Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tom Vek Makes Life A Chore

Tom VekTom Vek a.k.a Thomas Timothy Vernon-Kell was heard loud and clear in the United Kingdom when he first debuted a unique alternative sound almost 10 years ago. And over here, stateside, the distinctive experimental rock made ripples in the right corners by comparison.

This time will be different. It is almost impossible not to take notice of the self-taught multi-instrumentalist. His upcoming album, Leisure Seizure, already shows promise of being a beast.

And there is a steady groundswell of interest growing around the artist since he released his first single, A Chore. Everything about the song is a dizzying reminder of why Vek is able to sink in so deep after a few uncertain spins.

The music is as unrelenting as the work he lent to Kill Bill. It's pounding and addictive; alternative noise different enough that you question it before it sticks.

The breakout video for the single, directed by Ollie Evens and produced by Leanne Stott, has some folks confused about who Tom Vek really is. (We included his press pic as a clue, but the rest is up to you.) But that aside, A Chore chokes along with compelling lyrics about how people stumble along, temporarily abandoning dreams and growing discontent. And then what?

A Chore alludes to some self-reflection during a self-imposed exile.

Vek himself, who is starting to speak about his self-imposed exile, provides some clues. He told Spin he spent three years just trying to find the right studio to produce his work. While it might seem impossible to understand given he started in a garage, longtime fans recall that he also spent eight years there before anyone heard his work.

When he was ready, he busted out an album that many people called the ultimate answer to the indie industry stuck in a mainstream patch. We Have Sound was a surprising debut by an accidental artist simultaneously working on a design degree.

"I'm not trying to turn round and say it was all deliberate, but looking back, I want to be positive about the situation I’ve ended up in, so being the delirious optimist, I’ll say it was all deliberate." — Tom Vek

Based on early interviews, the optimistic deliberation is only partly true. While fans guessed where Vek might be, he was trudging along with the work, feeling discontent and unfulfilled. And even when everything looked good on paper, it still didn't feel right. A world of doubt.

This second song, which has yet to be released as a single, is still being discovered as a YouTube video. Equally strong, the music is captivating enough that the imagery is all but lost on the screen. The meandering alternative near-rap is remarkably well measured against a backdrop of swooning percussion.

The new album is due out on June 7. Based on the first song released by Vek, it will persuade more than a few people to rethink their direction. Given Vek is one of the few who produced one album, disappeared, and still drew impostors, it's safe to say he has influence.

Tom Vek's A Chore Shakes 9.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is no doubt that Vek is an acquired taste, with a rawness made distinct by recording in a garage with limited equipment, even after being polished by Tom Rixton. This time out, some of that rawness is still there, but all of it is intentional. The songs seem fuller and filled with contemplation as a result.

You can find A Chore on iTunes. You can also find his 2003 single, One Horse Race and If I Had Changed My Mind there too.

While Leisure Seizure has a distinctly different sound, you can check out his previous album, We Have Sound, on Amazon. We Have Sound (Tom Vek) can also be found at Barnes & Noble. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have preorder links to the new album with varied dates.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Omni Royal Orleans Pours Just Off Bourbon Street

Omni Royal OrleansNew Orleans is probably best known for Mardi Gras, but staying in the historic French Quarter is an unforgettable experience any time. There is a timeless quality about the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, with many of the buildings predating the city's entrance into the United States.

The original city was founded as Vieux Carré in 1718 by the French. However, the famous architecture isn't colonial.

After the Great New Orleans Fire in 1788 and a second fire in 1794 destroyed most of the buildings with peaked roofs and wood siding, occupying Spanish rebuilt with colorful stucco and familiar decorated ironwork. Most of these buildings were built in the 1820s, borrowing from African, French, Spanish and Caribbean styles.

The iconic history of the Omni Royal Orleans.

New Orleans didn't become part of the United States until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. What the country acquired along with the territory was a city that, despite being occupied by Spain for years, maintained the rich and colorful heritage of the French Creoles who founded it.

Much of that history remains intact, as do many properties, including the Omni Royal Orleans. It originally opened as the Saint Louis Hotel in the summer of 1843 and was an immediate success in a neighborhood developed by some of the most important Creoles in the city.

Omni Royal OrleansIt was successful right up to the American Civil War. After, the hotel slowly decayed until it was finally blown to rubble by the great hurricane of 1915. It wouldn't see a vibrant life again until 1960 when it reopened as the Royal Orleans and earned its own pop culture prominence in the 1960s and 1970s.

It was mentioned as the best hotel in Arthur Hailey's novel Hotel, featured prominently in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, and was immortalized by Led Zeppelin with the song Royal Orleans.

The song recounts how John Paul Jones brought a woman from the bar up to his room, unaware she was a transvestite, to smoke a few joints. They fell asleep and the room caught on fire. Everyone escaped safely and Mick Jagger eventually wrote the lyrics to tease Jones. They never performed the song live.

Countless celebrities have stayed at the hotel, including Charlton Heston, Muhammad Ali, Robert Redford, and Bette Davis. It was also the steady haunt of jazz pianist and composer Armand Hug, who played on even after being afflicted with arthritis.

A bit about the modern day Omni Royal Orleans.

Today, while some people think the Omni Royal Orleans is getting tired, the 4-Diamond hotel still features luxurious deluxe rooms and suites tastefully furnished in 19th century decor. The best of them include private balconies overlooking the famed streets of Royal and St. Louis. The hotel itself takes up the entire block and includes modern amenities alongside the charm.

One of several reasons the hotel is an attractive place to stay in the French Quarter is its location, which is just far enough from Bourbon Street (one block) to offer some peace in between the lively French Quarter action. When I stayed, there were street musicians right outside my room. Something to keep in mind before booking a room, but it didn't bother me.

Omni Royal OrleansOmni Royal Orleans is also home to the infamous Rib Room, which was one of the first of its kind in North America. You definitely want to eat there at least once while you are in New Orleans. Its local charm still attracts prominent locals and literary greats.

Chef René Bajeux, former chef of the Grill Room and René Bistrot, took the helm in May, but I suspect everything at the Zagat-award winner is still prepared on giant French rotisseries and mesquite grills. (For breakfast, try the French toast with bananas Foster.) After dinner, sneak up to the pool and bar on the roof. It will feel like a second home.

Omni Royal Orleans Is Perfectly Suited At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This isn't the first time we've had reason to highlight an Omni Hotel, which owns about 50 distinctive luxury hotels and resorts in North America. The brand was also featured for the dubious history of the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale.

While rates vary, Orbitz currently lists the Omni Royal Orleans as low as $143 per night (some people have claimed to have locked in rates as low as $80). Area hotels in New Orleans are still affordable since Hurricane Katrina, even though the French Quarter was largely unscathed and the Omni Royal Orleans was undamaged. You can check airfare rates at Fare Buzz with flights up to 60 percent off.

Another great thing about New Orleans in recent years is that it has attracted an increasingly younger crowd. In fact, this Memorial Day weekend marked the first time New Orleans has started to feel like it is on a roll again. Occupancy has been up 20 percent all spring, indicating that New Orleans might finally be back!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Follow That Bird Teases An LP For Fall

Follow That BirdNot everyone caught The Ghosts That Wake You, the first track off a compilation album put out by Matador Records in 2010. And yet, it was this memorable pre-debut release by the Austin-based Follow That Bird that convinced us to add them to our follow list.

Fronted by the expansive vocals and guitar of Lauren Green, the three-piece band is set to release a full-length debut alternative rock album sometime in the fall. Several tracks from the album, not found on distribution sites until June, are the mark of some great things to come.

Several songs from Follow That Bird show promise for the fall album.

As referenced, the first track on the upcoming album will be a recut version of The Ghosts That Wake You. The new cut seems deeper, better fusing a punk vibe with its indie rock roots that thrown down the laid-back ferociousness only a handful of girl bands can muster (formally, in this case). Along with this gem, you can dial up their Wooden Bones and its B-side accompaniment on Bandcamp.

Wooden Bones is clearly the better of the two songs that will be released on June 21. But all of their Bandcamp distributed singles better illustrate their music over a few hard-to-find live cuts floating around YouTube.

While all the videos capture Green's garage sparked guitar work, Tiffanie Lanmon relentless bang on the drums, and Paul Brinkley's aggressively impressive bass line; Green's otherwise restrained moody vocals disappear.

Even if it isn't the best set caught on camera, it doesn't matter. It still captures the mood and underlying talent here.

It's this type of blended and balanced musicianship that finally landed Follow That Bird a home with Seattle-based indie label Mt. Fuji Records. It prompted the Austin Chronicle to speculate that the band will be headlining at SXSW next year. And, it secured them a West Coast stint opening for …And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead, which is making waves with is own ambitious LP released earlier this year.

Expect a bountiful but sometimes bumpy ride.

All in all, the only hurdle that Follow That Bird may have (beyond the strong tie to the big yellow one) is a handfull of critical reviewers who want to lump them in with acts like Riot Grrrls. Don't believe it. Follow That Bird breaks far, far away from what some comparison-happy critics say.

Although there are some similarities to the mid 1990s bands that broke out then (many of which we like), Follow That Bird has a freshness all their own. Besides, their studio work is significantly less fuzzy than any predecessor in the genre, enough so that it sometimes feels like you can pluck each instrument out of the compilation with will power alone. And that is more than cool.

The Ghosts That Wake You By Follow That Bird Flies At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The same rating can apply to the net sum of the two tracks coming out in June. They prove Mt. Fuji Records snapped up the right talent, bringing their roster up to a lucky thirteen. Michael Jaworski was smart to sign this band and even smarter to let them retain their darkly enchanting qualities.

Watch for the release of the single in June, visit them at Bandcamp, or bookmark this page when we update links. You can also find the first cut of the widely distributed The Ghosts That Wake You on the compilation via iTunes.

Or, pick up the Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010 on Amazon. There are plenty of other great tracks, just none of them earned as much respect from Gerard Cosloy, who called Follow That Bird one of the best new bands to come along in years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Barbara Eden Uncorks Her Jeannie

Jeannie Out Of The BottleBarbara Eden will forever be identified with Jeannie, an iconic role that helped her reach television superstardom. But as she reveals in her autobiography written with the help of Wendy Leigh, there is much more to Eden than I Dream Of Jeannie.

Eden has enjoyed one of Hollywood’s most enduring and respected careers. But there is heartbreak behind her smile and story. You can even hear it in her voice at times as she narrates her own story. It remains warm and entertaining throughout.

Eden was born in Tucson, Arizona, but the book picks up slightly later with her childhood in San Francisco where she was known by her real name of Barbara Jean Huffman. Affected by the Great Depression, Eden's family was poor, but happy. And as a girl, Eden wanted to be a singer.

Barbara says hello to Hollywood.

As someone who later studied singing at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco and acting at the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre, it was only a matter of time before Eden would head toward Hollywood. She was welcomed almost immediately, becoming a contract player with 20th Century Fox.

As such, Eden had a few breaks, landed the plum role of Loco in the show How To Marry A Millionaire, and married actor Michael Ansara. But as many people know, these first few roles were nothing compared to what would come next.

Her big opportunity came with a screen test for the role of Jeannie, a featured character in the pilot for I Dream of Jeannie, written by author Sidney Sheldon. She didn't believe she would land the role. Instead, she was sure it would go to a “tall brunette with very long legs.”

The tiny (5’3”) blonde Eden was surprised to win the role. And it's perhaps in sharing her experiences on the Jeannie set that Eden’s story becomes the most entertaining. Her telling is somewhat mischievous, and it is obvious she relishes many of her recollections.

Eden clearly loved the show, the cast and crew. But Larry Hagman, cast as Major Anthony Nelson, was apparently a real piece of work (my words, not hers). As the “star” of the show, he hated playing second fiddle to Jeannie and he let everyone know it. In truth, he hated being outshined by anyone. And he showed it by urinating on the set, routinely smoking pot, guzzling champagne between takes, and insulting guests like Sammy Davis Jr.

Her other encounters with stars are more touching, from the doomed Marilyn Monroe and elderly Groucho Marx to the lecherous Tom Jones (“Can I show you London, Barbara?”) and a surprisingly polite Elvis Presley. And even when some other guest stars put the moves on her, she evaded them with her characteristic dignity and amusement.

The sadness behind a contagious smile.

Barbara EdenAlthough she had a successful career, her personal life wasn’t idyllic. Eden candidly describes the tragedy surrounding the stillborn death of her second son in 1971. She still wonders if her non-stop workload was a contributing factor.

There is the painful divorce from Ansara, which Eden regrets to this day. The loss of her beloved mother. And her second marriage (and divorce) to a mentally abusive schmuck.

All of it is overshadowed by the most poignant part of the story. Her son Matthew Ansara began using drugs at a very young age and Eden never knew it. She never looked. She never saw warning signs. And she unabashedly cautions all parents to snoop in their children’s rooms to avoid experiencing her loss. Matthew Ansara overdosed at the age of 35.

Jeannie Out Of The Bottle By Barbara Eden Blinks 6.9 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Listening to the audiobook makes the story all the more real. Eden even chokes back the tears while reading about the tragedy of her son. It’s compelling.

What you'll find inside will reinforce what Eden’s fans and colleagues already know. She is a classy lady, and probably the only person who could have ever read this story. She is animated, laughing, chuckling, and occasionally emotional.

Jeannie Out Of the Bottle by Barbara Eden with Wendy Leigh is available on Amazon. You can also find the book at Barnes & Noble. However, even better than the book, which features some never-before seen photos, is looking for Jeannie Out Of The Bottle audiobook on iTunes, read by Eden herself. The show, I Dream Of Jeannie, might be fun to watch again too, starting with Season 2.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stuart Newman Is An Undiscovered Artist Pick From Brighton, U.K.

Stuart NewmanNot many people have heard of Stuart Newman. He's like many musicians trudging about in the United Kingdom, in that he eventually hopes to be noticed. But unlike many musicians, Newman isn't taking advantage of living in Brighton, which most people call the liveliest music and club scene on the south coast.

"I don’t currently do the live thing. It’s not who I am right now," says Newman. "I think the craft of songwriting in the industry is getting sidetracked. Writing with a view to perform changes things."

Instead, Newman places a singular emphasis on crafting intimate songs, with the intent to reach people intimately, one on one, through their headphones. He does it quite well too. One of his newer singles, Feel The Temperature Rising, breaks ranks from his earlier self-produced EP and pushes his voice above his modal register.

Studio Demos EP introduces an artist with more to explore.

The strain creates a pained sentiment that reveals the struggles of an artist left out on the fringe of the mainstream. While the instrumental is elegantly simplistic, it picks up heavier percussion as it builds to an urgent conclusion.

"Feel The Temperature Rising explores areas of ‘hype’ within the arts, and to me, hits on the areas of frenzy that surround a hollow core in the arts," says Newman. "But I'm reluctant to be too specific with meanings; people can generate their own attachments."

As an exceptional contrast, pair up Feel The Temperature Rising with Pandora, which features Newman's more common singing voice. It's a sharp song, one that bridges the gap between acoustic and indie rock with compelling contemplative lyrics and a straightforward acoustically-driven melody.

"Pandora is a track that I wanted to write, to explore a certain type of songwriting," said Newman. "It’s a song that talks about the picking of the scab inside us, the pursuit of the negative. All the things emo/pop-punk sometimes attack."

The difference between the tracks is indicative of Newman's experimentation over the past year. His early tracks have a raw edge that he attributes to working in certain restraints. But since then he's been experimenting with a diverse vocal range to avoid predictability and in a studio so he can layer effects for a fuller sound.

While he works within this context, Newman doesn't necessarily consider himself as a singer-songwriter. On the contrary, he considers his work more explorative and investigative as it relates to flipping through emotional layers. While admittedly, he agrees it risks coming off as pretentious, it still best describes what he does as an artist.

"I'll never be the best guitarist or best pianist, but it's the mental and emotional layers that I'm interested in, and I tend to use lyrics to do it," he said. "Singer-songwriter might be a loose term, to give people an idea what I'm about, but that term would probably give people a door into what I'm about."

Newman is an artist as much as he is a musician.

He's had time to develop a still-evolving direction. After some early piano lessons as a child, Newman taught himself the rest and later picked up the guitar. As an independent artist, music is not the only area he's learning. He self-shot the video and added effects to distract from the quality. He acts as his own publicist and marketing director. Last year, he self-produced some T-shirts and gave them away to anyone who asked until the boxes were empty.

At the moment, none of his work carries a price tag. Everything from his first album, Single But Defective, and his new 4-track EP (plus one unmastered mix), Studio Demos, can be downloaded free from Bandcamp.

Pandora and Feel The Temperature Rising are my picks. While Decade is fine energetic folksy rocker, the vocals don't feel in place until the latter half of the song. Head Hurts is a solid nihilistic song, but you have to look past a few imperfect moments. The album of Newman's early work is all original with recordings reminiscent of a stripped-down Brian Jonestown Massacre. There are plenty worth downloading, most averaging around two minutes each.

Studio Demos By Stuart Newman Gets Under The Skin At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Newman is an unexpected creative force in artistic exploration. At times, some of his influences ring out loudly and sometimes the discipline drifts, but those qualities also lend well in creating an aura of unpredictability with some shining moments that are fresh, unique, and surprising. Dig around and expect some flashes of brilliance.

Since there is no outlet to support his work by buying it, all Newman asks is that you take the time to connect and share his work. His Website can be found at StuartNewmanMusic.com. While obscurity remains his biggest challenge, helping people "pass by" where he's standing is the best way to give him and his work a lift.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SkyView Is A Gateway For Stargazing

Photo by NASA/Troy CryderMaybe it's fitting since May sadly marks the end of the 30-year space shuttle program, but the desire for space exploration remains in the forefront for many people.

There are answers out there. And some might help resolve the challenges we face down here.

Although there will be no more shuttle launches, there is growing interest in keeping our eyes pointed upward, thanks in part to several smart phone app developers blending entertainment and education.

Three apps in particular stand out, with the review focused mostly on the newest.

SkyView makes stargazers out of the gravitationally challenged.

With its initial free offering and 99 cent upgrade, SkyView goes a long way in making a beautifully compelling application for anyone. It brings stars, satellites, constellations, and celestial bodies within reach.

What makes the app incredibly attractive is its presentation. It does what it says it is going to do and does it well. It finds objects in the sky incredibly fast.

SkyViewThe technology isn't new. It combines the GPS and gyroscope funtions of an iPhone to plot your location and sync the sky to your vantage point. And, because the screen drops in the real-time camera view as a backdrop, you immediately capture a sense of where everything is in relation to you.

Once you've located or searched for an object, you can pull up some information about it without changing screens or plot the object's celestial path. It's basic, but fun.

Plotting paths is especially useful for photographers interested in framing sunrises and sunsets before the event. But the entire tool works well for casual astronomers or anyone who wants to point out a planet, constellation, or satellite in the night sky.

It's simple and straightforward, regardless of how much interest someone might have in space. The real draw is in the immediacy of stargazing, making anyone who has the app want to explore more.

SkyView opens the door for Star Walk.

When SkyView first entered the app store, there was an initial buzz followed by small backlash from people who were already using one of several other stargazing applications. The most well known of which is Star Walk.

While Star Walk lacks some of the sex appeal that SkyView seems to have, it's generally considered the frontrunner of augmented astronomy apps. And compared to SkyView, it easily wins on providing more in-depth information (Wikipedia-reliant) about stars and celestial bodies.

StarWalkStar Walk also works on both the iPhone and the iPad. And, although you have to leave the live screen to access it, the information often includes renderings of deep space clusters and nebulas, satellites, and even animated renderings of spinning planets.

The application is robust in other ways. It includes a calendar of celestial events like planetary alignments, full moons, solar eclipses, and meteor showers. There is a quick live sky one page that details when planets will rise and set. There are semi-regularly updates of space photos and renderings.

In many ways, competition from other stargazing apps has been good for Star Walk, prodding the developer to add features it never intended to offer. Once, it even provided a specific response as to why it was not going to add the space station and satellites. And then, despite the explanation, it added them anyway.

This app (and the next) also add more functionality in that can freeze the sky frame and explore the stars without being tied to the augmented reality titling. However, when real-time sky panning is enabled, it doesn't seem as fluid as SkyView (probably because it stays true to proportions).

SkySafari upgrades its app with three giant tiers.

While most people are asking whether SkyView or Star Walk is the better app to get, Southern Stars has released its three-tier SkySafari 3 for the iPhone and iPad. The tiers — basic, plus, and pro — range in content, function, and price.

Sky SafariMost notable is that although the basic lists more objects than other apps, the pro version includes almost everything known — 15.3 million stars from the Hubble Guide Star catalog, 740,000 galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and over 550,000 solar system objects. And yes, that means every comet and asteroid ever discovered.

Most objects found also include detailed content with embedded images from NASA space missions, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the world's foremost amateur and professional astro-photographers. It's a nice touch, but nothing compares to the standout feature for serious stargazers. The plus and pro apps allow for wired and wireless telescope control of higher-end telescopes from Meade, Celestron, Orion, and others.

So which app is the best? It's all about what you want. If you want to point out Orion's belt to your nephew or make note that you and your girlfriend first kissed under Scorpio, SkyView ought to be enough. Star Walk and especially SkySafari are different degrees of moving toward casual astronomer to amateur or even pro.

SkyView By Terminal Eleven Sparks 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Both Star Walk by VITO Technology and SkySafari 3 by Southern Stars would easily score higher. However, I can't discount the instant gratification that SkyView affords itself as an app. It makes education entertaining and immediate. That counts.

You can find all three applications (and variations) on iTunes. SkyView is 99 cents (currently) and there is a free version. Star Walk (iPhone) is $2.99 and Star Walk (iPad) is $4.99. SkySafari 3 functions on both the iPhone and iPad, currently on sale for 99 cents. Its plus and pro versions are significantly more, about $15 and $60 respectively and some additional hardware might be required.

If any of these programs do make you more interested in astronomy, two entry-level telescopes worth considering are the Meade NG-70SM 70MM Refractor Telescope or Orion SkyScanner 100mm Reflector Telescope. They're both rated among the highest in their class for beginners for about $100 or less. Go boldly.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Misfit Sugar Sweetens A Boys' Club

Andy LoveleeWhile the name Islington Boys' Club is the giveaway, the vocals will sometimes make you wonder. Attribute it to the outstanding range of Andy Lovelee, which adds an even greater diversity to a band earning some buzz for its energized live performances.

Formed two years ago by four friends who met on the East London music scene, the quartet moved into a converted church in North London and began practicing what they describe as a post punk sound that deconstructs lo-fi indie rock by the numbers.

There is some truth to it. Every single released blends retro riffs with a modern, industrialized tribal beat to create a swirling, doomed glamor statement. Add in Lovelee's range and their single Misfit Sugar can be as sensual or aggressive as they want.

Misfit Sugar marks the direction of the band.

Case in point. Although the band is promoting the new single Misfit Sugar as the lead-in for its upcoming album this summer, Islington Boys' Club already released a different cut of the single on a compilation album from Silverdoor Records last year.

The single then and the single now are two dramatically different tracks, with the primary contrast in how Lovelee presents the vocals. And the newer arrangement slows down the pace while placing more emphasis on the percussion over the guitar work.

What's striking is the song works either way, and the new cut gives critics even more to talk about. Take a listen to the original Misfit Sugar cut last year.

And then grab the new album-intro version of Misfit Sugar from Soundcloud as a free download. If you like what you hear, turn your attention to Pristine (and I don't mean the terrible remixes the band has loaded up there).

Pristine makes for a second preview.

Misfit Sugar isn't the only Islington Boys' Club single worth a listen. Last year, the band released single Pristine along with the equally acclaimed B-side, Plastic 6. You can catch Pristine as it was meant to be heard on YouTube. It was directed by the multi-talented David Richardson.

Naturally, the video captures Lovelee's gender-bending sense of style, which is cool in that it's all matter of fact much like Bowie once did. The rest of the boys include Daniel Silvester Taylor-Lind (guitar), Drew J. Kennedy (bass) and Ed Pearson (drums).

Along with Pristine, there are a few dozen live cuts of the band, all of them giving a great preview of things to come. It's a long way from their early beginnings in a church, deconsecrated in 1958, and converted into a boys' club (which is how they got their name).

Misfit Sugar By Islington Boys' Club Rattles 8.9 On Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Islington Boys' Club is a band to watch. In an interview late last year, the band ran down the gauntlet of some of their influences, with references to a mix of 60s British rock, American indie, New Wave punk, and a touch of electronic — all of which can be heard in their unique sound.

For a free download of the new version of Misfit Sugar by Islington Boys' Club, visit Soundcloud. The original cut of Misfit Sugar in on iTunes (track 20). You can also find Pristine on iTunes. Pristine/Plastic 16 is also listed at Amazon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Swim Back To Me Strips Loss Bare

Swim Back To MeAnn Packer has always had a knack for writing compelling stories about loss — whether it be death, divorce or dreams. More often than not, her characters are teens and adolescents, people already in some sort of emotional upheaval when loss strikes.

And in her latest book, she explores the theme to new and interesting conclusions. She doesn't do it just once because Swim Back To Me is not a novel proper. It's a collection of two novellas (connected by a single thread) and four short stories.

Walk For Mankind sets an unsettling tone for Swim Back To Me.

The first, a novella, is Walk For Mankind. Set in 1972, Richard, a shy, somewhat nerdy adolescent, meets Sasha, the oddly compelling new girl on the bus. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that finds them nearly inseparable outside of school.

Richard’s mother has recently left the family, leaving Richard’s Stanford professor father to try to balance his usually singular focus on work while raising his son. It leaves the door open for Richard to discover a whole new world in Sasha and her family.

Her dad, Dan, is also a professor who landed at Stanford after being denied tenure at Yale. He is a narcissist, but one who actually adores his children and his wife, even if sometimes he drives them crazy.

The novella takes its name from the Walk For Mankind, a 20-mile walk around Palo Alto in which Richard and Sasha are walking to raise money for the underprivileged. In gathering pledges, they run into the wrong crowd. Sasha has her head turned by drugs and a guy in his 20s.

This experience cause an irreparable rift in Sasha and Richard’s friendship. And their story unravels until Sasha and her family move back to Connecticut.

The balance swings from loss to labels.

Molten is the story of Kathryn, a mother who may never come to grips with the death of her teenage son, Ben. He had been killed by a train as he saved the life of a little boy who wandered into its path. The little boy lived, but Ben wasn’t so lucky.

Ever since, Kathryn has neglected her husband and daughter, both also grieving in their own ways. To cope with her grief, Kathryn has turned to listening to Ben’s beloved record and CD collection, hoping to find something in the music or perhaps use it as a way to connect with Ben again on some level.

Jump changes things up with 30-year-old Carolee, a woman who reluctantly accepts a ride from Alejandro, a young Latino co-worker who talks, dresses and acts like he is from an economically challenged part of town. When Alejandro stops at home, Carolee is stunned to learn that his family is very affluent and that Alejandro’s accent is nothing more than a put on. She discovers he is not who she thought he was after all.

Swim Back To MeThe next short story, Dwell Time, is the most suspenseful. It's about Laura and Matt, a couple who recently marred, creating a blended family of five kids.

Matt is articulate, steady, reliable, kind, and prompt. And it is because of his unfailing promptness that Laura senses something is wrong when he doesn’t show up for dinner. He disappears. And soon after Laura realizes that she never knew Matt at all.

In the last short, Her Firstborn, Packer piles on the sadness and tension about a couple who are about to have a baby. Dean is thrilled at the prospect of being a first-time dad. Lise is happy too, but the impending birth reminds her of her firstborn, who died of SIDS at the age of five months.

It’s something Lise experienced with her first husband, and something that she cannot fully share with Dean. He is overjoyed about the new baby, but is uneasy about completely sharing his joy because of the unresolved “presence” of the baby who died.

Packer closes the book just like she opens it. Things Said Or Done takes her book full circle as Sasha and Dan (from the first novella, Walk for Mankind) attend her brother's wedding. While Richard seems long forgotten, the situation is not.

Sasha wasn't spared the anguish of a broken home after all. Her mother eventually left Dan when Sasha was still a teen. However, her mother also decides to attend Peter's wedding. While she has moved beyond Dan’s needling and need to be the center of attention, she regrets having relinquished the responsibility of Sasha taking on the role of "caregiver" to her former husband.

Ann Packer and her relentless pen for detail.

Ann ParkerPacker has an eye for detail and that is what makes her stand out an author. She knows her characters and lets anyone who reads her work know them too. The writing here is honest and strong, perhaps her best work or at least as great as her best-selling novel, The Dive From Clausen's Pier.

Of all the stories, Walk For Mankind, Dwell Time, and Her Firstborn are by far the strongest. Things Said And Done feels too heavy in places. It might have worked better as a short story rather than a novella. But Parker still exhibits her strength as a literary drama writer shines in each story.

Swim Back To Me Glides In With A 7.4 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Known for keeping her writing close to home, Packer was born and raised in Stanford, Calif., right near Stanford University. Her parents were both professors, which makes it easier for Parker to pepper her stories with people tied to academia. Nowadays, she lives with her family in San Carlos, near San Francisco.

Swim Back to Me is available at Amazon. The collection is also listed in iBooks, and Random House has already released the audiobook, with Packer narrating. Barnes & Noble also carries the book.

This review is based on an advanced proof copy from Random House.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Manchester Orchestra Adds Simple Math

Andy HullIt might be named after an English city, but indie rock band Manchester Orchestra was formed in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. And like many suburban youth felt from time to time, frontman Andy Hull was so frustrated by small town attitudes and sameness that he spent his senior year at home studying while writing and recording his first full-length album.

Although Manchester Orchestra was meant to be a solo project after his first band collapsed, his close friendships with the people he wanted to invite to play — including Chris Freeman — formed a kinship as thick as blood, a feeling Hull now shares with his fans. He says as much in the music.

"We built this house your hands and your time and your blood" is a direct reference to fans on the album Simple Math on the song Virgin.

According to Hull, Simple Math was the most fluid creative process of anything they have ever created before. And you can hear it in every note. While many albums have throwaways that I sometimes refer to as "we need another track" songs, you won't find any on this LP. Simple Math gives each and every song an explorative depth it deserves.

The title track is one of those songs. Although Hull, who has been married for two years, never had an affair, he was able to contemplate the consequences of having one while writing it. The final cut, however, works on an even bigger scale as Hull and company transform the emotion behind Simple Math as any careless accident interrupting well-plotted lives.

Simple Math sets the tone of the album, best described as growing up and accepting responsibility instead of blaming everything or anyone else. So while the title track is speculative, other songs are not. April Fool was written immediately after he and his wife had hit an impasse. He came home and she had left, forcing him to recognize that everything they had together was over.

They later reunited, but you'll find Hull still infuses introspective lyrics into his sometimes soothing, soulful harmonics and sometimes unabashed rock threads. He's not the only hero, of course. Freeman (keys), Jonathan Corley (bass), Robert McDowell (guitar), and newcomer Tim Very (drums) play perfectly together to create an incredibly cohesive fourth album.

All in all, Simple Math has a much fuller rock sound than the band's previous outing, Mean Everything To Nothing. And while none of it quite approaches the aggressive awesomeness of 100 Dollars on the last album, Simple Math raises the bar with its equal parts feeling and foreboding.

In addition to April Fool and Simple Math, download Deer, Leave It Alone, and Pensacola for starters. But don't be surprised if you go back to download the rest of the album.

Simple Math By Manchester Orchestra Adds Up To 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Some tracks cast the die for the Manchester Orchestra to transcend being a great indie band and put them one step closer to becoming a future rock influence. It's the kind of album that perusers come back to again and again, appreciating that Manchester Orchestra has something unique going on. They own their songs in more ways than one.

Simple Math by Manchester Orchestra can be found on iTunes. Simple Math is also on Amazon and a vinyl edition can be found at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Free Yourself With Summer Pullovers

Moonlight Breeze TunicIf you're looking to get an edge on summer even with cooler spring mornings and evenings, it's easy enough to do with any number of pullovers. But don't think of them as bulky, shapeless styles that sometimes characterize pullovers in the fall.

Spring represents a free and fresher look, with styles you can wear well into the summer — even if it's simply to give your skin a break from the sun for a few hours. Or, if you prefer, throw them over anything to completely change the look.

Free People rekindles the appeal of a fashionable pullover.

One of the designs recently arriving from Free People features a sheer mesh tunic with crochet-pattern stripes, creating a lace-like look. In addition to short slips on the bottom side, the pattern breaks to create a more contemporary and sensual appeal.

The Moonlight Breeze tunic (above) is a specialized complex blend, 60 percent cotton, 35 nylon, and 5 percent Spandex. The ivory white makes it perfect for beachwear, but black completely changes the look for a deeper more urban style. The same happens with two other colors. Deep plumb creates a folksy look; taupe make everything look more prep.

Two more styles that will turn a few heads anywhere.

Embroidered Flora PulloverThe tunic isn't the the sole worthwhile design. The Embroidered Flora pullover with its long bell sleeves and v-neck cut can be worn without anything underneath. It comes with a hood, but consider that added feature form over function. It works when it's down; not so much when it's up.

The Embroidered Flora pullover is 100 percent cotton. The embroidered design carries over to the back, helping to break the recent surge of "half panel" designs flooding the T markets. (Full pattern fronts that break at the seam, well, they suck.) The pullover comes in two colors — dramatic red and a more conservative white.

ona Pointelle PonchoWhile not as sophisticated as the tunic or as earthy as the pullover, Free People also included a feminine poncho in the mix. What makes the Kona Pointelle poncho work is the pointelle insert. The knit pattern breaks heavily on the shoulders and then around the outside edge.

The blend is 57 percent cotton, 32 percent silk, and 11 percent rayon, making it much softer than how you might imagine a poncho would feel. Take care, however. Unlike the other two pullovers from Free People, the apparel is dry clean only. And from a design standpoint, while comfortable, there's a little less attraction appeal compared to the other two.

A unique connection to some other great design boutiques.

Free PeopleSome people know the story of a young man named Dick Hayne who planted a seed in West Philadelphia. He opened a store called Free People, which focused exclusively on younger people who wanted more freedom in their clothes. You know the store today as Urban Outfitters.

Obviously, that is only part of the story. Hayne and his wife, Meg, went on to open stores like Bulldog, Ecote, Cooperative, and Anthropologie. Then in 1984, the couple decided to breathe new life into the name that started it all, creating designs for department stores and specialty stores until Free People came full circle and opened its first boutique almost ten years ago.

The Summer Pullovers By Free People Cover A 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Since Free People first opened an online storefront in 2004, it has made considerable improvements to the presentation. Not only does the store feel right for the look, but the boutique sometimes includes short-clip videos of on-location fashion shoots, which gives you a better sense of the clothes.

Free People has about 45 new designs for the spring-to-summer break, including accessories and handbags. For the newest Free People collection, visit Bloomingdales. Free People also recently added its first line of swimwear.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Mountain Goats Turn Over With The All Eternals Deck

The Mountain GoatsBack in 1991, John Darnielle sat down in his cheap Norwalk employee housing studio apartment with an inexpensive guitar and dual-cassette recorder to pound out poetry. But then something unexpected happened over the deco tiling on his tiny bathroom floor.

His poems began to sound more like songs and his friend Rachel Ware, who played bass, joined him to form a band. That was some time ago, and the Mountain Goats have gone through several transformations before settling on John Wurster (drums) and Peter Hughes (bass) in 2007.

Listening to some songs, you would never know. Darnielle is such a strong driving force to everything that the Mountain Goats has ever produced that anyone who knows the band would immediately recognize the sound. At least, for the most part. All Eternals Deck won't likely be a favorite among most fans, but there are a few songs that represent.

All Eternals Deck feels denser, punctuated by a couple of haunting gems.

Darnielle has always been a deep-thinking narrator that can make you ache from head to heart. He does it frequently too, with more than 26 LPs and EPs behind him. One of the first, my introduction years ago, was Nine Black Poppies. By the time he produced The Coroner's Gambit, Darnielle would be striking the chords for as long as he write poetry.

Right out of the box on All Eternals Deck, Damn These Vampires does exactly that as Darnielle laments in pained detail of growing up in a small rural town where one day rolls into the next. The people who populate our environments dictate who we were before, if we let them.

Like so many of his songs, the instrumental — brush sticks under the acoustic guitar and a piano — sets the mood. While I'm not certain, it feels reminiscent of a hazy morning in central California. And it's this piquant sound that earned him a cult following.

Never Quite Free captures a similar theme, but with a direct reference to faith getting you through the worst — the calm that immediately follows standing on the edge of tragedy. Almost unnoticeable annotation aside, the song carries more passion than many of the other tracks.

There are other solid songs. Birth Of Serpents, which the band played on Letterman. It's another song referencing a hometown, except this one reflects on returning home awash in semi-success only to learn a friend has died. Also check out Beautiful Gas Mask, Liza Minnelli, Outer Scorpion Squadron, and For Charles Bronson (because it's probably not the one you think).

On the whole, All Eternals Deck doesn't pack the same punch musically as some of the best picks of his work over the years. But there is no mistaking that almost all of them will snare you with the interwoven lyrics that still make Darnielle as much of a poet as he ever was. Wurster and Hughes tighten up on the arrangements, taking some ownership of the band.

All Eternals Deck By The Mountain Goats Flips Over With A 4.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Writing a review about the Mountain Goats is almost sublime in that it has always been one of those bands that I've held close to my chest. You know on the front end that not everyone who hears them is going to understand the appeal. So sometimes you don't share it. On any other album, they move the numbers higher. But then again, maybe they will anyway for someone.

All Eternals Deck by the Mountain Goats is available on iTunes. You can also find the album on Amazon or pick up All Eternals Deck from Barnes & Noble.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Patch Adams Clowns For Compassion

Dr. Patch AdamsWhen most people hear the name Patch Adams, the first image that comes to mind is the movie starring Robin Williams. Not me. Not anymore.

The real Patch Adams, born Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams, is an American physician and social activist who founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971. For twelve years, he ran the institute as a free community hospital.

And after it closed, Adams began organizing trips to various countries to spread his gift of humor and medicine all over the world.

Today, Adams is hoping to re-realize his dream. The new Gesundheit! Institute is envisioned as a free, full-scale hospital and health care eco-community that will be built on 316 acres in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. His goal remains much the same as it was when he first graduated from medical school in the 1970s.

He believes free health care is obtainable, without interference by insurance companies. And at the heart of it all is compassion.

An International Day Of Compassion In Honor Of Dr. Patch Adams.

Earlier this year, Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com and founder of BloggersUnite.org, happened to catch Adams's speech at the Mayo Clinic on YouTube and was moved by what he saw and heard. When he connected with Adams afterward and developed a relationship — built on the foundation that friendship is the best medicine — Berkman offered to help build awareness.

The result of this friendship was the International Day Of Compassion, an event that asked everyone online (bloggers and social networkers) to participate in one of three ways.

First, to observe May 15 as an International Day Of Compassion by committing to one act of compassion. Second, to call on the United Nations and countries to proclaim May 15 an International Day Of Compassion. And third, to raise awareness for the Gesundheit! Institute, which recently broke ground but is still in need of additional funding.

"We didn't ask for much," says Berkman. "We asked that everyone make a commitment to be more compassionate, whether that meant something as simple as keeping a journal about the compassion they share with others or demonstrating a tender moment with another human being.”

The initial request attracted about 65,000 participants, and was mentioned at least once every minute across social networks. Given the short window of the campaign, about two weeks, it was better than Berkman hoped. The success is a foundation from which people can bring more attention to the Gesundheit! Institute.

Any proclamation that makes May 15 the International Day Of Compassion seems to be timed right. International Nurses Day is recognized on May 12. It is celebrated to coincide with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, widely considered the founder of modern nursing.

"You treat a disease, you win, you lose," says Adams. "You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome."

Patch AdamsThe hospital isn't the only building project at the Gesundheit! Institute. Other projects include The Patch Adams Teaching Center, which will be focused on education care, justice care, and environmental care as well as health care. It will also provide a 24-hour free clinic that is designed specifically as a model for students and medical professionals to practice medicine with care and compassion amidst a playful, professional team.

Along with the physical presence in West Virginia, Adams frequently organizes volunteers to assist with Clowning & Caring, an educational clown tour that is currently touring Costa Rica. Adams holds up Costa Rica as an example of a country that supports projects of peace, justice, and ecological restoration.

The International Day Of Compassion In Honor Of Patch Adams Is A Good Will Pick.

At least once a month, Liquid [Hip] highlights good will efforts undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don’t score them. That belongs to you.

We picked the International Day Of Compassion by BloggersUnite.org because it represents the intersection of imagination and actuality, awareness and action. There are many ways to get involved as an individual or as an ambassador of good will through the Gesundheit! Institute. One of the most interesting includes the Humanitarian Clown trips.

Visit the website if you would like to make a direct donation. Although critics were unkind to the movie Patch Adams, you can find it on iTunes. The Patch Adams - Collector's Edition is available at Amazon. The movie is also at Barnes & Noble. You can hear an exclusive unedited interview by Cher Duncombe, editor of Broowaha, with Dr. Patch Adams here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Before The Dawn Rises In The U.S.

Before The DawnNot everyone has heard of the Finnish metal band Before The Dawn (BTD). No surprise. Unless you know someone who keeps up on bootlegs or has worked as a reviewer, they're easily missed despite having released six albums in Europe. Even there, they were opening for bigger acts just two years ago.

Deathstar Rising is the album that could change that. While it might be their sixth in Europe, it's their debut in the United States, with frontman Tuomas Saukkonen likely to leave a mark on American metal.

The 10-track LP (14-track bonus LP) is better than the earliest works from a band that began as Saukkonen's solo project. It might even be their best work.

Deathstar Rising is a solid U.S. debut and a smart sixth release in Europe.

Almost immediately after its release in Europe, the album hit the Finnish top ten and the song Judgement was listed as one of the "Top 20 Gothic & Alternative Songs of February 2011" by Gotherica. While the nods are nothing to write home about on their own, they have made their strongest member roster to date.

Of course, Saukkonen remains a remarkably talented musician and performer in the driver's seat, covering guitar, harsh vocals, and keyboards. He composes and mixes most of the work from his home studio (much like he does with his other bands). Rounding out the talent is Lars Eikind (bass, clean vocals), Juho Räihä (rhythm guitar), and newcomer Atte Palokangas (drums).

Two immediate things stand out that make Deathstar Rising different. Palokangas brings a fresh urgency to the percussion that BTD had lost on Soundscape Of Silence. And second, the album cannot be confined to a sub genre. It balances melodic death metal, goth metal, and doom metal as effortlessly as it Saukkonen balances his growling vocals with Eikind's harmonies.

Although Deathstar was the first track to earn attention in the United States, the sound isn't entirely indicative of the album. Generally, BTD follows a verse light and chorus heavy arrangement. Deathstar twists and flips the emphasis, opening with a heavy verse and leaving the chorus light.

Deathstar Rising has several great picks, very few skips.

After Deathstar, preview Winter Within, which captures Saukkonen's emphasis on how a song feels, with this one icy and Nordic. Unbroken is another favorite. It is the heaviest and fastest song on the album, but the real prize isn't the studio version. It's the live track (recorded at Nosturi, Helsinki) that brings something unique. The same can be said about The Black.

BTD also included an acoustic version of their single My Room, which does a fine but forgettable job showcasing Eikind's talent as a singer. You can also skip the unneeded instrumental introduction, unless you purchase the entire album. Instead, skim for heavier tracks like Judgement and Butterfly Effect.

No everyone agrees this time. Some critics are calling the album dull, with the same riffs and melodies. I don't know. While I don't review metal too often, BTD brings an enthusiasm and energy that other death metal bands have been lacking lately.

Deathstar Rising By Before The Dawn Bends A 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I know Saukkonen keeps busy with several bands and even produces for other bands. Deathstar Rising is one of those albums that makes me wish he'd narrow his attention. This band is cutting close to re-emerging the genre. Besides, Saukkonen is wildly down to earth. He might have the whole viking warrior look happening, but he doesn't take himself seriously.

In a recent record promo he even asked American guys to buy the album because it would help them get girls. But even if you don't like the album, he said, buy it and like the girls who like the band.

Deathstar Rising is on iTunes. Stick with the bonus album. You can also download some tracks from Deathstar Rising at Amazon. Check for older albums as they are listed on iTunes and Amazon too.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Nightfall By Isaac Asimov Turns 70

NightfallAlthough Isaac Asimov never intended to write a story with any parallels to Earth beyond sociology, the now 70-year-old short Nightfall does brush up against some fringe discussions today. What if something were to happen on December 21, 2012?

First and foremost, it might be worthwhile to point out that NASA has debunked most of the mythos surrounding 2012. Then again, Nightfall starts much the same.

With the aid of a reporter, scientists at the Saro University invest months into debunking the doomsday prophecy of cultists. However, as the impending date looms larger in the immediate future, the scientists reverse their position. While they do not believe the cultist (Apostles of Flame in the novel) prophecy believe that world will be destroyed, they do conclude that there will be an event — the sudden introduction of darkness — that will traumatize people and drive them violently insane.

The unique consequence of a system with six suns.

Unlike Earth, Asimov's fictional planet of Lagash (Kalgash in the novel), which is located within a system that benefits from six suns. As a result, the planet is awash in in continuous light, making darkness virtually unknown to the inhabitants.

It is so unknown that an amusement park once featured a ride with one-mile of total darkness. And although the ride was popular, officials eventually had to shut it down. Several people died from the exposure. One in ten were psychologically damaged.

Art by Don DixonThe premise seems fantastical and farcical at first brush. But as revealed in the novel adaptation by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, the improbability of living on a planet in constant light to us mirrors the improbability of living on a planet that alternates between light and dark on a daily basis. Nothing could survive such repeated exposure, they hypothesize.

What makes Nightfall fascinating read — the short story or subsequent novel — is that Asimov might be surprisingly close. Neither science nor superstition are entirely right.

Could a crackpot predication halt the world?

Lagash does share some similarity with Earth in that the public are largely dismissive of the cultists who implore them to prepare for the end. But then, they become angry when the scientists conclude that the planetary cycle does occur once every 2,049 thousand years. At the last minute, the scientists warn people to prepare.

"After all, you know, business has taken a nosedive these last two months. Investors don't really believe the world is coming to an end, but just the same they're being cagy with their money until it's all over. Johnny Public doesn't believe you, either, but the new spring furniture might just as well wait a few months -- just to make sure," a reporter cautions just a few hours before the last sun is set to disappear, leaving darkness, and then stars that will set the world ablaze.

The reporter expresses his contrarian concern succinctly. What if a crackpot prediction all that it takes to upset the country's prosperity? Confidence evaporates. The world market takes a plunge. People create their own self-fulfilling prophecy. And civilization collapses in anticipation of doom, regardless of any naturally occurring calamity.

Asimov's exploration of an outcome is entertaining, even if the humor is best cast as satire. The expanded adaptation makes it even more apparent, giving readers the chance to be amused by the madness of it all before appreciating we're much the same.

Expanding the short into a novel.

Given the short story had such a resounding success, winning best science fiction short story written prior to the establishment of the Nebula Awards in 1965 and included it in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964, Asimov solicited the help of author Robert Silverberg to flush out the story more fully. (The story has also been anthologized 48 times.)

The Asimov-Silverberg adaptation received mixed reviews. They made several changes, including the name of the planet and surrounding stars. The chief complaint is that the stunning short feels drawn out and the ending abrupt without any sense of mystery or satisfaction.

Despite some flaws and looseness toward the end, the novel is still engrossing with its commentary on how easily intellectual prowess can evaporate, how difficult it is to accept change, and how rational thought and superstition battle each other while moving toward the same conclusions. The novel is 21 years old.

The two sides of the larger work.

The original story was reportedly written while Asimov was still working in his father's candy store. It was prompted by Astounding Science Fiction's editor asking Asimov to write the story after they had discussed an Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Isaac AsimovIsaac Asimov, born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov, authored more than four hundred and fifty books in his lifetime (around 500 if you count books that he edited), ranging from science fiction to Shakespeare. He is best known for his popular science and science fiction, being considered one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers in his lifetime (along with Heinlein and Clarke). He was born between Oct. 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920, and celebrated his birthday on the latter.

While he wrote the original story on his own, Robert Silverberg collaborated with him on the novel. Silverberg had early success in science fiction before the market for genre briefly collapsed in 1959. He turned his attention to other writing until Frederik Pohl inspired him to return to in the 1960s. He wrote several hundred books and countless short stories and has received dozens of awards.

Nightfall By Issac Asimov Sparkles At 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While the novel doesn't measure up to the same caliber, it still has a place among the more interesting must reads in science fiction. Enough so, I would never be counted among those who say that the short ought to have stayed short. The looseness in some parts of the story are likely Silverberg's style additions, but it's hard to say. He wrote two other books with Asimov, The Ugly Little Boy and The Positronic Man.

The short story has been published several places online, including here. Nightfall can be found on Amazon. Nighfall is also available from Barnes & Noble. Two film adaptions were also made, one in 1988 that fans, critics, and Asimov disowned; but it still proved better than the second in 2000. (Skip both movies.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why You Might Care About Who Cares?

Who Cares by Tracy MenageIf the name of a new project by Ian Gillan sounds more like a question than a band, then he's asking the right one. Who Cares?

When I was 13, my father called it one of the most significant events since the beginning of the Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev formally asked U.S. President Ronald Reagan for humanitarian aid after a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit northern Armenia, including Gyumri. The quake killed 25,000 people. I might not have even remembered it had he not said that.

Who Cares is a question almost two decades old.

In 1988, it was the same question Gillan asked when he signed onto a project not all that dissimilar to what American musicians recently did for Japan. British musicians created Rock Aid Armenia to help raise money for humanitarian relief and the album featured the memorable rerecording of Deep Purple’s hit song Smoke On The Water.

"Some 20 years ago when the call came, I thought, well at least I’ve helped," Gillan recently said on his site. "But it was going to Armenia and seeing the actual devastation caused by the earthquake that really made me realize that funds were still needed."

What he found in Armenia after all this time was that despite all the money raised, Gyumri is still haunted by the devastation. He was especially touched by a music school that was still trying to do its best, operating in tin sheds. So he thought of ways that he might help the school that was once forced to work out of a fallout shelter and then a building without heat.

Who Cares brings together some of metal's greatest players.

The first call Gillan (Deep Purple) made was to guitarist Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and together they recorded two songs with the intent to support and and complete rebuilding of the music school, which takes charge of 390 students and 75 instructors.

It was easy for them to work together again, especially since both of them have spent a lot of time in Armenia since the earthquake years ago. Unlike so many other efforts that people have led in recent years, both of them have long memories.

If you recognize some other greats in the video, you wouldn't be wrong. Gillan and Iommi aren't the only ones to lend their names to the two-track album. Out Of My Mind also includes Jason Newsted (Metallica) on bass, Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden) on drums, Jon Lord (Deep Purple) on keyboards, and Mikko “Linde” Lindström (HIM) on guitar.

The 5-minute plus track is a well-composed melodic heavy rock song that touches on how some events never really let us go. We're often haunted by the images after most people have long forgotten. Iommi concepted the song and Gillan added lyrics.

The B-side, Holy Water, is an equally deep and brooding song. Joining Gillan and Iommi on this track is a huge lineup, including Steve Morris and Michael Lee (guitars), Randy Clarke (drums), Rodney Appleby (bass), Jesse O’Brien (organ), Arshak Sahakyan (dudak, solo), and Ara Gevorgyan (dubak intro, and keys). The result is a rich and brooding timeless heavy lament, written by Gillan and Steve Morse.

The physical CD/DVD single, which includes the video clip of Out Of My Mind and a 40-minute documentary that shows Gillan and Iommi‘s involvement with the Armenian cause, is due out May 24 in Europe and June 27 in North America. The release will be handled by earMUSIC and Eagle Rock Entertainment, respectively.

Who Cares Is A Quake Of A Different Kind At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

According to Gillan, the Who Cares project might not be the last collaboration with Iommi. The two had not really worked together since Black Sabbath. What's especially cool is neither artist has forgotten what they started. So many other people do. I hope nobody forgets the unrelated Songs For Japan either.

Out Of My Mind is available on iTunes. Also on iTunes is a rare video of Smoke On The Water with the original Rock Aid Armenia Allstars cut years ago. Out of My Mind/Holy Water is also up on Amazon, along with the original Rock Aid Armenia. Proceeds benefit the causes, with Who Cares specifically raising funds for the music school.