Vinyl Review: Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen

Another Vinyl review. You’re welcome.

Today I’m reviewing Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen (one of my absolute favorite albums). It’s Cohen’s 13th studio album and was recorded when he was 80 (!). Popular Problems was released in 2014.

I got my copy from a local Barnes & Noble. It’s a single disc, ten track album.

IMG_20170710_0949265.jpg

PHYSICAL IMPRESSIONS

  • This record is really light (160 grams most likely), and as it’s one of my most played albums, I worry about that sometimes.
    • Note: There’s no sound quality benefit to a thicker pressing inherently (there are some around the stability of the record for your needle and arm), but higher gram albums last longer, so I prefer it.
  • The record is a carbon black pressing, as I’ve noted I prefer. So great.
    • Note: Colored vinyls look cool, and are often thematic, but the carbon black increases the lasting power of the physical record itself, so I prefer that.
  • The cover leaves a bit to be desired. The colors strike me as weird, and they certainly don’t match the content of the album.

IMG_20170710_0949334.jpg

TRACK LISTING

Of the 10 songs on the track, all  were written (at least collaboratively) by Cohen (which is normal).

SIDE A

  • Slow– I love this song. It’s focused, regular beat, and Cohen’s off-track vocals give such an authentic feel. The gravelly purr of his voice as he moves through this blues and rhythm infused track really sets the tone for for the rest of the album.
  • Almost Like the Blues – The lyrical talent on this song is incredible. Somehow the disparate words weave this perfect story, and the minimalist instrumental backing really drives home Cohen’s growl. Probably my second favorite song on the album.
  • Samson in New Orleans – A haunting song about loss and pain, and missed potential. This song continues the very stripped down feel of the album (the backing is there, but it’s so subtle, it pushes Cohen to the front).
  • A Street – A song focused on love and condemnation, somehow Cohen pulls anger, longing, pain and cynicism into a single ballad that covers all of those feelings well. A great song.
  • Did I Ever Love You? – Throughout the chorus, Cohen takes a backseat to his backing vocalists, who carry the song into what feels like uncharted territory on this album. The questioning nature of the song, and almost “bluesgrass” feel of the chorus seem jarring the first go around, but after a few listens, it all clicks.

SIDE B

  • My Oh My: Another great song (I’m going to say that a lot), and the languid pace of the instruments as Cohen meanders his way to the end gives this song a somewhat-unique feel throughout.
  • Nevermind: A bit more up-tempo than the previous few songs, Cohen returns to the signature growl of his later work on this track. There’s a deep bitterness on this track, echoing against a sense of loss.
  • Born in Chains: A great song and one that Cohen had been working on since the 1980s, the time it spent in gestation shows. A ballad in the truest sense, it showcases the troubadour-esque nature of Cohen’s earlier work.
  • You Got Me Singing: A melancholic tune closes out the album, with lyrics about lost love, and references to religion and hymns. True Cohen in the best sense, and an excellent ending song.

img_20170710_09495081.jpg

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love this album. I’ve loved it since it came out, and I will continue to love it for years. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite artists and this vinyl does not disappoint.

I do wish the pressing was of slightly better quality (I’d prefer 200 grams), but in the end, as long as I can buy a new copy when mine wears out (which it will), I am satisfied and happy!

Advertisements

In Memoriam: Stewart Wieck

On Thursday, June 22nd, my employer, mentor, and close friend Stewart Wieck passed.

A great many folks said very nice things about Stewart, such as HERE on rpg.net, HERE at Chaosium’s website, and HERE on Onyx Path’s website. (There’s many more, but those are a few).

Stewart touched a lot of lives, and much will be said about his career in the game industry, the boundaries he pushed, and all of those things are essential. World of Darkness formed an indelible part of my formative gaming. I talked to Stewart every day for the last 8 months (as we worked together, we had lots to discuss), and those conversations were full of his enthusiasm for gaming, life, philosophy, esoteric topics, and reading. We shared previews of projects he knew I was excited for (both mine and others), and eagerly asked and followed up on my personal life.

 



 

One of my earliest interactions with Stewart as an employee was around the failure of IVF for my wife and I. We were on our fourth cycle, had undergone a majorly invasive surgery to set this one up for success, and had spent two years and almost immeasurable dollars on IVF (I say almost, I am acutely aware of how much we’ve spent).

Stewart had known I’d be unavailable the day of the results, and when I didn’t respond with good news, he reached out and asked how we were. We chatted briefly, and he gave us his good wishes.

A week or two later, he asked what our plans were, and I informed him we were going to stop trying IVF and take some time to sort out the future. He commented that he understood, and asked if it was financial (I’d made a comment about the excessive cost to success rate we were experiencing at this juncture), and offered me an advance against royalties to do another round.

IVF is not cheap. And here, my boss who’d I’d worked for about a month, was offering me a significant advance because 1.) he cared about our family, and wanted to help, and 2.) he believed in my quality enough to have the confidence he’d make his money back.

We didn’t take the advance (we’re trying private adoption), but I kept that number in mind as a bench mark, quietly tracking when I’d have earned out that advance and could justify his faith in me.

If you discount Kickstarters (which I do), I would have earned that advance out right around this week.

 



 

More than anything, Stewart left a mark on me in the way a publisher, game designer, and individual could behave. There was no malice in him. He welcomed designers new and old to the Nocturnal fold, helping to put their games out there, wanting to teach everyone about the joy in gaming. He was quite literally, a paladin and champion for the virtues and transcendental abilities of gaming.

I have three moments in my life that I consider defining. The first was my marriage. The second was the Planet Mercenary project and running that game for Steve Jackson.

The third was a conversation I had with Stewart after I’d joined the team, where I asked him quite bluntly why he felt my company and time were worth an acquisition and salaried position.

He told me that he felt I understood the potential of gaming to change lives as he did, and that after we’d spoken, he’d felt I’d be a partner who would focus on uplifting the industry. I left that conversation feeling as though I’d just won the lottery.

That was Stewart in a nutshell. That response is exemplary of the sort of person Stewart was. Not just a brilliant, boundary pushing game designer. Not just a giant in the gaming industry, who molded and challenged us all. But at the most essential and fundamental level, he was a good, kind person.

That’s the legacy I’ll remember most of all. That’s what I will try to emulate and carry forth, more than all the other pieces of his legacy.

 



 

No matter what the future holds, Stewart helped me set a course that I can be proud of. He showed me how to be a good person, a good businessman, and a good friend.

His loss is a hole I won’t ever fill.

Thank you Stewart. For everything.

-Alan

Leonard Cohen

I’m not really a person who gets invested in celebrity as a concept. There’s actors I like and follow, musicians I enjoy, but I don’t really tie my personal life or feelings up in them or their works.

That being said, Leonard Cohen was a massive influence on my musical listening and personal life. The raw, hoarse, gravelly voice was among some of the first CDs I bought as a college student. There was something about the old fellow in a fedora on the cover that grabbed me. Bought a CD sound unheard, and sort of ignored it for a while in favor of Guns n’ Roses, and 80s rock I already knew I liked.

I can’t remember anymore why I listened to it when I did, but at a time when I didn’t know I was bipolar and struggling through depression, Cohen’s music and his voice struck a personal chord, and it became one of the closest things I had to a friend during those days. It was a personal thing. I wouldn’t play it if others were around, or could hear. It was music that I listened to by myself, for myself, and with myself.

There’s a sense of personal loss at the news of his death. It’s a sort of an echoing, rattling feeling, bouncing around my emotions and brain like a hollow echo. It’s something I hadn’t quite expected to feel or have resonate within myself today.

I’d put off listening to his music in the last half-decade, as I’d attempted to put those negative memories behind me. I don’t think I’ve really listened to a single song of his until last night. I shrugged it off as another event in 2016, and while sad, it was just…what it was.

Today, I found my old Cohen playlist, and loaded it into Google Play. Hearing that off-key, yet familiar voice coming through the speakers today was like seeing an old friend. I’ve found the bad memories have washed away, and I’m left with the deeply personal, almost spiritual reverberations. I’m looking forward to updating this playlist and exploring what I’ve missed. It hit me harder than I thought it would today, and so here we are. Me placing words on digital paper as the album Ten New Songs is playing behind me.

Thank you Mr. Cohen, and I hope you have found what you needed to. You left something indelible on my soul, and I’m better for it.

leonard-2_cohen

 

 

David Gemmell Reread!

It’s that happy time of year again, where I get to reread and revisit the works of my favorite fiction author, David Gemmell!

Every August, I dive into a massive reread of all of Gemmell’s fiction works, and this year, I’ve decided to review and talk about each book as it goes on (this blog needs some serious love, so here’s something to start with). I read each of his books in their respective groupings/series, and for clarity’s sake, here is my reading order.

If you wanna read along, or discuss the work, I’d love that. I don’t get to rave or talk about the themes in Gemmell’s work enough.


505352Rigante series – Flintlock Fantasy before “Flintlock Fantasy” was really a genre, this book series is probably my absolute favorite work of his. I love the take on cultures from across the sea, the detailed worldbuilding, and the century spanning timeline.

  • Sword in the Storm
  • Midnight Falcon
  • Ravenheart (my personal favorite in the series)
  • Stormrider

 

 

 


Drenai Series – Second favorite, because it’s a classic. You can’t go 618177wrong with the best Heroic Fantasy on the market. Or ever.

  • Legend (it’s a classic, and it’s my favorite book of his).
  • The King Beyond the Gate
  • Waylander
  • Quest for Lost Heroes
  • Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf
  • The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend
  • The Legend of Deathwalker
  • Winter Warriors
  • Hero in the Shadows
  • White Wolf (The Damned Series Book 1)
  • The Swords of Night and Day (The Damned Series Book 2)

 

last-guardianStones of Power – This one is a little weird, so I just copied the Wikipedia description. It reads like two vaguely connected series.

“This series is known by several names. The entire series deals with the Stones of Power, also known as the Sipstrassi. The first two books contain a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend. The last three novels involve the protagonist Jon Shannow.”

  •  Ghost King
  • Last Sword of Power
  • Wolf in Shadow
  • The Last Guardian
  • Bloodstone

 


Hawk Queen  – Dimension hopping fantasy. Love it.

  • Ironhand’s Daughter
  • The Hawk Eternal

 


Standalone Novels

  • Knights of Dark Renown
  • Morningstar
  • Dark Moon
  • Echoes of the Great Song

Troy series – Historical Fantasy!

  • Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow
  • Troy: Shield of Thunder
  • Troy: Fall of Kings

Greek series – More Historical Fantasy!

  • Lion of Macedon
  • Dark Prince

 

New Update! Tiny Galaxies!

Shiny new update regarding my next project! Tiny Galaxies!

You can find out more HERE, and see the cover art/logo, and a piece of art from the interior of the game!

You can expect more regular updates as we get closer to the Kickstarter.

In Praise of ABC’s Galavant

galavant-poster-fullGalavant is ABC’s musical comedy that airs over a 4 week period. I watched last year when it came out, as light-hearted, and comedic fantasy TV is rare and doesn’t come up often.

I absolutely fell in love. It’s a wonderfully comedic blend of Monty Python, Mel Brooks and Disney, and if that doesn’t sound like something deserves your immediate attention, i don’t think I can’t help you.

But I’m gonna try.

It was hands down the best thing I saw on TV all year. The story is pretty basic at the very start, but I can have you just watch the intro. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

That’s not even the best song. Somehow I missed the the premiere of the second season (I still haven’t forgiven myself), probably because Galvant’s original renewal was probably the surprise of television for me as it’s ratings were…mediocore. But Galavant is everything that is right with fantasy, music, and enthusiasm for the arts in a single 21 minute package delivered twice a week.

If it’s not absolutely clear to anyone, I’m a huge fan of fantasy. I play roleplaying games, I read fantasy novels, and this blog is called The Last Paladin. I don’t know how else to telegraph my love of fantasy to the world.

What Galavant is, is a fresh breath of air in a stale, grim and hard era of fantasy. It takes all the ideas that make up shows like Game of Thrones, and turns them into rousing musical numbers, witty one-liners, and delightfully cliche tropes that breathe new life into a genre that was desperate for something like this.

Every half hour episode has three musical numbers, and brilliant guest stars abound at every corner.

The second season did the right step, and instead of simply following the same old song and dance (I’m not even sorry I did that), it takes bold forays into new territories. Zombies, expertly executed spoofs of famous musicals like Grease, West Side Story (Dwarves vs Giants, anyone?), and Menken’s work on Disney and others, resound throughout. Even those in the cast who can’t carry a tune as well as others get their songs, and they’re positively brimming with enthusiasm.

The passion and joy of the cast carries through in the show, and when the first episode of the second season opens, the tongue in cheek surprise at renewal and joy of being back carries through.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Galavant has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating for the second season, and it’s well deserved.

The last two episodes air this Sunday (on my birthday! Thanks ABC!). While I love shows like Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and of course HBO’s Game of Thrones, Galavant is the only show I will spend this year raving about to everyone.

I look forward to spending Sunday night enjoying the Season 2 finale, and then fervently hoping that ABC will give me one more season to enjoy.

Watch @GalavantABC. You won’t regret it. Buy it on Amazon Video, watch it on Hulu, get it on BluRay, but whatever you do, do yourself the biggest favor you will this year, and binge watch Galavant.