Saturday, June 12, 2021

Weekend Music Roundup: Record Store Day! 

Today is one of my most favorite days of the year...Record Store Day. I went out early and waited for the local shop to open. This year, they had all of the titles I was looking for, which was great for me, bad for the wallet. I encourage everyone to get out there today and support your local shops which have been hurting over the past year. In the meantime, here's some things you might look for while your out. Enjoy.

The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (Alternate Set): This unofficial release of live/broadcast versions of the album was released in 2005 on red vinyl. I recently came across a copy, and seeing as I didn't have this album on vinyl (only CD), I figured it was worth getting since it was alternate takes, it didn't feel like I was buying something I already owned. This was the band's fifth album and saw Jack exploring country influences more and really putting the "garage band" sound behind them. This is a band that always worked amazing live.


The Mars Volta - Landscape Tantrums: This newly released archival album explores unfinished demos from the band's debut album which was released in 2003. They're not songs that we don't know. They developed into finished songs eventually. The joy of this album is hearing a band whose music is so complicated in a bit looser form. That is one of the signs of the brilliant bands. That said, this is really an album for fans who know their music.

The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo: Released in '68, this is the California band's sixth album. This is also the Gram Parson's dominated album. I'd avoided this record until now, despite being a big Byrds fan since college. I avoided it because I knew it was country rock, and knew it would unrecognizable to the Byrds albums I loved. The odd thing about that flawed logic is that I've been Gram fan since right around the same time. I picked this up recently and can't believe I denied myself so long. This is full on country rock and and foreshadows Gram's solo albums that would come out in the early '70s. A landmark album of the genre, this was a glaring hole in my collection. 

Gnome - Six-Hi Surprise Tower: Released in '92, this is the Seattle band's debut album, which would be followed a year later by their last album "Fiberglass," both on 90s Seattle label C/Z. I've had their second album on CD since it came out and recently came across a sealed vinyl copy of this for less than $10. This is a far superior album. It came with a C/Z catalog, and the description in that is pretty fitting: "Bubble-grunge pop-core from the Sub-Pop stable of losers. Early Cheap Trick for the 90's." This is pretty raw and emblematic of the underground Seattle sound of the time, a sound that wasn't ever snatched up by the major labels.


Eddie Money - Eddie Money: The '77 debut from the L.A. icon was the one of his first four that I was missing and found a copy recently for a few bucks. It opens with "Two Tickets to Paradise", one of the best side one, track one songs in pop rock history. It also includes "Baby Hold On", those two tracks alone are worth the price of admission. The rest of the album is also solid late '70s rock. This was definitely one that was missing from my collection.

 (My official RSD purchases)


Friday, June 11, 2021

Fiction Friday (134)



My continuing examination of YA books continues with this novel that was released earlier this year. I read as a choice for a Teen Book Club selection after seeing how well-reviewed it was. It was certainly different than most of what I choose to read, and though I didn't love it, I did enjoy it.

The Project by Courtney Summers

(Wednesday Books, 2021)

Lo is lost. At 19, she is alone in the world and angry at the circumstances that have brought her to where she is. After her parents died in a car accident, in which she was severely injured, Lo's sister Bea is drawn into a community known as The Unity Project. The Project calls on members to abandon their lives before in order to live the path of God. For Bea, that means leaving her sister.

The hole left in Lo's life manifests in anger and suspicion of The Project. Working for a respected journalist, Lo wants nothing more than to expose The Project as a fraud. After a curious incident in which a member leaps in front of train before her eyes, Lo is more driven than ever to bring down The Project. However, in order to do that, she has to get closer to it than she ever wished to, and potentially falling under the spell The Project's leader Lev tends to have over his followers. She soon discovers that the seeking answers uncovers more mysteries than truth.

This one took me a little while to get into, but by the last half, it was thoroughly compelling. Though labeled YA, I'm not sure I would call this book YA. With the exception of the main character being 19, there is really nothing that links this book to that label. I'm not even sure the themes would be of particular interest to teens, though certainly appeal to a slightly older audience.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Weekend Music Roundup


It's the weekend once again! Last week, I went to an annual record fair that happens in my corner of the world and picked up a bunch of eclectic vinyl records which I will share over the coming weeks. I've also been listening to plenty of new releases while working in the art studio. This week's list represents a little of both. Hopefully you'll find something of interest. Enjoy. 

Royal Blood - Typhoons: This is the third album from the UK duo who has a mix of blues rock meets alternative dance, much in the vein of another duo, Death from Above. This is their first album in four years, following one of my favorites of 2017. Therefore, I was very excited about this one. From the opening tracks, this album kind of rocks. This is certainly nothing groundbreaking, but there are few bands out there that do this sound right and these guys are one of them. A really great high-energy rock album. 

Coral - Spoon: The debut album from Swedish dream folk artist Miranda Coral is a beautiful laid back surprise. When I saw it, I assumed it was The Coral and was at first disappointed that it was not. However, when I stopped to listen, I heard something quite enjoyable. She reminds a bit of Holly Miranda and this is one of those albums that feels like a novel. A very relaxing ride that I recommend taking. 

Queen - Sheer Heart Attack: For the longest time, I was convinced I didn't like Queen. It was while watching Bohemian Rhapsody that I realized a lot of the songs I thought I hated were really just songs I'd heard too many times. I've since listened to and really loved their second album, "Queen II". This is their third album and came out in '74 and dynamite glam rock album. "Killer Queen" is probably the best known song on here, which is fair since it pretty much sums up their sound on this record. I can certainly hear it's influence of Scorpion's "Virgin Killer" released two years later. A classic for a reason. 

Runt - Runt: Todd Rundgren's 1970 solo debut after the departing Nazz. Over the past half-decade or so, I've gotten into Nazz and Todd in the way I always like to support Philly bands. I found this for $5 and snatched it up. It's super groovy, blending the Nazz psychedelic pop with the emerging pop rock sound that would come to dominate the next several years. "We Got to Get You a Women" is total blue-eyed soul that Bozz Scags would come to emulate. "Who's that Man" is a Elton piano jammer. There's a freshness and confidence of youth that blazes up and and down the track list. A total banger of a record. 

Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground: The '67 debut from the psychedelic folk band. For years, I've known their '68 - '70 albums that followed and enjoy them. I was pretty excited to come across this one for a few dollars. It was a little beat up, but a good cleaning took care of that. This one might even be more in my wheelhouse than their later albums, more acoustic Floyd or Velvet Underground demo style. This is a magical album that blends a lot of different folk and folk rock styles into a mellow void of a dreamy afternoon of uncomfortable visions. 


Portugal. The Man - Oregon City Sessions: Recorded in 2008, this live session was just released by the band, their first release of any kind since 2017's breakout album Woodstock. This period of the band is one of my favorites, right as they are reaching their peak and exploding with creativity. The set list features many of their best songs, and is probably meant as album to reach some fans that only discovered them shortly after with their Evil Friends album, while also pleasing long time fans.



Friday, June 4, 2021

Fiction Friday (133)



It's the end of the week and I recently finished reading yet another contemporary novel. This was another selection that I read for the library's book club that I lead. I'd heard good things about this one and was excited to read it, whereas many of the others, I am not. Though not a literary tour de force, this novel was well written and quite compelling in the way it dealt with the ideas of racial insensitivity and privilege.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

(Putnam, 2019)

In the past couple of years, the market has been flooded with novels that examine race relations in our country. What makes this one special is the subtleties it employs to deal with the topic which mirrors the subtleties in which it often exists. With the exception of a few characters in the opening confrontation scene, none of the characters are racist in any stereotypical way. In fact, both main white characters, Alix and Kelley, would consider themselves anti-racist. They are both too self-centered and self-involved to actually consider their actions, motives, and consequences...and despite both protesting that they have Emira's best interests at heart, neither ever bothers to have a real conversation with her.

I've read reviews, and spoken with people who really didn't like this book, who thought it wasn't in depth enough, or that it breezed over the subject. I disagree. The fact that it didn't beat the reader over the head with the themes is its strength. The fact that it is filled with humor is also a strength. It is not a book that is there to provide answers, it's a book meant for the reader to examine these characters and their actions and really think about their faults.

It is also not exclusively about race. Emira is not simply "African-American"...she is a 25 year old woman who doesn't know what she wants from life, something that is not a product of ethnicity. The reader sees her as the only true genuine character and as a result, her situation becomes universal and humanizing, something the Alix and Kelley fail to recognize.

I really enjoyed this book, and of course, 3-year-old Briar steals the show with her wonderfully innocent observations. The relationship between her and Emira is the heart of the book, and it's ironic that Alix's company is called "Let Her Speak" when that is exactly what she never allows from her daughter and her daughter's babysitter.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Weekend Music Roundup


Welcome to the long weekend. I know the roundup has been occasionally MIA over the past month or so, that because we've been busy with parties and living the vax-life, which I realize is kind of just like 2019, only without all of the Trump-talk. It's like a better version of 2019. This week, I rant about some new releases and some recent pick-ups. Some great stuff on here, so hopefully you have the energy to check out something new. Enjoy.


St. Vincent - Daddy's Home: It's been four years since art rock artist's last album and it's been all over the place. This blends all the sounds she's been doing for years, which basically amounts psychedelic soul art pop. Though I've enjoyed her past work, none of it grabbed me the way this one has. This album taps into something that just makes every song sound so perfect. There's a confidence that oozes through the tracks, a 70s Fleetwood Mac sense of decadence mixed with a Trip-Hop coolness. 

Television - Adventure: The iconic NYC's first album, 1977's Marquee Moon is one of my favorite debuts of all time. This, their second album, was released a year later and has been on my want list for ages. Though it's been re-issued, I've always been waiting for an original at a reasonable price, something that isn't an impossible ask. I finally found one and though, as I expected, it's impossible to live up to the first album, it's still quite awesome. They've always done something quite different with the genre than other early art punk bands and create incredible stories with their sounds. It doesn't have the same hint of danger as the debut, but still has the eeriness that I love. 

Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks of God: This is the seventh album from the Atlanta indie rock band, and their first since 2017. This is one of those bands that I've been following for over fifteen years and can say with confidence that this is their best album in over a decade. It's not that I didn't enjoy the more recent ones, but this one captures some of that vulnerable magic from their earlier work that first drew me to them. It opens with the beautiful "Inaudible," an ethereal hymn to isolation, and then moves into the classic sounding "Angel of Death" and I was hooked.  This album is the perfect example of why, when an artist makes an album that I love, I continue to follow their career. 

Nervous Dater - Call in the Mess: This is the second album from NYC indie band and comes four years after their debut. This has a very 90s indie feel to it, and it opens with the great track "Middle Child." My enjoyment of it definitely stems from a nostalgia feeling. Some songs are better than others, and there's a few that are just too emo pop punk for my taste. "Violent Haiku," "Turn Them Ourselves in the Grave," along with the opening track are personal favorites. 

Richie Havens - Mixed Bag: Released in '67, this was Haven's second album and his commercial breakthrough that landed him at Woodstock which propelled soulful folk artist into the history of rock. I recently picked this up in the 4 for $10 bin at the local shop because there was gap in my collection which hadn't included any Havens. There's some amazing covers on here, with "High Flyin' Bird" and "Eleanor Rigby" being my personal favorites. 

The Raconteurs - Live at Electric Lady: Released last spring, this live event hosted by Jim Jarmusch for the band's top Spotify listeners is a solid set from a band that has always been super professional, comprised of super-talented artists. Along with favorites from their three albums, this also includes a cover of Richard Hell's "Blank Generation" with is pretty phenom. A must have for fans.





Friday, May 21, 2021

Fiction Friday (132)



I had meant to take a break from reading YA fiction, but recently the library I work out weeded the Teen collection and I went through the DISCARDs and grabbed a few that looked interesting. I started to read this one, mostly because the cover appealed to me, and because it was named after an Iron and Wine album. It turned out to be a very satisfying read.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

(Tin House Books, 2015)

The world of adults and the world of children are often lived in separate realities that overlap somewhere in the middle like circles on a venn diagram, leaving members of each without a full understanding of how the other half lives. This is very much 8yo Peggy's situation, living on an estate in North London in the mid-70s with her eccentric parents. Her mother is a famous German pianist; her younger father a survivalist dreamer. Both seem to exist outside Peggy's internal world except when their world intrudes into hers.

Peggy's father emerges quickly as an unstable personality, and after a fallout with his wife, begins to fully embrace a split with reality, sweeping his daughter along with her. When the two of them leave their home and hike off into the secluded mountains of Bavaria, Peggy has no idea she will be spending the next nine years of her life alone in a cabin with her father. Terrified of crossing the river, and walled in by mountains, there is nowhere to go. Even if there was, her father has told her that beyond their little section of forest, the rest of the world has vanished.

This is one of those novels the joins the reader to the main character. The reader is the character's only true friend and confidant. As a result, we get to know Punzel, nee Peggy and she becomes someone we care about. She is a very strong character, yet we lament her losses that she cannot fully comprehend. And as her father's mental grasp on begins to falter, we begin to fear for her safety. 

We are never completely fearful for her however, because the novel alternates between her time in the woods and her time home, which is very effective in creating a sense of mystery and providing clues to keep the reader engaged. There are a few open ended questions at the end, deliberately so, that are meant to engage younger readers to consider options. However adult readers are fairly convinced of what happened.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Weekend Music Roundup


It's the weekend and the roundup is back. I've been listening to a lot of new albums recently and have heard some great ones. I've also picked up some older albums on vinyl in the last few weeks, and always, have come across some eclectic stuff. Getting ready for the long haul of summer by lining up the albums I plan to enjoy while the heat threatens to bring me down. It's hard to be too down when the sounds around give you joy. Enjoy.

The Coral - Coral Island: This is the tenth album from the neo-psychedelic band out of Liverpool. I've been a fan of these guys since their 2002 debut and was pretty excited that a new album arrived after three years. This double album reminds me most of 2016's Distance Inbetween, which is one of my favorites of theirs. There's a blend of psyche folk and they do really well with that mellow late 60s Pink Floyd sound. "Change Your Mind," "Mist on the River," "Autumn Has Come," "Old Photographs," "Calico Girl," and "Watch You Disappear" are standouts on this exceptional album. 

New Bums - Last Time I Saw Grace: This is the second album from the indie duo that features Donovan Quinn from The Skygreen Leopards. Like that band, this is a stripped down acoustic album with psychedelic folk influences. There's nothing earth-shattering about this album, but that doesn't mean it's quite stellar. It's got a classic Drag City sound to it that I've always enjoyed. "Billy God Damn," "Wild Dogs," "Turned to Graffiti," "Cover Band," and "Hermitage Song" are personal favorites, though I love the entire album. 

Ryley Walker and Kikagaku Moyo - Deep Fried Grandeur: This EP from one of my favorite guitar players consists of two 18 minute instrumental tracks. It's beautiful psychedelic folk. As with all of Ryley's work, there's a deep 70s influence and often feels like solo Neil Young stuff, or at least has a similar vibe. Another fine addition to his growing catalog.


Rosalie Sorrels - Always a Lady: Rosalie was an American folk singer from Boise who began recording in the early 60s and remained active up through the early 2000s, before passing away in 2017. This album is from 1976 and I picked it up on a whim from the 4 for $10 bin at the local shop. This album has a rugged natural sound that reminds me of Karen Dalton. It's also very conversational at times, something that was pretty common in folk revival of the early 60s. A real solid folk record with my personal favorites being "Baby Rocking Melody," "Hey Little Girl," "The Caterpillar and the Butterfly," and "the Moth."

The Kinks - One For the Road: This live album was released in 1980 and features mostly work of the late '70s, with very few of their classic tracks (with exception of Side D..yeah encore). Because of that, I enjoy it...but that's also because I have live albums from their early days and have all those classic tracks live. Over the past couple of years, I've learned to appreciate this Kinks era and the maturity of their sound which really shows through on the way the classic tracks evolved over 15 years. Live always have never really been my thing, but this one I enjoy. 

Floatie - Voyage Out: The debut album from the Chicago four-piece indie band was released in March. This album is a bit math rocky, but in a subdued way. The vocals fade into the background as the repetitive notes build in sequence and retreat back again. It feels like one of those albums that good to have on in the background. Nothing really stands out on it as it really feels like a continuous exploration of one sound.