Saturday, September 24, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the first weekend of autumn, a season which has always been my favorite time of the year for music. I'm starting the season off with some much anticipated releases which match the weather, a few discoveries that do as well, and one classic hip-hop album. There are some great albums on this list, some I'd been meaning to check out for a long time and a few that I'd never thought about checking out until recently. A perfect list to make a pot of coffee and find something new to hear. Enjoy.

Jack White - Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016: This career spanning collection of acoustic tracks covers songs from the White Stripes days, The Raconteurs, and his solo career. Nothing he does is without giving his entire being to it and this is no different. The track selection is amazing and there is a flow from one to the other that you could never tell they were recorded over nearly twenty years. This is absolute must for fans. Outstanding stuff.

Eddie Money - No Control: The Cali rocker's fourth LP was released in 1982. Five years earlier, the first track on his first album, "Two Tickets to Paradise," had made him a star and by this time, he was the epitome early '80s cool and this album, with it's sax and beach night atmosphere is the epitome of early 80's pop rock. I've been getting into that sound lately, after shunning it since I hit puberty. But this is the music of my formative elementary school years and there's something groovy about. "Think I'm In Love," "Shakin," and "Take a Little Bit" are standouts. 

Okkervil River - Away: Here another album that I have eagerly been awaiting. Over the last decade, this Austin indie folk band has been one of my favorite contemporary bands. It's been over three years since their last album, their longest stretch between albums yet to date. During that time they must have revisited the places of the past because this is reminiscent of their best work. There's a darkness hanging over the album, as there was on classics like Black Sheep Boy and Stage Names. It felt as though their last album was trying for a wider appeal, but this one goes back to the honesty that made them great to begin with. "Frontman in Heaven" is one of their best ever songs.

Elton John - The Captain and The Kid: Released ten years ago, and thirty years after Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, this album is a follow up, meant to bookend that album. Teamed with lyricist Bernie Taupin once again, they explore the way the song writing relationship has changed from the time of stardom to the present. I'm huge fan of these two working together and love all of their '70s work. I was nervous about this one, seeing as how Elton hasn't done anything in three decades that I'd care to listen to, but this is actually quite decent. There are moments where Elton's Broadway/Disney musical sensibility shows through, but there are also moments of greatness.

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted: Continuing to work my way through the NWA catalog, I've moved onto Cube's first solo album after leaving the group. Back in the day, I was partial to Dre, but Cube was the real lyrics mastermind behind NWA and it shows on this aggressive and angry album. His rhymes are tight throughout and the samples are uptempo funk and disco make it nostalgic, but not outdated. There are hip-hop albums from the era that age well, and this is one of them. Still as dynamic and raw as it was back then.

Squeeze - Sweets from Strangers: Released in 1982, this is the fifth album from the UK new wave band, though by this time, they were moving away from the new wave sound and into a pop rock style. That's not to say it's boring. There are a lot of lounge elements that make this interesting, and more interesting than a lot of the American contemporary pop rock of the era. As mentioned in the Eddie Money review above, I've been getting into early '80s rock and this is a good example. "Black Coffee in Bed," "Tongue Like a Knife" and "I've Returned" are standouts for me.

Odetta - It's a Mighty World: Released in '64, and the height of the southern gospel folk singer's career, this album is another example of her powerful voice. Odetta performs in a classic folk style, with simple folk arrangements that are carried by the deep spiritual nature of her singing. I found a perfectly clean copy of this on vinyl a few weekends ago. The vendor who sold it to me couldn't believe how good of shape it was in. He said it seemed that whenever someone had an Odetta record, they tended to play the hell out of it...and for good reason. This is a great weekend morning record to listen to as the day starts.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Star Wars on the Mind

So I woke up insanely early in the morning as I've grown accustomed to doing ever since my daughter joined the family. Only, when I woke this morning, she was sound asleep. So in the moments before I fell back asleep, my brain turned to thoughts of Star Wars as it often has since I was about six years old. There I was, laying awake in the dark, thinking about midi-chlorians and thinking, this is my life?

Midi-chlorians are perhaps the most hated aspect of Star Wars, with the exception of Jar Jar Binks. I admit to also being perplexed at the inclusion of these microscopic organisms in Episode I, thinking that Lucas was trying to jump on the current DNA obsession of the time. It seemed pointless to talk about these things and unnecessary to use them as a way of justifying Anakin's importance in the history of The Force. I never gave it much more thought beyond that...until this morning.

I had a revelation about it today and have come to the conclusion that it's just another wonderful aspect of the story of a galaxy far, far away. This is how I figure it...back in Episode I, the Galactic Senate was still operating, though barely. There was still peace and prosperity. It was operating under the protection of the Jedi Council and the government. It was a developed and central organization, and therefore it makes sense that science was important. 

It was only after the dark reign of the Empire and the breakdown of government that mysticism took over. And without the Jedi around, and the mention of them being shunned, their existence became something of legend and myth. The science was forgotten, but that doesn't mean the science doesn't exist. The midi-chlorians serve as a metaphor for the deterioration of science in the deterioration of democracy. 

So concludes my reflection of middle-of-the-night thoughts.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Music Television the Way It Used to Be

As a child of the '80s, my musical education was primarily provided by the letters M, T, and V. My primer was naturally the radio, listening to the folk station with my mom in the car and the hits station on my boom box. But it was MTV that really cultivated my taste in music. I was thinking about his earlier today and it struck me that my diverse interest in various types of music might be due to MTV. 

It seems that people who came of age prior to MTV are more likely to favor one particular style of music. They only listen to rock, or they only listen to pop, or whatever it is that they listen to, because they stuck to one radio station that played the same style all throughout the day. But the great thing about MTV is that you watched the channel and would get a mixture of genres at any given hour. It wasn't until later that they started to assign genres to different programs. There was never a time in my life where I didn't have several different genres that appealed to me.

This type of programming was also responsible for bringing hip-hop into the mainstream. It exposed the pop listener to heavy metal and vice versa. Of course, the station would eventually drift away from music altogether as the internet became the medium of choice for this platform. But the spirit of enjoying several genres of music really should be credited to the pioneering station. I, for one, am thankful for it as I still have wide-ranging tastes.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has finally arrived after a LONG week. On the bright side, autumn is slowly starting to roll into the foothills of the Catskill mountains, sweeping summer away for another year. There's a nice mix of stuff on this list. Some new discoveries, some new releases from past favorites, a few vinyl finds, and some of my own catching up on curiosity. Rock, Jazz, Trip-Hop, Hip-Hop, Folk, Indie, and poetry are all represented so there's no excuse not to find something you want to hear. Enjoy.

Len Sander - Places EP: This is a new band from Zurich that my Missus encountered and brought home this record for me. This subtle trip-hop in the style of Portishead and remind my of one of my favorite bands, the little heard Scala. This has one of those undeniably cool grooves to it that sort of fits any mood, any atmosphere. You can hear this and the rest of their catalog on their bandcamp site, linked above. I love discovering new music, or when people discover it for me. Well worth checking out.

Cocoon - Welcome Home: One of my most anticipated albums of the year is this third album from the French folk pop due, their first album in six years. Their previous two records are favorites of mine and I was super excited for this one. It's another fine album in their catalog, even if it is more upbeat and lacks some of the sadness that made their earlier work so endearing.  "Miracle," "Cross," "Watch My Back," and "Shooting Star" are my personal favorites.

Billie Holiday - The Original Recordings: It seems almost impossible to believe that until this past week, I didn't own any Billie on vinyl, with the exception of a few songs included on a Jazz box set. I picked this up and it's a real treasure. Billie's voice is unbelievable, and paired with the subdued jazz, it's other worldly. Every Sunday morning, I like to listen to jazz with my coffee and this is an album that will occupy that spot for many, many Sundays to come.

On the Seventh Day - On the Seventh Day: Released in 1970, this is the only album ever put out by the band and one of the only true psychedelic soul records ever made.  Never re-released, this is one of those rare albums and I was lucky to come across a copy with the original withdrawn cover for a reasonable price. This album mixes pre-recorded bits of speeches, news reports, and other depictions of events as it tries to highlight the coming end of humanity with it's amazing psychedelic soul sound. This is one of those records that needs to absorbed in one sitting, and when done, it's moving and thought-provoking.

Arlo Guthrie - Arlo: Over the years, I've become a bigger fan of Arlo's than of his teacher Dylan, who in turn was the disciple of Arlo's father Woody. It's like Socrates-Plato-Aristotle of American popular folk, and each learned for the previous. I wouldn't say Arlo is better than Bob. Hardly. But there is something about it that appeals to me. Perhaps it's the honesty and complete lack of trying to be iconic. Regardless, I hadn't had this live album from '68, his second release. While the first side is very Pete Seegar sounding, the second side opens with the great psychedelic folk song "Meditation (Wave upon Wave)", the real standout track on this record.

Bernie Taupin - Bernie Taupin: Released in '71, then just twenty years old, this is Bernie's debut album which more than likely got a released due to the success of songs he'd written for Elton John, who was just beginning his rise into the stratosphere. This is an album of poetry read over some of the most pleasant folk guitar music of the era. Free of the structure of song, Bernie is able to delve deeper into the rhythm of his words and delivers some wonderful poetry, awoken by the music.
N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton: Certainly not an album that's new to me. Having grown up in the late 80's, this was certainly a record that was always around and got some cassette play in my car when I first started to drive in the early '90s. But hip-hop, more so than rock, has a way of discarding anything that isn't new and I've rarely gone back to old albums and found them not to sound dated. Watching the movie last weekend, I was totally feeling these jams and knew I needed to come back to this. The pioneer record of hardcore still holds up, mostly because of Cube's rhyming skills, Eazy's swag, and Dre's dope beats. Legendary record.

Hookfoot - Hookfoot: The '71 debut from the British pop rock band was a recent pick up. I was sold by a quote on the inner gatefold from Elton John claiming they were the best new English band. That makes sense due to the fact that he was in a band with two of the members before starting his solo career, and that this album is like a hard rock version of Elton's blues on Tumbleweed Connection, released the year before. "Mystic Lady," "Nature Changes," and the cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let it Bring You Down" are favorites of mine. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fiction Friday (45)

As reported last week, I'm returning with a Fiction Friday post for the second week in a row. This week's entry represents the first novel about disturbed teens that I've read in quite some time. There was a period when I devoured novels like this, but moved away from them when I started writing novels like this. This type of novel also became popular over the last decade, and often came poorly written and generally unauthentic. I was attracted to this one based on the Nick Cave quote that appears on the cover, because Nick Cave has written two amazing books and should know what he's talking about. I'm happy to report that this one definitely felt authentic. Enjoy.

Lolito by Ben Brooks
(Regan Arts, 2013)

Despite the quote on the cover from Nick Cave, or the reviews on the back that refer to this book as "shocking", "disturbing," and "most horrible", this novel is not nearly as controversial as it has been made out to be. In the world of YA lit of the past decade an a half, it would certainly fall into the "edgy" category, but it wasn't even published in that genre, but rather as an adult novel. In actuality, it would probably be better marketed to the teen audience given the 15 year main character and its central themes of adolescence. I think it would certainly speak to that audience, and certainly addresses issues that apply to them.

What I liked about this novel was the authentic portrayal of insecurity felt by a fifteen year boy. At that age, I often felt like Etgar. His confusion, his anxiety, his sporadic lack of self-confidence, his fear of the world and people in the world, and his constant desire for safety and escape were all things that I identified with, and aspects of characters that I've written. I applaud the book for writing a teenage boy with these characteristics, because too often it's thought that "boys are not that way." I know I've encountered that criticism in my own work, which is nonsense. Boys, like everybody else, are often confused about everything at that age and Ben Brooks does an amazing job at illustrating that point.

I also enjoyed the writing style. The near stream of consciousness style adds to Etgar's characteristics. It makes him more authentic. I could've done without a lot of the Pop culture references, simply because it's not something that appeals to me. I've never felt that Pop culture references add anything to a novel. If anything, it creates judgements on characters that aren't necessary, and besides that, they age very quickly.

A very quick read, and one that is thought-provoking, for no other reason than it doesn't do anything to counter the popular perception that somehow a heterosexual relationship between a 40 year old woman and 15 year boy is somehow okay, even though if the sexes were transposed, it wouldn't be. The reader is left wondering if Etgar is really a victim. If so, then why the popular perception? If not, then why wouldn't it be the same the other way around? Ben Brooks puts that question in the face of the reader without being obvious about it. Right or wrong, the fact is that there is a hypocrisy when it comes to societal views on the subject and the story forces one to the think about why that is.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the weekend, and though the calendar says September, the weather this week was more akin to July in Hell. In that kind of weather, the mood is right for psychedelic rock and freak folk. And so, this week's selections include plenty of both. A lot of these are recent vinyl finds for me, as well as a one new release. In the coming weeks there will be more vinyl finds and more new releases. I'm finally caught up and am actually ahead of schedule. Hopefully I can maintain my lead going into the end of the year as I try to sort out my favorites of 2016. Enjoy.

Svartanatt - Svartanatt: The self-titled debut from the Swedish heavy rock band was released back in May and is one of those albums that draws heavily from early '70s hard rock bands. I listened to this album directly after listening to Sir Lord Baltimore and was struck by how similar this album, released more than 40 years later, was to that band. While there is nothing innovative on this record, it's still quite worthwhile. Sometimes it's nice that there are bands still making a sound that was ignored when it was made and hard to find now.

Pink Floyd - Complete BBC Sessions 1967-1968: I found this double album vinyl bootleg last week and saved it for several days in order to listen to it on my day off. These sessions chronicle the era of Syd's departure and Gilmour's entrance and feature several songs never officially released, and some only released on singles, including "The Massed Gadgets of Hercules," "Vegetable Man," "Murderotic Woma," and "Embryo." It also features classics like "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," "Julia Dream," and "Point Me at the Sky." This is a fantastic set list from the early to mid era of one of my favorite bands. 

The Open Mind - Open Mind: This '69 psychedelic garage rock record is one of those much sought after records for collectors. After listening to it, it's clear to me that the rarity of it is one of the reasons it is so sought after. Not that it's bad, but it seems anything there is a quality record that is rare, it becomes inflated. This is a very good entry in the genre, reminding me Jefferson Airplane's style of psychedelic, which is strange because not much from the London scene mimics that San Fran sound. Well worth checking out.

Big Blood - Night Terrors in the Isle of Louis Hardin: Continuing my way through the missing pieces in my Big Blood collection is this short album from 2011. This is one of their sparser records, containing a lot of shorter, instrumental pieces than some of their typical albums. While it didn't feel as strong as some of my favorites by them, it still conjures amazing imagery in my head. Seriously, it you don't know this band, or if you haven't sought them out after any one of my many praisings, then you must visit their bandcamp site and give them a try. One of my favorite bands. 

It's a Beautiful Day - It's a Beautiful Day: This 1969 psych folk album is one of those classic albums that I'd been meaning to check out for years. Though I've come across it on vinyl many times, the price never seemed right, that was until last week when I found a clean copy in the $1 bin. This is the debut from the San Fran band and it's one of those transcendent folk records that bring me back to my childhood, or my often extremely stoned college days. Classic San Fran freak out folk and there's a good reason it's much beloved. "Wasted Union Blues," "White Bird" and the epic 10 minute closer, "Time Is" are highlights.

Alice Cooper - School's Out: Alice's fifth album came out in '72 during a flurry of output during his heavy glam stage. This album, named after his most famous tune, comes just before the amazing Billion Dollar Babies and is one of the founding albums of hard rock. "Gutter Cat vs. the Jets," "Blue Turk," and "My Stars" are exceptional tracks on another fantastic record. All of his early stuff is amazing and belongs in any serious collection.

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Quicksilver: Another fifth album, this one from the San Fran psych rockers, released in '71. I was a little disappointed with their earlier album, Shady Grove, that I purchased a few years back, but decided to give them another chance when I came across this one at a severely discounted price. Their brand of psych is blues based, slightly heavier than Grateful Dead but with a similar soul as their city mates. This is definitely a better album, more in line with Country Joe, JA, and other San Fran bands. "I Found Love," "Play My Guitar," "Rebel," "Fire Brothers," and "The Truth" are standouts.

Kansas - Leftoverture: Another dollar bin purchase with this one. I've never gotten into the prog band from the state that bears its name, but this one opens with "Carry on Wayward Son" which if nothing else would be worth a $1 and I decided to give it a go. I'm glad to report that it's more than just one song. This is the band's fourth album, but they released their first five albums in three years. The musicianship is great on this, and while it's very prog, in the same prog style as Rush, you can hear a lot of '80s rock stylings are taken from this band. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fiction Friday (44)

Well, I'm continuing to try to achieve my goal of reading more this year. Actually, I have achieved it. Unfortunately most of what I've been reading has been journal articles and textbooks as I continue on my path to a Master's degree. But I'm still finding time to read fiction because I don't believe life without fiction is one worth living. As I finish up two weeks vacation from taking care of my wonderful daughter, I was able to read two books in that time. Which means, that's two weeks of Fiction Friday in a row, something that I'm not sure has ever happened in the history of this blog, though to be honest, I'm not about to go back and check the logs. It's simply not that important. What is important is reading. Enjoy. 

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
(Greenwillow 2008)

This novel takes place in the same world as Howl's Moving Castle and features the return of Howl, Calcifer, and Sophie...along with their toddler son! But they are simply supporting characters in this story that a young girl named Charmain as she goes to look after her Great Uncle's mysterious house while he's getting cured by the elves for a strange illness.

Charmain is my kind of character, one who's self-centered and finds the actions of others to be annoying, just like me! She has great interactions with Peter, a boy who also comes to live in the strange house. While there, they discover that the house contains secret magical passageways that extend throughout the kingdom, which come in handy as they try to solve a series of peculiar events that all end up to be tied together.

For a fantasy novel, this one is heavy on character. The plot is basically a light mystery. It's not terribly complicated or in-depth and should be fine for upper middle grade readers. This was one of those books that I enjoyed, but didn't love. It was very satisfying and entertaining, just felt like it could've had more to it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

City of Compton

Finally got around to watching "Straight Outta Compton" this weekend and I have to say this is a film that was completely robbed of Academy Award consideration. Not only is it one of the best movies about music ever made, but beyond that, it's a statement movie that documents the history of police misconduct in L.A. during the '80s and the racial bias of America...something that's sadly still relevant today.

It's nearly impossible in today's world to think of music being controversial. Nothing is shocking anymore when it comes to music. Nothing has been shocking since Marylin Manson. But in the Reagan era, there was a still a war on popular music. There were constant attacks on expression, fearing the corruption of youth. We've come a long way since then, thanks in part to bands like N.W.A who refused to stay quiet about what was going on in their community. 

The film does a great job in portraying the struggle of expression. It also does a great job in portraying the dark side of the music business. The greed, the corruption, and the way greed corrupts those who originally only cared about the art and success. Any hip-hop fan knows the drama that played out between the three stars of N.W.A and most ended up taking sides, having favorites, and dismissing others. As fans, we got caught up in the feud. But fans only hear the traded insults without knowing the full story. This gives us the full story, and it goes a long way to repairing Eazy-E's image and illustrating how industry beef can't really conquer the brotherhood that once founded a group. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Having the house to myself this week, it was one of those times of digesting things that I'd been meaning to check out for a long time...things that the Missus wouldn't necessarily dig on. That means this list, and next week's, are going to be heavy on hard psych. But I didn't want to leave out some new releases and some other recent finds. All in all, it's good week for stuff that's not easily digestible. These are albums that require attentive listening, which thankfully is my favorite kind of listening. Hopefully you'll find something to spend some time with. Enjoy.

The Divine Comedy - Foreverland: Neil Hannon has decided to return with his most well-known project for the band's first album in six years. This album is a return to the Baroque Pop sound that made the Dublin band famous in the '90s, a sound I think he found again with his other project, The Duckworth Lewis Method. While I've always been more a fan of the indie sound he does on other Divine Comedy albums like "Regeneration", I certainly appreciate the lavishness of this sound. These songs play out like well constructed showtunes for a show that I would actually want to see. 

Sir Lord Baltimore - Kingdom Come/ Sir Lord Baltimore: The cult heavy rock band from NYC released two albums in '70 and '71. Those two albums were later released on this one album set. On a record group I belong to, a lot of people had been talking about this band so I sought it out and it's fantastic. By far the heaviest thing made at the time, their sound is still being imitated today. It's amazing how quickly music rock progressed from the mid-60's to the early '70s. This is one of those lost gems that more people need to hear.

John Mayall - Empty Rooms: I've been Mayall fan since I was 19 years old, and though I've dug his traditional take on blues and his innovation of British Blues, I'd never got around to listening to this 1970 recording. Perhaps that's due to the fact that it was rarely available on CD, my format of choice when I was really exploring his work. I cam across a beautiful vinyl copy of this album for the nice price of $3 and couldn't resist. It was my Sunday morning music with coffee this past week, and it was PERFECT. This is his ode to loneliness and it mellow and fantastic. The minimalism of his blues on this record is unique for him and has quickly become one of my favorites of his. 

Essra Mohawk - Essra: This is Essra's (aka Sandy Hurvitz) fourth album and was supposed to be the one that would launch her into superstardom. Released in 1976, this album combines the cultish singer songwriter style of her previous work with the rhythm of disco, which sounds weird, but works. "I Wanna Feel Ya" is a perfect example of her disco genius, while "Summersong" is classic Essra singer songwriter, and they appear back-to-back and it effect is amazing. Signed to the same label as Blondie at the time, these were to be their next breakout artists. Well, we know which one it worked for and which one it didn't. It's a shame too, but all of her work is fantastic, personal, and beautiful. Someone sold their Essra collection to one of the local record shops by me, and I've been buying them one at a time, after having searched for them for years. This is another gem and and Essra continues to be a must have for any collection.

Highway Robbery - For Love or Money: The only album from this short-lived heavy blues band was released in 1972. As with every hard rock from this period, it's hard not to compare them to Led Zeppelin. These guys are no different. Like Zep they take a traditional blues base and turn it into hard rock. But more like Captain Beyond, there is a psych element here that makes it interesting. Some great tunes, excellent heavy guitar, but overall it's nothing terribly exceptional. Still, a lost album that many people would dig. "Fifteen," "Lazy Woman," and "Ain't Gonna Take No More" are stand outs to me. 

Legendary Pink Dots - Come Out From the Shadows: This digital release came out back in 2013 and is a bit more experimental than most LPD releases, which is saying a lot considering their history of strangeness. There are times when this one wanders a bit too much, but at other times, it's classic. The opening track and closing track are fantastic.

Argent - In Deep: This is one of those hard progressive rock bands that I'd been meaning to check out for years and finally came across this '72 LP, their fourth, in a $1 bin and couldn't let it pass me by. After listening to it, I can see why this band has a cult following. They have a heavy blues sound that is excellently mixed with early prog. It reminds a bit of The Soft Machine's first record, crossed with Blue Oyster Cult. Side A plays like one continuous track, epic and fantastic throughout. Side B mellows out a bit, tapping into an early Elton vibe, and also fantastic. One of the best dollars I've ever spent.