Friday, February 24, 2006

New Discovery -- The Undertow Orchestra

The Undertow Orchestra is the combined efforts of David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones), Vic Chestnutt, Mark Eitzel (American Music Club) and Will Johnson (Centro-Matic) on a recent tour. has made a sampler of these artists at which contains free downloads of 16 songs. All of the artists are singer-songwriters who feature bittersweet lyrics and stripped-down accompaniment. The only artist I was previously familiar with was the awesome Bazan, but most of the other songs here are also good. My favorites are the tunes by Will Johnson, whose writing is a bit like Bazan’s. This is a cool way to check out some fairly obscure and talented singer-songwriters

Music Review -- White Limousine by Duncan Sheik

Duncan Sheik’s new and much maligned CD is White Limousine. Some of the pop-rockiness of Daylight is found here, though Duncan mostly presents his music with light guitars and orchestration. Critics have not been kind to this disc, but there is still a lot to like here. The title track and The Dawn’s Request are well written songs wrapped in an a melodic adult alternative sound. While Duncan gets too pointed and obvious in songs like Shopping, where he rips consumer culture, there are some great moments in his lyrics. On Nothing Fades he writes, “Some of the people here believe/Reading a book of prophecies/Some of you sigh and turn away/Nobody knows so what’s the play/You’re here now/You’re here for now.” The critics do make good points about this being a somewhat dry album and a bit obvious considering the current political climate. Still, I have always appreciated his writing and still enjoy White Limousine. This is for current Duncan fans or followers of David Gray.

2.5 out of 4.0 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Listening to this feels like being suddenly and extremely appreciative of things like the moon, the wind and electricity.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Music Reviews -- She Wants Revenge and Morningwood

This is a great interesting band. This is the debut and self-titled album for She Wants Revenge, a new band that garnered a following due to opening for a bunch of Bloc Party shows. This band takes the goth/electronic/pop sounds from the Cure and their modern counterparts. The writing is pointed, straightforward and focuses on relationships with a few extremely dark tunes in the mix. The lyrics can be a bit repetitive and the robotic lead vocals can get tiring, but the gothy electronica is excellent. This is for fans of Massive Attack, Girls Against Boys and Psychedelic Furs. I’m not sure how this disc will hold up to repeated listening, but for now I dig it.

2.75 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Listening to them is like staring at a giant crack in the pavement when your face is cold.

This is the debut full-length and self-titled album for Morningwood. This is purely a fun disc. While talented, Chantal Claret melds her decent voice with former members of Spacehog and the Wallflowers, the buzzy production and horrible lyrics nearly tank this CD. The result is a fun schlocky-glam-rock band sound that sounds almost exactly like the Donnas, though not nearly as focused. Fans of the Donnas or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs should dig these guys. Overall, it is an enjoyable, but barely mediocre debut.

2.00 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

What I'm Reading -- Company by Max Barry and I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Max Barry’s third novel is Company. I am biased because he is one of my favorites, but he again puts together a great book. In Syrup, Barry took on marketing firms, in Jennifer Government he took on capitalism and in Company he satirizes big corporations and white-collar life. The main character in this book is Jones, a typical Barry lead character who is fairly clueless, but cool anyway. Jones is a new employee with Zephyr, a huge company that seems not to have an actual product. Amid downsizing, corporate politics and a missing donut Jones starts to figure out Zephyr’s secret. While not even remotely realistic, Barry takes what everyone knows of corporate culture and twists everything around a little bit. This is really a combination of some of the elements from his first two books and is a good complement to them both.

I am reading through the Printz Award winners for 2006. One of the Honor Books in fiction (Black Juice stinks don’t waste your time) is I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. This is a great read. Ed Kennedy is a 19-year old burnout, taxi cab driver and owner of an old smelly dog named the Doorman. His mostly boring life of driving taxi and playing cards with his three friends is interrupted by playing cards that keeps showing up at his home. On these cards are cryptic instructions which he must interpret, so he can find people he needs to help and figure out what they need in their lives. If he fails there are some unspecified consequences and as he progresses through the cards, some mysterious thugs are making life rough for him anyway. Ed is a great funny character and this is an edgy read where Zusak does not allow Ed an easy time of things, though the ending was a bit too predictable. This book is highly recommended.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What I'm Reading -- Graphic Novels

Little White Mouse Vol. 1 by Paul Sizer
This is a great GN. Sizer has created a world in the future where a teen girl is stranded on a space station that does not realize all of its original occupants are dead. The girl then is forced to survive by dealing in a world with its own computer-based rules and logic.

Superman/Batman Vols. 1-3 by Jeph Loeb
The strongpoints of Loeb’s writing are the interactions and thoughts of Superman and Batman as they work together throughout this comic series. Unfortunantley there are quite a few weaknesses, likes Loeb’s messing with the Superman mystique, the insane plot of volume three and the horrible artwork of volume one. Volume Two is about the new Supergirl and is the strongest of the bunch. I still recommend these.
Mary Jane Vol. 2 by Seth McKeever
I know this seems weird, but these are brilliant. McKeever, author of the amazing but underappreciated Sentinel GN, writes about the life of Mary Jane, the crush of Peter Parker/Spiderman, told from the viewpoint of MJ. The greatest thing about these is that all of the surrounding characters of the Spiderman comics are shown as more than stereotypes. McKeever shows us that MJ is more than the girl next door, Flash is more than a jock and Harry Osborne is more than a tortured underachiever with a cranky father. This is great stuff.
Electric Girl by Mike Brennan
I can not read this. I want to because the plot is about a teenager who has electrical powers, a pet dog and an invisible gremlin who hangs on her back. I know it sounds awesome, but I read a couple of chapters and the gremlin is scary and creepy and will give me nightmares for a long time if I read any more of this.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Review -- The Slow Wonder by A.C. Newman

I have been listening to The Slow Wonder because of the recent critical acclaim of A.C. Newman and The New Pornographers. I can’t get into the album, though. Newman, front-man of the Pornographers, keeps his bouncy and occasionally witty writing on this solo disc. He has worked his songs into a more rootsy sound, while creating another up-tempo album.
The album never rises above mediocrity. The lyrics are nothing special, though Newman injects some wit now and then. The indie-folk sound works occasionally, like on Drink to Me Babe Then and On the Table.
Basically only get this if you really liked Twin Cinema by the Pornographers or Gimme Fiction by Spoon. I can’t help thinking that these musicians are getting attention, just because there are not many buzzy power pop bands around. If this were the 90s, I think this music would have been drowned out by bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Blur and Grant Lee Buffalo.

1.5 out of 4.0 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Listening to them is like being in the backseat of a Ford Escort between two large people and being worried that if the driver hits a another pothole your head might be slammed into the car’s roof.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

What I'm Reading -- Seconds of Pleasure by Neil LaBute

Writers who attempt to strike a certain point with readers, especially with controversial or edgy topics, often miss their target. This does not diminish the works of creative authors. This is how Neil Labute’s short story collection, Seconds of Pleasure, should be viewed.
Labute, famous for directing movies like In the Company of Men, presents several short stories, many of which are extremely brief. In his movies and plays he mostly focuses his attention on society’s obsession with appearances and what is going on in the minds of men. In Seconds of Pleasure, Labute mainly writes in quick snapshots about sexual deviancy.
A bunch of these stories miss their mark, but the ones that work are extremely enjoyable. Remember, that this is Neil LaBute, so his goal is often to make his readers feel weird and dirty. Read this collection for the brilliant stories that show what odd things people do to support their obsessions.