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Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Music At Work - Part One

Well, this weekend has seen me very frustrated over a bout of writer's block relating to the full eBook for Through Darkness and Stars. Yes, even though the writing of this was largely finished a while ago, the fact remains that portions of the story require a bit of a rewrite to get them just right. However, my brain does not seem to want to participate in the project.

Hell, I'm even having a hard time focusing on this blog post, it seems; that above paragraph took me an hour to write as I kept getting distracted. Beginning to wonder if I have adult-onset ADD.

Usually a little musical therapy is all I need to be able to get the writing flowing again; or yes, time away from the keyboard. But given that the only time I can really focus on my writing is evenings and weekends (as I have to keep a regular day jobt to pay the rent) and as my home/family life is just as important to me as the writing, any time specifically devoted to writing that does not see me writing productively is time lost, in my opinion.

But usually, when writing, music does help. In fact, music is often inspirational to writing, isn't it? So, what about my writing? Well, much of The Unearthing was written as I listened to Portishead's first two albums, Dummy and Portishead, usually on shuffle on my CD player.

But there were other songs I listened to obsessively as I worked on the first, second, third and multiple subsequent drafts of The Unearthing. Most importantly was Tori Amos' 1000 Oceans, which was essential to the rewriting of the interstitial between chapters Seven and Eight of the novel. When you read it (if you haven't already) you'll understand why. What's really interesting, is that segment only really worked after I started to listen to 1000 Oceans and rewrote it. Music is a powerful inspiration.

Through Darkness and Stars takes the Ship and its passengers out into deep space. As I wrote the story, I found myself wanting music more in keeping with the environment. Tangerine Dream artist Christopher Franke's work scoring Babylon 5 got some serious play in my headset. And as my regular readers might remember, J. Michael Straczynski's television opus was an inspiration to me, when in 1997 I sat down to work on The Omniverse's first volume.

Likewise, as I sought to build tension towards the end of the novel, I found myself playing John Murphy's In The House In a Heartbeat (from the fantastic and frightening 28 Days Later) over and over again. I remember something that Andy Warhol said once, which stayed with me: "I had this routine of painting with Rock and Roll, blasting the same song on a 45 RPM over and over all day long…"

Funny thing is, I've kept that same habit when writing. I'll listen to an album, or more often than not just one or two songs, over and over until I'm done with a chapter. Shame it's not working now!

For the upcoming Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind, which takes place in the early 1990s, I of course listened to a lot of Grunge and Classic Rock. As we get closer to the release of that one, I'll cough up the second part of My Music At Work.

Hopefully by the time I'm through with my music review for Thursday's update, I'll have actually finished the rewrite that's been kicking my ass all week.

See you real soon!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Soft Metal

Well! Time once again for my weekly music review! I promise, by this weekend a fresh post with an update on the full ebook version of Through Darkness and Stars and the first part of my "Music and Writing" blog!

And now for this week's music review, as seen in CONFRONT Magazine!

*****

Mutiny Within: Mutiny Within

mwithinThe first few times I listened to this one, I couldn’t escape the feeling that something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, despite listening to it several times over the course of several days. A few things irked me; the frequent use of piano chords as intros, chief among them. But I was at a loss as to what struck me as not being quite cricket about ‘Mutiny Within’.

So I decided to break it down; the CD consisted of a plastic jewel case, enclosed paper booklet (high gloss, stapled) and the CD itself was made of several layers of optic-grade plastic sealing in a micro-thin layer of aluminum alloy, laser-etched and coated on one side with ink. Everything seemed pretty standard. Okay, moving on then the music stored on the CD, itself.

Thankfully I’d ripped the CD to my MP3 player before examining it; disassembling a compact disc is difficult, and usually results in the utter destruction of that disc. So, music files blasting in my ears I sat back to listen to this one, yet again.

With Metal it’s always the guitar and drums that I “hear” first. Mutiny Within’s no different in that regard. The drumming is complex, manic, an athletic feat as much as it is musical virtuosity. The guitar work is equally fervent, with elaborate, one-note-to-the-next changes; these guys make the impossible look easy. The bass rhythms are almost subsonic, and could easily kill a lesser sound system, and the keyboards add a fuller dimension to the music, pulling it out of the garage in which so much Metal seems to wallow, these days. Overall the music itself is powerful, loud, melodic and demands to be played as loud as your eardrums can bear.

At first, I wasn’t sure about the vocals, either. Though lead singer Chris Clancy can scream and growl and wail and roar with the best of them, he generally keeps to a Human vocal range. His singing therefore has to rely on a lot more than the ability to keep up a steady roar, requiring he actually hit notes, hold them, and stay on-key, which he does, masterfully.

Somewhere in the middle of my commute home to write this review, I was struck by epiphany: the thing about Mutiny Within that’s off is the fact that they’re actually putting an original spin on Metal! These last five years have seen Metal devolve back into the cookie-cutter hell that killed it in the mid 1990s before it made a resurgence. Now, just when all hope seemed gone, along comes this band with their own take on the Metal genre, ignoring the pre-set patterns to do their own thing; who the hell do they think they are?

If you can stand to listen to Metal that doesn’t sound like every other CD you’ve heard, you should pick up the self-titled debut by Mutiny Within. Hopefully we’ll hear a lot more from them soon.

Oh, I’m still deducting points for the piano…I hated that.

Mutiny Within: Mutiny Within
Roadrunner
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

Sunday, January 24, 2010

AMONG OTHER THINGS: Motion City Soundtrack: My Dinosaur Life

OH BOY am I late with the update this week! I had been planning on doing a post about the music I listen to while writing to tie in with last week's guest blog by JR Turner.

WELL, that hasn't happened, because the last seven days have been absolutely insane here. I'm still working on the "music of writing" blog, but it's being put on hold for the moment.

In other news, the full, free, downloadable eBook version of Through Darkness and Stars is coming along nicely. Early Spring is still our target launch date. As always the 6-chapter free preview is still available.

If you are interested in reading Darkness, please, please, p-l-e-a-s-e read The Unearthing first! If you don't, I promise you, you will be completely fucking lost.

As Sunday is a traditional day of worship, I would also like to invite you to watch this little movie and think about where you want your life to take you:



OKAY, that's it for the news, now for the music review:

motion_city_soundtrack-my_dinosaur_life

When a band like Motion City Soundtrack, a band with Pop/Rock roots switches over to a major label, there are always questions. Will the new label meddle with the band’s sound? Will they insist on controlling production of the new album?


While ‘My Dinosaur Life’, the band’s fourth album has been called “radio friendly” by some, the core sound that fans recognize is still intact. Produced by Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, ‘My Dinosaur Life’ does have distinct post-Grunge elements and is similar overall to ‘Commit This To Memory’, the band’s 2006 sophomore release.


There’s a maturity of sound on this album; a sophistication in the lyrics and musical content that charts the progress that Motion City Soundtrack has made over the years. Songs like “A Lifeless Ordinary” “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” “History Lesson” testify to the trials and tribulations of maturing twentysomethings mourning the inevitable loss of youth.


But the reflective, bittersweet lyrics are tempered well through up-tempo Pop and Rock music, making the album’s content fully enjoyable despite the sometimes-heavy subject matter.



While ‘My Dinosaur Life’ doesn’t blow me away, it is good listening and may well spur a few interesting discussions as the lyrical content is deconstructed over coffee among friends. If ‘My Dinosaur Life’ does become Motion City Soundtrack’s “breakout” album as many are suggesting, then it will be validation to the band and their fans and supporters. Likewise, if ‘My Dinosaur Life’ becomes their breakout, it will introduce them to the significantly wider audience they deserve.


Motion City Soundtrack: My Dinosaur Life

Columbia

Steve’s Rating: 8.5/10


TALK TO YOU ALL SOON!



Friday, January 15, 2010

First Review of 2010

Okay, so before getting to our regularly-scheduled weekly review repost, I'd like to just update you on a few things: Through Darkness and Stars, the follow-up to The Unearthing is actually coming along ahead of schedule, so I am going to courageously moving the launch date forward to early spring.

There will be a second spring announcement, but that one's under wraps for now!

In other news I just want to extend my thanks too guest contributor, JR Turner. Her column on the music she listened to inspired me, and I'll be writing a piece about the music I listened to, as I wrote different things.

In particular, I find that the other eBook I hope to get out there for the first half of 2010 (So you all have a little summer reading on your Kindles and Smartphones) is music-heavy. As I've written, rewritten and honed Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind over most of the last decade (about the decade preceding it) the playlist has grown to the point that most chapters have at least one song attached to them. I can't wait to talk about them!

But in keeping with the music theme, I present this week's music review by me, for CONFRONT MAGAZINE:

Vampire Weekend: Contra

vampire-contra
This album is a radical departure from Vampire Weekend’s previous effort. It’s darker, angrier, almost violent sounding disc.

NO! I’M KIDDING!

The Brit-poppy Reggae and Ska flavoured musical stew that is New York City musical quartet Vampire Weekend’s very sunny, very enjoyable and upbeat music is very much intact on their second outing, ‘Contra’.

‘Contra’ opens without much intro; Ezra Koenig starts putting out the lyrics right with the first note of “Horchata”, which was released as a downloadable single back in October. The happy vibes continue across the other nine tracks on ‘Contra’, and the album manages to provide whimsy and joy without being saccharine, cloying or otherwise obnoxiously cheerful.

The tropical rhythms are juxtaposed against lyrics rife with cryptic references to personal experiences and obscurities, but if you sit back and listen without wracking your brains over hidden meanings, songs such as the infectious “Holiday” “Run” or “Cousins”, for example, become just utterly enjoyable.

Vampire Weekend have mastered the “Island Sound” on their second disc. The music is more technically complex, but the band maintains the near-manic pacing necessary to the fusion of genres that make up their sound. As widely received and praised as their self-titled debut was back in 2008, ‘Contra’ should finally win them the sort of acclaim they deserve.

Vampire Weekend

XL Recordings

Steve’s Rating: 8.5/10



Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Special Guest Blogger Edition!

Something new for 2010 - my FIRST EVER GUEST BLOGGER!

A little about JR Turner (Pictured @ left): Born blonde and Polish, Jennifer Turner writes action adventure thrillers and romances. She resides in Wisconsin with her husband Eddie, a red-headed Texan, and her three children, Dustin, Molly and Matthew. Raised by an eclectic assortment of artists and musicians, her upbringing helped shape and hone her imagination and dedication to the romantic arts. Between her commitments to family and writing, she actively pursues three things–white chocolate, dark chocolate, and more chocolate.

And that's it for me until Friday; take it away, JR!

Rockin' and Writin' with J.R. Turner

I love music and I love to write, so it seems natural to me that I would do both at the same time. I'm always looking for new tracks for my 'writing' playlist and hunting up old favorites I'm reminded about—usually in a soundtrack as I'm a big film fan too.

Since my forte is high action, I tend to go for the harder, more pumped up music groups. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Powerman 5000, Seether and Korn. In particular, for a novel that I'm finishing about a female soldier who dies and is resurrected to fight mutants has made "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie a favorite.

When I'm working on my Extreme Hauntings series, I tend to throw in a few softer tracks. Uninvited by Alanis Morissette is a great theme song. The first, DFF: Dead Friends Forever, introduces Kaylee. She's a resilient kid, forced against her will, to solve a century old murder and free a trapped soul from the demon responsible for her death. Yeah, definitely uninvited!

I think what makes this series different from some YA horror novels are the consequences she endures. Often, teens do incredible things to avoid being eaten or to escape the beasties, but never get busted. I didn't want to go down that path and instead, had Kaylee stand trial for arson and grave robbing.

In the second book, School's Out 4-Ever, she's sent to a haunted reformatory where things really get bad. Drowning Pool's album "Sinner" and Disturbed's self-titled album kept my fingers typing through that novel. There's something about their rhythm that allows me type like a deadline is chasing me. (Oh, wait, there usually is! ;))

When it came to choosing tracks for the trailers, I wanted to support emerging artists. For DFF: Dead Friends Forever, The Etiquette gave permission for their song "One Fine Day." This captured the transition I wanted—from the seemingly upbeat sound, to the darker lyrics and their message. The same is in the book—a seemingly 'normal' life underscored by a far more sinister reality.

For School's Out 4-Ever, I needed something much heavier. This book is very dark compared to the first one. Between the multiple deaths and the intensity of Kaylee developing 'abnormal' powers, giving up the hope of ever having a normal life, the themes demanded a hard-hitting track. Rotor, a fabulous band fronted by the very cool Kelly Marlow, had just the track—"Beat The Clock." Not only did this give me tone I wanted, but it perfectly fit the race to stay alive while doing her time.

Music is such a large part of my writing life, I can't imagine working without the sound of bass thumping in the background while the story unfolds across the page. Every great film has a great soundtrack and I doubt I could dig deep enough to find the greatness living inside every story without my own.




J.R. Turner is the author of the Extreme Hauntings series. The first book, DFF: Dead Friends Forever is available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Fictionwise, and Echelon Press.com




Doing Time Is Deadly:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lHXMv4e_8c
School's Out 4-Ever
http://tiny.cc/Vol6H

Thursday, January 07, 2010

WORST of 2009

If last week’s “Best Of” list was hard to compile, then this week’s “Worst Of” was a walk in the park. There weren’t many truly bad albums in 2009, but there were enough for me to highlight what I saw as the 10 worst. At least, those that I listened to and decided were the worst.

As usual my criteria were simple: any review where the album in question (1) received a failing grade of 5/10 or less, and (2) albums that struck me viscerally, raising my ire and contempt for their content, or at the very least, disappointing me beyond belief.


So without further ado, now’s the only time of year I get to play music snob, so let’s go!


10-Collective Soul: “Rabbit” Album 5/10


These Georgia Rockers have always sounded more like New Jersey wannabes to my ears. Yes, back in 1993 they had that one good song, “Shine”, their one and only gold-certified single, off ‘Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid’, but really, the rest of their music has been so mediocre and middle of the road they paved the way for Bland Bands like Nickleback.


Surprisingly, Collective Soul’s first four albums went multi-platinum, and their fifth album went gold before people started to wake up to just how much these guys stink. Yet astoundingly they’ve finished up most of their second decade of persistently churning out underwhelmingly bland music. The ‘Rabbit Album’ is more of the exact same tripe they’ve been churning out since 1993.


Collective Soul: “Rabbit” Album


Roadrunner



Steve’s Rating 5/10


09-Morrissey: Years of Refusal 5/10


There was a time when Morrissey could do no wrong, in my books. His work with the Smiths, and even his early solo stuff was among some of the best music of the 1980s and early 1990s. Then, well, frankly he started to suck.


‘Years of Refusal’ is his ninth studio album, and probably his most disappointing. Where once Morrissey’s clever turns of phrase and lyrical twists used to be original and thought-provoking, this disc is rife with some of the most awful Morrissey lyrics I’ve heard. Likewise, in trying to update his sound on this disc to capture a younger market of morose, Emo kids, Morrissey has given away too much of the sound that made him so renown to begin with. Refuse ‘Years of Refusal’ is my advice.


Morrissey: Years of Refusal


Lost Highway


Steve’s Rating: 5/10


08-Prototype A: The Evolving Paradigm5/10


I gotta warn you, folks: the farther we get into this list, the worse the music is going to be. Prototype A tried to do something with ‘The Evolving Paradigm’, as they fused 80s Power Rock and Electronica together into a new kind of musical sound.



Unfortunately, what they tried to do failed. Because the band chose to emphasis things like power chords and overblown balladeering, the result is a one-trick album that chooses to play that trick out, over and over again.


It’s a shame, because the musicians behind this glammed-up band are actually quite good. Unfortunately the focus on style over substance kills the effort.


Prototype A: The Evolving Paradigm


Independent


Steve’s Rating: 5/10


07-Classified: Self Explanatory 5/10


The Toronto Rap scene tends to take itself, like so many things from the Tee-Dot, entirely too seriously. I’ve always suspected that the reason so many Canuck rappers end up on so many lists, such as the Canadian Hot 100, is due in part to Canadian Content laws that see the promotion of Canadian “talent” for the sake of it being Canadian and not for the sake of its talent.


Classified, AKA Luke Boyd, is an accomplished veteran performer, and this disc is capably produced and performed. However, the constant extolling of the virtues and glamour of smoking weed make this album an irresponsible and stupid entrant on the rolls of 2009 music.


Stupid because all Classified does is rap about how wonderful weed is, without talking about the dangers of abuse, the threat of addiction and the consequences of abuse. In fact, with so many constant drug references on this album I daresay that ‘Self Explanatory’ is one of the most irresponsible albums I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing.



Classified: Self Explanatory


Sony


Steve’s Rating: 5/10


06-All Time Low: Nothing Personal 4/10


All Time Low is billed as Pop Punk. Somehow I missed the memo that redefined Pop Punk as the domain of Jonas Brothers look-and-sound-alikes who give their music an edge by saying “fuck” a lot. This album – in fact All Time Low as a group – besmirches the name of “Punk” music, banalizing it and giving us all yet another reason to hate marketed-to-tween-and-young-teen Pop music.


All Time Low are to punk music as Hannah Montana is to Heavy Metal. Besides making Avril Lavigne look like Courtney Love, All Time Low succeed in making the aforementioned Jonas Brothers seem hard-core in comparison.


When not swearing like a tween who just discovered that they can get away with dirty words when mom and dad aren’t around to hear, or hiding behind random bursts of guitar feedback, lead singer Alex Gaskarth likes to imagine that ‘Nothing Personal’ is somehow a deep album. I’ve seen deeper puddles on the sidewalk than this musical refuse.


All Time Low: Nothing Personal


Hopeless Records



Steve’s Rating: 4/10


05-Ben Lee: Rebirth of Venus 4/10


Ben Lee managed to release one of the most pointlessly self-important and smugly self-righteous albums of the year, when he unleashed the sanctimony of ‘Rebirth of Venus’ on the world, back in February.


Demonstrating himself to be a completely pompous ass, Lee proselytized to the masses with such haughty judgements as the condescending attack on legitimate Pop, “I love Pop Music”, and he makes similar pronouncements across numerous other tracks, from “Wake Up America” to “I’m A Woman, Too”.


Honestly, the arrogance, the self-righteousness on this disc reaches unbearably toxic levels.


Ben Lee: The Rebirth of Venus


New West Records


Steve’s Rating: 4/10


04-Chris Cornell: Scream 3/10



Does anyone remember how awesome Chris Cornell sounded on “You Know My Name”, the theme to Daniel Craig’s triumphant and role-defining debut as James Bond, in ‘Casino Royale’? Yeah, you won’t find any of that kind of awesomeness on ‘Scream’.


Cornell’s major mistake was in deciding to collaborate on ‘Scream’ with mega-homogenizing producer Timbaland. The result is, typically, an album that sounds exactly like every other album that Timbaland has ever laid his hands on.


Cornell is the voice behind Soundgarden and Audioslave; bands that, with Cornell’s work both as their front man and as a soloist, helped to define the Seattle Sound at the dawn of the Grunge Rock era. Here he plays second fiddle to Timbaland, despite this album allegedly being Cornell’s headliner. This one really is less for Grunge Rock metalheads than it is for fans of the generic, tired repetition of Timbaland.


Chris Cornell: Scream


Interscope


Steve’s Rating: 3/10


03-Tantric: Mind Control 2/10


Truly dreadful is the best way to sum up ‘Mind Control’, by post-Grunge rockers, Tantric. Instead of expanding upon a classic sound with an innovative, fresh perspective, Tantric seems satisfied to just give us more of the same old, same old.


To say that ‘Mind Control’ is unoriginal would be entirely too flattering. They riff on Smashing Pumpkins-style guitar work, rip off Alice in Chains two-part harmonies, and just spend most of this album vomiting up stuff done by other, greater musicians of the Grunge Era and calling it their own.



Likewise, lead singer Hugo Ferreira just doesn’t have what it takes to sing this style of music. His voice is anything but raw, pained or emotionally vulnerable; more suited to Pop and Lite Rock, Ferreira’s just not up to the material. But then, neither is the rest of Tantric.


Tantric: Mind Control


Silent Majority


Steve’s Rating: 2/10


02-Set Your Goals: This Will Be the Death Of Us 2/10


This is another one of those supposedly Pop-Punk albums that fails to deliver anything other than a little guitar feedback and raking licks. Dual lead vocals Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown deliver about as much edge as a Goo Goo Dolls ballad on this, Set Your Goals’ sophomore release.


Inspired by the kind of paranoid mind-fuck of movies like ‘They Live’ and ‘The Matrix’, this album is supposed to be about shaking people awake from their Western complacency. Instead, we get drowned in sugary pop music and worn-out, unoriginal musical cliché.


It would be nice if ‘This Will Be the Death of Us’ actually did sound the death knell for Set Your Goals. Unfortunately there’s just enough rubes out there to buy this crap and guarantee them a third album.


Set Your Goals: This Will Be the Death of Us



Epitaph


Steve’s Rating: 2/10


01-U2: No Line on the Horizon 2/10


What can I say about ‘No Line on the Horizon’? It’s unquestionably the worst album that U2 has ever put out, making efforts like ‘Pop’ and ‘Achtung Baby’ seem positively brilliant by comparison. And please note, this isn’t bad in the sense that bad-sex-is-still-pretty-good. This is bad in the sense that it’s utter shit.


It would appear that ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ was the high point of U2’s third decade of making music, because everything since has been downhill, just as everything after ‘Joshua Tree’ and on down to ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ were equally mediocre, though far more forgivable.


‘No Line on the Horizon’ is proof that it’s time to put Bono, The Edge, et al out to pasture. Other than their grandiose, self-righteous, Middle-Aged Liberal, We’re-Awesomely-Saving-The-World-One-Song-At-A-Time antics, U2 really haven’t made any worthwhile contributions to Pop/Rock, in a very long time. Go out and get their old music; their new music’s just plain shit.


U2: No Line on the Horizon


Island



Steve’s Rating: 2/10


That’s it for our look back! Next week I’ll be starting with a fresh batch of music reviews, for 2010. Place your bets as to what’ll be on NEXT year’s Best and Worst lists; next year, I won’t be quite as nice!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

My New Year's Resolution is 1280 x 800

That's about as funny as it gets this early in the year.

Not one to do years-in-review, let's instead look ahead. Now that the six-chapter preview has been out for a few weeks, I've decided to prioritize 'Through Darkness and Stars' for release before the spring. I'll hopefully therefore have 'Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind' out by the late summer / early fall.

In the meantime you may have noticed I'm posting my weekly music column for CONFRONT Magazine here, now. Besides that, I'll soon be having a guest blogger, fellow author J. R. Turner. Also, please note the 2010 edition K-Rune, yours now for a limited time.