Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the first official weekend of Spring, and while I will lament the passing of winter and dread the coming of summer, I will enjoy the mild days for the time being. This was an interesting week in that I listened to two of the best new hip hop albums that I've heard in quite some time. As winter passes, so usually does my immersion in folk and stoner metal, though there is a holdover on here, and the movement into indie and psych rock. The transition has begun however and there are a few good ones on here. Enjoy.

Joe Young - Invincible Armour: Released last month, this is the best Wu Tang Clan related album in years. Under the tutelage of Cappadonna, Joe Young has mastered the Wu style and gets help from Clan icons Method Man, The Chef, Inspectah Deck, Master Killa, and even ODB to create an album that sits right alongside the bands' other kung-fu themed records like Enter the 36 Chambers and Liquid Swords. Every song on here is in the classic Wu style and a must for fans clamoring for that old school hardcore sound.

The Octopus Project - Memory Mirror: It's been 15 years since the Austin based indietronica band's debut, and next month they return with their ninth, and first in four years. I've followed this band for over a decade and one thing about them is that they are always original. There is nobody quite like them. They are a more experimental version of The Flaming Lips, or along the same lines of early Flaming Lips with more focus on electronic influences. "Wrong Gong," "Bounce,""Pedro Yang," and "Woah, Mossman!!" were my personal favorites. 

Stinking Lizaveta - Journey to the Underworld: The eighth album from the Philly stoner metal band came out last month, their first in five years. This is a band that I checked out several years ago, but they've certainly improved since then. This instrumental math rock, stoner metal is wonderfully played, evoking stunning images in the sounds created. "Chorus of Shades," "Blood, Milk and Honey," and the title track are standouts.

Smino - blkswn: The debut full length album from Chicago rapper is one of the most original sounding hip hop albums I've heard in a long time. Not since Digable Planets first record can I remember hearing a hip hop album that felt so "new" to my ears. The influence of jazz and R&B on here brings a mellowness to his sometimes chaotic flow. The whole vibe of this record caught me into its groove and I was left pretty blown away. Highly recommended.

Danko Jones - Wild Cat: This is the ninth album from the Toronto rock band. I confess to giving it a go simply because of the cover, a process that has payed off in the past, and of course failed terribly. This falls somewhere in between, but leans closer to the terrible. I couldn't get into this brand of hard rock that feels very Ted Nugent 70's era rock n' girls nonsense. There are some good riffs on here, but they never quite come together, and lyrically, it's regrettable at best. A great album cover gone to waste.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Living in Alternative Worlds

Last week I wrote about my itch to begin work on a new story. Over the last few days, that itch has turned into a rash spreading across my imagination. Given that I also had a bit of a slow week for once, I'm happy to report that I dove in and started breathing life into that story. So far, I'm enjoying my time in deep space on a journey to a new star. I haven't worked on a story so distantly connected to real life in a long time and I'm excited to be living in this alternate world for the time being.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The week of the Blizzard has come to a close...with snow expected, of course. I spent this surprisingly wintry weekend listening mostly to dark music, as is my usual sound of choice in this weather. I also listened to my first new hip-hop album of the year, which was a good one. This was also a week of exploration with only one album on here being from an artist who I was familiar with prior to listening to the records on here. All in all, some good stuff. Enjoy.

Son Volt - Notes of Blue: When Uncle Tupelo split in 1994, its two songwriters went separate ways. Jeff Tweedy founded Wilco and Jay Farrar founded Son Volt. Not nearly as prolific as Wilco, this is their first record in four years, and only the third in the past ten years. However, Son Volt has stayed truer to the alt-country sound pioneered by Uncle Tupelo and this album takes it another step, set deep in the gothic country genre for much of the album. Certainly worthwhile and a welcomed return.

Son of the Velvet Rat - Dorado: The newest record from the Austrian folk band was released last month and it's quite good. It reminds me a bit of Bob Weir's latest with the earthy roots vibe that permeates throughout.Vocally, this is the closest thing to classic Dylan that I've ever heard. "Cooper Hill," "Blood Red Shoes," and "Love's the Devil's Foe" are standout tracks for me. Apparently the California desert was the inspiration for this album, and it has that desolate loneliness about it that makes it special.

Super Snake - Leap of Love: The NJ stoner rock band's debut album was released last month. I was attracted to this by the awesome cover and while it didn't live up to the brilliance of the artwork, it's pretty decent stoner rock. Definitely not essential, but certainly worth checking out if you're into the genre. Some highlights for me were "Lavish Sum of Dread," "Spirit Cave," and "Get Lost, Be Mine."

Your Old Droog - Packs: Released last week, this is the Brooklyn rapper's second album which comes three years after the debut (and quite a few EPs between). The appeal of Your Old Droog is his traditional flow and the way he keeps it real to classic 90's East Coast Hip Hop from the beats to the flow. Though respect is paid to the Old School, this still sounds fresh. "Winston Red," "Help," "I Only" and the fantastic "Rapman" are standouts for me.

Dusk - Dusk: The new album from the NJ rock band is one I listened to on a whim. I can't find out anything about this band due to the fact that there are a million bands named Dusk. This is metal with punk roots and has a decidedly late '90s or early '00s feel. Musically, it's pretty solid but the vocals, while not terrible, leave something to be desired. I'm assuming this is a debut record and if so, there's potential.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Write On!

I made provisions the other day that will allow me to carve out some more time for writing over the next ten weeks. I have several stories that I need to cull through and figure out what I'm doing with them. I also have a new story that I'm itching to work on. My overachieving goal is to work through several of these projects now that I have nothing to hold me back...except for an active toddler, who also happens to double as inspiration. Wish me luck.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Hey music lovers out there! The good news of the day is that it's the weekend and that means more ramblings on the interwebs of my recent listening habits. This week features some highly anticipated new releases, at least for me, as well as some relatively recent vinyl fans that I picked up. There's some classic albums on here, and one brand-new one that really impressed me. Hopefully you will all find some time on this frigid weekend to explore some new sounds. Enjoy.

Sun Kil Moon - Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood: Back in 2014, Mark Kozeleck and co. released Benji, the band's sixth album and a true breakthrough in terms of style and structure. Three albums and three years later comes this double album that continues to re-define songwriting in a way that can be perplexing to some, take a bit of time to get into, and eventually become transforming. Mark's mixture of storytelling, free verse poetry, and traditional song craft is utterly unique and new. These 16 tracks, averaging well over 6minutes apiece, are honesty and insight. Another exceptional record. 

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Don't Get Lost: For over twenty years, the neo-psych San Fran band has been releasing their brand of indie rock. After a lull in the first part of the last decade, the original members reformed and they've been quite a roll over the past few years, releasing some of their best music. I've loved their last four efforts, but this one fell a little flat for me. I enjoyed it, just didn't love it as much as other recent efforts.

Manic Street Preachers - Motown Junk: This 1991 single was the first release from the Welsh rockers. Being as they are one of my favorite bands, when I came across a beautiful copy of this on 12", I simply had to have it. The A-Side is one of their best early tracks, and the two B-Sides are are also exceptional. "Sorrow 16" is another track from the first album, but the third track remains unreleased on any other release from the band and is in their classic political vein.

Savoy Brown - Hellbound Train: The UK blues rock band's eighth album was released in 1972, having averaged nearly two albums a year since their first (there was also a second album in '72). Despite the incredible output, there is no let down on here. They sound like a bluesy version of CCR, or maybe Creedence is just a folkier version of British Blues. Either way, all the instruments play off each other to create a wonderful rhythm and a Winwood-esque type soul in the singing. "Lost and Lonely Child," "Troubled by these Days and Times," and the title track are standouts.

Deadstar - Baby Teeth: The third album from the prog band based in India is their first in two years and was released back in January. I went into this record sort of expecting it to be prog metal, but it isn't. In a lot of ways, it is closer to electronic music, though not electronic, than to traditional prog. It's an nice instrumental album that's worth a listen if your into that kind of thing. You can hear it for free on their Bandcamp site which is linked above.

Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool: Released in '57, this compilation highlights Miles' early career, the most mellow part of his career. Many people prefer the more abstract jazz he would go onto to play in the following decade, but I for one like the big band feel of these tracks. It serves as a precursor for albums like Kind of Blue. One of my favorite lazy morning records, newly acquired on original vinyl.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Show Me the Way to the Next World

With all of the intrigue and turmoil going on in the world of politics, one story that seemed to get a little lost over the past two weeks was the discovery of a relatively nearby solar system very similar to ours, with at least a few potentially habitable planets. 

Since childhood, I've always been fascinated with the idea of space travel (and time travel, though it a subject for another post). I recall countless hours of daydreaming about visiting other planets. I was always obsessed with any space related sci-fi, and for the most part, I still am. After this story broke, my imagination on the topic was re-awoken. When scrolling through for a movie to watch last week, I had a hard time deciding between Interstellar and a Mass Effect anime. I went with the anime. 

I spent some time this morning looking at various writing ideas that I've collect over the years that involve space and other planets. Given this recent news, I'm feeling inspired to travel through the stars once again.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here once again, and what a difference a week makes. Last weekend it was like mid-Spring outside, on the verge of summer, and this weekend that wind is howling and winter has returned with a vengeance. But due to the temperamental weather, most of these selections are geared more to last weekend's warmth, meaning there is mostly rock music on here. Maybe next week I'll be able catch back up with the weather. This is a list that is half 2017 releases and half old records. All were decent, and some were fantastic. Enjoy.

The Pigeon Detectives - Broken Glances: It's been a decade since this British indie band made its debut, and now they return with their fifth album, and first in four years. They continue to move into more post-punk and indie dance with this album, a far cry from their garage-ish beginnings. After a few weak albums in the middle, this one continues the upswing from the last one. Probably their best since the debut (not to mention their best cover), it's nice to see them finding their groove again. "Sounding the Alarm," "Wolves," Enemy Lines,"  and "Change My World" are personal favorites.

Johnossi - Blood Jungle: It's hard to believe it's been twelve years since the Swedish indie rock band's wonderful debut. This is their fifth album, and first in four years. The sound had changed over the years. This album continues that shift with a fuller, more mature, and understandably more commercial feel. It seems they are following a similar path that Kings of Leon followed, keeping elements of their beginnings, but adapting it an arena style sound. Very listenable, and one of those albums that would sound great on a long summer road trip. Some ups and downs. The ups for me are "Blood," "Air is Free," "Hey Kiddo," and the wonderful "War/Rain."

Chronus - Chronus: The debut album from the Swedish metal band was released earlier this month. This album is a powerhouse of groove guitar and quite easy to enjoy for fans of the genre. While not perfect by any means, this is a decent record. The vocals could be a little stronger, but for those who don't particularly pay attention to vocals, it's probably worthwhile. "City of Light," "Avarice" and "Hold Me" were standouts for me.

Gentle Giant - Free Hand: This 1975 album is the fifth record from the famed UK prog rock outfit. This is genuine prog, with playful and complex arrangements and tempo shifts that include jazz fusion and funk influences. Admittedly, I have to be in the right mood for this kind of album, but when I am, I really dig it. The opening track kicks off the upbeat groove that follows through both sides of the record. The playing on here is incredibly intricate and easy to appreciate. "Time to Kill" and the title track are my personal favorites.

The Doors - Morrison Hotel: The band's fifth album from 1970 sees them embracing the blues in a way that they hadn't necessarily done on previous records. Until recently, I've always swayed back and forth with this band, but in the past two years, I'm firmly in the camp that they are pretty amazing. This is one of the finest psychedelic blues records. "Waiting for the Sun," "Peace Frog," and "The Spy" are my personal favorites.  

Van Halen - Van Halen: The original California hard rockers debut, released in '78 was the beginning of the explosion of rock bands coming out of the area. I recently picked this up for a few dollars and it's one of those records that I can't believe I've ignored for so long. Eddie's work is legendary, but Alex's drumming is also great, and David Lee Roth is electrifying. In addition to the hits like "Runnin' with the Devil" and "You Really Got Me," I'm the One," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" are phenom.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On the Road

I went into watching this 2012 film, based on the Jack Kerouac novel, without conclusively remembering that it had ever been made. A few weeks ago, I was remembering how a friend of mind had auditioned for this film for Francis Ford Coppola back in 1995 and wondered why it never got made. As I was scrolling through Hulu the other night to watch something, this popped up. Low and behold, it was made! Coppola was the executive producer and it actually garnered a decent amount of attention for indie films back in 2012, and with Kristen Stewart fresh off of Twilight success, that doesn't surprise. What does surprise me is that I completely missed it.

Though I'm big fan of the Beat Generation, I will admit that On the Road is a book that never managed to grab my adoration. I much prefer Dharma Bums than this one. I mention this so that it is clear that my review of the film is not from an individual who holds the novel on a pedestal. Perhaps that is why I was able to thoroughly enjoy this adaptation. Others seem to miss the sense of freedom celebrated by the novel, which has been replaced with a more mature reflective nature of the pitfalls of self-destructive behavior, an attitude that Kerouac wouldn't express until later in his career. 

I found this film to be extremely genuine. The cast was wonderful and never tried to overact or seem to take into account that they were portraying iconic figures. Often when given a role like that, it seems actors easily founder. The cast in here was pretty fantastic, and I think it helped that they were relatively unknowns. The look of the film was also great, not over stylized and never bland. It's depictions of madness, joy, regret, and artistic struggle were poignant and poetic. By the end, it made me want to revisit the book and see if I'd missed something when I read it 25 years ago.