Early Review of Breaking Dawn

So apparently, a lot of people are finding me through Google looking for early reviews of Breaking Dawn, the 4th installment in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular vampire novels.

Being a fan…I’m flattered you’re coming here. But, since I don’t have any inside-access to the publisher or to Stephenie’s publicist, and thus, do not get an early review copy…all I can give for an early review is this:

“I’m sure it’s going to be drop dead fantastic.”

And yes, you can quote me on that….and then if you happen to meet a publicist for Stephenie, tell them to send me a book…and I can give a real review.

Oh…and if you don’t like my vague and disappointing “review”…here’s a “just as disappointingly-vague” review of the book by Stephenie Meyer herself:

10 Albums better than Viva La Vida

Ok, I’ve blogged my discontent with Viva La Vida already, but as I delve into new or recent offerings by Indie bands, I can’t help but think that in spite of the lack of name recognition, they’re better than the new Coldplay album.

Perhaps this is the mark of a band that has officially shed it’s “indie-ness” that it can produce music on the basis of its name rather than on the basis of its talent (I can be harsh here because prior to Viva La Vida, I was smitten with the brilliance of Coldplay’s music…especially their last two albums).

So, in that vein here, in no particular order, is my list of Indie albums that are far more worth the $10 or so than Coldplay’s album (You might call this the 10 CDs I wish I would have bought instead of Viva la Vida):

1. Barcelona – Absolutes: I don’t care that this album was released a year ago, it’s only now that it seems they’ve started really marketing it on the Indie circuit. Fantastic album. Haunting harmonies. Singable melodies. And a freshness that defies the copy-cat-dom of mainstream music

2. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs. It’s like they didn’t even miss a beat from Plans. It’s contagious, to say the least.

3. Weezer – Red Album: I know what you’re saying, it doesn’t belong on this list, might even be a slightly different genre of music. Well, not Weezer’s latest. It has incredible depth, both musically and lyrically. Check out “Miss Sweeney”…fantastic emotion for a song.

4. Polyphonic Spree – Fragile Army: I am usually loathe to say anything good about this band, because their style is so overwhelming that it bowls me over and makes me never want to listen to music again. Not this one. It’s diverse…at least, to the extent that Happy-Shiny 60s Power pop can be.

5. Iron & Wine – the Shepherd’s Dog: I’ve already blogged that this album is a major breakthrough. It’s infectious, and it’s better than the coldplay album.

6. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter – A cheeky pick by me here…but still, not a bad album…

7. Wolf Parade- At Mount Zoomer: I don’t know what it is about Wolf Parade. It might be their spacey tunes mixed with classic Oingo Boingo guitars but I like it.

8. Ferraby Lionheart – Catch the Brass Ring. If you’ve never heard of Ferraby Lionheart, they have a breezy Beatles sound, with a lead singer who has a down to Earth but memorable voice. For a really nice selection of downloads, check them out on music.download.com. “The Ballad of Gus and Sam” is Indie Perfection.

9. A Fine Frenzy – One Cell In the Sea: I’m a sucker for a good piano piece, this one has plenty…and this mention is in spite of the copy-cat “airy” voice she sings with.

10. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible: Yeah, I know this one came out last year, but it’s still one of my favorite Indie albums. I’ve been listening to it for a year, and I’m still not tired of the haunting rhythms, the moving melodies, and the downright perplexing lyrics.

In the ‘Twilight’ of a Comic Convention…

So, early reports are that the cast set to immortalize Stephenie Meyer’s characters in the upcoming Twilight movie made a special appearance at San Diego’s “Comic Convention”…the report details that hundreds of teenage girls in the audience shrieked and squeeled to get their first peek at the movie and its stars.

Forget about how Twilight fits in with the likes of Trekkies and Star Wars nuts…WHAT were teen girls doing at a comic convention?

The next Indie band to make it big on the radio is…

Barcelona.

Every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of an Indie band that has made it through the experimentation and exploration of their tastes and has finally settled on a style that fits them (or has finally decided to do what everyone else is doing…which one is it? You decide.).

Barcelona’s new offering “Absolutes” is on a Decemberist’s-Picaresque breakthrough. I’ve been following them a little, off and on, but this latest album marries Indie-ness (intelligent lyrics, nice use of flowing piano and guitar, experimental beats and rhythms) with a set of contagious harmonies that are sure to have radio stations drooling. With a Keane meets Snow Patrol formula, they’ve got some truly singable songs. Colors, bound to be the first radio single, is fantastic, as is First Floor People.

So, be listening for Barcelona on a radio station near you soon…remember, you read it here first.

Oh, and here’s a free download of one of their songs.

The band also has a “secret download” site if you give them your email.

What’s In a Voice?

I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time…music, especially Indie music, is about more than just the music. It’s about the words. It’s about the singer. The genius of Indie is that each band has a distinct personality, that evades the normal “Write about the same thing” nonsense you hear on mainstream radio. For me, good music is about a nice combination of instrumentation AND voice work…In fact, I’ll take a good voice with so-so instrumentation over the opposite. If a song has a boring/horrible singer, I just can’t put up with it, no matter how good the music is. So, here’s my list of my favorite recognizable singing voices, in Letterman-esque descending style:

10. Claude, Anything Box: Raw. Emotional. I love how in one second his voice sounds innocent, the next, wild, untamed, and enraged.

9. Matthew Bellamy, Muse: Does anyone else in music express more emotion when singing? I defy you to find one.

8. Tori Amos: One of my all-time favorite voices. Haunting, simply haunting.

7a. Ryan Miller, Guster: His voice is simple and smooth…and easy to sing-along with, or maybe it’s his songs…

7b. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie: Real is the best word I can come up with for Ben’s voice. It’s just plain real. Like you know him. Like he’s talking to you, rather than singing.

6. Harry Connick Jr. : Ok, deservedly, Harry Connick Jr. deserves to be on the top of this list, hands down. But first of all, he’s not Indie, and second of all…well I can’t think of a 2nd of all.

5. Johnny Boyd, Indigo Swing: (see comments for Connick Jr., Harry). Even more so, tragically, Johnny no longer sings for Indigo Swing. Which is odd…how can a band lose a guy commonly referred to as “The Voice”?

4. Rivers Cuomo, Weezer. Don’t know what it is, but I can’t get over the raw clarity and emotion of Rivers’ voice. My favorite example is on a live session their new song Miss Sweeney.

3. Steven Page/Ed Roberts, Barenaked Ladies: Rarely does a band have one good lead singer, let alone two. Ed is the charismatic voice, the accessible voice in a “You could be my best friend” sort of way. Steve is the powerhouse. If you’ve ever been to a BNL concert, you’d know what I’m talking out. He can simply BELT out some powerful melodies.

2. Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo. Yes, I know the Elf Man left singing on the radio for singing…and orchestrating…on the big screen, but his voice is still one of the very best AND most unique in all of music.

1. John Linell, They Might Be Giants: I love John’s voice. It’s raw. It’s even nasally. But it’s unique, and I can’t help but listen everytime I hear it. I love pointing out John Linell’s voice in obscure instances…like the Dunk’n Doughnuts new commercials, and even on PBS Kids in between shows.

A Confession

I have a confession to make. I’ve been hiding it for a while. Even if you knew me well, you’d be clueless about this secret obsession…but now, it’s time to come out of hiding. I have to get it out in the open.

I like Arthur and his Friends on PBS.

There. I said it. Sure, you might say, “Well, it’s ok. You’ve got kids. You naturally watch things your kids like. Don’t sweat it.” I wish it were that simple. Arthur’s got this attractive pull that I can’t deny. Every episode has little humorous tidbits. Humor that only an older person like me would get…only, the humor doesn’t go too far, just like Pixar and Disney do it. A little sarcasm here, a little satire there. One of my favorite episodes is when Arthur and his friends try to write their own stories for a contest, and the episode turns into a parody fest, making fun of Beavis and Butthead, South Park (“Hey, you squished Buster!”), and Dexter’s Laboratory. But, since I couldn’t find that episode online, here’s another one worth watching.

So, I’m glad I got that off my chest.

oh, and I like Word Girl too.

The Potter Plotline

Ok, it’s been a year since the official end of the Harry Potter craze…and sure, Jo Rowling and WB will do their best to keep it going with a theme park, and splitting the 7th movie into two movies (what will they call them, Harry Potter 7a and 7b?). But I’m wondering when the official “This is a Potter” Plotline reference will be made for the first time…you know, when someone says, this is another Harry Potter story. It’s akin to the reference to a story as a Dickens story, or something to that effect. The Potter plotline goes something like this: a little boy who has little to no value in society, is repressed, blah blah blah, discovers a secret power that makes him all of a sudden important, goes through the hard knocks to meet his destiny and succeed. Along the way, there are sacrifices, tragedy, but all adds up to make the hero of the story.

I guess you could say that that IS the Dickens plotline, but that totally destroys my point, so I’ll move on…pretend I didn’t mention that.

I bring this up because I’m starting to find that a lot of books follow the Potter plotline. The Bartimaeus trilogy is one example, but it would be unfair to limit that great book series in that way (plus, the trilogy is more about power than it is about a young boy who becomes something great).

Actually, a recent book that I started reading and had to put down is what inspired this tangent…Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief. The Indie Girl and I checked this one out on the recommendation of friends who said it was one of the best books they had read. In short, we only got through the first fourth of the book before we were quickly tired by it…it’s all about a boy who’s labeled a trouble maker who eventually finds out that he is a hero in waiting and he goes to a summer camp to learn skills. It’s a carbon copy of the Potter Plotline, only it’s set against real life Greek Mythology, rather than magicians and witches.

In short, I think it’s been fantastic that Jo Rowling’s work has inspired worldwide reading…I’m just concerned that it’s also inspired worldwide copying and pasting…expanding the story to limitless backgrounds and situations.

Potty Mouth Indie

You know, the longer I listen to Indie music, the more I realize that listening to an Indie album is about the complete experience. You don’t buy an album for one song…you want to put the album in and listen to the whole thing.

But then again, the more I listen to Indie, the more I realize that Indie bands take advantage of their non-mainstream status to take liberty with curious language and the vocabulary that doesn’t exactly make SAT lists. Potty talk. It may not bother most people, but I have to say, it bothers me. While Indie songs parade some of the most interesting and creative lyrics, I find it ironic that so many of these innovative lyrics feature the most un-original language in English. I like to enjoy an album without having to wince while listening to it…

Here’s a few albums that have spawned this tangent:

1. Guster: Ganging up on the Sun. I am a huge Guster fan, but on its latest CD, they drop the F word for no reason whatsoever on one of their best tracks: Manifest Destiny.

2. Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning. So, Bright Eyes isn’t exactly known for clean language, but this album really bugged me. The songs are deep, emotional, powerful, and fantastic. It’s too bad that the language is so profane.

3. Okkervil River: Stage Names: My most recent annoyance. Some of the songs are simply brilliant, especially John Allyn Smith Sails…I just have one question for Okkervil River: Can’t you find something ELSE that rhymes with “class”?

Either way, I know I’m not in the majority on my opinion on this one, but I had to vent.

Of Sequels and Trilogies: Bartimaeus and the Empire Strikes Back Syndrome

Golem\'s EyeI’m starting to notice a trend, and was wondering if you’ve noticed it too. The more I see and read, the more I think that the 2nd installment in a trilogy is one of the best. Empire Strikes Back is a dark horse favorite for a lot of people, me included, in the trilogy, and there are quite a few recent movies and books I’ve watched or read, and have noticed the same thing. For example, in the Twilight Book Series by Stephenie Meyer, New Moon (Book 2), has got to be the best–the anxiety, the emotion, the despair and recovery Meyer builds in that book far outweighs any book she has written. Shrek 2 was the best movie in that trilogy (especially better than the pathetic third installment). And the same rings true for the Bartimaeus Trilogy…

I just finished book two The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Golem’s Eye. Simply incredible book.

First, as I was going through The Golem’s Eye, I came to the realization that Stroud’s original hero (Nathaniel) is a bit of a tragic character. In fact, rooting for him is like rooting for Draco Malfoy in the Potter series. Nathaniel is every bit as power hungry and brainwashed as was Draco. In book two, Stroud introduces a new hero…or heroine, Kitty Jones.

Second, the story was much more involved and fast paced than book one. It took a good few hundred pages before things started getting interesting in The Amulet of Samarkand. The story was good, but was fairly straightforward, without many plot divergences or multiple story lines. In Book two, there are at least 3 to 4 legitimate story lines…it’s like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure Book…only you get to choose who you’re rooting for.

Finally, the depth added to the real hero–Bartimaeus–brings you into the story and is quite engaging. So, in short, Book 2 is a great read*…I highly recommend it.

*Ok, I should say, great “listen”…since I’ve been listening to the books on CD. I have to put a plug in here, because the reader for this series is amazing. Simon Jones, a Broadway regular, really makes this series worthwhile. His voices and especially his interpretation of Bartimaeus, have kept me listening, even when I get urges to turn it off and listen to the new Death Cab…