Saturday, December 30, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup (BEST of 2017)

Welcome to the last weekend of 2017, a year that most of us will be happy to see pass. In most areas of life, and by that I mean politics, social conduct, and public discourse, this hasn't been a banner year for humanity. However, it's been a damn fine year for music, as has every year of my life. This year was another great mix of new records by old favorites and discoveries of new artists. Here is my Roundup of the best albums of the year, in relative order, but not any specific order. Enjoy!

Top 25 Albums of 2017


Honorable Mentions:
Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps
The Dears - Times Infinity Volume Two
Kadavar - Rough Times
Lana Del Rey - Lust for Life
Elizabeth & the Catapult - Keepsake
Bjork - Utopia
Karen Elson - Double Roses
Mozzy - 1 Up Top Ahk
Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
Langhorne Slim - Lost at Last, Vol. 1
Aimee Mann - Mental Illness

Best Live Releases of 2017

And since we once again live in an age of songs, here's my favorite singles of the year:

Portugal the Man - "Feel It Still"
Beck - "Dear Life"
Killers - "I'm the Man"
Liam Gallagher - "For What It's Worth"
Ian Felice - "In the Kingdom of Dreams"
Morrissey - "Spent the Day in Bed"

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Ways of the Force

The newest installment of the Star Wars universe arrived a few weeks ago, and I finally went to see it on the 23rd as a small Christmas present to myself. I've heard the whole range of opinions on this film, from those who loved it and those who loathe it. I've been a fan of Star Wars since the first movie captivated my imagination at the age of 4, and I just have to say that some people take this franchise far, far too seriously. The people who hated the prequels forgot that the first three movies weren't exactly high-quality cinema. They were entertaining sci-fiction space movies with good action, interesting characters and storylines that weren't always expertly developed. They are modern myths of heroes and villains in a struggle between good and evil. And every installment since the first has stayed true to that notion. 

With all of that said, I think the new movie falls somewhere in the middle. It's not the best, but it's not the worst episode either. It's entertaining. It has some great battles, some great character moments, and unlike Episode 7, it reduces the number of allusions to the plot structure of it's corresponding original, in this case The Empire Strikes Back, which makes it feel more worthwhile.

I think Rey is one of the best characters in the Star Wars universe. She is much more dynamic as a questioning young jedi than either Luke or Anikan. Unfortunately, I can't say the same is true for Kylo. There's something missing in his character, as there was in the last film. I was hoping there would be more done in this one to resolve that, but instead they relegated him to a Anikan type Episode II role. The movie also would've been better served if it had delved deeper into the history or organization of the First Order. Where the prequels spent a lot of energy on the politics of the universe, this one has spent too little in my opinion.

By far, the most intriguing aspect of this movie for me was how it expanded on the nature of the Force. It expanded on the ways of the Force far more than any of the previous films. It also shows us the Luke was never really the Master Jedi we assumed he was. We discover there is still much about the force that he doesn't understand...and therefore, that we didn't understand. Now the next movie just needs to deliver on that notion and give us even more to feed our imagination.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fiction Friday (68)

Welcome to the last Fiction Friday of the year, though hoping for more fun Friday's in the New Year. I'm wrapping up my recent reading of graphic novels with a look at two first books in popular manga series. These are both series that I'd been meaning to check out for a long time, and was glad that I finally got around to it. Hopefully this will be motivation for some of you to check out something you'd been putting off for no reason whatsoever. Enjoy.

Di Gi Charat Theater: Dejiko's Adventure by Yuki Kiriga
(Broccoli Books, 2004)

Dijiko is a ten year old with attitude and the power to shoot laser beams from her eyes! She also happens to be from another planet and has cat ears. Along with her two other worldly compainions and best frenemy, Dijiko sets off an adventure to find a secret treasure that will help save the store she works at, and just might help her take over the world. If she can just keep her ego and temper under control, the group has a chance at succeeding…but given her flair for mischief, it’s highly unlikely she’ll find anything except trouble!

 Oh My Goddess! Wrong Number: by K. Fujishima
(Dark Horse, 2002)

When college student Keiichi accidentally dials a strange hotline, he is visited by Goddess who comes to grant him one wish. Hastily, he wishes to have a goddess like Belldandy with him always. Before he can explain that it was only a joke, the wish has been granted and now he’s stuck with Belldandy everywhere he goes. Though it sounds ideal, having a Goddess with you at all times, especially one that doesn’t quite understand the social order of things, leads Keiichi into many comic predicaments. Will his social life improve, or is it destined to be a divine failure? And does he really want to rid of Belldandy, or does he just want to be with her in a more serious way?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lady Bird

In the world of superhero comic book blockbuster retreads, it's rare for a quiet film to be heard over all the noise. Thankfully there are still a handful of indie theaters around that make it a point to show these films. This past weekend, I got the chance to see Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.

Christina is a teenager in post-9/11 Sacramento who is in search of something, anything, exciting to happen in her life, as most of us are at that age. Standing in her way is the downturn in the economy which has brought hard times on her family, a mother who butts heads with her, and her own inability to see all that is truly happening around her. This is one of those brilliant coming of age stories that gets everything right. It's finds humor in the heartbreaking, love in hardship, and hope where it seems all hope is lost.

But as with any film, the story is only as good as the acting, and thankfully this fantastic dialogue is delivered perfectly by the cast. Granted, I haven't seen many films this year, but even if I had, I'm certain this would've been the best one that I'd seen. With all that said, next stop is a galaxy far, far away. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

'Twas the weekend before Christmas and all through the house, speakers were blaring, annoying the spouse. Well, not really. I have a pretty damned awesome spouse! Welcome to the last traditional Roundup of the year before I roundup my personal favorites of the year the was in music. This week I take a look at some new releases that I finally got around to listening to. Over the next several days, I will revisit my favorites records of the year and try to settle on a final list. Until then, enjoy.

Jim James - Tribute to 2: The My Morning Jacket's lead singer releases his third solo record, and this time it's an album of covers that range from country classics, 70's pop, and legendary folk all reinterpreted in James' eternal groove. As with any covers record, the key is to put your own signature on the songs, and he accomplishes this. All of these sound as though they could be James originals. Certainly something fans will want to check out.  "Baby Don't Go," "Crying in the Chapel," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," and "Lucky Man" are my personal favorites.

Simon Joyner - Step Into the Earthquake: The indie singer songwriter's new album follows suit with his catalog of releases. For the past two decades, he's been one of the more prolific, and yet still widely unknown indie artists, despite playing a brand of Americana folk that has a wider following than he. I've come in and out of his albums, certainly not hitting every one, but enjoying those I have. This album reminds me of Silver Jews in it's delivery. An honest and interesting album with "Hail Mary," "I'm Feeling It Today," and the amazing "Flash Forward to the Moon"
Elizabeth and the Catapult - Keepsake: The new album from the Brooklyn based indie band pays homage to '70s pop-rock and folk-rock, as does her previous albums. I love her Carol King meets Karen Carpenter sound, though to be sure, steeped in contemporary indie pop. There's something timeless about her work, something the reminds me of the radio of my childhood. "Magic Chaser," "Better Days," "Land of Lost Things," and "Wishing Well" are my personal favorites.

Bjork - Utopia: Two years after her last record, which was fantastic, the Icelandic icon returns with another record that combines chamber music, ambient, and electronica into an elevated piece of art. Probably not as accessible as some of her work (though some would argue that none of her work is accessible) this is what she does best. She experiments with voice and sound until she creates something new, and that's what I really like about this album. It doesn't sound like anything else, and that's a rare thing these days.

Morrissey - Low In High School: It's been three years since Moz's last album and the ex-Smiths leader hasn't lost his touch. At nearly 60, he's angrier than ever at the world, yet hasn't lost his touch at expressing his frustration at world futility in most poetic terms. Musically, this album is more aggressive than recent albums, and it benefits from it. Easily his best since 2004's You Are the Quarry. "My Love, I'd Do Anything for You," "Spent the Day in Bed," "All the Young People Must Fall in Love," and "Who Will Protect Us from the Police?" are standouts for me.

The Sun Machine - Turn On To Evil: The Austin five-piece's newest record is a fuzzed bit of psychedelic bliss that takes from the '60s and adds a California sunshine glow to it. Reminds me a bit of Skygreen Leopards in mood, but with more of a lo-fi garage sensibility. I really enjoyed it, as did my 2 1/2 year old, who asked with each song, "Is the The Sun Machine? I like this music." So there you have it, straight from the mouth of babes...this is music worth liking. " I Want to Do Drugs (With You)," "The Wasp," and "The Wolf" are my personal favorites. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Fiction Friday (67)

As the year winds down, I'm continuing my recap of recent books read. As I mentioned last week, there are a bunch of graphic novels prepared for upcoming weeks as I chose the genre for my focus during the final project for the course that has been providing me with material for the Fiction Friday segment this Fall. This week I look at a fun and somewhat silly book that I enjoyed. I hope you enjoy it too.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson
(First Second, 2015)

Is romance dead? Well, if you're the princess of the Underworld, then technically yes, it is dead. But is it as difficult as it can be for the living? When Princess Decomposia has to hire a new royal chef for the many diplomatic banquets she is hosting in the castle, she is introduced to Count Spatula, a vampire with gourmet taste and a gift for baking. But his treats aren't the only thing about the Count that the Princess finds extra sweet. For her entire life, nobody has treated her like a person rather than a princess, that is, nobody before the Count. But will her father, the laziest king in the Underworld, approve of a romance between his daughter and a vampire cook? Will he banish the Count from the castle forever? Or is it true that nothing can stand in the way of love?

This lighthearted story is told in comic strip panels with quirky illustrations that match the quirky story nicely. This was a quick read, and entertaining, though like the Count's deserts, it's very sugary and doesn't stay with you for very long.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the weekend, the first of the season where snow is expected here in the Hudson Valley. The whole day has that snow feel and it's nice and seasonal and perfect for staying inside and listening to music. It's been another week of new releases that I've been looking forward to. Most were as good as expected, though there was one that was a bit of let down. You can't win them all though, so I'll take it. Hopefully there's something here you'll want to check out. Enjoy.

Electric Wizard - Wizard Bloody Wizard:  The ninth album from the now legendary UK sludge metal band may just be their finest album to date, which is saying a lot considering how much I love this band. It was a bold move to name it after Sabbath's classic, but it lives up to the name. Since their early heavy days, they've embraced psych metal more and more over their past few releases.  "Necromania," "Wicked Caresses," and "Mourning of the Magicians" are standouts on a fantastic record.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon: Noel's third album since leaving Oasis doesn't stray far from the sound he's established for his new project. It's hyper-produced and filled with lots of guitars, the marked difference on here is the lowered vocals, which I actually believe to be a mistake. Noel's voice gets lost in the sound, falling into background noise. It picks up on the second half, after starting off very sub-expectations. "Black and White Sunshine," "Be Careful What You Wish For," and "Dead Man in the Water" are standouts. It sounds more like an album Ian Brown or Johnny Marr would put out than anyone associated with Oasis. It's okay, but Liam's album is better.

Langhorne Slim - Lost at Last Vol. 1: The seventh album from the NYC based singer songwriter is another gem to add to his catalog. After a slightly disappointing album two years ago, this is a return to the stellar form of 2012's The Way We Move. Though I still prefer that album, this is one of the better folk rock albums of the year. His storytelling has always been one of his strengths, along with his pickin' skills, both of which shine on this record. "Life is Confusing," "House of My Soul," "Never Break," and "Alligator Girl" are my personal favorites. 

Kadavar - Rough Times: The fourth album from the German stoner metal band is their best since their 2012 debut. Though I've enjoyed all of their work, this one shows some real growth as they delve into the heavy psych genre with great success. With this album, they've cemented themselves as one of the premiere bands of the genre. "Die Baby Die," "Tribulation Nation," "The Lost Child," and the title track are among my favorites.

Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps: The debut album from the L.A. indie singer songwriter is a truly beautiful piece of moody folk that reminds me a bit of Conor Oberst in it's honesty (who guests on this album), and a bit of Catpower in it's soft strength. A truly beautiful album that is perfect for early mornings (or late nights that turn into early mornings). "Scott Street," "Would You Rather," and "Killer" are standouts on a wonderful debut.