Saturday, September 9, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Time once again to celebrate the week that was in my music listening. This was one of those weeks of exceptional albums, some of which were new discoveries, others were albums that exceeded expectations, and another was just something that was a surprise release. Mostly straight up rock on this list, with a few minor exceptions. Hopefully you'll find something on here to check out. Enjoy.

Brand New - Science Fiction: The rock band's fifth album is their first release in eight years and it's the album I've always been waiting for from them. While their last two records were both fine albums, both had moments that didn't appeal to me. This one is a complete album that showcases what the band does best, which is moody post-hardcore rock. There isn't a weak song on this album, making it their best since the demos for The Devil and God... and one of the most solid albums of the year so far.

Jamie Aaron Aux - Close the Circle: The Seattle singer/songwriter's third album was released in June and it's pretty awesome. This eerie psych folk record reminds me of some of my favorite work by Lightning Dust and Warpaint. Perfect for late night or early pre-dawn alone listening to create a wonderful moody experience. "Optiks," "Black Tourmaline," "Fake Gold" and "Sights in Overdrive" are among my favorites.

Mozzy - 1 Up Top Ahk: Though this Cali rapper has been incredibly active over the past three years, releasing a ton material, this was my first encounter with his work, but certainly won't be my last. The beets are exceptional and his flow is hypnotic. He reminds me a bit of 2Chainz, but seems to take his craft much more serious. There tales of criminal activity, but tales that feel genuine, and by that, I mean believable. He doesn't try to sell himself as something he isn't, a mistake too many hip hop artists make. He's not trying build himself into a legend, he's telling his story and it's up to you to decide whether it's legendary.

Ty Segall - Fried Shallots: The ever-prolific Ty continues his quest to be the most prolific artist around with this new EP that came out at the end of July. It's his signature fuzzed out sound, a little more fuzzed out than some of his more recent full-length albums, but no less fantastic. "When the Gulls Turn to Ravens," "Another Hustle," and "Is It Real" are standouts on this nice addition to his growing catalog.

Metallica - Self-Destruct: The 10th true studio album from the iconic thrash metal band was released late last year to pretty positive reviews as it sees a return to form from some recently poorly reviewed albums. This is the "Metallica" sound through and through, and in fact, there are moments throughout the album where you can almost hear parts of other songs coming through. It's not easy for a rock band, let alone a metal band, to remain relevant thirty years into their career, but this album manages to that. Certainly not on the same level as their 80's catalog, but can stand alongside their 90's catalog just fine. At times it almost feels like they are trying too hard, and perhaps there was no need to make this a double album. "Now that We're Dead," "Moth into the Flame," and "Am I Savage" were standouts for me.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Sound of Something Clawing Through

With a short break in the graduate school season, I've had some time to get back to work on writing. The new novel that I began a few weeks ago has turned into a nice stack of pages, which means the structure is now calling for me to get into the really crazy parts that I imagined when I cooked up this insane journey through the tortured imagination of my adolescent self. That's not to say there isn't insanity to be found in the existing chunk that has already been written, but the truly surreal is yet to come and I must admit that I'm excited for it.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The long weekend has arrived and with the extra day, there's plenty time for thinking about music and finding new sounds to discover. For this week, I took a few chances this week to listen to things I hadn't heard of before. As always with a gamble, some paid off better than others. Of course, I also threw in a few albums that I'd been looking forward to listening to. There's mostly rock on here, but several different varieties. Next weekend I'll get a little more diverse again. Until then, enjoy.

Sleepy Sun - Private Tales: On their fifth album, the San Fran psych rock band feels to have matured into one of the finer examples of the genre. This album is pure psych rock, not heavy psych, not psych folk, something few do very well. This album reminds me of Black Angels and even Morning After Girls and The Coral. "Crave," "Throes," "Reconcile," and "The Plea" are standouts on a really enjoyable album.

Savoy Brown - A Step Further: After their '67 debut, the British Blues band released six albums in their first three years, this being the fourth, and second released in 1969. Built around the classic British Blues sound, this album sees the sound taking a heavier turn that would continue throughout the '70s and eventually lead to blues based hard rock and heavy metal. The first side of the album is dynamite. The second half is a live set that is a little messy, but in a boozy sort of way that works for the style. 

Miraculous Mule - Two Tonne Testimony: The third album from the London blues rock band was released this past spring and is pretty much by-the-book hard blues rock. There's nothing on here that will surprise a listener educated in the genre, though young listeners will probably be impressed and seek out older bands that have done this sound before. "Where Monsters Lead," and "The Fear" are my personal favorites on a solid album, but nothing really essential.

American Opera - Small Victories: The debut album from the Michigan indie duo is an interesting blend of indie folk and emo that feels uneven while still quite listenable. It feels like one of those debut albums where the band has developed a few different styles and hasn't quite decided where to focus their attention. They will get there. "Jack Pine" and "The Farewell" are standouts for sure.

Black Kids - Rookie: The second album from the Florida indie pop band was a pleasant surprise for me. I tend to steer away from indie pop, but took a chance on this one. Heavy new wave influences make this record very enjoyable. It feels a lot like The Kooks with a healthy dose 80's pop thrown in, which is fine by me. There's absolutely nothing original about this, but it doesn't make it any less fun. A nice ode to teen longing and 80's rhythms with "Illin'," "Rookie," and the fascinating "Obligatory Drugs" as standouts.

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.