Sunday, April 30, 2006

Brief Reviews

Here are a few albums that I have listened to lately, but do not have strong opinions about them one way or another.

As Far As the Eye Can See by People in Planes.
Judging albums by their cover and title is a bad thing to do, but I really thought any CD with graphics this cool must contain a lush modern rock outfit with sweeping songs and tight harmonies like Ivy. Still, this is a solid effort and there are some atmospheric songs here, though People in Planes features guitar driven pop/rock with some artistic embellishments.

Young for Eternity by The Subways.
The Subways do a good job bouncing between high energy rock songs and mellower ballads. As expected with this type of band they are incredibly over-produced, but these British youngsters have created a more listenable album from top to bottom than many of the “garage rock” (I’m using this term very loosely) revival bands.

Tourist by Athlete.
The Britpoppers return from the solid debut of Vehicles and Animals. They streamlined their sound for the new CD, losing some of their quirkiness musically and lyrically. This is still a decent album in the vein of Coldplay, but it’s an average effort at best.

Everything Is by Nine Black Alps.
Comparing bands to Nirvana is mean and unscrupulous…but…well…these guys sound like Nirvana. This is fun and rocks hard. It’s basically Nirvana if Kurt was not introspective and only cared about creating catchy, radio-friendly tunes.

What I'm Reading -- It's All Right Now by Charles Chadwick

It’s All Right Now is the first novel for 72-year old Charles Chadwick. Chadwick logs the diary entries of middle-aged family man Tom Ripple. When the book begins Ripple is married to his controlling wife, has two kids who generally ignore him and a boss that will fire him if he makes one mistake. When two new neighbors move to either side of his London-area home, these dynamics begin to slowly change. Chadwick writes with great detail reminding me a bit of Jonathan Franzen. Ripple’s wry and humorous observances keep the book somewhat interesting, but following his life’s everyday details for nearly 700 pages gets tiring. The narrative also wanders aimlessly at times, but the author seems determined to include as many minute details as he could. Nevertheless, Chadwick set his goals high and created a better than average debut novel.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Music Review -- Live From Nowhere Volume One by Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine’s new live CD, Live From Nowhere Volume One is part of a planned series of albums. The first volume is from the tour that came through town last November. There are no liner notes to see what shows the disc was recorded from or what lineup they used in those shows, but it sounds like a different setup than what I saw. When I saw them last year they re-created many of their songs which sounded much different than their album versions and they do that here, though on different songs and in different ways. The album mostly concentrates on songs from Drunkard’s Prayer, but includes some covers like Son of a Preacher Man. The joy in listening to this disc is the subtleties of the concert versions of these songs like the slower and jazz-influenced Faithfully Dangerous, the added guitar intro to Lookin’ Forward and the end of Drunkard’s Prayer where the music drops out leaving Karen’s voice to wrap around the words, “You’re my water, you’re my wine, you’re my whiskey from time to time.” As with all of OtR’s music the focus is their poetic lyrics, especially on anti-war tune Spark (It’s not the spark that caused the fire, It was the air you breathed that fanned the flame), Faithfully Dangerous (I’m drunk with angels taking flight, the heart that beats is yours inside me) and Born (Pour me a glass of wine, talk deep into the night, who knows what we’ll find).

I was talking about this album with a friend of mine who wondered out loud who needed more slightly different versions of songs from Over the Rhine who continuously puts out albums of live and b-side material. Well, for one thing… me. Almost all of their music affects me every time I listen to them and this is no different. While their studio albums are their best, Live From Nowhere is a great complement to their large catalog of music.

3.25 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

What I'm Reading -- The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin is one of those books I put on my reading list and then couldn’t remember why I wanted to read it. It could be that it was compared to The Little Friend by Donna Tart, which was good, but that is just a guess.

Martin has a concise writing style and writes from several characters’ perspectives. On a summer day in a small Indiana town, a 9-year old is missing and at first there seem to be no suspects. Martin moves through the story quickly, introducing two creepy guys. A teacher obsessed with some of his students and his neighbor, a grating guy with no friends and a past of lying about time spent in World War II give their sides of the story. It was an interesting book, though there are a few contrived plot twists and some of the characters are hard to stomach. It does compare well to The Good Friend, though it does not have the depth or engaging characters of Tart’s novel.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What I'm Reading -- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Needing an audio book to distract me on a trip across state by myself, I picked up How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (mostly because I could finish it in my 4 ½ hour trip). This is the story of Daisy, a 15-year old New Yorker, who is sent to England to live with her Aunt and cousins she barely knows. Soon after arriving at the farm, war around the world breaks out and Aunt Penn is stuck outside of the country. Daisy and her cousins survive on their own for a time, but are then split up when the military needs to use their farm. Until this point Daisy becomes very close to her relatives, and emgages in an inappropriate relationship with her cousin Edmund. The second half of the book is mostly following Daisy, who is moved closer to the war, then tries to reunite with Edmond.

Rosoff has plenty to say about the world in this book, especially when comparing the extremes of government. Rosoff evaluates an almost utopian society versus living under an oppressive controlling government. The characters often get along best when there is a balance between the two worlds. She also shows the horrors of war without being overly graphic.

The audio book is read brilliantly by Kim Mai Guest, who voices lots of cartoons like Rocket Power. She does a great job with the book and breezes through the emotional sections appropriately.

I can not say that I actually liked this book, but Rosoff did three great things. She kept me riveted from beginning to end, pulled a few emotions out of me and created a work that stuck with me a few days after listening to it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

What I'm Reading -- Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson

Night Fisher is the debut Graphic Novel by R. Kikuo Johnson. Loren Foster is a high school student at a private school in Hawaii. He is a bit of a nerd and the son of a dentist who has a bigger yard than he can handle. Loren, in a bid to get along and keep up his near perfect grades, starts hanging out and taking harder drugs with his questionable friend Shane. The two Seniors become ensconced in a world of crystal meth and petty crime. Johnson, who also did the artwork, shifts the perspectives throughout the panels. This makes the art almost ethereal, but still extremely vivid. The author is a subtle storyteller, especially when dealing with Loren’s father, who is trying to stay close to his son, but is also obsessed with his work. Johnson does a great job showing the confusion in life when things are about to change and what people turn to when expectations become overly harsh. It took some time for this to sink in after I finished it to really appreciate it, but this is a really solid graphic novel.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Music Review -- Taking Voice vs. Singing Voice by Starflyer 59

I had a few unsuccessful bids at purchasing this album, so I was glad to finally get it in the mail. On Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice, Starflyer 59 returns to their guitar pop/shoegazer sound. In 2004, they surprised everyone with I am the Portuguese Blues, by going back to their old grungier rock sound. IATPB received poor reviews, but was a good album driven by bold, catchy guitar riffs. On the new disc, front man Jason Martin and drummer Frank Lenz go back to the dreamy bittersweet pop found on Leave Here a Stranger and The Fashion Focus, but with a few twists. This is a darker album lyrically and while most SF59 albums have a consistent sound, Martin adds some subtle electronica and strings to create some unique melancholia. These moody tunes thrown in with everything else makes it sound like they wandered off the path for a spell, but now they’re back and everyone is okay. As producer, Marin gave up the muddled-on-purpose sound of IATPB and went with their more classic cleaner sound, though this CD features a much more layered presentation than previous albums. While it may not quite reach the quality of the aforementioned albums, this shows even more growth musically from them and is another great outing by SF59.

2.90 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Listening to this is like shivering deep inside yourself for no reason and when you reach out for someone to steady your nerves no one is there.

Music Review -- Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team

This is such a fun album. Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team is oddly kind of brilliant. Their sound is a bit difficult to explain. The music is sort of influenced by Phil Spector or maybe a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack or maybe the opening to a 70s live-action television show about a bad comic book hero like Ant Man. They mostly play instrumentals that incorporate 70s-era production and a million instruments including harmonica, horns and banjos. When they do have singing, they do not actually sing, they chant. While the up-tempo offerings are creatively punctuated by Cheerleader style chants, it grows tiresome. The instrumentals also start to blend into each other near the end of the album. Most importantly, I’m not sure what mood to be in to listen to this. I’m not in the habit of performing athletic cheerleader moves while jamming music that could stand in for the opening theme to Simon and Simon. So, I’m not sure what to think of it, but the contributors to this album are definitely talented and creative and there are some great songs here.

2.25 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.