Tuesday, August 14, 2018

July on the Turntable

I limit myself to one record per week.  My pics for July followed a very organic progression... 


Portishead - Dummy

I initially set out to buy Purple Rain, but when I found this in the rack it immediately jumped to the head of my priority que.  I have a soft spot for radically innovative bands who only release 2-3 albums in their initial run.  My Bloody Valentine are one.  Joy Division are another.  So are The Stooges, New York Dolls, Television, The Stone Roses, The Sisters of Mercy...and of course Portishead.  This sophomore album is the apex of their mountain of jazz-infused trip hop, and absolutely must be heard on vinyl.  On a side note, there was a block party below my apartment one night last summer.  They played 'Glory Box' as a dozen middle-aged couples waltzed across the red carpet laid on out on my street.  The living embodiment of summer magic.


Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain (soundtrack)

The other week I was having dinner with a friend, and we got to talking about how when great artists pass away we often get the urge to revisit their body of work.  He told me that he got that itch with Bowie, but not Prince, and admitted he just didn't get the hype on His Royal Purpleness.  Here's my rebuttal to that: Prince was in every measurable sense a genius.  He wrote every note, played every instrument and built a public image virtually without precedent.  If at times he seems too out there to handle, it's because you're hearing the work of an uncompromising visionary.  Though I'm sure I'd heard it before, the first time I can recall hearing 'Purple Rain' I was sitting at a practically empty bar in Testaccio while outside a summer rain poured down on the city.


John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

After Portishead and Prince, Coltrane was the next logical step.  My meager credentials prevent me from making any intelligent comment on A Love Supreme, so I'm just going to quote Henry Rollins: every house should come with this record


The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette

...and then came punk, which without jazz would not exist.  We need punk now more than ever.  As I wake up every more morning to an increasingly hostile and maddening political sphere, this music provides a firm backdrop of moral support.  Hell, bands like The Damned got the Brits through the Thatcher era--maybe they still carry strength in the Age of the Orange Nightmare.  Machine Gun Etiquette is a damn fine record that has aged considerably well.  In fact if you were only going to get one Damned album I would pick this one without hesitation.  I got the red pressing on Let Them Eat Vinyl, which sounds perfect and contains a bonus LP of alt versions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

June on the Turntable

A little late with this post.  Lately I've been working about sixty hours a week giving tours of Rome, Tuscany and Pompeii, leaving me with just enough time to blow my cash on records, but not quite enough to blog about them.  Anyway, here are my scores from June:

The Jesus and Mary Chain - Barbed Wire Kisses

I've been a Jesus and Mary Chain fan for well over fifteen years.  After finally catching them live at Rome's Orion theater, I was compelled to hunt down this compilation (I managed to score the Record Store Day edition on red vinyl.)  Now, I've never had a problem with "alternative" bands transitioning into a more commercially accessible sound.  The Cure did it.  So did The Sisters of Mercy.  Iggy went solo.  Joy Division became New Order.  Having said that, the B-sides and rarities on this record typify the JAMC I love best: 60's girl group melodies entrenched in abrasive, feedback-driven surf guitar, like Jefferson Airplane hooked up with the Sex Pistols at a beach party.  If you're a JAMC fan, you don't want this.  You NEED it.


This Mortal Coil - Filigree and Shadow

I'd been after this one for a while.  4AD is a British label that released some of the most refined indie music of the 80's, with bands as diverse as Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Modern English, Pixies and Bauhaus.  Around 1984, founder Ivo-Watts Russell gathered his favorite talent from the label and released a trilogy of albums under the moniker This Mortal Coil.  Most of the music consisted of covers of obscure 70's pop tunes, interspersed with the occasional original song or ambient soundscape, all swirling and blending in an intoxicating dreampop cocktail.  While I recommend starting with the first album, this double-LP is the most diverse of the three in terms of tempo and structure.  My summer evenings required this record.

Steve Roach - Dreamtime Return

Steve Roach stands alongside Brian Eno in the pantheon of ambient music.  Making his home in the Arizona desert, the man lives an ambient lifestyle.  He's collaborated with everyone from Robert Fripp to medicine men, and was one of the first ambient composers to incorporate traditional instruments from the harmonica to the digeridoo.  This double-LP from 1988 is the result of his journey to the Outback with photographer David Stahl and his studies of the Dreamtime, the Australian Aboriginal concept of "time out of time."  Earlier this year I spent a week in a beach bungalow/bar on Koh Pha-Ngan run by a 50-year-old Thai hippie named Tip.  Every night when the sun went down over the water he played tribal-ambient music over the speakers.  That was around the time I decided I needed this record in my life.


Tom Waits - Rain Dogs

If you asked me to pick the three greatest songwriters of the 20th century, they would be (in no particular order) Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits (with Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan clocking in at close Honorable Mentions.)  It's hard to choose a favorite Waits, but hold a gun to my head and I'll have to pick Rain Dogs.  Some will cite Swordfishtrombone, but here he truly came into his own in the unhinged circus-bar phase of his career.  Rarely has anything ever sounded so dirty yet so refined.  For this one, I deliberately sought out an old pressing, not some polished 180g reissue.  It sounds perfectly imperfect.  On a side note, I hadn't had a cigarette in over a week, but this record broke me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

May on the Turntable

I've been obsessively collecting vinyl for years.  Here are my recent scores...


The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy and the Lash

Shane MacGowan and co.'s rum-soaked saltwater masterpiece.  So many memories of singing these songs with friends in Irish pubs in both Dublin and Rome.  Well, maybe the memories aren't all that clear, but oh well.  The last verse of 'The Band Played Waltzing Matilda' absolutely destroys me.

The Cult - Sonic Temple

I'd never listened to The Cult much in the past but this feature on Bret Helm's blog convinced me to give them a shot.  Of all the albums I checked out Sonic Temple struck the deepest chord, so when I found an old pressing for €12 at Radiation I snatched it up.  On the surface it might sound like generic late-80's cock rock, but with attentive ears there's something borderline mystical in Ian's delivery.  Besides, time and a place for everything.


Iggy Pop - The Idiot

This was my one missing entry in the Five Essential Iggy Records: the original two Stooges albums, Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges, Lust for Life and The Idiot.  It shows Bowie and Iggy at their most subdued, and most refined.  Sometimes I wonder if we read too much into it being the last record Ian Curtis listened to before hanging himself.  Still, you can't deny that its association with his suicide lends an air of beautiful melancholy to a record that was already beautiful and melancholic.  Never is this more evident than on 'Dum Dum Boys' where Iggy rattles off a list of all his friends who lost the war with rock 'n roll.


David Bowie - Diamond Dogs

No need to explain or justify this purchase.  Diamond Dogs was Bowie's final contribution to glam rock, and the title track features the most glam rock opening lines ever delivered: This ain't rock 'n roll!  This is GENOCIDE!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

April's Reads

Between giving tours of Rome, Pompeii and Tuscany and writing a script for my tour company, I only had time to finish two books last month.  I DID manage to read a handful of stories by M. R. James and H. P. Lovecraft as well as the latest issue of Pulp Literature.  Anyway, April's shelf consisted of...


John Steinbeck - The Grapes of Wrath

They never gave us Grapes in high school.  Then again, they didn't have very high expectations for us.  I love Steinbeck.  I love his ability to draw characters and paint scenes that feel so undeniably real, and his knack for making the most shocking acts of his protagonists seem perfectly natural.  The most common gripe I hear about Grapes is that it's too slow.  Jesus Christ, it's about Depression-era migrant workers making their way out of the Dust Bowl.  What the hell were you expecting, car chases?


Gillian Darley - Vesuvius

Interesting look at Europe's most dangerous volcano.  Darley not only covers its geologic history and the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, but its impact on Italy's cultural landscape.  Both Goethe and the Shelleys visited Vesuvius, prompting Goethe to write Faust and Shelley to write Prometheus Unbound.  I was intrigued by how the volcano became a symbol of political upheaval after Spartacus' gang of renegade slaves defeated a Roman army at its base.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

April on the Turntable

I've been obsessively collecting vinyl for years.  Here are my recent scores...


The Smiths - Louder than Bombs

Despite spending my adolescence and twenties devouring everything I could get my hands on from Manchester in the 80's, I never got into The Smiths.  In fact I've spent most of my life actively hating Morrissey.  I always saw him as the poster child for self-absorbed middle-class youth wallowing in self-pity on top of a mountain of privilege.  Maybe I was projecting a bit.  Anyway, for whatever reason, they've been hitting the spot for me lately.  I can see now that I was missing out on how tongue-in-cheek a lot of those lyrics are, and how they allow you to simultaneously laugh at your own first-world problems while acknowledging those very real personal struggles.  Plus a lot of those tunes are just plain fun.  You're all right with me now, Moz.


Suicide - Suicide

It might be a cliche to say so, but in the case of Suicide's first album, you truly haven't experienced it until you've heard it on vinyl.  There's a physical effect to this record that just can't be conveyed over a digital transmission.  It's a remarkable album.  What's even more remarkable is that a record comprised solely of one synthesizer and a vocalist who practically whispers everything is hailed as a milestone of punk rock.  I picked up the Superior Viaduct reissue which contains liner notes by Thurston Moore.  Get it.  Smoke up.  Cleanse yourself in the feedback.


The Cure - The Head on the Door

I share a birthday with both Iggy Pop and Robert Smith.  It's been a tradition of mine these past few years to pick up something by both of my birthmates on the 21st of April.  Birthdays are for nostalgia, so this year my pic was the first album I ever bought from The Cure.  THOTD isn't marked by the doom-laden post-punk of Pornography or the lush brilliance of Disintegration.  Instead what you see here is the band taking the gloomy world-view of the earlier albums and shaping it into a deliciously eccentric pop sound.  It might not be their finest moment, but it's still a damn good one.  And 'In Between Days' is one of the greatest opening tracks of the 80's.


The Stooges - The Stooges

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I've always preferred the Stooges' eponymous debut over Fun House.  '1969', 'No Fun', 'Anne', 'Little Doll'... this is stoner-rock bliss, and I knew I was gonna need it this summer.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Amor sacro e Amor profano

I'm happy to announce that my story 'Amor sacro e Amor profano' will be featured in the next issue of Dark Moon Digest.  I wrote this story in a three-day burst of inspiration almost one year ago to the day.  It's about Rome, sex, desire, the beings that inspire us and the high toll they demand in return.  I'm proud of it and immensely pleased that it'll soon have an audience.

My story 'Death in Paradise' appeared in DMD #24 in 2016, and it's a thrill to be working with them again.  Details forthcoming...

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March's Reads

I've been traveling around Thailand for the past month.  Here's what was in my bag... 


Agatha Christie - Murder on the Orient Express

The perfect night train novel.  I read it on a sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  On my flight home I watched Kenneth Branagh's perfectly cast (if not particularly memorable) remake.


John Langan - The Fisherman

This one's been on my radar for the past year.  It's impossible not to draw parallels with Lovecraft when a story deals with ancient underwater evil, forbidden eldritch tomes, the dark secrets of a North-Eastern town, etc., but I was also catching hints of M. R. James, Peter Straub's Ghost Story and Stephen King's Pet Sematary.  Anyway, this was one of the finest written pieces of weird fiction I've come across in recent memory, and I highly recommend it.


Raymond Chandler - The Big Sleep

The granddaddy of the pulp detective novel.  A copy had been lying around my house untouched for months.  One night at around 11:00 I was watching an old interview with Lou Reed in which he cited The Big Sleep as his all-time favorite book, and I decided to give it a go.  Suddenly all those William Gibson cyberpunk novels came into sharper focus.


Elmore Leonard - Hombre

More Leonard, this time one of his westerns.  Reads like a bullet.  Fast, to the point, no bullshit.  I read this one on the Thailand-Burma line, aka the Death Railway, built by thousands of POW's during WWII.


David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas

I'm pretty much the opposite of a literary scenester, always the last to catch up with the latest work of staggering genius.  I'd read Slade House a few years ago, but never got around to Cloud Atlas.  I finally dipped into it while spending a week in a beach bungalow on Koh Phangan.  What a fucking humbling experience.  It absolutely deserves all the praise that's been heaped upon it, even if my patience was wearing a bit thin with the dialect in the post-apocalyptic segment.  This book was a great reminder of how happy I am to live in an era in which the barriers between literary and genre fiction have been so rightfully blown up.