American Songsmith

With memories of Independence Day still lingering, now seemed like a good time to highlight a new album from one of my favorite American singer-songwriters. If nothing else, Pete Yorn proves that good things do sometimes come from New Jersey.  For what it’s worth, I was born in Princeton.

backandfourth Pete Yorn – Back & Fourth

I’ve read a few reviews describing this CD as a mellow, more acoustic turn for Mr. Yorn, but I don’t think that’s  quite accurate. This CD is not nearly as folky/acoustic as say, Jakob Dylan’s “Seeing Things.” On the contrary, electric is a critical element to several of the tracks, and “Last Summer” is a bona fide rocker.

Perhaps what the critics really mean by “mellow” is that Yorn sounds a little upset.  Regret and anger over lost love is a theme that runs through the album, moreso than any of his previous releases. But Yorn’s sincerity and penchant for stick-in-your-head hooks keeps Back and Fourth from feeling like a downer. He also keeps things concise with 10 tracks and a 42 minute running time. That’s a good thing, because as much as  I liked previous, hour-long efforts “MusicForTheMorningAfter” and “Nightcrawler,” I couldn’t help but feel the guy could have saved a couple tracks for B-Sides.

Check out “Last Summer” and “Social Development Dance” at Pete’s MySpace page.

Are You Watched?

book_cover_22_largeFor those of you who don’t know, I wrote a novel. You can’t find it at Borders, but it is free to download on this newfangled thing they call the “Information Super Highway.”

I released all 22 chapters on a weekly basis last year as individual PDF files. Today, I’m happy to announce the complete novel is now available in a single, easy-to-read file! If you haven’t read the book already, or want to read it again, please check it out.  Please feel free to print the file, or share the PDF with friends and family.

A quick synopsis:

This modern Orwellian tale imagines a nation in which the people have come to accept government privacy intrusions and forced uniformity as necessary for keeping the homeland strong. Opposition is heresy—and punishable by death. Seven, a 20-something male, wakes up without memory or the learned self-compromise that comes with it. He makes strides toward getting his life back together, but the fresh perspective granted by his rebirth soon proves to be more a curse than a gift.

For more details, please visit WeTheWatched.com.
Click here for a direct link to the complete PDF.

Oh, and yes, I’m already hard at work on a followup novel.

Silversun Pickups: Alt Rock Ain’t Dead

Periodically, I like to highlight a few of my favorite new rock albums. In previous posts this year, I’ve exalted fresh discs by Glasvegas and The Rakes. Today I’d like to swoon (you’ll get the pun in a second) over the latest work by Silversun Pickups.

For those of you born in the ’80s, I have some news for you: alt rock ain’t dead.

After scoring a few years ago with hypnotic single “Lazy Eye,” Silversun Pickups come out guns-a-blazing on their second full-length, Swoon. The band missed a few times on their debut, but show on the followup they know how to go heavy with the rock while still maintaining a fine sense of melody and atmosphere.

It’s easy to draw comparisons to the acronym-sharing Smashing Pumpkins, a group which similarly spends a lot of time “working the layers” in distortion-heavy meloncholia. But whereas that band flourished in negativity, there’s something undeniably hopeful in the Pickups’ sound.

As good as Swoon is, not all tracks are created equal. Single “Panic Switch” is clearly the best of the bunch, incorporating a compelling mix of chords and instrumentation.  Other highlights include the bouncy “Substitution,” the string-laden “The Royal We” and high-tension “Surrounded (Or Spiraling).”  But a couple tracks, like the repetitive “It’s Nice to Know You Work Alone,” lack the same freshness.  Still, it’s overall a solid CD that’s certain to reassure ’90s alternative rock fans there’s still some creativity left in the genre.

Fun, Pricy Times Ahead for Wii Owners

For some reason, good Wii games seem to come in spurts. Near the console’s launch there was a nice bunch, including Super Mario Galaxy, Zelda, Metroid and Paper Mario.  Months later, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart were released. And then it felt like there was nothing for a long while.

Ladies and gentleman, I’m happy to report that I think we may be entering another short-term Wii boom.

Yesterday, I got my hands on a surreal new racing game called ExciteBots. It truly is something else. In the game, you take transformer-like bots resembling various animals, including frogs, bats and grasshoppers. And you do off-road stunt racing with them. It’s super fast and you get lots of airtime, and that’s only the beginning.  The developer included several extremely random-seeming mini games in the midst of each race.  For example, you might have to kick a giant soccer ball into a net, hit a baseball, or even bowl over some pins.  If you pull it off, you get points and an encouraging message.  Some of the challenges are even more eccentric. My favorite is tapping out a rhythm on a tambourine.  If you pull it off, the game rewards you with the message “Nice tambourine!”

Gooooaaal!!!!
Gooooaaal!!!!

Writing about ExciteBots doesn’t do the game justice, and in fact probably makes it sound like the most complicated racing game ever. On the contrary, the motion controls (yes, the Wii Wheel is supported) are great, and the game developers somehow made most of the diversions intuitive. It’s kind of like Mario Galaxy in that sense. What feels simple on the controller creates something totally fantastic on the screen.

OK, so I know what you’re saying. That’s just one game. How can I say this is the beginning of a spurt of fun Wii games?

First of all, it’s rude to interupt in the middle of an article. Shame on you. But the answer is that Wii gamers soon will have a new accessory on their hands, called the Motion Plus. The device hooks into the Wii controller, and makes the motion controls even more precise.  Currently, the controller can register only turn movements — it doesn’t know when you’re raising or lowering the controller vertically, or sliding it side to side. Motion Plus changes all that.  In July, Nintendo will release a sequel to Wii Sports, called Wii Sports Resort.  The package includes a lot of cool new minigames that weren’t possible before, including frisbee throwing, jet skiing and sword fighting.

Better, Electronic Arts — famous for its sports games — is designing its new Tiger Woods golf game especially for the Motion Plus. The company also has a new tennis game called Grand Slam Tennis that may prove to be equally ace.  Both hit stores in June, and Tiger Woods will come packaged with the Motion Plus.

You can probably tell I’m excited. But there is something about this whole situation that I must bitch about a little. Why does Nintendo insist upon releasing seemingly must-have accessories for its gaming systems every few months?  The company has convinced everyone they have the least expensive console. But the reality is you’ve got to buy extra controllers ($40 per remote, $20 per nunchuck), a balance board ($90 with Wii fit), a “classic” controller or two ($20 each), a wheel for each controller ($10), and now multiple Motion Plus accessories. ($20). Those Nintendo guys are pretty sneaky!

The Rakes Keep It Real

Just picked up a cool new album from The Rakes, an underrated rock band from London.  It’s hard to believe this band isn’t more well known in the states. I’ve thought of a few ways to describe their sound:  Blur if they did punk exclusively, Bloc Party if they were smarmier, The Strokes if they hailed from London. But really I detest those descriptions, as they make The Rakes sound unoriginal.

On the contrary, this band sounds quite fresh on most of their tracks. For example, they do great social commentary, specializing in the topics “regrettable things that happened after several pints” and — somewhat surprisingly — fear of terrorism. Somehow, this all comes across as upbeat britpop.

But enough of my bubbling enthusiasm. Check out this video for their single “1989,” from the new album Klang.  I think it’s import only at this point, but I found a great deal on cdwow.us. The album is less than 30 minutes, but it’s great fun. I also recommend their debut album, Capture/Release.