Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gang Of Youths Is An Emerging Artist

Gang Of Youths
Expect to hear more from Gang Of Youths frontman David Leaupepe in the upcoming year. The talented singer/songwriter from down under is fresh off being named one of the best live music acts of the year out of Sydney and winning bronze in The Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition, which raises funds for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia.

The song that gave Gang Of Youths the win is Poison Drum, one of several singles recently released stateside. Instrumentally, the track is underscored by punchy percussion and even-handed rhythm. But what makes it stand out is Leaupepe's raspy vocals, which give it a nostalgic concept rock feel.

The lyrics are smartly written for six-plus minute track that lends both hope and morbidity to standing on the front end of your entire life without having any money. It immediately resonates with a struggling middle class crowd, even if there is an irony in that Leaupepe doesn't relate to it like some of his listeners might.

While much of the inspiration has been siphoned out of his and his band's personal experiences (and perhaps influenced while they took in the hipster fringe of Nashville), the lyrical mysticism in the writing comes from a broad range of sources. The title, for example, was taken from a documentary on Chernobyl. It fits so well because it brings in his feelings of being disconnected and even alienated.

Gang of Youths drops Benevolence Riots into the mix.

In keeping with his heady lyrical themes, Benevolence Riots is a song about trying to cope when your own mental faculties are under siege. To hear Leaupepe describe it, Benevolence Riots is about meeting morality with defiance and beating grief by grabbing onto life with real urgency.

The song was inspired by a girl he fell in love with when he was 18. She was very sick and forced to move back home to receive specialized care. While the song is surprisingly courageous, it ends abruptly, like many of those stories do. Not everything has a happy ending. Sometimes it's haunting.

Other tracks that make up the band's growing repertoire are the beautifully brooding Riverlands and the lesser known pop rock Evangelists that was released last year. The latter misses out on the grit that is quickly becoming an identifiable trait to the music that Leaupepe and company continue to work (and rework) again.

PE 2014 Man TessabitCase in point: Gang Of Youths originally relocated to the United States to record their debut album The Positions with producer Kevin McMahon (The Walkmen, Swans) before mixing with Peter Katis (The National, Frightened Rabbit). That was in 2013. The album will be released in March 2015, several months behind schedule, unless Leaupepe pulls it back again for yet another pass.

In sum, McMahon and Katis aren't the only ones with their fingerprints on the work. Aside from Jack Moffit (The Preatures) who produced The Evangelists and Poison Drum before the album work, Chris Collins (Tigertown) is also credited on Benevolence Riots. There may be more tweaks too.

And then there are a few unreleased tracks floating around too. Overpass is one of those rarities that is worth a listen. The raspy acoustic ballad makes for a compelling listen, even in its demo state. It wouldn't take much to transform it into a sing-along show closer with bandmates Joji Malani (guitar), Max Dunn (bass), Jung Kim (guitar, keyboards), and Samuel O'Donnell (drums), It won't be long before we see what, if anything, comes of it.

Benevolence Riots Rankles 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Take your pick between Poison Drum or Benevolence Riots. Either one is a promising introduction to to what ought to be a memorably addictive alternative album in March 2015. What makes it all the more compelling is that this band has only been together since 2012, which means most people thought of them as a scrappy inner-city band just a few short months ago. No one thinks so anymore.

Benevolence Riots, Poison Drum, and Evangelists are all up on iTunes. Riverlands is also available, but only as a video. You can also find the band on Facebook. Follow them if you can get past the ALL CAP madness. The band will begin an Australian tour in January. We'll cover the album too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Front Porch Step Plays Whole Again

Front Porch Step
There aren't many holiday EPs that can preserve their shelf lives after the season, but that is what makes Whole Again by Front Porch Step a stunning four-track set. Only one of the tunes, I'll Be Home For Christmas, is a cover of the classic and brilliant original by Bing Crosby. It's a no-nonsense solid showcase of Jake McElfresh's vocal talent. He joins some cover greats.

Aside from the classic cover, it's the remaining three acoustic originals put out by McElfresh to kick off his first headline tour that are timeless. The emotive musician from Newark, Ohio, reinforces his ability to deliver impassioned lyrics accompanied by the twang of well-played punk acoustic.

Whole Again is a sharply written set of acoustic originals. 

The EP opens with A Lovely Mess, an unapologetic admission of trying to be a better person for the one he loves. Like the title suggests, the lyrical imagery isn't idealistic. He sees neither himself nor her as perfect — just perfect for each other — to make their union a lovely mess.

The song does a solid job at capturing the sentiment without being sappy. It also tempers some of the helpless infatuation and devastating loss that made up much of the material in his debut album Aware. All in all, McElfresh is all about punk intensity with a classic singer-songwriter consideration.

In this one song, McElfresh also proves that he has much more material waiting in the wings. Sure, he might only know a little more than six chords, hate playing acoustic, and consider most of his music as poems put to a chord progression, but he also manages to be authentic when he sings about human frailty, missteps, and longing for something better.

The second track, Heaven Sent, underscores what he does best — matching a light acoustical melody with heart-wrenching lyrics. It's a breakup and regret it track with some teeth, made even more memorable with the addition of guest vocalist Ace Enders. The delivery between the two vocalists turns the track into a duet of understanding loss.

vault sessions videoWhole Again is considerably stronger, starting off as another sorrowful tale about a relationship reaching a crescendo of completion. The sorrow on the front end is empathy over what the girl endured as someone who attempted suicide. But what makes the track truly stand out is the awareness that as much as he helped her through a difficult time, it was she who really helped him become whole.

At times, Front Porch Step feels like blues brought into a modern format, and there may be some basis to it behind the music. McElfresh was first introduced to blues and country by his father before his parents split. The separation took a toll on what he describes as an especially troubled childhood.

Eventually, he found straight edge as a means to find direction in his life. But where his wholeness truly seems to have taken hold is when his Island Of The Misfit Boy video introduced him to hundreds of kids who feel the same way and an equal amount of kicking him in the ass to say life isn't nearly as hard as they have it.

Whole Again by Front Porch Step Hits 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

McElfresh clearly has some growth ahead to diversify his material and delivery, but that isn't the real point of his music. What makes him such a worthwhile listen is that you can hear that he truly loves life now even if he had to come through some hardship to do it.

The idea that he is still wants to write about where he came from, giving other wayward kids someone to relate to and perhaps find some hope for future, is admirable. But perhaps even better, McElfresh never thought for a moment that his record would sell. Pure Noise rightly felt otherwise.

You can download Whole Again from Front Porch Step from iTunes. Whole Again (EP) is also available from Amazon.  You can find the Front Porch Step library of music at FYE. For upcoming shows, visit Facebook.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Red Rising Ascends As A Sci-Fi Thriller

Every civilization experiences four periods within its life cycle — rebellion, ascension, decadence, and decline. The Golds, the genetically enhanced and augmented society that dominates a future caste system civilization, have enjoyed several generations of ascension and decadence after shrugging off Earth's dominion and then conquering it. The worlds they have made afford them every luxury.

To stave off decline, they have also created an academy that accepts the only the finest of their children with the intent to prime them as future sovereigns. With little explanation or instruction, the teens are taken to an expansive countryside where they are divided into feudal houses. There, they will establish their own criteria for leadership within their house and work to conquer all other houses. 

The stakes are impossibly high. Those who thrive during these barbaric and often brutal trials will be given the most coveted positions within their government. Those who do not risk being shunned, mutilated, or even killed. That latter point is made on the first day, when half of the students are purged.

Red Rising is an immersive debut destined to become a classic. 

The oppressive society created by author Pierce Brown provides the perfect backdrop for a story that is even more compelling. What sets the novel soaring is that it doesn't follow just any Gold teen through the trials and tribulations of the so-called academy. Instead, it follows Darrow, a tragic protagonist from the lowest caste — tribes of miners who work far below the surface of Mars under the mistaken belief that they are planetary pioneers toiling away for the good of mankind. 

What they don't know that is that the Golds have long since terraformed and populated not only Mars, but also virtually all life-sustaining planets and moons in the solar system. In fact, it is the material that Darrow's people mine that has helped fuel the outward expansion of the civilization that had long declared democracy and equality among the greatest lies ever invented. 

Shortly after Darrow suffers a devastating personal loss, he is thrust into the hands of a secretive underground insurgency backed by high Reds — people who belong to the same caste as Darrow but serve the Golds above ground. Hand picked for his uncharacteristic tenacity, he is then biologically retooled and mentally trained to blend in as the Golds he has come to loathe. Once inside their ranks, his mission is to become a manmade Messiah capable of toppling the oldest and most powerful civilization in human history. 

The task is easier said than done as Darrow discovers that he not only needs to stand out to earn an influential position after the academy, but also survive a cruel and unforgiving test that resurrects the feudal system. Not only will his physical prowess and mental acuity be tested, but also his faith in himself and loyalty to his own cause as he struggles under the pressure of duality.

A couple graphs about author Pierce Brown. 

Like many would-be writers, Pierce Brown found himself taking on any number of jobs that were one off from what he really wanted to do. This included working as a social media manager at a startup tech company, toiling on the Disney lot at ABC Studios, doing time as an NBC page, and giving up sleep as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign.

All the while, Brown also invested most of his free time writing a science fiction fantasy that seamlessly blended his fascination with building forts (and setting traps) as a youth and his insights into the oddities of the political system that only paid campaigners are exposed to. The self-described science fiction nerd is now in a position to become a science fiction super star for a story that creeps up on you for its storytelling.

Red Rising By Pierce Brown Captures 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although sometimes criticized for its violence, the novel successfully straddles the young adult/adult science fiction market with a protagonist who is a teen but rarely seems like one (beyond his bravado). Never mind that the story sometimes gets bogged down in self-analysis or that the writing isn't always all that crisp — it's the well-drawn characters, page-turner story, and willingness to sacrifice characters who become fan favorites that will eventually hook most science fiction or fantasy fans.

You can find Red Rising: Book I of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown on Amazon. Red Rising can also be found on Barnes & Noble or downloaded from iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, giving Darrow a Scottish accent. Best of all, there is no wait for the second installment. It's slated for January. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cracker Cuts Berkeley To Bakersfield

Cracker by Bradford Jones
Berkeley To Bakersfield overcomes some unevenness across 18 tracks as David Lowery splits the difference between creative tugs into equal parts. One side covers hedonism and hypocrisy, giving Cracker its historic alternative bite. The other side moves its country underpinnings into the foreground, making what would otherwise be called a standalone country album only one part to the whole.

Much like the album's title cities, Berkeley and Bakersfield don't have much in common other than existing in the same proximate space. Even the lineups are slightly different. The Berkeley half of the new album from Cracker sticks with the band's Kerosene Hat lineup with David Lowery, Johnny Hickman, Davey Faragher, and Michael Urbano. The Bakersfield half mixes in guest musicians that include the likes of the Matt "Pistol" Stoessel and Luke Moeller.

It's difficult to say which is better at points, even if Lowery puts more passion into the country side of the package. It's either that or perhaps the album merely hits upon the great divide between the pinch of urban living and possibilities of rural openness. It's almost hard to say.

Berkeley To Bakersfield splits its punk vibe with country roots. 

What isn't hard to say is that Lowery and company have become masters of writing and recording songs with little regard to who might listen to them. Don't get me wrong. It's not that Cracker produces music with a blatant disregard for its fans as much as its fans know they'll only produce music that they enjoy performing day in and day out.

CountryOutfitter.comAnd what makes Berkeley To Bakersfield so ineffable is, with the possible exception of Waited My Whole Life, that the underlying lyrics split right along with their respective styles. One is clearly more populist while the other is libertarian. The only tie that binds is how many are built on characters. 

El Cerrito, for example, was inspired by a taxi driver rant in San Francisco. There is Almond Grove guy behind second track on the Bakersfield side too. The album is loaded with them, different voices that complement and contradict each other while the band delivers them all faithfully with judgement. 

Highlights from the double album include the folk rock opener Torches and Pitchforks and punk-infused Beautiful on the Berkeley side, country-rock roamer Almond Grove and sentimental Where Have Those Days Gone. After pulling up those four, dig into the more polarizing moments delivered up by songs like March Of The Billionaires, which is semi-satirical stab at the super rich, and California Country Boy, which dispels the Golden State's stereotypes with pedal steel. 

The one track that lands in the middle is Waited My Whole Life. Not surprisingly, it originally started out as a Bakersfield track until the band shifted the instrumentals to have more soul. The resulting track seems to straddle the line as effortlessly as many California county borders do.

Through the entire double album, Cracker does what few bands could by running a gauntlet of topics, tones, and styles tied together by a couple of guys who have known each other for 35+ years. The effort makes the album a tribute to their respective influences and summarizes the band's illustrious career. 

Berkeley To Bakersfield By Cracker Crunches 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Alternative fans will find a few gems on the Berkeley side while the country crowd will have a slightly easier time on the Bakersfield side. But mostly, the people who will find real merit in the music are open-minded Cracker fans who have always appreciated the band's split punk-country sensibilities. 

You can find Berkeley to Bakersfield by Cracker on Amazon or download the double album (priced as a single album) from iTunes. You can also find Berkeley To Bakersfield and other releases at F.Y.E. Find out more about Cracker on Facebook.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Eeries Roar Past Some Cool Kids

The Eeries
Maybe one of the hardest things about being a musician is knowing when to start over and, more importantly, who to start over with. There are dozens of breakout bands that bust up out of the starting block because some members aren't ready to wreck themselves on the road most take to get there.

It's also why singer-songwriter-guitarist Isaiah Silva didn't want just anyone who was trying on the musician moniker for the first time when he founded The Eeries. After investing 16 years in music, some of it as a cathartic sense of self-expression to help him survive a turbulent childhood, he wanted to surround himself with seasoned players. Who can blame him?

"We've all had our bands and worked our assess off touring and sleeping on hardwood floors for 120 days out of the year in a shitty band, in snowy weather, with a trailer driving from fucking Colorado to fucking North Dakota for 15 hours, drinking NoDoz," says Silva. "We've all done session work for other bands. We've all been hired guns. Each of us has done it all. That's how I knew these were the right guys."

Those guys include guitarist Brandon Sweeney, drummer Nadir Maraschin, and bassist Eliot Lorango. And not only had they lived music, each of them was also keen on reviving the golden era of guitar-driven alternative rock with an urgent swirl of punk-infused dream pop. It's a great wake up.

After spending two years together, their first real break came when alternative rock radio station KROQ sampled Cool Kid as a new music feature. The initial spin landed it on another prime time spot where listeners voted it up to earn a place on the station's official playlist. It was just like that until Interscope scooped them up (but not before they already finished recording a self-produced debut).

Cool Kid has turned plenty of ripples into waves. Check out this live session via Jam In The Van or live via Late Night with Seth Meyers. Either cut will easily prove the band deserves a deeper listen.

The track tackles the common angst-filled inspiration of being on the outside looking in — a relentless feeling that is especially poignant in an era when it's cool to be uncool. Or maybe it hits home simply because nobody really knows what cool means anymore. It's all as artificial as Aspartame.

Not wanting to miss out on the momentum of the lyric-light but pointedly poetic single, Interscope green lighted the first five tracks (including Cool Kid) on self-titled EP. The four new tracks make the case that The Eeries aren't one-trick ponies. The self-titled EP rips through an impressive set of perfectly balanced rockers that were recorded analog style, live to 2-inch tape in Los Angeles.

Rhapsody TrialThe tracks all stem from personal events, ranging from what happens when you live most of your life on the road or fall in love with someone or unexpectedly break it off. Silva writes down whatever life throws at him and then matches it to the right melodies. And then they lay it down raw, flaws and all.

The rundown on the EP is inspired, with no wasted minutes. Girlfriend fires up some prickly dance punk with a nod to the 80s. Love You To Pieces resurrects some garage grunge with an art pop twist. Shine On, a favorite track contender, blends in some psychedelics. Overrated dances around a Beatlesque inspired mashup of melodies, making the perfect bookend to a memorable EP.

The Eeries EP Rocks Out 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Eeries EP is easily the best EP debut of the year. The band makes it even better because they self-produced it before they were signed. Add in some old school production savvy and it isn't hard to see why The Eeries haven't cut an EP as much as they have a career. It will likely get better from here.

You can find The Eeries EP on Amazon. The tracks can also be downloaded from iTunes. Interscope Records was smart to snap them up, adding a little more indie diversity to their growing alternative rock roster. The full-length album is anticipated to land in early 2015. The band is currently putting the finishing touhes on their work.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Kim Zupan Buries Up The Ploughmen

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan is a bleak and haunting novel that brings together a brutally adept and aging killer with a venerable and lonely sheriff's deputy in Copper Country, Montana. Between the bars of a county jail cell, these two men forge an unlikely bond as killer John Gload begins to tell his guard Valentine Millimaki about his sociopathic tendencies.

Millimaki, surprisingly introspective and thoughtful, initially begins listening to the 70-something killer as a means to draw out confessions and close open cases that had plagued Montana and other law enforcement agencies for years. But as time wears on before the killer can be brought to trial, Millimaki begins to seek counsel from the wise and unflappable man.

The Ploughmen seizes on an uneasy bond between a criminal and jailor.

After Millimaki draws the night shift as the sheriff's newest recruit, he discovers that Gload's insomnia is the only place he will find any solace during the the long hours of solitude. And as the two men exchange stories, they eventually find common ground in their appreciation for both farming and nature.

On one hand, these two men could not be more different. Gload, who confesses to committing his first murder at 14, turned away from farming and toward a life of crime after deciding he never had to do a day's worth of honest work again. Millimaki, on the other hand, turned away from it to escape a haunting memory of his mother hanging herself in the family barn. And in other, they recognize one in the same as ploughmen — one who tills the earth to bury his victims and the other who digs them up.

As the two men draw figuratively closer, Millimaki begins to confide in Gload about his failing marriage. Without missing a beat, the old man begins to give the deputy advice on which deputies to be weary of for one reason or another. Such exchanges become increasing valuable to both men until it becomes increasingly unclear whether or not Gload is sincere in his sentiment or indoctrinating an impressionable young deputy much like he did the boy who accompanied him on a series of murders that open the book.

Eventually, the novel does take a turn toward violence. All the cards are laid out: whether Gload is baiting or protecting the deputy, whether Millimaki has begun to envy the prisoner as a man of action, whether this person or that person will be brutally murdered for their carelessness in crossing paths with either man.

A few more graphs about author Kim Zupan.

A native Montanan, Zupan lives in Missoula and grew up in and around Great Falls, where much of The Ploughmen is set. For 25 years, he made a living as a carpenter while pursuing another passion — writing fiction.

Zupan has plenty of experiences to draw upon for his work. He has also worked as a smelter man, pro rodeo bareback rider, ranch hand, Alaska salmon fisherman and teacher. He currently teaches carpentry at Missoula College and holds an MFA from the University of Montana.

As a debut novel, Zupan hits the mark in allowing the relationship between the two men to happen on its own terms. Where he misses a beat or two is the opening chapters when Zupan sets the vastness of Montana at the feet of his readers with passages that meander on beautifully but not poignantly. It isn't until a few chapters in where he finds the right pace to the story as well as the stories that lead up to this one.

The Ploughmen By Kim Zupan Buries 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Kim Zupan tackles the last remnants of the American West at a time when civilization wanted to master its vastness and outlaw highwaymen like Gload no longer had a place. And he tackles it with an exerted command for the language and fully realized, masterful characters who are equally capable of earning sympathy as much as disdain.

The Ploughmen: A Novel by Kim Zupan is available on Amazon. You can also download the novel for iBooks or listen to the audiobook via iTunes. The story is narrated by Jim Meskimen, who brings both characters to life within the rugged landscape of Montana. Barnes & Noble also carries The Ploughman by Kim Zupan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hundred Visions Riffs Off Some Spite

Hundred Visions
After coming together in Austin around 2010 and putting out the seldom heard but critically appreciated LP Permanent Basement in 2012, Hundred Visions has been busy. In between a heavy touring schedule, the band took time out to lay down a sophomore LP with Pau Wau Records.

Spite isn't necessarily going to blow too many people away but it does put garage rock back on the radar, thanks in part to Ben Maddox's ability to infuse punk-laced vocals into the mix. It's his nervous energy and angst that sets the pace for much of the riff-ready album. And it's only when he deviates by dialing down his vocals that the tracks drift into the background.

Spite is smartly grounded garage rock led by proto-punk vocals.

It's this distinction that distances three of the bandmates from their earliest beginnings as three teenagers who went to film school and started a cover band to pay a sometimes sarcastic tribute to David Bowie, Blue Oyster Cult, and Van Halen (among others). It wasn't until much later when the trio became serious enough to spin together original compositions.

Some of those tracks put out under the name Corto Maltese were solid, but it also seemed clear the band felt surprisingly limited by what they had wrought. So after the three — Maddox, Eric Loftis (drums) and Wes Turner (bass) — took off for Austin, it became apparent they needed a new name, more distortion, and bigger hooks with a second guitar played by Johnny Krueger.

It's evident from the first track that the band has never been more comfortable with the direction. Too Late To Live invites listeners to ease into the album with a mid-tempo psychedelic rocker with proto-punk influences. It's deliciously rich before the band cuts into the second track.

Our Ritual expands the repertoire toward dance-punk with the only psychedelic leanings dragged out by some dizzying guitar riffs that act as a second chorus. While still far away from a sing-along , it's still clear the arrangement comes out of their touring experiences. Our Ritual screams for a live show.

Thanks For Nothing shoots from the hip with big distortion, forceful sneers, and monstrous rhythmic beats that lay a great foundation for the guitar work to ride along the highs and lows. Any psychedelic bent is tame in this track, especially amidst the bass and drum work.

After this amazingly strong start, Spite slips just a bit with You're Going To Cut Me Loose. Don't get me wrong. It makes for a great backyard bouncer and is making the rounds with college stations. It's just that compared to the openers, this track and the much more mellow Blood On The Moon feels almost too familiar, like a band churning out a couple of tunes as they go through the motions.

If not for the drums and lyrics, it would be easy to the say the same thing about Embalmer's Apprentice. Likewise, Where Do You Want It and Dig Your Own Tomb will make for some great live show moments, but don't ascend to the wildly creative and unexpected power pop number I'm Inoculated or the frenzied and fiery Idiot Snow that will wind you rather than let you ease out of the album.

Spite By Hundred Visions Hurls 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Anyone who has an affinity for garage rock will feel right at home with Spite by Hundred Visions, even if sometimes that comfort is found in something familiar rather than something wickedly distinct. Still, better than half the album by Hundred Visions is a cut above the average, making it a very playable sophomore album that makes for an even better touring set list.

Hundred Visions is clearly a welcome addition to the growing number of up-and-coming bands in and around Austin. You can pick up Spite by Hundred Visions from iTunes or find Spite on Amazon. Pau Wau Records is an indie label out of Austin. Hundred Visions can be found on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Magnets And Ghosts Are Born To Rock

Magnets & Ghosts
The duo that makes up Magnets & Ghosts returns with a six-and-a-half track mix that pushes aside some of the pop friendliness of their debut Mass, and allows more rawness into their sound. Some might even consider Be Born a rollback, adding more of Dean Roland's affinity for raw rock.

Partnering with Ryan Potesta for the second time in three years, Be Born finds the band splitting the EP between atmospheric ballads and alternative rock bruisers. The band is promoting the EP with an exclusive stream of the single Drug Money via Diffuser. The tone of it tells some of the story.

"The song was inspired from playing live shows," Roland tells Diffuser. "We wanted to explore a more raw 'in your face’ side of our musical selves."

The move is on target, given that the introspective moodiness of Mass was sharp, but clearly lacking in energizing live shows. In terms of rockers, the duo had largely leaned on Light My Flame as the cornerstone of their edge creds. It was just enough to let fans direct them toward a harder sound.

Of course, that is not to say they have given up on sonic prowess. After an interesting instrumental open that soars with a touch of orchestra-infused rock, Off My Mind delivers the smoothness that critics appreciated off Mass tracks like Hold On and Like A Sunday. But even with the riveting silkiness of Roland's softer side, the band brings a sharper guitar and percussive bounce to it.

Be Born splits between the difference between soar and blister. 

Drug Money is strategically dropped between the mellower fare of Off My Mind and Here To Save Me, which carries that dreamy rock quality that Roland has always favored. The song itself was written by Potesta in his car while searching to find some meaning in his current situation. He needed to be rescued. This EP might do that.

Magnets & Ghosts immediately follows the track up with I'm Not The Devil. The seed of it came from Potesta, with Roland encouraging him to finish it. The track itself is short on meaning but big on aggression — an exercise easily described as capturing how it feels to be pissed off.

The band closes with a grunge rocker that Roland had been holding on to for some time, Be Born. The title track came together with a promise to create a bigger vibe for the band. It works, giving fans every indication that the duo is ready to let go of the past and bring about something better. The result is a poignant EP that adds in some much needed rawness.

Roland and Potesta originally met in 2007, but it wasn't until Collective Soul was on hiatus in 2010 that the duo began talking about the possibility of a new project. The first night they started writing songs, they came up with three concepts that made Magnets & Ghosts a cohesive duo.

Be Born By Magnets & Ghosts Hits 6.8 On The Liqui Hip Richter Scale. 

Magnets & Ghosts is a unique project in that Roland and Potesta perform, produce, and mix most of the songs By writing and producing together, the artists feel free to take more chances until it becomes what both of them realize as their vision. And with the added ability to write some songs on the road, Be Born has become a deinfing moment for the duo. Expect more from them.

You can find Be Born [Explicit] by Magnets & Ghosts on Amazon. You can also download the Be Born EP from iTunes.

For more information and upcoming tour information, visit Magnets & Ghosts on Facebook. They are currenly playing independent shows, with most of them booked in California.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gillian Anderson Has A Vision Of Fire

A Vison Of Fire
Everything seemed to have settled down after the failed assassination attempt on Ganak Pawar, India's ambassador to the United Nations, while he was walking his daughter, Maanik, to school in New York City. But by the time his daughter was safely inside and seated, there was a new cause for alarm.

While Maanik had left the scene uninjured, the 16-year-old girl started to exhibit signs of a post-traumatic break. It began with her scribing circles on her paper instead of taking notes and quickly progressed into something similar to a seizure but infinitely more sinister. Maanik, although not physically harmed, was slipping.

Hoping to keep their daughter's mental status a secret or risk being pulled from a potential military conflict between India and Pakistan, the Pawar family reaches out to renowned child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara. They want her to find out why their daughter is suddenly having violent visions and speaking in tongues.

A Vision Of Fire is an oddly compelling metaphysical thriller. 

On its own, O’Hara would not find the symptoms of anything out of the ordinary from a girl who had just witnessed an assassination attempt. But even she has to concede that something else is at work.

In Haiti, a student claws at her throat and drowns on dry land. In Iran, a boy suddenly and inexplicably sets himself on fire. In New York City, rats begin to act irrationally for no known reason.  Even Maanik's dog seems to be acting out the ordinary, sensing something much deeper as the girl drifts back and forth between consciousness and increasingly terrifying trances.

United Nations
While O’Hara is initially convinced that the episodes and fits have something to do with the assassination attempt and escalating tensions between India and Pakistan to dangerous levels, she begins to waver on this assumption as other mythical links begin to appear all over the world. In fact, as she pursues unrelated patients and incidents, O'Hara finds that she too has a connection to these otherworldly events.

With the world on the verge of its first nuclear war and O'Hara investing some time globetrotting the world, one would assume the novel feels spacious. It doesn't. There is a surprisingly claustrophobic note to the novel in that most of it takes place not outside but inside the mind (or along a metaphysical connection between time and space, to be more exact). The result makes the book a little more metaphysical and a little less thriller, but no more or less enjoyable.

A few graphs about authors Anderson and Rovin.

Gillian Anderson
This is a fitting fictional debut by Gillian Anderson, who is best known for her role as Special Agent Dana Scully in the long-running and critically acclaimed drama series The X-Files. Others will recognize her as ill-fated socialite Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, and Lady Dedlock in the BBC production of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. She currently lives in the United Kingdom.

The book was written with an assist by Jeff Rovin, who is no stranger to fiction. He is the author of more than 100 books, fiction and nonfiction, both under his own name and under various pseudonyms. He is also known to work on occasion as a ghostwriter. Many readers familiar with his work will no doubt find some similarities between this work and a dozen Op-Center novels for the late Tom Clancy.

A Vision Of Fire By Gillian Anderson Burns 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

A Vision Of Fire is more thought provoking than entertaining in its ability to open up interesting subjects such as lost civilizations, cross-cultural metaphysical connections, and even some curious cultural insights. The downside is in the surprising decision to keep itself grounded through the perspective of a semi-skeptic who attempts to keep things rational despite what is happening.

While enjoyable, the biggest setback is that it is difficult to relate to a pool of characters who often face adversity with little more than a shrug — a holdover that is almost reminiscent of Scully the character more than Anderson the author. This is doubly true in the audiobook, which Anderson narrates in a quiet, unassuming near whisper.

You can find A Vision of Fire: A Novel on Amazon or order the novel A Vision Of Fire By Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin from Barnes & Noble. The book is also available for iBooks or, as mentioned, as an audiobook on iTunes. While the backbone of the story has considerable depth, the authors cannot seem to transverse its greater merit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pulling Post-Punk With No Devotion

The new indie rock endeavor fronted by former Thursday and United Nations vocalist Geoff Rickly is off to a strong start. The band, No Devotion, picks up the remaining five members of the Lostprophets, which folded after the lead singer was convicted for horrid crimes against children.

The remaining members, unaware of the crimes, were left in a state of shock after the conviction. Heartbroken and angry, they immediately stopped performing as the Lostprophets and remained uncertain whether they would ever perform again.

"We didn't know if we would ever make music again," Stuart Richardson said. "If people would look us in the face. Everything felt like it was over."

After much consideration, Rickly agreed to front a new project with the former members. While he never listened to the Lostprophets before, he did find them to be fun and self-aware musicians who weren't looking to grow out of punk but rather grow with it.

"To my mind, post-punk is about taking a more sophisticated approach to that sound, and I think we all have a shared respect for that era of modern music," Rickly said. "I didn't think it was fair, what was happening to them. And, well, the music was too good to pass up."

Well ahead of an upcoming debut album due out next year, the band released its first single, Stay, along with the B-side Eyeshadow. The B-side was accompanied by a well-received music video, which capitalized on the band's understated new wave/post punk sound.

Eyeshadow is the stronger of the two tracks, which draws an analogy between a breakup and being in the shadow of someone's eyes. Stay is considerably more predictable, which laments the moment that someone knows that there is nothing they can do to make someone stay.

While both are fine, it is their more recent releases — 10,000 Summers — that earns this band a place on the radar. The track, 10,000 Summers, is an ethereal anthem that simultaneously evokes pathos and optimism while powering up Rickly as coming into his own as a vocalist. Supporting his vocals is the band's melodic-aggressive pulse and what will easily become a concert favorite because of its shout-out chorus.

The single includes the demo version on iTunes. The track is 30 seconds longer, with a different mix. Both the demo and studio cut provide an exquisite foreshadow of how Lee Gaze (guitar), Mike Lewis (guitar), Stuart Richardson (bass), Luke Johnson (drums) and Jamie Oliver (keys) intend to bring the moodier and enthusiastically anxious 1980s music back.

The track is backed by Only Thing, which plays to the front end of a relationship. While the song never reaches its lyrical or vocal potential, it does showcase its melodic and aggressive pulse.

Collectively, the four tracks go a long way in establishing a sense of anticipation for an EP and full-length debut album. As long as No Devotion manages to navigate away from producing too many typical teen lyrical themes, they have a shot at establishing something permanent within this niche.

10,000 Summers By No Devotion Steps Up At 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While it could be easy enough to review the four tracks together, 10,000 Summers is the hero of this impromptu collection (despite the slight weakness on the B-side). The studio cut and the demo give the band an addictive edge. When added to Eyeshadow, No Devotion feels ready for success.

You can find the single 10,000 Summers and Stay / Eyeshadow on Amazon. You can also find 10,000 Summers and Stay on iTunes. The band has been touring on and off since the summer. For band updates and show times, visit them on Facebook. No Devotion has alreay attracted a solid following.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Aric Davis Finds Some Tunnel Vision

Author Aric Davis returns to his roots in Tunnel Vision — writing the next chapter in the life of his preteen-now-teen protagonist who grows marijuana, blackmails pedophiles, and works as a back alley private investigator to make ends meet. Think of him, Nickel, as an anti-hero for young adults.

He is a kid who escaped horribly abusive foster parents after getting caught up in the cracks of the system. Nickel isn't his real name, which is a composite of Nick and Eleanor. He created it to remind himself of two foster kids he helped save, something to soften his hard edges as he is no saint, sort of.

Author Aric Davis created Nickel during a dark time in his own life, shortly after three members of his wife's family were killed by a drunk driver. Since he couldn't exact revenge on the driver himself, he created a character who, despite his age, would be willing to take them on instead.

Tunnel Vision is a tautly written teen crime fiction. 

While the book has been billed as a hard-boiled crime mystery, the descriptor is better left to Nickel Plated, which was his debut. Tunnel Vision is much more linear in its presentation and Nickel feels significantly softer — not harder — despite the terrible things he has done to some very, very bad people. He is surprisingly well adjusted and his home utterly unscathed since his recent detention.

He shares this story with two teenage girls, Betty and June, who are at the heart of what becomes a new case for Nickel. No, they don't hire him to solve the 15-year-old murder of Mandy Reasoner. The victim's sister, who also happens to be June's mother, Claire, hires him. But what she doesn't know is that Betty and June have taken on the same case after Betty accidentally discovers a connection.

That connection is Duke Barnes, the man who was convicted of the murder 15 years ago after he confessed to the crime. After the conviction he didn't think would stick, he retracted his statement as made under duress and other inconsistencies in the case came to light. The combination landed like a one-two punch, sparking a "Free Duke Barnes" campaign, which has since grown into a blaze among the Michigan punk rock crowd that he and Mandy used to be members of before becoming junkies.

While Betty and June take it upon themselves to discover why her family has kept the murder a secret all these years, Nickel is also digging around to discover whether or not Barnes is guilty or innocent. His reasons are a bit different than the two girls. Claire hired Nickel to protect June, who bears a striking resemblance to Mandy, in the event the real killer is still at large or Barnes is guilty but freed.

The story is so straightforward that it could almost be classified as an amateur private investigator procedural with a budding but almost unbelievable teen romance baked in for good measure. With the girls not all that likable as borderline ditzy punk girls (one of whom drones on and on about being in a two-mom household) and Nickel in mid-transition between bad boy and dark knight, it feels like a holdover for Nickel Plated fans but a pullback from the author's other work.

A quick recap on the career of author Aric Davis. 

Aric Davis is former tattoo artist and body piercer who began writing his second novel, Nickel Plated, in the back of a tattoo shop between customers. His second and arguably best work, A Good And Useful Hurt, helped him become a full-time writer who took readers on an adventurous revenge story in Rough Men and a haunting abduction story in The Fort.

Tunnel Vision brings Davis full circle with tighter, choppier prose but with seemingly less grit than his earlier work. While it would probably be worthwhile to read Nickel Plated before Tunnel Vision, the new installment is still an interesting outtake in the author's career. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Tunnel Vision by Aric Davis Closes In At 5.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Tunnel Vision is entertaining, especially for those who already have an affinity for Nickel and want to see him develop into a bad boy private investigator series. It's both plausable and possible, provided Davis remembers to keep the cards closer to his vest as his stories play out, that his more laborious moments aren't as obvious, and that Nickel doesn't become too settled at the expense of conflict.

You can find Tunnel Vision by Aric Davis on Amazon or download it as a bargin audiobook from iTunes. The audio version is narrated by Mick Podehl, Kate Rudd, and Amy McFadden. The three voices help differentiate three distinct points of view: the first-person account from Nickel, third- person account from Betty, and the diary entries of Mandy. You can also find Tunnel Vision at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trummors Roll Along Moorish Highways

Anne Cunningham and David Lerner
The magnetically mellow album Moorish Highway has been making the rounds and for good reason. The folk-rock duo consisting of Anne Cunningham and David Lerner has folded together folk rock/pop and country warmth with a small group of backing musicians to open up their compositions.

What hasn't changed is that the duo still builds its music around Cunningham's wispy vocals with Lerner lending his own for contrasting lows. They then back their harmonies with a bed of drifter-tinged instrumentals that sometimes include a 12 string, pedal steel, and harmonica.

Backing members this time out include drummer Otto Hauser (Vetiver), guitarist Kevin Barker (Joanna Newsom), bassist James Preston (Zachery Cale), and pedal steel guitarist Marc Orleans (D. Charles Speer and the Helix). And i its this accompaniment that allows the two multi-instrumentalists to focus on acoustic instrumentation, incorporating their harmonium, finger-style guitar, and close harmony dual vocals.

Moorish Highway drifts along in blissful solitude.

Although Trummors has recently relocated again — this time to Taos, New Mexico — the duo retained their Woodstock/Brooklyn roots by recording at the Drawing Room in Kingston, New York, with Justin Rice (Bishop Allen) producing and Eli Walker (Isokon in Woodstock, New York) mixing. The band credits the more earthy and a slightly psychedelic filter of the '70s to the change in scenery.

Take a song like the album opener Vigil, which came about after an unfortunate late night altercation with a highway trooper, and you'll discover an intricate understanding about seeing things in retrospect. Their first thought is that they were wronged by the cops. Their second is appreciating they weren't saints either and maybe the whole thing could have been avoided.

It's this kind of karmic wisdom that Trummors enjoys weaving into its 11-track lineup. And, in this case, knowing the back story behind the track makes the tune even more engrossing as a casually told roadside classic.

The band follows up the opener with Bogus Bruce, a track that reimagines a rolling two-chord rhythm of Belle and Sebastian to tell a folk story about a gracefully aging junk store patron. And then it picks up the tempo with a Beatlesque playfulness that falls slightly short as the vocal variation isn't as strong as the increasingly dynamic instrumentals.

The fourth track solidifies Trummors in its reverence for Gordon Lightfoot. Their cover of Early Morning Rain recasts the punchy country classic as a subdued and sorrowful country-informed folk confessional. It feels like another side of the late 60s and early 70s. Branches Divide makes for an exquisite follower.

Other standouts include Autumn Gold and Pessimistic Bluebird, which both bring in Britain's influences on the American singer-songwriter scene several decades ago. On both occasions, Trummors wears its influences proudly but perhaps not as obviously as they do on the 6-minute title track Moorish Highway. There will be more than one moment that leaves you wanting to name that tune.

While there are a couple of misses on Moorish Highway, the album makes for a memorable change of pace for anyone who appreciates something more eclectic in their musical lineup. For the duo, the addition of a backing band makes for a solid progression in their ability to capture attention and hold it as they navigate the golden years of contemplative singer-songwriter folk rock.

Morrish Highway By Trummors Drives 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Ricther Scale.

The duo recently finished up a short 8-day tour earlier in October along the West Coast and including Colorado, Arizona, and their new home of New Mexico with Bishop Allen. The name of the band, Trummor, is Swedish for drummers — an interesting choice given the landscape there matches a few opens expances in the United States too.

You can find Moorish Highway by Trummors on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or pick up the vinyl release at a discount from FYE.

For future tour dates (hopefully some that won't include getting robbed) visit the band on Facebook. They post plenty of road-tripping photos and the occasional story. There an abundance of source material for the duo that has been increaisngly trying to live they way they play. Cool.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jason Mott Wonders About All Things

It took a long time for the crowd to understand that it was falling … that he was falling … the man most townspeople considered the best of them. Matt Cooper had crashed. And in a flash he was dead.

It was miracle he wasn't the only one. The wreckage of his plane seems to wash over the crowd and leave them broken and bloody but not mortally wounded. Even the announcers who had been seated on the now broken grain silo were comparatively unscratched. And the fire was easily put out.

Even as the dust settled and the unharmed began to sift through the wreckage of the grain silo expecting the worst, the worst didn't come until they found a 13-year-old girl named Ava and her best friend Wash huddled beneath a pocket of rubble. They are alive; but Wash was badly injured.

Macon Campbell, Ava's father and town sheriff, was the first to find them. Ava quickly assured him that she was okay but that Wash was unconscious with a steel rod protruding from his side. After freeing herself, she quickly crawled to her friend in a panic and rashly tried to move him, collapsing part of their pocket. And it was in this desperation that the first of many miracles would happen.

The Wonder Of All Things is a spellbinding story of free choice. 

The Wonder Of All Things is a fascinating and beautifully written book about selflessness, and selfishness, obligation and freedom, kinship and character. Mostly, however, it asks questions that aren't always answered as Mott drifts through a story that sometimes feels like it's missing real substance, always on the verge of something profound but never stumbling into an epiphany.

The challenge comes from creating a cast of largely simple characters who are mostly overwhelmed to discover that Ava has acquired the gift of healing. They are especially overwhelmed, it seems, because the gift of healing isn't free. It extracts a large and potentially fatal toll on Ava to do it.

And therein lies where the story falls short. Macon Campbell, for example, frequently frames up whether or not he should encourage Ava to heal people as a question of individual rights vs. societal responsibility (and as it applies across the scale: world, community, church, family, closest friends). But it's hard to believe most fathers would find this to be a dilemma. Given the risk, the answer is no.

This isn't the only occasion when someone has done something so recklessly wrong. Contrary, it's difficult to recall a single character in The Wonder Of All Things who can make the right choices for the right reasons. As a result, most of them are trapped into appearing selfish even when they make the right choices for the wrong reasons.

In a world where most adults come across as the weakest links or outright dangerous, it isn't any wonder why Ava and Wash must navigate most of their troubled waters alone. Succinctly put, everyone wants a piece of Ava — scientists, reporters, clergymen, and even those closest to her. And, for whatever reason, the few people who ought to serve as her protectors are too broken to do so.

A few more graphs about Jason Mott. 

As a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Jason Mott wrote poetry and fiction for literary journals before writing his first novel, The Returned. Much like The Wonder Of All Things. The Returned touches on the impact of miracles and how they might confound us in everyday life.

The primary difference between the books is that The Returned felt grounded in having an adult protagonist struggle but still manage to hold onto his moral compass. The adults in The Wonder Of All Things don't have the same wherewithall, slowing down the entire story as the better equipped but still fallible children attempt to give the novel passive purpose.

The Wonder Of All Things By Jason Mott Perplexes At 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Scale. 

The novel is good enough to share provided the readers reset their expectations. The story is a great conversation piece and Mott has a real talent for writing that stems from being a poet first and novelist second. In the end, the novel will leave most readers feeling like there could have been more to this story. The potential and prose is there, but not necessarily a riviting plotline.

You can find The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott on Amazon. You can also order The Wonder Of All Things from Barnes & Noble. The book can also be downloaded for iBooks or as an audiobook from iTunes. Julia Whelan narrates well enough despite muddling the abundance of male voices.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mark Lanegan Turns Up Phantom Radio

As a solo artist or talented collaborator, Mark Lanegan continues to expand his career into something colossal. His near back-to-back releases — Phantom Radio and No Bells On Sunday EP — prove once again that his esoteric talents are meant to transverse the musical landscape. He is an explorer.

Building upon his last release, Blues Funeral, Lanegan captures even more from the music he loves and then finds original ways to convey it within his own compositions. This, more than anything else, is driving him to  experiment across a broader body of work. Anything new is part of his passion.

If anything else stands out on Phantom Radio and the accompanying EP (which was added to the deluxe edition of the LP), it's that Lanegan is comfortable with where he is in life and in his musical career. He doesn't have anything to prove anymore, freeing his creative spirit in the process.

Phantom Radio is every bit an addiction. 

If you think of every track as a fine dining experience condensed down into a hard-worked meal by a short order cook, you're one step closer to understanding the accomplishment here. Opening with Harvest Home, Lanegan shares exactly where he is on an album that pulls in British post-punk, world-weary Americana folk rock, and 1980s satellite music. At times, the combination electrifies.

After the opener, Lanegan  immediately shifts gears in the second track and takes a much more minimalistic approach to intone the end of times. It's something not everyone will appreciate.

Although not religious himself, Lanegan nearly whispers the vision against a faint and repressive acoustic strum that provides the thinnest of foundations. Where it works is in his ability to infuse acceptance within the dread of it, delivered in a package that comes close to near nothingness.

He does something similar with I Am The Wolf, crafting a minimalistic interpretation that grasps at finding some wisdom in a world that he will one day leave behind. While the album version is richer, the grizzled feel comes across loud and clear on the live session he performed on KEXP.

Of course, that is not to say that everything on the album is minimalistic. In addition to composing some drum sections and percussion with a smartphone app called Funk Box, Lanegan tapped some assists. Most notable is his long-time producer Alain Johannes. The result is often an enveloping moodiness in tracks like Floor Of The Ocean or an electronic groove like the one that defines The Killing Season.

Seventh Day and Death Trip To Tulsa are infused and informed by gospel and blues, two genres that define his earliest lyrical influences. As for the lyrics themselves, most of his work has become bits and pieces of dreams alongside interpretation of experiences. But what makes them stand out hasn't changed. Lanegan is unquestionably intimate in his ability to strike a chord of emotive desolation.

When added to the five tracks that were originally released as a vinyl only offering, Phantom Radio and No Bells On Sunday make for a diverse and unforgettable 15-track experience. He might have originally called the five tracks from No Bells "too goofy" for a full length, but they somehow do a fine job complementing and completing the sparser set of ten on Phantom Radio.

Phantom Radio By Mark Lanegan Band Tunes In 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Capitalizing on his ability to create music that feels more substantial and significant than flash-in-the-pan pop, Mark Lanegan has created a benchmark album with Phantom Radio. It works both as a commutation of everything he has learned and as a benchmark of where he is today but may not be tomorrow. Either way, there is a personal wisdom woven into the words of his work.

Phantom Radio is available on its own from Amazon or you can download the deluxe edition that includes No Bells On Sunday via iTunes. Visit Barnes & Noble for Phantom Radio on CD. For discounted and used CDs featuring Mark Lanegan, visit F.Y.E. Tours and shows are listed on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Bots Break Out From Pink Palms

The BotsLos Angeles rock duo The Bots recorded their first album together at ages 15 and 12 and never looked back. Their brand of garage punk picked up just enough throaty blues and ballad tradition to turn hearts and heads with a cross-genre catchiness that defies and mesmerizes.

Now, at ages 20 and 17, Mikaiah and Anaiah Lei have produced their most powerful album to date. Pink Palms is a dizzying dash across garage punk and indie transcendence. Never mind that they wear influences like The White Stripes and The Black Keys on their sleeves. The Lei brothers are writing a story that will carry them forward for several decades ahead.

Pink Palms is expressly diverse and unapologetically raw.

The chugs, hooks, riffs, and misdirections give Pink Palms an unpredictable exploratory vibe. Much of it plays out like the Lei brothers were kicking and building upon little bits just to see what they could lay down and produce. The result is almost always catchy, sometimes clever, and occasionally a cut above.

Having already self-released three albums, completed two Vans Warped Tours, and supported the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (among others), their experience as craftsmen and performers is apparent. They open with Ubiquitous, an authentic and honest rage against the always-on atmosphere of loneliness.

Three tracks down, All I Really Want pulls back the gauze on kids waiting around for something to happen. But that what happens doesn't always have to be all that. It's just about a girl or something.

The live video was captured in The Current's studio before a gig at the Nether Bar At Mill City Nights. The live version captures all the riffs, chugs, and glory of the track but skips out on the spoken poetry that accompanies the album version. Also missing is the creepiness of the echoes.

“While a lot of different music we were listening to inspired this album, it was the time in the studio we spent together writing and creating that had the biggest impact on Pink Palms," Anaiah Lei has said about the album. And that's easy to believe given that it was produced by Justin Warfield with an assist from Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs).

Working down the album, take in the purposeful grungy buzz of Blinded, the rolling rocker All Of Them (Wide Awake), and the West Coast punk punchy Alanna. Alongside these energized tracks is another side of The Bots with a gentle and dreamily atmospheric appeal. Check out Wet Blanket, Bad Friends, and Side Effects as the Lei brothers dive deep into that ballad tradition contrast.

It's those tracks, the whispers, that win over anyone holding off from becoming fans of The Bots. Take the off-album video No One Knows, for instance. While played out with a faster pace than the ballads on Pink Palms, there is a gentleness to the brothers that seems tappable any time they want to tap it.

At the same time, they counter every caress with something much punchier and sharper. Silhouettes, despite lacking some energy in the chorus, is one of those tracks that reminds doubters that these boys are a bit more than a boy band. While the studio version is probably the weakest track, expect it to become much more popular during their live performances. Imagine it with the veracity of Won.

Pink Palms By The Bots Picks Up 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although The Bots easily earns a place on any bands to watch list, Pink Palms can be a bit frustrating at times because some tracks sound like a work in progress. Sometimes that is the problem with create-and-compose in-studio albums. Sooner or later somebody has to yell cut and you put down something despite knowing it will be infinitely better with age.

You can find Pink Palms by The Bots on Amazon. The 11-track album is also available for download on iTunes. For vinyl, check The Bots out at Barnes & Noble. For touring information and upcoming appearances, visit The Bots on Facebook.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Garth Stein Casts A Sudden Light

There is a certain advantage in casting A Sudden Light in the pre-Internet era of the 1990s. There are no laptops. There are no cell phones. There is no Internet or search terms. On the whole, it creates a sense of isolation that some people have never felt and fewer and fewer people even remember.

There was a time when those things did not exist. And for 14-year-old Trevor Riddell, it makes a trip with his father to the aging Riddell House all the more isolating. Set deep within a redwood forest near Seattle, the house where his aunt and grandfather live are among the last remnants of his family's timber-baron fortune. It's the kind of place filled with secrets for a "clever" boy to find them all.

A Sudden Light is a story of family secrets, justified deception, and the supernatural. 

It is a story about a family that confronts its long-buried secrets as it struggles to reconcile its past in order to move toward an uncertain future. The mansion, constructed of giant whole trees and set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound, is as discounted from the rest of the world as its occupants.

Waiting to welcome Jones Riddell home is his younger sister who stayed behind to care for their ailing father, Samuel. She has been waiting all her life for this reunion and an opportunity to secure ownership of the estate, sell the property, divide the profits, and live happily ever after.

There is more than one problem with this plan. Jones Riddell may be welcomed by his sister, but his father seems much more uncertain. Something came between the two men years ago, a secret that caused Samuel to send Jones away for good. So while Samuel is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's, he rightly expects the visit to be a plot to usurp the estate and send him away.

This idea isn't as easy as it sounds. Along with his own twisted attachment to the property, Samuel swears he can hear his late wife dancing in the upstair sballroom. She dances for him, he says plainly.

She isn't the only spirit sighted. Ben, who is the son of original magnate Elijah Riddell, is said to be trapped on the estate as well. His spirit remains on the estate in the hopes of seeing a promise he made to his young partner, Harry, that balance would be restored to the land by transforming the entire estate into a reserve rather than selling it to developers with an intent to parcel the land into lots.

Told through the eyes of Trevor, reflecting back as a adult, A Sudden Light challenges a teen who was raised largely separated from the weight of the Riddell family to become an inquisitive, reflective, and objective voice. It also provides the backdrop in recognizing the past may influence us but we must still come to terms with it in order to move forward because we often do not see things as they are, but as we are.

A few more graphs about author Garth Stein.

Garth Stein is the author of five novels, including the coming-of-age mystery A Sudden Light, which was written as an expansion of his stage play Brother Jones. He is best known for his bestselling book The Art of Racing in the Rain and the PNBA Book Award winner How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets.

Stein's shorter bio cites that he has a dog, he's raced a few cars, climbed a bunch of really tall trees, made a few documentary films, and he lives in Seattle with his family. But beyond this thumbnail, the author was born and raised in Seattle before moving to New York City. He eventually returned and has since been responsible for helping found the nonprofit organization Seattle4Writers, which provides funding, programming, donations of free books to those in need.

A Sudden Light By Garth Stein Chops 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Righter Scale. 

Although A Sudden Light has a supernatural element, the novel should not be confused with horror. Stein invests much more of his time in the human condition, multigenerational family ties, and the beauty of the natural world. He employs the spiritual presence at Riddell House as a mechanism to connect the present to the past as opposed to attempting to frighten or fascinate. Any tension is given more to the living than the dead.

You can find A Sudden Light: A Novel by Garth Stein on Amazon. You can also download A Sudden Light for iBooks or find the audiobook on iTunes. It is narrated by Seth Numrich, who provides the story with a gothic feel in addition to convincingly portraying Trevor Riddell as an adult looking back on himself as a bright teen. A Sudden Light can also be purchased at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moose Blood Will Keep You In Mind

Moose Blood didn't start out as much more than four friends drinking coffee and writing songs. They didn't write just any songs. The foursome from Canterbury, England, had a flair for writing emo lite.

Attaching "lite" to the emo moniker isn't an insult. Moose Blood picks up where emo left off in the nineties and then gives it a bit of a British pop twist. Even the opener, Cherry, sets the band up as something different by leading with a ballad.

The emotive lament of lost love might be characteristic of emo, but the way Eddy Brewerton delivers his haunting harmonies is considerably more polished. It sounds pretty clear that the band is hoping to guide you someplace different. There's a sensitivity here that not every indie band can cover.

I'll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time. 

After the soft open guided by not much more than a rhythm guitar and vocals, the band opens up with the faster-paced followup Always. Anyone who heard the band's debut EP last year will find Always familiar. All that's different is the production polish: a considerable improvement.

Once you're a few tracks deep, Moose Blood really turns it up. I Hope You're Missing Me breaks away from emo lite and into something much more formative as a standout alternative rock song. Of the music videos released so far, I Hope You're Missing Me is the most striking in its accessibility.

The track is mostly about the strain placed on relationships and how they always feel better early on. Moose Blood makes the case that those who can remember those better days are likely to make it. Swim Down, which was released in advance of I Hope You're Missing Me, supports this idea too.

The primary difference, lyrically, is that it's very clear who is putting additional strain on the relationship. Specifically, it's about a guy who goes out drinking instead of sticking with his her. When she call him on it, he promises to buck up and listen to a Nirvana album with her again.

At first blush, the lyrics in Swim Down are authentic despite their thinness. The best aspect of the song is the build up before the song releases its tension and takes off. You can find this arrangement in Pups too, which is a much better track.

Two other standout tracks include Boston and Bukowski. Both were put out on earlier releases, but the re-recorded arrangements provide a superior sound. Both tracks are largely improved, even if Boston is a bit weak in the lyrics and Bukowski leans on another name drop or two.

These songs make up for it in the instrumentals and vocal delivery. It doesn't always matter what Brewerton says at times. He sounds good saying it, loading it up with conviction no matter what it might be. In Gum, for instance, he emphasizes watching American Beauty in the dark and lays it down as if that is the single most meaningful thing that could possibly be said. For real.

Even Brewerton admits the "what" being watched or listened to is trivial and more of a symptom of his own love sickness but inability to admit it. And therein lies one of the interesting things about the band that makes some of their tracks stick. They sometimes say nothing, but that nothing means something.

After the rollicking Kelly Kapowski, the band ends with the slow burn I Hope You're Miserable. It's pretty standard emo fare, but Moose Blood proves it has plenty of chops to deliver the goods (not that anyone needs convincing after listening to the other ten tracks). Only Chin Up can be skipped.

Sure, this album can be summed up as being the typical binge of booze, broken hearts, and burnout. But there is something in the way they've assembled it that makes I'll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time oddly listenable over and over. What's that recipe? One part fresh, two parts nostalgic.

I'll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time Ticks 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Moose Blood has progressed a few thousand miles between this album and their debut EP. By their next album, it's not unfeasible to expect they'll find the same success stateside that they've already found in the United Kingdom. It won't necessarily be because anyone needs an emo revival so to speak. It will simply be that they lay down great music, with fewer and fewer name drops.

You can download the album from iTunes or find I'll Keep You In Mind, From Time to Time on Amazon. You can also find I'll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time at Barnes & Noble or at a discount from f.y.e. For more on Moose Blood, check them out on Facebook.