Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Writing Update and Weekly Music Review

Well, I've been stricken with another bout of The Block as I work on Aeon's War. Consequence, I've decided to radically shift gears and finally finish work compiling the eBook version of Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind.

I'm already looking at a few different distribution points for Nevermind; owing to its non-genre storyline and "mature themes" subject matter, I'm thinking of putting it out there differently than I am the Omniverse. The next few weeks will see me largely concentrating on that project, though when I go to my cafe for a day's writing on Friday (Having the day off in honour of Nail Your Superhero To A Tree Day) I may very well be drawn back into the complex weave of The Aeon's War for a bit.

Anyway, that's the news for this week. Now here's SteveK with the music reviews:

Omega Crom: Blood, Steel & Fire

Garage Band sensibilities and Classic Metal Era construction combine with modern Speed Metal proclivities to create a fresh take on the genre as a whole. My first impression was awe, as vocalist Johnny K altered between a deep growl and a shrill falsetto not from song to song but within the same lyric. As rapid-fire as his vocal changes, the accompaniment from guitarists Wayne Holden and Ian Wilcke and drummer Dan La Pierre keeps pace and sets tone perfectly across the nine tracks on this treble-charged disk.

This is not the high-speed one-note incomprehensible-growl of most of the supposed “pros” of modern Metal; this simultaneously breaks the mold and returns to Metal’s roots. There are some problems: a poorly-edited sound-effects intro doesn’t merge fluidly with the lead track, terrible album art and occasional production missteps. However the music and performances here redeem. All in all, Omega Crom’s ‘Blood, Steel & Fire’ is an impressive debut.

Omega Crom: Blood, Steel & Fire
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

She & Him: Volume Two

Okay, okay; it’s been a couple of years but I’m still kind of wowed that Zooey Deschanel, besides being a cute Indie Girl actress is also a cute Indie Girl singer. Not only that, but she and her co-conspirator M. Ward have a pretty good thing going here.

'Volume Two' is, obviously, a follow-up to their debut, ‘Volume One’. The music here is reminiscent of Pop music from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s, with a slight return to the vocals and a mélange of traditional pop instrumentation with orchestral elements of strings, brass and other classic accents.

The music is sophisticated and modern, without the precocious innocence of Pop music’s bygone past. Blended together with upbeat notes, two-part harmonies and retro sensibilities, ‘Volume Two’ is unlike anything I’ve come across since 2007’s ‘In Camera’ by Arthur & Yu.

The songs here are gentle and pleasing, a light but complex, refreshing album.

She & Him: Volume Two
Merge Records
Steve’s Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Better Late Than Never - Music At Work Part Two

Okay, this has been a rough week for me. Hence the late update. Work continues on the next book in The Omniverse, and I think the first act is coming along nicely.

Likewise, Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind has been making sentimental appeals to my conscience, and I will complete work compiling the eBook for that one, this spring.

I've been listening to a lot of motion picture scores, lately. Something about instrumental and symphonic music appeals to me when I write, lately. The scores to The Matrix series of films are among my favourites, as are the scores to Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan and 2009's reboot of Star Trek. Massive Attack's soundtrack for Danny the Dog (AKA Jet Li's Unleashed) is another great one. But lately, what's been pulling me in is the original score for The Watchmen, a movie which, like V for Vendetta before it, I preferred to the source material. That's right: I liked the film versions of Alan Moore's greatest works over the comics. So sue me.

Anyway, although I had to reorder the tracks on The Watchmen to sequence with events on film and move the Philip Glass tune Prophecy over from the original soundtrack to the score in order to fully enjoy it, I have to say I have been obsessively listening to Tyler Bates' work for the film as I work on The Aeons' War.

When I work on Nevermind I prefer Grunge and Classic Rock, and there will be a column about the extensive playlist for that project well before the eBook launches.

For now, I owe you guys a music review, don't I?

Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune

Certain musicians die, and then their recording careers suddenly explode. This happened with Elvis, Tupac, Jimi Hendrix of course, Frank Zappa, John Lennon and many others. Most of the time, these posthumous works come out within a few years of the musician’s demise. A couple of notable exceptions have albums come out regularly, for decades after their untimelies.

Jimi Hendrix is one such exception to the rule, having had 11 releases come out since his death. ‘Valleys of Neptune’ is the latest in a long line of living dead music from the original Seattle Guitar God.

To sum up this album, let’s discuss what “posthumous” releases are generally made up of: previously recorded tracks that were left off of previously released albums. That means these songs were, originally considered to not be good enough for release. But when you’re talking about the caliber of material created by a musical artist like Hendrix, what wasn’t considered “good enough” then is still a hell of a lot better than a lot of the Rock music that gets put out today.

The songs of ‘Valleys of Neptune’ are either previously unreleased material, or formerly only on bootleg or inferior-quality resurrections. A lot of them are also new versions of previous Hendrix releases, such as the opener “Stone Free”, as well as “Fire” and “Red House” There’s also a fantastic instrumental cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” That just seethes Hendrix.

This is top of the line material; whether you’re a new or returning fan, ‘Valleys of Neptune’ is quintessential Hendrix, and well worth the 13 year wait since his last posthumous release.

Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

Friday, March 12, 2010

Viral Darkness & Weak Wind-Ups

So, as I'm wont to do, I spent a bit of time doing different Google searches for my name and the name of my books. The Unearthing has a huge online presence, and slowly but surely, Through Darkness and Stars is creeping up, too. I'm everywhere, of course, but I never have anything interesting to say that's not in a book or else I'd be getting paid for this.

What's really interesting is that Darkness is going viral; it's showing up on eBook sites that I didn't send it to. While traditional booksellers might go all apoplectic over the notion of someone redistributing their work without their knowledge or say-so, the fact is (1) I released it under a Creative Commons license and (2) I'm giving it away for free because it's more important for me to have readers than get paid to write.

What I like about the viral thing is that the book literally spreads on its own. Someone snipes it from an existing site and puts it on theirs, someone else does that to them, and so it goes. What I find strange, though not necessarily a bad thing, is that instead of using the eBook "cover" art, the sites where I found Darkness they were using the Queen of Light and Sorrow concept art which was truncated into the eBook cover. I wonder what their reasoning is on that one.

Here's what they look like, side by side (or top to bottom)

Anyway on the music front, another album I didn't particularly enjoy listening to this week, for CONFRONT Magazine, is the debut CD from Wind Up Radio Sessions. Here's what I had to say:

The Wind Up Radio Sessions: Red Brick House

Mellow, jazzy, folksy tunes that waft up from ‘Red Brick House’, the debut CD from Hamilton, Ontario ensemble Wind Up Radio Sessions. I’m reminded of the early work of another Greater Toronto Area music act, the Barenaked Ladies. Their music has the same dreamy, carefree vibe dripping with witty, self-referential lyrics sung in contralto.

The eleven song debut is jovial and innocuous, pleasant, light and downright tame. Yes, the vocals, instrumentation, and production are all top notch, but WURS aren’t offering us anything new or challenging, even by the milquetoast standards of adult contemporary. “Me and My Doe” which opens the album is pleasant enough, but the tendency to overplay the quirky lyrics is distracting. Likewise, follow-up track “In The Morning” continues the obscure references while sounding like an unauthorized sequel to Barenaked Ladies’ “Pinch Me”.

These guys have the singer-songwriter Folk-Rock-Jazz thing going, but there’s no grit to this offering, no substance. There’s nothing here to really stimulate a listener, no challenge to the music. It’s designed for mass consumption and easy digestion. But it’s entirely too insubstantial.

For example, while they tout Neil Young as an inspiration to them, their supposed homage, “No One Came” is a pale imitation at best, and perhaps the weakest entry on the album. I think that’s the problem with ‘Red Brick House’ overall: it’s like a diluted blend of other people’s music. These pleasing sounds have garnered a lot of critical acclaim, but I have to wonder if everyone’s not cheering the flavour while ignoring the filler. It’s sort of like eating one of those puffed rice caramel wafers; it tastes great, but it’s just an air biscuit, and not very satisfying in the long run.

Wind Up Radio Sessions: Red Brick House
Steve’s Rating: 6/10

Friday, March 05, 2010

Sometimes I really enjoy writing a music review...

As evidenced by the post below, there are times when even reviewing an album I hate can be a pleasurable experience:

Various Artists: Almost Alice

This is a week to rejoice if you are a pasty-skinned, eyeliner-wearing Hot Topic fashion victim. Everyone’s favourite moody, pretentious Art-Fuck Goth Tim Burton is releasing his latest self-indulgent Technicolor drug-dream.

In keeping with the best (and worst) predictable Burton tradition, there’s Danny Elfman providing the LAA-LAA-LAA-LAA chorused symphonic tantrum. But also along for the ride on Burton’s self-styled “sequel” to ‘Alice in Wonderland’, today’s hottest unretired Emo-Pop and Pop-Punk performers, from Avril Lavigne to Tokio Hotel, present songs “inspired” by this latest movie.

Disappointingly but unsurprisingly, most of the songs on ‘Almost Alice’ are clumsy and ham-fisted with the ‘Alice In Wonderland’ theme and imagery. One of the few somewhat inspired tunes on the album is Franz Ferdinand’s “The Lobster Quadrille”. With lyrics by Lewis Carroll, it’s probably more loyal to the author’s original version than Tim Burton’s film that shares a name with Carroll’s most famous work. If you should wonder why Kerli is featured on this CD, you need only look at the Burtonesque Gothy cover to her 2008 debut album. I’m fairly sure Tokio Hotel made it on because of how much Bill Kaulitz looks like Edward Scissorhands’ wussy baby brother.

Otherwise, I have very little good to say about this disc. There’s a predictably whiny Avril Lavigne song; a typically breathless Electro-pop track from Metro Station; an obnoxious 3OH!3 song; a typically saccharine Plain White T’s song, and an ill-advised pop-experiment by Robert Smith, he of the Cure. Grace Slick wannabe Grace Potter commits the worst crime on this album, doing an uninspired karaoke-cover of Jefferson Airplane’s classic, “White Rabbit”.

Fans of any of the collaborators on this album might find something to enjoy here. No doubt Burton’s pretentious “You Just Don’t Get Him” cinematic cultists will rush to fawn and coo over this one, or listen to it in their parent’s darkened, black-lit basement in the middle of the night while smoking clove cigarettes. Whatever. I thought it was crap.

Various Artists: Almost Alice
Steve’s Rating: 2.5/10