Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Mirrors - Lights and Offerings

Retro synth that hits the target straight on.  Featuring the best sounds of the 1980s using all analog synths, the Mirrors remind me of a non-irritating Smiths, OMD, a little bit of Echo, some Kraftwerk, and plenty of verve.  The ten tracks on Lights and Offerings start out strong with a glistening and metallic pop that I haven't heard the likes of for years.  Check out Look at Me and the corker Into the Heart.

To my tastes, the album ends on a weaker note - modern albums seem to front-load the beginning of the album, but the latter track Hide and Seek is as strong as the best.  Anyways - this is a great direction for synth music to make, so go ahead and check it out.  Available as a CD, LP (import) and MP3 download.  Highly recommended!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: a-ha - Foot of the Mountain

Yes, a-ha is still around. Once considered one-hit wonders for their ethereal 1985 'Take On Me', a-ha continued to record and churn out several albums that were released everywhere but North America. Unlike many artists, a-ha continued to make some quality pop music even after 25 years of recording. Their ninth(!) album, Foot of the Mountain, is more of a return to their popular 80s sound with a heavy synth influence that was probably made to grab more of the youth buyer. However, to my aged ears, this album is a little weaker than their previous output - lacking the guitar and emotional escape their last three albums had. The title track 'Foot of the Mountain' is still strong, but the other material is lacking in songwriting and song structure. Some other tracks worth checking out are 'Nothing Is Keeping You Here' and 'What There Is'. Morten Harket's voice is still amazing even though he can't quite hit the high notes like he did in his youth.  But hey, none of us are getting any younger. Check out the albums 'Analogue', 'Minor Earth Major Sky', and 'Lifelines' for some of their better output.

Note : This album cannot be purchased in the States - I ordered my copy from an Ebay seller in Britain.

Review: The Felice Brothers - Yonder is the Clock

The Felice Brothers are three brothers (and two others) from the countryside of New York state.  They bring the heat and passion of a disappearing rural America. Fiddle, banjo and accordion dominate most of the Dylan-esque song,s but this certainly is no retro folk jamboree. Instead the music growls with darkness and even the upbeat songs have an underpinning of tragedy. Vocals are almost pure Dylan, the whole album reminding me of some drunken 70s-era lost tape that had been tucked away in some forgotten corner only to be discovered by accident. Highlights are the mournful 'Buried in Ice', the upbeat 'Run Chicken Run', and the mid-rocker 'Penn Station'. The album is highly recommended and it is also available as a gatefolded 45-RPM double 12" record set.

Review: The Cure - 4:13 Dream

I'll admit right upfront that I once was not a long term listener of the Cure. In fact I've only recently re-re-re-rediscovered them. Not to give away my age, but I remember the Cure mostly being listened to by punk rock girls in the 80s. It was almost inevitable that every time you paged through a punk rock girl's record (more like cassette tape!) collection, you would find the Smiths, Depeche Mode and the Cure - with very little actual punk rock.  Back then, being the zealot punk rocker I was, I only wanted to listen to 'the real stuff' so I pretty much ignored that entire genre. It may have been one reason among many that I never scored with many punk rock girls!

Fast forward to 2008 and I'm listening to the Shout Out Louds and really enjoying the upbeat Swedish-born power-pop. There have been a few reviewer comparisons of the Shout Out Louds to the Cure, so I was curious enough to check out a few of the Cure YouTube videos. I was actually surprised by the strength of the song writing and the swirling guitar playing. So I went out and bought The Head on the Door. And then before you know it I'm picking up everything I can find used at the local record stores. Best thing about collecting the Cure is the sheer amount of material out there - it is easy to dig through the bins and find something.

Well enough of an introduction - so how does 4:13 Dream sound? Compared to the older classic albums, it is a little weaker, but Robert Smith can still pen a good song that have that old-time Cure feeling. Like the later Bloodflowers and Wish, I would suggest culling out your favorite tracks for your personal MP3 mix. The Cure has a fairly diverse sound and I would categorize their songs into four categories - Pop, Goth, Noise and near-Psychedelia. So in this case 4:13 has a bit of everything for everyone. And that is perhaps its overall weakness. As a total album it doesn't completely gel, but in my mind it does have a few tracks worth keeping.

My favorite tracks are Sirensong which harkens back to the Cure's early years. Simple drums and guitars with dark lyrics. The Hungry Ghost has a bit more speed, shoegazing and anger mixed like a violent nightmare. Underneath the Stars is just about a perfect song with heavy reminisces of the Disintegration album. The Only One and The Perfect Boy sound like classic Robert Smith pop songs that are a bit muddled by the new style of mastering.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Know your Market - or Just Who Are You Writing For?

The majority of eBook readers are women.  Perhaps the rough and tumble life of a private detective or a western doesn't suit the average female reader.  Or perhaps it does - but it is something to keep in mind when you are brainstorming for your next book.  Personally I write to please myself; creating the stories that I would like to read.  But the days of Gold Medal action and science-fiction books seem to be long gone.  Tastes change and perhaps readers expect more complex characters than the days of yore.

But these simpler books books also have their own morality and important life lessons.  They're about honor and the idea that a single person can make a difference.  These are almost old-fashioned concepts, but they are still true.

So what am I trying to say here?  Write with your heart, but keep in mind that not every story will be popular with everyone.

On the Marketing of eBooks

Though the eBook revolution has allowed numerous authors to personally control their output, marketing still remains the largest obstacle for new writers.  But this issue should hardly be surprising since the same holds true for just about any business.  An example of this is one of my own hobbies - audio electronics.  I recently had the idea of selling a phono preamplifier of my own design.  I had the PCBs made, bought the necessary hardware and started producing them in my basement.  However sales were nothing but a trickle.  In the end, I did not recoup my expense of making the damned things.

Why?  Marketing was my largest obstacle.  Getting the word out was difficult since I had to depend on my own ad copy to move the preamps, along with word-of-mouth of sales.  It just wasn't enough to bring in the customers I needed.

When I first started writing, I expected that my first published book would sell itself.  I had much faith (and I still do!) that the strength of the story would draw readers in like moths to the flame.  It's easy to get carried away with such ideas, especially if you don't consider the great mass of other books out there.  The consumer is literally awash with eBooks and only a sliver of a percentage will actually be interested in what you write.

I also tried the free book giveaway by creating a coupon for Murder at Zero Hour.  This coupon was distributed to several sites that specialize in free eBooks.  Well, I got plenty of takers for this novelette, but it did not appear to lead to an uptick in sales.  Just because someone gets something for free does not mean they are willing to part with cash when purchasing another book.

When I first started using the internet - oh, way back in 1996 - I belonged to several online communities.  But as the years have gone on, my interest in message boards has waned.  It's mostly a matter of time - I'm a father, a full-time worker, a writer, a music and movie critic, and a dabbler in electronics.  Though I have a small footprint on the Internet, it still isn't enough to draw automatically draw an audience.  And just because someone reads my review of a stereo power amplifier doesn't mean they will want to buy one of my books.

So where does this lead me?  For now, I'm going to concentrate on getting an older novel called At Bull Run out.  After I finish that project, I'm going to finish my latest book.  When that has been published, I'm going to dabble with Google Adwords and advertising via Facebook.  Though this will cost some money, at this point I can't think of anything else to try.

Smashwords load speed is way up

In a previous post, I've complained about the speed to load a finished book into Smashwords.  Well, with my latest book - At Harper's Ferry - the wait time dropped to just minutes.  And the acceptance into the premium catalog was just a matter of days.  So kudos to Smashwords for correcting two issues!