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 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!

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
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

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
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!

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
Steve’s Rating: 8/10

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

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
Steve’s Rating: 6/10

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
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