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.