the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘music

I love cover songs.   I love them because they are familiar and I can sing along, but they’ve (hopefully) got new flavors, new riffs, something new.   They are just damn fun.


I love Weezer’s Africa as much as I love Alien Ant Farm’s Smooth Criminal. I love it when a musician takes a song in a different style, and does it in their style.  I love Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt, I love Tori Amos’s cover of Smells Like Spirit, I love Through Fire’s cover of Listen to Your Heart. Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence is disturbingly effective.  I was today years old when I learned the tragic story behind Bad Wolves’ cover of Zombie.


I love it the most when a musician takes a song they love and does it in their own style.  Do a folk song as metal. Do an alt rock song as acoustic. Slow it down, speed it up, give it an EDM backdrop.  Take something you love, something that’s beautiful to you, and put enough of yourself into it so that it is both the original and the new, at the same time.  Lol, Schrodinger’s cover song?


(Also, I could talk forever about Peter Hollens and Pentatonix. Don’t get me started, because I srsly will not shut up)




It dawned on me the other day that I love fairy tale retellings for the same reason that I love cover songs.   Fairy tales are fun, and familiar. The author has made some tweaks, changed up some stuff, colored outside the lines, added some new riffs.   In some cases, they’ve gutted the thing down to the bones, and completely rebuilt it. You recognize the foundation, but everything else is new and fascinating.


This blog post was inspired by two recent fairy tale retellings I am enjoying the hell out of:


I recently zipped through the first Witcher book,  The Last Wish, and among the hella fun episodic adventures is the best remix of Beauty and the Beast that I’ve ever come across. And I love this retelling because it is srsly fucking brutal.  Me spoiling this chapter doesn’t spoil anything about the book, by the way. It starts the same as the Disney version – guy gets cursed because he’s an asshole, and now his exterior matches his beastly and awful soul.   That, thankfully, is the end of the similarities.


His mansion is on a popular trade route. Traders who stop on the property for the night are threatened with death, unless they bring their daughters to the beast.  The first time this happened,  the “beast” felt so guilty about scaring the shit out of some random trader,  that he gave the guy a bag of money.


Word gets out about the beast in the castle, and before you know it fathers are showing up with their daughters on a regular basis. The daughters love the idea of living richly in a castle with a sexy bad boy for a year, and the families get a bag of gold out of the deal. And the beast is having so much fun in his new life as a rich playboy that he kinda doesn’t want the curse lifted.  Too bad his newest girlfriend really, really loves him. Your mileage will vary, but I laughed my head off the entire time I was reading this!


In an entirely different writing style,  is Benajanun’s Sriduangkaew’s Snow Queen retelling. Her 2017 novella Winterglass is all character introduction and prologue,  gorgeous conversations and observations about how colonialism changes more than just language and terminology, it can change the climate and geography of our lives.  Nuawa somehow survived the kilns as a child, and now finds herself chosen by the Winter Queen. She meets General Lussadh, another one of the Queen’s chosen. Like most Sriduangkaew stories, the language is lush and the worldbuilding is unparalleled.


I’m sixty pages into the sequel, Mirrorstrike.  At sixty pages, I know two things for certain: the moment I finish reading this novella I’ll be starting it again from page one,  and I love that Sriduangkaew plays the long game. I just came across “that scene” that calls back to the first chapter of Winterglass, pulling everything together as I believe every good fairy tale should, because even stories take place in a world larger than themselves.   Is it possible for the Queen’s chosen to escape their fates? There is a much bigger conversation in here, that I’ll save for the actual review, about the traitor’s qualm, and about chemistry between characters that has exceeded hot, and hit plasma levels. In my wildest dreams I write prose this beautiful.


(hopefully more indepth reviews of both coming soon.)


Dear authors and musicians:  I love it when you take something familiar,  and remix it to show me a piece of you I’ve never seen before.


Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used








Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.


If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.


Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.


Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.


Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.


The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?


Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.


If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!


I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.


I DNF’d this book, twice.

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So, you’ve loved this one band for years. Years i say!  you’ve seen them in concert, bought the merch, back in the day you bought the physical albums (and the overpriced imports and live albums!!).  You told everyone you knew how much you loved this band.


and then their new album came out!


and you bought it!


and it was  .  .  .  .


pretty shitty, actually.


You listened to it a bunch of times, in hopes it would grow on you, and the only thing that grew was the hope that the band would go back to their old, wonderful music style. Yeah, yeah, you know they’ve gotten experimental lately, and every artist goes through those stages, but maybe next time they’ll experiment in a direction that you like more?


can you still call yourself a fan of theirs, if you think their new sounds sucks?


here’s what I’m really getting at:

What do you do when it isn’t a band whose new album isn’t to your tastes. . .  but it’s an author you like?


You loved their early stuff.  you special ordered signed editions. You bought all their books in hardcover!  You drove hours to see them at a booksigning (you’ve probably done this multiple times), and waited in line for a few hours to get your book signed and when you finally got to the front of the line and the person politely thanked you for coming you said some requisite stupid fangirl/fanboy thing like “omgiloveyourbookssomuchthankyouforbreathingthesameairibreathe”.


and you are SO EXCITED for their new book!


and it finally came out, and you got it and . . .


DNF’d it.


because while it was well written, it absolutely, truly, was not to your tastes and you just didn’t enjoy reading it.


what do you do now?   How do you respond when you friends say “you love so and so’s work, right? didn’t they have a new book come out?”


Can you still consider yourself a fan of this author?  Was this new book just an experimental phase, and maybe they’ll go back to writing the way they used to?  How do you reconcile your “omg, i love this author so much!”,  with your feels towards their new book?


and worst of all . . . is this just how art works?  A musician or author or artist or film maker makes something you love, and you love the thing and you love the creator of the thing. . . .   but the fact that you liked it, that was just a happy accident, as far as the artist and the universe is concerned.  The artist’s obligation isn’t to you, right? Their obligation is to their own need to create art.



and while I ruminate on that  I’m gonna go listen to Folie a Deux another hundred times, because every track on that album is GOLD.  Save Rock and Roll only had like 2 good tracks and the rest sucked (also, did Katy Perry write “Where did the Party Go?”).  Guess i can’t call myself a Fallout Boy fan anymore, since i think their new stuff is just meh. I didn’t even buy American Beauty/American Psycho.

los nefilimLos Nefilim, by T. Frohock

published 2016

where I got it: purchased new




Angels and Demons constantly play at war.  Someone has to keep them in check, because what happens in the unearthly realms is reflected in the earthly realms. When angels and demons go to war, humans pay the price. The Los Nefilim are beings of angelic descent who use their magic to keep angels and demons in check. Their magic is in part fueled by their angelic vocal chords, and each Nefilim must find their own unique melody.


You know how a lot of fantasy novels start out with a huge infodump of the political situation, how the magic works, who has the magic, and why? An introduction, or a prologue, or whatever?  Frohock does none of those things, or at least she doesn’t do them in the expected order, and it was so damn refreshing! The first novella, In Midnight’s Silence, is so light on the worldbuilding that at times I had a tough time figuring out who was who, and what was going on, and how all these characters were involved with one another.  But I enjoyed the characters and the writing style so much that I didn’t care that I felt a little lost. Los Nefilim is a slow and dark burn, and that slow but steady rise to intensity makes you want to know more and more about what’s going on.  There is a lot of darkness in this story,  but also some laugh out loud funny moments.  And when the reveals come, they are that much more satisfying.


Los Nefilim reads a little like Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg, where upon first read you may not be entirely sure what is going on, but the characters and what they are dealing with is so damn fun / awesome / dark / cool as hell that the pages just fly by, and eventually you get to those chapters that explain everything. So if you feel a little lost at the beginning of Los Nefilim, trust me, just keep reading.


When we first meet Diago and Miquel, they’ve already got plenty on their plate. Miquel has been part of Los Nefilim for a while, and although Diago has an ancient connection with their leader, Guillermo, he’s got a long way to go to prove himself as worthy. Miquel, Guillermo, and the other Los Nefilim are of purely angelic ancestry, and Diago was dual born – which means his magic can be used by either side. And that’s just a portion of the big picture, political stuff.  What made this book shine for me was the small, intimate things. The family stuff.  Diago learns he has a son.  A child conceived through psychological manipulation,  no one can blame young Rafael for the situation of his conception. Diago and Rafael adopt him from the orphanage he grew up in, and there are all these unexpectedly funny and endearing parenting scenes.  More than anything, Diago and Miquel want Rafael to have a normal childhood.  But when you fight demons and develop your own magic, is normal and safe ever possible?

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I’ve been elsewhere!

I hosted my first roundtable at Semiotic Standard, about books we didn’t finish.  The roundtable features Lynn of Lynn’s Books, Lavie Tidhar, Jacob of Red Star Reviews, Teresa Frohock, Mark Lawrence, Charlotte Ashley, and more!  Come on over to see these folks and their peers didn’t finish books, and why I might not finish the book I’m reading right now.


I’m also over at Apex Magazine, interviewing the incredible Mary Pletsch.  In the interview we talk about the song and music in her short story Folk Hero.  but first, a quick aside.  Ya’ll know what iambic pentameter is, right?  the super simple definition of Iambic pentameter is that it is poetry (or song lyrics) written so that each line has 10 syllables, with every other syllable being stressed.  If you get the rhythms just right,  it fits perfectly into 4/4 rock and folk music.  So, I’m reading Pletsch’s story, and there are song lyrics embedded in the story.  And my brain doesn’t come up with a melody, but it does come up with a rhythm. A rhythm that matches the hauntingly beautiful Age of Aggression, as covered by Malukah.  Yes, that is a video game song, and YES, you should listen to it while you are reading Pletsch’s Folk Hero. here, I’ll help:

Folk Hero, by Mary Pletsch

Age of Aggression cover, by Malukah

I read that story, and I hear her sandstone voice singing that song, and it’s beautiful and fitting, and perfect.

oh, you liked that Malukah song?  this one is better.


so, that should keep you out of trouble for a few days.  I’ve got a review of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station publishing in a few days, so stay tuned (btw, it was AWESOME)


I was an art minor in college. It took 32 credits for me to learn that while I am rather creative, I am not artistic. One of my art professors had us do a project where we created a self portrait shadow box using found items. Of what little I owned at the time, I sure wasn’t going to sacrifice any of it for some art project. And the things that I felt represented me either weren’t things, or weren’t easily available. On the day of the critique, I remember most of the shadow boxes included parts of the single serve cereal boxes you could get in the dorm cafeteria. Somehow Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks was supposed to represent all the anxiety a college freshman away from home from the first time experiences?


I do wonder though, if the art professors had a bet going to see how many students used stuff pilfered from the dorm cafeterias in these “found objects” projects.


I’ve been listening to a lot of techno music lately. It falls under different names – techno, EDM, dance remix, electronica. Yes, I know all those words technically mean something different, but in Venn Diagram land they all overlap somewhat. It’s the kind of music where someone has taken lots of bits and pieces of other songs and layered them on top of each other, and on top of a dance beat. it’s really fun to dance to. the beats per minute is usually pretty high, so it’s great music to run or work out to. If you have Sirius Radio in your car, I listen to channels 51 and 52 a lot. Hardwell, #ASOT, Tiesto’s Club, stuff like that.   Last week on channel 52, I heard a dance remix of the main theme from the movie Interstellar. Someone had taken Hans Zimmer’s music and put a dance beat behind it, and mixed it around a few other ways. It was so beautiful i nearly started crying. I only have access to this radio station while in the car, so I was nearly crying while driving too fast down the interstate.


If i knew now what I knew back when I was taking that annoying art class, I’d have turned in a dance remix instead of a shadow box. And probably received an F, because it was an art class, not a music appreciation class.


More on this at a different time, but i’m one of those weird people for whom sound often has a corresponding color.  When I listen to a song on the radio, the singer’s voice may have a certain color (not all singing voices have a color, but the ones that do have a consistent color). So the whole radio song is usually the same color. Still with me? But the techno music, because the melody changes all the time, it’s like the DJ (or mixer, or composer?) is layering all sorts of different colors, painting with different sounds. In the course of 5 minutes, I get to hear lots of different colors! wheee! It’s the sound of a colorful painting, but not in an overwhelming fashion. More like it’s a few colors at a time, and those colors slowly morph to other colors. Sort of.


Whoever has put the song together has chosen their bits and pieces of music and put them together in a very particular way, with one sample shifting into the next, which shifts into the next, and so on.  Like an orchestral overture, a particular melody might make multiple appearances.   Maybe the composer switches up tempo, or pitch, with a faster beat being following by a slower beat, and then a faster beat, or a short melody followed by a long melody, followed by another short one.  And the entire thing together? It is a shadow box of the whole song – a bunch of found objects that when put together represents whatever the composer/artist wanted to represent.  If you’ve ever been in the terminal tunnel at Detroit Metro Airport, a lot of the techno music I like sounds a lot like the shifting colors in that tunnel.


I’m not sure what to call the folks who make this kind of music. DJs? mixers? artist? composer? How about “editor”?  They are pulling together things that will work together, choosing an order of what should come after what, deciding how the end user should experience their creation.  It’s like they are editing an anthology of sound.  An anthology you can listen to in 8 minutes.
there you have it: how techno music is like fiction anthologies.  And if you read your anthologies cover to cover in the order shown in the TOC, techno music might be for you.

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annihilation scoreThe Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross (A Laundry Novel)

published 2015

where I got it: borrowed from a friend




This is the sixth Laundry novel, but in a way, it’s the first of its kind (By the way, Start Here).  Laundry novels have always starred Bob Howard, IT programmer turned computational demonologist. No matter how shitty his day is at work, he can usually come home to his wife Mo. She works for the Laundry too, and sometimes it’s her coming home from a crappy trip to be soothed by her well meaning husband. Bob might be an apprentice (and possibly heir) to The Eater of Souls, but Mo has him beat. You see, she is the handler for what is known as the Pale Violin.  the “This violin kills demons” sticker on the violin case is no joke.

I rushed through The Rhesus Chart, the Laundry novel that comes right before this one. I really, really wanted to get to The Annihilation Score,  because this book is told from Mo’s point of view. Yup.  Barely any Bob in this baby, this novel is all Mo, all the time. Oh, and let’s not forget the semi-sentient violin that creeps into her dreams and wants to kill her husband.  can’t forget that.


For those of you just joining us, Mo’s instrument is made of human bone, her fingers bleed when she plays it, and she can’t let it out of her sight because it gets very lonely, and very, very hungry. Remember Elric’s Arioch?  You’re on the right track,  just crank the demon eating darkness up to eleven.  Mo calls her violin Lecter, and if you listen very closely, you can hear his whisper. He doesn’t want much from you, yet, but if you’d only listen to his voice ….

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.