Sunday, December 14, 2014

alt-J: 'This is All Yours'

In 2012 Alt-J took the much-coveted Mercury Prize for their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ and many critics eagerly awaited or quietly cringed to see what they would come up for their second effort.  I say cringe as artists who receive such staggering acclaim with their first album often never meet the subsequent high expectations.  Nonetheless, the English trio have released a solid collection of songs for their sophomore album. Perhaps not as intellectual as that of ‘Taro’ or ‘Bloodflood’ but they exhibit a playfulness that suggests that they are becoming used to their own skins as musicians and not taking themselves too seriously – plainly exhibited with their sampling of Miley Cyrus in ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and the nasally infectious ‘Left Hand Free’.  Recommended. (8 out of 10)

Various Authors, edited by Ross Lockhart: 'The Book of Cthulhu'

A series made up of two volumes, ‘The Book of Cthulhu’, edited by Ross Lockhart, is composed of short stories that pay homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. From classic tales of gothic horror set in decayed villages of New England, to modern interpretations of the Lovecraft’s work set in post 9/11 America, the collection offers readers a wide variety of deliciously creepy stories depicting arcane discovery, irrepressible madness, and, ultimately, cosmic dissolution. Wonderful stuff to put a spring in your step! (A few ups and down but still provides a solid 8 out of 10)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Greg Broadmore: 'Dr. Grordbort's Onslaught: Excessive Space Violence for Girls & Boys'

To put it plain and simple 'Dr. Grordbort's Onslaught: Excessive Space Violence for Girls & Boys' is pure Victorian steampunk fun. An anthology edition of author-artist Greg Broadmore, the 'protagonist' of 'Onslaught is Lord Cockswain, a bigoted, imperialist, sexist, self-absorbed 'Man of the Empire' (note that I didn't say homophobe as he states he did spend time in the Navy...) Stephen Fry probably sums it up best: 'When steampunk meets adventure and adventure meets comedy and comedy meets ingenuity and ingenuity meets charm and charm meets wonder and wonder meets pleasure. Dr. Grordbort is the future. And the past. Which makes an ideal present.' Nuff said. (9 out of 10)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mark Zuehlke: 'Ortona - Canada's Epic World War II Battle'

In 'Ortona', Mark Zuehlke does an admirable job in portraying the 1943 Canadian campaign along the Moro River which culminated in the fierce contest for the seaside town of Ortona. Overall, the book is a workmanlike, 'Maps and Chaps' piece of military history - which is fine, but I often found it wanting for deeper analysis. For example Zuehlke begins the book describing Montgomery's reason for the advance on Ortona, but does provide the reader with any concluding remarks to the battles' final effect (if any) on the larger Italian campaign. To his credit, he does spend the final chapter providing his personal opinions on some of the personalities and events, but I wonder if this might have been better served integrated with his overall historical narrative. Still, a good, solid effort describing a little known WWII campaign. (7 out of 10)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Beck: 'Morning Phase'

For myself and many others, Beck's 12th album 'Morning Phase' seemed to be a book-end to his 2002 acoustic release 'Sea Change' which is not surprising as he used many of the same studio musicians. I think it's more thoughtful than 'Sea Change', which was written over a few weeks after his break with his fiancee Leigh Limon. 'Morning Phase' seems more thoughtfully introspective, wiser, perhaps even a bit road weary. It has the same wonderful technical mastering that many of his albums possess and the vinyl version sounds superb, especially in the low registers. 'Morning' and 'Turn Away' are personal favourites. Highly recommended. (8.5 out of 10)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: 'Push the Sky Away'

Nick Cave's 15th album is quite different from his previous efforts, more introspective but still holding that nasty bit of underlying menace that his fans have come to love in his work.  It doesn't have the guitar ragnarok that we've heard with 'Mercy Seat' or 'Stagger Lee' (one of my favourites) but its still very arresting stuff. I suspect that 'Jubilee Street' will have a frequent spot on his live shows. (7.5 out of 10)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Arturo Perez-Reverte: 'Pirates of the Levant'

Pirates of the Levant is the 6th book of the Alatriste series. Set in the Mediterranean during the tumultuous 17th century, Alatriste and Inigo serve aboard a rowed Spanish galleon raiding the enemies of Spain (mostly 'Turks' and the English), which culminates in a nail-biting, hard-pressed battle at sea. I'm a huge fan of Perez-Reverte's work, but was at first a little disappointed with this effort. The first third seems a bit lackluster, with long passages on the 'fading light of Spain,' etc. Nonetheless, it does fall into a comfortable step, and by the last half of the book I felt I was back in a classic, rollicking tale of the taciturn (but ferocious) Captain and his love-sick teenage companion. Not one of Perez-Reverte's best, but still quite good by any account. (7 out of 10)