Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Winter is Here

The seventh season of Game of Thrones ended this week with a blockbuster feature length episode. Though only eight episodes, this season was still packed with plot and saw the story advance farther than any previous season. We all know the game is coming to an end next year, which has forced the show to move closer and closer to the eventual conclusion. 

All sides have been clearly drawn, though some uncertainty lies in the reception for the Targaryen family in the North. The Great War has begun in earnest now that the white walkers have acquired their blue fire breathing dragon to break through the barrier of the wall. And though that battle is sure to be costly and deadly, the real intrigue still lies in the future occupant of the iron throne. We have one true heir, one sitting line from a rebellion built on lies, and one who has shown to be a worthy ruler but whose claim can be challenged. 

Whatever happens in the final season, I will be glued to each episode and watching with an active brain, because that is what this show does best. It causes you to think and speculate while it entertains. And though I want to know how the game turns out, I never really want it to end.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The next to last weekend of the summer has arrived and with it comes my thoughts on some of the summer albums that I'd been looking forward to by some favorite bands. There is also an unexpected return of a favorite artist, a few curious pickups and a vinyl find that I finally got around to spinning. Mostly indie rock here, but a few twists on the wide-ranging category to keep you interested. Hopefully you'll find something on here worth checking out. Enjoy.

Jason Furlow - Last Man Standing: The former frontman of New Kingdom and formerly known as Nosaj, or Nature Boy Jim Kelly, this is Jason's triumphant return. Released as a Double A-Side cassette single, these two songs re-invent his earlier style into a full-on trip-hop with abstract elements. As brilliant as ever, this was a nice surprise to see Jason's work streaming. I still wish I were able to get some of his mixtapes he released during the last decade because I'm loving these songs. Definitely check this out on Bandcamp. 

Arcade Fire - Everything Now: I entered into the new album from the indie band with mixed expectations. During their career, I've loved every other album they've done. I was enamored with their 2004 debut Funeral, left flat by the Neon Bible follow-up, loved The Suburbs and really did not like Reflektor. So I hoped this would follow the pattern, and for the most part it does. Definitely better than the two albums I don't like, though there are some songs on here that veer far too deep into indie pop electronic noise (I'm talking to you horrible "Creature Comfort"). "Good God Damn," "Infinite Content," and "We Don't Deserve Love" are my personal favorites. A solid okay.

Sonic Death - Space Goth: The Russian lo-fi band's fifth album is a pleasant dose of insanity that reminds me of the hypnotic flavors of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. True to the album title, there are space rock influences in this post-punk psych journey that gives it moments that feel like classic Syd Barrett, while remaining extremely current. "Space Ark," "Enter the Trip" and "LSD" are standouts. Definitely worth checking out.

Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface: The sixth album from Georgia indie band is yet another sublime mixture of folk and rock that bleeds with honesty and vulnerability. Having followed this band since their debut, I can that they are always pretty consistent. Sometimes that shows a lack of growth, but in their case, I wouldn't say that because there is growth there, mostly in the arrangements and the depth of the music. That said, this doesn't vary much from 2014's Cope. "The Sunshine," "The Gold," "The Mistake," and "The Silence" are my personal favorites.

Blue Oyster Cult - Mirrors: The sixth album from the NY hard rock band was released in '79, two years after Spectres. This sees them take a more commercial turn, while staying true to their hard rock past, but with a defined effort for more radio friendly rock, which can be heard on tracks like "The Great Sun Jester." But the majority of the album's second side shies away from this and delivers the same great rock sound of their earlier albums. "You're Not the One (I Was Looking For)," "Lonely Teardrops," and "I Am The Storm" are all killer tracks on fine rock record.
Neun Welten - The Sea I'm Diving In: Released in July, this is the third album from the German dark folk band. I've been into the darkwave recently and was hoping this would scratch that itch, and while it is moody enough, it's not as dark as I would've hoped. I was looking for Goblin Hovel or Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows. This is more conventional than that, but still decent.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fiction Friday (56)

As I mentioned in the last Fiction Friday, I recently began reading James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake and it's just about as impenetrable as I expected. While I'm continuing to read it, very slowly, I took a quick break and spent the other day reading a children's graphic novel that I bought when it came out. It sat on my shelf for years, and little did I know that in the meantime, it has become kind of a phenomenon. After reading it, I can see why.

Zita the Spacegirl: Book One Far from Home by Ben Hatke
(First Second, 2010)

Some of my favorite stories are ones where children accidentally find themselves in middle of a chaotic situation only to discover that they are the hero the story has been searching for. When a mysterious device transports Zita to another world on the brink of disaster, she must rely on her own instincts and courage to rescue her friend. 

Despite the obvious peril looming over this strange new place, Zita remains determined to save her friend who has been captured by a group of aliens who believe the little boy is destined to save the planet. Her kind spirit wins over other outcasts like herself, and with a bit of luck and a lot of grit, the reader is never in doubt of her ability to succeed. But that's not to say the action isn't any less enthralling.

This is easily one of the best graphic novels targeted to children that I've encountered. Unlike much of the releases in recent years, this was obviously conceived of as a graphic novel and relies on the interplay between the art and the text to tell a deeper, more complicated story, which is what graphic novels do best. The story is adventurous, suspenseful, and witty...three perfect ingredients for a children's book. Though the main character is the clear star, each of the major characters are well developed and lovable. Superb storytelling in every way!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Another weekend is upon us, so open your ears and let the music spin. This week I take a look at some new releases that I'd been looking forward to as well as some recent curiosity pick-ups. There's mostly rock on here, with some jazz and Lana thrown in. Some of these were great discoveries and all left me pretty satisfied. Hopefully you'll be able to find something worth checking out. As always, enjoy.

Lana Del Rey - Lust for Life: Despite the cover photo, the queen of heartbreak is no chirpier on her fifth album than she was on the previous two. Her music still inhabits a dark paradise of despair, confusion, and wrong love. Her music still features her captivating voice and mellow L.A. beats. And her music is still compelling, even if this album offers nothing that departs from her previous work. A dream pop reinvention of Mazzy Star's "Among My Swan" and Portishead's debut, this would have been my favorite album of 1997. Twenty years later, it is an album that I thoroughly enjoy, but won't necessarily love forever, like I will Ultraviolence and Born to Die

Motorgun - Motorgun: The debut heavy rock album from the Rio de Janeiro band was released last year and it's a miracle (if not a crime) that such a perfect band name has never been used before. This is heavy rock steeped in the blues rock style, born out of bands from the '70s. It sounds a lot like Velvet Revolver with Scott Weiland vocals and Slash guitar. That's not a bad thing. There is no really bad tracks on here. It's solid throughout and lived up to my expectations from the name and cover, which were pretty high. "Deliverance," "Come and Go," "Heading for Tomorrow," and "Going Home" are standouts.

The Dears - Times Infinity Volume Two: Two years after the first installment, the Montreal indie band releases their next installment in what simply amounts to two albums with names that are made to make you think they go together, though I don't see how. This is by far the better album and returns to the sound of a decade ago when they were one of my favorites. Indie with a touch of sadness that I really enjoy. Easily their best record since 2006's Gang of Losers.

Brats - 1980: This criminally unknown Danish rock band released only one record which came out in the year of its title. I recently came across this on a blog and was totally blown away. It sounds a bit like the Ramones crossed with The Misfits, but more forward feeling than either of those bands. It's no wonder that existing copies of this rare album sell for triple figures. Way ahead of its time, while still being within its time. Definitely one to check out and snatch up if you see during crate digs.

Hanoi Rocks - Oriental Beat: The second album from the Finnish glam band was released in '82 and I recently picked up the Uzi Suicide '89 re-release on red vinyl. Influences to most of the L.A. glam metal bands that came up around this time, or in the years that followed, in many ways they were pioneers of the sound and the look of L.A. sleaze rock era. Had it not been for a infamous accident involving Vince Neil, it is possible Hanoi Rocks would have been a house hold name, as they were poised to conquer the world. All the raw energy and ambition shines through on this record.

Zoot Sims - Zoot Sims: This compilation features some of the saxophonist's most well-known recordings from the hey dey of the jazz area. An accomplished musician who played alongside the legends of the genre, but nearly forgotten today except among jazz fans, Zoot had the style and energy of the greats, if possibly not the vision. Not a heavy weight, but certainly a name those seeking to dig deeper than Parker, Coltrane, and Davis should check out.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thoughts on the Future that Come from the Past

Moving is a headache! There's no doubt about that. There's lots of boxes. Putting things into boxes. Taking things out of boxes. Disposing of said boxes. But it's also a chance to ferret through the collection of stuff that one has acquired during their lifetime. 

Three years ago, when I moved out of my home of a decade and into what I knew would be a temporary rental house until we found a place we wanted to call home, I had to give up having a full office and settled for a nook. As a result I had marked several boxes from my old office as "DO NOT UNPACK." These brief time capsules have recently been opened as I once again find myself set up in an office of my own. 

In these dusty musty boxes, I came across notes on many, many half-started and abandoned writing projects and have begun thumbing through their contents. The new manuscript I've been working on is structured in such a way that it should allow me to include these fragmented elements in some way, shape or form. Though currently inconclusive, I feel that my hoarding has not been utterly useless.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The summer weekend's are quickly drawing to a close and they can't go fast enough in my opinion. But since the summer is still here, I'll make the best of it by listing to rock music. This week's roundup features a slew of new releases and a couple of classics that I recently picked up. All in all, there's lots that I loved on here and hope you will as well. Enjoy.

Royal Blood -  How Did We Get So Dark?: The second album from the UK indie band come three years after their decent debut and expands on that in great ways. This is blues based garage rock mixed with noise rock, but with a dance element that reminds me of Death From Above 1979. It also reminds me a bit of The Kills and the latest Arctic Monkeys. While this certainly isn't anything groundbreaking, it's top notch for what it is...just good to listen to indie rock. "I Only Lie When I Love You," "Sleep," "She's Creeping," and "Light's Out" are among my persson favorites.

The Kills - Echo Home Non-Electric EP: This new release from the garage band features acoustic versions of songs from the last album, and a few older ones as well. It's always great to hear acoustic recordings from bands not known for it and this is no exception. The title track is exceptional, when it wasn't on the official LP release. The version of "Wait" is also great. Definitely worth a listen for fans.

Grand Funk Railroad - Grand Funk: The Michigan band was HUGE in the early '70s and this album, released days before the '60s ended, is a big reason for that. This is one of those landmark heavy rock albums that totally rocks from start to finish. I picked up a copy of this on vinyl for free a few weeks back and have been listening to it quite a bit. More chaotic than Led Zeppelin and more psych than Deep Purple. The epic last track, "Inside Looking Out," is pure brilliance.

The Strypes - Spitting Image: Four years ago, these young Irish lads released one of the most promising debuts, ushering hope that the mod revival that began over a decade before had found some new life. Three years later, they've released their third album. No longer the newcomers, this album shows definite maturity and advancement of their style. They are no longer completely derivative and have developed their own sound. The problem that they have is their own eagerness. This record is more than a few songs too long. A good pairing down would make this a dynamite record. "Grin and Bear It," "(I Need a Break) From Holidays," "Great Expectations," and "Garden of Eden" are standouts for me.

Steve Young - Seven Bridges Road: One of the members of the L.A. country band, Stone Country, and went on to become of of the figures of the '70s outlaw country movement. This is his second album, released in '72 and recently re-released in a deluxe edition. This is old school honky tonk country and it's pretty phenomenal in the way that Waylon Jennings' records are. Listening to this in the car reminded me of my childhood, spending hours int he car listening to folk music, or listening to the country music that my grandmother loved. It also sound like songs that I could envision Jack White covering in the near future. Classic and timeless, so glad I got turned on to this album.

Uriyah and the Psychedelics - Outa' My Control: The debut album from the Denver based band is an interesting mix of '60s garage and modern day psyche jam band. The opening track, "Rush," is a great example. At the beginning, it sounds like Count Five and then evolves into a more jam band style track. This structure is repeated on many songs, and though it might sound odd, it works. It was really the second listen that really made this album click for me. Definitely worth checking out on their Bandcamp page (linked above).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fiction Friday (55)

I don't want to jinx myself, but I've been closing the last page of a book more often these days, though that may end now that I've begun Finnegan's Wake. But in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the progress I'm making in my goal to read more books. This week I finished reading a book I picked up last month. I've read some Margaret Atwood in the past and really liked her style, but this book was something else. Easily one of the best books I've ever read, this is one of those stories that will shape my thoughts on writing for years to come. Enjoy. 

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
(Anchor, 1988)

"Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once."  opening lines

There comes a point in our lives, usually around the age of eight or nine, when our families cease to be the center of how we define ourselves. The realm of friendship moves in to shape our ideas of self-worth and deficiencies. Though there are many novels that examine this coming of age theme, few of them look at the scars left by these friendships. In Cat's Eye, Maragret Atwood takes a brutally honest and poetic look at how these relationships can be both damaging and dangerous.

Returning to her hometown of Toronto after her own kids have grown, Elaine Risley begins to revisit the events of her youth that haunt her. She describes in detail the punishingly cruel friendships she had as a girl, the kind that are all too common and all too often ignored. The girls "think that they are friends" and from the perspective of childhood, they are. It is only in retrospect that Elaine sees the cruelty inflicted upon her and the cruelty she later inflicts on those who are supposed to be friends. But it is also these relationships that ultimately made her the celebrated artist she's become.

As much as this book is about the world of female friendship, it also about the dying of the past and the way society continues to rebuild itself, told through the metaphor of the city that hardly resembles the one that raised Elaine. It also about the way we drift in and out of relationships, moving farther and farther from ourselves as we become who we are in the present. Outstanding in every way, this is one of the best books I've ever read!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

As it seems to do every five days or so, the weekend has once again arrived. I'm on vacation this weekend and just updated my player with a bunch of new releases to fill upcoming Roundups. In the meantime, I have my thoughts on a slew of recent listens, some new and others just newly added to my collection. Some jazz, some rock, and something fantastically different. Hopefully you will all have some time to discover new tunes in the coming week. Enjoy.

Amanda Palmer and Edward Ka-Spel - I Can Spin a Rainbow: This new collaboration between Palmer and the man behind the genius of The Legendary Pink Dots is nothing short of superb. It has all the classic eeriness and avant garde storytelling that Ka-Spel has always done so well, but it also has the kind of structure that is sometimes missing from the Dots' more experimental pieces. And Palmer's vocals blend perfectly with Ka-Spel. It seems I only really dig Amanda Palmer when she is paired with other artists that I love (Evelyn, Evelyn is a great example). Dark and beautiful and fantastic. 

Fats Navarro - Fats Navarro Memorial: In the 1940's Fats played trumpet with some of the most well-known jazz artists and was one of the most promising figures when drugs claimed his life in 1950, at the age of 26. This album, released from the French label, Jazz Anthology, as part of their 70's catalog is a collection of some of his most renowned recordings. His smooth style is deceptive, hiding a sadness that comes through the notes.

Sivert Hoyem - Live at Acropolis: The former frontman of the Norwegian band Madrugada has now had a rather long solo career since the band broke up nearly a decade ago. In this live recording, made at the historic Acropolis in Greece, he showcases some of his most profound work in this astounding concert. There is something about his voice that rattles the bones and finds a way into the soul and it all comes out here. A fantastic live record that is definitely worth picking up for fans, or as an introduction to his solo work.

Elton John - Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player: This was the only pre-'76 Elton album that was missing from my collection, and now I have everything from his debut to Blue Moves on vinyl, which may be the single best catalog of any artist. Like the records that came before and the ones that immediately followed, this 1973 record is another fantastic album filled with unforgettable songs. Elton's mix of pop rock, blues pop, and early glam all shine through on here.

Oasis - Acoustic Glory: It's been some time since I reviewed an Oasis bootleg, or had one to review. While in Paris a few weeks back, I found this one from 2016 on vinyl and couldn't resist. These acoustic versions of the "classics" stem from various performances and include brilliant renditions of "Whatever," "Talk Tonight," and "Supersonic." There are few bands that revere more than the Fab Five and proudly fly the oasis banner high.

Leon Russell - Leon Russell and the Shelter People: Released in '71, this is the second album from the legendary piano blues rocker and a gold standard of the genre's era in my opinion. Feeding off the energy of the rock world at the time, the chaotic extremes of the Stones and the recently liberated Lennon, he brings that vibe into his music and creates something completely free and easy, but with the grittiness of the time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Fiction Friday (54)

This week I actually had to read three children's novels for school, and though I'd read two of them before, I decided to re-read one of them which I remembered fondly. A second reading is always interesting, and not something I typically do simply because there are far too many books that I still want to give a first reading to. But this book was short and I honestly couldn't remember much about it, so I sat down and read it in a few hours. I'm happy to report that my fondness has not dwindled. Enjoy.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick, 2001)

When Opal moves to a new town, she has trouble making friends and fitting in, that is until she finds a stray dog who changes her life. Because of Winn-Dixie, the smiling dog, Opal begins to acclimate to her new surroundings. 

Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal gets her father to open up about the mother she never knew, but whose abandonment haunts her daily. Because of Winn-Dixie, she discovers a series of other lonely people of all ages and learns to bring them together. But most importantly, because of Winn-Dixie, she learns that you can't hold on to something that wants to be set free, and so she begins to heal and move on from the hole left by her mother.

With sparse prose and a pitch-perfect voice, this book conveys a potentially heartbreaking lesson in a joyful way that ends up being a celebration of life's changes, both sweet and sorrowful.