Sunday, March 18, 2007

Music Review -- Subtitulo by Josh Rouse

Josh Rouse is one of those singer-songwriters that people say I would like, but that I never get around to actually listening to. Rouse’s latest disc, Subtitulo, was on too many “Best of ‘06” lists for me to ignore him any longer. While the CD brings to mind John Mayer and Jack Johnson, it is a much more diverse collection of styles and moods than you could find in any of their albums. Rouse’s laid back style adds weight to the catchy opening tunes of Quiet Town and Summertown. It Looks Like Love is a perfect summertime song with its bouncy melody, jazzy instrumentation and chorus of “There goes that melancholy feeln' again/ it looks like love is gonna find a way.”
Rouse’s introspective lyrics shine throughout the album especially on one of my favorites, Jersey Clowns as Rouse sings, “What a shame he's been away/ Cause he's worked so hard to pay those bills/ He's got two kids from his marriage before/ And I wonder what makes him stay/ You know it ain't the first time / She's played him like this a thousand times…I gotta tell him the truth/ But I don’t wanna do it/ Don't wanna bring him down…”
Rouse has a clear, confident voice that works on his lighter and deeper material. His band is more than capable of performing these songs and does so with an ease that complements Rouse’s vocals. While a little more variety would be appreciated since almost every song is an acoustic guitar-based, jazzy mid-tempo number, this is an accessible yet creative album by a thoughtful artist. This is for fans of the aforementioned artists, Elliott Smith and Wico.

3.00 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

Listening to this makes you feel like you are in that movie with the tennis courts, swimming pools, rainy days and homemade wine.

Music Review -- So Divided by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

The new album by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead is a weird one. Their CDs have always been dramatic with lots of peaks and valleys and changes of pace. So Divided seems like the band was caught between producing something marketable, keeping their old formula and growing as a band. The bad news is some of these songs seem completely out of place. The good news is that there are some impressive tunes here. One of them is the driving opening song, Stand in Silence. Much of the writing is dark and they begin with, “All that was left of me were walls of doubt/ I asked a question but the world returned with silence/ All that I wanted to know is where'd everyone else go?” This song is followed by the decent anthem, Wasted State of Mind. Unfortunately a few songs don’t really work including the silly and wandering Naked Sun. The other tunes rang from piano based songs to emo to pop to retro rock and while there are some nice moments there is no cohesive structure in which to build any emotional momentum. Source Tags and Codes is the only disc from these guys that I really get in to and it looks like it will remain that way. I really will still be disappointed if rumors of the band breaking up after this album turn out to be true, because despite the flaws of So Divided this is a band trying to be creative and yet stay relevant in the current pop scene. Unfortunately, the result of their efforts is a moderately pleasing album.

2.30 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What I’m Reading -- Teen Novels

So I have been a huge slacker with my blog lately, so I'm posting a few brief reviews to get me halfway caught up with all of the books I have finished in the last few weeks.

Here There be Dragons by James A. Owen

Owen has created a great fantasy realm beginning in the real world during World War I. Three young scholars from England are collected and sent in to a world where all of the world’s mythical lands reside. Here we meet Captain Nemo and other lands and characters from literature. The story of a crumbling world that the three young men must save is quite good. Character development is a bit unrealistic since the three become friends and are convinced to help with the dangerous tasks in a matter of minutes. Also, after I realized who is who at the end of the novel some of the things did not make as much sense to me. Anyway, despite these gripes this is a good fantasy and a quick read. This is very much like Eragon, where it is a teen book that adults should also enjoy.

Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick

In this hilarious book, Sonnenblick writes about mixed up teenager Alex Gregory. Alex narrates his story of a drunken accident which leads to a broken lawn gnome and community service with a grouchy senior named Sol. While not the most realistic of books, Sonnenblick applies a slick balance between humorous situations and the lessons learned from tough situations. This is a good book and one that could produce some good discussions among teen readers.

What I'm Reading -- Graphic Novels

Superman: True Brit by Kim Howard and John Cleese.

This seemed like a guaranteed quality read to me, but it turned out to be very disappointing. Basically, this is how the legend of Superman would have developed if he landed in England instead of the U.S. It sounds like an amazing idea and John Cleese is involved, but somehow this GN was boring and rarely amusing.

Curses by Kevin Huizenga

This is another one I could not get in to. Huizenga’s short story collection centers on spirituality, mortality and plain old weirdness. The writing just did not click with me. The design of the GN and the artwork, however, is absolutely brilliant. At turns stark and detailed Curse is visually impressive, but the stories are only occasionally intriguing.

The Left Bank Gang by Jason

This is fairly brilliant. The Left Bank Gang features literary giants like Hemmingway and Joyce as graphic novelists. Jason first writes about the group struggling with their art and lack of money they get from publishing their works. The plot then shifts and the group plans a robbery which is told from each of their perspectives. This is great.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This award winning GN definitely lives up to the hype. Somehow the author is able to weave three completely different stories into one powerful narrative. Jin is forced to fit in to his American high school as the only Chinese-American, the Monkey King struggles with his quest to become a god and Chin-Kee comes to visit his American cousin every year and engages in behavior that fulfills every stereotype and disgusts his cousin. This is one of the best books in any format for any audience of the year.

What I’m Reading -- Bestselling Authors

I don’t read much in the way of bestsellers, except occasionally for work purposes. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule and those include Nelson DeMille, Jodi Picoult and John Lescroart.

Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

I got hooked on DeMille when I read 2004’s Night Fall, a novel about the crash of TWA Flight 800. DeMille carries his main characters, John and Kate Corey, over into Wild Fire. John is a former NYPD officer who is now working with a post-9/11 federal anti-terrorism unit with his second wife and FBI agent, Kate. John narrates the story and is a hilarious, sarcastic character.

As for the plot, I do have one gripe. Whether it is books, movies or whatever I just can’t get into the possibility that person A hates country B, so he attacks his own country pretending to be from country B, so that country A will attack country B. This plot is used all of the time and it does not seem that realistic to me.

Anyway in Wild Fire, DeMille writes about the rumored strategy that if the U.S. suffers a nuclear attack on its own soil by a terrorist, the President has a mandatory plan in place to nuke multiple cities in the Middle East. In order to make this come to pass, a group of rich and powerful Americans might be willing to set off some nukes in the U.S. John and Kate become involved in this intricate plot as they investigate why a routine scouting mission turned into the murder of their fellow officer in upstate New York.

This is the epitome of a fun book. The narration is hilarious and the action is about as non-stop as you can get. There are unrealistic moments and the main bad guy reaches James Bond villain status, but they don’t really detract from the book mostly because John and Kate are such likable characters. This is definitely a must read for any suspense fans.

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Picoult’s The Tenth Circle came out early last year. As always Picoult features several intriguing characters in a swirling and surprising plot. Comic book creater Daniel Stone is putting out a new title for Marvel Comics when his troubled daughter is raped. As the investigation ensues, the true personalities and past sins of Daniel, his wife Laura and 14-year old Trixie come out. Dante’s Inferno and Daniel’s comic book hero Wildclaw parallel what is really happening to a family in crisis. Picoult’s characters are true to life as she drives home the point that people can only change so much.

The Suspect by John Lescroart

The thing I like about Lescroart is that he is a writer who writes legal thrillers and not a lawyer turned writer. In The Suspect, Lescroart takes one of his minor characters, lawyer Gina Roake, and gives her a tough case. It seems obvious to police that Stuart Gorman became angry when he wife threatened to divorce him and so he killed her. You can tell how much Lescroart loves San Fransisco, as the city is carefully described in all of his books. I thought this dragged some in the middle, but Lescroart is a good writer and a perfect read-alike for Grisham and Turow fans.