Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Model Army, Winter - Review

I finally acquired (via iTunes download) the latest album from my heroes, and I am awed by its greatness. NMA's previous record was just OK, in my view--a mostly unsuccessful divergence from their tried and true sound. I know many want bands to evolve over the years and across the albums, transforming into something new whenever possible. I've never subscribed to this notion--not as a principle for its own sake, anyway. I like evolution, but I don't look for it to be writ large. More important to me is quality. And this collection is excellent. 

Justin Sullivan's voice ages well--and he sounds rather old here now, at times. Yet he's still able to surge up and let go a primal scream when needed. The lyrics--always NMA's strength, but also on (very) rare occasions a fatal flaw--are as strong as ever. And the guitars, bass, and drums carry all the force they've ever had. I suppose this album is more spare than any they've ever done, but I wouldn't call it minimal in its arrangements. It's not melodically remarkable or catchy, but that's not necessary. 

Anyway, Winter is a welcome return to form, which I would highly recommend for your listening pleasure. There are too many good songs to single out one or two. The first listen impressed me, but it was the second that drove home the record's greatness for me. The third was thrilling. A fourth is underway now. 

For longtime fans of the band, this is highly recommended. For newcomers, I'm not sure where it's best to start. My favorite NMA album remains Thunder and Consolation. At this rate, Winter may well land second or third on the list, in the end. 


I just realized this is my first blog post in a year and a half. Hello again, Internet. In my last post, I announced the arrival of my own band, Travels by Night. That was a bit premature, but we're rolling out songs now, working toward an album and an e.p. later this year. In case you're the least bit curious, we're here on Bandcamp. For NMA fans, the songs perhaps closest to your neighborhood would be Wicked Old World and Last Call. Drop a line or post a comment, and let me know what you think. More or later. -eb

UPDATE: I went back to Between Dog & Wolf. It's good--better than I remembered. It feels a touch over-produced, with an emphasis on percussion that's usually quite good but sometimes a bit much. Perhaps the album is a little weak on melody, at times. But overall it's quite good, and somehow it works better for me after hearing Winter. I mean to cast no aspersions on the band or Justin Sullivan. They are great. Visionary. Probably my favorite band ever. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Writing Advice: Dialog Tags

When in doubt, use "said." And you should always doubt.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Faramir is a Woman

If, while reading the Lord of the Rings to children, you change Faramir to a woman (and make her bad-ass rangers women, too), you must stay alert to switch a great many pronouns on the fly along the way; but, in the end, the girl(s) in your audience will be immensely grateful--and, furthermore, your labors will be rewarded with the glorious occasion of Middle Earth's first lesbian wedding.

Granted, we do not know what happened to the Entwives, but we can guess. 

(For what it's worth, this idea was, of course, inspired by Michelle Nijhuis's article about reading Bilbo as a girl.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Let it Go Meme

I'm told the internet needs memes. Here's one:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Obama Takes Over the Colbert Report: The Nadir of Satire?

I'm a huge fan of the Colbert Report, but this strikes me as a new low for political satire. If satire is a weapon to be used against the powerful, then why hand over the reins to (arguably) the most powerful person in the world?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On the Stones Below

My favorite living poet is, as of today, no longer alive. I met Mark Strand back in 1992 or so, when he came to my college for a reading--the only poet I ever remember reading there, aside from those of us who haunted the halls as students.

I'm transcribing this poem here, in part because I could not find it elsewhere online. I'll be out back feeling...feelings.

by Mark Strand

I am not thinking of Death, but Death is thinking of me.
He leans back in his chair, rubs his hands, strokes
his beard, and says, "I'm thinking of Strand, I'm thinking
that one of these days I'll be out back, swinging my scythe
or holding my hourglass up to the moon, an Strand will appear
in a jacket and tie, and together under the boulevards'
leafless trees we'll stroll into the city of souls. And when
we get to the Great Piazza with its marble mansions, the crowd
that had been waiting there will welcome us with delirious cries,
and their tears, turned hard and cold as glass from having been
held back so long, will fall and clatter on the stones below.
                  O let it be soon. Let it be soon."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ableist Grammar Snobs Unite!

Over the next few days, pretty much everyone on the Internet will have seen and/or heard "Weird Al" Yankovic's funny/not-funny new parody song, "Word Crimes." In his lyric, Yankovic appeals to the grammar snob in each of us. Or in most of us. Some of us? A few? And that's all good and well, but I'll be looking for backlash against the song for its callous use of a term for people with cerebral palsy to put down someone by saying "you write like a spastic."

"What's wrong with that?" you ask. Google answers with this and this and this and this, for starters. Ciao!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Working on a Novel

Yours truly, rocking pink headphones. 
I've come to the conclusion that the computer is a sort of "threshold guardian," standing between where I am and where I will find my finished novel. I have to learn to work with it, to trick it, to get around it, to answer its riddles and resist its temptations. Today I'm inordinately proud of the fact that it is 1 p.m. and I've only just now turned on the computer for the first time. I spent the morning writing notes, reading about the structure of "the Hero's Journey," and brainstorming the shape and meaning of this book.

Before you and I both roll our eyes at this mythic journey business, I'd like to remind us that I am writing a fantasy novel to fulfill my daughter's desire for an adventure/quest story with female characters who kick ass. I'm taking the project very seriously, and I'm using it as an opportunity to explore some of the conventions of storytelling that I've resisted learning about over the years in some (probably misguided) effort to maintain something like artistic integrity.

Anyway, yeah. Hello, Internet. I'm giving myself a fifteen minute reward for those 3.5 hours of focus.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Peter Murphy's New Album

This is a reaction, not a review.

On first listen, Lion is incredible--it feels like the Peter Murphy album his fans have been waiting for twenty years. I gather that others appreciated Ninth a lot more than I, but I feel his last wall-to-wall solid album was 1995's Cascade. Until now, that is.

And, for the record, there are songs I love on Dust, Ninth, and even Unshattered, which I feel rivals Holy Smoke for his weakest record. A lot of devoted fans consider it a duty to revere everything their favorite artists do. I'm not one of those. My standard has always been to stay devoted to my rock gods but realistic about their new music. Is this one good enough to draw skeptical former fans back into the fold? In Lion's case, yes.

Honestly, I do not expect much from Murphy anymore, and last year's legal troubles didn't bode well. I was also a bit concerned that this record was produced by Youth--who failed to rescue Echo & the Bunnymen from old age on their so-so new record, Meteorites.

But Lion rocks the hell out. I don't know which of these songs will take hold and grow on me, but this is the best and wildest album I've encountered since last year's Savages debut. And--though it's too soon to say--I suspect this may wind up in my top three favorite Peter Murphy solo albums. That said, Lions would have to surpass Cascade and/or Should the World Fail to Fall Apart. Deep is untouchable. Come to think of it, I'm not yet convinced this is as good as Love Hysteria, fourth on my list.

What's with this ranking business? Old habits die hard. Or don't die.

Bottom line: so far this lamb loves this Lion.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Your Troubled Young Life

(Trigger warnings: death, depression, drugs, suicide)

I'm not generally a big Neil Young fan--he's fine, really talented, etc., but not my cup of tea--yet this new low-fi recording he's made of the Bert Jansch song "Needle of Death" is powerful:

And here's the original:

And here's a beautiful song in a similar (though perhaps even darker) vein:

So last night I was reminded, by my wife, that a few years ago my mother received a small settlement from a drug company because my niece, who was raised primarily by my mother, hung herself with an extension cord while being treated with an anti-depression drug that did not (yet) have suicide listed among its side effects.

And this morning I'm standing at the edge of a gaping hole in my life that I'd been walking around, blissfully unaware, for a few years. I had forgotten this twist of the knife in the heart. I had steered clear of this pain, somehow, for a good long time. But how?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Up to Things

Oh yeah. I have a blog. Hi, blog! Hi, reader! Is there a reader? I'll assume so. The site gets traffic still, anyway. I assume some of it is human traffic.

I'll probably blog a bit more this summer. Right now, I plan to withdraw (almost entirely) from Facebook for May through July (except to notify local friends of our yard sale shortly before we move to an on-campus apartment, a few blocks away). This morning I started writing an essay. I do that often: I start essays that don't get finished. Personal essays. Oh, and I learned the chords for a song. I haven't done that in ages. Here's the song:

I probably won't sing it like that, though. As beautiful as this and a few other renditions are, I still don't feel the song has been done in a way that captures the coldness and brokenness of it. Most singers lay it on too thick. Sorry. That's how I feel. It's a beautiful song, but it's a broken one…and it should sound broken.

Anyway, what have I been up to? Things. I recently made a video for a friend's song. The friend is Neal Koga, and his performing name is Jamal. The video is here. For some reason, Blogger won't let me embed it. Corporate incompetence, I suspect.

And I've landed a short-short story in New World Writing: "The Day I Came Home."


Sunday, February 16, 2014

White Privilege in the News

For the moment (Sunday 16 February 2014 at around noon, my time), the top headline on says this:

Gunman 'in disbelief' over loud-music verdict: He could spend rest of life in prison.

But how can he be in disbelief? He doesn't deny his involvement. He held the gun. He aimed it into a car full of kids. He injured three and killed one.

And, more importantly, why does CNN believe his shock is the story here? I have a hard time imagining the editors would go with a headline as sympathetic to the astonishment of a shooter who killed a teenager while firing into a car full of teens if the shooter weren't a middle-aged white dude who just wanted those damn kids to turn down their damn hip-hop.


In case you haven't found it already, here's a surprisingly entertaining blog on this topic: Yo, Is This Racist?