Friday, January 29, 2016

January Roundup: Remembering the Legends of Star Wars

In the earlier days of this blog, I would regularly document my listening habits with a “roundup” at the end of each month. A couple of years ago my consistency began to waver, and then Grooveshark got shut down. This streaming music site was what I used for all my playlists up to that point, and its loss unceremoniously nailed the roundup coffin shut. There have been times, however, that I have missed this practice. It certainly made things easier to come up with an end-of-year review with to them to look back on. It also provided the freedom to do some personal blogging on topics that might not readily link to with my musical interests

For example, at the end of December I, like many, had a reinvigorated interest in the Star Wars franchise. Certainly, I have a lot to say about the music of Star Wars, especially as it enters its current iteration. Before I dive in to this topic in the coming months, however, there is a whole world within the world of Star Wars that has no soundtrack and, sadly, dim prospects for the future.

It’s hard to imagine today, but in the early 90s it looked like Star Wars was over. There were no official plans for the prequels, and many earnest fans fantasized about what happened in the Star Wars universe after Return of the Jedi.  The answer came with the written word.

With George Lucas’ blessing, Timothy Zahn wrote an excellent series of books that are now knows as The Thrawn Trilogy, and they kicked off what would come to be known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  After Zahn’s books, many other authors explored his deep characters and thought-provoking concepts. Without a singular narrative to steer the ship, however, the universe’s canonicity eventually became problematic. After a decade and a half, some fans argued that it became too bloated and self-contradictory to cohere, and this, along with complex intellectual property issues, caused the Expanded Universe to be summarily dismissed when Disney acquired Lucasfilms. These stories are now considered “Star Wars Legends,” and are not recognized as part of the official continuity as it moves forward.

The move was hardly surprising.  I was not a completest fan of the Expanded Universe due to quality control problems I saw with the canon.  I did, however, harbor a secret hope that a few of the characters and plotlines would be at least acknowledged if not adapted into the new Star Wars timeline. The characters from the Expanded Universe enjoyed a depth that was unprecedented in the original Star Wars movies. Mara Jade, in particular, was the most complex and interesting woman that the Star Wars universe had ever seen up to that point. It would have been satisfying to see her play a role in the canon as it moves forward with a greater emphasis on strong female characters.

There is no music that can connect with her, however, or any situation in the Expanded Universe beyond that which lies in our imagination. Or, perhaps, what I might be listening to as I have nostalgically looked back on the quiet passing of this rich world of colorful characters. This month, this includes a lot of new music from my Christmas and birthday booty.

John Williams - Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones OST: Before the release of The Force Awakens soundtrack, this was the only Star Wars soundtrack missing from my collection, mainly because I have stubbornly refused to support The Attack of the Clones in any way. The soundtrack is way better than the movie.

Mbongwana Star – From Kinsasha: Very intriguing and contemporary African pop music from the congo.  Saw a live video from this band yesterday that really piqued my interest.

King Crimson – Live at the Orpheum: With the passing of Chris Squire last year, the mortality of his generation hit home for me. No more waiting for a new studio album from Fripp and his current lineup.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic: This massive 3-disc release sounds like the hopes and dreams of every jazz studies major I have ever met. I am still trying to decide if Washington’s playing lives up to his vision.

The Judas Table – Antimatter: A glowing, positive review got this dark rock album in the player, but the melodramatic vocals just don’t quite work for me.

Africa Express - Terry Riley’s In C Mali: Minimalism comes full circle, with an African ensemble performing the work of a Western composer.

Zweiton – Form: An outstanding instrumental disc from an excellent touchstyle guitarist. Lots of mathy structures and aggressive melodies make this an engaging listen.

Sei Ikeno and Akira Ifukube – Zatoichi: The Best Cuts 1967-1973: I have been on a Zatoichi jag since this summer. Anyone who thinks that Quentin Tarantino is wholly original needs to examine these movies.

Kurt Stenzel - Jodorowskys Dune OST: I have still yet to see this documentary about this “best movie that never was,” but this synth-based soundtrack certainly captures something about the world of Dune that I have not heard elsewhere.

Atomic Ape – Swarm: I saw these guys open for Secret Chiefs 3 last year, and I found them inspiring. Their studio album is also quite good.

Zombi – Shape Shift: I love the drive and the texture of this instrumental album, but it seems a bit short on melody.  Repeated listens have been revealing, though.

David Bowie – Blackstar: There are lots of factors to consider with Blackstar, so I will reserve final judgement on it for the time being. The video for Lazarus, however, is the most haunting thing I have seen in a while.

Hans Zimmer – Interstellar OST: I have had this album for over a year now, but finally saw the movie last month. The combination of the two are simply amazing.

Clarence Clarity – No Now: What if James Blake collaborated with Death Grips? Ponder that one.

Grimes – Art Angels: Perhaps this is premature, but I am not particularly impressed with her follow-up. It took me a long time to get into her debut, though, so maybe it will open up.

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