Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dreaming in New Worlds

My dreams have always been affected by primarily two factors, my location and the phase of the moon. This week has tapped into both in a magical way. The full moon was last week, but its impact on my sleeping brain is far reaching. Combined with moving into our new home this past weekend, my dreams have taken an interesting and exciting turn. 

I frequently write about the Interzone setting of my dreams. It's usually a dream-warped version of some familiar location, or mashing of several locations filtered through the imagination. The dreams I've been having in the new house have taken me to places vastly unfamiliar. It feels like a long time since I've traveled into uncharted areas of the Interzone. Like unlocking new areas in a video game, I've been traveling to strange places laced with elaborate plots. If I loved the new house before we moved in, I'm really loving it now. I hope it continues to gift me with these stories.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived and it brings the promise of cooler air in the coming days, a much needed relief from the hellish heat that we have suffered through during the start of the hottest month on record. Despite the heat, the music never stops and this week I take a look at some eclectic new releases, some eclectic older releases, and some recent vinyl pickups. Psych, Dixieland, and Soul...what more could you ask for, well besides cooler weather. Enjoy.

Devil's Witches - Cherry Napalm: A few weeks back, I raved about this heavy psych band from L.A. and their epic debut which came out in March and is currently among my favorite releases of the year. In May, they followed up with this acoustic four track EP. Taking the heavy psych tracks that blew me away and turning them into acoustic folkish tracks was equally mind-blowing and shows the immense talent of these guys. This is a band that I'm going to follow for years. Absolutely brilliant!

Emma Ruth Rundle / Jaye Jayle - The Between Us: This EP features one side of Emma and the other of Jaye Jayle (which is a band, not a guy). Over the past year, Emma Ruth Rundle has become one of my favorite new discoveries. Her powerfully fragile voice and emotional dream folk are right up my alley. These three songs are spectacular. Not knowing Jay Jayle, I was very impressed with their tracks as well, which had a country americana feel. A very nice sampler of two great artists.

Acid Eater - Black Fuzz on Wheels: The psychedelic garage punk band from Japan's 2010 full length is their most recent release, and possibly their last. This fuzzed out, noisy rock with obvious '60s influence but takes it to a new deviant level. I came across this by accident and had to give it a go, and I'm sure glad I did. Not for the faint of heart, only for those that like their garage sound to be heavy and strange. 

Otis Redding - Otis Redding: I recently picked up this French compilation on vinyl for free. The cover was a little beat up, but the wax sounds great. Otis is another one in a long list of musical greats who died too soon, passing away at the age of 27. But in his short career, he produced legendary songs that everybody knows. His soulful voice is unforgettable on every song he recorded. I'm so glad to finally have a collection of his on vinyl.

Mythic Sunship - Land Between Rivers: The fifth album from the Danish psychedelic band consists of three extensive instrumental tracks. There is a jam band mentality to these compositions, meaning that they are all given a lot of room to breathe and wander, which is a trait that often works well in psychedelic records. This is an enjoyable listen for background sounds, but I found it a little too thin to warrent careful study. Decent enough for those into fuzzy soundscapes reminiscent of later day Earth.

Muggsy Spanier - Muggsy Spanier: This album contains most of the classic recordings from one of the leading figures in Chicago's Dixieland Jazz scene. I should set the record straight by saying that I absolutely love Dixieland jazz. There is nothing in the world that sounds quite like it. It has the magic of a great drug movie and the mellow beauty of a come-down. Muggsy's work is fantastic. Definitely one of the players fans should have in their collections.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Trials of Movement

This Saturday, the family and I are moving across town into our new house...well, our new OLD house, 140 years old to be exact. And while I'm super exited to settle into the home that I fully expect to be my place of residence for the majority of my remaining life, I will admit that it has been stressful, busy, hectic, chaotic, and a bit exhausting to pack and prepare the new house, all while working full time and taking graduate courses...oh, and having a toddler who is currently velcroed to Daddy. 

Two days until the move and I'm counting down the hours. Wish us luck!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has decided to show its face again and thankfully decided to wash away the insane heat that had lingered most of this past week. This week's Roundup features albums that I first listened to a few weeks ago. This list consists entirely of bands and artists that I've followed for years, but don't worry, there are plenty of new discoveries lined up for the upcoming weeks. Mostly rock and folk on here, with the inclusion of some soul. There's a couple of new releases that I'd been waiting for, and a bunch of older things that I'm catching up on. Enjoy.

Ride - Weather Diaries: The British shoegaze band's return after 21 years apart is pretty much a triumph. I was looking forward to this album with a little bit of reservation, but it completely lived up to the hype and is their best album since '94s Carnival of Light. As with their later albums, this is more BritPop than shoegaze and their songwriting abilities have only grown over time. It never falls back on nostalgia, which was my issue with Slowdive's return a few months ago. Definitely worth checking out. 

Black Lips - Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?: While listening to the eighth album from the Atlanta garage rockers, I kept thinking of the Spacemen 3 album "Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To" because that's what this album sounds like. Over the past few albums, they've moved farther into the psychedelic garage sound and this sees them straight up living there. The album took me a few songs to get into, but it really picks up on the second half, reminding a bit of The Growlers. "Rebel Intuition," "We Know," "Losers Lament," "In My Mind There's a Dream," and the fun "Wayne" were my personal favorites.

Brett Anderson - Wilderness: Originally released in 2008, this was the second solo album from the Suede frontman, and has recently been re-released in a deluxe edition. Upon it's release nearly a decade ago, I ignored this album because the album he'd released a year prior was not good. It's the only album of his I never gave a chance, until now. I regret passing on it back then because this record is quite good, and possibly the best of his four solo albums. It's mellower than Suede, more personal, and quite beautiful.

Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant: The 1970 debut from the UK prog rock band is truly a giant. This is heavier than their later work, with blistering guitar work and pounding drums in fits and starts, blended with quieter moments and longer exploratory noodling. "Nothing at All" is a blockbuster track and this is certainly an album for fans of the genre, or even just early '70s heavy groove rock. 

Isaac Hayes - Don't Let Go: Released in '79, this shows the deep voiced soul singer's disco side. That's not to say it abandons his soul roots, rather it infuses it with the popular sound of the day and the combination works well. This was a $1 bin find at one of the local shops and is easily worth that price. "Fever," "Someone Who Will Take the Place of You," and the title track are standouts.

Red House Painters - Red House Painters: The legendary slowcore band released two self-titled albums in 1993, this being the second one. Back in college, this band was on heavy rotation, and Mark's current band Sun Kil Moon is still on heavy rotation. So when I found a copy of this on vinyl the other weekend, I was quite excited. This is the band's peak, a perfect collection of well-crafted emotional tracks that is great for lazy Sunday mornings. "New Jersey," "Blindfold" and the cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" are standouts.

The Strumbellas - Hope: The third album from the Toronto indie folk rock band came out last year, and though I've heard many of the songs played heavily on the independent radio station around here since its release last year, I didn't check out the entire album until recently. This band falls into the recent folk rock wave of bands like The Lumineers and Avett Brothers. It's a sound I'm totally okay with and thoroughly enjoy listening to, but one that I never quite feel passionately about. Lots of great songs on here, including "Shovels and Dirt," "David," "Spirits," and "Wild Sun." Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of the genre. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Journey Through the Pages

Just over a month ago, I wrote about a dream I had venturing through a day in the Interzone and I talked about how it inspired me. A few days later, I began work on novel. This is the first bit of writing I've done in about four years where I feel as though it's the best thing I've written after each session. It's one of these books that takes place during one day in the summer of my imagined youth. Thirty pages in and the story is still very clear and present in my mind for at least the next fifty to a hundred pages. I haven't been this excited about writing in a long time and just wanted to share my enthusiasm. That is all.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived and so have a bunch of stellar new releases come to welcome the summer season. This week, I take a look at several new releases. Some of them are ones I'd been looking forward to, and one was a complete gamble and a wonderful surprise. There's also a couple of older albums that I decided to check out and was rewarded with some great tunes. Hopefully you will all find something to gamble on here and be rewarded as I was. Enjoy.

Devil's Witches - Velvet Magic: This is the debut full length record from heavy psych stoner metal band and it's fairly brilliant. This is certainly a new golden age for fans of the genre, like myself, and this album is up there with the likes of Uncle Acid and Electric Wizard. It's HEAVY but groovy and grabbed my attention from the amazing opening track, "Apache Snow." Other favorites are "Black Cauldron," "Voodoo Woman," "Motorpyscho" and the title track.

Mark Kozelek - Night Talks: Released last month, this is the newest EP from the Sun Kil Moon singer songwriter. Just five songs, including an acoustic version of a song off the most recent album and a great duet with Kath Bloom. There are some tracks on here that return to his more traditional song structure and are nice to hear, while others are more inline with his new style. Worth checking out for fans.

The Wonder Stuff - The Eight Legged Groove Machine: The late '80s was a strange time for indie rock, especially British indie rock. It would be a few years before the '90s British sound would be defined, and the previous sound had been dying down by '88 when this debut emerged. Perhaps that's why this sounds more inline with American rock than British, though influences like The Kinks are apparent and the beginnings of the Baggy sound are forming. "It's Yer Money I'm After Baby," "Rue the Day," "Like a Merry Go Round," and "Poison" are standouts on a great debut.

Mando Diao - Good Times: The first album in three years from the Swedish indie band is a welcomed return to form after their album, which delved into electropop for some ill-advised reason. This uses some of those elements, but uses them sparingly and more effectively. While still not as compelling as some of their earlier work, this is decent enough record that fans will most likely enjoy. "Shake," "Watch Me Now," "One, Two, Three," and the title track were standouts for me.  

Eloy - Colours: This is the eighth album from the German prog rock band, released in 1980. I went into this album having no idea what to expect and was pretty blown away. There are clear influences on here, from Pink Floyd to Uriah Heep and it's equally as good, not simply watered down versions. After listening to this, I was sort of surprised I hadn't heard of this band before, because it's exactly the kind of album I've been into for decades. "Giant," "Gallery," "Child Migration," and "Illuminations" were my personal favorites.

Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up: Nearly a decade ago, the Seattle based indie chamber folk band released a stunning debut, followed up by another album three years later. Now, six years after that album, the band has finally released their third. Fans of the previous two records will enjoy this. I can promise that, and why can I promise that, because this sounds like the same album. I loved the first record, and liked the second, but my problem with that was that it was indistinguishable from the first. This one is no different. There were a few times while listening to this album when I was convinced that I'd heard the song before, either on a previous album, or already on this one. None of this is to say it's not good, because it is, but they've become one of these bands where you only need one album by them and you'll be fine.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

America, I Hardly Knew You...

It's been a strange year for America, but they always say the 241st year is a weird age. For so long now, we've been locked into combative view points and seem to have lost the gift of communication and compromise, two foundations that have contributed to every great social progress this nation has ever made. 

Instead of discussing our various opinions, we've mostly chosen to listen to echo chambers that spin the news in such a fashion that it all agrees with the beliefs already concreted inside of us. Our politics and policies have also fallen victim to this narrow mindedness. It's not about solutions, it's about winning and losing the news cycle, about grabbing headlines and possibly swaying another voter onto your side to get the slightest edge within the gridlock. 

The result of this way of life is that our country has become a paralyzed shell of the greatness it once represented. It is crumbling from within, not only figuratively, but literally as our infrastructure deteriorates due to a lack of political consensus. Our society has become polarized as well. On one side, we are becoming more tolerant, but on the other side, we are becoming more rigid and have no room for opposing thoughts.

Of course, as with any individual who has ever lived, I have only my lifespan to compare things to. Sure, I have the gift of history and the recorded knowledge of the past, but as for observations, mine only begin with America's Bicentennial. And though what I've written sounds perilous, even in my forty years, I can say we've been here before and we can make it out of here. We just have to demand something better, just as Americans have always done.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived and I've returned from my journey across the pond to bring you some ponderings on music that I've been listening to. This week features the most anticipated album of the year for me, as well as a few other new releases and a couple of relatively recent vinyl purchases. There's a mix of rock and prog on here, which are mainstay genres in my listening habits. Hopefully there's something here that will make you curious enough to pick up. Enjoy. 

Portugal. The Man - Woodstock: My most anticipated album of the year came out in the middle of June and while it certainly didn't disappoint, it didn't exactly live up to my expectations. I will grant that it would've been nearly impossible to live up to my expectations given how much I loved the last record, and the first single off this album. This album veers farther into the mainstream than their previous releases, which isn't a bad thing, but the big production of it just feels wrong. I recently saw them in concert and they were selling a T-Shirt that said "I Liked Portugal the Man Before They Sold Out" and now I get it, because a lot of fans are going to say that about this record. Still a very good album.

Big Hogg - Gargoyles: The new album from the Glasgow band is their second and sounds as if it were transported out of the height of the Canterbury Scene of the '70s. Clearly inspired by bands like Caravan and Soft Machine, they blend prog elements into their folk rock sound. This is one of those records that traditionalist will love because of the authentic nature of a style that nobody makes anymore. Non-musical enthusiasts will find the infusion of jazz a nice switch from the over-exposed indie pop sound that has been going around. Worthwhile listening.

John Cougar - The Kid Inside: Though this wasn't released until 1983, after the success of his American Fool album, this was originally John's second album that sat on the shelf for five years. It's clearly the work of a younger artist, showing a rebellious side that isn't present on his later work. Though it's pretty much hated, I have to admit that I quite enjoy it. There's a rawness that is nice and there are some great tracks on here, including the title track, the epic "Too Young to Live" and "Survive."

Horrors of the Black Museum - Gold From the Sea: The 2008 debut, and currently only album, from the Paris doom metal band is one I picked up strictly because the title of the band and the strangeness of the cover. In the world of everything comes back around, this has a lot in common with Christian Death's early work, a gothic work of metal that is interesting enough to hold the attention of the listener. "Hiding Mask" is the real stand-out of the four lengthy tracks.

Family - It's Only a Movie: The UK psych/prog band released eight albums in their five years of existence, with this being the last one. Released in '73, this sees the band moving more into the prog realm than their earlier stuff, but still they never abandoned their taste for psychedelic rock. They get a little mellow on this album, and while not their best, still a nice addition to their wonderful and unheralded catalog.

Gentle Giant - The Missing Piece: By '77 the prog art rock band had released nine albums in seven years. By this point, some of the magic from their earlier work has started to fade a little bit as they move more into a sound that would become an '80s jazz rock sound, but there are still moments where they flash their Pink Floyd inspired psych rock, especially on "Memories of Old Times." Not their best work, and not essential, but still something fans might appreciate. I picked it up for $1 and for that price, it's a fine addition to the collection. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fiction Friday (53)

Well, in a shock, I finished reading another book in just under two weeks. Having packed up all my unread books in preparation for my imminent move, I went to the public library to search for some reading material. Having been unsuccessful in locating any of the authors on my list, I ended up in the R's and found myself looking at Philip Roth, an author I've read and enjoyed. I picked up a recent book of his and was rewarded with an excellent read. Enjoy.

The Humbling by Philip Roth
(Harcourt, 2009)
What happens when an artist looses his talent, or more accurately, perceives that he has lost his talent? This brief novel examines that question with profound poise and a delicate choice of words. I applaud Philip Roth for daring to tackle a subject that haunts every artist. Though he chooses an actor as the main character, there is an obvious connection between that art and the art of writing. Both require the artist to inhabit the persona of a character and breath life into a story. There is no doubt in my mind that Roth was exploring his own fears of losing his talent, something every writer I've ever known has pondered.

The initial reaction of the main character upon convincing himself that he has lost the ability to act is to fall into hopeless despair. As an artist, one comes to view and define themselves by that talent, and the loss of the talent leads to a loss of self. The artist must then attempt to rebuild their idea of self, typically through activities that are subconsciously related to the craft. Roth portrays this internal struggle subtly and accurately without any sense of melodrama. 

This book hit really close to home for me. A few years back, I reached a point where I'd given up all hope in my talent to write and went through some very tough times. And like the main character, I made choices that weren't exactly healthy for the psyche. My journey nearly ended in the same horrible manner as the main character, but I'm glad to say that recently, I've once again come to believe in my talents.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

The past three Father's Days have taken on new meaning for me, for the obvious reason of having become a father, but this year I find myself thinking more about my own father and his passing. He died two years before my daughter was even a thought and it has always saddened me that he never had the chance to meet her. But as I spend this day reflecting on what it means to be a father, I'm also missing my own father and all of the opportunities to seek his advice. I've been thinking about how I'm his only son who has become a father, and know how we would have bonded over this shared experience. And though I miss all of the advice and knowledge he could have passed on, I still have the memories of his actions and will always try to be as wonderful of a Dad to my little girl as he was to me.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

It's Saturday and so it is once again time to take a look at that most sacred of arts, music. This week, I take a look a few new releases that I'd been looking forward to, and some older releases that I recently was gifted on vinyl. There's only one band represented that I hadn't heard before, and it was a pleasant surprise. There were also some disappointments, but such is the way of a music junkie. Hopefully there will be something that perks your curiosity. Enjoy. 

Ryan Adams - Prisoner B-Sides: This full length album of songs that didn't make it onto one of the best records of the year so far, is in itself one of the best records of the year so far. While Prisoner is an ode to '80s rock, this album has a bit more of an early '90s indie feel, albeit with ghosts of '80s rock thrown in. There really isn't a weak song on here and I'm sure glad that Ryan has been feeling super creative and sharing it with us all. 

The Rolling Stones - 12x5: Despite being a huge Stones fan, this is an album that I never acquired back in the day when amassing my Stones CD collection. To be honest, I was somewhat put off by the title, never fully comprehending it (until now: twelve songs by five guys...AH!). Anyway, found this in a $1 bin in decent shape and couldn't pass it up. It's early in their career, before they hit it big, and features a lot of early rock type stuff. Super solid record, but that kind of goes without saying. 

The Afghan Whigs - In Spades: The '90s alternative rock band made its return three years ago, following a 16 year hiatus. Now, three years later, they've released the second album in their second phase of existence, which doesn't sound very different from their first phase. Listening to this, I was reminded of what I've always enjoyed about this band, their rough sound which they make sound compelling and beautiful, and what has always bothered me, their tendency to be a little boring. "Arabian Heights," "Copernicus," and "The Spell" were standouts for me on this solidly okay album.

Smith - Minus-Plus: This L.A. band released two albums, their debut in '69 and this one a year later. This is a unique blend of soul and folk that is very catchy and reminds me of a serious version of The Brady Kids, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. It grabs you from the opening track, "You Don't Love Me" and then alternates between soul and L.A. style folk rock throughout. All in all, an very enjoyable discovery for me.

David Bowie - Station to Station: I bought this album, or thought I bought this album, nearly twenty years ago for $1 on St. Mark's place along with a few others. It was only after I go home that I discovered a copy of "ChangesOneBowie" in the sleeve. Not that ChangesOneBowie isn't worth having, but I'm not big on hits compilations. This weekend, I got a free copy of this, with the real record inside and it's like a mission fulfilled. This album marks the beginning of the Thin White Duke era and is some of Bowie's most mature offerings.

Wale - Shine: There was a time, about a decade ago, when the D.C. rapper was the most promising underground artist around. Mix-Tape after Mix-Tape, Wale brought it! His skills were undeniable, his lyrics were tight, and his flow was inspiring. We are now five studio albums into his record deal, and all of that promise seems to have been misspent. I went into this hoping it would be the album where he finally delivered. It's not. This is basically unlistenable. The cover is the best part, everything on the inside is trite shite.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Fiction Friday (52)

With the year half-over, I've pretty much scrapped my plan to have read a lot more books than I did last year. Well, not exactly true. It's just that the majority of books I'm reading these days are picture books with my daughter. I hope to review some more of those soon. I've also been reading a ridiculous amount of academic articles. All of which limits my time to read the novels I so much want to consume. Slowly but surely though, I am making my way through books and today I'm sharing my most recent read, an interesting dystopian novel that is all too plausible to be dismissed. Enjoy.

The Unit by Ninni Homqvist
(Other Press, 2009)

This was one of those books that I expected to be far more intense than it turned out to be. 'The Unit' is nothing like Margaret Atwood's dystopian visions, as I had hoped, and has a limited scope to its view of the future. However, it's able to find power in the subtlety of the prose and narrowness of its vision.

Set some time in a possible near future version of Scandinavia, people who have not managed to have children, or partners, have been deemed dispensable because they are "not needed" and have not contributed to the continuation of society. Many of them are artists, outsiders, or recluses, or just homely people. They are not bad people, not evil, just essentially unlucky in love and life. At a certain age, they are sent to The Unit where they are to live the remainder of their lives in comfort, but also subject to medical experiments and forced organ donation until such a time where they either choose, or are selected, to make their final donation of vital organs. While this sounds horrific, it isn't presented as such, which is where the book succeeds in making the reader think.

People in the Unit accept their fate. They may not be pleased with it, but they accept it as it was a policy voted on in a democracy. We see this happening in democracies all of the time, where one segment of a population is valued more than another and one set of values is deemed more appropriate than another. Unique circumstances cause the main character to realize the true horror and unfairness of her situation, and cause the reader to comprehend the disturbing nature of the book. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here once again and so I bring you my thoughts on a handful on new releases and some old albums recently discovered. The weather is just starting to match the season, and with the summer sun and unbearable heat, comes my appreciation for mellow rock and psych pop, both of which are represented on this list. Hopefully there's some sounds on here that you can all dig. Enjoy.

Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a Song: The Black Keys member released his second solo album, eight years after his first. This is a departure from the Keys and his other band, The Arcs. Sundrenched would be the adjective that I would use to describe the '70s folk pop sound on this record. This turn is definitely unexpected, and I'm still up in the air on how I feel about it, but kudos for not just doing the same thing. "King of a One Horse Town," "Cherrybomb," "Undertow," and the title track were standouts for me.

Halasan Bazar - Don't Tell Anyone: This neo-psych band from Denmark has become my newest favorite band and I recently listened to this 2010 EP and it's just as fantastic as their new album which I reviewed a few weeks back. Just four songs, but every one of them is brilliant. You can find this for a name your price download on their Bandcamp site, or simply stream it for free. I highly recommend it. 

The Charlatans - Different Days: One of the lesser known bands from the BritPop era, at least on this side of the pond, this is also one of the bands that has survived the longest, releasing albums regularly for the past 27 years. I haven't checked them out in two decades and decided to give this a listen. It stays true to the Baggy Madchester sound of their youth. As with their past albums, I found myself never completely buying into it, but also like those albums, there are definite moments where I do. "Plastic Machinery," "Not Forgotten," and "There Will Be Chances" were those moments for me.

Terry Reid - River: The late '60s UK was a great place for a blues rock guitarist to burst onto the scene, and Terry Reid did just that with two stellar albums in '68 and '69. This is is his third, released in '73 and shows more maturity than the two prior albums. This album felt more special to me, more honest as he moves into a more folk inspired version of blues of rock that serves his talents well.

Matisyahu - Undercurrent: This is the seventh album from the Brooklyn based band, but is my first encounter with them. The remarkable first single off this album, "Step Into the Light," has been on steady rotation on the local indie station and I've been digging it. Mixing reggae with rock, the band creates a sound that falls somewhere near avante hip-hop. In addition to the lead single, "Tell Me" is another great song. The rest of the album carries a nice vibe, but isn't always my thing.

Bob Welch - French Kiss: The lead songwriter and vocalist in the transition years of Fleetwood Mac, Bob was responsible for two great albums "Bare Trees" and "Future Games" before leaving to go solo. This is his '77 debut and it's full-on late '70s coke inspired soft rock which really sounds great if your in the mood. Most of the current Fleetwood Mac lineup of the time play on this record, and sound like their more pop-rock records, but with Bob's sleeker feel.