Ed Sheeran: +

I’m usually not the type of person that finds my own music. When I was younger I listened to what I heard on the radio. As I grew older, I listened to what was recommended, picking and choosing to stick with the music I liked best. I am also very tough when it comes to music. In fact, I often categorize myself as a music snob. Just ask my friends, because, while I do have a tendency to listen to a little bit of every music genre, there are a few bands/singers/rappers I’ve heard once and refused to listen to ever again. But that is not always the case because, more often than not, I find something to like about the music I’m introduced to. Which is where Ed Sheeran comes in.

Two of my friends really like Ed Sheeran’s music and, feeling that I would also enjoy his music, have shared several of his songs with me. And they were right. I did enjoy it. They ended up inviting me to his concert in Philly coming up and since I do like his music I figured why not? So, not wanting to look like a total poser, I borrowed his album “+” to listen to in the upcoming days to the concert. With one listen I must admit that the British boy has talent. Since I haven’t had the chance to listen to it a lot yet, I will list my top three songs so far.

The first song I heard of his, “Lego House” still remains my favorite song on the album (and not just because Rupert Grint was in the music video for it). However, “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” comes in at a very close second because of its creative lyrics. I also thought the chorus for “U.N.I.” was clever, but that song hasn’t made it into my top 3 favorite, yet. The last in the top three has been won by “Small Bump” because of the subject matter and the way that Ed Sheeran ends it out with the surprise, heart breaking ending.

If anyone asked, I would not be ashamed to admit that I listen to Ed Sheeran’s music. It will take me a few more listens to fully appreciate his talent, which is why Ed Sheeran’s “+” will remain on my Zune for those days when I just need some British boy tunes in my life.

Grade: A

A Mix CD Review

I have always been a lover of mix tapes. When cassettes started to become obsolete, I still enjoyed creating CDs with different songs that I loved all mixed together. I even received mix CDs from my fiancé when we started going out, which is how I was introduced to the majority of the music I listen to now. So when one of my friends had a status on facebook about making mix CDs for his friends I had to jump on the chance, and although his status said friends close by (which we are a good hour and a half away from each other) I was happy when he said he would mail me something. Receiving it in the mail a few days later, he requested that I write a review of what I thought about it. So here it is.

Title of album: Casey’s Awesome Mix of Awesome Stuff

Tracks:

1. Beats Antique – Skeleton Dance (remix)

2. Miike Snow – Devil’s Work

3. The National – Fake Empire

4. Frank Turner – Glory Hallelujah

5. The Wombats – Kill the Director

6. Hollerado – Reno Chunk

7. Hollerado – Americanaram

8. The Front Bottoms – Maps

9. System of a Down – Bounce

10. The Pixies – Debaser

11. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts IV

12. Stabbing Westward – Save Yourself

13. Yeasayer – Wait for the Wintertime

14. Kidneythieves – Before I’m Dead

15. Everclear – Santa Monica (Watch the World Die)

16. Guided By Voices – Teenage FBI

17. Portugal the Man – People Say

18. An Horse – Dressed Sharply

19. Ben Folds Five – Army

20. Passion Pit – Take a Walk

21. The XX – Crystallized

22. Vitamin String Quartet – Take it Easy (Love Nothing) [Bright Eyes cover]

Listening through the first time I immediately was reminded about how much in common we have with music. We already knew we liked some of the same bands (such as dredg), and he had already introduced me to some other bands that I grew to love, for example, TV on the Radio. On the album, I already knew “Santa Monica” by Everclear and “Army” by Ben Folds Five. Although I’ve never heard the version of LAST TRACK before, I do have the Bright Eyes album that the song is on, so I was thinking of the words to it as I listened to the beautiful instrumental. System of a Down and Nine Inch Nails were also bands that weren’t foreign to my ears, but I had never heard those particular songs before.

Then, looking at the songs and bands I never heard of before, I immediately fell in love with The Wombats “Kill the Director”, Hollerado “Americanarama” and Passion Pit “Take a Walk”. All three songs have amazing music that makes me want to get up and dance (or at least jump around).

Beats Antique’s “Skeleton Dance (remix)” makes me think of background music you would hear in old Mickey Mouse or Tom and Jerry cartoons. Frank Turner is singing my anthem in his “Glory Hallelujah” when he says:

“I know you’re scared of dying man and I am too,
But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t gonna see us through,
If we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time,
Then in the here and now then we can try and do things right.
We’d be our own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve”

Overall, I have only listened to the album a hand full of times so far, but I can guarantee that it will receive a lot more listening time in the upcoming days.

Grade: A+

SPARK: Inspiration in 10 days

Over the past week and a half I participated in an inspiration project called SPARK. The object is to write a short story or draw/paint a picture in 10 days based off an inspiration piece given to you by a partner. Naturally, I wrote a short story based off a picture I was sent.

I think this is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. All artists need inspiration of some sort because ideas don’t just come out of nothing. Whether we want to believe it or not, every piece we create we comes from something.

Friday was the last day and I was able to upload today! Go check it out and see for yourself what exactly SPARK does!

An Update on Writing Fiction

Over the past month I’ve been working diligently on my book “Out of the Night” and I’m very happy with how the second draft is coming along. Way better than the first draft by a long shot. I’ve found the majority of the holes and am slowly working it out so that everything makes sense and flows together. I was hoping that the 3rd draft would be just a grammar/spelling check draft, but as I near the ending of the 2nd draft, I have a feeling the 3rd draft will take care of looking for more holes and that the 4th draft will be grammar/spell check. I just feel like there’s something else missing from it, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.  I’m sure I’ll figure out what it is, though.

At the same time I’m torn. Part of me wants to keep going with this. I want to finish putting this all together by the end of the year so I can start sending it out, but at the same time I kind of feel like maybe I should take a short hiatus. And when I say short, I mean like a week off from working on it to focus on something else. I’m getting that feeling again that I want to get shorter pieces published in the mean time, but all I’ve been doing recently is focusing on “Out of the Night”. Which isn’t a bad thing. I ignored “Out of the Night” for the entire summer. Which is a reason why I don’t want to go on a hiatus. I’m afraid that if I do I’ll never come back to it, which would really stink because I really like how it’s coming along.

A new project I want to work on is a chapbook. I have two ideas for this:

1) Writing it in dream like sequences that might or might not make sense, but definitely interesting.

2) Writing one in the perspective of a dog

These ideas though haven’t gotten far in my head. I have no idea what they’d be about. Just the idea of how I would like to write them. So for now I think I will stick with my book, and hold these chapbook ideas off until later. There are still a few short story ideas I want to try to do, so maybe I will try to work on those and switch off every other day so I get a little breather. Or maybe that’s just my feelings today, and I really don’t want to break off. We shall see.

Porcupine Tree: an 8 Album Review

You might have noticed that there have been plenty of book reviews going up throughout August, but no album reviews. That’s because in August I decided to try listening to a band the entire month and then doing a review on all the albums at the end of the month, naming my number 1. This, my friends, was super tough because the first band I decided to try this with was: Porcupine Tree.

It wasn’t tough because I didn’t have enough to listen to for the entire month. In total I have 8 Porcupine Tree albums. This was super tough to do because every Porcupine Tree album is just… utterly amazing! And you all know how hard it is to pick your favorite album when every album has such beautiful and thought provoking music and lyrics that you can’t get enough. Seriously, every time I listened to one of these albums I would find something new about each of them to like. So I did my best.

This is how my thought process worked. I went through each album after a month of listening and tallied up how many songs I loved with a passion from each album. I couldn’t go completely by this method, though, because there would obviously be ties, first off, and then some of the albums were way longer than other ones so it wouldn’t be really fair to do it that way. So I compared them to each other, chose which songs I would listen to over others and this is what I came up with:

#8 Signify (2 disc bonus)

Songs loved: 11/22

I feel kind of bad opening this count down with “Signify”. It’s an awesome album, and I love the opening and closing recordings. Totally shows the creative side of Steven Wilson (although you could definitely say that about every album in one way or another). I think this album mostly came in at number 8 because of the large amount of instrumental songs on it. Don’t get me wrong, the instrumentals are beautifully done, but (as I will mention several times) if the music doesn’t catch me enough, instrumentals do nothing for me. Tell me a story and I’ll be captivated for hours listening over and over, trying to decode it. With instrumentals there’s nothing to decode. Sure, in a way music could tell a story, but I want to hear the story told, not interpret what the story is from chords. (As a writer, you have no idea how odd it was for me to type that sentence…)

Favorite song: “Wake as Gun I” I’m a fan of the obscure, and nothing gets more obscure than “Man wakes up as a gun, and doesn’t get the joke”.

Least favorite song: “Pagan”

Grade: B

#7 Recordings

Songs loved: 5/9

This is an album I got earlier in the summer, and I do not regret it, even though it is in the number 7 spot. It’s more of a compilation album of extended songs from different albums, which is pretty awesome. The one I know the best is “Even Less [#]” because I own “Stupid Dream”, and I love the extended version. I wish that the entire thing wasn’t broken into two parts on two different CDs because together it is amazing. “Access Denied [#]” and “Buying New Soul [#]” are two other songs that are just amazing. Completely different, “Buying New Soul” is slow and peaceful, while the music in “Access Denied [#]” always has be bobbing my head. But the contrast of the two songs shows that the entire album has a little bit for every mood.

Favorite song: “Even Less [#]” I loved the song on “Stupid Dream” and love the extended version even more.

Least favorite song: “Cure for Optimism”

Grade: B

#6 The Incident

Songs loved: 10/18

When I started this project I immediately thought this album was going to be number 8. I don’t know why I didn’t like it, I just didn’t. Since my Zune puts every album inorder by the year released, this album would always come on first if I decided to listen right through everything. “Occam’s Razor” was like the bane of my existence every time I put the albums on shuffle because it would be the first song that played. Yea, it’s like 2 minutes long, and very simple, but I just didn’t like it.

Then I made myself sit down and really listen to it. And that’s when I realized, “Hey I really do like this album.” After I got passed “Occam’s Razor” (and finally came to term’s with it), the overall album is very well done. It’s two discs, which is pretty cool, and the music really isn’t that different from all the other albums, which isn’t a bad thing. Most people would think that would get monotonous, but every song has it’s own piece of something that sets it apart from everything else. It’s something you’ll have to experience through listening yourself!

Favorite song: There are so many catchy songs on this album, which made it very hard to choose my number 1 favorite. But in the end I chose: “I Drive the Hearse” A slow piece, I think, artistically, it is very well done. I love the lyrics, depressing as they may be, and although the music is a little simple compared to other songs, simplicity wins in this battle. It’s a nice song to just lay and let this song wash over you and to decode.

Least favorite song: As many songs as there are that I like, there were almost as many that I didn’t like as much. The song I like least from this album, though, is: “The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train”

Grade: B+

#5 In Absentia

Songs loved: 7/12

This album was definitely a flip-flop with me for this decision. It fought for a while with “The Incident” but only won out in the end because it has “Heartattack in a Lay By” and “Trains” on it (two of my all time favorite Porcupine Tree songs). It has a lot more songs on it that I like than I would expect, especially since I only just recently received the entire album. When me and my boyfriend first started dating, he would make me a bunch of mix cds, which is how I got half of the album originally. I didn’t know I didn’t have the entire album because I didn’t listen to it that often. But earlier in the summer we listened to it in the car and I realized there were a bunch of songs I didn’t know and I never heard. I acquired the rest of the album and immediately fell in love with “Blackest Eyes” “The sound of Muzak” and “The Creator Has a Mastertape” first for the music, and then for the lyrics. I didn’t even know how many songs there actually were on this album that I loved until I went through each song individually.

Favorite song: Hands down: “Heartattack in a Lay By” This song has always been one of my favorites, but it won extra points when I read an interview with Steven Wilson where he talks about this song and what it’s about, and it just blew my mind. It’s obvious what it’s about when you read the lyrics, but just the way he explained it just gave it so much more meaning for me. Just one of the reasons why I think Steven Wilson is a music genius.

Least favorite song: “Wedding Nails” Could be because it’s instrumental, could be something else. I don’t really know. This song just doesn’t feed my eardrums the way the other songs do. (And trust me, I have no idea why I’m not usually partial to instrumentals. I think it’s because I love to analyze lyrics and I love it when songs tell stories, so with lack of lyrics it takes something away.)

Grade: A

#4 Stupid Dream

Songs loved: 8/12

I received this album from my boyfriend as a birthday present. I picked it out, and chose it out of all the other Porcupine Tree albums because of “A Smart Kid”. I just loved the calmness of the music, and as I listened to the rest of the album, found the same fondness for it all. “Stupid Dream” is definitely a nice relaxing album. Songs such as “Even Less” and “Pure Narcotic” are inspiring and thought provoking with their lyrics. It also has a few instrumental songs, and, although I’m not a super big fan of instrumentals, these are nice to listen to and transition really well into the next song you can barely tell where one ends and one begins.

Favorite song: “A Smart Kid” First song I ever heard from this album. “Even Less” is a close second!

Least favorite song: “Tinto Brass” Steven Wilson is known for his crazy, but totally awesome, music. This one, I think, is just a bit too much for me when compared to the rest of the feel of the album.

Grade: A

#3 Fear of a Blank Planet

Songs loved: 5/6

“Fear of a Blank Planet” kind of surprised me cause it’s an album that took me such a long time to get into. I think it’s because it has a lot more longer songs on it than the other albums.

I ended up getting into this album a lot because I acquired so many Porcupine Tree albums so fast that I would just throw them all on shuffle. “Anesthetize” was the first song that really caught my attention. It was long, but at the same time it has so many transitions that it really feels like 3-4 songs in one. In particular, the lines “We’re lost in the mall, shuffling through the stores like zombies. But what is the point? What can money buy?” caught my attention, dragging me into listening to the entire album straight through. The song “Fear of a Blank Planet” also caught my attention because the music is pretty similar (although not exact) to “Anesthetize” and from there on I just grew to love it more and more, giving it the number 3 spot!

Favorite song: This was almost a tie between “Fear of a Blank Planet” and “Anesthetize” but “Anesthetize” won because it was the first song I loved on this album and the music is just epic!

Least favorite song: “Way Out of Here” I just don’t feel like it has the same “oomph” as the other pieces, but it’s still a song I enjoy to listen to.

Grade: A+

#2 Lightbulb Sun

Songs loved: 9/10

As I was going through the songs for this, I thought, “Oh god, this is going to be a tough call!”

I seriously thought “Lightbulb Sun” was going to steal the number 1 spot, but it didn’t. And here’s why:

While I love all but one song on this album, and have spent hours with it on repeat, it doesn’t keep me as captivated as the number 1 song.

Don’t get me wrong. “Lightbulb Sun” opens perfectly with the song “Lightbulb Sun” and goes gracefully into “How Is Your Life Today?” (one of my favorites) and just keeps going on amazingly from there. The music is unique (which can be said about a lot of albums by Steven Wilson) and very catchy, along with the lyrics. But the other reason why it was sent to the number 2 spot is that halfway through I guess the songs stopped being as interesting to my ear as the first half. I still absolutely love the songs, but if I can’t tell what song it is and if I like it or not within the first chord, you know that my ears stopped paying attention at some point.

Favorite song: Hands down: “Feel So Low” Slow song, and kind of depressing, but amazing all the same.

Least favorite song: “Hatesong” I’m just not as into it as all the others.

Grade: A+

#1 Deadwing

Songs loved: 10/10

I knew from the beginning of the month that this album was going to be number 1, so, in a way, all the other albums never had a chance. I want to say Deadwing was the first Porcupine Tree album I ever had, but I don’t really remember because I got it so long ago. And at first, in the days before I knew just how awesome Porcupine Tree was, I barely listened to it. Then one day I decided I would. Then I asked myself what took me so long!

“Deadwing” has everything you that’s needed in an album. It’s a combination of fast and slow songs and even dancey songs. Yes, I said it. Dancey. You cannot tell me that you put on “Halo” and don’t want to jump up as soon as the chorus comes on. Overall, I think my favorite part about this album are the lyrics. Heck, I say that about EVERY Porcupine Tree album, because it’s the truth. In particular, it is the most true about this album.

Favorite song: Although I love every song on this album, I DO have a favorite. “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” was the first song I liked on this album. The lyrics have always impressed me and left an impression. It’s a song that I listen to when I’m in a philosophical mood (which is a lot more than people would think).

Least favorite song: None.

Grade: A+++

Banned Books

Some thoughts before heading to lunch. I read an article today about two books that were being banned in Republic, Missouri: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five” and Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer”.

Now I, like so many other students, have had to read “Slaughter House Five” in school. I loved it. And I know a lot of students who loved it to. It was the book that started me on my Vonnegut journey reading almost all of his books.

I’ve never read “Twenty Boy Summer” but I know I have heard of it before. I probably picked it up in a bookstore once and contemplated buying it, only to put it back for another day.

According to the article, these two books were banned because they were full of bad language and were encouraging teenagers to go party and drink and be promiscuous. Honestly, I think if a book ever did that I would be a little shocked. Books are to be read, and I think banning books is one of the silliest things that could ever be thought of. It’s right up there with burning books. What’s the point? Don’t the grown ups know that banning a book just makes it that much more appealing to teenagers? If I knew a book was banned in my town I would definitely go and order it online or something in order to read it to find out what’s so bad with it.

And to ban a book for bad language and promiscuity is also very silly. Bad language and promiscuity do not only live inside these books. There are plenty of books (and not to mention songs and music videos) that have these as well. It’s a part of our every day living.

I agree with what Sarah Ockler has to say at the end of the article. That it shouldn’t be up to a school district as to whether a book should be banned or not. It should be up to the parent for whether they want their child reading a book that has bad language and promiscuity or not.

For me, I think teens should be able to read anything and everything. It’s the way to make their minds grow. Teen books tend to talk about taboo topics like sex, drugs, and drinking. It’s a way to get the topics out in the open and let the teen decide what they want. As writers, we can’t censor ourselves or else there would be nothing interesting to write about.

Review of Bright Eyes “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn”

“Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” is an album I got for Christmas a few years ago from my boyfriend’s brother. I’ve listened to it a few times before when I first got it, and I did remember liking it.

On this week of listening to it I still agree with my past thoughts on it. I thought the music was very addictive. It’s not too loud or rowdy, making the album a good one to relax to. The random baby crying noises, though, is a bit strange, but I’m sure it has something to do with the song.

But the lyrics are what caught me the most. They were very thought provoking and told their own individual stories (which for me is just as good as a compilation album). Depending on the song you listen to, you get a mixture of religious, alcohol related, sex related lyrics, which is a very interesting combination to have on one album.

From “Arc of Time (Time Code)”

“I hear if you make friends
With Jesus Christ
You’ll get right up
From that chalk outline

And then you’ll get dolled up
And you’ll dress in white
All to take your place
In his chorus line”

From”Hit the Switch”

I’m staring out into that vacuum again
From the back porch of my mind
The only thing that’s alive, I’m all there is
And I start attacking my vodka
Stab the ice with my straw
My eyes have turned red as stoplights
You seem ready to walk
You know I’ll call you eventually
When I wanna talk, ’til then you’re invisible

From “Take it Easy (Love Nothing)”

First with your hands and then with your mouth
A downpour of sweat, damp cotton clouds
I was a fool, you were my friend
We made it happen
You took off your clothes, left on the light
You stood there so brave
You used to be shy
Each feature improved, each movement refined and eyes like a showroom

The only thing I would say I don’t really like about this album is the vocals. They’re pretty rough, in my opinion. But because the music and lyrics are so amazing I could easily see past the vocals and listen to this album several times in a row without growing tired of it.

And each morning she wakes
With a dream to describe
Something lovely that bloomed
In her beautiful mind
I say, “I’ll trade you one
For two nightmares of mine,
I have somewhere I die,
I have somewhere we all die”

From “Hit the Switch”

Overall grade: B+

Review of Linkin Park’s “A Thousand Suns”

So right off the bat I’m going to say that I was very skeptical about Linkin Park‘s new album A Thousand Suns many because I didn’t really like their last album, Minutes to Midnight.

But I have to say, after listening to A Thousand Suns several times throughout the week I feel like in a way Linkin Park has kind of reverted back to the music they used to play before Minutes to Midnight. Which is a weird notion, seeing as a good chunk of the songs do resemble songs from Minutes to Midnight only better.

By far, my favorite song on the album is “Blackout” because the music, lyrics, and vocals are just epic in every sense. Through my first time listening through the album I was immediately attracted to this song, and named it my favorite song from the album from the beginning even though that tends to change with the amount of times I listen to the album. This one didn’t.

With a mixture of slow and fast songs, this album gives the listener a bit of everything. I enjoyed the little bits of recorded material from Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders, too. I always love when bands give us some material that are not lyrics but pieces from history or movies (Dream Theater’s “Honor Thy Father” for instance). Especially if the parts do a very good job at bringing the album together more, which in this case they do because it helps to set the mood. Also, seeing that A Thousand Suns is a concept album about war has it win a few more points with me. As I’ve said in previous posts I love a good concept album, and the fact that this album is a concept album will keep me coming back to it just to delve a little deeper.

Although I do like this album better than the last, I still wouldn’t call it best album I’ve ever heard in my life. Maybe I grew out of my Linkin Park stage, or maybe I’m just not really into the direction they decided to take with their music, but this album was one that I had to force myself a little to listen to. When I did listen to it I enjoyed it a lot, but a few listens was all I really felt I needed. There really wasn’t anything about the album that held my attention enough that made me want to listen to it over and over again for weeks on end.