Saturday, December 9, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the weekend, the first of the season where snow is expected here in the Hudson Valley. The whole day has that snow feel and it's nice and seasonal and perfect for staying inside and listening to music. It's been another week of new releases that I've been looking forward to. Most were as good as expected, though there was one that was a bit of let down. You can't win them all though, so I'll take it. Hopefully there's something here you'll want to check out. Enjoy.

Electric Wizard - Wizard Bloody Wizard:  The ninth album from the now legendary UK sludge metal band may just be their finest album to date, which is saying a lot considering how much I love this band. It was a bold move to name it after Sabbath's classic, but it lives up to the name. Since their early heavy days, they've embraced psych metal more and more over their past few releases.  "Necromania," "Wicked Caresses," and "Mourning of the Magicians" are standouts on a fantastic record.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon: Noel's third album since leaving Oasis doesn't stray far from the sound he's established for his new project. It's hyper-produced and filled with lots of guitars, the marked difference on here is the lowered vocals, which I actually believe to be a mistake. Noel's voice gets lost in the sound, falling into background noise. It picks up on the second half, after starting off very sub-expectations. "Black and White Sunshine," "Be Careful What You Wish For," and "Dead Man in the Water" are standouts. It sounds more like an album Ian Brown or Johnny Marr would put out than anyone associated with Oasis. It's okay, but Liam's album is better.

Langhorne Slim - Lost at Last Vol. 1: The seventh album from the NYC based singer songwriter is another gem to add to his catalog. After a slightly disappointing album two years ago, this is a return to the stellar form of 2012's The Way We Move. Though I still prefer that album, this is one of the better folk rock albums of the year. His storytelling has always been one of his strengths, along with his pickin' skills, both of which shine on this record. "Life is Confusing," "House of My Soul," "Never Break," and "Alligator Girl" are my personal favorites. 

Kadavar - Rough Times: The fourth album from the German stoner metal band is their best since their 2012 debut. Though I've enjoyed all of their work, this one shows some real growth as they delve into the heavy psych genre with great success. With this album, they've cemented themselves as one of the premiere bands of the genre. "Die Baby Die," "Tribulation Nation," "The Lost Child," and the title track are among my favorites.

Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps: The debut album from the L.A. indie singer songwriter is a truly beautiful piece of moody folk that reminds me a bit of Conor Oberst in it's honesty (who guests on this album), and a bit of Catpower in it's soft strength. A truly beautiful album that is perfect for early mornings (or late nights that turn into early mornings). "Scott Street," "Would You Rather," and "Killer" are standouts on a wonderful debut.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fiction Friday (66)

As the current grad quarter comes to a close, so does my reading marathon. Though I still have a few more Fiction Fridays ready to go, they will once again become far less frequent than they've been during the past few months. It was great to be forced to read so much YA fiction over these past few weeks and I'm glad I was able to share them with you all. For the past few weeks, I concentrated on Graphic Novels, which was a good excuse to read a bunch that had been sitting on my To-Read list for a long time, including this one which I bought several years ago with the intention of reading it right away. Enjoy.

Saturn Apartments Vol. 1 by Hisae Iwaoka
(Viz, 2011)

In the future, the entire Earth has been declared a nature preserve and humans have taken to living in a manmade structure orbiting 35,000 kilometers above the surface. The structure consists of three levels of apartment complexes, with the wealthy inhabiting the top, sunlit floor and the lower classes living on the dingy bottom floor where it is too risky, and far too expensive to ever clean the windows. After graduating junior high, Mitsu goes to work in the guild responsible for cleaning the windows on the structure, the same job his father did before a tragic accident sent him spiraling down to the surface. The work is dangerous, but Mitsu continues with it, hoping he might uncover some secret about his father’s accident. During the course of his work, the windows give him a glimpse into the private lives of the Saturn Apartments’ many inhabitants. Mitsu learns that people are a lot like the window, and that there is much to discover if one looks below the surface.

Amazing art and very interesting, subtle story. I can't wait to read Vol. 2, which is sitting on my shelf. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

Entering the last few weekends of the year, I'm frantically trying to catch up on some 2017 releases and offer my thoughts on a few of them this week. It's a pretty mixed selection of bands that I've been following for years. Some were nice surprises, others not so much, but all in all, an interesting week of listening, not so much musically as simply for personal reference to my own not so distant past. More to come next week, so make sure you tune in. Enjoy.

Radio Moscow - New Beginnings: This is the sixth album from the hard rock trio, which has new members joining founder and core contributor Parker Griggs. This is another band, like last week's Buffalo Killers that is a bit of a classic rock throwback band, though on this record they leave the '70s hard rock sound in the rear-view a little bit more than on previous albums. It's heavier and faster than they were, but still blues based. "Driftin'," "Last to Know," and the title track are my favorites on a solid album, but one that I wish had a little more diversity. Too much of it sounds the same to be truly great.

Gwar - The Blood of Gods: The 14th album by the thrash medal outfit is their first record since founding singer Oderus Urungus returned forever to the Underworld. Blother, the founding bass player, takes the lead on this record which is certainly more traditional metal than some of the band's other offerings. Never one to take themselves seriously, this is exactly what it is supposed to be, fun metal that takes the music seriously if not the industry. "Swarm," "Fuck This Place," and "Phantom Limb" are my personal favorites.

Starsailor - All This Life: After eight years of silence, the Brit Pop band returns with their fifth album. There was an undeniable beauty to the sadness on their debut sixteen years ago that I still identify with. Later albums saw them move farther into pop rock, and this album represents their rebirth into that genre. Those who follow my Roundup will not be surprised to find that I'm not such a fan of this change. This is one of those albums that's okay if it's on, but not one I'd put on. At best, it's tolerable and mildly entertaining, but in the wrong mood, I could see myself hating it. 

Masta Killa - Loyalty is Royalty: The Wu-Tang member's fourth solo record comes just as the full Clan releases their new album, and that's both good and bad in a way. It's nice that the Wu should get some visibility with the two releases, but it's not so great for Killa that his album is far outdone by the Wu. While this is classic Clan rap, it suffers from being uneven (as does the Wu album to be fair). But one of things that makes the Wu so appealing is the variety of styles the members bring. And while this album has the typical slew of guest appearances, it's far from being as dynamic as the group's effort. Worth listening to if your a Wu fan.

David Gilmour - On An Island: Released in 2006, this was Gilmour's first solo album in over 20 years, and only his third as of then. This is a very quiet, moody record. When Gilmour is playing guitar, it's as brilliant as ever, but the album suffers from its own quietness. There are a few standout tracks, but even more cringe worthy tracks that makes this one that even hardcore fans could do without, though I would still recommend giving it a listen, because as I said, when Gilmour plays, it's always great to listen to.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fiction Friday (65)

As we enter the last month of this quickly passing year, my reading habits have continued at a frantic pace. For the next few weeks, you'll be seeing a lot of graphic novel reviews from me as I chose that genre for the focus of my final project in the class that is responsible for this burst in reading accomplishments. This week I look at one of the more cherished graphic novels of the past decade, one whose art and subject matter are exceptional. Enjoy.

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
(Top Shelf, 2008)

Ruthie has a thing for insects. She collects them in jars which she compulsively arranges and rearranges on the shelves in her room, convinced that if she can just get them in the correct order they might open a door to another world. When her obsessions evolve into episodes of hallucinogenic visions, the adults in her life take her to see a doctor who prescribes medicine that might help her cope with the onslaught of her acute schizophrenia, a disease that has ravaged her grandmother and also effects her brother, though his goes undiagnosed in the story. The visions continue, and grow stronger, until they threaten to swallow Ruthie whole.

Having done a lot of research on this disease for my own novel on the subject, Life is But a Dream, I can say this is an engaging and heartbreaking view of the disease that really captures the panic felt by those who suffer from it. The one thing I will say is that I felt as though the book didn't explain what was happening thoroughly enough for younger readers. I would have liked to see Ruthie be a little more aware that something was wrong with her, but I understand the choice that Nate Powell made as a way of remaining honest about a character who was lost in her own illness.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The holiday weekend marches on, the weekend that began two days ago for most of you. After the blockbuster new releases that made up last week's Roundup, this week is also made up of new releases from bands that I've followed for a long time, though less blockbustery. I was really pleased with these albums, most exceeded my expectations. There's a nice mix of varying rock here, so hopefully you'll all find something to listen to out of this offering. Enjoy.

Buffalo Killers - Alive and Well in Ohio: Eleven years after their debut the Cincinnati band release their sixth studio album (which this is, despite the title that would suggest it's a live album). This has always been a throwback band, bringing a classic rock sound that is authentic and engaging. They channel their John Lennon on this album as many of songs fit the type of groove he went for on his solo records. This is my favorite of their albums thus far, and I've been following them since the beginning.

Nik Turner - Life in Space: The former Hawkwind frontman continues his space odyssey on his new album, released at the end of September. His last three records, released over the past four years, have revived the legendary Space Rock sound that Hawkwind trademarked back in the '70s. It's a guitar filled soundscape that tours through the regions of the mind's outerspace. "Why Are You?," "Back to Earth," and "End of the World" are standouts on this groove fest. 

The Horrors - V: The London neo-psych band's fifth album, not so cleverly titled V, is their first in three years. They don't stray far from the sound they worked to develop for the last record, a sort of psychedelic version of shoegaze. The result is that music that can sometimes lean toward the boring is kept interesting. They also throw in enough elements of their earlier punk style, albeit updated with an 80's vibe, to make the album flow. "Pres Enter to Exit" "Machine," and "World Below" were standouts for me.

Stars - There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light: The Montreal indie pop band's first album in three years is the first of theirs that I've checked out since 2010's The Five Ghosts. I was pretty into this band during the last decade but got kind bored, I guess. This album reminded me why I was into them to begin with. They embrace their pop and disco sound, much like St. Etienne, and don't try to disguise it as artrock the way fellow Canadians Arcade Fire have done. "Privilege," "Alone," "The Gift of Love," and "California, I Love That Name" are my personal favorites on this enjoyable album.

Carved in Bone - Higher Consciousness: The second album from the Spokan WA metal band is heavy sludge metal that is is one riff after another that pounds out of the speakers. It holds some similarities with fellow Pacific Northwest band Earth with their instrumental soundscapes. It can get a little repetitive but that speaks a little to my patience with instrumental drone metal. "Mountains of God," and "Against the Grain" were my personal favorites. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fiction Friday (64)

On this Black Friday, my tour of recent reads continues with the first in a string of graphic novels that I'll be posting about in the coming weeks. I begin with this one as it is considered the first modern graphic novel and because the award for best graphic novel is named after the author. This was an interesting read for that historical context alone, as well as being an interesting read on its own merit. Enjoy.

A Contract with God by Will Eisner
(Norton, 1978)

Billed as the "first" graphic novel, though that claim is debatable, this was a groundbreaking collection of four interwoven stories that offer glimpses into the lives of fictional inhabitants of a Bronx tenement building during the Great Depression. Like any great storyteller, Eisner blends humor with desperation, love with lust, and success with failure, giving these stories a depth that goes beyond the slimness of their pages.

As with any well-done graphic novel, the art adds to the meaning of the text in dramatic ways. The characters expressions tell the real emotional story of their plight. And what a great cast of characters it is! Having lived in NYC for a decade, granted 70 or so years after the story takes place, these types of people still existed in the city...though I believe they exist less so today than twenty years ago. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend has arrived and the Roundup has returned after a week off. This week's list is another look at some recent releases that I'd been looking forward to hearing. Some of these are bound to be big albums of the year and deservingly so. Others are more nostalgic listens for me, but didn't disappoint. As the holiday's approach, I enter my mad rush to listen to the albums from the year that I might have missed in order to finalize my thoughts on the year that was in music. Hopefully you are all doing the same. Enjoy.

Beck - Colors: The long delayed new album from the funky Scientologist is his much anticipated follow-up to 2014's masterpiece "Morning Phase." This album is his interpretation of modern pop rock and it's quite fantastic. Having released the first single from this album over a year and half ago, and subsequent releases over the past year, many of these songs are familiar, but it's nice to hear them as intended. "Wow," "Dear Life," "Up All Night," "No Distraction," "I'm So Free," and the title track are my personal favorites.

Queens of the Stone Age - Villains: For their first album in three years, the stoner metal band turned to Mark Ronson to produce it and give them a fresh sound. The combination works much better than I would've imagined. It has a more radio friendly sound that actually suits them well, while keeping their signature creepiness and rock riffs. "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," "The Way You Used to Do," "Domesticated Animals," and "Head Like a Haunted House" are standouts for me.

Wu-Tang - The Saga Continues: It's almost 25 years since the Wu burst onto the underground and ain't nuthin changed, still better protect ya neck because they're still coming. Their 11th studio album continues the material arts saga they began with, thought their lyrics take on a more conscious hip-hop feel, urging men in the community to step up and be fathers. The originals are back, along with great guest spots with Redman. "Lesson Learn'd," "Frozen," "Pearl Harbor," "G'd Up," and "Hood Go Bang!" are standouts for me. A definite for fans.

King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard - Sketches of East Brunswick: This is the third album this year from the Austrailan psych band. It mixes elements of jazz fusion with indie psych and ends up sound like a funkier Flaming Lips or a wilder Beck. This is a California of the mind kind of record that sets up a groove that runs throughout the record, and like all of their work, it's definitely meant to be digested as a whole so the listener can be immersed in the atmosphere. It's different, and groovy, and for those reasons, I enjoyed it.

Sisters of Mercy - Some Girls Wander by Mistake: In the time before their debut, the goth band invaded the goth clubs with single after single that developed their trademark sound. Like The Cure and Joy Division, they reworked punk into something new, dark, and danceable. This '92 compilation captures the early years and some of their most iconic songs. "Floorshow," "Alice," "Temple of Love," "Anaconda" and their cover of The Stooges "1969" are my personal favorites.