Friday, September 28, 2012

The Return of Ben Folds Five and Aimee Mann

About five years ago, I realized I’d finally reached an age where I just wasn’t all that compelled to seek out new music anymore.
It makes sense.  I stopped listening to the radio years ago, with the exception of those two minutes in the morning when my alarm clock goes off. 
What this means is, I mostly only buy new stuff by people whose work I’ve liked in the past.  Or things that get so popular that they’re sort of inescapable.  In other words, the Adeles of the world.
(Or, you know, the popular stuff that hits Glee, and makes me seek out the originals.)
So in the way, it was kind of magical that I felt compelled to pick up two CDs (I know!  In 2012!) on the same day.
The first was Aimee Mann’s newest, Charmer.
Aimee was one of my last major discoveries.  Much like everyone else who wasn’t a music critic, I bumped into her wealth of material when I saw the movie Magnolia.  The movie was interesting, but I was more struck by the quality of the songs.  I not only bought the CD, but picked up the sheet music as well.
After that, I dove into her back catalogue.  I bought the previous releases.  I picked up Bachelor No 2, which was, at the time, her current album.  I even went back and got some of her work with Til Tuesday, which was equally great.
The thing of it is, if you like some of Aimee’s work, I can’t really see how you wouldn’t like all of it.  She isn’t the AC/DC of indie rock, putting out the exact same album each time, but she has a definite niche, it’s a small one, and she concentrates on hitting the exact same target every time.
And so it is with Charmer.  It’s mostly mid-tempo, just like her other work.  It contains bright melodies (for the most part) and charmingly sad lyrics (for the most part). 
And… well, it’s an Aimee Mann recording, pretty much like all the others.  It’s a little more keyboard-riffy, I suppose.  But otherwise, it’s sharp, and pleasant, and in general it’s fun to sing along to, loudly.  What more could you ask for?
On the same day, Ben Folds Five released their first album as a band in twelve or thirteen years, depending on how you look at it.
I was a fan of the group going back to Whatever and Ever Amen.  I still remember catching the back half of One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces on MTV, late at night, back in college.  Here were three insanely talented players who were really, really rocking out.  No guitar.  Just…
It kind of blew my mind.  So I bought Whatever, and then went back and picked up their self-titled CD, which was also pretty great.
Naked Baby Photos came out, and I sort of bought it reluctantly.  It was kind of fun to get the odd little drips and drabs and rare stuff, but it didn’t exactly feel essential. 
Not long after that, they put out The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which was… odd.  There were songs on it, yes, but several of them were sort of strange and wander-y and experimental.  An I read somewhere that the album had been chopped and shuffled a bunch of times, turning an actual song sequence into something else entirely.
I liked it, but not as well as the previous work.  And then the band fell apart.
Ben himself went on to a nice little solo career, releasing albums that were sometimes more mature (Songs for Silverman) and some were kind of iffy (Way to Normal has some great songs, and some other stuff that’s just forgettable) and a strange little experiment where he put out three EPs, and then combined them into one record, only he dropped some songs and added a song from a soundtrack…
The thing of it is, I sort of forgot how much I really liked the guy until recently, when I picked up his Retrospective, and I ended up listening with a sense of awe at just how many great songs Ben had created over the course of a fairly short career.  I ended up rediscovering songs (You Don’t Know Me, Learn to Live with What You Are) that I didn’t remember, but which were minor masterpieces.
And then, of course Ben Folds Five got back together.  And they made The Sound of the Life of the Mind.
The thing of it is, I’m still a little torn up about the whole thing.  Ben Folds Five made beautiful music, and also snotty and bratty music, and while it’s fun to listen to the old CDs, there comes a time when you shouldn’t really be allowed to write songs like that anymore.
So what did we get out of this return to the group?
Well, we got the bass and drums back, and I have to admit I kind of forgot how much I missed it in this context.  These three guys are LOCKED into each other.  They are not a piano with some bass and some drums.  They’re a true trio, bouncing off of one another, and I dig it.  I dig it a lot.
And then there are the songs.  They always had ballads, whether it was Ben Alone (The Luckiest) or together (Boxing, Evaporated).  And the ballads are here too, and they’re just as pretty as ever.  So that’s all to the good.
There’s a leftover here, from Ben’s last solo excursion with Nick Horby, where Nick wrote all the words.  There’s an actual BFF collaboration song, and there aren’t a ton of those.
There’s a little experimentation (Erase Me, the opener, is a kind of cousin to The Unauthorized Biography, I think) and some semi-rock (Do It Anyway) and there’s some brattiness (Draw a Crowd) which feels like something they should have grown out of by now, but it fits, and it gives you a nice tinge of nostalgia.
I read a movie review once, wherein it was stated that the movie was funny, but in a way that made you smile the whole time, instead of laughing, and I think that’s what we’ve got here.  Ben and Aimee and crew are back again, and there isn’t much in the way of new tricks.  But the old ones are just as fun as ever.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What I'm Watching: TV Returns!




Recently, a friend of mine asked me to name the best comedy of all time.  He was pushing for Community, which he and his family watch and rewatch with a near-religious fervor.  I said I didn’t know, though I offered up Scrubs, a show with a similar formula: Ensemble, lots of flights of fancy, an emotional core that pops up in the last three to five minutes of every episode.


The more I thought about it, though, the more I came to feel that while I do love me some comedy, I think that other shows are funnier.  Off the top of my head, I rattled off Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls (technically a drama), and Supernatural, which is supposed to be a horror show…


Ultimately, we shared some nice memories, but he held onto Community as the top tier, the best of the best.


And that’s fine.


My wife and I have been powering through the show these last few weeks.  We’re a couple of episodes away from finishing season 2, and after that we should be able to get to season 3 just in time for season 4 to start.  I imagine it will be a bit of a struggle to keep up, but, hey, it’s only been renewed for 13 episodes. 


I think the speed we’re getting through the show would indicate that we love it with all our hearts, but no, I’d say it’s more of a very strong like.  My wife can’t stand certain episodes, and I went from thinking I wanted to own the show to DVD to suspecting that I could wait until the whole thing is crammed into a cheap box set and sold at $20 for the complete series. 


The thing of it is, it’s a fun show.  It doesn’t talk down to the audience, it really does truck in bizarre and impressive writing, and the show is different just about every week, tackling various bits of pop culture in its own special way.


I think it’s great that it does that, but it also means that the show can be alienating.  Recently, I saw the episode where they riffed on Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre.  I love Pulp, and I know quite a bit about Andre, even though I’ve never gotten a chance to sit down and watch it.


My wife, however, barely remembers Pulp, and Andre meant little to nothing to her.  Subsequently, large chunks of the episode didn’t register with her.  She liked it, she was amused by it, but it wasn’t “great.”


And that, I think, is Community’s fatal flaw: it is what The Big Bang Theory claims to be, a show that’s deeply enmeshed in nerd/geek culture.  And the sad fact is, a show that’s deeply enmeshed in nerd/geek culture, and not just playing at it, was never long for this world.


I have heard that the next season is going to be starting with a Hunger Games pastiche, which is the kind of thing that might have saved it two seasons ago.  But now?  On a Friday night?  With new showrunners?  The true fans will watch to the bitter end, and the show will vanish.


Which is too bad.  There’s a lot of love going into it.


Warehouse 13


What can I say?  13 started as a pleasant show with minor returns.  It was fast and funny, and it locked onto a formula and made it work early on.  Then it got really good, and demonstrated what you can do to an audience once you’ve engaged their emotions.


And the show is doing so well, it’s gone from 13 episodes a season to 20.  How is that not a win?


I’ve been liking these season a lot so far, but I find myself troubled with the fact that I don’t see how it can end with anything other than a reboot, wherein the show more-or-less casts this season aside as though it never happened. 


This might be why I don’t write for Warehouse 13.


I must admit, I’m still amazed that I love this show so much, and that my life loves it as well.  If I had to nail it down, I’d guess it’s because at its heart, every hour they put out is really just an excuse to hang out with these fun characters again, and maybe somewhere in there we’ll solve a mystery, too.


It’s like a warm hug from your TV.  Truly.




Man, I was a little afraid of this one.  Glee has finally returned, with much of a the cast sheered away and the show now functioning as both itself and its spin-off, wherein Rachel and Kurt go to New York.


Having watched the first episode, most of this seems to the good, though much of the goings-on were about pressing reboot on the show again.  The last season ended with the Glee club triumphing, and suddenly being big winners at the school.  Now all that has been undone.


In a sense, the show is a fresh pilot, and while it wasn’t as great as the first pilot, it was solid enough that I didn’t want to walk away in disgust.


So yeah, I’ll be here through the season.


My big curiosity now, however, is what’s going to happen to the show audience-wise.  They have the X Factor as their lead-in, and that show ain’t doing all that great.  And they’re up against a lot of other hard-to-beat shows that aren’t going to go away any time soon.


I suspect they’ll get a full year, just to make it to a point where they can syndicate the show and get some back end money.  But unless American Idol gives them a serious lift, I think we’re watching the slow winding down of Glee.  And if it plays about as well as last night did, well, that’s just fine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Author Vanishes

So I kind of abandoned this place again.


Well, no, that’s not true.  Actually, I wrote probably a dozen updates, all of them perhaps 1000 words long, and then I trashed them because I kind of hated them. 


It’s a stress thing.


Why am I stressed?


Some of it is pretty normal stuff.  My daughter started kindergarten, which means there’s a new schedule at my household. 


Previous to that, we had a summer that was so busy I think we got one weekend off from running somewhere, all the time.


Heck, my little one was gone for a week, and so we scheduled time with all the people we literally hadn’t seen in months.


We even saw a movie in a movie theater for the second time this year.


My wife and I are also prepping to start a second adoption process, which means rearranging our entire house.


In the midst of all of this, I was working on another novel.  And trying to get my movie-making book done, because it should have been done a long time ago.


And I wrote a little novella that I was hoping would make it into the Red Iris Books anthology.  I was trying to do Lovecraft justice, and I think I did okay, and as it turns out Red Iris agrees, so that’ll be out before too long.


Which is good, so you should totally check out their web site here:


Also you should click that link so you can see the new artwork for Blood Calling, which is no longer going to be published by me.  No.  It’s going to be published by Red Iris Books.


Along with the two sequels.  And Baby Teeth. 


Just this morning I sent Red Iris my final edit, which means we just have to get through the final copyedit and then the book will launch for the second time, and then we get to start all over with Misfits.  And also Baby Teeth.  And then The Enforcers.


And I’m already really tired.  Did I mention that?


But wait, there’s more!


In the middle of working on those edits, I got an email from my writing partner, Stephen Unger.  He had a manager who wanted to see The Paper Castle: The Feature Film Version.  So I looked at the script, and gave Stephen some notes (because I just didn’t have time to edit it myself…) and now one manager has passed it to another and… something might happen?


I am quite certain I shouldn’t say anything else, because that would probably be a major faux pas.


So yeah.  I’m tired.


Which means that all the little bits that usually come together when I start writing aren’t.


Meanwhile, here’s what you need to know:


The Red Iris Anthology will be out… soonish.  There will even be a physical version!  Which means that people can finally buy a physical book with my work in it.  This will be very exciting to some people.


The Blood Calling books will be out as we edit them.  They’re being reworked a bit.  If you want to buy them again, to support a new author, go ahead.  But they won’t be all that different from the original versions.


Because of this, by the way, the old versions will be coming down off Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I already pulled the Smashwords versions weeks ago.


At the rate we’re going, I’m guessing I probably won’t finish another new novel until the end of the year.  We shall see.  We shall, indeed.


And now, I need to get back to editing.  I shall return.