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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wikileaks helps spread State propaganda

And this is just one of many examples to come of why what Assange did will ultimately prove to have been more harmful than good. It will likewise allow governments to justify further clampdowns on freedom of the Press.

I said it. I said this was irresponsible. I said it was an abuse of Journalistic freedom. I said that no legitimate journalist should defend Julian Assange.

I was right. Again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks is not responsible journalism.


I don't post often enough. And lately, I've had little to say even when I do.

Tonight, as I chase sleep, my thoughts turn to Wikileaks, instead of to the tenth chapter of the Aeons War, which while fully realized in my noggin, is not yet down on paper.

Wikileaks just published an assload more stolen secret documents. If you care enough you can find the news about it all over teh internetz.

What astounds me, is that so many journalists are rushing to defend Julian Assange, Wikileaks' founder and chief muckymuck.

Wikileaks is itself evidence of what happens when freedom is not balanced with responsibility. Freedom of the press is not absolute.
It
has the freedom to publish whatever it wishes but has the responsibility to consider the consequences of what it divulges.

It seems as though Wikileaks and Assange deny that the government operatives, the soldiers, diplomats, agents, aid workers and attaches' lives might possibly be worth more than the public's right to know. These people aren't all working in secret, or trying to oppress foreign countries. Some of them are just trying to do their jobs, provide for their loved ones, protect their country or serve it somehow.

It is arrogant, irresponsible, reprehensible and criminal of mister Assange to endanger these peoples' lives, as well as the fragile diplomatic relations that the United States has. It is irresponsible and reprehensible of legitimate journalists everywhere to defend Mr Assange and Wikileaks. The net result of the leaking of these documents could be nothing. Or it could plunge the war-stricken corners of the world into further chaos. For Julian Assange to commit this act of cavalier, sanctimonious hubris is disgusting. For the so-called legitimate journalists of the world to condone and / or defend him for doing it is even more disgusting, for they are in fact colluding with a criminal, and are aiding and abetting the suffering of every person who may be endangered by these leaks.

Wikileaks was founded on the idea of providing whistle-blowers with the means to report criminal activities. Certainly in the past with regards to the workings of the United States government, Wikileaks has indeed reported on criminal wrongdoings of past administrations. But to call the sensationalist garbage of printing secret reports on diplomatic and consular operational intelligence, to endanger the lives of America's and America's allies' lives in the fields of operations, trade, aid, diplomacy and war is the vile, criminal and cynical act of an arrogant coward.

Julian Assange is as much a war criminal as Usama Bin Laden, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, or any other countless autocrats, dictators and butchers out there.

It's time that journalists started treating him as such.

Freedom is not absolute. It MUST be tempered with responsibility.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Could Chinese Moon Exploration Touch Off a New Cold War?


I'm sorry...I'm sorry...I'm sorry...it's been a hectic...year...

Recently, the Chinese have sent out some awesome images from their lunar probe, and spoken enthusiastic about further missions in 2013 and beyond - including manned missions in our lifetimes!

As exciting this is from the Geek point of view, though, it raises some troubling questions.

The exploration and exploitation of the resources on the Moon was unimagined when the US went there. They collected rocks and dirt, drove around, played golf, planted the American flag…it was a pissing match with the Soviets, nothing more.

China, with its near absolute control of industry and science and remorseless determinism of the Chinese Communist system of government can devote whatever resources it wishes to the exploitation of the Moon’s stores, including water ice and untold mineral wealth.

The Moon’s a logical jumping off point to Mars and the potentially mineral-rich asteroid field. Whether you believe in the romantic notions of deep space exploration or not, the questions you should ask yourself are these:

Who do you want to see reach the stars first? Communist Chinese imperialists or an international coalition of American, British, European and Asian space explorers?

Who should have the best access to the riches and knowledge to be found in the solar system – and beyond?

If there is life out there, who should represent Mankind when and if we encounter them?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Micropost & Announcement(s)

Okay, first an apology: Sorry I've dropped off the face of the Earth. I was doing so well in my resolution to post regularly & keep content active with weekly music reviews cross-posted from CONFRONT Magazine. Well, that didn't work out for several reasons which may or may not remedy themselves in the near future.

Second, I am discontinuing the weekly music review cross-posting. There is a link to CONFRONT over there on the lower left. Scroll down...it's there. If you enjoy reading my reviews, you should read them over at the Magazine; hell, you should be reading CONFRONT Magazine anyway, if you're into music.

Third, I am studying the feasibility of moving up the pitch-launch for Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind. Why? Because I feel the need to strike while the iron is hot. I do not, however, intend to be foolhardy about it.

Fourth, on the Omniverse front, The Aeons War is coming along nicely, the first 7 chapters now put to bed. Looking at the outline for the story I see several points of departure from the script, just as I had with Unearthing and Darkness. I'm actually going to dig up and post those outlines for you soon, so you can see just how the story changed from the original draft.

Finally, with the launch this week of a practical, linked-to-a-smart-device augmented reality headset, I've added another gadget to the long list of gizmos predicted when I first wrote The Unearthing, back in 1997:

The Augmented Reality Windshield
The Portable Console Computer
Headset Computing
Galileo Navigation System (Down to the friggin' NAME!)

So...not for nothing, but it might be a good time to start digging around in Northwest New Mexico...all I'm saying...

Okay, well that's about it for this time; I promise I'll try and update again, soon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Download News

New Stats for the Omniverse: The Unearthing has been downloaded over 18 000 times & Through Darkness and Stars almost 7400 times since being posted online.

THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO HAS READ & ENJOYED (my apologies to those who didn't like it) THESE NOVELS! MORE TO COME!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The latest news on Nevermind...and some music reviews

So, this update was to have been written over the weekend...unfortunately, owing to circumstances beyond my control it's being written now.

That being said, I met with the artists' program coordinator over at YES Montreal the other day, to discuss my plans for Nevermind.

Now, for the four of you that have been reading this blog since its inception in 2005 (Fuck me running! It's been almost 5 years that I've been writing this blog!) know that it's always been my plan to make a career of this writing thing.

Granted, that's not always gone according to plan. The Unearthing, the first volume of The Omniverse was successfully published back in 2006 (Ironically almost a year to the day since I started this blog) I still blame the fact that I was laid off from Bell Canada so Michael Sabia could take a five hundred per cent pay rise on Unearthing's commercial failure.

See, I would have had a minor fortune in stocks and options by the end of the year if my employment hadn't been terminated when it was (those stocks, of course, very conveniently reverted back to Bell upon my being declared "surplus"), and I had hoped to use those stocks to finance Unerthing's promotion.

Anyway...moving on.

They say God never closes a door without opening a window...I say that means God's got some really bad obsessive compulsive disorder issues to work out. In any case, after wallowing for longer than I should have, I decided to release Unearthing and later her followup Through Darkness and Stars electronically, and for free. With nearly 20 000 total downloads of the two novels, I'd say I found some of the success I've been looking for.

Remuneration, however, has evaded thusfar me.

Which brings us to Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind.

When I started writing Nevermind, back in 2002, it was an experiment; an exercise in which I just kept asking myself "I wonder if..."; questions included: "I wonder if I can write a non-genre story?" "I wonder if I can write a book without any actual plot?""I wonder if I can convincingly write a gay sex scene?" "I wonder if I can tell one story from six different points of view?" "I wonder if I can let these characters tell THEIR OWN story?" "I wonder if?" "I wonder if?"

I also thought the "I wonder ifs?" were done when the writing of the story was done, as well. When the initial couple of drafts were done, I put the story aside to write the first and second drafts of Through Darkness and Stars, as well as outline the final three stories of The Omniverse. When I turned my attention back to Nevermind, it was to put the first dozen chapters up on the now-closed PHYTE Magazine website. Nevermind quickly became the second-most popular feature on the site, after the still-going-strong feature, Anterockstar.

Who am I to complain about being #2?

But...where Nevermind had never been intended to be more than an elaborate writing exercise to improve my characterizations and individual character "voices", I realized I had something else on my hands. Suddenly, new "I wonder ifs" came up: "I wonder if I can accomplish something ELSE with this?" and so I started thinking things through.

Come 2008, I decided to launch The Unearthing as a free downloadable novel. When it was launched and gaining steam, I completed work on Through Darkness and Stars, and, figuring I would eventually launch Nevermind as an eBook. To that end, I decided to take Nevermind and Darkness for a spin through the fabulous rewrite machine.

Somewhere between launching the eBook versions of The Unearthing in 2008 and Through Darkness and Stars in 2010, it occurred to me to ask another "I wonder if": this time, it was I wonder if Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind could actually SELL?

Well last week I had my first meeting at YES Montreal to see about doing just that. I'm now looking into compiling a list of publishers and agents to whom I would like to pitch Nevermind, and my councilor is also having me brainstorm about what I want to accomplish/what I need to do to accomplish it...eww...homework.

But, I'm on track right now to eventually sell this puppy!

...and if it doesn't sell? Well then I'll release it as a free eBook just the same!

Some of you might wonder what me publishing a book will mean for The Omniverse and any future free eBook prospects. Well, I intend to keep releasing the novels of The Omniverse as free eBooks...you people, my readers, have made them a success; as much as I wish SOME of you would have donated a little something to my PayPal account, I'll let that slide. While I might, when the five novels are done, decide to release a print edition of the quintology, the eBooks for The Omniverse series themselves will always remain free.

As to my other writing? As much as I would like to make a living as an author, I see no reason not to at least release SOME work as free downloadables, though for obvious reasons the stuff I publish will likely not see the light of day as freebies...unless I can REALLY negotiate the fuck out of a publishing contract.

And now for our regular music feature:

First: Two very different albums by two very different styles of artists: let’s start with the ass-kicking Metal supergroup, Hell Yeah!

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Hell Yeah! Stampede

Composed of former and/or current members of the Metal groups Mudvayne, Nothingface, Damageplan, and Pantera. ‘Stampede’, their second album belies more of a Hard Rock than Hard Metal. The sound tends to be somewhat uneven; different songs seeming to showcase sounds and styles that were endemic of the bands Hell Yeah!’s members came from, rather than demonstrating the new band’s own sound.

“Cowboy Way” opens the album capably, establishing the defiant, unapologetic attitude that predominates the rest of the disc, followed by the intense and ominous “Debt That All Men Pay”, a track that reminds me of Pantera’s “Slaughtered” from ‘Far Beyond Driven’. The song I found most visceral on the album is the downtempo and very Grunge-sounding “Better Man”, a ballad as told by a son to his abusive, neglectful and ultimately absent father. Other power tracks on this one include “Pole Rider” and the closer “Order The Sun”.

In spite of its flaws, ‘Stampede’ is a worthy second outing and a refreshingly listenable album, well worth it if you’re a fan of Metal, of Hell Yeah! or of any of the groups that spawned this ragtag band of screwball Metalhead musicians.

Hell Yeah! Stampede
Epic
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

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Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles from Memphis

This is album #7 from Sheryl Crow, and I will admit to having been a fan of her work since album #1. This time the music is inspired from that which Crow listened to, growing up, as the album title suggests, in a small town “100 miles from Memphis”.

The music here is has very strong Motown-influenced Rhythm and Blues and Southern Delta Rock influences than Crow’s usual Pop-Rock offerings. She also indulges in covers and collaborations, such as working with Justin Timberlake on “Sign Your Name”, originally recorded by Terence Trent D’arby, or working with Citizen Cope on a cover of his tune, “Sideways”. The album likewise closes with a spot-on Jackson 5 cover, “I Want You Back”.

As a whole it is very interesting to witness Sheryl Crow taking wing in a new direction, experimenting and expressing parts of her musical personality rarely seen.

However, on the aforementioned “Sign Your Name”, I found guest vocalist Justin Timberlake was under-utilized in his role as a background vocalist. The song could have been far more sultry and sinewy had Timberlake’s talents been unleashed on the song’s chorus. Instead, Crow’s high-register voice makes the chorus into a whiny shadow of what could have been.

“Long Road Home” is an outstanding Country-Rock ballad that marks the albums middle four songs. The ballad “Stop” is an effective blend of Country and R&B into a pretty-much guaranteed single and slow-dance favourite, while the funky, sweaty “Roses and Moonlight” more than makes up for the loss of sensuality on “Sign Your Name”.

This is an awesome addition to the Sheryl Crow catalogue, and even if it’s just a one-off, this album demonstrates what has made Sheryl Crow into the power house performer she is today.

Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles From Memphis
A&M
Steve’s Rating: 8.5/10

This music selection came to me via email, download links from bands and their management. Not only is it refreshing to download music legally, it’s nice to see the New Media used to so effectively promote small acts.

So, let’s take a look at my first-ever email orders!

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Isle of Thieves: Only Human

I’m not sure if this one qualifies as an EP or as a full album. At nine songs it’s a tad long for an EP, but at around 35 minutes it’s a little short for an album. However you want to quantify the latest from Isle of Thieves, what we have here is for the most part some really good music.

The music is very Post-Grunge; Isle of Thieves has an appropriately intense Pop-Punk-Small-Venue-Rock sound and feel; I’m reminded of Envy on the Coast, or Motion City Soundtrack, Billy Talent, or Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, with maybe just a minuscule soupcon of 30 (Why-The-Hell-Aren’t-They-Coming-To-Montreal) Seconds To Mars. The music captures a raw, intense essence and drives it home with hard-rocking up-tempo music.

The problem is that the intensity is just a little too intense; every song seems to be trying very hard to drive its point home, and every song likewise seems to carry a very heavy message. The result feels as though the band is either manufacturing their intensity, or taking itself way too seriously.

That being said, there are, nevertheless, some excellent tunes on this album: “Love Artificial”, “Clinger”, “Best Mistake” and most especially the powerful closer “String Theory” stand out on the album. I’d add “Six Good Friends” to the list of ‘Only Human’s best tracks, but from the first time I listened to it I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would sound if it were done by the aforementioned 30 Seconds to Mars.

Warts and all, I do enjoy this album; I am anxious to see where Isle of Thieves are going to go.

Isle of Thieves: Only Human
Independent
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

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Mt. St. Helens’ Vietnam Band: Where The Messengers Meet

This one sort of reminds me of the kind of minimalist experimental Rock heard on Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’, except it doesn’t quite have the bleak melancholic apathy that Thom Yorke’s been inflicting on us for the better part of the decade since releasing ‘Kid A’ in October 2000.

But this band is more than a Radiohead soundalike; incorporating Post-Grunge, Blues Rock and even some inspired back-to-the-source post White-Album Beatles Acid-Pop. The net result is an impossible-to-define sound, unconventional, trippy music and some of the finest auralgasms you’ll find, this year. Imagine something between Radiohead and The Sound of Animals Fighting highly experimental, unabashedly innovative.

Songs to pay attention to? Pick your take on ‘Where The Messengers Meet’. “Gone Again” is exceptional, and “Leaving Trails”, “Not To Know”, and “Bitter Cold”, will impress. But then, so will the rest of the album.

Mt. St. Helens’ Vietnam Band: Where The Messengers Meet
Dead Oceans
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

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Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

The darlings of the Montreal (and Canadian) Indie rock scene, Arcade Fire have released two popular and critically acclaimed and platinum-certified albums, been all over the radio and music video channels and generally received with the laying of palm fronds at their feet.

To me, they’ve always sounded like Chris Isaak-light, and their latest album, ‘The Suburbs’ is just more of the same sound. Bleak minimalist Country twangs and reverb-heavy vocals combine with unconventional instruments and electronically-tweaked Rock production and still somehow make something so milquetoast, so banal that it just fades into the background.

Don’t get me wrong: Win Butler et al are accomplished musicians, the music is capably produced and the album is technically masterful. The problem is, The music is dreamy, airy, unobtrusive and, sadly, about as enthralling as watching paint dry.

If you’re a fan of that sort of thing, and therefore of Arcade Fire, likely you will enjoy ‘The Suburbs’. Go for it; anyone looking for something a little more substantive and challenging will do well to look elsewhere.

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Merge
Steve’s Rating: 6/10

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Ryan Star: 11:59

Although officially being touted as Ryan Star’s debut, it is actually his second full-length release. But, that one came out before Ryan was a contestant on reality TV show ‘Rockstar Supernova’. That he was a contestant on a reality TV show is particularly telling, because the music on ‘11:59’ is very reminiscent of another reality TV show also-ran: Chris Daughtry.

The whole of ‘11:59’ sounds like a lost Bon Jovi album from the late 1980’s. The same verse, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus structure abounds, and the album is literally nothing more than Arena Rock song after Arena Rock song, and Power Ballad piled on top of Power Ballad until the entire album finally seems like a tribute to the Golden Era of Hair Bands.

No doubt this album will do well among the same set of rubes that enjoys Bland Band music by the aforementioned Daughtry and Bon Jovi, as well as fans of the most malignant of musical cancers, Nickleback and Theory of a Deadman.

If you feel offended by the previous paragraph, go out and buy Ryan Star’s ‘11:59’. If you sneered derisively at my astute observation on the state of what passes for Rock music, give it a pass and go get some old Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Ryan Star: 11:59
Atlantic
Steve’s Rating: 5/10

Black Label Society: ‘Order of the Black’



Black Label Society: Order of the Black

Sometimes, an album manages to capture all the sounds of one particular genre, sometimes even masterfully well, but does so without managing to capture the least amount of that genre’s soul. Case in point, the latest from Professional Metalheads, the Black Label Society.

The album sounds like a perfect mix between Golden Age Metal classic structure, with the Hair Metal bombast of the pre-Metal Crash 1990s. I’m most reminded of Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Soundgarden and Metallica in terms of the scope and feel of their sound But while Black Label Society’s sound is spot on, the album itself seems utterly devoid of anything greater than mere technical proficiency.

There doesn’t seem to be any real edge, any anger, desperation, passion or venom behind these tracks; it’s as if on ‘Order of the Black’ that all the band did was sit back and sound awesome, without actually being awesome. The songs are pedestrian, designed to be as radio-friendly as possible, the album seemingly tailored around the notion of scoring hit singles instead of producing anything remotely substantial.

Of the 13 songs on ‘Order of the Black’, there are 4 ballads: “Darkest Days”, “Time Waits for No One” “Shallow Grave” and “January”. Each of the ballads starts with practically the same piano intro, before Zakk Wilde’s expertly mournful vocals take up the task. The other 9 tracks on the album start with similar throbbing guitar notes, except for “War of Heaven” which tries to sound like every freaky/angry Metallica song since “Enter Sandman”. The rest of the album is full of utterly interchangeable riffs, beats lyrics and themes.

So what’s the verdict on this one? Well, technically, I cannot find fault with ‘Order of the Black’. But the effort seems so insincere, so carefully plotted out to maximize airplay that it’s hard to take that technical proficiency at face value.

Fans of Black Label Society will no doubt want to own this one. If you’re a fan of Metal and you haven’t already made up your mind about BLS, you might want to pick this one up. I can’t recommend it, from what I’ve heard.

Black Label Society: Order of the Black
E1 Music
Steve’s Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Stats and Music Reviews

So this week I've been doing prep work to build the pitch for Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind. In order to demonstrate my marketability to my potential new publishers, I started digging up the download stats for the novels of The Omniverse, namely The Unearthing and Through Darkness and Stars.

Based on preliminary numbers (I'm still waiting on a couple of websites to report in) both novels are doing better than I'd anticipated!

Unearthing has been fully downloaded more than 12 000 times and Darkness some 5600 times.

Does that translate into as many unique readers? That's where the numbers get a little fuzzy, but at the very least my work has been checked out nearly 20 000 times since I've made it available online.

And for that, I can only say THANK YOU to everyone who's read these novels; you made this happen!

So...how about those music reviews from CONFRONT Magazine?

cbThe Chemical Brothers: Further

This one isn’t quite as in-your-face as previous efforts by the veteran Big Beat Electronic virtuosos. There are trippier qualities to the music here; mellower vibes are incorporated into the 8-song continuous mix CD, along with almost classic 1960’s style Psych Rock elements.

The promo release and second track on ‘Further’, “Escape Velocity” is an epic 12 minute dancer, incorporating lots of signature Chemical Brothers sounds and techniques, along with a sample of what sounds like some classic Styx riffs.

Best on this album though is “Dissolve”, which applies the sound and feel of the Chemical Brothers music and grafts it to a skein of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd sounding Acid Rock. But the whole album is enjoyable, and with multiple formats and exclusive tracks now popping up online, there’s actually a lot of good supplemental music out there to add to the short tracklisting.

Further’ is a trippy, danceable all-out electronic freak-out, eminently enjoyable and essential Chemical Brothers listening. While I could have done without being shut out from exclusive tracks available only to iTunes subscribers, I can’t really fault what I listened to.

The Chemical Brothers: Further
Parlophone
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

revucd001Deadmau5: At Play Vol. 3

The third compilation in Progressive House virtuoso Deadmau5’s ‘At Play’ series seems mainly composed of tracks off of 2006’s ‘Vexiliology’, and 2008’s ‘Random Album Title’. Everything here is instrumental Prog House / Ambient sounds that we’ve heard before, just recycled here for the sake of a third installment.

Disappointing to me is that I’ve heard all this before – long before Deadmau5 was spinning wax. I have to go back 10 years in my music collection, but Astral Projection’s ‘In The Mix’ and Paul Van Dyk’s ‘Out There And Back’ from 2000 could easily be the templates used by Deadmau5 when crafting this 10-song mini compilation.

There are, nevertheless, some good songs here. The versions of “Lai”, “Bounce”, “Templar” and “Whispers” are worthwhile. However, it must be said that the generic nature of the music as compiled here just make it very hard to be in any way enthusiastic about the album. The music here just seems uninspired, not very innovatively handled and just not quite up to my expectations from Deadmau5.

Deadmau5: At Play 3
Ultra
Steve’s Rating: 7/10

revucd002The City Streets: The Jazz Age

I don’t know what it is about Canadian Rock acts being so morose or melancholy, but we’re so good at it up here! Relying on heavy treble, their music spliced from Blues and Grunge Rock, ‘The Jazz Age’, the City Streets’ third album in 5 years is firmly rooted in the deepest tradition of mournful Rock.

Opening with the poetic and poignant lyrics of “Midnight Sun”, the tone is quickly set on this album. This is going to be music about heartache and regret, of romance and pain…of everything that has made good music since Mankind started singing.

It isn’t all depressive ballads. The weirdly funny and TMI-rife “Irish Rose” takes a bit of a Brian Setzer / Stray Cats detour around Bluesville, giving us quirky little two-step of a tune. “Young Runs Out” has got to be my favourite here; just for the way the imagery of the lyrics blends with the ebb and flow of the subdued guitar on the piece.

The whole of ‘The Jazz Age’ makes for a very powerful, albeit understated and low-key album; one made for serious music fans that’s still accessible to casual listeners. Definitely going to be a darling of the Coffee House scene, but don’t hold that against this one.

While ‘The Jazz Age’ might be the most assertive album you’ll listen to this year, it’s well worth picking up; play it when you have some quiet time in a chair with a cuppa something warm…see if you don’t enjoy it as much as I expect you will.

The City Streets: The Jazz Age
Clamour Records
Steve’s Rating: 9/10

revucd001(2)Jon Butler Trio: April Uprising

Launched in March in Australia, the latest from the Jam Band from down under only crossed my desk just over a week ago. Since then I’ve been listening attentively, if only because I’m not completely sure what to make of ‘April Uprising’, Butler’s 5th studio album in 12 years.

The 15 tracks are all enjoyable, but ‘April Uprising’ feels uneven, somehow. From one song to the next, Butler and his ensemble change musical styles and thematics. While this demonstrates the trio’s versatility, it also leaves this album without any real sense of cohesion.

The songs on here run the gamut from the contemplative “Revolution” to the infectious and energetic “Come On Now”, to Folksy Bluegrass, on “Ragged Mile”. There’s even a Hip-Hop infused track, “Don’t Wanna See Your Face”. My personal favourite on the album is the closer, “A Star Is Born”, a love ballad from new father Butler to his newborn son.

Taken individually, the music here is capably produced and enjoyable, even if they don’t quite work well enough together as an album. The music here is nevertheless worth your while.

The John Butler Trio: April Uprising
ATO Records
Steve’s Rating: 7/10

revucd001(3)Dangermouse and Sparkplehorse: Dark Night of the Soul

Dangermouse is, of course one of the most prolific DJ/Musicians out there, having been the driving force between several successful solo albums, including ‘The Grey Album’ remix of Jay-Z’s ‘The Black Album’; the formation of Gnarls Barkley; he produced The Gorillaz’s ‘Demon Days’ and Beck’s ‘Modern Guilt’, and recently formed up with James Mercer of the Shins to create Broken Bells.

Sparklehorse were one of the best Alternative/College Radio bands of the last 15 years, producing, among other works, the brilliant albums ‘Good Morning Spider’, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ to name but two.

‘Dark Night of the Soul’ was to be the only collaboration between Dangermouse and Sparklehorse. Mark Linkous, Sparklehorse’s lead singer, committed suicide earlier this year. ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, which was to have been released last year, has languished in legal limbo until recently. What has finally been released is nothing short of brilliant.

The album opens with the haunting, trippy “Revenge”, which could easily pass for unreleased John Lennon. Farther in on the album is “Jaykub”, a scathing ballad directed at the eponymous loser of the title. What sets the latter apart is the beautiful flow of contemptuous imagery juxtaposed into an almost anthemic ballad. Personal favourites on this one include the intense “Little Girl”, “Pain” (Which features vocals by Iggy Pop), the shuffling “Everytime I’m With You”, the 60s-trippy-dippy sounding ‘Daddy’s Gone” and “Grim Augury”, which is easily the most unsettling song on the album.

This one must be listened to in order to be appreciated. It’s also, simply put, essential listening.

Dangermouse and Sparklehorse: Dark Night of the Soul
EMI
Steve’s Rating 10/10

revucd002(2)Kilmore Place: What Happened?

With Light vocals and stripped-down-to-basics Pop-Rock instrumentation, the latest EP from Kilmore Place shows us a more sophisticated band; they have honed their craft and sound from their previous, self-titled EP.

There’s already a single “Lost at a Wedding” which is very reminiscent Grunge-era Coffeehouse Rock, a la early Third Eye Blind. Best on this oh-too-short EP is “Bag It Up”, which demonstrates that despite the mostly upbeat sound of the EP, that Kilmore Place are capable of the kind of driving, rocking intensity that is a hallmark of good Rock diversity.

‘What Happened?’ isn’t the question I was asking after listening to the seven meager songs here…what I was asking myself was, “When’s the full album coming out?” Because the thing about ‘What Happened?” is, once you listen to it you’ll want to hear much, much more from Kilmore Place.

Kilmore Place: What Happened?
Independent
Steve’s Rating 9/10

Monday, July 12, 2010

Movement on Project Nevermind

Okay, so I have made no small amount of progress lately towards my goal of selling Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind.

In a few weeks I will be meeting with a consultant to help prepare my pitch to sell the book. As the story is set in and around Montreal I want to pitch it to some local publishers first.

Right now I'm gathering data to back up the marketability of my writing, including the number of places from which and total number of downloads of the first two volumes of The Omniverse (Or, as it's known for the sake of avoiding branding issues, Steve Karmazenuk's Omniverse), The Unearthing and Through Darkness and Stars. I'm also polishing up my creative resume, linking back to the many articles, interviews and reviews I've done for CONFRONT Magazine, as well as my work in other media.

Likewise I've contacted Nicole Decaria, the artist who provided me with artwork that was to have bookended each chapter; she is on board to complete those illustrations, should the book be picked up.

In other news I am diligently at work on Aeon's War, the third book in the Omniverse series. I've had the story planned our for years and in the third volume, things REALLY start to get intense! But, I don't want to say too much...

Anyway, that's all for now; I'll be posting a music review backlog soon!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Earth-Shaking News!

Well okay, no, but after the first big regional quake since I was in high school, this Blog post kind of has to take note of it.

Anyway, this week marks the completion of all post-writing work on the manuscript for Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind.

Now comes the real challenge: I've decided that unlike my more famous (and free) eBooks, The Unearthing and its follow-up Through Darkness and Stars, I intend to either release Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind as a paid downloadable eBook or I'll be shopping it around for publication.

This means that my creative writing time is now absolutely rededicated to The Omniverse's third volume, The Aeons War. This is fun, because the story has been screaming at me for months now, but I've wanted to finish the push for Nevermind.

I must once again report feeling both overwhelmed and intimidated as I approach Nevermind's publication. See, being non-genre, I know the novel will be a little bit easier to sell. Likewise, we're just hitting the pop-culture phase where the 1990s Grunge scene will become retro and therefore back in style, so the novel, being set in the era, will be that much more marketable. Plus the mature content and adult situations rife through the book is sure to boost readership, as pervy readers abound.

So basically, I don't want to fuck up the publication of this one, like I did The Unearthing.

But I'm also completely unsure of myself or what to do next.

Bugger.

First, Let's Face The Music...

Okay...busy, busy...this will be the first of two posts today. If you can't guess from the title, this one's going to be a repost of the backlog of music reviews I did for CONFRONT Magazine.

The second update will entail writing news, relating to the completion of Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind. The novel is good to go and I'll be talking about what's next.

But that's for the next post. For now, well, while we still have the chance, Let's face the music and dance:

I don’t usually review this many albums in one column, but I listened to a lot of music this past week; of it the four releases below are among the most noteworthy. Sit back and enjoy the read, and have fun if you decide to listen for yourself to these latest!

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Pete Tremblay and the Boozy Truth: Midtempo Madness

Indie darlings Pete Tremblay and the Boozy Truth have come out with a pretty interesting Indie-Folk-Rock album; 9 tracks of very hard to define music, heavy on old-school Folk Rock, intellectual and self-referential lyrics and Tremblay’s often snarky vocals combine to make an irreverent and entertaining disc.

“Grape (The LA Song)” and “Myself the Cop” are my favourites on the album; Tremblay almost sounds like protest rocker Tom Petty at some points on the album, if Cochrane was dissolved in solution with extract of impertinence from John McCrea of Cake.

All in all ‘Midtempo Madness’ is a refreshing burst of musical energy tempered by a rare lack of self-importance, well worth listening to, especially in an era dominated by supergroups and stars who take themselves entirely too seriously. Highly entertaining and refreshing, ‘Midtempo Madness’ is a good album to put on when you’re in the mood for something a little different and original.

Pete Tremblay and the Boozy Truth: Midtempo Madness
Blacktop
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

infinite arms-band-of-horses

Band of Horses: Infinite Arms

This was an album that I should have reviewed back when it dropped a couple of weeks ago; however it only finally landed in my folder last week. I immediately made up for lost time and gave it a listen. I was immediately in thrall.

There’s so many different elements at play on ‘Infinite Arms’ that it’s a veritable stew of styles and ideas. There’s two-part harmony vocals and anthemic Folk-Rock elements, strong Celtic Rock influences and an occasional soupcon of 60s Surfer and Psychedelic Rock and just a dash of Old-School Folk.

Outstanding on this album are the opener, “Factory”, “Blue Beard”, title track “Infinite Arms” and “NW Apartment”. These songs typify the sound on this album; quality standouts and addictive.

I’m assuming a technical flaw occurred with my version of the album; the track “For Annabelle” on my copy was overwritten by “NW Apartment”, and so obviously I was unable to listen to that track. Hopefully this error does not repeat itself on the commercial sales version of the ‘Infinite Arms’. In any event, even with that surprising bug, this is a wonderful musical discovery.

Band of Horses: Infinite Arms
Columbia
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

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Delta Spirit: History From Below

Just for the lead single, “Bushwick Blues” (which is pure, distilled Rock & Roll poetry), Delta Spirit’s sophomore album is worth the purchase price. After the slightly unsettling opener “911” flashed back to Black Tuesday in 2001, ‘History From Below’ establishes itself as not yet another post-9-11 protest album.

Thankfully the Rock music here is soulful and largely apolitical, though you are free to find whatever metaphor you wish within their brilliant and eloquent lyrics. “Salt in the Wound” is a mellow, twangy and contemplative North Country Rock ballad and easily the brightest flash of genius on the first half of the album. Now, let’s talk about the closer, “Ballad of Vitaly”: This 8 minute, 5 second track is epic genius which harkens back to the grand Folk Rock of Dylan’s youth, while bringing the music forward with modern touches and tricks.

Words cannot do this album justice; you should all get a copy and experience it for yourselves. In my opinion as the Views and Reviews guy, this is the best Rock album of 2010—if not simply the best album of 2010, altogether. Delta Spirit’s ‘History From Below’ has set the bar by which everything else I listen to this year will be judged.

Delta Spirit: History From Below
Rounder
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

Now normally I’d want to end my column on a high note, such as the review above. This week however, there is an elephant in the room that cannot be gotten rid of with one little pill:

Christina-Aguilera-Bionic-Album-Cover-400x400Christina Aguilera: Bionic

Wow; I am blown away. I can’t believe just how much class, grace and originality Christina Aguilera fails to show on ‘Bionic’, her latest album. I had actually been looking forward to reviewing this one; I’d enjoyed Aguilera’s progression and development as an artist over the course of her last couple of albums. Unfortunately with ‘Bionic’, Aguilera’s bollocksed things completely and spectacularly, as only she possibly could.

From the album cover, the lead single and music video for “Not Myself Tonight” and the overall musical style displayed on the album it is clear that Xtina is plagiarizing Lady GaGa in order to boost sales. But listening to the album, we discover that it’s not just GaGa that she is stealing from:

Madonna’s shtick is heavily mined, as heard on tracks “Glam” and “Sex for Breakfast”. Aguilera’s token Spanish-language-see-I-really-am-a-LaTINa track “Desnudate” pilfers unabashedly from Shakira’s body…umm…of work. “All I Need”, which is otherwise a very pretty love song from mother to child, is marred by being a total rip off of every Alicia Keys piano ballad ever. Even Aguilera’s former chief musical rival and mortal enemy Britney Spears is co-opted on “I Hate Boys”: Other than Aguilera’s distinctive vocals, this track could have come from Brit-Brit’s 2001 album, ‘Britney’.

But as cheap as it is of her to rip off her peers and betters, Aguilera’s worst offence with this album comes from its appalling crudeness. Her usual clumsy attempt at portraying herself as a sex-bomb and cheerleader for female sexuality falls flat, making her once again look more like a cheap slut than an empowering advocate of women’s sexual expression. If anything, she does more harm than good to the cause.

Take the song, “Woohoo” which is about the topic of cunnilingus. First, this one sounds almost exactly like “Milkshake” by Kelis—again with the plagiarism! Second, instead of doing something really erotic, sexy or seductive with the subject matter, Xtina treats us to lyrics such as: “All the boys think it’s cake / When they taste my (woohoo) / You don’t even need a plate / Just your face, ha (woohoo) / Licky-licky-yum-yum (woohoo) / What a great guy (woohoo)”

The crass vulgarity continues throughout the album: besides the gratuitous moaning, grunting and panting and tired references to lesbianism on “Not Myself Tonight”, Aguilera relies on the constant use of the word “Fuck” whenever any sex acts are described. In fact, she uses the words “Fuck” and “Shit” so much on ‘Bionic’ that one wonders if Jay and Silent Bob co-wrote the album. Half the album reminds me of how you might imagine a street walker with Tourrette’s Syndrome to sound, falling down a flight of stairs.

Aguilera also makes frequent graceless references to being wet, making herself wet, getting wet and how wet she gets, as well as how no one can touch her better than she can…I’m surprised she isn’t selling her used panties online; they can’t stink worse than this CD. And yes, I am aware of the irony of complaining about how vulgar Xtina is on ‘Bionic’ while being so vulgar while doing so.

The only song of any worth only shows up in the last third of the album: “Lift Me Up” is a truly beautiful, heartfelt ballad; marred by the fact that the flow of the album is completely killed in the final act by the pile up of one ballad after another after another, as if the producer couldn’t figure out where the hell else to put them all.

For all its faults however, what’s most offensive about ‘Bionic’ is that Aguilera’s loyal and easily-pleased critics and fan base are going to lap this one up. Licky-licky-yum-yum, people; spit it out – you don’t know where it’s been.

Christina Aguilera: Bionic
RCA
Steve’s Rating: 2/10

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Oasis: 1994-2009: Time Flies Deluxe Limited Edition

It is with great regret that I inform you of the last of some truly great music. Having made their break-up official, Oasis have released, in various formats, ‘Time Flies’, their best of / singles collection.

Yes, that’s right: I come out squarely on Team Gallagher. Say what you will about their douchey behavior, emulation of the Beatles (Still managing to sound better at it than the Beatles, IMHO),multiple fights and break-ups or their being the obvious inspiration for Charlie’s band Drive Shaft, on JJ Abram’s “L O S T”. I admit and acknowledge every last boorish thing about the Gallaghers is probably true.

That does not change the fact that they put out some of the best BritPop / BritAlt Rock of the last 15 years. They’ve won multiple awards and critical acclaim; every one of their albums has gone multi-platinum. Their music has retained a core sound and kept itself fresh – something few bands can claim. And now, they’re gone.

How can we be really, really, sure that this time they really, REALLY mean it? They’ve released ‘Time Flies’, that’s how. See, it is an immutable law of nature that when a band either goes on “hiatus” or breaks up, then releases a “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits” or “Singles” compilation, the breakup is likely either permanent, or for a minimum of three to five years. Obvious exceptions to the rule, such as the Who, also prove the corollary: The more often a band calls it quits and then reunites for “just one more” album and tour, the worse they will begin to suck over time.

The Gallagher Brothers' parting gift to the world is the aforementioned compilation. There’s going to be a few different formats out there; 3 CD, 5 CD, multi-disc vinyl, probably a stripped down el-cheapo CD version to come, as well. I had the good fortune to listen to the 3CD / 1DVD version. I did not watch or listen to the DVD; I don’t like music DVDs. The first two CDs comprise the whole of their singles discography, including some region-specific bonus tracks. The third CD is an iTunes Live album, from Oasis’ set at the 2009 iTunes Festival in London.

The singles collection on the first 2 CDs is a great listen; an annotated cliff notes through the history of Oasis’ music. The live CD is an excellent conclusion to the set, and a triumphant farewell from this iconic band.

Oasis: 1994 – 2009 Time Flies
Sony
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

Monday, May 31, 2010

Whoops!

Okay, so it's been a while since I updated, hasn't it? This fatherhood gig gets very busy very quickly. Not that I mind in the least! Okay, I could use a bit more time asleep and maybe a couple of hours a week at the cafe, but besides that, who's complaining? The baby...got to change a diaper...

...okay, we're BACK! The good news is in spite of my lack of blog updates I have been busy working! The Aeons War is progressing; Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind is on track, though I've revised the launch window for Fall 2010. There's a bit more work that needs to be done to get this one ready; I'm working with the original illustrator, Nicole DeCaria on cover art ideas and finishing the eBook compile.

I've been spending a lot of time networking with writers, publishers and other creative types as well, so while I've done as much actual writing as I normally enjoy (though I still squeeze in at least a couple of hours a day!) I'm becoming more involved in the writing community.

Fatherhood isn't a topic I'd expected to blog about; there's far more entertaining and informative blogs on parenthood out there, and I want to keep this site as focused on my writing as possible. However, I must say that these first six weeks with Eva-Madeleine have been among the most frightening, rewarding, overwhelming, enjoyable and unbelievably happy days of my life. While Angel gave birth to Eva, I really do feel as though Eva gave birth to me.

So...that's as maudlin as I'm wont to get on these pages...so, how about a backlog of reprinted music reviews from the pages of CONFRONT Magazine?


Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles II

I myself didn’t know what to make of what I was listening to, the first time played ‘Crystal Castles II’. It was my first introduction to the band and to Canadian Experimental Electronic music in general.

The band has of course garnered critical acclaim and toured extensively since introducing the world to their unique sound. They’ve supportit ed for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Blur, and have performed festivals, including the Coachella Valley fest, Glastonbury, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, among others.

That being said, their sound is a bizarre hodge-podge of 16-bit electronic noise and asynchronous rhythms and sound effects. Alice Glass’ shrill, hi-lo falsetto and the generalized cacophony of noise combines to make a sound unlike anything I’ve heard before. There are times it sounds like utter chaos; at other times, like a broken Super NES videogame soundtrack. And yet the layer of complex sound works as a whole, cohesive unit. But the layers are so distinct one can listen to the same song over and over again and, just by shifting aural focus to a different instrumentation.

Glass’s vocals are often obscured behind the music, or just rendered incomprehensible by various sound effects incorporated into each song. But given the incomprehensibly self-referential lyrics, that’s not a significant loss. Yet the lost vocals too works, adding to the surreal, hallucinatory feel of this album. ‘Crystal Castles II’ is a musical freak-out, a manic, mind-frying collection of 14 unreal tunes. The music here is frenetic, high-energy and as addictive as any trip-inducing controlled substance out there.

This album is a mindjob for any connoisseur of messed-up music.

Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles II
Fiction Records
Steve’s Rating: 9/10


Soulfly: Omen

First, I’d like to tell you about what’s good about ‘Omen’, the seventh studio album from veteran American Metal act, Soulfly. Having been in this business for thirteen years, the band has become technical masters. The instrumentation, vocals and production of this album are flawless.

However…

The fact of the matter is the lyrics here are completely soulless. The promo team for the album boasts of its violence, its intensity, how aggressive it is, how raw, how powerful…unfortunately the violent imagery, themes and lyrical execution are just so uninspired, cliché and disappointingly bland.

They make all the obvious lyrical choices here…Bloodbaths, mayhem, rivers of red, execution, war, violence…Basically every Hard Core Heavy Metal stereotype and cliché imaginable is lumped together in from one song to the next throughout the album. It’s just really disappointing to listen to…with some proper effort put into the lyrics and imagery of the album, ‘Omen’ could have been kick-ass.

Soulfly: Omen
Roadrunner
Steve’s Rating: 5/10


Meat Loaf: Hang Cool Teddy Bear

The eleventh studio album from the bombastic and over-the-top Rock personality Meat Loaf is chock full of his signature, balladeering vocals, epic songs and light-hearted self-satire. Meat Loaf is best known for his ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ trilogy; while ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’ doesn’t have any songs destined for the same iconic status as “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” or “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” or “Monster is Loose”.

But ‘Hang Cool’ is nevertheless a fun, and unmistakably quintessential Meat Loaf album, expressing itself well on songs like “Los Angeloser” or “Did You Ever Love Somebody” or “Elvis in Vegas” crafting story-songs of poignancy, power and outright entertainment.

Of course, like his namesake dish, Meat Loaf is an acquired taste, and the sometimes sublimely ridiculous spectacle that is his music might not strike the right chord with everyone. Nevertheless, this is a good album from a legendary musician.

Meat Loaf: Hang Cool Teddy Bear
Loud & Proud
Steve’s Rating: 8/10


Colorsound: A New Feeling (EP)

Normally I don’t do EP reviews; I hate the format, even when it’s an EP from an established artist that I like. However, sometimes an EP is just meant to be reviewed. Sluggish email tubes and dodgy Canadian Postal Service meant that I literally only found out about Colorsound’s intro, ‘A New Feeling’ a few days ago. After an email exchange with the band’s manager I finally got access to the tracks. Given the effort made to get this one to me, I owed it to everyone involved to listen to it. I liked it enough to review it, as well!

Regular readers know that I’ve often said Montreal produces some of the best music nobody listens to; this city is brimming with unknown, underrated and simply awesome bands. Up and coming Electro Pop act Colorsound is no exception to this rule.

While I am ambiguous to Electro-Pop as a genre, I can appreciate it when it is done as well as it is here. Colorsound’s instrumentation is well layered and capably produced. The lyrics are appropriately romantic, somewhat innocuous and radio-friendly; vocally they fall somewhere between Simple Plan and Metro Station; It’s a little candy-corn but you know what? That’s all right too every now and again.

Coming in at 5 songs ‘A New Feeling’ is a little hard to use as a barometer for the band; this sounds like 4 top 40 singles and one “serious album” song; good music but a sampler. I’d like to hear more if only to get a better reading. As they’re working on material for a debut full-length it’ll be interesting to hear where they go. They could do some great New-New-Wave or Factory Glam sounding stuff and really surprise me, or even just produce more of the same Electro Pop and I’d be okay with it. From what I’ve heard they’re good at what they do. Time will tell if good can be great.

Colorsound: A New Feeling (EP)
Independent
Steve’s Rating 8/10


Wintersleep: The New Inheritors

Classic Canadian Rock at its best. There’s just no other way to describe Wintersleep as a band. Following the success of ‘Welcome To The Night Sky’, ‘New Inheritors’ is a capable entry; subdued vocals, Bluesy, bleak and trippy guitar work and a languid, mellow vibe infuse the album. Clever, contemplative lyrics rife with brilliant and unconventional imagery flesh out this album’s soul.

The album opens with “Experience the Jewel”, a song evocative of the greats of Canada’s Rock pantheon, and then alternates between subdued Rock intensity and mellow, Blues-driven ethereal Rock tunes.

Have they topped album #3 or have they plateaued? It’s too soon to tell; on the strength of this album, however, I can say that Wintersleep are certainly at their best.

Wintersleep: The New Inheritors
Sonic
Steve’s Rating: 9/10

Frankie Mayfield and the Soundbox: Self-Titled

This one is awful. Sorry, no other way to put it or preface the sentiment. While the musical arrangement and production on this one are capable, the lyrics and especially the vocals are not.

The songs run the gamut of tired cliché; all of them badly sung in a whiny, nasal voice that left me wondering if this was all brilliant comedy or some sort of genius performance art. It is neither. Imagine Adam Sandler from back in the day, doing a funny, retarded voice and then singing an album’s worth of Indie Rock. Yeah…that’s the awesomeness of Frankie Mayfield and Soundbox…only not as funny, and not on purpose. Really, shockingly bad.

Frankie Mayfield and the Soundbox: Self-Titled
Blacktop
Steve’s Rating: 3/10



The Blue Van: Man Up

Denmark isn’t exactly the first place that springs to mind when one thinks about Blues Rock. But veteran Danish ensemble The Blue Van are putting out some of the most kick-ass sounding modern take on Blues Rock and Southern Redneck Rock-revival that I’ve heard, since My Morning Jacket unleashed ‘Evil Urges’ in 2008.

They’ve been around for just under a decade and they’ve put out 5 albums in that time; ‘Man Up’ is their latest. The sound on this one ranges between the aforementioned Blues-rooted Redneck Rock to Post-Grunge, to manic, treble-charged tunes that sound like they’re unreleased material from the Vines.

My only real criticism of this one is that the title track of the album would have made a much better opener than “Be Home Soon”. However, driving through the rest of the thirteen tracks on ‘Man Up’, including “Silly Boy”, the very Chris Cornell-sounding “Lay Me Down and Die”, and my personal favourite, “I’m A Man”, The Blue Van recovers from this one, forgivable fault.

This is, arguably, one of the best albums of the first half of 2010; if you like the Rock music, you really should check this one out.

The Blue Van: Man Up
20 Buck Spin
Steve’s Rating: 9/10

Monday, May 17, 2010

Possible cover art for Oh Well, Whatever Nevermind...

Yeah...going for a concert-poster kind of feel for the cover. Any readers out there who'd care to comment, you're more than welcome (Comments are moderated but there's little I won't publish)

Thanks!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lost Words

The other day I'd really kicked some ass through the eBook revision of "Nevermind". Key scenes that I hadn't quite liked were easily and properly rewritten, and I'd advanced through a full four chapters of the story.

Because I'd been without my laptop I was operating with files on a USB key.

I guess you can see where I'm going with this.

Boom! Lost the key. Files gone.

It really burns me that I'd made so much bloody progress with the eBook to that point. It bugs me because now I have to start back from my previous filesave. It bugs me because I'm trying to get "Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind" out before summer, and I still have to figure out some marketing and distribution details, as well.

The idea of having to completely do-over everything that I just lost is completely discouraging, and right now I don't feel the motivation to do it. I'm going to toy with Aeon's War for a while, now. I might also start building the "Nevermind" eBook site a bit, put out some character biographies, etc.

But I just can't face starting back on everything I lost in my revision right now.

Annd so, here's the music review:

So in the last week I’ve gotten three CDs in the mail and oddly enough all three of them were by Rap artists. I’m notorious for not listening to much Rap, so I assume that this fulfils some sort of Karmic sentence that I’ve incurred along the way. In any case, what I listened to wasn’t all that bad.


Ron Contour & Factor: Saffron

Better known as Moka Only, Ron Contour is yet another in a long line of prolific Canadian Rap artists that you probably haven’t heard of unless you have your ear to the Underground Sound here in the Great White North.

‘Saffron’ is the latest in a very long line of releases he’s put out, over the last 16 years of making music. As I’m unfamiliar with the bulk of Contour’s catalogue, I can only comment on the one album.

The album establishes its sound, brassy, Jazzy, Funky and old-school right out of the package. “Check It Out” more than capably launches the songs on ‘Saffron’ into the ear, demanding attention be paid to the music.

The lyrics here are considered and intelligent, eloquently crafting new poetic images for the listener’s edification. Verbal rhythm is as essential as the rhyme, and Ron Contour is a master of lyrical delivery.

Jazzy instrumentation and old-school music and sound sampling weave together to form the last essential ingredient of the album: the backup. Merged together as a whole, ‘Saffron’ is a fantastic example of Rap done right.

Ron Contour & Factor: Saffron
Fake Four
Steve’s Rating: 9/10


Manafest: The Chase

When I reviewed Manafest’s 2008 release, ‘Citizens Activ’, one of the things that I enjoyed was that the Toronto-based Christian Rapper wasn’t being ham-fisted when delivering his messages of motivation and empowerment, of faith and life. Well, it looks like in the intervening years he’s slipped on his Schneider’s Boxing gloves.

This album is very message heavy; tracks like “Every Time You Run” and “Avalanche” getting nineteen kinds of preachy.

But the real letdown of this album is that Manafest tries to harken back to the dark era of Rap/Metal fusion of the early 2000s. Most of the album sounds like it’s caught in a custody battle between Linkin Park and Papa Roach, with nothing to differentiate itself from either.

There are some okay songs on this album, “No Plan B” (Which isn’t about RU-486, oddly enough) which opens the album among them. But generally I find ‘The Chase’ to be a letdown, especially given how well Manafest fared with 2008’s ‘Citizens Activ’.

Manafest: The Chase
Universal
Steve’s Rating: 6/10

Pip Skid: Skid Row

This one threw me for a curve. The music and vocals here are so grandiose, so melodramatic; the title track, “Skid Row” opens the album with an almost theatrical passion. But their intensity seems to stem from an exuberance and passion that is lacking in much of the music scene these days, across every genre.

Oddly enough, the album doesn’t devolve into the Hip-Hop-Hubris of artists taking themselves seriously. Pip Skid manage to demonstrate how much fun they’re having as they perform; songs like “Tens of Dollars” “I’m Impossible” “Fuck You So Much (pt. 1)” and “I Can’t Sleep” are all very fun tracks that prevent the album from taking itself so seriously.

Even when the album does turn serious, such as on tracks like “Heart Worm”, it does so without devolving into sanctimony. All in all this is a heartily entertaining album, well worth checking out.

Pip Skid: Skid Row
Foultone Records
Steve’s Rating: 8/10



Friday, May 07, 2010

Through Darkness and Stars News & The Nevermind Music Playlist

So the downloads for Through Darkness and Stars have crept past 1000, though I don't have a full accounting yet. The eBook's also migrated to a bunch more eBook hosts; I'm looking to swell those ranks even more.

With roughly 10 000 downloads since March of 2008, The Unearthing, the precursor for Darkness, is still way out in front. What that tells me is that a butt-load of people who read the first part of the story haven't yet heard about the second part. I've gotta suss out what to do about that, as well...

While Googling the book's title this week, I discovered two rather interesting things.

The first, is some dumb son of a bitch named Richar dirwin (presumably a username for someone either named Richard Irwin or Irwin Richard) was trying to sell Through Darkness and Stars for almost $60 a copy, through lulu.com, with his name on the fucking cover!

Needless to say I've informed the good folks at lulu.com of the plagiarism, and they are taking action. Meanwhile, I'm contemplating legal action against this idiot.

What kind of half-wit plagiarist tries to SELL something that the original author has already given away for free? And what kind of moron tries to steal verbatim an established work that has already garnered a not-insignificant following?

I almost feel sorry for this imbecile.

On the brighter side, that same Google session I also discovered Darkness and Stars, a really awesome, ball-breaking Metal song, by a band called Sternenstaub. Needless to say, I'll be checking out their music soon!

The song in question is, uncannily, just about the sort of music I was listening to as I first visualized the Zohor swarm sequence in Through Darkness and Stars so many long years before its writing. Though when I finally wrote that sequence and the balance of the novel I did so listening to John Murphy's In the House In a Heartbeat from the awesome film 28 Days Later, listening to Sternenstaub's Darkness and Stars made me recall the original conception of that scene.

Speaking of music, not yet time for my weekly music review from CONFRONT Magazine (I'll get to that later this week); instead, the long-awaited post about the music behind Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind!

So yes, as befits a novel set during the first half of the last decade of the twentieth century, the music I listened to while writing Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind is almost exclusively Grunge-era. There are a couple of anachronistic choices; a couple of songs from the 1960s and 1970s, a couple that came out after 1995. But overall the music that inspired the writing of Nevermind is music I, myself listened to during those years.

My contemporaries will be pleased to know that Hootie and the Blowfish are not among the list.

All in all there's some 53 songs on the playlist; without further adieu, then, here it is - listed sequentially within the context of the story. I recommend you go to one music sharing site or another to download these tracks, as they are generally awesome, anyway:

01 - Tones of Home - Blind Melon
02 - Mellow Yellow - Donovan
03 - Dancing Days - Led Zeppelin
04 - Hunger Strike - Temple of the Dog
05 - Little Wing - Jimi Hendrix
06 - So What - Ministry
07 - Head Like A Hole - Nine Inch Nails
08 - Dominion / Mother Russia - The Sisters of Mercy
09 - Are You Gonna Go My Way - Lenny Kravitz
10 - Rooster - Alice in Chains
11 - Interstate Love Song - Stone Temple Pilots
12 - Hard to Handle - The Black Crowes
13 - Get Here - Oleta Adams
14 - Hole Hearted - Extreme
15 - Detachable Penis - King Missile
16 - Riders on the Storm - The Doors
17 - Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N Roses
18 - Orange Crush - REM
19 - Love Buzz - Nirvana
20 - Drug Buddies (Acoustic) - The Lemonheads
21 - Kid Fears - The Indigo Girls
22 - Man In The Box - Alice in Chains
23 - About a Girl - Nirvana
24 - Take a Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed
25 - I'm Still Alive - Pearl Jam
26 - Into Temptation - Crowded House
27 - Evenflow - Pearl Jam
28 - Push - Stone Temple Pilots
29 - Kitchen - The Lemonheads
30 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
31 - Breaking the Girl - Red Hot Chili Peppers
32 - Locked in the Trunk of a Car - The Tragically Hip
33 - Summertime Rolls - Jane's Addiction
34 - You Give Love a Bad Name - Bon Jovi
35 - Unbelievable - EMF
36 - Been Caught Stealing - Jane's Addiction
37 - I Will Never Be the Same - Melissa Etheridge
38 - Cult of Personality - In Living Color
39 - Hey Jealousy - Gin Blossoms
40 - Bullet in Your Head - Rage Against the Machine
41 - Here's Where the Story Ends - The Sundays
42 - Confusion (Pump Panel Reconstruction Mix) - New Order
43 - Runaway Train - Soul Asylum
44 - Old Woman Behind the Counter - Pearl Jam
45 - Loser - Beck
46 - What's Up - 4 Non Blondes
47 - Head Over Feet - Alanis Morrissette
48 - Round Here - Counting Crows
49 - Think About You - Radiohead
50 - Time After Time - Everything but the Girl
51 - Smells Like Teen Spirit - Tori Amos
52 - Closer to Fine - The Indigo Girls
53 - No Excuses - Alice in Chains

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New...life


Wow...so much for my New Year's Resolution about posting more often, eh?

But, I have a really, really, really, REALLY great excuse for not posting sooner.

Her name is Eva, and she was born last week.

Caring for a newborn and helping my wife out around the house has been one of the most taxing, exhausting, frightening, stressful and difficult jobs I've ever had. And I've never known anything more rewarding, gratifying or enjoyable.

So I've not done much by way of writing lately; I'm not sorry about that. It's picking up again; The Aeon's War is insisting upon some attention while Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind is content to stew and wait it's turn (Coming soon!).

Little teaser: Through Darkness and Stars begins 18 months after the Ship leaves Earth, at the end of The Unearthing. The balance of Aeon's War happens some 1500 years after the events of Darkness, and involves time travel - though not used in any way, shape or form you've probably seen before. At least, I like to think it's an original take...

Anyway, getting back onto the topic of Nevermind, I've been promising the "Music At Work" for that one to you for a while, now. That'll be the next post, I promise!

In the meantime, please enjoy a backlog of music reviews written for CONFRONT Magazine!


MGMT: Congratulations

Back in 2008 I stumbled upon MGMT’s ‘Oracular Spectacular’ just in time to review it. I was blown away by the album, and later that summer I got to interview Andrew and Ben at the Osheaga music festival, here in Montreal. (You can read that interview in full by clicking here: http://www.confrontmagazine.com/web/2008/12/10/mgmt-2/)

Back then, Andrew and Ben confided in me that he was astounded by the almost overnight success the band had with their debut: “…it’s all bizarre to us, and we are always wondering how it happened.” Andrew said, “We’re still a bit confused,” Ben added, “We’re really happy that people like our music but we’ve always thought of ourselves as being very strange people, so to be accepted on a mainstream level like this is music to us.”

That culture shock and confusion became the overriding themes that inspired their work on ‘Congratulations’, their second album, just out this week. As they struggled to come to terms with their newfound fame they used the crafting of the songs that became ‘Congratulations’ as a means of coping.

The result is an album far less carefree than ‘Oracular Spectacular’; there’s a noticeable ennui, a weight on this album’s shoulders, which MGMT attempts to work through across its 9 phenomenal tracks. We sort of saw the beginnings of this gravitas on “Handshake” off of ‘Oracular Spectacular’.

Fortunately, the acid-rock vibe of the last album’s latter tracks is preserved here, tempered with a strong dose of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd influences. The Acid Rock vibe works well here as counterpunch to the lyrical content, and the album falls somewhere between ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ in terms of thematic execution.

High points of this album include “Congratulations”, which closes the album and gives an intimate expression of MGMT’s fish-out-of-water malaise with it all; “Brian Eno”, a tribute by MGMT to the Ambient Music icon and his influence on their sound; and “Siberian Breaks”, a 12 minute opus that sums up Ben and Andrew’s feelings through cryptic lyrical allegory.

As a work the sound here has evolved significantly from ‘Oracular Spectacular’, and yet the definitive MGMT sound is reinforced, despite sounding unlike their previous effort. Well worth it for anyone who’s a fan of music that doesn’t conform to the homogenous megalith of commercial music.

MGMT: Congratulations
Columbia
Steve’s Rating: 10/10



Circa Survive: Blue Sky Noise

Circa Survive’s another band that we’ve been eagerly following since the inception of CONFRONT Magazine. The experimental Rock act fronted by Anthony Green of Saosin has matured significantly from ‘On Letting Go’, their 2007 sophomore release, incorporating more sonic effects into the tinny, Treble-charged, mournful music.

The 12 tracks on the basic edition of the album are full of sincere intensity and brilliant lyrical imagery backed by richer, more complex music. Green’s Geddy-Lee sounding vocals add the right note of Emo angst to the albums, particularly on the impassioned “Imaginary Enemy”, as well as on my favourite tracks, “I Felt Free”, “Fever Dreams” and “The Longest Mile”.

There’s nearly a full hour of music on this disc, which in this day and age of 2 minute songs and albums with 39 minute running times is considerable value for your money, especially if you’re into the bittersweet melodies that have made Circa Survive famous.

Of course, another reason I might like this album so much is because I was listening to it when I learned my wife was going into labor, and the album officially dropped on April 20, the day our daughter was born.

Circa Survive: Blue Sky Noise
Atlantic
Steve’s Rating: 10/10



Scott Lanaway: Mergers and Acquisitions

The latest from Toronto-area Electro Folk artist Scott Lanaway is an ethereal delight. I’m reminded of Sting’s solo work with regards to the vocal and lyrical content, with falsetto vocals and an interesting mix of traditional and electronic instrumentation, Lanaway crafts a sophisticated and sensual sound. The music here has a certain bleak beauty to it, a mournful, lonesome romanticism.

The jazzy world-beat sounds, African rhythms and soulful lyrics on songs like “What We Already Knew”, “Gabapentin” and the haunting “Wild Eyes” are gems on an album full of wonderful, musical treasure. This is my first introduction to Scott Lanaway’s music, but it certainly won’t be my last.

If you like folksy, Indie Rock, mellow sounds and poetic lyrics, you really should be listening to ‘Mergers and Acquisitions’.

Scott Lanaway: Mergers and Acquisitions
Aeon
Steve’s Rating: 9/10



Jon And Roy: Homes

So last year I got to listen to ‘Another Noon’, Jon And Roy’s last album, as prep work for an interview with the duo as they came through Montreal. The interview fell through, as these things sometimes do, but I was so enamored of their music I couldn’t help but review it.

So, when I heard through the grapevine that Jon And Roy were coming out with another CD, I jumped on the chance to review it. Jon And Roy are masters of simplicity, crafting eloquent, agreeably cheerful music accompanied simple guitar, bass, drums and occasional harmonica.

From the first notes of “Any Day Now” on, Jon And Roy weave a tapestry of easy elegance. The lyrics of the songs on ‘Homes’ are more sophisticated than their counterparts from ‘Another Noon’. The music is richer, but retains the innocent romanticism and upbeat feel of its predecessor.

Favourites on this Indie Folk Rock compendium include (but are not limited to) “Boon Elm”; “Giddy Up”; the down-tempo instrumental, “Narwhal”; the jazzy “Brooker’s Song” and “Homemade Shirts”.

If you’re a fan of Indie Rock or Folk Rock, you’ll enjoy Jon And Roy’s entire catalogue, but ‘Homes’, their latest, is easily also their best.

Jon And Roy: Homes
Pacific Music
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nevermind the Aeon's War and Slash Music

So for the past few weeks I've been compelled to work on Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind. The story's been pulling me in, in a big way. The story's not connected to The Omniverse in any way, shape or form; in fact, it's a one-off, and the only non-genre story I've ever written.

Of course the drawback to working on Nevermind is that it pulls me away - as the title of this post suggests - from working on The Aeon's War, the third installment in The Omniverse series. And as much as I wish I could flit between the two projects, the truth is that doing so hurts the writing. So while at any given time I have at least a couple of works going at the same time, I can only ever focus on one at a time. And much like children in need of attention, it is the stories themselves that dictate which gets worked on.

I've talked a lot about this story over the years, but I don't think I've ever really gone into great detail. Well, as I'm planning on launching it in the coming months, perhaps it's best that I do so. So starting this week and off and on leading up to its launch, I'll be using this space to talk about Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind a little more.

I first started work on Nevermind in 2002, though I'd had the idea kicking around for a couple of years already, by that point. I wanted to tell a story set in and around college life in the early 1990s, and my goal really was to see if I could write something outside of the fantasy/science fiction genre.

My focus shifted back to The Omniverse when I landed the original publishing deal for The Unearthing, and Nevermind sort of languished as I concentrated on writing Through Darkness and Stars and reviewing the outline for the subsequent volumes of the story, including the aforementioned Aeon's War, which, I promise I will work on again soon!

For Nevermind, I came up with six characters, all of whom began to "speak" to me in the first person. This led to the concept that each chapter should be told from a different character's point of view, relating their own experiences and opinions as the story progressed. In one form or another I've been writing and rewriting it ever since; chapters from the earliest version of the novel appeared online at PHYTE.ca, where they were quite popular. Though the site seems unavailable now, those chapters are likely still out there, somewhere, if you can find them.

What started as a writing exercise and thought experiment (Nevermind was written without a traditional story arc or plotline, creating a more fluid, character-driven piece) became a story I obsessed over, feeling the characters' lives as if they were the lives of friends and loved ones.

I think that, despite its setting in the early 1990s, that the story, situation and characters have a universal appeal, and if not, there's plenty of frank depictions of sex and drug use to drive up marketability. In any case, Nevermind remains one of my favorite stories to have worked on.

Next time, I'll talk about the enormous musical playlist that, for me, is associated with the story.

Now, onto our regular weekly music review feature:


Slash-7845

Two years ago we were treated to the trainwreck of Axl Rose’s hubris, when he released ‘Chinese Democracy’ under the band-name of Guns N’ Roses. Ironic that, at that time, Axl Rose was the only original member left of GNR. What ‘Chinese Democracy’ was, besides horrible, was essentially the washed-up has-been Axl Rose without Guns N’ Roses.

Well, after that godawful album it was kind of interesting to hear that Slash was putting out an album of his own, collaborating with Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler. Essentially, this is Guns N’ Roses without Axl Rose. Slash’s self-titled debut, ‘Slash’

I’ll give you three guesses as to which of the albums is better, and the first two don’t count.

Slash pulls a bit of a Carlos Santana on this one, collaborating with a slew of big-talent Rock and Metal vocal talents to put this one together, including Ozzy Osbourne on “Crucify the Dead”, Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale on “By The Sword” Kid Rock on “I Hold On” and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 on “Gotten”. Of course, the song that everyone is talking about is the cover of GNR classic “Paradise City”, featuring Fergie and Cypress Hill. It is worth hunting down and paying extra for any version (there are a few) of the album that features this song, a bloody brilliant rendition of the quintessential Guns N’ Roses tune. The song also serves as a last “Fuck You” jab at Axl Rose, a last, derisive laugh at the expense of the failed GNR Frontman.

‘Slash’ feels more like a compilation than an album, simply because Slash changes styles as often as he changes vocalists here, tailoring each song for the voice singing it and displaying an incredible versatility. This one is nevertheless a fantastic listen, and the rightful heir to the Guns N’ Roses name.

Slash: Slash
EMI
Steve’s Rating: 10/10