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.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fiction Friday (63)

Hello again! It's another Friday and that means another book review thanks to the imposed reading placed on me by my desire for self-betterment via graduate school. One of the great things about the YA Literature class that I'm taking is that it's forcing me to read books outside of my usual interests. This week I had to delve into Chick Lit, a genre I'm not well-versed in or have any particular curiosity in discovering. I decided to read something by Meg Cabot, given her wide ranging popularity in the genre. I really hated this at the beginning, but grew to not hate it by the end. Enjoy.

How To Be Popular by Meg Cabot
(Harper, 2006)

Everyone wants to be popular, right? Well, maybe not everyone. But nobody wants to be the person whose name has become synonymous with making a blunder. That has been 16 year old Steph Landry's fate for the past five years, but she's determined to change fate with the help of an old self-help book found in the attic of her soon-to-be stepgrandmother's house. She diligently studies the lessons in the book as it directs her towards achieving popularity.

Becoming popular turns out not to be as complicated as Steph had always thought. Sure, it takes hours and hours of work, a complete attitude and fashion make-over, and sort of dissing the friends you currently have, but in the end, it's all worth it...or is it? As her master plan progresses and things begin to fall into place, Steph suddenly has everything she could have hoped for, except that it doesn't feel that way. And are the popular kids really into her, or just using her? Is she really in love with the most popular boy in school, and if so, what is she actually feeling for the boy who has always been her best friend?

The is a quick read, one that reads like a mash-up of every 80's John Hughes movie. It is extremely predictable for anyone who has seen those movies, and some major plot points feel far-fetched. It also simplifies the motives the behaviors of teens to a point that may feel condescending.

This is like junk food, but we all like junk food every now and again. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here, actually it's more than half over but for some unexplained reason, I forgot to post this yesterday. I'm continuing to work my way through some recent releases, and will continue doing that for the next few weeks. There's most rock on here, from space rock to lo-fi to garage rock. All in all an interesting week of music with promises of great things to come. Enjoy.

Ruby the Hatchet - Planetary Space Child: The third album from the Philly heavy psych sees them venturing into space rock, as the title would suggest. As a result, it's much more wandering than their previous records, and less heavy...but not any less entertaining. They show growth as musicians on this record. It has some 70's groove metal influences that really make it standout. "Killer," "The Fool," "Symphony of the Night," and "Lightning Strikes Again" are my personal favorites on this solid record.

Guided by Voices - How Do You Spell Heaven: Released back in August, this is the second album this year from the legendary indie lo-fi band. They continue to be in top form on this record and cease to run out flashes of brilliance to release on records. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish one record from another, but this one stood out as one of the best in a long time. "King 007," "Steppenwolf Mausoleum," and "Tenth Century" were my personal favorites.

Thee Oh Sees - Orc: The San Fran lo-fi pysch band has been one of the most prolific bands in recent years and they return with another quick flash of an album. While their earlier stuff was always a little hit or miss, they've really come into their own over the past few years. They keep up a frantic pace here, with tunes that slightly heavier than they usually do, but just as strange and enjoyable. "Jettisoned" and "Drowned Beast" are my personal favorites.

Lords of Altamont - The Wild Sounds of Lords of Altamont: Based in L.A., the four piece hard rock band have a raucous sound that is very L.A. glam rock influenced, which was always based in punk. It's no wonder they remind me of early L.A. Guns mixed with Dead Moon.  It's raw and fast, and good. These are short songs that pack a punch and was a nice surprise, given that I'd never listened to them though they've been around for nearly two decades. "Like A Bird," "Going Downtown," "Death on the Highway," and "Where Did You Sleep," are standouts.

Josh Ritter - Gathering: This is the indie folk rocker's ninth album, and while I'm familiar with his work to some degree, I admit to not having listening to much of his work. This album is steeped in Midwestern Americana roots that gives it a country folk feel, which I found refreshing in the current world of indie singer songwriter output. There is nothing here that is groundbreaking, just good folk music. "Showboat," "Train Go By," "Dreams," "Myrna Loy," and the great "When Will I Be Changed" with Bob Wier are standouts for me.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fiction Friday (62)

Well, one good thing about taking a graduate course that requires the reading of two novels per week is that I'm back into the reading groove and have been encountering YA books that I never would have picked up or come across if I hadn't been forced by way of assignments to chose them. This week we did Fantasy and instead of the usual fare, I picked up this book which was fascinating and about JuJu magic, something I knew little about but am certainly intrigued by. This book is packed with imagination, something you all know that I admire. Enjoy.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
(Viking, 2011)

Sunny is a bit of an outsider in her Igbo community in Nigeria. As she states in the beginning of the novel, she confuses people. She was born in America, then her parents returned to Nigeria. So she is American and Igbo. But neither of those qualities are what truly make her an outsider, being an albino is mostly to blame for that. In Igbo communities, albinos are thought of as people who are half ghost, having one part of themselves existing in the spirit world.

Sunny never believed that superstition, at least not until she sees a vision of the end of the world in the flame of a candle. With the help of her mysterious new friends, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha, she begins to learn the secrets hidden within her community, and in her own past. Perhaps the superstitions are more than simple folklore? Perhaps Sunny really does have a connection to the spirit world? But will her connection, and the juju magic that she learns really be enough to put an end to the Black Hat killer's murder spree or prevent the end of the world from actually happening?

This was a unique kind of fantasy novel, one that was so full of effortless imagination. Nothing felt forced or over-explained. There were moments where I wished it would have gone into more explanation, but I also enjoyed how it left a lot for the reader  to imagine. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup

The weekend is here and with it comes the return of the Roundup format. This week I continue to share my ramblings of some fall autumns that I'd been excited about. It's all indie rock on this list, but a wide range of indie rock so hopefully it won't feel boring. Some really great records on here, a few that will probably end up on my favorite albums of the year. Others were a little disappointing, but not terrible. I hope you all can find something on here that's worth checking out. Enjoy.

Wolf Parade - Cry Cry Cry: The Canadian indie band reformed last year and finally released their first new material in seven years. This was one of my favorite bands of the last decade, consisting of two of my favorite songwriters, so needless to say, I was looking forward to this. I'm glad to say it's just as good as their best work. It's the kind of indie rock that was so prevalent in the last decade but isn't made any more. It's emotional, powerful, and void of any pop influences. The Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Moonface) songs are as brilliant as I'd expect, with "Lazarus Online," "Flies on the Sun," and "Baby Blue." Dan Boeckner's (Handsome Furs) tunes are catchy, with "Incantation," "You're Dreaming," and "Artificial Life" . The balance is what makes them such a great pairing, as exhibited on "Weaponized." One of my favorites of the year. 

Black Pistol Fire - Deadbeat Graffiti: The first album from the Austin based blues rock band is perhaps their best yet. This is one of those bands that seems to get better and better with each record, perfecting their garage blues rock sound. Their early albums reminded me of The White Stripes, but they seem to be moving toward their own sound and have finally claimed it. This album blends the garage rock style with a gritty Southern blues that reminds me more of a wilder Kings of Leon "Youth and Young Manhood." There aren't any weak tracks on here, but "Bully," "Speak of the Devil," "Hearts of Habit," and "Coattails" are standouts in my opinion.

Andrew Bird - Ecolocations: River: This the second release in Bird's Ecolocations series, following 2015's "Canyon", with a standard album released between the tow. These minimal instrumental records are mood pieces meant to reflect a state of calm that the locations typically convey. As is to be expected from an album like this, it's very much a mood piece that best exists in the background. "Gypsy Moth" is my personal favorite track on here. Not essential, but fans will appreciate it.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - The Wild: This is the fourth album from the Toronto indie band. Coming nine years after their outstanding debut, this is their finest album. Though I've enjoyed all of their work, this record feels complete and triumphant. The honesty that comes through on these americana inspired rock tunes is both dark and inspirational. "Beacon Hill," "Dead / Alive," "Alright," "Selfish Dreams," and "Wild Grin" are my personal favorites.

Milburn - Time: After ten years, the Sheffield band returns with their third album. As they were in the past, they continue to be a less interesting version of Arctic Monkeys, and not quite as catchy as The Fratellis. They are certainly in the second tier of pubrock bands of the last decade and half that have come out of England, but they are still enjoyable. By no means is this essential, but it's worth checking out if you enjoy the genre.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fiction Friday (61)

I continue to make my way through a pile of YA novels for my current graduate course and am back to share my thoughts on the latest one. This week, I had to read a selection in the "street fiction" genre, which I must say, I find the name of the genre to be slightly racist as it's all about black urban teens. But not all black teens are "street" and not all "street" teens are black, so it kind of bothers me and I can't help but feel there is a marginalization going on here. That said, I enjoyed the book that I read. Told in alternating letters written between a boyfriend in jail and his girlfriend on the outside. There were rare moments in the text where I felt the voices were a little off, but not enough to turn me off. Enjoy.

Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon
(St. Martin's Griffen, 2005)

Antonio and Natasha are madly in love and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. But when Antonio is sent “upstate” for the murder of his dad, all their hopes and dreams for the future fall into jeopardy. No longer able to spend their days hanging out together in Harlem or even see each other face-to-face, they write each other letters to stay close. But can their love survive if they are separated from each other?

Told in alternating letters, this novel set in the early '90s details the strain that circumstances take on young love. Young love is hard enough to keep alive under the best of circumstances, but when you add an obstacle like a 10year felony sentence, it is nearly impossible for the two lovers not to grow apart. Antonio has his own demons to face as he comes to realize the harsh reality of his circumstances, meanwhile Natasha slowly realizes that she can't put her life on hold. And though it's clear that these two are growing apart, you never stop rooting from to pull through.

While this is a compelling love story on the surface, under the surface there is much to think about and consider. The backdrop of this love story is the toll heavy incarceration of black males has on the communities and families in their lives, the racially unbalanced legal system in our country, and the struggle facing those who try to raise themselves up from poverty and hardship. Written in an honest, straightforward style that pulls no punches, this is a compelling novel about teen life in a specific place and specific time that can be universally impactful.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Weekend Music Roundup LIVE Edition

We interrupt this regularly scheduled posting to bring you a special Roundup that focuses on a concert the Missus and I attended last night in Hudson, NY. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of his debut album (recently re-pressed on vinyl in a limited run, and naturally acquired by me), Elvis Perkins played the entire album. This was one of only three shows where this was happening, and he was accompanied by all the people who played on that original album. It was one of those rare nights that was just as special for the audience as it was for the performers. 

For those of you who are not aware of this album, it is easily one of the best records made during the last decade. It's one of those perfect combinations of beauty, sadness, and hidden joy. There are only a handful records that capture that same mixture as effectively. Astral Weeks and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea come to mind, but like those records, this one is unique in it's sound.

There are two of my favorite songs from the album, recorded last night. This is a record that should not be missed, so if you've missed it, now is the time to correct that mistake.