrations: It's been seven years since Pete's last solo album, but the newly sober Libertines and Babyshambles frontman has finally returned with another wonderful solo effort. This album has the raw edge that has always been Pete's appeal for me and it feels more like the demo bootlegs of Babyshambles, particularly the exceptional "Whitechaple Demonstrations" and it's probably no coincidence that the title references it. Stripped down rock that feels tighter than some of Pete's past recordings, making this album a must for fans.

The Rolling Stones - Blue and Lonesome: The Stones' first album in 11 years is a bit of a triumph as they re-find the blues sound that inspired them so, so, so many years ago. These twelve blues covers are sizzling. Mick sounds like like his old dangerous self and Keith makes his guitar howl. I didn't quite know what to expect from this. I was worried that it would sound a bit rehashed and lazy, but it's quite the opposite. Now, it's nothing new, obviously since it's covers of songs recorded nearly half a century ago, but it's still exciting. Easily one of the best of the year, and the band's best in a long time. My only complaint is the boring cover.

Argent - Nexus: The fifth album from the UK prog band is my latest addition to the band's catalog. Released in '75, it follows their wonderful In Deep and before Circus. This album transitions nicely. The first side is very prog heavy, which shows their movement to the fusion sound of Circus, but the second side is some of their best heavy rock. Given the two sides, this might be my favorite of theirs so far, though In Deep remains more accessible.

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Dream Synopsis EP: Released this past week is the new EP from the Alex Turner led outfit. Four of the six songs are newly released, while two come from the band's recent album, though these are different versions. While it could be seen as a Christmas cash release, it's actually a great addition to their limited catalog and sees them featuring a '60s psychedelic sound that they have rarely showcased. "Totally Wired" is pure dynamite.

Elton John - Elton John Band featuring John Lennon and the Muscle Shoals Horns: Released in 1975, this 12' EP was recorded during Elton's Thanksgiving concert in NYC in '74 and features his cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." But it's the other side that makes this legendary. John Lennon joins him onstage to play "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Whatever Gets You Through the Night." It's the only known time where John sang a McCartney song. It is also Lennon's last concert performance. I came across this a record fair last weekend and simply had to have it. Only three songs, but phenomenal.

Jim Croce - Croce: Before hitting it big in '72 on ABC records, Jim had a deal with Capitol. This is the album he released in '69 with his wife. It failed to succeed and he was dropped from the label, but that doesn't mean it's any less essential than his three better known records. It's perhaps a little more folkish than folk rock, but it's still Jim's classic style. Well worth picking up if you come across it.

Mötley Crüe - The End: Recorded during their "final" concert last New Year's Eve, this is reportedly that last time the four members will appear on stage together. I find that impossible to believe given the amount of money involved in reunion shows, but either way, this career spanning set is full of energy. The band still sounds tight after all these years. Tommy and Nikki are exceptional. Vince sounds a little winded at times, but it's a live show. Really only something for fans, but fans will enjoy.