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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dream Theory

As the full moon approaches once again, my dreams have taken on a James Joyce Ulysses vibe, sending me on endless journeys through the Interzone version of Manhattan that I've inhabited for a large portion of my sleeping life. My most recent day spent there was an alternative universe version of Record Store Day and involved a trek up the Hudson River side of the island, reminiscent of my walk during the great blackout of 2002. Along the way, I stopped off to browse through crates of imaginary records and shelves of odd nic nacks. I also came across an amazing piece of secluded real estate along the river whose land resembles the above picture. I also managed to dine on a lobster dinner and visit with old friends. But like Stephen Dedalus, my mission always remained unclear.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Another weekend is upon us, and the groovy kid image is here to remind us all that it means ramblings on my music listening habits have arrived. This week features lots of new releases from old time favorites as well as a new discovery. In other music related news, I actually went to a concert last night for the first time in ages. I saw Portugal.The Man, one of my favorites, and it was pretty spectacular. I can't wait for their new album to come in two weeks. Take the weekend to find something new to listen to and enjoy. 

Hawkwind - Into the Woods: The new album from the legendary space rock band that is still fronted by founding member Dave Brock. This is somewhere around their 1000th album in the 100th configuration of the band that was born in '69, but this is one of their most compelling since their 70's heyday. Basically no filler, this still holds the transportive style of their best work. "Magic Scenes," "Wood Nymph," "Magic Mushroom" and the title track are my personal favorites.

John Mellencamp - Sad Clowns and Hillbillies: The newest album from the former Cougar is first work of his produced after the '80s that I've listened to, and like his early work, it's strikingly honest and genuine. Older, he has Tom Waits gruff to his voice that works well with this mix of bluegrass, americana rock. "Grandview," "What Kind of Man Am I," "Damascus Road," and "Easy Target" are standouts. 

Lana Del Rey - Midnight Fantasies: This bootleg features leaked songs from recording sessions over the past few years. As with any release like there, there are songs that were understandably left unreleased, but also typical of releases of this kind, there are fantastic tracks that leave me wondering why such a song would have been left off an album. "TV in Black and White," "The Man I Love," "You Can Be the Boss" and "Back to Tha Basics" could all have been at home on either of the last two albums. Worth checking out for fans as we wait for the new album that is due out soon.

The Seventh Sons - The Turnaround: The debut album from the Chicago blues rock band was a little less psych rock than I had hoped and was much more traditional blues rock. It's my personal opinion that to play blues rock in this day and age requires that you bring something new to the sound, and this doesn't. They are true to the genre and play it well, it just doesn't grab me because we've heard this kind of rock for forty years. This is okay, and others will certainly like it more than I. "The Cave Pt. 1," "The Cave Pt. 2," and "Shaman's Whisper" were standouts for me.

Ray Davies - Americana: The Kinks frontman released his first album in seven years, and this time around he's made his attempt at Americana music. He wisely chose The Jayhawks as his backing band on here, one of the pioneers of the current Americana sound. At times, this combination works excellently, and at other times, it falls a little flat. It's one of those odd records where the songs that I like, I really like, and those that I don't, I really don't. "Rock n Roll Cowboys," "Change for Change," and "Heard that Beat Before" were my personal favorites.

The Cosmic Dead - Psych Is Dead: The newest album from the Glasgow psych band is a thorough experience in sludge psych. The band effective uses drone elements in it's heavy style during the course of these three lengthy tracks. I always enjoy this band's work, even though it tends to be music that fills the void, only to alllow the void to quickly step back in once it's over. By that I mean, there is little lasting impression. But that's the nature of drone, and I'm okay with that.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sailing Off to Storyland

I've been packing up my office over the past week or so in preparation of moving to a new house. In the process, I've been coming across snippets of stories written long ago, ones that I came across almost three years when I last moved. I remember being inspired by them then, and that feeling came over me once again. Coming across all of these old fragments of imagination always seem to spark new ideas, as well as a nostalgia for imaginary worlds previously visited.