Def Leppard: Hysteria
It only took me 25 years, but I finally picked up Hysteria the other week... and it's everything I hoped and feared it would be. Does it sound awesome? Holy hell yes, it sounds awesome — every explosive drumbeat, chiming/echoing guitar lick and Joe Elliott high note seguing perfectly into a creamy, harmony-driven chorus sounds like the word "awesome" would sound if awesome was a sound. But is it also stupid? Well... yes. Honestly, the lyrics on this album are nothing shy of appalling — bottoming out with immortal "You've got the peaches, I've got the cream" couplet from Pour Some Sugar On Me. (cringes) But when you turn off your brain and allow yourself to get caught up in the gorgeous awesome of all that sound... the appeal of Def Leppard becomes crystal clear.
Alcest: Les Voyages de L'ame
Honestly, I'm running out of ways to describe this music to you. I can call it shoegaze-metal, but that may not mean a thing to you. I can tell you it fuses the aggression and (occasional) blood-curdling screaming of one genre with the gorgeous melodics, atmosphere and graceful, haunting vocals of the other. I can tell you that the fact that it's (mostly) in French doesn't do a damned bit to detract from the breathtaking beauty and emotional resonance of the music, which stands up to the impossibly high standards set by Alcest's first two albums. I can tell you all of this and more, but unless you give yourself the opportunity to actually listen to what they've created... you'll never really understand why Alcest may be my favorite band in the world right now.
Billy Squier: Essential Billy Squier
I finally got my act together a picked up some Billy Squier. And you know what? His best songs hold up beauuuutifully. This is Rawk music with a capital R, and there's not a damned thing wrong with that. Everybody Wants You, In The Dark, The Stroke, Learn How To Live... I can't believe I waited this long to bring this music back into my life. Awesome.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen: A Winged Victory for the Sullen
My 2011 album of the year. Achingly gorgeous neo-classical compositions designed to leave you on the verge of tears. I've been listening to it almost non-stop for months; you should do the same.
Hammock: Longest Year EP
There are few things more frustrating than trying to describe the gorgeous, evocative and profoundly atmospheric post-rock music of Hammock without A) resorting to clichés that, while not necessarily inaccurate, do little to accurately describe the listening experience; or B) having the musical vocabulary to adequately describe just what it is about these lengthy, largely wordless compositions that hypnotizes and moves me so profoundly. So I'll just say: imagine a film. No words; just images. Flashing, semi-grainy images of someone from your past — impossibly beautiful, vibrant and full of life. Someone lost to you forever. Imagine that feeling, of love and impossible longing and desperate, hopeless desire to recapture that moment and make it last forever. Now hunt down the title track to this EP, close your eyes, and listen. And you will know: this is the music for that feeling.
Jane Roper: Double Time: How I Survived - and Mostly Thrived - Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins
I really, really wish that Jane Roper's terrific Double Time had been around when I needed it, because it's exactly the kind of thing I was desperately hoping to find when my wife and I discovered we were having twins: a warm, funny, immensely personable and eminently readable take on how someone like me navigated the discovery and aftermath of "Oh my god! It's twins" without crashing on the rocks and sinking to the bottom. Of course, there's a lot more to the book than just kid/parenting stuff - Roper devotes a sizeable amount of real estate to discussing in sobering and often moving terms her struggles with depression and bipolarism, which are further complicated by the myriad challenges of being a twinfant parent - but make no mistake: twin wrangling is at the heart of the book, and is the engine that drives not only the story but Roper's impressive ability to wrench honestly, truly funny observations from the kind of parenting scenarios that might kill a lesser person.
Darwyn Cooke: Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter
Thank you, Adam P Knave, for making this a part of my life. Richard Stark (a pseudonym for the late grand master of crime fiction, Donald Westlake) produced a series of Parker novels back in the day — creating a dark, violent antihero who's been brought to life (to varying degrees of success) on the big screen in everything from Lee Marvin's Point Blank to Mel Gibson's Payback. It's a very different proposition from the incredibly funny caper stories that brought Westlake much of his success as a novelist, and perhaps that's why he created a separate pen name for the series... but as far as deep, dark, delicious noir fiction goes, Parker is prime stuff. All of which is to say that it's great source material for Darwyn Cooke, who brings the first Parker novel to life here in a comics-style format that does absolute, compelling justice to the sudden violence, moral ambivalence and creeping sense of doom that made The Hunter such a landmark in noir fiction. Wonderfully moody and incredibly evocative of the story's time and place, Cooke's recreation of the story via sequential art makes for a wonderfully fast and furious read... and, in the end, left me hungry for me. Great stuff.
Bob Mould: See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody
As someone who's been a fan of Bob Mould's music for more than 20 years - tracing his career from Hüsker Dü to his solo career to Sugar and then back again to solo life - I approached his memoir with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. Why? Because you never know whether someone's ability to write compelling stories in song form will translate to a longer-form narrative. Fortunately, it turns out that my anticipation was justified – because Mould delivers a consistently interesting and engaging account of his life both within and outside of music that offers insight into the eclectic experiences that shaped the rage and melody of the subtitle. From his often-stormy personal life (including his private and public experiences as a gay man) to his relationships with bandmates to his foray into the world of writing for professional wrestling (it's true!) and beyond, it's a story that translates well across 400+ pages... and while you're aware that you're getting only one side of the argument when he talks about his battles with lovers, record labels, Grant Hart and more, Mould tells it all in a voice every bit as compelling and relatable as that offered by his singing. Would I have enjoyed this as much if I hadn't been familiar with his music? Probably not — and having a pretty good context in terms of his music and the scene(s) he's been a part of over the years is almost certainly a prerequisite for enjoying this book. That said: it's a really good read, and if his music has earned even a small place in your heart, it's a worthwhile investment of your time.
Erik Larson: Thunderstruck
Considering how much I'd enjoyed two of Larson's earlier books - Isaac's Storm and the completely wonderful Devil in the White City - it took me a hell of a long time to get around to reading Thunderstruck. Honestly, there was a pretty good layer of dust sitting on the jacket when I finally picked it up and went to work a couple of weeks ago. Why? Because, for no reason I can really explain, I was afraid I'd find it kind of dull. Unfortunately, it turns out my apprehension was well-justified. I can certainly understand why Larson was attracted to the subject matter: he parallels Marconi's invention of radio with the then-sensational Crippen "Basement Murder" in London, and how the two intersected in the mid-Atlantic, as Crippen attempted to flee to America. Which sounds interesting, right? Wrong. The Marconi storyline is extremely well-researched, and Larson does his best to bring it to life, but ultimately it comes across as something that is clearly far more important than it is actually interesting. Marconi himself: smart, driven, not a nice guy, and not a terribly compelling subject. And Crippen? Who killed his harpy wife and fled the UK with his secretary/lover? Is a cypher... a man universally described (as is clear through Larson's impeccable research) as a small, quiet, listless little creature. And while I spent the entirety of the book hoping for a revelation in which we come to understand how such a non-entity came to commit such a strange and gruesome murder, I came away frustrated -- as no such revelation ever appears. Larson (like the police) knows Crippen did it, but we never really understand how (functionally) or why (in a character-motivation sense). In the end, I found myself wishing that I'd left the book collecting dust. Very disappointing.
Brian Boone: I Love Rock 'n' Roll (Except When I Hate It): Extremely Important Stuff About the Songs and Bands You Love, Hate, Love to Hate, and Hate to Love
Brian Boone is a funny, funny, funny man... and I was happy as hell (if unsurprised) to discover that the same sharp, sarcastic humor he brings to his blog and tweetstream manifests throughout this book. Now, I'm aware that I'm more or less the ideal audience for this book - I love music, I love lists, and I love sharp, sarcastic humor - but that doesn't mean that the content is appealing only to those who fall into the somewhat limited blue lobster demographic. Let me put it to you this way. One section of the book is called "Succinct Information In Column Form," and features an item with a number of options beneath the question "Little girl object of fancy or little girl object of fancy that is also the title of a Mariah Carey album?" The answer, per Brian Boone? "Mariah Carey has released Rainbow, Charmbracelet, Butterfly, Daydream and Glitter. She has not yet released albums titled Unicorn, Princess or Sparkles." If you're the kind of person I think you are, that just made you cackle. And that also makes you the kind of person who would enjoy the rest of the book — which I certainly did.