Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all the best for the new year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fiction Friday (23)

On Christmas morning, I woke up early to finish reading the last ten pages The Book Thief, a book I had started reading around Thanksgiving. I'm not sure why I put off reading this novel for long. Part of it lies in the fact that until recently I didn't know it was a World War II novel, which is a genre I find fascinating. Another part of it has to do with my avoidance of books that have become overwhelming bestsellers. I often find myself disappointed with books that such a wide audience finds abundance praise. But I put those feelings aside for this book, and I'm glad I did. Enjoy.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
(Knopf 2006)

It makes me happy when I read a book that has spent so much time on the bestseller's list and it turns out to be as rewarding, and deserving, as this novel was.

From the opening scene where a six-year old Liesel watches her little brother die in the snow of a train yard, The Book Thief is a gripping story of a child living through a world that ceases to make sense. As she goes to live with strangers in a strange town during the onset of World War II in Germany, Liesel finds ways to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances that surround her. She takes comfort in the books she periodically steals from various places, and in the love of her foster father Hans. But just as she begins to settle into a stable environment, her world is once again turned upside down when her family takes in a young man named Max, vowing to hide him from Nazis.

Max's presence has a dramatic impact on Liesel, opening her eyes to the absurdity of Jewish persecution in her homeland. The two of them quickly becomes close. They are both haunted in their dreams by those who they've left behind, and they are both refugees from their past. In Liesel, Max discovers a new wonder for life, living through her experiences. And when circumstances force him to leave, Liesel once again must try to find her place and come to terms with the reality of life in war time Germany.

Even though the story is bleak, it's humanity is uplifting and encouraging.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!


Hoping you all have a wonderfully bizarre Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

After making the statement last week that I had finally rounded up the releases of 2013 that I needed to hear before making a best of list, I was brought back to reality this week and realized that there were still many more that needed my attention. I'm still trying to focus on the albums that have an outside chance of making an impact, but wanted to share with you some of the other 2013 releases that have made their way to my ears over the past two weeks. The next roundup will be my Best of...so enjoy these takes before the big reveal.

Pusha T - My Name is My Name: The second album from Pusha T has been getting rave attention lately. I've seen it included on most of the best of the year lists. And while it's certainly legitimate quality hip-hop, I couldn't get past the idea that I was listening to somebody trying to sound like Kanye West. The beats and his flow are both reminiscent of Yeezus. But where Kanye takes the style to new levels, Pusha T seems content with nearly reaching the heights West has set. That said, an album that sounds that similar to one of the best of the year is worth a listen.

Gwar - Battle Maximus: The thrash metal band's 13th album was released this fall, 25 years after their debut. Gwar is the novelty band that has never felt like a novelty because of their intense commitment to making brutal, and often brilliant, metal. The intensity is still there on this album, even if it does feel a bit uneventful at times. A decent enough thrash album, but probably their weakest in quite some time. 

Body/Head - Coming Apart: Released in September, this is the debut album from Kim Gordon's new experimental noise rock band. I gave it a listen after seeing it on a Best of the Year list and I just couldn't get into it. Kim was never my favorite part of Sonic Youth, and typically I found her songs to be boring. This was pretty much a solid mess in my opinion, all experimentation without innovation. But random noise has never really been my thing. Others may love it.

Colin Meloy - Colin Meloy Sings The Kinks: This is the fourth Colin Meloy Sings... EP from the lead singer of The Decemberists. It follows Morrissey, Shirley Collins, and most recently Sam Cooke way back in 2008. This came out last month and certainly seemed to be the most promising, not only because I love The Kinks, but because it had the potential to be the most different from the original. Perhaps the oddest part of this is the song choice, staying away from their iconic songs and picking lesser known tracks like "Hairy Rag," and "The Way Love Used to Be," both of which he does a fantastic job with. "Waterloo Sunset" is the best known track on here and his version isn't much different except for his unique vocal style. A welcomed addition to what is turning into a must have series.

The View - Tight Hopes EP: One of the most under appreciated UK indie rock bands of the last half-decade, The View has made some great albums, and a handful of perfect songs since their debut six years ago. This just released EP containing four songs is their first released music since last year's Cheeky for a Reason album. The sound is what we've come to expect at this point, intelligent observations of society delivered with brashness. Another catchy rock release from them, with "Addicted" and the "Where" being the two real stand-outs. "Where" captures the full sound of their most recent work and is quite beautiful.

The Flaming Lips - Peace Sword: Released last month, this is essentially an EP inspired and recorded for the movie Ender's Game. The title track was used in the movie, and has a Yoshimi Battles the Robots vibe to it. The rest of the tracks were apparently offered to the produces of the movie, but they decided not to use them. This could definitely be a continuation of The Terror, their very good album released earlier this year. They've really been on a roll lately, reinventing their psychedelic sound into beautiful and spacious mood pieces. This is a must for fans of their recent work.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Tis the Season

With Christmas only a few short days away, I decided it was about time to start doing some holiday shopping. I'm not usually this late on the uptake. Generally I'm pretty good about gift shopping, but things sort of snuck up on me this time around. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I didn't decorate the house until this past week. And then it suddenly dawned on me that it was far too late to shop online, unless I was willing to pay more for shipping than I did for the items I was getting. 

Today I did the rounds, walking up and down the main street of river town in search of quality merchandise to bring smiles to the faces of those I enjoy. The worst problem I have with Christmas shopping is that I always find tons of things I would like, but never much that I think others would appreciate. I refuse to buy disposable gifts, or gag gifts...the last thing this world needs is more clutter. I try to stick with books as gifts, but then what to do with those people who read infrequently, or even worse, those who read ebooks? 

Basically, what it comes down to is that I could use another week. Maybe that's what I should ask Santa for...and a way to adjust the alarm clock on my cats! These are things which I firmly believe should be within his magical realm.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Staying Afloat

(illustration from www.milimbo.com)

The creation of stories is filled with traps. It's the hazards of a literary life. Sometimes your characters run away from you. Sometimes the story decides to shut down far before you've finished. And then other times you simply sink into the pages of your own writing, fighting against words that threaten to pull you under.
This past week I started writing a chapter in a the new novel I've been working on, and from the outset, I had a feeling that the chapter was leading me in the wrong direction. I decided to go with it anyway. I figured I'd let it play out and see where it went. Eventually it led to the right place, but the four pages that preceded it still weren't working. So the other day I made the choice to cut those pages and just open the chapter at the point where the story felt like it was getting back on schedule. It turned out to be the right choice and things have been progressing nicely since then.
The deleted section was well written, but you have to learn to make the tough choices when writing. It's a cutthroat process. Show no mercy and you'll benefit from it. That's what I've learned recently. Let's hope it continues to pay off.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

As the year quickly comes to a close, this was the week I went through my wishlist to get a handle on 2013 releases that had still eluded me. I never like to do my annual best of list without being diligent. So I went through and gave a listen to records that seemed like they had a possibility to sneak into the final list. I listened to a lot of albums, but have decided to just review the ones that really stood out for me. The others will get thrown in later on, because though they didn't seem to have a shot at best-of status, they are worthy of mention at some point. Enjoy.

Brendan Benson - You Were Right: There's a great line in one of Benson's earlier albums when he sings about a girlfriend telling him "You're not John Lennon." And while he's not, he's been constantly recording wonderful indie rock albums for nearly 20 years. On his sixth solo album, released a few weeks ago, he's produced his best solo material since 2005's The Alternative to Love. His recording career with Jack White, as a member of The Raconteurs has helped him free up his sound and be less concerned with making radio hits, though there are many radio friendly songs on this record. A genuine and solid album.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros -  Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: The third album from the L.A. based psychedelic folk group came out in the summer, and was widely ignored. The band is mostly known for the song "Home" from their 2009 debut, but have grown considerably over the years. I finally got around to listening to this album this week, and it's pretty fantastic. It's hippy groove folk is heavily influenced by Paul McCartney quirkiness and Beatles mantra of all you need is love. Super enjoyable, and at times, quite powerful.

Turin Brakes - We Were Here: Over the last decade, this London indie rock duo had made some quality records that have gone largely unsung. After a three year break, they released this album in the fall and it's among their most consistent throughout, and one of their best. The Pink Floyd inspired "Blindsided Again" is one of the highlights. They've also been able to mix classic rock, Britpop, and folk rock elements in an effective way. Not to be missed.

San Fermin - San Fermin: This debut chamber pop album was released in February, but I didn't know about until this week. I found it on Spin's 50 best albums of the year and I can see why it was included. It's sound it's very lush and full, and feels fresh despite treading ground often explored in trip-hop over the years. Yet it tones down the beats and plays out like an up tempo album played at a slower speed. With 17 tracks, it's a very fulfilling listen, conjuring many different soundscapes to enjoy.
William Tyler - Impossible Truth: The second solo album from the one-time Silver Jews guitarist was released last spring on Merge records. It consist of 8 instrumental tracks of American primitivism acoustic bliss. This is one of those perfect morning albums that slowly gets you into the flow of the day. Wonderful stuff.

Tricky - False Idols: As a member Massive Attack, Tricky exploded onto the scene in the early 90's, and then took over the trip-hop world with his first few solo albums. The albums that followed showed flashes of the old rebellious brilliance, but often failed to deliver a complete record. This is his 11th album, and the first I've paid attention to since 2008's Knowle West Boy. It's also his best in over a decade, capturing the tension of his earlier albums. It's a very club friendly record with perfect hazy beats and beautiful guest vocals. Like all his best work, it feels like the soundtrack to some Blade Runner underworld.
Earl Sweatshirt - Doris: The second full-length album from the L.A. rapper is one of the best hip-hop records I've heard all year. It combines traditional hardcore rhythms with abstract hip-hop influences. His flow is a breath of fresh air given the way every rapper these days seems to try very hard to bite somebody else's style. Earl has his own easy going style, spitting rhymes about this that and whatever and not caring about the image he projects. It's definitely a stoner rap album, and satisfies that niche to perfection.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The World of Animal Children

Over the past two months, I've started drawing and painting again. I used to do a lot of drawing, but in the last few years I haven't made the time, focusing instead on digital collage and a few basic character sketches. What I forgot in that time was how much the artistic process can inspire my writing process. By working on an art piece, it leads my mind in different directions and invites stories to be born.

I've recently finished a series of half-animal, half-children illustrations titled The World of Animal Children. It's a theme that's always intrigued me. I wrote an entire chapter book series on the premise after all. (Of course, CatKid was included.) Currently I have a renewed conviction that artists must have multiple outlets in order to keep their imagination fresh.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

This week I decided to track down some albums that have been on my wishlist for years in some cases. I'm a very loyal listener. When a band makes an album that I really like, I will usually give every album they make afterwards a chance, within limits of course. A string of several bad records is a sure way to get bumped. The most difficult part of being a loyal listener is when a band falls into obscurity and it becomes nearly impossible to get a hold of their newest release. I've recently been using Xbox Music and have been very impressed with the scope of their catalog, and the ability to add to your collection for constant access. So I went back to find some things I'd been on the hunt for and as a result, it has been a very satisfactory week of music pleasure. Enjoy

Peter Murphy's Carver Combo - Let The Fire In: Five years ago one of my favorite albums was the debut from this Stockholm band. Seven years later, the follow-up to "One Sin Between Me and the Lord" was released and I finally got to listen to it this week. As with most Scandinavian indie bands, there's a permeating gloom that weaves through the music that makes everything sound like haunted Dicken's era street performers washed up on the shores of time. The five years were well spent as this is a superior album, which is saying something considering the other was fantastic. "Rapture Girl," "We Are the Boys," "Let the Fire In," and "Black Crow" are outstanding tracks among a fully solid listing. For fans of Madrugada, Johnassi, or Kaizers Orchestra.

Lungfish - Necrophones: Released in 2000, this is the Baltimore post-hardcore band's ninth album with Discord records. In the '90's this was one of my favorite bands, and I religiously purchased each new album. In recent years, I've been trying to catch up on the ones I missed. This is the first of the final 3 albums from the past decade. By this time they had morphed from the traditional post-hardcore sound to something more hymn based. There has always been a spiritual side to their sound, and it comes through heavily on this album that feels freak-folk inspired. A very solid album, like all of their albums.

The Sixth Great Lake - Sunday Bridge: In 2001 this Brooklyn indie folk band released their debut album on the great Kindercore label. As a member of the Elephant 6 collective, I was all over that album, and it was a true gem.  This record, their only other album, was only released on vinyl in 2003 and was very hard to find, though I've tried many times. This week I finally got to listen to it, and it's equally as compelling as their first. They have a country folk feel, much like later day Decemberists and rooted in the quieter side of the Grateful Dead. "The Saint," "House of Cards," and "Twenty-Three Songs" are standouts.

The Natural History - People That I Meet: This Brooklyn band broke onto the scene in 2002 with the release of their phenomenal self-titled debut EP. It was five songs of pure brilliance that never managed to get farther than the city clubs. They followed it up the next year with a full-length album "Beat Beat Heartbeat," which while solid, contained the songs from the EP and only a few new ones, hardly enough to keep excitement going in the city that never sleeps. They disbanded two years later, yet this self-released album showed up in 2006. I'd been looking for it for years, and finally was able to get to listen to it this week. While it lacks the furious impact that the first EP had on me, this is very good indie rock record that really fits the sounds coming out of the city at that time.
L.A. Guns - L.A. Guns: When I got my first CD player in 1988, this was the first CD I ever bought, and I still have it. That didn't stop me from snatching up an original vinyl a few months back at a record fair. I've always held firm that other than "Appetite for Destruction," this is the best glam rock album to come out of L.A. in the mid-80's. Given that the bands both bloomed from the same root, Hollywood Rose, it's not surprising that this has the same sleazy attitude as early GNR. Every song on here is top quality and I've thoroughly enjoyed spinning the fuzzy warbles and rocking out.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Walking Dead Midseason...and the Prison Falls


By the time Season 4 began in October, The Walking Dead had already established itself as the best show on television with an exceptional third season, and by having Breaking Bad go off the air. But as is typical with this show, it always seems to get off to a sluggish start as they try to establish the set-up for the season's new story. This season was no different as we had to watch Farmer Rick and the jolly settlement in the prison. The season was supposed to show a fresh start for the characters, but as the episodes rolled on, it became clear that in there is no starting over in the world they inhabit.
The prison faced a decimating challenge, shattering the peaceful illusion we saw in the first episode. And though there is no fresh start for anyone, we saw the character's go through significant changes. Rick shuns leadership roles, Carol has grown strong, Daryl has become friendly, and Carl has grown literally and figuratively. These changes come into play in interesting ways as they face the crisis of disease within the prison and help shape the course of the future.
Even in a half-season, the show chose to divide that into two parts. After the prison crisis concludes, the next few episodes focused on the return of The Governor. We pick up following him after the brutal events that closed out last season. We see this ruthless man whither and change before our eyes, almost to the point where we believe he has changed, just as the other characters have. The Governor finds a new family, a new daughter who replaces Penny, and new reason to live. But old habits are hard to break, and once he feels this new family is in danger, his ruthless instincts return. The prison is the only place that can keep them safe. As a result, the midseason finale was destined to end in a showdown in the making for two seasons.
The build-up did not disappoint. In one of the best climatic scenes in television memory, the battle for the prison was epic and surprising. And as is the rule of this world, there were no winners. Major characters were lost, other's missing, and all changed forever. February can't come soon enough.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

Alright, the Roundup is back on track this week. After weeks of listening to my existing music collection, I've once again entered the world of checking out new sounds. This also marks the beginning of the winter sounds, those haunting and eerie records that I find so enjoyable in the grey, cold days of the coming months. Some of these are new releases, while others are albums from the past few years that I've finally gotten around to hearing. Hopefully there's something for everyone on here. Enjoy.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mind: For the past 15 years or so, King Creosote has been releasing his style of indie folk, most of it rarely reaching across the pond to the States. Several years ago I came across one of his albums and was taken in by the sweep of its simplicity and storytelling. He reminds me a lot of Alasdir Roberts (of Appendix Out). This 2011 album is a collaboration with electronic artist Jon Hopkins, who wisely doesn't impose his style on the King, but rather uses subtle textures which add to the musician's sound. A very compelling folk album, perfect for a cloudy Sunday like today.

Maple Bee - Chasing Eva: This 2004 album is the first Melanie Garside album released under the Maple Bee name and was re-released in 2010 with a bonus disc of material. As the bassist for Queenadreena, and sister of that band's iconic singer Katie Jane Garside, it's no surprise that the record has a similar spooky beauty to it. Given that Katie Jane is one of my favorite musicians ever, I was already predisposed to enjoy Melanie's work. Her voice is similar to her sister's, if not quite as babylike, though she sounds less like her on this album than she does on 2008's Home. There's a quiet delicateness to this record that heightens its mood. To me this feels like the record that might be playing in the underground clubs of a place like the City of Lost Children, perhaps that's a product of the Marianne Faithful quality to the songs. This will certainly be getting a lot of play over the winter.

Moonface - Julia with Blue Jeans On: Spencer Krug has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters of the last decade, and pretty much of all time, winning me over with his wealth of wonderful projects (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, etc.) This is his fourth release under the Moonface name, used for solo projects. Released last month, this joins the previous releases as another compelling record. This is also the most straightforward Moonface album, and the most reminiscent of Sunset Rubdown. "November 2011" and "Back is Back in Style" are my personal favorites.

Midlake - Antiphon: The Texas indie folk band's fourth album, and first since 2010's The Courage of Others, was finally released in November. This is an album I'd been looking forward to for quite some time, but not without reservations. I knew it was going to difficult to follow the last album, which was a near masterpiece of neo-psychedelic folk. I'm happy to say this album feels like a continuation of its predecessor. The haunting vocals are accompanied by a wash of Pink Floyd rhythms, creating a beautiful sound. Midlake has always been able to stand out among the wave of bands using similar textures and influences, and once again have succeeded in making an outstanding album.

Andrew Bird - I Want to See Pulaski at Night: Released earlier this month, this EP is really basically one long music piece divided into seven parts. Three instrumental tracks proceed and follow the vocal title track. The instrumental tunes are achingly beautiful string numbers featuring Bird's trademark style. The title track is pure chamber folk beauty, once again showing that Andrew Bird is still riding a tide of excellence that began with two outstanding albums released last year. A powerful song that only makes me more anxious for whatever comes next.

Lana Del Rey - Born to Die: Though released last year, I avoided the massive hype that surrounded this record. After reading many mediocre reviews, I was skeptical of this, assuming it to be just another record industry push. Then a few months ago a friend shared "Dark Paradise" on Facebook and I was pretty blown away. I sought out the album immediately and have to say I was super impressed. There is an overwhelming pulse of L.A. cool in the trip hop beats and starlet stories that flow through the tracks. Lana's voice is timelessly hip. At times she reminds me Paloma Faith, and Lilly Allen at other times. "Born to Die," "Off to the Races," and "Dark Paradise" are real standout songs.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Born Death Proof

Yesterday, after Thanksgiving dinner, it was time to settle in front of the television for the traditional evening movie. This year, movie was time was reserved for Death Proof, the Quentin Tarantino grindhouse flick from 2007. After all, what could be more in the spirit or the holiday than a stylish homage to homicidal B-Movie car flicks?
I avoided this film in theaters, partly because it was a four hour double feature with Planet Terror, and I just can't sit in a theater that long. Plus, I will admit to thinking it was a little foolish to spend $53 million to make a movie that was supposed to feel like a low budget flick. But that was also when I was feeling a little down on Quentin. I've since rediscovered my appreciation for his brand of crazy and finally got around to catching up on this missed film. Needless to say, it was pretty damn cool.
The film featured classic Tarantino character types, slightly off and ultra hip. Kurt Russell was spectacular as Stuntman Mike. His character was reminiscent Quentin characters from his Natural Born Killers script, both charismatic and dangerous. The girls he pursues felt straight out of his 90's cool period. In fact, much of their dialogue would have felt at home in Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. There were no dull lines, or even dull moments in the film.
As for the concerns that kept me away from it in the theaters, I couldn't have been more wrong to worry about them. The editing was an art form in its own, creating that B-Movie feel in an exciting and stylish way that never felt haphazard. But naturally the highlight of the film was the muscle car adrenaline. In a lot of ways, this is last of the original Tarantino films, before he went on to tackle more serious subject matter in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. This film definitely doesn't have the same kind of impact as his more celebrated films, but it certainly is a joyride and one I'm glad I finally went on.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Feeling Thankful

This Thanksgiving has taken on a different meaning for me this year. The importance of this day is not always what it seems. It's not about ritual traditions or the family dinners. It's not even really a celebration as much as it's a time for reflection. It's about finding something within you to be thankful for even when, on the outside, it may appear there is little to rejoice. Lately I've come to a new perspective on life, finding joy in unexpected places and allowing it to carry me through whatever darkness may linger. I hope everyone takes the time to find moments to appreciate and let them light the way.


Monday, November 18, 2013

We Will Miss You Barbara Park

One the most remarkable modern voices in children's literature passed away this weekend. Barbara Park was the author of dozens of picture books and middle grade novels, before making the leap to immortality with the creation of Junie B. Jones, everyone's favorite kindergartner. With 28 titles, and over 50 million copies sold, it remains one of the most popular series of all time for elementary school age kids. But at the age of 66, the voice behind this hilarious character has fallen silent.
On my Goodreads author page, I list Junie B. as one of my "influences" and for good reason. I first read Junie back in 1999, and was hooked from the first page. Before that, I had never considered, or even thought about writing chapter books. The series inspired me in a way that few books have. It opened my eyes to the idea of capturing the humor that comes naturally to kids. I owe my ability to find the child's voice within me to Barbara Park.
It's always sad when a storyteller is taken from us, but there's a comfort in knowing their spirit lives on in the stories they've left behind. Barbara will forever be with us, and will forever be entertaining children through one unforgettable character.
I'll leave off by sharing one the funniest things ever written, which can be found in Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl as Junie helps with her class graduation poem:
"Roses are Red, 
Violets are Blue,
Graduation is Here,
And Your Feet Smell Like Stink"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup (Throwback Edition)

I haven't been listening to any new music during the past few weeks for a number of reasons. The main reason is due to feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to digest everything. I also decided to reorganize my CD collection, and while doing so, I discovered a bunch of albums that I hadn't heard in a long time. Recently, I've been pulling some of those out and spending time reconnecting. So this week, I've chosen to share some of those albums with all of you. Enjoy.

The Cure - Standing on a Beach: I bought this CD when I was Sophomore in High School and couldn't afford to purchase the band's entire catalog. I've since acquired most of their work, and thus abandoned this Greatest Hits album. But when looking for something to listen to in the car the other day, I figured this might be perfect, and indeed it was. Chronicling the band's early work, pre-1986, it features some of their best songs. Dreamy post punk at its best.

Queenadreena - Live at the ICA: The only live record from one of my favorite bands of the last decade, born from the ashes of one of my favorite bands of the previous decade (Daisy Chainsaw). Recorded shortly after the release of their masterful The Butcher and the Butterfly album, the performance captures the explosive genius of the songs, and it's exceptionally well recorded for a live record. As always, KatieJane's in your face brilliance shines through.

Rob Zombie -Educated Horses: Recorded around the same time he was making The Devil's Rejects, this was a bit of a comeback album for the Pentagram Peter Pan. This is hillbilly metal that flat out rocks. I loved this record when it came out, but not having listened to it for a few years, I fell in love all over again. There are sinister tracks like "17 Year Locust," "Let it all Bleed Out," mixed with more digestible rock like "Death of it All," Foxy Foxy." There isn't really a bad track on here.

O'Death- Head Home: One of my favorite albums of 2006, this gem has been overshadowed in the past few years due to two spectacular follow-up records since. But this album hasn't lost any of its impact, and I've once again become obsessed. They've referred to their music as "death folk" and while that's an accurate description, there is also a spiritual quality to their songs. From "Down to Rest," to "Only Daughter," and "Jesus Look Down," this album is spectacular through and through.

Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther: The second album from the Texas folk band was another standout from 2006. One of the early bands to embrace the new indie folk movement, their songs show an incredible depth. This album has the feel of something out of time, with an eerie sound of the dark woods. Wonderful stuff and I can't wait to hear their fourth album that was just released.
Okkervil River - The Stage Names: Another Texas folk band, this 2007 album is one of their best and was a breakout album for their career. The songs read like stories, with sadness, humor, and great breadth. The album also includes one of my favorite songs of the all time, "Plus Ones" which never fails to choke me up a little bit.

Cocoon - All My Friends Died in a Plane Crash- The 2007 debut from the French indie folk duo is outright remarkable. As the title suggests, there is a sadness the lingers throughout this record and it's quite beautiful. "Vultures," "Owls," and "On My Way" are among the many outstanding tracks. Definitely one that's not to be missed.

Alamo Race Track - Black Cat Tom Brown: The second album from the Amsterdam based indie band is another favorite of mine from 2006. I bought this during the time I was working on CatKid because the cover was sort of irresistible. The album turned out to be just as irresistible. The title track opens the album with a strikingly simple folk song that hooks you right in. "The Northern Territory" is probably the best song on the album, but every song is pretty darn good.

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway: The 2003 debut album from the band risen from the ashes of Red House Painters, the influential '90's slowcore band from San Fran. In many ways it feels like a continuation, keeping the same sleeping folk feel of the previous band. This is one of those great morning or evening albums, or anytime for quiet self-reflection. I've been listening to it a lot while painting and it's been quite inspiring.
Murder by Death - Who Will Survive, and What Will be Left of Them?: The 2003 breakthrough from Indiana's gothic country band was long overdue for a fresh listen. Storytelling is at the heart of this record. From "Killbot 2000" about an elementary school massacre, to "Thee Men Hanging," the songs visit these tragic situations with horror and empathy, and the emotion the shows through is what makes this record so wonderful.