#Writing #MusicMonday: Are You Still There? by Jazoo

2 May

CoverI first discovered Jazoo last summer, and shared their latest (and arguably best) album last fall, including it on my best of the year list and declaring it one of the greatest jazz albums available in the Creative Commons, period.

So if this is a step down, it’s akin to stepping down from top-form Miles Davis to top-form Cannonball Adderley.

Which is to say that this album is also really, really damned good.

There’s a lot more singing and vocals in general here than there was on Back From Reality. But apart from that, and a very different pacing to the album as a whole (there is a purposeful and very effective blank space in the middle, which fits perfectly into the mood being set), it is recognizably of a piece with the more recent masterpiece.

And, fair warning, one track — “DesART Sun” — features the deliciously-voiced female vocalist being distractingly and overtly sexual. You may want to leave that one track off your writing playlist (even though it’s incredibly good).

Something that seems to have been happening recently, not through any conscious design on my part, is that Writing Music Monday albums have been pairing up and grouping to pleasing effect (at least to me). This week and next week are another example of this happening. The final track on this album, “Hard Break”, definitely leaves the listener wanting more. It feels like the album just stops rather than ends, and it seems purposeful.

As you will learn next week, it segues beautifully into the next album I’m going to share. But for that, you must wait.

Download Are You Still There? free from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
Are You Still There? by Jazoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: noaccordion by noaccordion

26 Apr

Cover [Yes, I crapped out on posting yesterday. But I’ve got albums selected to the middle of next month, at least, and easily can go beyond that, I just have to write them up and prepare the posts. And it’s clearly much better when I do that well ahead of time.]

Though she has been making music for a long time, and releasing as “noaccordion” since 2010, I only chanced across Onah Indigo’s work quite recently.

She seems to be a restless soul, ranging across genres and styles at whim, almost like Miles Davis, needint to finish one thing, then do something completely different, then do something completely different from that.

This first, eponymous, EP has a mix of sounds that’s hard to describe, but if you cross the French grunge girl band UNKNW with Le Tigre, that captures some of it. Toss in a dash of the Raveonettes, too, while you’re at it.

And that’s part of why I’m having a hard time describing this EP. Each song is different. They’re all obviously by the same artist, but they’re all completely distinct.

And they’re all worth listening to, at the very, very least.

Download noaccordion free from the Internet Archive or from Soundcloud.

Creative Commons License
noaccordion by noaccordion is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Book Review: Deck of Cards by Rebecca Lickiss

19 Apr

00001Before we even begin the review, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to do two things: ignore the cover, and ignore the title. Seriously. Pretend that somebody who hated the book and wanted to make sure it sold zero copies somehow got control and slapped the cover onto it.

I’ll come back to this later.

Rebecca Lickiss’s Deck of Cards is a space opera, with heavy elements of thriller and comedy of manners thrown in for good measure. Imagine early Lois McMaster Bujold, as this fits very well with Shards of Honor and Barrayar, despite being a wildly different story.

The story is also set in a very complicated world.

Five is a resident of the planet Fenris, and somewhere in the top dozen or two slots for the line of succession to the throne to rule the planet.

As the novel opens, we quickly learn that Five, whose real name is Valor, works with his siblings together to protect the youngest ones from their mutual father, Sigil. There are more than twenty siblings, nearly all called by number by their father, and the protection is needed. The opening scenes have Sigil returning from an audience with the King and taking out his fury, causes unknown, on Five’s right hand, breaking every bone in it. Five’s relative acceptance of this clearly signals that, while this attack was extreme, it was simply of a piece with all the previous treatment by his father. Further, it’s very clear that Five takes abuse on himself so that the other siblings won’t be targeted.

Almost immediately following, Five learns that he has a required audience with the King the following day, and there is a rush with the doctor to get his hand into presentable shape in time.

The audience with the King is, if anything, even more disastrous than his encounter with his father. The King tells Five that he will marry a daughter of the king of Ariel, the mysterious Princess Dedalean Leonargus, as a means of easing tensions between Ariel and Fenris, and encouraging trade.

Which explains Sigil’s vicious attention to Five’s right hand, since that’s the hand that will hold the wedding ring.

Yes, the wedding ring goes on the right hand.

Lickiss’s novel has many, many impressive accomplishments, not least of which is the detailed world-building. In this case, I’m referring to the cultures and histories of the two worlds featured, rather than the climate, geography, or other physical features.

Fenris and Ariel orbit the same star, Ariel having the much larger orbit, and according to legend, they were colonized at the same time, four hundred years ago, in a desperate last-ditch effort not to lose a revolution. We don’t get much more detail about that, but the legend includes the fact that the two worlds will unite again in a hundred years to re-take “Target”, a planet somewhere outside of the system, whose location nobody seems to know.

In the meantime, Fenris and Ariel have been at near-constant war, all the while looking over their shoulders dreading outside invasion, in spite of the fact that many (including five) don’t actually believe the legends. Five’s marriage is publicly part of an effort to reconcile the two cultures ahead of the fulfillment of the forefathers’ plans to re-take Target.

Privately, however, there is another purpose.

Five’s father, Sigil, is a wildly violent, unstable, unpredictible psychopath, as has already been established. And several people in line for the throne have died in mysterious, not-quite-provably murdery circumstances, including the King’s two sons. Sigil wants the throne, and the King knows it, but can’t move against Sigil for unknown reasons, though part of it is clearly fear.

And the secret reason Five is being sent to Ariel, along with his youngest siblings and other children currently in Sigil’s path, is to provide a safe haven for the King’s as-yet unborn son, about whom nobody knows except the King, the Queen, and now, Five. Once established, and the prince born, the child is to be sent to Ariel as a bastard child of a royal cousin, as cover. The real reason is to keep him completely out of Sigil’s purview.

Following all of this so far? Good, because that’s merely a part of the first two chapters. This is all merely set-up. I haven’t even gotten to Arielan culture, the large cast of characters over there, or the delightful interactions between the emigrants and the Arielans.

And it’s all handled magnificently, with only a few minor missteps, none of them relating to the story itself.

Lickiss handles a very, very large cast, with complicated and shifting interrelationships, in a way that makes me jealous. And once you tune into the cultures that she has built, it’s pretty much all crystal clear, except when it needs not to be, to keep the reader in suspense. She also develops two related, but markedly different cultures, almost purely through showing them to you, not lecturing the reader much at all, except when characters truly don’t or wouldn’t know things, and need to be lectured about them.

The story is engaging and interesting all the way through, leads to a very satisfying ending, and leaves the door wide open to further stories in this setting. We never find out much about Target or the circumstances that led to Ariel and Fenris being colonized, for example.

It’s all quite excellent and entertaining, and I recommend it highly.

That said, there are some minor defects, technical things really, in the story itself.

And there is also the cover, and the visual presentation of the Kindle edition of the book.

Within the story, there were a very few times where Lickiss did not signal things quite clearly enough, at least for this reader. It is, as I indicated, a masterful job of juggling a very large cast, keeping all the interrelationships straight in the reader’s head, and showing the different cultures to boot. However, a few times, she slips. There is an important conversation between Five and the King of Fenris, private, that I started out thinking was between Five and his father, because she used the King’s given name, something that had been mentioned once, I think, but hadn’t stuck in my head for some reason. That was the worst example, but there were a few other times in the book where I had to stop for a moment, go back and reread a paragraph or two, to make sure I was oriented correctly within the story. (Also, toward the end, there were a few obvious typos that pulled me out of the story briefly, simply because there had been so few, possibly none, in the early going, so they stood out.)

The title works once you have read the story, because one of Five’s idiosyncracies is that he uses a deck of cards (unique to the story and world) to play solitaire as a way of helping him sort out relationships and figure out how to solve problems between people. However, it is not a title that indicates “space opera” or “science fiction” in any way, which is why I said to ignore it. It’s not a bad title, but it fails to signal the reader what kind of story it is.

And the cover. Oh, alas, the cover.

Look, within the story, both Fenris and Ariel have strongly feudalistic tendencies, and some primitivism, such that the aristocracy live in castles, and on one planet, they are horrified at the very mention of indoor plumbing, because that might give away their real level of technology should Target attempt to invade. And no, that makes no sense, as characters in the story realize, but it’s a brilliant bit of world-building that rings true.

However, a plain picture of a castle-like structure? That, really and truly, gives you zero idea what kind of book this is. On top of which, it’s bland rather than intriguing. And currently, SF covers still tend strongly toward artwork rather than photographic realism, for obvious reasons.

So, ignore the cover, don’t let the title fool you, this is a fun, exciting space opera of a fairly unique kind, and I want a sequel, or even a prequel, dammit!

[This post was first published at According To Hoyt.]

#Writing #MusicMonday: The Beautiful Machine by Josh Woodward

18 Apr

CoverI feel like kind of a schmuck.

See, I’ve known about Josh Woodward for pretty much the entire time I’ve listened to Creative Commons music, close to ten years now.

And I kept trying to listen to his music, now and then.

And… I just didn’t care for it. He clearly had musical chops, but something rubbed me wrong about his songs for a long time.

And so, I’ve never really promoted his work. Like, ever. Despite the fact that he’s like the flagship musician for Free Culture (along with Incompetech).

Well, after the Great Laptop Disaster earlier this year, I went and started rebuilding my CC music library, and I revisited a song of Woodward’s that I definitely liked from recently, “Airplane Mode”.

And yeah, it’s fun. And even if it retains a bit of the attitude I disliked in a number of his other songs, it’s well-camouflaged.

Then I listened to the whole album it came from, The Beautiful Machine. And this album, more than any of the previous ones, worked for me. The elements that rubbed me wrong previously do remain, but as with “Airplane Mode”, the songs are fun enough, and bury those elements deep enough, that I can easily ignore them.

And the songs are very fun.

So, finally, I am pushing some of his work. Without reservation. Hie the over and acquire it!

Download The Beautiful Machine by Josh Woodward free from the artist’s own site.

Creative Commons License
The Beautiful Machine by Josh Woodward is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: So Much So Young by Secret Babies

11 Apr

CoverThis week, I bring you the only Attribution-Share Alike licensed album for Lyrical April 2016, meaning if you use lyrics from this album in your book, you need to also release it under the same license.

Secret Babies have, as far as I can tell, only released this one album, and while it’s a full-length album, clocking in around fifty minutes, it definitely leaves me wanting more. And all I know about the band is that they claim to be from the USA.

The lead singer, an unknown female vocalist, strongly reminds me of Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies in her delivery and vocal quality. Some songs could be done by the Junkies, and others are in different styles entirely, but the singer holds it all together.

And it is the strength of that singer on which the album is built. Everything else ranges from good enough to very good, but the singer is amazing.

The Cowboy Junkies comparison, as I indicated, doesn’t really hold up beyond the singer’s vocal qualities. The closest the songs come to sounding like the Junkies’ work are the first two tracks, “Aloof Tops” and “Bicycle Tunes”.

After that, the style of the songs ranges all over the place, but never feels like a strain on either the singer nor the instrumentalists.

“Greatest Start” could be a ’70s singer-songwriter piece, and a good one.

“Knots and Seams” has a slight Mexican influence to it.

“Own This Road” goes ’80s new wave electronic in sound, and works just as well as everything else on the album.

“Russian Wind” stirs up a nostalgic feeling in me, but I can’t even begin to pin down why.

And the final track, “Sugar Pane”, sounds like it might have been a minor hit on alternative radio stations in the early ’90s.

So, basically, this album is a gem, entirely worth downloading and listening to, even if you never intend to make any kind of derivative work from it at all. I want more, but Secret Babies hasn’t been active, even on their Facebook page, in several years. So this might be the last we ever hear of them, or they might suddenly come out with more lovely work like this.

Download So Much So Young by Secret Babies free from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
So Much So Young by Secret Babies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: The Black Hole by lo-fi is sci-fi

4 Apr

cover-blackholeWelcome to Lyrical April 2016. This year, as with last, I’m not only sharing music with vocals that you might like to write to, but deliberately sharing Free Culture music with, for the most part, easy-to-discern lyrics, so that you have four more albums’ worth of lyrics to quote in your books, if any of them catch your fancy. This year, it’s very Free Culture, with only one of the three albums carrying a Share Alike restriction. That’s right, three of the four albums, including today’s, only requires attribution for you to create any kind of derivative work!

This is also an album, and frankly a group, that I personally have saved from vanishing from the internet. That is not an exaggeration.

lo-fi is sci-fi was a duo comprised of Chris Zabriskie and Marc With A C that put out four excellent albums from 2006 to 2008, and appear to have kept planning more projects through at least 2012, though nothing appears to have come of that. They had all four albums available on BandCamp, as well as a website for the project, and all of that is now gone. Vanished. I have no idea what happened, but the two appear to have parted ways for personal reasons, and pulled their collaborative work from availability.

I don’t care what the reasons were for ending the project, that’s not my business. What I do care about is that four brilliant albums, albums with Free Culture licenses, were pulled from public availability. One of the main reasons for Free Culture licensing, so far as I am concerned, is to enable works of art to achieve longevity even without popularity or institutional support. A digital release is not something you’ll find used, hanging around old book or CD shops. If it’s not posted somewhere, preferably to a stable place like the Internet Archive, it’s gone. (Insert rant about Jamendo being hideously unreliable and dishonest here.)

Wait, you’re thinking, if these albums vanished, how in hell did Fleming preserve them? And no, the answer is not, alas, that I snagged the lossless FLAC files from BandCamp while they were available. I only discovered lo-fi is sci-fi after their disappearance. How?

Well, the memory-holing of the band’s work was slightly incomplete. Their albums were posted to the Free Music Archive. And at least some effort seems to have been made to pull them from there, but it didn’t take. If you try to find the band’s page, or the album pages, you get kicked to FMA’s main page.

But. If you pull up individual track pages, or search the band name , you can download the MP3s one by one.

And so I did that.

Also, thanks to the Archive’s Wayback Machine, I was able to view the band’s site as it existed in 2013, verify that I got all tracks to all albums, and get copies of all four album covers.

But that’s all background, and you likely don’t care. What about the actual music?

To start with, when I first ran across them, I heard one song that I loved, found the band name, and almost immediately realized I was going to like most everything they did.


I’m 90% certain that the band’s name is a reference to an album by one of my personal favorite bands, Dramarama, whose last album cut before breaking up (and later re-forming) was hi-fi sci-fi.

And as I’ve been exploring their body of work, that reference is appropriate. They don’t sound much like Dramarama, but they have the same pop cultural, metatextual sensibilities. There are a lot of science-fiction themed tunes, including “The Stars Are Closer Than You” on today’s album, as well as “You’re Assuming the Gravity Wouldn’t Crush You Instantly” on their last one, among others.

As to pop culture, consider that the band’s songs include “Joss Whedon”, “I’m On A Talk Show”, and “The Script You Wrote is Terrible”.

The Black Hole is their first album. And it is as good as any of their others, excepting possibly their last. Possibly.

The recordings manage a complexity of effect despite being produced with relative simplicity. Consider the first track, “You’ve Got The Body + I’ve Got The Brains”. It sounds like a practice session for a Broadway show tune done, at first, with just a piano for backing. It grows more complex as it goes on, but it’s still done relatively simply.

It is entirely satisfying and stands up brilliantly to repeat listens.

And the entire album is like that. It just works, each song, and as a whole.

Download The Black Hole by lo-fi is sci-fi free from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
The Black Hole by lo-fi is sci-fi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: piano jazz by Andre zimmerman

28 Mar

CoverThis week, a bit more jazz, but different.

A Frenchman named Andre Zimmermann released this Attribution-only short album in 2013, and that is the sum total I know about it or the artist, other than what I hear when I play it.

And what is it that I do hear?

Something… different. When I first listened to the first track, “Duetto à Saint Ange,” I thought that maybe the album was mislabelled. It sounded more classical than jazz to my ear. And as the too-short album goes on, that classical mastery remains. Zimmermann is, I think clearly, a classically trained pianist.

Yet he marries that classicism to jazzy riffs gorgeously, and with something I can only call control.

It’s beautiful, utterly delightful to my ear. The utter mastery of technique married to the playful fun of jazzy exploration wins me over completely every time I listen to it, and I wish he would release more, under any license.

(Note: An Andre Zimmermann appears to have at least two albums available on iTunes, Expo 1: Jazz Conception and Expo 2: Jazz replique, and the clips I can hear on Rippletunes sound, to me, like the same musician, but with no actual info on either artist, I can’t verify this. And since I refuse to use iTunes, in part because of the licensing, I can’t listen to more than clips anyhow. But if you like this, you might want to check out the other albums.)

Download piano jazz by Andre zimmermann free from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
piano jazz by Andre Zimmermann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


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