Saturday, April 29, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Though it's still April, it's like July outside up here in the foothills of the Catskills. But despite the heat, it is weekend, which means time to talk about music, which is my favorite thing to talk about. This week features new releases by artists I've followed for a long time, and one backlist album from another band that I enjoy. All in all, lots of good stuff that ranges from folk to hip hop to metal. More new releases to come in the coming weeks, as well as reviews of my Record Store Day purchases. Enjoy.

Timber Timbre - Sincerely, Future Pollution: The Toronto indie band's fifth album sees them moving a bit further away from their folk sound to a more art rock sound which if fuller, though less immediate. I enjoyed this record, though I must admit to preferring some of their earlier albums. However, on the songs where everything comes together, this is easily some of their most ambitious and rewarding material. For me, those songs were "Sewer Blues," "Western Questions," and the title track.

San Fermin - Belong: The third album from the Brooklyn indie pop band was released earlier this month. The band continues to refine their sound, developing a deeper sense of melody. However, with that comes a loss of some of the psychedelic elements that crept into their first and second album, elements that I enjoyed. This is far more appetizing album for most listeners, and still quite good if somewhat less special. "Bride," "Better Company" and the title track are my personal favorites.

Orchid - Capricorn: Released in 2011, this is the debut album from the San Fran doom metal band. I acquired their 2013 follow up record about a year ago and truly loved it, so I was excited to check this one out, their only other full length to date. The first half of this album sound much less like Black Sabbath than their later album, falling more into a heavy metal sound than blues based origins of Sabbath. By the second half of the album, it begins to find that sound which made the follow up super intriguing. "Down Into the Earth, "He Who Walks Alone,"and "Cosmonaut of Three" are my personal favorites.

Elvis Perkins - The Blackcoat's Daughter: I eagerly await every new release by Elvis, one of my favorite contemporary songwriters. While this soundtrack isn't exactly what I'd call an "Elvis Perkins" album, it does represent his most ambitious project to date. He moves beyond the folk ethic of his previous work and explores the more experimental ambient sound that crept onto his last record. This could easily be an album Pink Floyd would have made for a soundtrack, with a feel similar to their "Zabriskie Point" material. Haunting and beautiful, this album offers a number of memorable soundscapes.

Raekwon - The Wild: After a brief period of silence from the Wu Tang Clan member, The Chef has been quite active lately, releasing his second album in two years, as well as appearing on various other projects and mix tapes. While this newest effort may lack the grit that he displayed in the late '90s, it's still a solid record with interesting and fresh sounding beats. The highlights on here are "My Corner" with Lil Wayne, "M&N" and "This Is What It Comes To."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Unseen Playmate

The other night, I was reading A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson to my daughter before bed and came across the "The Unseen Playmate." The first two stanzas may be the most terrifying thing I've ever read:

"When children are playing alone on the green,
                     In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
                    The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.

Nobody hear him and nobody saw,
                    His is a picture you never could draw,
But he's sure to be present, abroad or at home,
                    When children are happy and playing along."

It instantly conjured images from Pinterest Dark Imagination board and got me thinking about a story I had been envisioning while creating that board. I'm currently working on something else, but this passage has certainly inspired me to revisit the horror story I had been thinking back a few years ago. Be very afraid. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Happy Record Store Day! There's no better way to celebrate my favorite day of the year than by rambling on about music. This week showcases some new albums from some of my favorite artists, and therefore, some of the albums I've been anticipating this year. I'm happy to report that most lived up to my expectations. Hopefully you'll be out there today supporting your local record store, and if you have time to read this before, hopefully there might be something here to look for. Enjoy.

The Black Angels - Death Song: This is the fifth album from the Austin psych rock band. Their debut album, released 11 years ago, was a revelation for me when it came out, and they have never disappointed with any of the albums that followed. This is no exception. Another fantastic psych rock record that stretches the genre while also reinterpreting sounds created by The Doors so many years ago. "Hunt Me Down," "Medicine," and the epic "Life Song" are standouts for me.

Karen Elson - Double Roses: It's been seven years since the former Mrs. Jack White's remarkable debut folk album, making this one of the most anticipated releases of the year for me. This is a departure from the Gothic country sound that made her fist album so memorable. This album is more of a chamber folk record, with lots of string arrangements to highlight her beautiful voice and poetic lyrics. At first listen, it doesn't strike quite the same chord within me, but it's still a great sounding album. "Call Your Name," "Raven," "Wolf," "Million Stars" and "Why Am I Waiting?" are my personal favorites.

Cold War Kids - LA Divine: On their sixth album, the Long Beach indie band pays tribute to the city I love with their most dance/pop effort to date. I've enjoyed following this band since their stellar debut eleven years ago. Their catalog has it's ups and downs following the great first two records, followed by two mediocre records, and then another good one three years ago. This is a down one for me, not because it doesn't do what it sets out to do, but rather because it accomplishes what it sets out to do and that is to be an extremely catchy indie pop. Indie pop just isn't my thing, but this could end up being their most successful album because there are plenty of stadium ready beats on here. For me "Luck Down" is the real standout. 

Johnny Flynn - Sillion: Back in 2008, this London folk singer's debut blew me away and I've been following his career ever since. Released at the end of March, this is his fourth album and easily his best since the debut. He branches out a bit here, performing songs that feel deeper than prior efforts. "Heart Sunk Hank," "The Night My Piano Upped and Died," "In the Deepest," and "In Your Pockets" are standouts on this wonderful folk record.

Pinback - Some Offcell Voices: It's been five years since the San Diego indie band has released new music, and still no update on a new album. So this compilation of their 2000 and 2003 EP releases is going to have to hold fans over, and luckily for me, I did have either "Some Voices" or "Offcell", so these are new songs to me and they represent the best of what these guys do best. In many ways they are like a more pop minded version of Fugazi and the songs from "Some Voices" clearly demonstrate that.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard -Nonagon: I recently reviewed this Australian band's newest album and just received this, their previous record from last year. While I liked their new album, this one is leaps beyond it. The nine tracks extend over forty minutes and bleed into one another making the whole experience feel like one repetitive psychedelic groove. Part metal, part garage rock, part lo-fi electronica, and entirely trippy, this is complicated and simple record at the same time. Certainly one to give a listen to if you're a fan of this kind of thing as I am.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Choose Life.

Twenty years after the original Trainspotting became an iconic film that helped defined my generation, the characters have returned to show us how choosing life worked out for them. Both films are based on exceptional novels by Irvine Welsh, one of my personal favorite authors. Unlike the movies, the books were not written with so much space between them, which meant there wasn't the typical lapse in continuity that one might expect. 

Trainspotting 2 sees the characters aged and still stuck in making wrong choices and struggling with the despair that comes from wasted opportunities. It also deals with the feeling of nostalgia we all have when looking fondly back at our younger years, even when the events from those years weren't always so fond. It examines the bonds of friendship that are developed in those formative years, and explores how they are easily rekindled even after years of absence and bad blood. I often encounter this with my oldest friends. Though years may pass between visits, that time quickly evaporates and it suddenly seems like no time has passed at all. The movie captures that phenomenon wonderfully.

It is certainly not as "hip" or "iconic" as the first film, but doesn't try to be. This is about dealing with the fact that life has set different priorities for us as we grow. It is perhaps best summed up in the comparisons between the opening "Choose life" speech that opens and closes the first movie, and Renton's "Choose life" speech in the new film.

Renton in Trainspotting: "Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"

Renton in Trainspotting 2: "'Choose life'. 'Choose life' was a well meaning slogan from a 1980's anti-drug campaign and we used to add things to it, so I might say for example, choose... designer lingerie, in the vain hope of kicking some life back into a dead relationship. Choose handbags, choose high-heeled shoes, cashmere and silk, to make yourself feel what passes for happy. Choose an iPhone made in China by a woman who jumped out of a window and stick it in the pocket of your jacket fresh from a South-Asian Firetrap. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and a thousand others ways to spew your bile across people you've never met. Choose updating your profile, tell the world what you had for breakfast and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, desperate to believe that you don't look as bad as they do. Choose live-blogging, from your first wank 'til your last breath; human interaction reduced to nothing more than data. Choose ten things you never knew about celebrities who've had surgery. Choose screaming about abortion. Choose rape jokes, slut-shaming, revenge porn and an endless tide of depressing misogyny. Choose 9/11 never happened, and if it did, it was the Jews. Choose a zero-hour contract and a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and maybe tell yourself that it's better that they never happened. And then sit back and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody's fucking kitchen. Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you'd done it all differently. Choose never learning from your own mistakes. Choose watching history repeat itself. Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get, rather than what you always hoped for. Settle for less and keep a brave face on it. Choose disappointment and choose losing the ones you love, then as they fall from view, a piece of you dies with them until you can see that one day in the future, piece by piece, they will all be gone and there'll be nothing left of you to call alive or dead. Choose your future, Veronika. Choose life." 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the weekend, and being that it's spring, it's also the beginning of a wave of new releases. In the last few weeks, so many albums that I've been looking forward to have been released. Some of them are here on the Roundup this week, others will follow in the coming weeks. So look forward to a bunch of excitement. This week features some singer songwriters that I really enjoy, some indie bands that I like, and a few others. Hopefully you'll all find something to check out. Enjoy.

Aimee Mann - Mental Illness: This is the indie singer songwriter's first album in five years, and while it doesn't depart from her earlier work, it's very welcomed to my ears. This is right in line with her best albums, filled with songs of complete honesty and beauty that are never tiring or trite. "You Never Loved Me," "Stuck in the Past," "Lies of Summer," and "Good for Me" are standout tracks on a fantastic record.
The Orwells - Terrible Human Beings: The fourth album from the Illinois indie band is the follow-up to 2014's breakout album, "Disgraceland." I really enjoyed that album, but this one is definitely better. Their mixture of punk and garage influences creates an indie sound that is in short supply these days. "They Put a Body in the Bayou," "Vacation," "Hippie Soldier," and "Heavy Head" are standouts. I look forward to seeing how this band progresses through their career.

Samantha Crain - You Had Me at Goodbye: This is the Oklahoma singer songwriter's fifth album. I've been a fan of hers since I saw her in concert during her debut almost ten years ago. Her voice is one of the best around and the stories she tells are always compelling and honest. Nothing earth shattering on here, this is just good indie folk with the exception of a little bit of jazz fused in. "Red Sky, Blue Mountain," "Wise One," and "When the Roses Bloom Again" are standouts. This is another fine addition to her catalog.

Guided By Voices - August by Cake: Since the lo-fi Dayton band reformed six years ago, they've been quite prolific. This is their eighth album since 2011 and follows the band's trademark style of snippets and fragments that add up to a whole which is often brilliant. Remarkably, this is the band's first double album, which given their prolific tendency is a little surprising. Like most double albums, this one suffers a little from simply being too much...but not enough to make it any less essential for fans.

Ruby the Hatchet - Ouroboros: The 2012 debut from the Philly heavy psych band was recently re-released on vinyl and digital. Having loved their follow-up album which came out in 2015, I was glad to have the chance to get a hold of this one. While not as dangerous sounding as the followup, this is still a good rock record. It reminds me of Dead Weather whereas the newer album reminded me of Uncle Acid. "Black Tongue," "Taking Sides," "Wicked Ones," and "Good God Damn" are personal favorites. Definitely worth checking out on their Bandcamp site.

Steel Panther - Lower the Bar: The new album from the glam band formerly known as Metal Shop, Danger Kitty, and Metal Skool is their fourth under this name. It seems to be getting a lot of attention, primarily because of the revival of 80's hair metal. Given my interest in the genre, I was curious. I didn't realize that these guys don't take it seriously. There's a comedic element to it, but overall, I found it just immature and tasteless. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fiction Friday (51)

So, this isn't really a true Fiction Friday in the sense that I have not furthered my reading goals. But it is a Fiction Friday in that I'm going to discuss a work of fiction. While looking on my office shelves the other night for a new book to read with my daughter as I tried to convince her to eat her dinner, I came across The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss, nestled between a handful of Seussian classics which are still a little too advanced for her. But The Foot Book, that's perfect! 

My daughter loves feet.
She loves silly pictures.
She loves rhyming words.

I pulled it off the shelf and it has been an instant hit. We've read it multiple times and she especially loves lifting her feet in the air during the "In the Air" feet page. 

I was a little unfamiliar with this book before our reading. Sure, I'd read it, but not for years, and not from a more mature point of view. And though I'm a huge Seuss fan, this book highlighted an aspect of his work that I hadn't thought about before. In addition to his gift for rhyme and imaginative stories, he's also a master of nonsense in the tradition of Edward Lear. This book demonstrates that gift particularly well.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Carefully Worded

A school assignment this week got me thinking about writing and word choice. The assignment was to think about the differences between the words vision, mission, goals, and objectives. It pointed out that these words are often used interchangeably though they have very distinct differences. While I know the difference between these words, primarily that vision and goals are more aspirational, while the others are more focused on tasks, I also know that I often use them interchangeably. 

Most people think that writers wouldn't make these mistakes because they think of writers as being very careful with their words. And that is true, as a writer, I am very careful with my words. But for me, it's not careful in the sense that I try to be exact with language. I'm careful to use words that fit best in the sentence, in the character's voice, and in the narrative style of the text, and let definitions and exactness fall by the wayside. 

I've always been a stylistic writer, for better or worse. The art and sound of words is more important to me than the clarity of their meaning.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The groovin' kid photo can mean only one thing...the weekend has arrived, and with it comes my usual ramblings on music that has either inspired me, angered me, entertained me, or just made me curious over the past several days. This is a list compiled of a couple of new releases that I'd been looking forward to along with a few albums that are recent additions to my vinyl collection. All in all, there are plenty of fantastic albums on this list, many of which I would recommend to everyone. Hopefully some of you will take my recommendation and find something to listen to. Enjoy.

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me: This band is just Phil Elverum (of The Microphones) and one that I've listened to for over a decade. This is the first album in two years and the first since the passing of his wife from cancer. The songs on here detail his heartbreak over losing his wife and raising their baby. Though consumed by overwhelming sadness, this is nothing short of a beautiful album that reads like an eternal love letter. An album that everybody should listen to at least once. Stunningly honest and remarkable.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - Damage and Joy: The iconic '80s post punk band just released their first studio album in 19 years and it's far more enjoyable than I expected. Gone is the deep fuzz and distortion that characterized their legendary albums. This is far more noise pop than shoegaze. It reminds me of Spiritualized, and had this album come out twenty years ago, it would have been a favorite of mine. As it stands now, I enjoyed it, but it didn't feel special enough to love in this day and age. "Mood Rider,""War and Peace," and "Facing Up to the Facts" are my personal favorites.

Roky Ericson - Outtakes from "All That May Do My Rhyme" & Live 1975: This is a bootleg album that I got for my birthday, but never got around to reviewing it because I needed to enter into the database first. The outtakes are from Roky's later quieter work, and is phenomenal. The live songs on the flip side are also dynamite. I'm a huge Roky fan and don't think he can really do any wrong, so my take on this might be skewed. One of the most under appreciated rockers in music.

Marc Bolan - Skycloaked Lord (...Of Precious Light): This archival US radio show was recorded shortly after T-Rex's Electric Wizard album, at the height of the glam rocker's career. But this is very different. It's just him and an acoustic guitar. I went into this not expecting any very different than what I was used to from him, but I was so wrong. This was mind-blowingly good! Released on limited blue vinyl, this is a gem.

John Cougar Mellencamp - Scarecrow: Released in 1985, at the height of the Indiana rocker's career, this is the signature album of his career, featuring the mega hits "Small Town," "Lonely Ol' Night," and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." It also stands as one of the few political rock albums of the mid-80s which were caught up in the glamour of rock life and left the social issues on the back burner. This album cemented the Cougar as the torch bearer to Bruce Springsteen's '70s work. Though he continues to make music, he would never again reach the level of fame from this time. A great '80s rock record.

Family - Bandstand: In their five years as a band, between the years 1968 and 1973, the UK psychedelic prog band released eight albums. This one, from '72 is the next to last, but no less exciting and rewarding than previous. It takes on more of the maturity of early '70s era psych blues than early albums, but still has that Traffic vibe that I enjoy so much. This is still part of my going through the three missing pieces of my Family collection that I recently snatched up for cheap. "Glove" and "Ready to Go" are stand outs on this one. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Fiction Friday (50)

It's April. I'm embarrassed that this is the first Fiction Friday post of the year. So much for my trying to increase my reading. Well, not exactly. I've read mountains of academic articles and textbooks in past four months, but I would never bore you all with those readings. I also suffered a setback when I spent a month reading a book that I just couldn't get into enough to finish, a habit that I very rarely partake in. But all that aside, the Fiction Friday file is back and here is the first filing of the year...and it's a great one. Hopefully these posts will increase in frequency from now on. Enjoy. 

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
(Grove Press, 1994)
This collection of short fiction was my first introduction to Borges, which is a little odd that it took me so long to come around to reading his work given my love of this kind of writing and obsession with Grove Press material from the time period. But alas, it was my introduction and I have to say the introduction went well.

I was hooked from the first story about a strange encyclopedia which seemed to chronicle an alternate history of worlds and later fell in love with the story of Babel and a circular mystery piece which reminded me of Robbe-Grillet's Erasers. If my descriptions sound cryptic and a little disjointed, well that's because Borges' writing is cryptic and a little disjointed, which is precisely what I like about it.

I've encountered similar writing styles in novels and am pleased to see it work so well in shorter works. In some cases it works better, but my novel obsessed self craved more in some of the works. I wanted the irregularities to continue for hundreds of pages and dig deeper into the imaginative ideas presented. But that is also the genius of the short format...leaving the reader to wonder and extend the story through his or her own imagination.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived once again, and with it comes a fresh crop of my ramblings on music I've listened to in past several days. This week's list includes a few new releases that I was anticipating, along with some recent vinyl pick ups from the past. There's a broad range of genres here, from folk, to rock, to jazz, and hip hop. So there's no excuse for everyone not to find at least something you might be interested in checking out. Enjoy.

Winter Sisters - Together not Together: This 2017 album is a collaboration album from Jordaan Mason (one of my favorite song writers) and Sean Rovito (a song writer new to me). While it's very much inline with Jordaan's brand of indie folk, it's definitely more experimental than his records. It's a sound that might turn off some people, I really appreciate the beauty found in the strangeness. "Not Uxorial," "Fix Anything," and "Spider/Spit" are my personal favorites.

Spoon - Hot Thoughts: Without a doubt, this Austin indie band was one of my favorites of the last decade, having recorded two of my favorite records of the '00s with Girls Can Tell and Gimme Fiction. Though I've continued to enjoy their work, I admit I haven't loved their albums since Gimmie Fiction. This is their first record in four years, and it started off a little slow for me. While I liked the first few songs, they were clearly more produced and radio ready than I care for, but then something happened. About halfway through, I started to hear that old school Spoon sound come through and I was hooked. "Tear It Down," "I Ain't the One" and "Shotgun" are real standouts on another quality album by these guys.

Onry Ozzborn - c v p ii d: Keen followers of the Roundup will have noticed my renewed interest in hip hop over the past few weeks and it continues here. The Seattle rapper has been making music two decades and he continues with this semi-concept album about the mythical Cupid. This is abstract, conscious hip hop that reminds me of El-P. It has decent enough beats, and clever enough lyrics, but this one didn't grab me. Perhaps it's because I've been listening to so many recent hip hop records that have blown me away. A solid okay.

Charlie Parker - Carlie Parker Volume IV: Recorded four years before his untimely death and released nearly a decade after, this collection of live recordings captures the Bird at his mellow and relaxed best. Jazz is essentially a live genre since it relies on the interplay that happens as the music is performed and this is definitely true for Parker. I recently found this copy for a few dollars and will be on the look-out for other volumes in the series.

Family - A Song for Me: Released in 1970, this is the third album from the UK psych blues rock band. I've been into this band for some years now and still can't figure out why they aren't more popular than they are. I recently picked up three of their albums that were missing from my collection, and decided to listen to this one first as it is chronologically the earliest of the three. This is more blues inspired than some the records that would follow, which moved into prog rock. "Stop for Traffic," "Some Poor Soul," "Wheels" and the outstanding title track are real standouts on this wonderful record.

The White Stripes -Rare A Sides/ Rare B Sides: This collection of rare tracks is one that I've had digitally for years, and has been a long time favorite of mine. This past weekend I came across a 2012 red vinyl release of it and couldn't resist. There are some amazing tracks on here, including covers of Captain Beefheart's "Party of Special Things to Do" and "China Pig." Most die-hard fans will be familiar with a lot of these tracks as they've played many of them live, but casual fans should also check these out. 

April, 1st....Happy Birthday, Sakura

Forget April Fool's Day...It's Sakura Kinomoto's birthday! 
Celebrating the birthday of one of my favorite fictional characters is much better than pranking people.