Saturday, October 29, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Though the calendar says October, we already suffered through our first minor snow storm of the season this week, so I'm kind of in a wintry mood. The list doesn't necessarily reflect that mood, but that's just the way it is. A pretty eclectic mix on this week's roundup, some definite albums that I love, so worth paying attention to. Some new, some old, some just revisited in demo form. Hopefully there's something on here you'll want to check out. Enjoy.

Howlong Wolf - Owl: By chance, this Swiss band released their second album the week before I was over there to visit family. Their first album was fantastic, but this one is even better. It has more an acoustic feel to it, though it's not entirely acoustic. It has a wonderful Fall feel to it that makes it one that I'll be listening to pretty heavily over the next several weeks. Definitely one that should end up on my best of the year list. Check them out on the Soundcloud site (linked). 

Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked for Death: The new album from the California singer songwriter, and member of Red Sparowes and The Nocturnes is fantastically moody. A mixture of dream pop, indie folk, and shoegaze, this album has been a favorite morning drive record for me. It reminds me a bit of Warpaint but with some more intense moments. "Heaven," "Real Big Sky," "Protection," and "Hand of God" are standouts. Definitely one that I'll be listening to a lot in the fall and a potential choice to be included in my favorite of the year.

Smashing Pumpkins - Quiet and Other Songs: Siamese Dream is an album that I've been revisiting lately in my mind. It was a stand-out record during my senior year in High School and Freshman year in college, way back when. Released in 1993, it is the perfection of the Pixies Loud-Quiet-Loud sound that the grunge era was so found of. The distorted guitars and Billy's varying vocals from aggression to swirling bliss are a perfect combination. This bootleg contains demo versions of the songs on the album, as well as many of the B-Sides from singles on that album. They roughness gives them even more of the feel that I love about this record and is well worth finding for fans.

Isaac Hayes - Black Moses: Released in 1971, a few months after Shaft and the his iconic music from that film, this is a true masterpiece of deep soul. I found this double album in a $1 bin, which should probably be a crime except for the fact that it needed a serious cleaning. This is one of those records that when listened to from beginning to end, will leave you blown away. Musically brilliant, it's like the Kind of Blue for soul music.

The Panics - Hole in Your Pocket: The new album from the Australian indie band is their fifth, but the first that I've heard. As is the current trend in indie rock, this is a mixture of rock and synthpop, but thankfully the synth elements take on a darker element. This reminds me of some lesser known British bands from the early part of the last decade, such as Meddle and I Am Kloot. The upbeat tempo of the music is in nice contrast with the low key vocals, making for an enjoyable album. "Passenger Side," "Carparks of Greschen," and "Loiter with Intent" are my personal favorites. 

Styx - Pieces of Eight:  The Chicago based prog-rock band's eighth album, released in '78, is considered by most to be the band's finest. That's not saying a lot for a band that is frequently considered a joke, and lightweight, and soft rock schlock. While I agree with that, this is an album that I can get into because it feels like a true prog-rock album. "Renegade" is probably one of my 500 favorite songs of all time and the rest of the album, while not as good, plays with the same elements that make that song so great. An easy decision when I came across this in the $1 bins.

Judas Priest - Point of Entry: This is the seventh album from the NWOBHM super band, one that is often lost. Released in 1981, between heavyweights British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance, it's easy to discount this record. It's much more of Sabbath/ Zeppelin hard rock sound than the metal the band is known for, but it's no less rocking. "Turning in Circles," "Desert Plains," "You Say Yes," and "On the Run" are standouts.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fiction Friday (46)

I'm still trying to keep up my goal of reading more this year than last, and though this one took me slightly longer to read than I had hoped, it wasn't for lack of reading, it was because the story was so engrossing that I purposely let it linger a bit to let myself be contained in its world for little longer. But not to fear, I've already finished reading another book since this one, so I'm getting back on track, or at least I'm trying to, so look for more reviews to come sooner rather than later. Enjoy. 

MoMo by Michael Ende

When you reach a certain point in your reading life, there are few stories that hold many surprises. This fact is compounded when you are also a writer. Story is a such a huge part of your thinking, and given that there are a finite amount of ways to construct a story, it's rare that you find one that feels so incredibly unique. MoMo is one such story.

As with Michael Ende's more widely read novel, The Neverending Story, this is a book that feels like a story in two parts. The first half of the story, while not exactly traditional, follows an established trajectory. Momo, a vagabond child, arrives in the outskirts of an unnamed city and takes up residence in the ruins of an amphitheater where she befriends the lively, if not well-to-do, locals. Her gift is that she listens to people, respects people, and allows everything to run its natural course in an unhurried way. As a result, people connect with her and children's imaginations blossom around her, because she puts no constraints on their creativity.

The second half of the story takes on new and intriguing dimensions as the grey man begin to take up more and more of the story and introduce sci-fi and fantasy elements into the narrative. The result is that the reader, after being lulled into a story of a girl, find themselves wrapped into an imaginative adventure involving time thieves, the nature of modern life, and the nature of time in general. This part of the story takes on so many dreamlike qualities and fantastical situations that blew me away with their creativity.

Thought-provoking and utterly satisfying, this is also the rare book that can be equally enjoyed by young readers and seasoned readers.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

On this rainy Saturday, it's time to focus on some music. I'm still working far ahead with music reviews, so I actually listened to these two weeks ago, but it's a good list. There are a few new releases that I'd been looking forward to, one deluxe reissue of one of my favorite albums, and a couple of back catalog curiosities. All in all, this was a good selection and I hope you find something that strikes your interest. Enjoy.

The Growlers - City Club: The new album from the Long Beach garage psychedelic surf rock band is a bit more electro-dance than their previous material, but manages to maintain the established sound. Two years ago, this band was one of my favorite new discoveries and I'd been looking forward to this record for a while. This record had more of a summer feel to me and I wish it had come out a few months ago because it would be a great heavy rotation summer album. Worth checking out, as are their previous releases.

Bob Weir - Blue Mountain: The Grateful Dead founding member released his first solo album in 17 years a few weeks back and it's pretty great. I've always been a fan of Bob's. A lot of his Dead songs are among my favorites. This album is bare bones Americana Folk rock. There's nothing fancy here, but its power stems for the rawness of it. The lead single, "Only a River" is a true gem, along with "Lay My Lilly Down" and the title track. Definitely a must for fans, and even if you're not a Dead fan but like the current trend in roots folk, this is an album that is worth checking out.

Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows - Songs from the Inverted Womb: The German darkwave band has been making their unique brand of neoclassical gothic music for over twenty years. I was introduced to them two years ago with the release of their most recent album, which I loved, and have begun to look backwards on their catalog. This album from 2000 is considered one of their best. The mood is like a dark fairy tale about dead children in a world of shadows. The varied instruments create a sound that seems forgotten from time. This wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch movie if he were to do fairy tales. Certainly worth checking out if you don't know this band.

The Verve - Northern Soul: This is one of my all time favorite albums, and is the soundtrack of my life in the mid to late '90s. It was recently given a deluxe treatment, including two bonus discs of unreleased material. The majority of that material consists of early versions of songs that would eventually make the album, or become B-Sides as 90's British market was still hot for CD singles. This is one of those records that should be a million times more popular than it is, so if you don't know it, you must do yourself the favor and listen.

Seasick Steve - Sonic Soul Surfer: For the last decade, the California born electric blues man has been making waves on the indie circuit with his updated old timey sound. His most recent album, released last year, is one of his most complete. There is an authenticity to his music that feels transplanted from the days of the blues with the fire of late '60s electric reinvention of the blues. "Dog Gonna Play," "Swamp Dog," "Sonic Soul Boogie," and "Your Name" are personal favorites.

Eazy-E - It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa: In the continuation of my month long revisiting of NWA solo albums, I finally got around to Eazy's 1993 EP. I remember when this came out, and to most of us on the East Coast, E was kind of a joke and Dre and Snoop were huge. So this was ignored by me and my friends. That's too bad, because this is a great album and holds its own with Dre and Snoop. It's one of the best feud albums ever made, and it's a too bad it came out after The Chronic and Doggystyle, because E was the truest to what he was rapping about. "Real Muthaphukkin G's" is dynamite.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Very Peculiar...

Two weekends ago, I went to see Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I've been a huge fan of the Ransom Riggs novels since the first one came out and was excited to see what Tim Burton would do with the material. I knew it would be different, but hoped that a wonderful story in the hands of another wonderful storyteller would produce something magical.

Tim Burton has been a visionary his entire career, which fortunately for me, has spanned my own film viewing life. Not everything he's done is among my favorites, but many are. Beetlejuice is a movie that helped define my late childhood. Nightmare Before Christmas sparked my teen imagination. Sleepy Hollow and Sweeny Todd were favorites of my creative adulthood. So, despite my abject abhorrence to Alice in Wonderland, I went into this movie with high hopes. 

Before I get too critical, I want to say that I enjoyed Miss Peregrine as a film. I was entertained throughout. I thought it was visually interesting. I thought the plot held together, for the most part. But as with any film version of a book that I adore, I found myself constantly puzzling over why certain changes were made. The main thing that I couldn't fathom was why he would swap Ella and Olive's peculiarities. Yes, the transposing of their abilities was one of the things that made the plot come together, but it was a plot not taken from the book. So if you were changing the plot anyway, why not figure out some way that worked while keeping the characters as they were created. But that was a minor distraction, and one that shouldn't play into the enjoyment of the film for anyone unfamiliar with the books.

Another thing that I found unsettling was how the last third of the movie was completely devoid of the source material. This was necessary considering a book trilogy was made into a stand alone movie. But that is another thing I couldn't understand. In this era of trilogies and sequels, why take a mega-bestselling book trilogy and make it one film? 

The last third of the movie was the biggest disappointment for me. The ending of the books is so incredibly imaginative and intriguing. The big Hollywood action style ending to the movie felt so false to the creativity of the story told in the books. All of that said, I think this is a movie that tweens will remember the way I remember Beetlejuice and I believe many will be turned onto the books, and feel confident that they will then discover the brilliance to be found there.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Weekend Music Round Up

The week is over and the long weekend has begun and there is no better time to check out new music than a long weekend. This week's selections are a mixture of new releases and some older stuff that I finally had the chance to check out. I also had some time to dig through a few Bandcamp goodies. All in all, another fine week of audio satisfaction. Take some time and explore. Enjoy.

Alcest - Kodama: In the nearly ten years since their debut, this French band has always been rather hard to define. They walk a fine line between shoegaze and atmospheric black metal, appropriatedly termed "blackgaze", creating ethereal music that inspires a wealth of visual inspiration. This new album came out last week and it's quite dense and powerful. Recently, the French, with bands like Alcest and Natural Snow Buildings, have begun to do with this kind of drone, folk, shoegaze music what their authors had done years before with the novel, adding layers that have previously not been there. This is beautifully rich album, highlighted by the brilliant last track "Onyx" and one that is definitely worth checking out if you're into this genre.

Chaos Chaos - Committed to the Crime: The two sisters who had formed the indie band Smoosh and made three wonderful albums as children in the last decade went on to form this band in 2012 and released this debut album two years ago. I'm a really big Smoosh fan and can't believe it took me this long to listen to this. Much more indie pop than their earlier work, this is a catchy and fun album and worth checking out for fans. 

Death From Above 1979 - Live at Third Man Records: Since reforming more than two years ago and releasing their follow-up to their 2002 debut, the Toronto indie band has been touring. This year they added their names to the Live at Third Man Records collection by doing an in store performance that was recorded directly to vinyl. This is pretty raw show, and as a result, lacks the crispness that gives their studio work such a fantastic sound. Enjoyable for fans, but otherwise I highly recommend checking out either of their two albums instead.

Lizard Professor - Eccentricity: The debut album from the Texas metal band has been getting a fair amount of attention from Metal blogs and I was intrigued, not to mention thrilled by the album art. The musicianship is high quality. There are so many chord changes and mathmatical progressions that it reminds me of a little of Mar Volta. However, vocally, it features mostly growling, barking, Cookie Monster type black metal vocals, which I've never been a fan of. An interesting listen, but not something I'll return to.

Mermaidens - Undergrowth: The debut album from the New Zealand based indie band is one that I checked out on their Bandcamp site. It's pretty stunning. There are folk elements infused in their rock music, which seems inspired by '90s indie. They remind me a little of Sparrow and the Workshop. "Cold Skin," "Seed" and the title track are among my favorites. This is definitely worth checking out.

John Lennon - The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 11 & 12: I finally got around to listening to the next volume in this bootleg series, and this is perhaps my favorite to date. This features a lot songs that you don't hear very often. Lennon is channeling his Buddy Holly on a lot of these, and the demos from his early solo work are intimate and fantastic. "Call My Name," "What You Got," "I Know," "Honey Don't," "I'm Stepping Out," "Run for Your Life," and "When a Boy Meets a Girl" are standouts.

White Owl - In League with the Devil: This British band's self released new album is a fine piece of lo-fi psychedelic garage rock with gothic roots. It reminded me of the recent album from The Frights and was quite decent. "Of All the Things We Could Have...," "Don't Give a Shit," "The Witch's Tear," and the title track are standouts. Definitely worth giving a listen on their bandcamp site, linked above.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's Mad Hatter Day!

Today is the day we celebrate nonsense and silliness in all of its forms. I know I will be celebrating plenty with my daughter, enjoying all of her toddler shenanigans. Every day is Mad Hatter day with a toddler.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Weekend Music Roundup

Now that the calendar has turned over to a more appropriate Autumn month and the weather has grown significantly chill, my tastes begin to switch to quieter and darker sounds. In my house, I've been spinning lots of favorite folk albums of the past, something I always do this time of year. This list features some great new mellow music from some contemporary favorites as well as some recent discoveries. Hopefully there's something on here that will fit your autumn moods. Enjoy.

Warpaint - Heads Up:  The all female psychedelic dream pop band from L.A. recently released their third album. Their self-titled second album was one of my favorites from 2014, and this is a solid follow-up. It features the same type of subdued mood that sustained that album. One of those perfect lazy day albums to put on and space out to. Definitely one to check out and possibly will be on my list of favorites for this year.

The Warlocks - Songs from the Pale Eclipse: The LA psych band returns with their seventh album, and their best since 2007's Heavy Deavy Skull Lover. This is like a heavier Brian Jonestown Massacre complete with the golden Cali vibe and psychedelic groove. Over the past 15 years, this has been one of the most consistent underground bands, with only one letdown several years back. "We Took All the Acid," "Drinking Song," and "Love is a Disease" are my personal favorites.

Molly Hatchet - No Guts...No Glory: The fifth album from the Southern rock band came out in 1983 and was a recent $1 bin purchase. These guys gain obvious comparisons to Lynyrd Skynyrd due to their southern sound and duel lead guitar attack, but they are a little bit heavier than Skynyrd. Though the '80s were blooming, this is still an album that belongs to the '70s in its style. A very solid rock record and well worth a buck.

Craig Wedren - On In Love: Though this project from Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren was released two years ago, I only found out about it the other week. Being a fan, I definitely wanted to give it a listen, which I was able to do on bandcamp. Unlike his solo records, this project is more akin to Shudder to Think, especially their earlier chaotic stuff. It was very nice to hear this kind of noise again. "Fight Song," "The Well," "Famous Planets," and "Glacier" are standouts. 

Wilco - Schmilco: The new album from the godfathers of alt-country movement is their eleventh studio album and another example of why they are one of the most consistent bands of their generation. This is quieter album than they've made in a while, but still is very much a Wilco album. There are some interesting arrangements as Jeff Tweedy continues to prove that he's a master songwriter, up there with legends like Neil Young and Garcia. "Nope," "Common Sense," "Happiness," and "Locator" are personal favorites for me.

Jimmy Smith - The Cat: Recorded at the height of his career, this 1964 album is a great example of Smith's upbeat type of jazz. This is the kind of cartoon jazz that I love so much, meaning it's the kind of jazz often used to score cartoons of the era. That's not an insult, and much of this album is film scores. This was a $1 bin find a few weeks back and it makes for fantastic Sunday morning album to get into the groove of the day.

LP - Death Valley: LP is a Los Angeles artist who has released three albums in the past fifteen years, but is finally getting some attention from the lead single of this recent EP. "Lost on You" has been garnering a lot of attention online, and the artist recently performed the song on Late Night. This is in an interesting five song release, with some great trip-hop elements mixed into its pop rock. LP's voice reminds me of Cyndi Lauper, which is not something you hear very often. I found this to very surprising and enjoyable.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Everything Changes

The last few days have finally begun to feel like Fall. Perhaps it's simply that the days have been grey and the cool winds have blown down from the mountains, but it's also the smell of Fall that has taken root. I love this time of year, not only for the beauty and the weather, but also the memories.

Over the last week, I've had a flood of long dormant memories come flooding back to me, as they always seem to do around this time of year. It always starts with the back to school days and the memories of starting each new grade. Then it's the afternoon after school memories that come and the faces of long ago friends and long forgotten childhood adventures. 

For me, these feelings are more than simple nostalgia. They often inspire me to write, to dig into the past for inspiration and insight. I will continue to enjoy these days as they lead us into the holidays. I hope you all do as well.