Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

 I’m a sucker for fantastic  artwork and, lucky for me, Moonhead and the Music Machine is packed to the gills with gorgeousness. I want to buy individual prints of various scenes in this story and put them on my walls. Author and illustrator, Andrew Rae, is a seriously talented graphic designer who also does animation in addition to illustrating a number of comic books, graphic novels, and zines. You can check out his work at Moonhead Studios here! Moonhead t-shirts, anyone? Sign me up yesterday.

In terms of storyline, Moonhead and the Music Machine is a classic underdog tale in which Joey Moonhead, the main protagonist, must defy his bullies and wear his uniqueness (his strength) like a badge of honor.  Early on in the book, Joey attempts to engage with his parents who are both aloof and neglectful. Subsequently, he spends a lot of time alone in his room and his mind begins to wander, quite literally. The thing about Joey’s head is that it’s a giant moon that can detach and float through space independent of his body. Naturally, I think about how perhaps Joey’s moonhead is allegorical with daydreaming or even escapism, hallmark characteristics of being a young person who is discovering his or her own dreams and ambitions but who also experiences a fair amount of alienation (from parents, authorities, peers, etc). Initially, Joey’s wandering head tends to get him into trouble with parents, teachers, and friends.

That is, of course, until he learns how, with the help of willing adults and friends, to channel and harness his creative energy and embrace his individuality. Sockets, his best friend, is a big part of helping him navigate the hallways and social terrain of high school where Joey posits that that the adults are “training us to conform…to be factory workers!” Of course, Socket’s response, which is the other side of an age-old argument about education, maintains that “getting good grades” is one ticket to being able to determine your own path without being self-sacrificial. Joey & Sockets share a playful and sweet friendship in which they respect but still challenge each other’s opinions.

Enter music. Like many teens, Joey stumbles upon music in an organic way after having a parent-teacher conference that results in Joey’s finding a record player and a set of headphones. Whereas Joey’s head once levitated just above his body, ready at any moment to float away, it now was tethered to his record player by way of his headphones. Music is very “grounding” and facilitates connectivity unlike any other medium due to its accessibility and transcendence of time/space and language boundaries. To boot, I was overly excited about how Rae re-imagined classic album artwork design for album covers by musicians like David Bowie, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and many others.

Once Joey is infected by the music bug, there is no going back. After taking interest in a music machine-building project, Joey meets the mysterious Ghost Boy and together they dazzle their classmates during a talent show after building a key-tar esque instrument (half-keyboard, half guitar) and bringing the house down. After their performance, Joey is overcome by the response of his peers who are inspired by the overall message Joey sends: to embrace and find strength in your individuality–in your moonhead. It may be important to note which of your friends stick by you even at your worst, when you don’t have anything of monetary or social value to offer aside from your friendship. They are the real deal, people. Read this graphic novel simply for the gorgeous artwork but find richness and multiple layers of meaning in its simplicity.

 

 

 

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

I just finished listening to John Darnielle read his book, Universal Harvester, on CD. I am left asking myself, “What just happened?” I liked it. I think I would like to re-read it, this time in print.

The book is about a young man named Jeremy Heldt who works at Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa in the mid-nineties. He is a down-to-earth guy, having lost his mother to a car accident six years prior. As a relatively responsible twentysomething adult, he isn’t sure what to do when he discovers that some videos have been returned with strange footage spliced into them. It is unclear to him whether the scenes are a goof, or if someone is getting hurt and sending out a cry for help. Also, his boss at the video store may or may not have become personally entangled in whatever it is.

I was first drawn to listen to this book because I read in a Booklist review that it is set in small-town Iowa. Not knowing anything about author John Darnielle, I thought, “I want to find out how he portrays an Iowan. I want to hear if he’s going to butcher the way we talk.”  I was admittedly skeptical that I wouldn’t find his portrayal of an Iowan to be silly, maybe a little bit insulting. Often it seems to me that nonnatives perceive us all to be rubes. Sometimes actors portray our manner of speaking in a way that more resembles a southern drawl than the intonation of an actual Iowan. I was pleased to find Darnielle’s main character sounding like some Iowans I know, albeit the ones who have also spent time living out west. This made more sense to me once I looked up a little more about Darnielle online and learned that he grew up in southern California and lived in Portland, Oregon briefly after high school. He did live in some of the Iowa towns where the events in Universal Harvester take place, though it is unclear when and how long.

My opinions of the writer/reader’s dialect aside, this book is a hard one to categorize. Some libraries in our system have classified it as fiction; others put it in the horror section. I am not usually a reader of horror books, and when I realized it was considered that, I thought “Uh oh. What am I getting myself into?” As I got further into the book, I kept bracing myself for something gory or horrifically disturbing. When I think horror, I think gore. However, there isn’t anything terribly gory in this book.

It turns out I was just as mistaken as the folks who think Iowans speak with a drawl. I came across this great article from The Horror Writers Association and learned that horror can take as many forms as the people who read it. After all, not everyone is horrified by the same things. I happen to find gore horrifying, some people are just as horrified by the unknown. Death is perhaps the biggest of the unknowns, but there are also a myriad of other unknowns throughout life.

There are many unknowns in Universal Harvester. If you like a plot that gets neatly tied up at the end, this book is not for you. However, if you appreciate great writing and a story well-told that makes you think and ask questions, then you should check this book out. It would be a great book club selection, because there is plenty here to explore and discuss. (In fact, if you know me, please read this book so we can talk about the details together! I’m still not sure what just happened.)

Next, I am going to check out some Mountain Goats CDs. The author of this book is in a band called the Mountain Goats, and he has been hailed as one of the best living lyricists. Judging by his novel writing ability, I’d say that’s likely a fair assessment. Happy reading and/or listening!

New CD’s for November

Bon Jovi — This House is Not for Sale

The first Bon Jovi album without longtime guitarist Richie Sambora

 

 

 


Alicia Keys — Here

The fifteen-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and producer will release her highly anticipated sixth studio album. From the human condition to global politics, Here offers a keen glimpse of everything that matters most to Keys.

 

 

 
Miranda Lambert — The Weight of these Wings

Miranda Lambert’s highly anticipated sixth studio album was inspired by both heartbreak and newfound love. Among the tracks is the new single Vice.

 

 

 
Bruno Mars — 24K Magic

After four years, and two Super Bowl halftime appearances, Grammy Award winner Bruno Mars is back with his highly anticipated third album, which includes the hit title track.

 

 
Metallica — Hardwired…To Self Destruct

Metallica releases their eleventh studio album. The two disc set is their first studio album since 2008’s Death Magnetic.

 

 

 
Now That’s What I Call Music 60

The 60th installment of the popular music series that features the hit song from Calvin Harris and Rihanna, This Is What You Came For.

 

 

 
Doug Stanhope — No Place Like Home

Doug Standhope tackles an abundance of hard-hitting issues, from caring for the mentally-ill, to Vietnam vets, being locked up abroad, and why everyone should kick like they kick. He also take on ISIS, global poverty, TMZ, and LGBT related issues. No one is off the table in this one-of-a-kind stand-up special including Gabrielle Giffords, the Duggars daughters, Caitlyn Jenner, and Robin Williams.

20 Feet From Stardom

20-feet-from-stardomBefore I watched 20 Feet From Stardom I never realized how heavily my favorite music relied on the talents of the unsung heroes (pun intended): background singers. As a child, I would sometimes joke that I wanted to be a background singer. I’d dress up and stand in the living room, swaying and ooohing. I thought it was funny because… who wants to be in the background when you could be in the limelight? Turns out, plenty of people.

Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Tata Vega…these are just a few of the names belonging to people so talented they could easily carry the stage on their own. But for varied reasons, each as unique as the individuals themselves, they remain mostly anonymous background singers. To be sure, some of them would love a successful solo career, and have tried to reach that goal… to no avail. Others have been content to leave the spotlight and all the complications that go with it to the names we recognize so well: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, David Bowie…the list goes on.

20 Feet From Stardom takes us behind the scenes where the singers share, in their own words, what a career as a professional background singer has been like for them. It is as emotional as it is funky and upbeat. As soon as I finished watching, I promptly looked up their names in the library catalog and put holds on as many albums featuring their vocal talents as possible.

I think any of us would be hard pressed to come up with a Top Ten list of our favorite songs of all-time that did not include a contribution from of one of these fabulous singers.  That’s what makes it so unbelievable that they are not household names. I challenge you to watch 20 Feet From Stardom and not come away with a song in your head!

New CDs for October

Michael Buble — Nobody But Me

The 9th studio album and first in three years from the multi-Grammy, multi-platinum award winning singer. It follows the critically acclaimed To Be Loved album which was his fourth album to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 Charts.

 

 

Colbie Caillat — The Malibu Sessions

Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat returns with the follow up to her 2014 album Gypsy Heart. Her sixth studio album also includes the single Goldmine.

 

 

Kenny Chesney — Some Town Somewhere

Country superstar Kenny Chesney releases the follow-up to his hit album The Big Revival. His latest includes the single Noise, which is quickly rising up the country charts.

 

 

 

Green Day — Revolution Radio

After four years, Green Day return with a brand new album, their first release since being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their latest includes the new single Bang Bang.

 

 

Norah Jones — Day Breaks

One of music’s most beautiful and critically acclaimed voices returns with an album that finds her returning to her jazz roots.

 

 

Kings of Leon — Walls

Kings Of Leon release the follow-up to their Mechanical Bull album. Includes the songs Waste A Moment; Find Me; Over; and more.

 

 

Pitbull — Climate Change

International icon Pitbull releases his 10th full-length album that features an array of superstar and burgeoning musical guests including Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Prince Royce, Jason Derulo, Stephen Marley and more.

 

 

Rascal Flatts — The Greatest Gift of All

Country superstars Rascal Flatts release their first ever holiday album, which features both new and classic tracks like Strange Way to Save the World; The First Noel, and Someday at Christmas.

 

New CDs for September

Jason Aldean — They Don’t Know

A decade into his career, Jason Aldean has scaled the highest level of country superstardom, including being named the 2016 ACM Entertainer of the Year. Now he releases his sixth studio album, which includes Lights Come On.

 

Bon Iver — 22, A Million

Bon Iver releases their first new album in five years. Justin Vernon embraces the use of electronics by using a sampler-base synthesizer for this new project.

 

 

Casting Crowns — The Very Next Thing

The Grammy winning band releases a collection of intimate songs as well as upbeat, fresh sounding tracks with impactful lyrics centered around identifying and acting on what’s right next to you. Includes Oh My Soul, a song Mark Hall wrote in response to his journey through a cancer diagnosis

 

Idina Menzel — Idina

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, the voice behind Frozen’s massive hit song Let It Go, releases her fifth studio album. Her latest includes the single I See You.
Of Mice and Men — Cold World

After a lot of hype, anticipation, and a two and a half year wait, Of Mice & Men return with a brand new album. They deliver thirteen aggressive rock anthems that will satisfy their ever growing fan base.

 

Regina Spektor — Remember Us to Life

Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor is back with her first new album since 2012’s What We Saw from the Cheap Seats. The first single, Bleeding Heart, has already been featured in NPR’s All Songs Considered.

New CDs for August

Known for their record-breaking tracks and undeniable energy, Florida Georgia Line releases their highly anticipated third studio album. It uncovers pieces of their lineage along with an evolved creativity. Includes the hit single H.O.L.Y.

 

 

From the bombastic opening riff of Feel Invincible to the memorable album finale The Resistance, it is clear that Skillet has created an album that lets their music speak loudest, while delivering some of their most personal songs.

 

 

Along with the 2015 radio hit Passenger, the latest album from Trapt features their most ambitious single to date with Human (Like the Rest of Us).

 

 

One of the most popular music series is back with a brand new installment that includes hits from Justin Timberlake, Meghan Trainor, Nick Jonas and many more.

 

 

Featuring a collection of tracks as diverse as each member of the villainous crew, the soundtrack to Suicide Squad features new and classic tracks from Panic! At The Disco, Skrillex, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Lil Wayne.

New CDs for July

Blink-192 — California

Nearly five years after their last album, Blink-182 releases their seventh studio album. It marks a change for the band as Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba joins the group.

 

 

 

Jake Owen — American Love

Country star Jake Owen releases his fifth studio album, which includes the single American Country Love Song.

 

 
Hillary Scott & The Scott Family — Love Remains

A collection of thirteen faith-based songs featuring Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, her mom Linda Davis, father Lang Scott, and little sister Rylee Scott, all produced by Ricky Skaggs.

 
Steven Tyler — We’re All Somebody from Somewhere

A highly anticipated first solo country album from Steven Tyler, the voice of rock band Aerosmith. His first single, Love Is Your Name, hit number one on the Billboard Country Streaming Songs chart.

 
Switchfoot — Where the Light Shines Through

For the first time in ten years, Switchfoot went back to the studio with producer John Fields to work on their tenth studio album. While moving forward, the band does look back, and there is a lot of nostalgia flowing through the album.

 
Various Artists — Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording

With its unique mix of history and hip-hop, Hamilton has become one of the most talked-about productions on Broadway.

New CDs for June

Fitz & The Tantrums — Fitz and the Tantrums

The third album from Fitz & The Tantrums is brimming with imagination, energy, and genre-smashing scope. Includes the tracks Handclap; Complicated; Do What You Want; and more.

 

 

 


Nick Jonas — Last Year Was Complicated

Radiohead continues to do things their way with the release of their first new album since 2011. Their unique rock style comes through on tracks like Burn the Witch.

 


Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

Fresh off of the success of his 2014 self-titled album, Nick Jonas returns with a release that has already generated a hit with the track Close featuring Tove Lo.
Red Hot Chili Peppers — The Getaway

Along with the single Dark Necessities, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first new album in five years also includes new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and production from Danger Mouse.

 

 


Tegan & Sara — Love You to Death

The follow-up to Tegan and Sara’s 2013 pop breakthrough album, Heartthrob, is their eighth studio album and features the single Boyfriend.

 


Train — Does Led Zeppelin II

Train, the band behind such hits as Hey Soul Sister, pays homage to one of their biggest musical inspirations with the release of the first cover album of their career.

 

 

New CDs for May

Eric Clapton — I Still Do

Music legend Eric Clapton has reunited with famed producer Glyn Johns for his forthcoming 23 studio album, set for release on May 20, 2016 on his Bushbranch /Surfdog Records. The twelve-track record includes some original songs written by Clapton.

 

 

Goo Goo Dolls — Boxes

The eleventh album from the Goo Goo Dolls is a vibrant, sonically forward-looking album with indelible melodies, intimate, heartfelt lyrics, and an anthemic, uplifting vibe. Features the single Over and Over.

 

 

Ariana Grande — Dangerous Woman

Grammy Award nominee and pop superstar Ariana Grande returns with her third album, which includes the tracks Dangerous Woman and Be Alright.

 

 

Cole Swindell — You Should Be Here

Cole Swindell releases the follow up his successful debut album, which earned him the ACM Award for New Artist of the Year. Along with the title track, which is also the first single, there is a collaboration with Dierks Bentley.

 

 

Meghan Trainor — Thank You

Meghan Trainor releases her highly anticipated sophomore album three months after winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The first single, NO, made its debut on On Air With Ryan Seacrest.

 

 

Keith Urban — Ripcord

Four-time Grammy winner and judge on the farewell season of American Idol is releasing his eighth studio album. Features the hit singles John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 and Break on Me.