Urach Falls

Click the image to see an amazing time-lapse video of the moonlit, frozen falls of Bad Urach, Germany.

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New Vinyl: “Vs”

vsIf a fortyish man ever asks you, “Were you a Nirvana fan or a Pearl Jam fan?”, you’re talking to a Nirvana fan. Pearl Jam fans never ask this question. Much was made of this early grunge rivalry, which was almost entirely manufactured by posers who pretended they had more cred than other posers. Cobain briefly expressed disdain for Eddie and Co.’s anthemic style, then retracted that disdain, had a nice talk with Eddie on the phone, and said he liked him. What remained was a lot of Nirvana fans who swallowed a media-conjured debate and pretended their favorite Top 40, MTV-darling, Rolling Stone-cover band was, you know, like, realer. But they’re both seminal bands with lots of great tunes, and it’s worth remembering that Pearl Jam (a) jumped off the MTV-video machine with their second album, and (b) gleefully released a genuinely weird and subcultural third LP that cost them legions of casual fans.

Is In Utero better than Vs.? Was Nirvana’s Unplugged more electrifying than Pearl Jam’s Unplugged? I’ll leave those debates to guys who are still trying to prove their Pixies/Westerberg/Sex Pistols taste is cooler than other guys’ Neil Young/Kiss/arena-rock taste.

Vs. is a gangbuster album. There’s so much tension and propulsion in “Go”, “Animal”, and “Rearviewmirror,” and so much heartfelt, oddball pop-hookery in “Daughter” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, it’s hard to believe the album came from a band who was, at the time, badly dazed by the music world’s ludicrously high expectationsVs. holds up.

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BELL WEATHER Coming…

Half a year ’til BELL WEATHER. Molly Bell is on that ship down there. Pre-order away!

IndieBound | B&N | MacmillanAmazon | iTunes

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New Vinyl: “As the Stars”

woodsThis was the year I got back into metal. I don’t mean the hair metal I listened to in high school (although I admit to still enjoying the fun idiocy of that genre; rock could use a little more fun idiocy these days). The metal I discovered and rediscovered this year is the quality stuff, beginning with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest — two bands I grossly underappreciated in the past — and continuing on to current bands such as Mastodon. When people talk of metal being a good-riddance flash in the pan, they’re generally talking about the L.A. glam scene of the 80s (Ratt, Posion, Warrant, & co.), but metal is astonishingly vital and current, and has existed as a large, active subculture since the 70s.

Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal is a superb primer, and VH1’s documentary series, Metal Evolution, is worth watching start to finish for its exploration of metal as an important artistic genre. You might not like metal music, but both the book and the documentary prove that the genre can’t be dismissed as stupid noise. In the last year, I listened to loads of albums, old and new, and found myself becoming a genuine fan, not from any nostalgic teenage connection with loud guitars, but from a real connection to the music. One great discovery was Woods of Desolation, headed by a musician known simply as D, and his 2014 LP “As the Stars”. It sounds cacophonous at first but quickly unfolds, and blooms, and reveals its layers and melodies. What a thing to hear such a mess of sound and realize it’s actually lovely inside. I bought the vinyl for myself and it just arrived from Germany. Sounds amazing loud.

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New Vinyl: “Trouble Will Find Me”

PrintI have an electric vinyl cleaner, so yes, of course I love The National. But really what I hear in The National isn’t hipster rock but midlife white guy rock. I’m a midlife white guy, so they speak to me. They’re sad and weary, but also cheeky and loose and actually kind of gleeful. It’s tempting to imagine lead singer Matt Berninger as a rumple-suited, quiet depressive writing songs with bourbon at the twilit end of the bar, but God he’s funny in interviews, and he’s married with a kid and seems perfectly happy about that. A Leonard Cohen flavor permeates The National’s music and lyrics, and Leonard Cohen is another guy who can write melancholy bruisers without appearing broken in life. It’s good to have silvering whiskers and think of yourself as an undergrad, or have a decade-plus marriage and still get buzzed from a look at your wife’s bare legs. Somebody said that in the first half of life, we’re figuring out how to live, and in the second half of life, we’re figuring out how to die. The National live in the middle.

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New Vinyl: “Disintegration”

CureDisintegrationIn junior year of high school, a couple of friends and I exchanged copies of The Cure’s “Mixed Up” for Christmas, which was strange because the three of us were metalheads and rarely listened to anything alt or arty. Maybe we instinctually connected with Robert Smith’s theatrical appearance. The dude looked genuinely weird in the most charming, comical way: like Edward Scissorhands singing goth tunes about Wynona Ryder. Plus the singles from the “Disintegration” era were especially good and had memorable videos in heavy rotation. Whatever the explanation, “Mixed Up” was an odd, remixed intro to The Cure’s catalog, and soon I bought a few of the real LPs and got properly hooked.

I received a heavy-vinyl reissue of “Disintegration” for Christmas. It’s split over two records, and that’s good: I’ve been told the original ’89 pressings were iffy because the album is too long for a single disc and the grooves were packed too tight. Here’s my favorite song:

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New Vinyl: “The Meadowlands”

the-meadowlandsFirst up is The Wrens’ “The Meadowlands”. How many times did I play this on CD or MP3 over the last eleven years? Many. We played this album for our now eleven-year-old, electric-guitar-playing son in utero, and I cranked “Everyone Choose Sides” on the car stereo driving home from the hospital several hours after he was born. The Wrens are great guys. My wife and I saw them play a small gig in CT, and then they agreed to play (for free) at a benefit for one of my wife’s friends, who was battling cancer. Both times the band members were personable and low-key, and both shows were terrific. The Wrens are set to release their followup album, at very long last, in 2015. For now, here’s one of my favorite songs off “The Meadowlands”:

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Happy Holidays!

Lots of wonderful BELL WEATHER fun coming in the new year, including more advance-copy giveaways, a full support site with an interactive map, character introductions, and sundry other treats. Thanks to everyone who’s followed along this year.

Happy Holidays, and see you in 2015!

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What *Am* I Currently Working On?

Goodreads said I should activate “ASK THE AUTHOR” on my author page, so now people can ask me questions. I have one week to answer any posted question before the Goodreads Incentive Drone attacks my home.

Sign up at Goodreads and ask me anything.

The first question was: What are you currently working on?

ANSWERI’m working on a sequel to BELL WEATHER. I used to be more freewheeling when I wrote, but with BW I became a full-fledged plotter. Plotting lets my stories grow *more* organically, because I’m willing to risk more and try out crazier ideas. My final plot will end up being 30-40K words of carefully organized chapter summaries, so it’s virtually a crude first draft. Once I have that, I can work on each chapter with a clear game plan, paying more attention to the language and details, and letting the story flesh itself out. I reserve the right the break and rebuild the plot as needed along the way.

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