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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